Kallan slipped off his horse, and landed on his feet on the ground. He grimaced at the pain in his legs and rear. Two days of hard riding had done him in, and he was about ready to cut the throat of the horse he had been riding. Keegan dismounted next to him, and Marcus slid off of his horse. Kallan stretched down and touched the ground in front of him. He groaned. The evening was still young, but they had decided to stop and let them and their horses rest. Kallan sat down on the ground. He leaned back on a large stone, and looked around.
They had trotted through the foothills for many miles. The barbarians were assured in their path, and continued going for miles, leaving a trail of dust that could be seen for miles around. This made them easy to track, but they had gotten a head start. Fortunately, the horses allowed them to keep a steady pace with the barbarians. Suddenly, Marcus, who had climbed up on a rock, cried out.
Keegan and Kallan both looked up, and saw the black plume rising to the sky. Keegan grabbed his horses bridle. Kallan groaned, but stood up and grabbed his own bridle. Marcus leapt onto his horse from the rocks. Keegan mounted, and Kallan followed suit, his muscles protesting.
Keegan kicked his horse, and they began a quick trot toward the smoke. It billowed up in huge sheets, the wind taking it to the east, across the plains. Keegan wheeled his horse to the right, and made his way up a large hill, through the pines. They trotted up, following him. They went quickly through the trees, until finally they came into a clearing on top of the hill. Keegan rode to the edge, and looked off. A half-mile to the south-east, the smoke was rising.
Kallan could see bodies heaped around, and tents that had been lit on fire. The barbarian camp was destroyed. Keegan looked back at them.
“It looks as if someone else got at them first.”
He turned his horse and made his way quickly back down the hill. They trotted through the woods, making their way down. Soon they emerged from the trees. They were in a large clearing, with a cliff on one side. A waterfall made its way down the cliff, leading to a small river. Its fair water was polluted with the stench of war.
The camp was burning, slowly, sending up smoke. Bodies lay everywhere, but there were only barbarians. Kallan walked forward into the camp, pushing bodies aside. The smell of blood and smoke permeated everything. Kallan climbed over the bodies, trying to avoid looking at the carnage.
He heard a crack. He turned his head. A beady eyed crow watched him, and then pecked at an arm of one of the carcasses. He pulled out an arrow, and shot it, disgusted. He walked over and pulled the arrow out. Marcus walked over as he wiped the arrow off on his jerkin.
Kallan kicked at a body. “Whoever killed them must have taken the prisoners with them.”
Marcus nodded. Kallan walked over to the stream. Night began to fall. He pulled off his gloves and touched the water. It was freezing cold, but he splashed his face with a bit of it. It was so cold it burned, but he bore the pain, and dried his hands on his cloak. He stood up. Keegan came over.
“We should set up camp. Get some wood.” Kallan walked over to the trees, and began to gather dead branches. The sun was now fully set behind the mountains, and it was eerily silent. A crescent moon began to rise. Kallan picked up wood, and then began to walk back to the campsite. Marcus was unpacking the horses, and Keegan was setting up a fire. Kallan dropped the log on the ground, then sat down and wrapped his cloak around him.
Keegan got a fire lit, and they began to chew on a little of the dried food they had left. Keegan looked at their food, concerned.
“We don’t have much left.” He looked around. “No meat animals around either.” He tucked the rest of the food away, saving it. Kallan sighed, then looked out among the bodies. The moon gave the battlefield an eerie glow.
“Why we chose to camp here, I don’t know.” He muttered, then stood and walked in among the bodies. He found the crow he had shot earlier, and pulling out his knife, began to skin it. He had done chickens, and it was a large crow, so he quickly got rid of the feathers. He cut off its head and the lower part of the legs. He walked back.
Marcus raised his eyebrows and looked at the bird.
“Meat.” Kallan sharpened a stick and stuck it through the crow. He began to slowly roast it over the fire. It was a fat bird, and had obviously been eating well. Kallan turned it slowly until it was beginning to burn on the outside. He took it out, and carefully slipped it into his lap. He ripped off a drumstick, then handed the rest to Keegan.
“Enjoy.” He said, and then grinned at Marcus. Marcus sighed, and then took a piece as well. He took a bite, then wrinkled his nose, and set it carefully on his lap.
Kallan began to scarf it down. It was tough, and he had to shred it with his teeth. It tasted bland, and slightly bitter. He tried not to think of what IT had been eating. After eating it quickly, he walked over to the river, took a drink of the ice cold water to wash down the greasy burnt meat. He walked back to the campfire. Keegan had already eaten his. Marcus nibbled on his, and then finally just ate it. Kallan smiled ruefully at him.
He lay down next to the fire, and wrapped himself in his cloak. It was cold. A light haze of snow began to fall. He sighed, and wrapped himself in his cloak tighter. The fire flickered. He thought about Owen, and wondered where he was, or if he was even alive. Then he thought about Robyn. He shut his eyes, and tried to shut her out of his mind. Her face still was there, but he began to doze off, and then finally descended into sleep. Marcus sat upright by the fire. Keegan lay down.
Kallan’s eyes shot open. He was suddenly wide awake. The fire had burned down to coals. He sensed something was wrong. He placed his hand on his sword. He shivered. It was cold. Suddenly the taut silence sound was broken by a slight crunch of snow. Kallan flipped undone the clasp of his cloak, rolled to his feet, and had his sword out. He stood, ready. The fire flickered. Eyes reflected in the dark. Kallan kicked Marcus in the side where he lay, then lightly poked his father with the sword.
Keegan and Marcus were up in a moment, and the enemy charged. Men in dark blue came from all directions. One swung a small glimmering blade at Kallans throat. He ducked, then jumped backwards across the fire, then kicked coals into his attacker’s masked face. The man fell screaming.
Marcus rolled into the shadows, and began to swiftly take out the shadowy figures with his daggers. He was a shadow in the night, even more than his masked opponents. Keegan kicked the legs of a dark figure out from under him. He whipped out a dagger from his boot. He parried the blows skillfully, and then pulled a small axe he used for firewood, and began to battle his opponents. His training as a soldier serving him well.
Kallan parried with his sword, skillfully evading the enemy. He continued to use the fire to his advantage. An enemy came at him with a deadly looking axe. He feinted a trip, picking up his cloak and wrapping the man’s arm as he swung down his axe. His axe caught in the cloak, as Kallan stabbed. Another man charged. Kallan grabbed his wrist and kneeled. The man’s momentum flipped him into the fire with a scream.
Marcus parried and blocked, kicking and using his feet as offensive weapons. Men kept coming. Keegan swung his hatchet and blocked a sword, then stabbed. Kallan flailed madly around, knocking men down and hitting them with his sword. Enemies kept coming. They massed the three searchers, taking them down. Kallan fell, striking right and left with his sword. The butt of a knife stopped him short.
Keegan took down several more, but was clubbed with an axe. He fell senseless. Marcus skillfully blocked the blows rained down upon him, but soon even his energy gave out, and he fell.