Suddenly the weight disappeared from his chest, and he opened his eyes in
surprise. He sat up, and realized the pounding was the sound of hooves on the
dry ground. He watched as the rebel horsemen knocked down and speared the
barbarians as they looted the camp, beginning to drive them back. Owen
pulled himself clumsily to his feet, ignoring the numerous wounds and bruises
he had acquired.
Owen began to plod forward, looking through the ruined and broken landscape of
tents and bodies. The barbarians had not been prepared for the startling
counterattack, and many had died, though a large group had retreated, running
in long loping strides away into the forest as Corwin and his men pursued them.
He turned, looking out on the battle, and saw that the imperial army had been
driven back as well. He was overwhelmed by the sheer number of dead on the
field. He began to limp toward the front line, as the crows descended on
the battle field. So many dead… He thought, looking across it. He
stumbled on the body of an imperial soldier, almost falling, and his stomach
filled with revulsion. Bile filled his mouth, and he spit it out, coughing. He
He continued to limp onward, until he reached the front line. The trench was
heaped with bodies from both sides, though he saw that the imperial troops had
not made as much progress as the barbarians on the unprotected flank. The
body count extended out into the field, where the rebels had launched their
sortie on the slowly retreating empire.
He looked across the groups of survivors, as they began to move through the
field, looking for others who had survived the battle. Owen was staggered again
as he reached the worst area of the battle. So many… at least we weakened them…
but I think the cost for us might have been more highly paid… A hand touched
his shoulder, and he instinctively brought up his mattock, his nerves still on
edge. He whipped around, seeing Kallan. He was almost unrecognizable under a
layer of blood.
Kallan stepped back Owen brought up the mattock.
Owen lowered it, standing in shock for a moment, before dropping his weapons
and embracing his friend. They hugged for a quick moment, then stepped back.
“You survived, I see.”
“Yes. And you as well.”
Kallan looked him over. “I was worried after the barbarians destroyed our
“It was close. I almost died multiple times.”
They stood silently for a moment, before looking across the field, as Corwin
and his horsemen returned, riding through the battlefield. Kallan looked up.
“It was really the General and our cavalry that saved us, along with the
archers of Merten… they caused enough damage together that they were able to
drive them back. We kept them occupied while the horsemen flanked them… used
their own strategy against them.” He looked out on the field.
“They began to retreat after several charges… the archer leveled many of them
before they reached the barricade, and then we kept them back… they came in
Owen nodded. “Same. We were driven back… I think our greatest losses were
probably from the barbarians. They may not have the discipline of the empire,
but they make up for it in sheer force… they piled right over the trench.”
Kallan looked up as Corwin rode up nearby.
“What news, General?”
“We destroyed the stragglers, but many escaped into the foothills. The imperial
army is in full retreat, regrouping in the hills. I think we have hurt them
enough to keep them away for a time.” He turned his horse and galloped off to
Owen looked across the field once more. Was this worth it?
Owen walked slowly toward the healers tents, careful to keep the weight off his
injured leg. He wondered if he looked as terrible as he felt. The ground
was slush and mud, splashing up onto his boots. He trudged through the mud and
squalor, stepping over bodies and the wounded. He stumbled, falling to one
knee, sinking into the mud.
He slowly pulled himself to his feet, using his mattock like a cane, and
continued to walk. The wind blew through his shaggy hair, and he felt a sudden
chill, even through the sweat of his armor and leather. He finally
reached the circle of tents that formed the healers tents, and to his horror,
realized that they had been destroyed.
He ran across the bloody, battle torn ground, to where the tent where Gwen had
been. No longer. As he stepped through the tent flap, he knew he would
not find her in the wreckage. He dropped to his knees, a tear slipping from his
eye, and trickling down his bloodstained face. He turned with a feeling of
despair. The old man, Ewan, stood in front of him, holding a staff and a
rucksack over his shoulder. In his right hand were the reins of two horses.
Owen recognized one of them, Willow.
“On your feet boy!”
Owen looked up with an expression of confusion.
“They haven’t gone far! Climb aboard, and we can free her before they reach the
Owen jolted to his feet. “You mean…”
The old man looked at him gruffly, then handed him Willows reins. “She’s not
dead, no. But she might be if you don’t hurry!” Owen pulled himself aboard the
shaggy horse, and the man passed him the rucksack. Owen winced at his injuries,
but kicked the horse into a gallop out of the camp. He glanced back once, to
see the old man riding close behind him.
He barely thought, his only thought to catch the barbarians before anything
happened to Gwen. He made his way up the rocky ridge, through the trees, as his
injuries burned with pain. He felt the branches clawing his face and hands, and
his heart pumped so hard it seemed to want to escape his chest. He finally
reached the top of the ridge, and looked out across the empire. The air was
surprising clear, and Owen could see far across the wide, yellow plains. Far
below was the small village of Moransford. Across the plain lay a great city.
The enemy army retreated slowly, but far in the distance he could see the dust
from the remaining barbarians. He gritted his teeth. Will they always be my greatest enemy?
A bit of blood trickled down his forehead, but he ignored it. Ewan rode up
beside him, white hair swept back. Owen glanced over at him, grim, and then
with a kick to Willows ribs, he started forward, into the empire. His newest
quest had begun.
ends Book 1. Owen’s adventures will continue in Book 2