The Wood King: Part Two


    Contains violence and vulgar language


    Getting beyond the city wall was easy once Tancredo realised he could fit through the sewage grates. Then it was just a matter of finding a main road and following it. Soon he was upon the Orange Road, heading south-east.


    It was as he began his flight beneath the clouds of leaves that he recognised his true adversary: the Great Forest.


    He was not deaf to the rumours of the people. Monsters dwelled amongst the trees – monsters no man had ever lived to describe. Every month, a few people would disappear. Traders filling requisitions were expected to arrive, but never did. Mercenaries returning home with bulging purses were plucked off the road like fruits ripe for picking. Sometimes entire caravans vanished within the folds of the forest.


    In his theatrical retelling of the tale, the Oaken Tankard’s bartender whispered ominously, ‘There are never any screams, nor a bloodstain to mark any struggle at all.’


    For years this had been happening. The kidnappings were not frequent enough to graze the economy of Chorrol, being no more consequential than the petty raids of highwaymen, and they left the forest villages well alone, but the mystery of them left the cityfolk frightened. The Watch Tribune of Chorrol decided something must be done to put their unrest at ease. He was a persistent man. Tireless in his efforts, he dispatched century upon century to comb through the Great Forest, but his men always returned without any heads to display. All they brought back were tales and superstitions; fear of spectres in the canopy, of beasts and their leering eyes ever-watching.


    Then there happened the incident a few years ago, appropriately named the Dismantlement of Fort Pretis. All on one quiet Sun’s Dusk night, Fort Pretis as it stood vigilantly beside the Orange Road was approached, breached and vivisected by unseen hands. Not three hours after the last guard patrol left it alive and bustling, the next found it a lifeless shell. The walls were unscathed, but the interior had been entirely gutted of supplies, and in the courtyard burned a bonfire with a putrid scent. Of an entire three hundred-man cohort, two hundred had been slaughtered and set afire. The rest left no trace of themselves.


    When the Watch Tribune ran panicking to the Imperial City, Emperor Titus Mede II himself took special interest in uprooting the monsters of the forest. The strength of the Orange Road was tripled and Fort Pretis revived with vigour. Chorrol had for itself nearly an entire legion in all its glory.


    But Tancredo knew that the monsters were not deterred by these efforts. No matter how many men watched the road, they found ways. They were like shadows. Ghosts. Stealing without ever showing their faces, yet haunting minds all the same. They were the true forest wraiths.


    Tancredo feared them with every fibre of his being.


    Magnus floundered in his ocean, surfacing by day and sinking by night, and the moons began to turn their faces away from young Tancredo. Few stars could see him wandering below the leaf-laden trees. He slept little. Even the slightest twitch of a blade of grass, the rustling of the canopy, the buzz of a fly zapped him awake, terrified. He could hear Nirn’s deep-throated hum when his head was against the ground. It was a sound that left him fearing the soil itself. Perhaps the whole forest was the monster. The very trees.


    As he travelled, he hid behind the folds of the treeline to avoid the Watchmen patrolling. Often they were boisterous in their boredom. When they were nervous at night, they tended to laugh and jest and wave their torches frantically to part the oppressive darkness. They never saw that pale pair of eyes peering at them with a glint of inner confliction, like a hungry mongrel struggling to subdue its lust for fresh meat.


    Old friend, you run, Tancredo reminded himself, and stayed his blade.


    But through the passing of the days, he found that the hours of travel had drained the water from his body. Weary unceasingly he was. The time between rests grew shorter until he spent most of the day lying down. To stand sent him spiralling into a spell of dizziness where the earth seemed to wrap unseen forces around his shoulders and pull him down, down, down, kissing him numb.


    One dark morning, five days after his escape from Chorrol, the clouds above became heavily pregnant and their wailing carried far on the billowing winds. A smile split Tancredo’s cracked lips as he thought of rain. Cold rain, so sweet, so welcome. But those agonised clouds rained no rain upon him. No rain, no rain. It was then, cradled in a tangle of roots, that he realised he was going to die.


    And he heard hooves, and wheels, and voices.


    ‘… seen anything to fear. I am certain we would know if we saw one.’


    ‘Not for long before it kills us. You know nothing about them or what they’ve done. They could have us dead in an eye-blink, to be sure.’


    ‘Enough! You fear too much, Outrider.’


    ‘That is what you’re paying me for, yes?’


    ‘No, I am paying you for more practical purposes. Protection, for instance. I am not paying you to scare me!’


    Tancredo felt his hand tighten around the hilt of his sword as the carriage trundled past his tree.


    Old friend, you run!


    No. It was too much to ask of a dying man to run from what could save his life. He needed to hunt. Blood and flesh.


    He rose. He swayed. He stumbled out of the trees and onto the road and raised his sword with all the threat of a pissed drunkard.


    ‘Stand and deliver, goods or lives!’ he snarled. It pleased him that his voice held an edge of famishment, a crazed sting. It gave them pause. The outrider yanked at the reins and brought his mount short, drawing a bright longsword from his belt. His dark mount skittered nervously.


    ‘Coachman, halt!’ commanded the outrider, and with a curse the coachman pulled back his own horses, halting the carriage.


    ‘That is not nearly as frightening a creature as I had apprehended,’ noted the passenger dryly as he peered out the window.


    The outrider visibly rolled his eyes.


    ‘What do you think you’re doing, young fool?’ he spat at Tancredo. ‘You can’t hope to slaughter three men on so guarded a road when the day is broad! Stand aside or I shall fell you!’


    Tancredo stood as tall as he was, willing his heavy head to refrain from wobbling.


    ‘I will not leave,’ he said loudly. ‘I am going to kill you. Or you will kill me. That is what will happen.’


    The outrider snorted. ‘Well, so be it! Mister Murrius, stay inside.’


    And he spurred his horse onward with a sudden sharp kick. The sight of the beast thundering toward him sent a shock of alertness to Tancredo’s mind. He jumped out of the way, faster than a wildcat, and immediately flew for the carriage.


    Exercise quiet swiftness.


    While the outrider recovered from the charge and turned himself around, Tancredo severed the traces and reins of the carriage horses, unleashing them from their master. Screaming in fright they took off like arrows and fled into the forest.


    A noise of metal sighing over leather brought Tancredo’s attention to the coachman. He had drawn his sword and was sliding tentatively off the footboard, then landed with inelegance and a hard thump. Quickly Tancredo leaped forward and slashed. The attack was easily parried. The coachman came in with a sharp thrust. It glanced easily off the flat of Tancredo’s sword.


    Their spar was cut short at the ear-splitting clatter of gallop rushing toward them. The outrider was making another charge. Tancredo threw himself onto the ground, swiping the coachman’s legs from under him, and trapped his opponent’s blade beneath his own. A sword screamed fiercely overhead as the outrider swung. Wind ran a cold tongue through Tancredo’s hair.


    The coachman was beginning to free his weapon but Tancredo lashed out, grabbing the man’s wrist as he climbed to his feet. They rose synchronised. Tancredo in a rapid movement tossed his own sword up, caught it by the blade and bludgeoned the coachman’s forehead with the cross-guard. There was a sickening, splintering crack. Clutching his head, the coachman staggered and fell against the carriage.


    From the left a longsword flew at Tancredo. He whirled around and met the outrider’s lunge in a tight blade bind. He had not seen him dismount! He was fast, and now his prowess in swordplay became dishearteningly apparent. Shoving hard on the bind, the outrider demonstrated bear-like power against his opponent’s trembling weak-limbed strain. Thick leather gloves guarded his hands from the safest attacks Tancredo could attempt. And the man was so vigorous, probing for an opening in the bind, Tancredo could not keep him restrained.


    The outrider broke away by stroking Tancredo’s blade from mid to tip, lowering it, and then aimed his pommel at an exposed eye. Tancredo swivelled, catching the smack in the temple instead. The energy behind that blow became lightning through his brain. Stars exploded, flashed and blinded. Millions and millions. He was about to faint.


    Wake up, arse-licker! shouted Corentin Mouth, slapping him awake with a thrill of fear.


    He collected himself and clumsily deflected an incoming slice that would otherwise have opened him from shoulder to bowels. The ground was pulling him very urgently now. He must have looked quite a sight, eyelids flickering, barely able to carry his own weight. Or perhaps he impressed the outrider with his resilience.


    In a wide orbit they began to pace, watching each other intently for a weakness to emerge. They touched blades a few times, but the deflections were swift and tight. Superficial slits webbed Tancredo’s forearm while the outrider remained unscathed. Then the man must have seen something, a slip of the guard, for he pounced forward and forced Tancredo into another lock of blades. His footing was off, his knees bent too far, and he found himself being jostled into the ground.


    The young thief tried to think through his alarm. Instructions drowned his mind in muddled imbrication. Everyone was telling him what to do all at once.


    Exercise quiet swiftness.


    Steal when they aren’t looking, pig-fucking idiot.


    Make yourself small!


    Fuck a bitch, you bloody arse-headed dunce!


    Elusive like smoke. Distort as if there were no laws.


    Throw in all your power. Do not waste it on dance!


    You are air. Mobile. You are wind. Forceful. You are lightning. Strike!


    Just as the coachman began to rise behind him, Tancredo acted. Stepping left, throwing his left arm over the outrider’s and bundling them tightly together, he seized control of the longsword. He brought up his own sword and opened a slit under the outrider’s jaw, flicking the air with blood.


    In a quick turn, his free hand on the flat of his blade, he clashed violently with the coachman’s approaching blow and forced him to recoil. The move had unbalanced him, leaving his legs open.


    Tancredo felt a flood of liberated glee as he hacked into a spot just above the man’s knee. Through meat and into bone it burrowed. Thick, bright blood sprayed from the wound as Tancredo wrenched out his weapon. A sob burst from the coachman’s throat. He was too stunned to resist Tancredo’s vicious shove, and crumpled to the ground compliantly.


    ‘No, no! For the love of Mara!’ he puled.


    Tancredo disabled him in one downward thrust, sliding his sword below the sternum and into the liver. The rush of energy left him giddy, giggling, gooseflesh hopping across his skin. The blood was intoxicant, the smell overpowering, and he was getting a bit tipsy in the head. Pushing aside the nausea, he picked up the coachman’s sword in his left hand. It was of crude make, a brittle iron shortsword with a bristly hilt, but it could serve him well. He turned to the wounded outrider and found him pressing on his neck, panting wearily as blood poured down his vest.


    ‘You’ve been trained like a shadow, to be sure,’ hissed the man, wiping the spittle of outrage from his beard. ‘You are one of them, yes? The forest people. Well we’ve caught you, bitch-son. We’ll take you back, we’ll make you face justice.’


    ‘No,’ said Tancredo, and lapsed into a dual sword stance. The left sword he arced over his head; the right sword he held before him. The outrider readied himself, lifting his longsword to his shoulder, arranging his feet. Tancredo lashed out for the outrider’s legs only to be knocked aside at once by a heavy downward stroke.


    The outrider realised too late that he had disadvantaged himself.


    To trap him in an inescapable lock, Tancredo hooked a quillon around the edge of the longsword and pinned it down with all the rabidity his quivering arms could marshal. As he slid his body forward, his auxiliary sword found the outrider’s belly and entered it. He dug it deep, and wriggled it inside the man, stirring his insides, admiring the wet trickles of blood sliding down the metal. As the outrider cried out in agony, Tancredo laughed a thin, tremulous laugh.


    Thunder boomed and the clouds went into labour. Rain dripped upon him.


    In a final explosion of strength, the outrider pulled back a fist and punched Tancredo savagely in the teeth, silencing his laughter. The thief stumbled back. He released the hilt of the sword embedded in the outrider’s abdomen and unhooked the other from the longsword, freeing it from its lock.


    With short, strangled gasps, the outrider tried to hobble forward using his weapon as a crutch. But the pain of the blade in his gut brought him short. He stood still, swaying and choking. His eyelids drooped. Finally he collapsed to the ground and growing puddles of rain, trying to breathe, just trying to breathe.


    Tancredo shivered. Then he smiled. And giggled. Uncontrollably.


    He did it. He killed them.


    The trees began to clap.





  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  June 19, 2016
    I wish I could do actual swordfighting.  It looks so bloody awesome! Sabre duels are so exciting. Longswords are unnerving. Rapiers are just silly. 
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  June 18, 2016
    Well, the combat is very good to me and I´m surprised anyone can write something like that with outside sources. I just can´t imagine writing combat the way I do without having actual experience with it. 
    Only Great Forest? Ah, shame. But I´ll take that. 
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  June 18, 2016
    Karves, thank you HEAPS for that!  I did a lot of research for this fight scene and I'm glad it looked cool in the end! I have had no experience with swordplay, but my sources did, and lots of it at that.
    Just going to put this out there now - no ot...  more
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  June 12, 2016
    Wing, I have to say, I love your approach to combat. It looks so damn cool when I'm picturing it in my head, very realistic.

    You have any experience with swordplay and combat in general? This makes me think you must have.

    Also, i...  more
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  March 17, 2016
    Oh please no! XD Don't be sorry AT ALL. I was elated that you took the time to give me advice! How can I know whether or not I'm improving or getting worse if I don't get an outsider's perspective? I should be apologising for making you feel guilty. I'm s...  more
  • Idesto
    Idesto   ·  March 17, 2016
    I feel bad now: sorry! Didn't mean to burst your bubble: you're an excellent writer, especially for your age!
    It's probably just me: I pride myself on having a good vocabulary, so am surprised - but also delighted - to discover new words.
    This...  more
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  March 17, 2016
    Thank you very much for the advice, Idesto!  It's not just your peeve: It has always been my biggest writing flaw that I use far too many words than is good for the story, and many people know it! I spent hours as a younger Rancid browsing through an onli...  more
  • Idesto
    Idesto   ·  March 17, 2016
    What? Didn't mean to start talking about former South African PMs or rugby bosses! Don't know what happened there. 
    Both a plus and a minus I was trying to say. Your vocabulary is so good you're maybe in danger of leaving some people behind. It may ...  more
  • Idesto
    Idesto   ·  March 17, 2016
    You don't drink water?! I never stop. Except when I'm in the pub, but that's another story. 
    The others are right: your vocab and use of language is exceptional. There are some beautiful phrases and beautiful imagery here, as usual. 
    That - an...  more
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  February 5, 2016
    Wow, I'm not really sure how Tancredo managed to come across as short, haha!  Maybe it's that he could fit through the sewage grates and that planted an image of a rather small man? I don't know. Anyway, sorry about that guys.
    I'm very perspective-o...  more