Freystein's Tale: Battle of Bilegulch I (Ch. 17)

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    The first light of dawn snaked through the trees when I awoke. A cacaophony of birdsong accompanied my dressing. This song to attract a mate, that song to mark territory, another just to greet the warmth of the sun. Birds aren't so different from men.

    With my gear assembled and my new tent packed, I slipped away into the woods, quieter than the birds. Fryssa had not yet returned and Lokheim still slept. My new habit of sneaking away from hospitality would have concerned me, but I had troubles on my mind and men - orcs - to kill. Best not to delay any longer.

    The day was cool and clouds frequently hid the sun, but no rain fell. The nervous excitement of impending battle began as the ground rose up to rocky cliffs and narrower paths. I pulled my heavy armour from my pack and struggled into it when I halted for a midday meal. By mid-afternoon I was walking through forests thinned by heavy logging. The tracks of sledges hauling heavy loads ran up the path, into the rocky hills. I saw and heard no people, though. Another cautious half hour and I had come within sight of my destination.

    Someone had gone to great lengths to turn the mine into a timber fortress, but I could see no guards. Nor could I see workers or hear the sounds of labour. A strong breeze blew down from the rocks and through the trees, but it carried no sounds of life. I smelled no cookfires, no charcoal from forges or smelters.

    I scrambled onto the rocks and circled around until I was opposite the gate. There were still no signs of life. I watched and listened for a long while. A great number of bandits were supposed to be here, where were they?

    Finally, growing impatient, I stood, drew my sword and called out, "You, in the fort! Jarl Siddgeir sends his regards!"

    I was rewarded a few moments later when the gate began to swing open. Two figures stepped out, blades in hand. They were slender, green, with prominent underbites and long eye-teeth. Orcs, I supposed. They also looked very thin, very young - though I am no good judge of the age of orcs.

    "One man?" the larger of the two gruffly called. "He sends one man? INSULT!"

    With a great shout both ran towards me, brandishing cruel looking greenish blades and snarling. They appeared fearsome indeed, but I had chosen my ground and the smaller struggled more with the rocks and brambles they charged across. He was soon outpaced by his stronger companion and so they reached me one at a time.

    Beware a vikingr on the defensive.

    The first had seemed like he was just entering adulthood and too young yet to have learned caution. My shield swept his blade aside, and as his momentum forced him to leap up to the boulder I stood upon he was exposed to a mightly blow that nearly removed his head and right shoulder.

    He was dead before his body came to rest, but I was already leaping over the corpse and into the smaller attacker - hardly more than a boy. We tumbled to the ground together, but I found my feet first and leapt up behind him. My blade sticking out of his chest was likely the last thing he saw.

    These were not trained warriors. Where were the hardened bandits? The orcs who were allegedly the fiercest fighters in this world? These thoughts tumbled through my mind as I entered the fort. Something was wrong. I was sweating beneath my armor and it wasn't from heat or the sun. There were sleeping pallets for a score of men, and perhaps more in the mine itself. Where were they?

    The forge outside the mine entrance was cold and up in that place the cold wind whistled around tools left out to the elements. Other than the two lads I'd just killed, the whole place seemed abandoned, unlived-in for days or weeks. I swallowed hard before stepping into the passage down into the hill.

    It was dark in the hall. A bright lantern burned at the far end, but no flames licked the torches held in wall sconces as I passed them. I flexed my hand on the hilt of my sword before stepping into the light.

    "Murag? Gorgo?" a heavy voice called from down another passage, "Is that you? You make more noise than a pregnant mammoth!"

    I froze facing the passage the voice had emanated from.

    "Wait..." it continued, "I smell... human!"

    A huge orc stepped into a pool of light at the bottom of the sloping hall before me. He snarled as he pulled a great sword from his back.

    "Dog of Siddgeir," he shouted, "Where are my brothers!? What have you done to the last of us? Answer Grul the Bloody, cur!"

    "Your brothers should have learned to use their swords before drawing them," I responded. "They were brave. But bravery was not enough."

    Grul seemed to shrink upon hearing this. His sword point lowered to the ground and he let out a mournful wail that echoed throughout the mine. Everything I'd heard about orcs had not prepared me for this reaction. I remained on my guard as he began to speak between great sobs.

    "All we wanted was a different life! To take wives, all of us... to live in a different kind of stronghold. Siddgeir gave us this place, told us if we mined for him, we could build and guard the border for him. So we built, and we mined and we sent the rotten horker his due. But he didn't tell us what else lived out here, what would cut us down in the night until almost no one was left and we couldn't work the mines. And now he sends you to kill us?"

    I nodded. "He does."

    A hideous half-sob, half-laugh erupted from my foe.

    "All I wanted was a better life for my people! But if I can't have that then at least I can die in battle, instead of waiting for one of the vampires to take me!"

    "By all the gods," I interrupted, "what is a...," but with a great roar Grul drowned out my question and charged me with all the fury of a raging bear.


  • Incomitatus
    Incomitatus   ·  July 17, 2014
    I guess that means I need to do something interesting with it, then, right?

  • Borommakot
    Borommakot   ·  July 17, 2014
    I'm mostly anticipating the next chapter! The vampire reveal is so obvious after hours playing Skyrim, but you've built some real tension out of it with Freystein!
  • Incomitatus
    Incomitatus   ·  July 17, 2014
    Anticipate revision, I'm out of practice.