A Song of Steel #9

Previously

The Cure (1)

READ ME:

Don’t panic. It’s not your blood smeared all down your chest–if you haven’t cleaned yourself up by the time you read this.

Allow me to explain: King Crom-cil-Orm sent a small contingent of forces to scout out a village full of folks with leaves in their hair. They were built lean like small trees and moved with elegance and grace like Nymphs and Satyrs. Yet you could not recall any legends the told of them wearing armor or swords.

You wondered what magic had allowed them to forge steel inlaid with pond-ripples. I suppose it doesn’t matter now.

You came with Ser Albarran and his riders–the black men on top of black horses, who legends say have never mingled well with these Satyrs you were to forge an allegiance with. Most fey folk had pledged themselves to House of Thar, one of the Five Great Houses. You were told to put them to the sword if you discovered it had come to that.

It was in this way that you, Albarran, Khalee and a small retinue of riders all came to the village of Nymphs and Satyrs. They had been expecting you, and told you they would hear King Crom-cil-Orm’s terms.

“He is not a man of compromise,” Albarran said. “He seeks your aid. Your men will go to the field, and your women will be his until the war’s end. You will allow us to camp here should the need arise.”

Even as Albarran put forth the agreement, your hand was on your longsword. Such terms coming from Housemen like us would not be well received. You wondered if the King Crom-cil-Orm hadn’t planned for things to go the way they did. As it turns out, the villagers had hidden bowmen throughout the village.

They did not even offer Albarran a response. They simply attacked.

After the first volley, you lost control of your horse, which started acting of its own accord. And when they struck its’ underbelly you were pried from your mount and sent and sailing through the air. Many of the riders befell the same fate.

At length both sides were little more than brown masses breaking on each others’ charges. The townsfolk that looked like Satyrs and Nymphs balanced death on a sword’s edge with skill enough to rival Khalee and her contingent of Housemen.

I’ve noticed a certain sorcery that I suspect is woven by the King Crom-cil-Orm’s commanders: in battle they seem to join your mind with the forces fighting. There are times, Carth, when you’ve lost all fear of harm. Where you feel less a boy and more a part of some greater whole. A band, an army, a desire or cause feels melded into each of you. In such moments you could as easily desert your friends as your head could liberate itself from its neck.

The Nymph-men had stuck two javelins into your shield before you were forced to abandon it. You fought with only your sword aside Khalee her Housemen. You took to the task all the same while Khalee lacerated with her blade and Albarran was charging behind you.

Yes, you took to the task, Carth. Just as a carpenter takes to his wood. You could only blink the sweat from your eyes for so long before it began pouring onto them, obscuring your vision and burning your eyes as if they were crackling-hot stones.

But this only stoked your anger. Your shoulder was throbbing where you were stabbed by the mist-monsters somewhen ago. The villagers were swarming about your friends and you could only kill them one at a time. You wished to push them back with a single swing of your long sword, but your impotency in this manifested in wild hacks and untrained swings so wild that Housemen with shields darted to cover you when you over-swung.

Perhaps this was due to your minds being one. Though I’ve been wondering: if that were the case, then do you think it meant you finally had thoughts to think? Or did you empty the heads of others?

There was a distinct lack of heroic poses like the ones you’d heard told in your friends’ stories. Everyone moved about with bumbling idiocy that I would normally ascribe to you.

And after the Nymphs and Satyrs lay dead, they walked through the aftermath slack-jawed, gasping at what little air they could breath. Beads of tears glistened on their faces as they longed for steady breaths and wrote clean lines down their faces through the soot and much and blood and sweat smothering their faces.

You became aware of the death-stink all around you. You realized you were choked in grime and dripping sweat like a blacksmith at the forge. At length, Khalee came over and tossed you his. You took it and gulped it down greedily. The water was warm, almost burning. But you didn’t care. You gasped as you handed him the waterskin. You saw folks giving each other dirt-ridden smiles.

You tripped over motionless men underfoot, twisted in fantastic proportions, limbs cracked at angles they shouldn’t have been. The ground was choked with leaves like soldiers after the slaughter that crunched like breaking bones underfoot.

How had these men, you wondered, reached such positions without hurling themselves from some great cliff?

A small procession of wounded men were going drearily toward the rear of the contingent. It was a flow of blood from the torn body of your small forces.

To the right and to the left were the dark lines of other troops. Far in front he thought he could see lighter masses protruding in points from the forest. They were suggestive of unnumbered thousands.

Albarran set the King Crom-cil-Orms banner down in the village square. You felt an odd thrill at the sight of the emblems. It was like a majestic wolf spotted in the midst of a storm.

But then the pangs of pain came. The numb of adrenalin wore off and you could feel warm blood dribbling down your chest. You felt you were going to suffocate. You did not even remember the slashing you took. You had already forgot the made-up version of events I gave you yesterday. Which is good, because you needed to have those sears sealed shut with burns.

Which is why now is a good time to tell you I’m lying. I’ve no idea what will happen in the battle. It hasn’t even started yet. You’ll have to tell me what happened. Do you see any burning villages in the distance?

I’m sure you’re wondering why I lied to you. That’s because Khalee and I came up with a plan. It’s doubtless you’ll receive wounds if it comes to blades. But, and I failed to mention this last time, whenever your wounds are burned shut, you seem to mistake the act as one meant to kill you, and even if the person trying to help were, say, Albarran, you might try to harm him.

So Khalee had me write this for you in advance. You may feel something burning at some point when you read this. If you do, it’s because you sustained injuries that needed to be burnt closed. It’s not an attack, and I’m just here to distract you. I’m glad I won’t have to go through such pain. I’ll have forgotten I wrote the words I scratch out now by the time you read this letter to yourself tomorrow (it would be today for you.)

I imagine your flesh will smell like the roasting strips of meat cooked over your campfires. Let me know if it smells tasty.

I hope the burns weren’t too painful. And I hope my distraction helped. Send Khalee and Albarran all my best. Cheers, Carth.

Next

Author: Connor M. Perry

From an early age, I learned how to divide by four. See, two minutes after I was born, I discovered three other newborns hot on my heels. I was a quadruplet. And I needed to learn to how to share. Everything. At an early age, I took to writing so that I could have something unsharable. I began writing small stories online for my own enjoyment, and gradually moved to more ambitious ideas. I've been running my blog The Mythlings for two years now, publishing a new installment every Friday. I've enjoyed creating different worlds, characters and relationships in my stories. I currently live in Worcester, MA with my girlfriend, two cats, and a collection of swords.

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