To Murder – Part 1

May 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

He crept through the camp. It reeked of mead and fermented milk, of meat roasted on spits and heaped on platters, and the sour smell of unwashed bodies that had sweated and rutted for hours. The Naeth were many things, but to the standards of his people they were not terribly interested in bathing. Not that it bothered him anymore. Years of it had forced him to come to terms with the smell, it hung heavy over their camp. He remembered, as if it was a story he’d been told, his mother telling him to wash before eating. The Naeth would have laughed at it, had he ever bothered to tell their shaggy red and blond heads a damn thing about himself. They didn’t even know he could speak their language.

Miaran had at fourteen summers already grown taller than most adults in the camp, gaunt and hardened by years of beatings and the occasional indignity born out of Durgka’s inability to care what he ejaculated in or on once he was in his cups. The boy crept up to the drunken blond giant’s tent with a sharp rock in his hand, his scent so familiar to the dogs outside. Who, after all, fed those dogs? Huge slavering Naeth hounds with jaws that could crush bones? Who showed them the only kindness they’d ever seen in their short, brutish lives? Not the snoring titan with the reeking beard and worse breath, whose sword hand had callouses that tore at skin.

Miaran was tall for his age, but he had no illusions. He patted Gronth and Lazar on the heads and they whined in confusion. They had never seen him at night, and they were trained to be loyal, beaten into it just as he had been. He dropped chunks of meat he’d hidden the past week, and saw the dogs fall to eating. Eating they understood. He was the foodbringer, if he was there with food, clearly that was why he was there. They fell to eating.

Inside the tent, the smell of spilled goat milk and semen was even stronger.

Miaran grunted to see the latest captive, a young girl a couple of years older than himself, chained to a post. She didn’t look abused, but she was awake, staring at him. To her eyes, he probably looked no better than the Naeth, with his ruddy skin and bright red hair, a dusting of beard growing in on his angular face. In his ragged fur mantle you could see the outlines of his ribs. In the two years he’d prepared for this day, he hadn’t expected this. Durgka and his bedmate of the evening unconscious after a night of gorging, then swilling whatever they could get their hands on, and then rutting for a few hours, that he had expected. That was commonplace. Miaran’s eyes flashed in the dim fire, scintillant points of red. He could not tell what people the girl came from, but her unbeaten limbs and unbloodied mouth said to him that she was a money captive, either to be ransomed back, or sold.

He crept forward, towards the furs Durgka slept on. Miaran knew what those furs smelled like, remembered biting down on them to keep from screaming while the giant fell on him from above. In the bedding lay a Naeth woman he did not recognize. She wore gold the color of her hair at her wrists, ankles and throat, marking her as someone of importance. He swallowed, trembling with bottled up fury. Her presence, and that of the captive, complicated things. He felt the edges of the rock in his hand, a chunk of flint he’d carved over two years, cracking it against another rock to knapp off flakes. His palm was probably bleeding, as he’d been afraid to wrap it or otherwise prepare a handle. Too afraid someone would find it, and realize what it was and what it was for, as that would have meant another beating or worse. They might have killed him for having it.

He was within four feet of the bedding. As much as Durgka towered over him, as massive as he was, if he could get that sharp chunk of flint into the big man’s throat, he could kill him. Just another foot. The girl chained to the post was whimpering now, most likely sure he was going to use the knife on her in her fear. He ignored her, praying to anything. The Fathers of the Forest, the Great Mother, even outsider gods, he no longer cared. Just let him get closer. Let him get another foot.

Sweat dripped down his face, his nose. He strained to move even slower, more quietly. In the dim light, his features took on a sunken cast as flickering shadows covered and then parted from his face. He risked looking over at the chained captive, placing a finger over his lips and inclining his head over to the bedding. Her eyes were huge, blue, wide with shock and confusion, but she ceased whimpering and that was enough. He felt the gritty earth under his feet and he moved even slower. He could feel something like distant rumbling through the soles of his feet, trained by years of surprise beatings. It puzzled him. It felt vaguely like thunder, but in the ground instead of the air. He didn’t hear anything, and so put it from his mind.

Two feet from the bedding, and he could see Durgka’s throat as the woman’s arm moved away. He knew that once he drove the flint in, he would most likely die. It didn’t matter anymore. Nothing did. Seven years at the man’s hands, his tender mercies, and those of the camp had been enough. He just wanted to kill his owner first.

A deep bellow far away shattered the peace of the camp. The shudder in the ground became a great pounding. The dogs outside began wailing and Durgka surged in a drunken stupor from his sleep. He did not see Miaran, for the boy was no longer there, having flung himself to the side and behind a pile of pillaged belongings, furs and tusks and stolen golden vessels once used to decorate an Alronian temple. It was not hard for Miaran to curl himself up behind the stolen offerings, his emaciated body easy enough for him to contort. He would have wept with the timing of it if he had dared.

“Warbringer!” A tall red-haired Naeth with a thin beard, wearing the typical conical metal hat and mail shirt, came running into the tent. Miaran recognized him as Murn, Durgka’s eldest son. He’d never made use of the slaves the way his father had, but he was no kinder, just occupied with the typical pursuits of a young Naeth out to prove himself. “Horsemen! Many horsemen!”

From his hiding place, Miaran felt his hand close over a carved animal horn, possibly a reindeer’s antler. It was cut in the traditional pattern dedicated to the Two-Horned God, Dulkarnizen. He could feel the story of the Man of Summer and Winter under his fingers, the horns pried off of his head as he was tied to the rock. He closed his fist around it. It was longer and sharper than his flint knife, with a wicked edge and a jagged point. If they found him, at least he could injure them.

“How do horsemen come upon us here?” Durgka sounded muddled, which he most likely was. Next to him, the woman he’d bedded was wasting no time with explanations. Miaran watched her buckle on breeches and a leather vest before pulling a mail shirt over both and snatching a spear and shield up, then nodding curtly and running out of the tent to join in whatever defense was being mounted. Miaran could feel that spear in the pit of his stomach, because had he managed to reach the bed, it would have appeared there as soon as he’d stabbed Durgka. “Do the Aghat ride against us?”

“No, Warbringer. They are Karnien.”

“Plains riders? Here?”Durgka considered it for a few seconds, his matted beard in his palm. No matter his other faults, the Warbinger of the Sullenan Naeth wasn’t stupid, or slow to react. “Go find Rulg, bid him to pass the boar spears to the men. We must erect a hedge of spears. Quickly!” Murn nodded his head with that same curt bob, and left the tent. As he did, Durgka was already looking for his armor. He donned one of the conical metal caps, then turned his back to the pile of looted goods to find his armor.

Miaran moved before he could calculate the distance or the odds. He didn’t even know what he was doing until after he’d driven the animal horn into Durgka’s back, slamming it home through his left side where the kidney should be. He’d had to help undress enough corpses for goods and valuables to know where dead people had been wounded. Even as Durgka reared back in astonished agony, the flint blade buried itself in his throat, spearing through his larynx and covering Miaran’s hands in blood. It was not much different from butchering a steer, he told himself, and as he leapt backwards out of range of those massive limbs he made sure to rip the curved antler from the wound with a sideways tearing motion, leaving a huge wound that bled profusely. Unable to scream, Durgka reeled, his bullish life not yet bled out, his arms still strong enough to crush his murderer in one blow.

Miaran did not want to look into those eyes. He stepped backwards, the sounds of pitched battle now everywhere outside the tent. People screaming and horses braying, the sound of fire sweeping through cloth as some of the yurts burned.

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