To Murder – Part 2
May 28, 2012 § 1 Comment
Durgka was a very big man, even for a Naeth, a race of large men and women. As a Hentre, Miaran was shockingly tall for his people, taller even than Durgka’s sons but he was still several inches shorter, and easily less then half the man’s weight. He crouched, presenting as low a target as possible, and prayed again for the giant to bleed out before coming at him.
The wounds to his side and throat would eventually kill the Naeth. His golden beard was matted with the blood that had gushed from his ruined larynx, and more blood ran down his left flank from the reindeer horn Miaran had driven into his kidney. But wounded or not, the giant could still kill him before he died. The emaciated ruddy skinned, red haired boy looked gaunt to the point of starvation in the flickering light, in part due to how the Naeth treated all their personal slaves, and in part due to actual hunger. He’d forgone eating to provide the means to enter Durgka’s tent, after all. A prolonged fight was completely out of the question. He was already trembling with the effort of holding his ready position.
Durgka’s eyes focused in shock. Like most of his people, he held a low opinion of the slaves that they had taken, as their people were clearly no equals to the Naeth or they wouldn’t be slaves. Even the ones taken as children, like Miaran, were tainted, weaklings from weak people. Miaran knew that attacking from behind had no honor, but he cared so little for the idea of honor that had he been asked about it he would have mocked it. Honor didn’t ward off the boot to the ribs, didn’t magically repair scars or keep you from being held down and buggered. Honor didn’t keep a big Naeth child from throwing your meager daily portion into your face and laughing. Honor didn’t keep your owner from making you race with your legs tied together and certainly didn’t keep him from beating you if you lost, and beating you harder if you won.
But dying to a slave? That was an ultimate dishonor. Durgka would now never be able to enter the Great Whale’s Road with his ancestors, to forever hunt the watery lords and raid coastal towns, never taste the golden mead of his distant, unknowable gods and fight for them in their wars. Durgka and his people had stolen Miaran’s childhood, his mother, years of his life, and so Miaran had stolen Durgka’s eternal reward for a life spent exactly as his people said it should be spent.
Durgka would have roared his his throat would allow it. Instead, he simply charged. Miaran knew he couldn’t avoid it, and so he didn’t try to. He threw himself forward, clutching the reindeer horn in his hands like a curved spear, and rammed it full force into the giant’s hard belly as the impact tore him from his feet.
From the back of her horse, Adrantha Majenti, Quanton and leader of the Blood Eagle Legion of Alronia, watched in satisfaction as the Karnein horsemen’s charge drew the Naeth out from behind their rude wooden walls. Rude they were, but still enough to shelter the giants from the hell she had planned for months to unleash.
She’d tracked the Sullenan north for months, ever since they raided the Temple of Galia at Rook Ford. Her orders were clear – avenge, destroy. The Naeth respected only force, so she was to display that force. Her plan had first taken root while she walked the burnt-out remnants of the polished ebony that had been the temple, saw the dead priests and priestesses, even two of the warmaidens each surrounded by an escort of death Naeth to carry them to Ionan. If the temple had been larger, and had more of the killer priestesses, it might have survived. No one had expected an attack on the Ford, a rude little river crossing between the Seltin and Erythni where the Alronians had decided to stake their northernmost claims. Trappers and fishermen, mostly, who preferred dealing with Alronians because they paid on time and in coin.
The idea that the Naeth, any Naeth would descend on that little shithole, murder the people, and steal their few meager possessions and the gold votive offerings from the temple, was almost ludicrous. The dead hadn’t found it funny, however, and neither had Adrantha. She knew most Quanton viewed the Legion as a stepping stone to office back in Alron, but she took her work seriously. The northern marches were rude, with backwater towns and unsophisticated subjects barely better than the aliens that dared to raid them, but they were hers.
She watched the Naeth forming up into those peculiar five or six person groups, each armed with sword, shield and long spears with broad flat blades, the kind used to hunt the peculiarly gigantic pigs living wild up here. The spears were a good tactic against horsemen. You could stab the horses, break a charge. She waited until she could see most of them, easily a few hundred of the hairy savages, had come out of the gates and were forming a crude line. Then she smiled, and gestured to the man at her side. He raised a large, curved horn to his lips and blew a long, uluating note that carved into the night.
From the darkness, the sound of many bows being drawn. Then, their release.
Miaran, fully expecting to die, committed himself to stabbing again and again with the horn, trying to pierce Durgka’s abdominal muscles despite his exhaustion and shaking limbs. He wasn’t trying to survive, merely to ensure that no healer could possibly treat the wounds he’d already inflicted. The Hentre had no tradition of any worlds beyond this one where the dead would go — they believed in another land where the gods lived, but that land was right here, laid over this one, and Miaran was no god to be granted it — and so the boy had no hope outside of that tent.
The weight of Durgka’s charge smashed them both into the pile of loot in the tent, and Miaran lost his blood-slick grip on the carved antler. It was jutting out of Durgka’s belly, but the giant had already locked his massive hands around Miaran’s neck, and both knew that in the next second the man would simply snap it like rotten wood, despite the deceptive strength of the boy. Strong or not, he was an underfed slave and the giant’s fury at having been struck from behind, the outrage that a warrior lord of the Naeth would be denied forever by a coward’s attack, gave the bleeding man even more strength than he normally possessed. And this was a man who’d once punched a boar sow unconscious.
Miaran, therefore, was more than surprised to see a spear point erupt from Durgka’s right eye. He was simultaneously staggered with relief and disgust as brain and blood spattered in his face and the weight of the man crashed dead atop him. Pinned, he could barely get enough air to wriggle out from under the corpse.
The fair-limbed captive with the unblemished skin and face torn the spear out from the giant’s head with an easy, well-practiced gesture that flicked the blood away from the bladed tip. Her chains were in a pile by the post, and her terrified demeanor was now icy calm as her blue eyes bored into him. She said something in a language he didn’t understand. It wasn’t Hentre, and it wasn’t Naeth. He shook his head, panting on the ground, still half expecting her to stab him with the spear.
“Do you speak Naeth?” Her accent made the words sound clipped, as if she couldn’t pronounce the glottal, gutteral language because she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, use enough spit. But he understood her, and nodded.
“Why did you kill him?”
“Because he made me a slave.”
“There are many slaves here. You’re the only one in this tent.”
“I suppose I was the only one who didn’t care if I died as long as I got to kill him first.” In truth, he’d seen enough of slave life to know no one would help him, and many of them would have eagerly told the Naeth about him, in exchange for some extra mouthfuls of rancid meat and a few less beatings, and he himself didn’t blame them for it. The woman with the spear tilted her head to the side, regarding him. Miaran could just hear the screaming and clashing of weapons over the pounding in his ears.
“And do you want to die now?”
“Not if I have a choice about it.” Her face changed then, as she half-smiled, transforming her impassive features into something actually beautiful. They were strange features to him, a rounded nose, a proud chin, dark hair gathered in a loose braid. Her skin was the color of the beach sand he remembered running with his mother from the Naeth boats, trying to warn the extended clan and failing.
“Can you stand?”
He nodded again, although he wasn’t actually sure that he could.
“Then come. You should be fine as long as you stay close to me. His axe is by the side of that pile of furs, you should probably take it. We may have to fight our way out of here.” Her half smile became a full one. “The old woman will want to meet the one who collected the bounty on Pigfucker here.”