I was advised to delete this first chapter from They Came by Night, because it was too bloody and might be off putting to some readers.
Aravand, Northman Warrior
Zenfield Border Territory
Aravand watched the mile long caravan winding its way through the narrow mountain canyon trail. He closed his eyes to mute the screams he always heard in his mind before a slaughter. Today I will create more nightmares for myself, he thought. How many young men must I strike down? How many mothers will look up to the Goddess and curse me for what I do today?
The enemy had celebrated late into the previous night and as a result had languished in the morning before beginning the final trek to the safety of the mighty fort, they called Uther’s Bane. They will never reach the warm embrace of Uther, thought Aravand. I will free their slaves, I will rob them of their loot, I will find the slaver they call captain and … Aravand’s thoughts were interrupted by the sight of the slaver himself, clad in plate armor, riding a tall grey horse. It is as if my thoughts summoned him.
Aravand stood, grabbed his black flag, and waved it. He watched his men spring to life. Some blew horns. A group of ten men pushed against a mighty boulder that had been preselected and loosened. It careened down the hill smashing into the caravan dividing the rearguard from the middle guard. Further down the mountain he knew his formations from the Tornith tribe were dividing the middle guard from the vanguard.
Then all the Northmen stood and began shooting arrows at the trapped marauders below. The Southerners were well disciplined when they had room for their formations. Aravand had long admired their cohesive tactics and hoped to emulate them among his own men, but they resisted importing such dishonorable Southern methods.
Screams of men, and animals echoed through the canyon walls. Aravand curled his lip with disgust. His eyes were focused on the plate clad captain who was trying to get his men to put up a shield wall. Well, that won’t do. He waved his flag again and the men pushed more boulders down onto their enemy.
His right hand pulled his battle ax from his back sling, and he pulled his short sword with his left. “Charge!” he screamed and began to run down the hill eager to be at the fore of his men. The nascent formations of Southerners were disrupted when Aravand barreled into them.
To Aravand, it almost seemed like he was watching himself from above as he waded into his enemy. His first kill was an old, seasoned warrior who raised a sword but had not the strength to parry Aravand’s blow. The ax cleaved the man’s neck. A young man no more than twenty winters old stood and stared at Aravand without even raising his shield or his weapon. Aravand watched as his short sword thrust up into the man’s throat, twisted and withdrew in time to block a loosely held spear which fell from its holder’s hands.
“I yield,” shouted the spear holder. He had red hair, perhaps a mix of Northern and Southern blood. He even had four tattoos on his knuckles that were traditional in the North. Each one represented one of his children. He was a father of four. Aravand’s short sword thrust into the spearman’s screaming mouth. Fight for the South die like a Southerner.
Finally, Aravand reached the captain whose private guards were falling rapidly. Goddess, let me be the one to kill him. Calmly Aravand assessed the captain’s armor. It was expensive looking but flawed. The captain was too fat and had loosened the armor’s articulation to make it more comfortable. This meant there were gaps at his shoulders and at his elbows. He was wearing no chain under at his neck. That’s a fundamental flaw. He has become careless and arrogant from having too much success raiding the North. There were two guards between Aravand and the captain. He knew he could deal with them, but it would take time, and his good friend Bern was almost upon the captain. I must have the kill myself. The two guards approached him swords raised tentatively.
Aravand threw his ax. It sailed over the guards’ heads. Time seemed to slow down. Aravand watched the ax and out of his peripheral vision watched the guards launch themselves at him. While he was dodging the guards blows, he watched the ax decapitate the captain.The deed is done… and I feel nothing. Aravand’s short sword dispatched the two guards. Did I really expect my hollowed heart to fill with the death of my father’s killer? The goddess does not reward a murderous rage such as mine. He looked around at the bodies of the men he had killed. The spearman’s dead eyes were looking right at him in shock and naïve condemnation. We shall meet again yielding man, and little man, and old man, and steady guards… we shall meet in my nightmares for all my years in this cursed realm. I will listen to your wives’ wail, your children bawl and your mothers’ scream. That is the price the goddess sends me every night to taunt me for my sins.