Desak of Healator
The wind chilled my dangling feet as I sat on the outlook. The rusted door creaked behind me.
“Desak, You'll freeze out here. Why don’t you come back to the yard? I saw Evel there a few minutes ago. She could probably use some company.”
It was Progmih, the guard that my father had assigned to watch over me. His constant nagging was annoying but I’ve learned not to argue with Father decisions.
“I like to see the trees though,” I protested. “Sometimes when the wind calms down, I can spot the tops of the church in the city.” I pointed down the pine littered slope into the wall of white.
Without realizing, my weight shifted too far over the edge and I cried out as I began to slip. Progmih leaped from the doorway and wrapped his arm around my waist just before I fell to a fatal plummet. His might alone hauled my helpless body back up to the platform.
He gave me a sharp gesture towards the door. “To the yard.”
“But-” I tried to object
Reluctantly, I shuffled past him with a low head and made my way through the stone corridors until I reached the courtyard. A fresh blanket of snow covered both the ground and the few dummies that had yet to take their days worth of beating. On the far side, away from the training soldiers, was Evel, my best friend. She worked furiously at the straw dummy with her dull sword.
We were as best of friends as could be simply because Evel and I were the only children within the isolated walls of Healator. My father was Vertilis, a war chief, and hers was Krakiip, the second to the fort’s commander.
All of my previous worries of what Progmih might tell my father evaporated when Evel stopped for second and saw me. She waved at me with her small hands and I sprinted across the snow. Underneath my boots, the slick ground gave way, sending me face first into the stones. A throbbing pain pulsed through my skull as I struggled to my feet.
“Where were you all morning?” Evel asked, laughing at my wipeout. She gave me a playful punch on the shoulder.
“I was trying to find the city from the ledge.” The ledge was a small stone outcropping, jutting from the southernmost side of Healator. “Pighead forced me to come practice with you.” When Progmih wasn’t around, Evel and I referred to him as “Pighead”.
“Quit looking for that stupid city. You’re the son of a war chief, not an artist,” she joked. I shrugged off her jest and went to snatch my bow on the edge of the yard. Thank god no one found it sitting outside overnight or else I would be forced to listen to another one of Progmih’s lessons on “proper care of equipment.”
My gloved hand struggled to notch the arrow but it finally slipped into place and I pulled the string back to my cheek just how Progmih instructed two years back when I first picked up the bow. My arms swayed, I closed my eyes and released. I cringed at the sound of the arrow clattering against the stones.
“The king pays a great deal for those arrows,” a voice announced behind me, “It’d be in your best interest to not break them.” It was Drofith, leader of the second archer’s regiment. Snow crunched and steel plates clinked as he approached. I looked up at the scarred face. The little hair he had left was graying and his cloak’s hood covered most of the deep ravines carved into his scalp by countless grotesque scars. “Let me show you how.” Drofith gestured to my bow in my clumsy hands. I handed it to him and he plucked an arrow from my quiver. He notched it and tested the string weight. “Light as a feather,” he said absently. Without hesitation, the archer drew back and fired. The iron tip pierced straight through the dummy’s neck rustling settled snow into a frenzy. He gave it back to me, and I gawked, astonished by his skill.
“Don’t clench the handle, don’t close your eyes, and relax. You tell the arrow where you want it to fly. It will only follow your commands if you have confidence because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years it’s that the bow doesn’t enjoy cowards.
“Now draw the string and hold it.”
I did as he instructed. After fifteen long seconds, my arms began to ache.
“Don’t release without an arrow or it’ll snap.”
Muscles in my shoulders seemed as if they were about to tear themselves apart.
“let it go. Slowly!” A sigh of relief left my body. “Now do the same but with an arrow this time. Only release when you truly can’t take it.”
Again my shoulders went through the excruciating trial. Finally, I released and I watched as the fledged shaft cut through the cold air and sliced open the dummy’s left thigh.
“You closed your eyes, boy. Again.”
“How many shots must I take?”
“You can stop when I say you can stop.”
I pulled back and held until my body ached. Drofith lectured while I grimaced in pain. “When you fight in a real battle, the person who wins,” It clattered against the stones, “Is the one who is better prepared. The children in our enemy’s lands play and worry not about their future, but you, Desak, will become a great war hero just like your father.” I notched another arrow and held. “You know, I trained your father many years ago. Sure, it wasn’t until he was quite a bit older than you are now, but I can already tell you are much like him. Your rebellious personality Inquisitive nature are near copies.” His voice now lowered to a sharp whisper, “Don’t let either of those two distract you.”
The morning carried on with Drofith floating between me and his archers, Evel honing her beginner sword skills, and Pighead disappearing to who knows where. If I told my father of him leaving me alone he would surely lose his head.
After a few hours, I unstrung the bow and left the frigid courtyard and up to my warm room high on the east side of Healator’s keep which was half buried in the mountain. Since I was a war chief’s son I got a room with a window.
I pushed open the large doors to the feast hall. The servants glanced up from their mindless tasks when I disturbed the silence. With each step echoing, I and headed for the staircase on my right. White footprints on the stones melted on contact which in turn left wet spots all over the floor. As silent as one could with wet boots, I climbed up the spiral stairs while tearing off my cloak.
Exhausted, I stepped onto the fourth floor and walked with squeaking footsteps to my room. A chilly draft greeted me and I set my things on the bed. There was a pile of fresh clothes on my fur covered bed that the servant had yet to put away. Goosebumps arose all over my body. I cursed as I realized my servant didn’t start the furnace. Before I threw everything from my bed to the floor, I noticed a folded parchment on the comforter. It had no wax seal or leather binding. Warm air blew into my cold hands and I unfolded it. It read:
Come to my room. I have something for you. Make it fast. -Evel
What could that girl be up to now? Immediately, I threw on a heavier wool cloak that would blend in with the snow. Childish giggles escaped my lips. We always played games where we’d pretend that we’re sneaking around the fort as spies.
Evel’s room was on the opposite side of Healator and as high up as mine was too. After putting on some leather boots, gloves, and A beige bandanna around my mouth, I sheathed a short knife to my side. The next step was to get out without being spotted. I headed back down the long staircase.
Once in the hall, I moved in and out of tables to avoid the sight of the busy servants. One came within a few feet of me but her back was turned. Now! I dashed while remaining low. All this crouching made my spine ache but I kept going. At last, I reached the door. My bare hands crept around the crack and pulled. Beyond the door, the wind howled like a pack of hungry wolves. I heaved until a small enough area opened and I slipped through.
Outside in the cold, I hid behind a large box covered with a rope net, planning my next move. I peeked over. One guard waltzing lazily along the snow-covered stones. A small stone served as a distractor as I lobbed it in the other direction. The guard looked over to where the stone landed but nothing more. I waited until he eventually moved out of sight.
Freedom returned to my joints as I moved on my spot. I jogged across the same path, looking every which way for more guards. I reached the path that led up and overlooked the courtyard. When I reached the top I cursed under my breath as I realized that the guard had already turned around and was headed my way.
I lowered my head and brushed past him as the sound of swords cutting and arrows thumping into dummies echoed from below. His gaze bore down on me as I passed. A wave of relief washed over me when he was passed.
The path wound around the courtyard and to the base of an ominous tower. I turned right as I approached because Evel’s room was in the next one down.
There were no more guards on the path to the tower so now came the real challenge. Body still stiff, I clambered up on top of the low wall and then reached over to the exterior of the tower. My hands turned to ice at the stones’ touch. A dizzy feeling threatened to throw me down as I glanced at the slopes far below.
One hand after the other. That’s how Progmih taught me to climb a tree. I let out a heavy breath. Not more than ten feet up, I heard oncoming footsteps below me. I glanced down and became dizzy again. My shivering body hugged the wall to conceal myself. Pighead was below and I watched him rush up to a guard.
“Have you seen Desak Anywhere?” he asked frantically.
The guard shook his head. “Have you tried his lady friend?”
“Yes, she hasn’t seen him either. Damnit, Vertilis will kill if he finds I out I lost his son. Ask around but make sure you don’t mention me or spread it too far.” The guard nodded and went on his way. Progmih jogged down the path and out of sight.
Once the coast was clear I moved my frozen hand up to the next stone and kept climbing. By this time I couldn’t even feel my fingers and I didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.
The climb was a slow process and the light peeking out of Evel’s window was just a few stones away higher. Come on, I urged myself, Just a bit further. A few more stones conquered and the feeling in my hands had utterly vanished. My senseless hands couldn’t grasp the outline of the rectangular stone, and my grip was failing. Not even five seconds past and I was facing the same plummet as back on the ledge. There, I had someone to save me. No one to save me here.
The blood spilling from my stump of a neck, the cold stones warmed by its embrace, and the anger of the Vertilis. These thoughts haunted my mind. What if I didn’t find Desak before he returned? What if he’s injured or even dead? A wave of dread engulfed me. My joints felt weak and I quick plopped down on a set of boxes blanketed with snow. He has to be around here somewhere. The last time I checked his room had clothes spread out and wet footprints so he couldn’t have gone far. A guard passed by and I grabbed him by the arm.
“Have you seen Desak?”
“I don’t know if it was him, but there was a short man with a white cloak that passed me going east over the bridge. If I had to say, that’s him.”
“When did you see him?”
“Not ten minutes ago. You better go find him, my boy or his father might as well hang you and hand your corpse to Drofith to practice with.”
I sprinted back to the spot the guard had described and followed the path east. As I rounded a corner I head a yell coming from the other side of the wall. I clambered up onto the boxes to lean over and saw a small but distinguished shape tumbling down the white slope. Shit.
I bolted through the snow and barged into the keep. Without stopping to catch my breath, I dash to the far end and headed up the stairs that lead to the quarters of the commander’s second. Once at the top of the stairwell, I bent over in exhaustion. Krakiip’s bodyguards glanced at each other nervously.
“What is your business with the lord’s adviser?” one asked.
“It’s the war chief’s son, Desak. He’s fallen over the wall, and I need to speak to Krakiip.” The guard stared in shock for a moment and banged on the door. It opened to reveal a room decorated with the banners and colors of White March, the land under which this fort is controlled, and a single man sitting on a plain throne, Krakiip. He looked up from a long parchment to fix his gaze on me. I fell to my knees at his feet.
“What is it?” the burly man in white and red robes inquired.
“Sir,” I kept my head low, “The war chief’s son, Desak, has fallen over the east wall. I ask-”
“Aren’t you the one who’s supposed to watch him?” Krakiip asked, sounding almost uninterested with the matter. I nodded shamefully. “Guards,” he called out, “Gather a party and search for Vertilis’ son. This man will lead.” He pointed an aged hand at me. “Go now and do not delay for I can’t control what the war chief will do to you.”
Vertilis, War Chief of Healator - seventeen years ago
Iron chains groaned as the gate rose. I entered Healator holding high the head of the orc warlord, Bagatash-Endelikig. His "warriors" have been harassing small villages and travelers in White March for the past year. Along with those, Bagatash burned food stores and ambushed our patrols.
The orcs were too weak to take on a fortified city such as Groden Heka, but it was time to show them their place and my wrath swept over their pathetic fort within an hour. Now his head was in my hands and half of his guerrillas were in shackles. There was no hope for those sorry bastards because they would be shipped off to the mines where they will work until they die.
I stopped my horse in the rally yard and watched as the freezing white skinned orcs marched past my dreadful glare. The snow crunched under their bare feet as Nøtteles of High Båthrog, my lead captain, shoved them into a dark tunnel that went down to the endless shafts where they would work. I hopped off my mount and landed heavily in bloodied armor. One of my men held a spear so I took it, jabbed the point through Bagatash's pale skull, and planted it just outside the gate as a trophy.
After the long line or slaves filed into the mines, I made my way through Healator and into the second floor of the keep with soldiers saluting me the whole way. The clinking of my plates echoed in the vacant halls. The guards let me into Krakiip's quarters without a word and I knelt before my superior.
“Speak,” he said.
“The orc warlord, Bagatash-Endelikig, has been eliminated. His head sits outside of the south gate. I lost four out of forty-six men."
“Enlighten me, start to finish.”
“Eight days ago before daybreak, we departed from Healator...”
The early morning wind tore at our skin and threatened to rip our cloaks. It brought gusts of fresh on us, but we kept moving. Our mounts, mountain sesspars, didn't mind.
The sesspar was a distinct creature from the northern kingdoms. The mountain variation spent most of its life on the jagged slopes while their southern cousins, valley sesspars, stalked the warm praries. They were large wolf-like creatures with fur varying from grey to white to brown. Along with their excellent camouflage, sesspars are armed with a savage set of claws and teeth capable of killing the massive muskoxen that also roamed these mountains. However, years of training and allowed us to tame them and use them as a substitute for horses.
We rode along an off-road path with the peaks towering high above. By midday, the clouds darkened and the wind picked up yet again. Within a matter of minutes, bits of ice and snow struck us like flurries of arrows. Luck was on our side as Molan, a pikeman, spotted a cave for us to take shelter.
Outside, the wind howled like the symphony of a thousand dragons. Beautiful yet deadly. After setting up a crude camp, one of the men ventured farther into the cave’s tunnels only to discover a troll feasting on a carcass. We gave it a good fight but ended up losing one of our swordsmen. Rodir was his name. I wanted to take him back to bury him but a sacrifice had to be made so we covered his corpse with stones.
The storm passed in the morning and so we continued our journey to Bagatash's stronghold, Yiflfyre. Once the feeble walls came into view my troops dispersed and surrounded the fort, waiting for my signal.
I ordered the sesspars to be held at the leash. When I believed everything was set I drew a horn and sounded White March's call.
Arrows were launched over the walls and the sesspars were unchained. Their massive legs propelled their muscled bodies up and over the wall. Screams of agony and fear cried out. The gates were thrown open and fleeing orcs began flooding out right onto the shafts of my spearmen.
I watched, satisfied, as one of my soldiers thrust the shaft through a charging orc. The snow turned rapidly from a stunning white to muddled red slush.
I too charged in alongside my soldiers. An orc armed with a rusted blade challenged me. I parried and chopped down, sending his forearm sailing through the air. With a swift backhand stroke, my glistening blade lopped the orc's head from its shoulders. The orc’s blood stained my cloak and spattered against my armor.
Most of these animals weren’t even armed. Peasants tried to defend their village with clubs, knives, stones, and even bricks. Many I saw clutched their children or simply ran off without a fight. It mattered not. My blade brought the fury of White March and the vengeance of a war chief.
“Vertilis!” Shouted the warlord. He emerged from the gates with a mail coat and jerkin. “Let not these people die. Fight me alone and the victor will take the prize.”
Both orc and human held their weapons. They wove a circle with their bodies. I could hear my men snickering as they were confident in me.
Across his hairless skull were red paint patterns that overlapped numerous scars and wounds. Bagatash heaved a large, ax and flaunted it in his brute arms.
“You wish to fight me alone? Well, then. You will surely die.” He bared his sharpened teeth and charged while bellowing a great war cry.
I sidestepped the overhead swing and landed an elbow into his soft gut. The warlord was quick to react as he swung the ax around, razor edge glancing off my breastplate.
He rushed again but I rushed too. His chest was open so I leaped from the ground and barreled into him with my shoulder, knocking him over.
My blade ripped along his skin which only enraged him. Bagatash scrambled to his feet and snarled.
I swung but he met my sword with his ax and slammed the center of my chest with a bare fist.
The orc stepped on my torso and bore down on me with pure hatred. He raised the shining ax above his head, but his glorious execution was cut short.
Crimson blood soaked the snow and he dropped to his knee with a savage cry. My knife protruded from his calf.
With a grunt, I rolled to my side and stood up, now glaring down at him. To ensure my victory, I punctured his gut and dragged my blade’s edge along it. His face contorted with pain.
“What now O powerful victor?” He mocked through ragged breaths. “Will you torture me to your heart’s content, or will you end me swiftly with honor?”
“You will be an example," I said, wiping the blood from my sword, "To all orcs and that those who defy White March will be sent to their graves.” With that, I sent death another gift by decapitating the warlord on the spot. His body collapsed and convulsed while a thick stream of blood spurted out of the gruesome stump.
I could sense the dread and horror that washed over the crowd of orcs. I loved it!
“Round them up!” I ordered. Bagatash's head settled on the ground. I picked it up, its face still contorted. My own face split into a satisfied smirk as the soldiers bound and ordered around the helpless orcs. Maybe someday this plague of orcs would be gone.