The big wheel
“Ask him what he wants” Bres instructed one of his foot men.
The footman nodded and clasping his helmet to his head ran in shouting range of the strange man who exited the woods.
“MY LORD KING BRES OF OF INISH VEIL WISHES TO KNOW WHAT IT IS YOU WANT!” The footman shouted across the field, his voice straining against the wind blowing the grass and reeds.
“The blood of kings” Cur said.
“WHAT??” The footman balked.
Cur lifted his hand and squeezed his fist bulging all the veins in his muscular arm. “THE BLOOD OF KINGS RUNS THROUGH MY VEINS!” He bellowed and tossed his cloak aside and stood shirtless in the cool afternoon, the smell of dying fires on the wind. “WHAT BLOOD RUNS THROUGH YOUR VEINS, BRES?”
Bres began to laugh almost out of a nervous response of disbelief, but he laughed alone. His men stood frozen looking at eachother as each in turn felt as if their graves were being trampled, seeing a ghost in the flesh. His body huge and monstrous in proportion, twisted by pain and suffering they could not hope to comprehend. They could barely look away for the unnameable horror it filled them with.
The knot in Bres’s stomach that wasn’t there this morning tightened and he sneered at his men. Looking about themselves like frightened little babes for a wet nurses tit.
“I DON’T KNOW YOU!” Bres shouted from atop his mare.
“I know you” Cur said.
He leaned forward, resting his hands on his horse’s mane “STEP ASIDE PEASANT!”
Cur began to laugh, a terrible haunting laugh from a flat gaunt face. As if a skeleton’s smiling jaw fell open and a horrifying mirthless pitiless noise came rattling out.
“I’ve had enough of this” Bres waved his hand at a band of his men on the edge of the procession. The five of them paused for a moment and then nodded before rattling into something of a formation. The sounds of their armor clanking like nervous teeth.
Cur watched them and they watched his chest rise and fall steadily. His vicious body looking like a piece of petrified wood, hard and gnarled and scarred.
But these weren’t peasants or bandits, these were trained fighting men of the Tuatha de’. They swallowed their fears and thoughts of his skin being as tough as bark, notions of whether or not a sword would even penetrate. Falling back into routine and order, their training carrying them forward without thought or fear. Just muscle memory pulling them forward as if on strings.
The elven soldiers spread out a long a wide arch in between Cur and the Bres, all carrying long pikes and short swords.
The one on the farthest of Cur missing arm’s side would attack first, they always did. Seeking a weakness and finding only death.
It was as so; the one soldier farthest on his stump side rushed forward with a quick light rhythmic tapping of his feet against the grass. His sword held low for an arching upwards strike from groin to neck. He rushed forward and made a loud noise in his throat expecting his target to baulk at being caught off guard stepping back into the arc of the strike.
With an unmeasured viciousness, Cur turned into the strikes arch. He chopped horizontally across the soldier’s collar bone. The blunt chopper he used could no more cut and certainly not through mail. But the force and severity in which he wielded it shattered the soldiers collarbone. Causing him to collapse to the ground almost instantly. Crumpling under the weight of the strike. A few more successive chops on the ground pulverised his head and helmet in a blink of an eye. His white elf blood caking the grass,
In the same breath the next soldier came in succession from the otherside. This one learnt from the first and did not try to force the Firbolg back. He very quickly ran with his pike aimed at the small of the Barbarians back.
Cur span around catching the neck of the spear with the crook of his blade, letting the point pass him by. The soldier froze at the sight of such speed from someone almost twice his size. Allowing Cur all the time in the world to snap the spear with his knee and elbow. He struck the soldier with one quick dull angled downward slash from sternum to gut. Moreover ripping his mail but for cutting it. It made a ghastly noise, metal straining and ribs scraping and then a splosh of hot entrails bursting onto the ground.
The third was on him in the same rhythm. None of them stopping or fighting one at time. Just one attack flowing into the next like a move in a dance or successive strikes from the same blade, wearing him down. His blade getting heavier and his lungs burning with each strike.
The third was much quicker and feinted his first strike with his light short sword aiming to come low. Then at the last second changing direction and slashing Cur across his hand causing him to drop his blade in the long grass. But failing to follow up his strike with a successive blow. The Firbolg obliged by impaling him on the broken end of the lance that had fallen at his feet.
The broken lance end was frayed and only sharp enough to splinter through his mail hauberk. The weight of his armor did the rest as Cur erected him on the long broken pike and let him slide down it using his body as a counter weight. His entrails twisting around the pike coming out the other end and splintering more.
The fourth soldier and the commander attacked perfectly in unison.
The Firbolg leapt for his blade but was stopped by an arrow at his feet. The captain was much quicker and unleashed a torrent of strikes unending and savage. The Firbolg with his quickness was only cutting his losses as each strike made contact but had no purchase but to draw a small amount of blood.
His strikes were quick but there was a pattern. They were not random nor unpredictable but a practised combination of slashes and thrusts kept almost in time to the beat of a drum. He need only slip inside that rhythm and make it his own but for the sound of another arrow knocked behind his ear.
Next there was a thrust. The Firbolg twisted his huge body with the thrust and took the captain by the wrist and headbutted him hard across the bridge of the nose. He drove the tip of his sword into the ground and snapped off the blade with his foot.
Moving the dazed captain like a puppet now. He forced the broken sword and hilt still in his hand up under his chin and the jagged blade through the top of his skull.
Seeing the captain was dead the archer let loose without fear of injuring his comrade. Cur caught the tip in his open hand, the arrow piercing him right through his palm.
He closed his fist to snap the shaft and with his teeth tore out the arrow head.
“Now you die” Cur croaked a wicked vindictive smile crossing his bone white face.
Cur turned to see the voice as he was crushing the larynx of the archer in his hand. He turned to see Ogma striding towards him onto the field of battle now strewn with Tuatha corpses and their white blood tipping the grass.
The firbolg tossed the body on the ground and went to retrieve his blade from where it had fallen.
Ogma waited, his helmet gleaming in the twilight, his eyes burning behind it, sure and patient and strong. His great iron club in his hand and his shield in the other.
“It wont be like last time” He said calmly.
Cur smiled “Here I am, I’m the master of your destiny”
“Is that so? Then you must be a ghost”
“AHHHHHH!” Cur launched at the shining knight of the Tuatha de and struck his shield with his cleaver to little effect.
Ogma blocked and deflected the blow with ease. Ogma countered by hitting the giant in the back of the knee with the heavy club. This off balanced him for a successive strike to the chest putting him on his back.
The crowd of remaining soldiers were agasp with the swiftness and precision they witnessed. The vile savagery of the monster met by the shining clean strikes from their champion. Making all his strength and rage seem like petulant flailing.
The firbolg laughed a sickening croaking laugh as he lay on the ground. Rising again slowly.
“Who are you, really?” Ogma asked grimly.
He got to one knee “I’m nobody” Cur croaked “Son of no one, king of nothing”
In a flash he was on his feet and he struck out again aiming for the knight’s head, a crushing powerful frenzied blow of pure wrath.
Ogma caught the strike with his shield and held it there, straining under the power of the mighty barbarian.
Curs laugh echoed through the bones of Ogma’s men and he could feel it, his strength pushing past Ogma’s and the blade coming down. But not just the the blade, the hate towering down on him the impending doom of it. Like a comet crashing into the earth from the heavens, the inevitable destruction and power of the evil inside him.
He couldn’t hold it there anymore, the will of it crushing down on him, making the rivets in his armor creak and the sweat under his hauberk chaff. He leaned back glancing the blow to the side and struck the Firbolg with the edge of his shield in the throat. When all the power of his arm was focusing on the air in his lungs he struck him across the jaw with his club.
He stumbled but regained his footing spitting blood.
“I feel that hate burning inside you”
Cur smiled, his teeth bloody.
“How does one man carry so much hatred?”
He laughed, that wicked laugh.
“That hate will consume you and this whole world with it” Ogma shivered.
Cur tightened his jaw, the veins and the bones bulging from it, his teeth straining and clicking and clenching. His face contorted into a grotesque grin and he laughed, a terrible boneshaking laugh. His eyes ablaze and his tongue clacking dry.
The Firbolg tossed his blade at Ogma with a vicious indifference, a wave of malice sent crashing on a sea of bile hate.
Ogma the skilled tempered warrior blocked the blade with his shield covering his eyes.
But the Firbolg was already on him, in an instant he savagely ripped the shield from his hand. He hit the tuathe’ champion over the head with his own shield so viciously his helmet came off and the weight of his armor pulled him down to the earth.
Ogma tried in vein to bring his club up to strike but the Barbarian was too close to swing at and he batted it away like it was a childs toy. Cur pressed his mighty weight down on Ogma’s breastplate making it hard for the champion to breathe and struggle.
“You talk too much” Cur laughed as he pummeled the downed champion of the tuatha de’. He laughed as he split his lip and broke his nose and smashed that pretty face. Ogma spat blood as he bit down on his silver tongue.
Cur turned and sneered at a soldier standing over him with a pike sticking in the firbolg’s face.
He took hold of the pike haft and tossed the elf to the side but then there was another and another and another. Before long he was surrounded by clubs bludgeoning and the points of spears poking at him from all directions.
Blackness descending on him faster than he could kill. Falling lower and getting heavier, he could hear her voice off in the distance. “As long as I love you…”
“Does he still live?” Bres asked pitilessly
“It seems so, he may be of ‘them’ afterall. The points of the spears drew very little blood, not very much penetration at all, and look the wounds are already starting to heal.” Dian Cecht remarked a hint of curious excitement in his voice.
“Impossible” Bres spat.
“You know of this how?” Dian asked.
“Don’t ask questions of me traitor! You’re lucky I haven’t had your hands feet cut off and ordered you crawl behind my horse”
Dian paused and meakly asked “What will you do with him now?”
“You there, take the wheels off that provisions cart and bring over some lashings.” Bres ordered one of the Pikemen, his hands clutched in front of him, gesturing with his head, never taking an eye off the firbolg.
“Yes my king.” The pikeman responded, his head bowed.
“What of Ogma?” Bres asked, clenching his jaw, not looking at Dian.
“His injuries are severe but with my help he should recover quite quickly.” Dian mumbled.
“A day, two at the most”
“Fine- lash the barbarian to the wheel.” Bres said to the pikeman as he and the carts driver brought the large wheels before the king.
“You mean to torture him?” Dian scoffed.
“This is the one that stopped us on the road and it’s no coincidence he stops us again here, he knows where it is that girls going, he meant to halt our advance.” Bres said stonily.
Cur’s eyes were closed but he could still hear them from the sunken well he was in. He could feel his hand and feet being tied to the spokes of the large wheel, stretched out over it.
“Wake him” Bres commanded the pikeman.
Falling, constantly falling, then the warmth of her body and a harsh smell. He was jolted back into reality gasping for air as a calloused had slapped his face as hard as it could.
“Begin at his feet and work up” Bres smirked looking down at the roused barbarian.
“Yes my king” A pikeman said. He was a stout elf with a beard missing his breastplate with sweatsains under his arms. He and the carts driver, a skinny elf with a sullen face held up the other large cart wheel.
They carried the wheel over by Cur’s legs which were lashed to the spokes of the other wheel.
The two shabby soldiers looked over at Bres one more time.
Bres nodded with his arms folded.
The bearded soldier smiled and licked his chops as he and the other grunted and heaved the wheel over Cur’s ankle. They paused for a moment then dropped it down with a dull thud and a bone crunching crack as Cur’s foot was snapped back against the wheel.
The barbarian let out not a sound, only staring up at the sky.
They moved onto his other other, it cracked and broke and went limp like the one before bending around the wheel.
Dian Cecht watched on but not in a state of horror or disgust but of cautious worry, scratching at transitory itches where a ligature might’ve been.
Bres watched Dian’s face shrink and wrinkle at the sound of the Barbarians bones breaking and he smiled.
The two shabby soldiers did as they were told as they moved up the leg.
Cur continued to stare glassy eyed at the sky until the wheel came down again against his shin bone snapping it in between the spokes of the wheel.
Then he started to laugh, a ghoulish otherworldly laugh. It sent shivers up the torturer’s spines as it sounded like it came from the Magmel itself. Not distinctly coming from his mouth but from his person.
They swallowed and froze briefly.
“Keep going” Bres said swallowing the spittle in his mouth as he briefly scanned the barbarians bloodied battered state. All that hot red blood making his mouth fill with acidic bile, he swallowed down.
They nodded and lifted the wheel once more to crack the other shin and did so but with long fearful faces. Their trepidation palpable as if they expected the ground itself to open up and demons to swallow them as the laugh echoed over the hills.
“Can’t you see he’s mad, he won’t tell you a thing” Dian protested.
Bres looked over at the tortures and nodded for them to keep going.
They swallowed and took deep breathes as the two elves brought the wheel above his thigh and broke it against the wheel below. The wheel now seemed unnaturally heavy and cumbersome.
“For the goddess’s sake, I’ll tell you, just stop this madness” Dian broke down.
Bres put his hand up and the men paused, their faces white with blotches of red, wet and cold with sweat.
“You know where she’s going?” Bres asked coldly.
“Of course I do, I sent her there” Dian said reluctantly. He scrunched his old wizened face up as if to chastise himself.
Bres chuckled and crossed his throat with his finger.
The bearded soldier nodded and drew a knife from his boot and slowly moved around the wheel and slit the barbarians throat.