Chapter 34: A Coven of Death
“Where?” Mariselle asked her guards standing around a campfire a few meters from her tent.
They stood on the edge, nervously grasping their weapons. One of them nodded down the path, past the glow of the flames. She moved forward into the shadows. A chill filled the air as she followed the path down into a hollow overlooked by a row of indigo bushes. She paused as the bushes rustled.
The two serpentine figures on the crest of the hill reared a full foot higher than her. Mariselle glimpsed their tails. Their dark woven hoods covered their upper torsos and faces, but their tails were unmistakable. Their voices hissed in perfect unison.
“Ssss . . . boy. Where is he?”
Her skin prickled as she faced them, “He’s gone. Dead. Fed to the beast, there in the maw.”
“Mussst have boy. . . .sssss” the demons writhed “Massster wants the boy!”
“You’ll have to swim after him then, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him shat out farther up the shore in a day’s time.”
“No!” They hissed louder. “No time! Take your camp back to cccity, reinforce the Lord’s warriorsss, then move to hisss ship. He isss waiting! We will finisssh what you could not.” They moved back into the shadows and in the blink of an eye were gone.
Mariselle slowly backed away several paces before turning. As trained in the dark arts as she was, she couldn’t imagine what those things would want the boy’s body for. Perhaps it was part of Dagon’s design or perhaps it was tied to some punishment in store for her. As she hurried back to the safety of the camp, she wondered if the two intentions weren’t one and the same.
* * * * * * * *
The Ambassador’s Square was lost and burning. Egan looked away from the rampaging flames that filled the district. The invaders had paused their pursuit to regroup, allowing Helen and Rustag to move the trickle of survivors down the market road to the great bazaar and the king’s command post. Egan had thought Rustag was dead when he was thrown by Molek, but amidst the chaos, the barbarian had stood and cleared a path out of the square for those who could run to make it out.
Helen had been only inches from the tent when it collapsed and had escaped with Avery. Egan wondered how many friends she’d lost in that moment. Still, she’s as solid as a rock.
Egan’s mind flashed to Molek, the giant now leading the marauders. Egan paused as he made his way up the market road, spotting his reflection in a puddle of water. His face looked haggard and desperate. At the first sign of battle below the great stair, he had left wounded men behind as he ran for his life. How could he ever be what he claimed? How could he ever hold their gaze again?
“Your face betrays your feelings, Warrant Officer,” King Braeden said as he approached. Egan immediately knelt.
“My Lord, forgive me. My defense of the city has failed.”
“Still you held back the Amorites far longer than any other man here could claim, and I’ll wager, far longer than they expected.” The king smiled at him. “Stand, please.”
Egan stood. “Speak your will and I’ll do it, Your Highness. I could form a squad, a vanguard and rush them at . . .”
“And get yourself killed in a few moment’s time? No,” Braeden replied. “We’ll hold here at the market as long as we can, and then if need be, fall back to the castle. What’s important is to ensure that the eastern gate is free and clear. I want you to lead the people out onto the moors away from Gilead. I’ll stay back with a host of guards as a distraction. They want my head, not yours.”
Egan’s mouth dropped. “Lord, how could I leave you alone? Let me fight them! Let my final death cry be championed in Gilead’s memory!”
“There will be no one left to remember you if you don’t lead my people away,” Braeden replied softly. “Egan, a great man is different than a prominent one. Being a leader means serving others first.”
Egan nodded. The king beckoned to five of his soldiers. “Follow your chief by way of the cemetery to the eastern gate and lead our people to Northport. My stewards there will house you, and together you may make your plans.” King Braeden turned back to him. “My daughter Alexandra should be waiting for you by the royal tombs. Please keep her safe. She is in your charge.”
Egan signaled to the soldiers to round up the people throughout the district. “Move quickly, we have little time!” The war drums of the Amorites began beating again in the distance.
As the guards moved ahead, herding a long line of families, he turned to look at his king one last time. The distant fires illuminated his solemn face, and Egan knew he would not see its likeness again.