Tar’vid could hear the sound of battle, even from the rear of the army. He hadn’t been in a battle before it was true, but the sound was unmistakable...
“I am glad we are back here my friend,” Tarquin said, resting on his planted shield.
“What cowards talk is that?” Tar’lin objected. “We should be engaging the enemy ourselves, it is our sworn duty.”
“You are no battlefield warrior, just as Tar’vid is not one. Take no offence my friend, but a pitched battle is different to the small skirmishes you are used to,” Tarquin replied with his usual wry smile, Tar’vid wasn’t sure if he was trying to antagonise the other Paladin or not.
“What do you know of battle, you’re to my estimation nothing more than a brigand of some sort” Tar’lin snapped, his hand etching a little too close toward his sword hilt.
“A brigand?” Tarquin responded angrily. “Decades ago I was the first captain of the Samarkand guard, I fought more wars than you’ve had women!” he raged with tears in his eyes.
“Look, there’s no need to fight amongst ourselves, I’m sure we’ll see more fighting than we can stomach soon enough” Tar’vid interjected, stepping between the two men who were within seconds of drawing their weapons.
Neither looked to be backing down any time soon as they drew steel and Tar’vid drew Torgard in response. “Either put your blades away, now or by the Saints, you’ll regret it!” he shouted angrily, annoyed he was having to babysit men who were older than him and should know better.
The two of them glared at each other a moment before stepping back. “Forgive me my friend... I should not have put you in this position” Tarquin apologised with a bow.
“Yeah, sorry... guess we’re just frustrated...” Tar’lin said, offering Tarquin a hand which he shook gladly.
“Indeed, tales of Samarkand make me sad... perhaps I will tell you of it one day my friend,” Tarquin offered.
Tar’vid nodded, clapping his friend on the shoulder. Then came a horn blow that set them all on edge.
“That can’t be good,” Tarquin said, raising his weapon and shield.
The gathered Paladins followed suit, though some cast aside their spears and drew the Saints gifted weapons. More horns sounded soon after, this time distinctly from behind them. Fear gripped him, they were about to be hit in the rear. Tarquin reacted faster than the others, shouting orders to the units in front of him.
“Form up! Shield wall, shield wall on me!”
So forceful were his words that many began to obey immediately, though most were still stunned or unwilling to listen. Then Tar’vid spotted the first of the enemy charging towards them.
“There is not enough time my friend, we are done for once they get amongst us!” Tarquin shouted, forming up the soldiers that had gathered so far.
Tar’vid looked around him, there were only the sixty or so Paladins prepared to fight. “I’ll buy you as long as I can,” he shouted to his friend. “If I don’t make it... look after Luna.”
“My friend, what are you doing?” Tarquin replied confused, unwilling to accept Tar’vid’s decision.
Tar’vid started running towards the enemy blade ready, without realising it, he’d cast aside his spear and shield. “Paladins on me! Today we make the Saints proud!”
He was unsure whether any were following, but he had to do something, it seemed only a heartbeat later and he was amongst the enemy who were unready for a counter-charge, however small. His blade darted quickly, striking down several men before they could react, then the other Paladins hit them, felling more before they could form any resistance. It wasn’t long before the enemy started to form a shield wall which the Paladins would be unable to break with their fighting style. Tar’vid noticed that several of the Paladins were down, the enemy dragging them behind their forming wall as they attacked. Tar’vid risked a glance back towards Tarquin and their battle line, they still needed more time. Tar’vid drove his blade into a warrior’s exposed leg, knocking him down as he screamed in pain. He pushed through the newly opened gap in the shield wall, trying to break through, he failed as they caught him with their shields and forced him down, Tar’vid narrowly avoiding an axe blow before rolling away from the wall and gaining his footing once more, he fell back, forming a thin line with the remaining few Paladins.
“We can’t keep this up Tar’vid, we’re going to be wiped out!” Tar’lin exclaimed, panic apparent in his voice.
“They still need more time Tar’lin... we’re all that’s between them” he replied, keeping his eyes fixed on the advancing enemy.
Tar’vid saw his own brothers and sisters begin to waver, knowing they were broken he charged the line once more... this time though he was all alone, the others had fled... Tar’vid kicked out at the foremost shield, driving the warrior back as he tried to force his way into the gap, though his blade only hit upon armour before he was thrust back once more, this time however he was surrounded, a large circle forming around him. He noted the enemy marched on around them, though at the pace of a shield wall and not a charge. Tar’vid hoped he had bought some more time, though in truth he felt like he had made little difference.
With spears levelled at him Tar’vid watched on as a warrior duelled one of his fellow Paladin sisters, and she was losing. The warrior’s armour was laced with gold and his war-gear seemed well crafted, a dark beard tied with gold rings coming down to his waist. He deftly turned away her attacks with his shield, carefully riposting and catching her in the gaps of the Paladin armour. The fight lasted only a few seconds more as the warrior knocked her prone with his shield and drove his blade into the Paladin’s exposed throat. As cheers erupted from those gathered the warrior turned his gaze to Tar’vid, wiping his bloody blade clean on the Paladin’s cloak and sheathing the weapon.
“You seem more lively than the others, perhaps you will present to me a challenge?” the warrior wondered, fixing Tar’vid with an expectant stare.
“Why not, though I will be your death” Tar’vid retorted, though he gazed around, expecting to be slaughtered at any moment.
“Ha, I like you Paladin. Very well, I give you a chance to die with honour,” the man said drawing his sword, a beautiful thing that shone even in the low light even with the spots of blood. “A duel, to the death... your fellow Paladins haven’t fared well so far.”
Several of his men stepped forward and dropped dozens of swords on the ground, Tar’vid recognised the hilts as Paladin long swords and he ground his teeth in anger, partly at himself for getting them killed... but mostly at this man who had killed them for sport with the others.
“I am Rorgna of the Jakken, make sure you tell the gods who sent you to them” he stated fiercely, pointing his outstretched blade at Tar’vid.
“And I am Tar’vid of Whitecliff, and I will avenge my fallen brothers and sisters” he replied without emotion, bringing his blade up to guard.
Nothing more needed to be said as Tar’vid moved quickly to take the centre, still unsure if the other warriors would interfere in their duel. He was surprised to find Rorgna had given up the centre so easily, the warrior could have boxed him in easily with his shield had he taken it. Instead, he moved counter clockwise,e his blade low and his shield held loosely. He struck quickly, his blade darting from behind the shield and scoring several glancing blows on Tar’vid’s armour, though had he not dodged Rorgna would have cut his throat with every strike, Tar’vid sidestepped a thrust, raking his blade across Rorgna’s arm, and though it struck mail the hit visibly shook the warrior. Tar’vid pressed his advantage, thrusting under Rorgna’s sword arm and slicing into his shield hand. Rorgna cried out in pain, dropping the shield and viciously swinging his blade in a backhand sweep at Tar’vid’s head, he ducked the blow and moved out of striking distance momentarily. Rorgna bent down trying to pick up his shield once more, but Tar’vid saw his fingers couldn’t close around the boss, blood flowing from the deep cut. Tar’vid was sure this fight was over, without a shield his foe’s lesser skill shouldn’t be a problem. Rorgna rose up once more, a large smile on his face.
“How strange, that I should find a warrior such as you... amongst such... weaklings. I have dreamed of a fight such as this for years” Rorgna stated, staring at his ruined hand.
He looked back to Tar’vid, some form of battle madness entering into the man’s eyes. Without warning he came at Tar’vid with reckless abandon, his blows were savage and unskilled, but the sheer volume made Tar’vid struggle, for every parry or deflection a blow scored upon his armour. Soon he was reeling with several cuts opened on his face. Tar’vid saw openings everywhere now though as he parried another wild swing, finding it was noticeably slower than before and allowed Rorgna’s momentum to carry him past, cutting at Rorgna’s legs he sliced through his unarmoured calves and dropped the warrior to the ground in a heap. Rorgna tried to stand, but his legs refused to obey him and he collapsed. Tar’vid circled round to his front, placing Torgard’s blade to his neck. Rorgna ignored the gesture, simply reaching for his own blade once more. Tar’vid saw the man’s face beginning to pale and picked up the sword, placing it into Rorgna’s hand and keeping his fingers held tight around the hilt.
“I shall tell them... tell them that Tar’vid... of Whitecliff sent me and that many more shall follow,” he said quietly, his eyes staring blankly up at the sky as he bled to death.
Tar’vid stood up, expecting the others to cut him down immediately, but they were kneeling... all of them. The army had stopped marching, and as they looked at the scene, they knelt as well. A great horn blew out, others following until the sound of horns was deafening, he couldn’t be a hundred per cent sure, but it seemed he might have just survived after all.
Tar’vid stood alone for a long time, Rorgna’s body becoming lightly covered with snow until the storm abated. Another horn blew, a hollow note that felt like a mourning cry, then, passing through the crowd of kneeling warriors came a tall man, a great black beard hanging down to his waist, he sported several superficial wounds and many rents in his armour and shield, behind him followed a guard of soldiers wearing the Paladin army livery. As the large man approached he looked down at Rorgna’s body, then looked Tar’vid up and down.
“You defeated Rorgna in single combat?” he asked finally, his voice gruff and weary.
“I did, for what it’s worth, he fought bravely until the end” Tar’vid replied, indicating Rorgna’s body with Torgard.
“I warned him about fighting duels like this, guess it can’t be helped. You let him grip his sword as he passed?” the man asked, nodding to the fine blade in the man’s hand.
“It seemed, right... regardless of how I felt about him, I won’t disrespect my enemy, regardless of how I feel” Tar’vid replied with a sigh, Rorgna had angered him with the killing of his fellows... but that arrogance had also led him to this moment and his ultimate defeat.
“A noble sentiment, perhaps you are worthy,” the man said with a mirthless laugh, then drew his blade and placed the tip down upon the snow gently, kneeling like the others. “I, Bordin, acting leader of the Jakken acknowledge you as the new leader. Rorgna died at your hands in honourable single combat and you, an outsider, treated him with the respect one of us would have given. All hail Tar’vid, lord of Jakken!” he boomed, loud enough to deafen Tar’vid, but also for everyone for miles to hear in the deafening silence.
The warriors rose as one, shouting their acclamation of him, their weapons clashing on shields and causing a deafening roar around him. Tar’vid was speechless... mere moments ago he was sure he would be killed by them.
“Our tribe is in your hands now, young Paladin. I wish you the best of luck in the coming weeks” Bordin offered, making himself heard over the din.
“You say that like I’ll be assassinated Bordin” he replied, moving closer to the large warrior.
“Never assassinated, but you will be challenged I expect... you’re young, many will see your victory as a fluke, that you are not worthy of the mantle... but I have a feeling about you,” Bordin offered before heading back into the crowd.
The Paladin soldiers closed in around Tar’vid, escorting him through the cheering warriors and back through to the Paladin lines, and to relative safety. Tarquin greeted him with a bear hug, giving away the man’s deceptive strength.
“My friend, I was sure you were dead... your Saints really do have your back,” he laughed before the soldiers moved him along swiftly, he assumed at Tar’gorth’s behest.
Tar’vid addressed Tar’gorth and the gathered captains, finishing his report of the previous few hours. Tar’gorth’s gaze never leaving him, even when a war-weary Sah’rah walked up beside him.
“Did they take any prisoners though?” Tar’gorth asked him after a moments silence.
“Perhaps, to be honest, I was a little overwhelmed at being named the leader of a tribe I’ve never heard of” Tar’vid replied, a little annoyed at his treatment.
“Regardless, you saved a lot of our soldiers today. This could easily have become another massacre like Tar’gelth’s,” Tar’gorth responded quickly.
“The others helped more than I did, many gave their lives to buy the rear guard time” Tar’vid interjected, his thoughts going to the mound of Paladin blades Rorgna had taken.
“Look, I realise there’s a lot to get through here... but there’s still an army in front and behind us, what’s the plan?” Sah’rah butted in before Tar’gorth could reply.
Before Tar’gorth could respond to her questions Bordin barged into their hastily arranged meeting. “Don’t mean to be too blunt here, but we’re taking Tar’vid back with us, he needs to be... initiated,” the man said with what Tar’vid could only describe as a sardonic smile.
“Will you be taking your army with you?” Tar’gorth asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Of course, we have many dead to take back to be sent to the Gods, besides, it would seem our war is over now” Bordin replied without humour.
“Go with him Tar’vid, it’s probably for the best our main force doesn’t encounter them,” Sah’rah said, tossing aside her ruined helmet and shaking her matted hair out as best she could.
“Aye lad, and I’ll be going with you, a few of my soldiers too,” Tar’gorth said after a while, hooking his helmet onto his belt.
“Sure you can keep up with us old timer?” Bordin asked with a hint of mockery.
“I could certainly kick your ass lad, now we talking, or are we moving?” he retorted, making Bordin chuckle.
“What about the vanguard?” Sah’rah asked in shock, sweeping her arm to encompass the gathered soldiers.
“You’ll do fine lass, besides if anything I’ve proven myself as incompetent as Tar’gelth... doubt I’ll live that down” he replied with a sigh, starting to walk away.
“Does he know which way we’re going?” Bordin asked following behind Tar’gorth.
“Probably not, but he’s gathering a few soldiers first... speaking of which, I have someone to fetch, we’re heading further down the valley right?” Tar’vid guessed, thinking Bordin had been charged with holding the line nearest to the Jakken’s home. Rorgna had seemed more concerned with battle he thought.
“You’re right there, take your time though... going to take a while to funnel my men through to the other side.”
Tar’vid nodded, catching a glimpse of a put out Sah’rah starting to marshal her soldiers. He wandered towards the rear of the battle line, hoping Tarquin hadn’t come to find him or this would take forever. Making his way through the lines, Tar’vid couldn’t help but notice many of the soldiers were visibly shaken, their notion of combat drastically different to the reality in front of them, he wondered if this army of novices would be capable of capturing a legendary castle like Kendral. Reaching the rear lines he had forgotten how large this detachment was, though luckily, Tarquin sat roughly where he had been before, a bloody rag beside him.
“Come on, we’re leaving” Tar’vid said cheerily, grabbing his friend’s arm.
“As in, going back home?” Tarquin asked sceptically, sliding his sword back into its scabbard.
“Not quite, we’re going with Bordin” he replied, realising he hadn’t explained anything.
“And he is?” Tarquin inquired, standing and brushing snow off his rear.
“The guy we were just fighting,” he explained, though not fully enough.
“So, we are hostages?” Tarquin questioned, his eyebrow raised.
“No. Oh, I didn’t mention that I’m their leader now, something to do with duelling,” Tar’vid replied with a dismissive wave.
“That is kind of a big point you missed leading with there my friend, are you worried about challengers, the new leader being tested and all” Tarquin asked, though surely he knew of Tar’vid’s skill.
“Not really, just worried I won’t be able to lead people I guess,” he replied, knowing how poorly he’d led his fellow Paladins to their deaths.
“You just led thirty or so of your Paladins on a suicidal charge, to buy time for an army you became a part of two days ago, your ability to lead shouldn’t be in question my friend,” Tarquin replied, clapping him on the shoulder.
As they started to make their way back through the army Tar’lin stopped them. “Will you forgive me Tar’vid, I abandoned you in your moment of need... the Saints will be ashamed of me” he said aloud, on the verge of tears.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of, had you stayed you’d most likely be dead... I as I should have been” Tar’vid replied.
Tar’lin smiled back ruefully at him before leaving once more.
“Perhaps I could have been more supportive” Tar’vid wondered aloud.
“He didn’t deserve even the smallest of encouragement you could give him my friend,” Tarquin answered as they made their way through to the other side of the Paladin army.
Tar’vid noticed that the soldiers had parted to create an empty passageway that the Jakken soldiers now passed through. Tar’vid could see the outright fear on the faces of many, anger and hatred upon the faces of others, that had lost comrades on the front and rear lines, he could understand that feeling... though he didn’t experience it himself, Tar’vid wondered why.
“I think it is indeed a good idea to be away from here,” Tarquin said quietly as they passed soldiers too preoccupied to notice them. “In time, they will start to view you as one of them... you need to be prepared for that.”
Tar’vid understood what his friend was telling him, he’d been with the army for only a few days, why would they trust him at all. It was still a long walk to the other end of the line and he had plenty of time to contemplate his new position, then he remembered Tar’mine’s words back in Brownfield, that he would speak with him later on... perhaps there was a Paladin shrine nearby... he’d ask Bordin later on he decided. They reached the far side of the camp, still unable to tell what time of day it was, though, surely it must be coming near nightfall he thought looking up to the sky, but seeing nothing but dark clouds and light snow.
“Are you ready to leave?” Sah’rah asked him, her face stern as always.
“I think so, feeling a little nervous I guess” he replied, forcing a smile for her.
“You faced down a whole army, I’d have thought little made you nervous Tar’vid” she replied with a smile of her own. “Look, I have to make sure my soldiers don’t start any trouble with the Jakken... you stay safe, promise me that.”
“I do, Tar’mine protect you Sah’rah.”
“And Sah’ravel guide you, Tar’vid” she replied with a nod, striding away.
“I think she is warming to you my friend,” Tarquin told him after a moment.
Tar’vid watching her go until she vanished from sight. “Let’s get moving, I get the feeling this will be an eventful trip.”
“I hope not my friend, I’ve had quite enough excitement for one day.”
They both strode off towards the gathering Jakken where Tar’gorth and Bordin were engaged in a conversation that involved a lot of cursing.
‘A long trip indeed’ Tar’vid thought.