Natir Whitebridge: A Grain of Respect

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Chapter 36

The Hill of Terror

It all happened in an instant.

The shouts erupted from everywhere.

The war cry had sounded from behind her. Natir could not see what was happening because of the cart. She raced around it with the rest, feeling her legs shake with angst.

By the short time it took Natir to get there, all that she found was a man howling with pain, having lost his entire arm, and a trail on snow of another who had been pulled into the dark of the woods.

It was a chaotic and loud scene filled with incomprehensible inquiries of what had happened. Men roamed about with weapons at hand, facing the woods.

Someone had run into the forest on the assailant’s trail before anyone could stop him.

A young man ran at the edge of the campfire’s light, throwing two torches far into the woods to reveal what it concealed.

Panting with an open mouth, Natir sheathed her knife and threw her upper-half over the cart to retrieve a stash of torches which she lit from the nearest campfire and ran around the camp, giving them to the men who didn’t have any.

“I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t see it coming. I hit it. So fast—” the injured man howled.

As she handed over the last of the torches, she raced to the injured man and dropped behind him to help prop up his torso.

She gasped with horror. His wound was gruesome, and it bled all over her hands like mad. Natir had never before seen a broken human bone sticking out of the flesh. It was as red as though it were made of blood itself, and the mere sight of it sent a shudder through her entire body.

“Iron the flesh, iron the flesh,” she stuttered with hysteria, as if to tell herself what to do, then forced herself to act against the horror and shouted, “WE NEED TO IRON THE FLESH. WE NEED TO IRON IT.”

“Good,” Gull raised his voice from where he stood, almost mocking her. “Then do it, woman.” He then turned to one of his men, “Did anyone see what it was?”

Natir couldn’t believe how he was acting. It was as if he didn’t care.

“Come with me,” she tried to pull the injured man closer to the fire, but he was too heavy and couldn’t stop howling with pain.

She begged a person nearby, “Help me, please.”

Gull nodded at the missing man’s trail. “That’s our lead right there. Get the horses and bring out the spears, we’re going after it.”

“A rag, I need a rag,” she said to the one who helped her, but when she turned her face to him again he had already run back to the rest.

She searched about with her eyes. “Oh, Veles. Hang on. Hang on.”

Natir snatched a piece of cloth from the cart and stuck it to the man’s wound and worked in a hurry. “It’s okay, hang on, everything will be all right,” she stammered, and only then did she notice that he had gone quiet.

Natir shook him. “Hey, hey, stay with me. Hey?”

“Will you cut it out already?”

She tossed her head up and saw the brutish man who had spoken to her earlier, Milos, standing over her.

“He’s dead,” Milos said and headed to his horse. “Now cut it out, you’re annoying everybody.”

Her face shot down to look at the dead man. She couldn’t believe it. His eyes were wide open; he was still blazing hot and it was only moments ago that she had been talking to him.

She slowly dropped her head to his chest and panted, choking for air so badly that she sounded like she was sobbing.

“How do you want to do this?”

“We’ll split into three groups, not too far from one another,” Gull said. “One group will follow the main trail, the other two will cover the flanks.”

Teyrnon walked close to Natir, leading his horse, and called her, “You want to stay here?”

Natir lifted her face and shook her head.

“Then get your horse.”

She looked at him with hurtful eyes, shocked by his firm tone that sounded nothing like the person who was so nice to her before.

Teyrnon exhaled and said more softly, “This is how it’s like out here. Get your horse, you don’t want to be left behind.”

Natir nodded. She wiped the blood off her hands with snow and forced herself up to her feet.

She had to hurry; once she had fetched her horse and joined them, Teyrnon came down and approached her.

He checked her saddle. “You’ve got extra torches?”

“Yes.”

“Torches are not forever—”

“I know,” she cut him off, not looking at him.

He grabbed her wrist, forcing her to turn her attention to him.

“They are not forever,” he affirmed. “Once the oil burns out it will be as useless as a stick. And in these woods, a torch can mean the difference between life and death. Help may never find you without it. So, save it. Save it. You understand what I’m saying?”

She nodded.

Milos rode next to them and scolded Teyrnon, “What are you doing?”

“I was only checking—”

“Every man checks his own. And I’m not going on a hunt next to someone like you. Go with Hefeydd!” Milos said, then he turned his horse and yelled, “Who’s with me?”

Teyrnon pat her hand and reaffirmed once more before heading back to his horse, “Save it.”

Gull raised his voice with a final command. “Don’t wander too far off. Keep my torch within your sights at all time. It should have dragged its prey to its shelter by now. Once we find it, look for my signal and encircle it…Go.”

* * *

They headed out after the assailant.

At the center was a group of four led by Gull, and on either side was a group of three.

Natir ended up with the group to the right, with Earhart and Milos, and soon after they departed a lake marked their right flank.

Neither of her companions would have been Natir’s first choice. The arrangements were made in a hurry with no regard to anything.

They had tasked her with bearing their torch and keeping the torch of Gull’s group in sight, which served as their guide.

Her heart went out for Teyrnon.

She could not see his group’s torch from this distance; Natir regretted giving him the cold shoulder earlier and she worried that his two friends seemed as young and as inexperienced as he was.

After a short ride, Milos halted. “Stop.”

He came down from his horse and tied the bridle to a tree.

“What?” Earhart asked.

Milos didn’t answer. He grabbed the bridle of Natir’s horse and instructed her to get down.

She did as he said, and he tied her horse, too.

“What are you doing?”

Natir said, “We’re losing Gull.”

He took her torch and attached it to a tree as he spoke. “It’s just a rogue bear. Gull is more than enough to handle it by himself. Now, come here.”

He grabbed Natir by her cloak and pulled her in, roughing her in every way.

Natir was confused as to what was going on. She stuttered, “All right, all right, take it! What?”

He took her knife and stripped her of her cloak, which he threw onto the ground, and commanded her as he worked on his belt, “Lie down.”

Natir was shocked speechless.

“Milos, seriously?” Earhart said.

“This won’t take long.”

“Niall is dead, and Arlan is missing. This isn’t the time for this!” he said.

“And how is it my fault that no one taught the pups how to bite?” He turned to Natir. “Did you not hear me, woman? Hurry up and strip, I haven’t got all night.”

“You’re joking, right?” Natir said.

She yelped and threw her arms up to protect her face as he whipped her head with his belt.

“Does it look like I’m joking to you? Lie down, I said.”

“Milos, what are you doing?”

She dropped her arms and faced him. “No.”

He charged in front of her. “I don’t think I’ve heard you right. What was it that you just said, slave?”

“I said no.”

He smacked her with the back of his hand so hard, it rocked her out of balance, then attempted to wrestle her down.

Natir struggled back, slapping his hands off her. “No...What’s gotten into...Stop...Are you insane? Let go!”

A shriek escaped her as he landed a hit to her head; Milos quickly took advantage of her losing her balance to grasp a hold of her wrists and shook her violently.

“That’s some strength you’ve got in these skinny arms, little girl,” he hissed, glaring down at her.

A hard breath escaped him when she suddenly revolted. She had freed her hands in a flash and delivered him with a push that forced him a step back.

They both exploded, yelling at one another at the same time.

“Have you lost your mind—?”

“Did you just raise your hand at me—?”

“Can’t you see what’s going on around you—?”

“I’ll have your hands chopped off for this, you dumb cunt, NOW LIE DOWN AND SPREAD ’EM—”

“Earhart? Earhart, you’re just going to stand there? Say something, talk some sense into this mad—”

Her shouting was interrupted when Milos suddenly lurched forward and wrestled her down.

Her back to the ground, Natir couldn’t push him off for how heavy he was. She fought back hysterically, kicking him and sending her fists to his chest, shouting with breathless half-sentences.

He grabbed her thighs and tried to force her legs open.

Natir crossed legs and bent her knees to stop him as she twisted every way underneath him.

“I’ll fuckin’ have you.”

“Stop! What are you doing? Really, stop! No! No, I said!”

“Stop...resisting...whore!”

Earhart shouted, “Milos, for Veles’s sake, we need to go!”

They paused amidst their fight, both panting for air.

Natir had her knee to his chest, keeping him off, while he had grabbed both her wrists with one hand and forced her arms to one side, his other hand clutching her jaw and forcing her to look at him.

He shouted, breathless, as he shook her head, “What do you think you’re doing, slave? Huh? What do you think you’re doing? You think you get to say a word about this? You just wait ’til I’m done with you, I WILL WHIP YOU LIKE A DOG.”

She spat in his face, “I’d rather die.”

Overtaken by rage, he treated her with a slap that sent her cry echoing through the air then grabbed her head, his palm covering her whole face, and rammed the back of her head against the ground.

“You want to die, is that it? You think I’m playing around? I will kill you for real.”

“MILOS, WILL YOU STOP THIS? IT’S NOT WORTH IT!”

“YOU SHUT UP.”

She was trying to pull away but his grip on her wrists was unrelenting.

On instinct, she let out a loud groan, shook her head free, and shouted, “Go ahead and do it! Do it, kill me, raghh—”

He grabbed her neck instead, sending an ugly, rasping gasp from her throat.

“What game are you playing, slave? Huh? You think you’re fooling anyone, acting like your cunt worth the dirt I walk on? I swear, I should snap your neck right now. What, you think we don’t know what you are? You think no one knows where you came from, you pig-fucking, pleasure houses’ wench?”

Legs shooting into the air, Natir was at the verge of losing consciousness.

He only squeezed her neck harder. “Isn’t that where you’ve been all your life? Entertaining twenty cocks a day? And now that you finally got yourself a private owner, you think you get to act like somebody’s woman? COME HERE! I’ll teach you your place.”

“Milos, for the gods’ sake!” Earhart said.

Natir screamed with pain as he dragged her across the ground her by her wrists and hair towards a tree.

Milos dug his knee into her belly, pinning her down with all his weight until her stomach felt like it was about to burst, and held her wrists together against a branch.

Natir screamed for help, “No, let...go! Earhart, Earhart, for Morana’s sake, make him stop!”

She tried to resist every way she could as he used his belt to tie her hands to the branch in a hurry. All the while, Earhart sat on his horse watching the two of them struggling.

Milos stood over her.

“This should take care of your lack of sense,” he said and kicked her side, sending a breathless cry out of her mouth.

“Haven’t you listened to a word I said?” Earhart said. “What’s your problem?”

Milos approached him. “What does it look like?”

As Earhart snagged Milos’s attention, Natir set her teeth to the knot, trying to free her arms to no avail. “Earhart? Earhart, do something. Stop this.”

Milos continued, “We’ve got a cock-warmer no one is using, so I’m going to have some fun with her.”

“We’ve got more important things to do.”

He grabbed Earhart and pulled him halfway down. “If you don’t want to shove your stick in this piece of meat, that’s your choice, but you will NOT tell me what to do.”

“Alfred will not—”

“I’M SICK AND TIRED OF HEARING THIS!” he roared then hissed in Earhart’s face, “What’s the matter, you’re worried she will say a word about this? No. They never do. And even if she did, her price will be cheap.”

“You’re making a mistake.”

“Let me go! Earhart? Earhart, cut me free. For the love of Veles, Earhart throw me a knife!”

“Don’t tell me you feel something for her?” Milos chuckled. “Were you charmed by a slave, boy? Or maybe you two have got something else going on here?”

Earhart hissed, “And what would that be?”

“Who knows? Birds of feather flock together, don’t they? Maybe you feel she’s of a kind that suits your kind. Or maybe you watched her fuck, and she got the same moves as someone you know.”

“You’re wrong and you’re crossing the line.”

“Am I, son of the slave?”

“Earhart, just give me your knife!”

Milos slowly pulled out his knife then flipped it in the air and offered it to Earhart.

“There you go, do as she’s telling you. I will not stop you. Go ahead. Prove me right.”

Earhart eyed him back, inhaling fire into his lungs, then he grabbed a torch from his saddle and circled around.

Natir was shocked. “Earhart? Earhart, what are you doing?”

He set his torch on fire from the other one and turned his back on her.

She panted, “Wait, listen to me.”

He stopped next to Milos. “I’ll have nothing to do with this. I’ve seen and heard nothing—”

She shouted, “EARHART?”

“But I’ll tell you this one more time: I think you’re making a big mistake.”

“Yes. We’ll see about that.”

He abandoned her and rode ahead.

Natir couldn’t believe this was really happening. She shouted after him with all her voice.

“Is this how you think you’ll earn your respect, by sucking up to them? You’re just going to let them piss all over you? Earhart, come back. Help me. Earhart, please, you can’t do this to me. Earhart. EARHAAART?”

He never stopped; Natir looked up in panic as Milos stood over her.

“Stop being a bitch about it, and I hope for your sake that you won’t disappoint me.”

He reached down for her ankles and Natir quickly withdrew her legs, folding them beneath her as she retreated with the tree at her back.

“Fine, if that’s how you want to do it, it makes no difference to me… Open your mouth.”

Natir breathed fire into her lungs as he exposed himself to her.

He gave her such a slap that it echoed in the back of her skull and brought tears to her eyes.

She glued her lips together in defiance and stared daggers up at him.

He slapped her again. “Open your mouth,” hitting her harder each time, “Open your mouth...open your mouth, whore...OPEN IT!”

* * *

“What’s that smell?” said one of Gull’s companions.

His friend replied, “Some dead animal.”

“It shouldn’t stink like this in this cold.”

“Hey, I lost sight of Milo’s torch.”

Gull looked over his shoulder. “He must have lagged behind, he’ll catch up.” He looked the other way. “Did we lose Teyrnon?”

“No, I still see them.”

“Good, one flank is all we need to trap it.” Gull said. Just then, he noticed something and stopped. “Bring that stick over here.”

Gull took a torch out of his saddle and lit it from the one his companion had.

“What is it?” The man asked.

Gull used his torch to look down and a frown painted his face. “Fire up your torches.”

They did as he said and soon realized that the snow beneath them was red. It stunned them. Everywhere they looked, it was all red.

A man asked, “When did this happen?”

Gull came down his horse, so they followed his lead. He threw his torch into the dark, and the sight it unveiled sent a wave of horror through them all.

“What in Veles’ name is that?”

“What is this?”

One of the men couldn’t take it. He spun around and puked.

Eyes looking up, Gull stepped forward with a hard expression on his face. “Just what are we dealing with here?”

In the unforgiving dark, there stood before them a hill of flesh.

Wolves, bears, animals, men, women and children, guts, and maimed flesh. All dead. All partially eaten. Piled up in one place on top of each other.

There were so many that the blood leaked onto the snow and painted it crimson, surrounding a hill of terror so high, it could almost tower above the trees of the forest.

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