Decimation of Spibrooke
‘The feast at the square, you should see it Tib! The street’s all crowded down to Old man Smith’s shop’ Owin said. He had a mug of beer in hand, fumbling.
‘Remind me why it’s us drawing this bloody watch?’ Froth dropped on the concrete floor as he walked towards Tib. He had swiped this mug from a servant boy who intended to have a taste of it. Poor bastard had run all hour, keeping this one mug specially as his reward. Hoping to have it with some brown bread. He still has his brown bread but his mug is gone.
‘You’re late. You ought be here hours ago. Worse you show up without your helm’ Tib turned, facing Owin. He had leaned on the rampart, watching the eastern road. ‘The captain will be displeased’
‘Bah! Displease my arse!’ Owin grinned, taking a seat on an empty barrel.
’You see, He began. I was at the great hall eyeing a wench, I intended bedding before Gizmo, Owin remembered, frowning.
‘That one-eyed geezer!’ He muffled under his breath. The old man had shoved him roughly, even threatening to tell on him. If you’re a soldier in Spibrooke, Gizmo was your worst nightmare. Executioners are told to always keep their masks on when they sweep clean the head, Gizmo never heeded. For all the good it did him, he lost an eye when a certain swordsman from the north poked it out as a retribution for his dead cousin. Gizmo was left for dead in the woods back then till a ranger found him on the fifth day. That ranger should have just left him with the warthogs and crows. Owin thought.
‘Anyways, He smiled getting back to facing Tib. Saw the damn captain. He was making a mess on his table. I saw him lose two wagers and another and another and another.’ Owin counted with his thumb.
‘He lost them all. And then he vomited on a maid. Thank the seven gods, the mayor takes a fancy to him. He’s as incompetent as a sloth’
‘Hush! Trouble cherish you faster than you drink’ Tib replied.
‘If a man be merry, let him be, and if he says his thoughts? Let him exist. What’s the bloody feast for anyway?’
‘Fool’ Tib murmured. Owin’s beer dripped all over his beards. His eyes were half-awake. Tib could see.
Tib rested his back on the ramparts. Tonight’s sky was filled with brilliant stars. The moon was gone. They shone brighter like they were happy; she wasn’t here but not the forest. It was too silent. Too quiet. Tib had scanned the forest for the tenth time. The eastern road, the marsh to the south gate, distant swamps his eyes could see, all the way to swamp oak tree. He had peered and saw nothing. They had been at this, for a week now. He and Owin. Next week, was scouting duty with rangers from Eastwatch.
‘You seem lost, a ghoul haunts you?’ Owin asked, standing beside Tib as they both leaned on the rampart. A head taller than Tib. Trees as far as the eyes can see.
‘Last week, a girl was raped close to the granary’
‘What about it?’
‘She died yesterday’ Tib sulked. A grim expression on his face. The brazier, unable to brighten. ‘Fell off into Crimson Lake’
‘If only we changed the name of that lake, every winter it keeps getting… crimsier’ Owin sighed.
‘You could talk to the mayor?’
‘Talk to a mad man obsessed with tax and Spibrooke’s lands. How do I appear, some lord?’
Tib looked at the sky, not having an answer to that. Recently, guards had gone missing with every scouting adventure. First, it was Gilmor, Tolly, and Bedrick. Aspeth, the huntsman who never wasted an arrow on any game, offered to help with the search. The next day, he was declared missing too. His brown cape hung on a tree branch for him. It was like they all vanished. The captain was left with no choice but to bar any entry to the forest after dusk. You enter to your peril. The watches were doubled, fewer guards on street patrol. Pickpockets and vagabonds are all over the place.
Dangerous times they lived in. best you kiss the children goodnight and mount a watch at your door, for fear of a break-in. Everyone could see that. They say bad news spread like wildfire. These feasts became spring waters the mayor employed to lick the flames.
A deep silence ensued as both men reminisced over situations in Spibrooke.
Here every town came. Trading radish, carrots, turnips, and leather for their fine wine and Brooke’s beer. Fortnightly, draught horses pulled wagons piled with barrels on the count’s road. Travelling east and west with exotic ale, a southron village ever produced. Even dwarves, hobbled to these parts. Thick beards and stubby legs, trading dwarf gold for a drink. Telling stories by the light of a fire.
The forest grew darker and nothing came through.
‘Barnet’s going scouting tomorrow, said he wants to find Gilmor one last time’ Owin broke the silence.
‘It’s been three moons since he disappeared. What’s Barnet been drinking, Ginger ale?’
Owin guffawed, holding his sides. He kicked the mug lying on the floor, sending it to fly. It landed with a crash, startling Tib. ‘I’m going with them’ he smiled.
‘What did Sara say?’ Tib asked, unconvinced.
‘You know her, nagged on how I was a fool and it be me they be looking for next. But when I shut the door, I could hear her sigh’
Owin put a hand on Tib’s shoulder ‘But you know me, I just can’t sit here while my brother is missing. You understand, don’t you Tib?’
Tib knew the feeling. Spibrooke truly isn’t safe. Gilmor was Owin’s elder brother. He hulked taller than everybody in Spibrooke and was a better fighter than most of them. He was so strong, the villagers dubbed him the bear king. A shame. In these woods, even the bear king got lost as well. Tib’s heart went to Maurin. The boy adored Gilmor but he was no bear. Just a scrawny black kid, precocious. A mad lover of books, the way a man would fiercely love a girl. Scrolls of all kinds, rotten papyruses crammed his room. Books stolen from the library but he claimed they were borrowed. Borrowing he kept at it, till his corner became a pile-side of scrolls and sheets. Some lost in the rushes, most wet with drool. No one ever accused him of stealing, the kid might just be telling the truth.
On long nights, Tib would explain the capital punishment for stealing anything. First, you lose a finger and the hand afterward but he would stubbornly claim he borrowed them. He wasn’t a bad kid; he could barely express himself. Even with all those books, he rarely talks except stunned. Last night, they conversed and he was fascinated about cork wood and how durable it would be for making a bow. Another interest he picked, was bow making and testing. Ever since Tib taught him how to aim.
The village bells rang.
‘What now? Did someone get lost again?’
‘That’s the south bell’ Tib laughed till he remembered. ’We’ve not rung that bell since… He stopped to think.
’gods! We never ring that bell at all. Quick! A… An arrow pierced Owin’s throat, stopping him short. His head hit the concrete flooring badly. Blood streaming to a pool. Owin tried to say something, no words came out. Coughing and spluttering, tears streamed down his cheeks.
Tib laid flat on his belly, clutching his helmet to keep it from falling. More arrows flying, crashing on brick walls, barrels, braziers.
‘Owin! Owin!’ Tib called
Owin laid there. A shadow of himself. Both eyes stared into the darkness, bathed in his blood. Tib crawled to him, shaking him hard. His chainmail drinking. Owin didn’t move. A smile on his cold face. Even in death, he smiled to the grim reaper. He always said the day he died; he would smile to death’s face. Owin finally did. His final smile.
‘Until we meet again in Valhalla to feast and dine with all races, old friend’ Tib clenched his teeth and closed his eyes. Owin is truly dead and all he could do was close his eyes. A barrel caught fire from an adjacent brazier earlier struck. It was a signal for Tib to be off or get trapped on the watchtower. In his search for a weapon, he came across a sword.
Before running down, he looked at Owin one last time. The fire engulfed but he smiled still. On the stairwell, near to the exit, a man met him there screaming. With both hands, he raised his axe in the air. Tib parried, delivering a side slash. The man’s intestines spilled out from him.
Barbarian raiders. They must have been spying weeks in the village for this ambush. What better time than a feast? Tib thought, watching as the body rolled down the stairs.
Two summers ago, Spibrooke and Southshire repelled them on the cornfields. Diplomatic envoys were sent later to strike a bargain. In light of the recent turn of events, what can Tib say? Now with fewer guards in the thick of the night, the gods be with them.
Cottages burned alongside storehouses when Tib emerged from the watchtower. The tower itself was halfway gone. Free riders and Barbarian militia everywhere, slaughtering the villagers in their dozen. Children and mothers scramble to safety, only to meet their demise.
A barbarian met him, dirk in hand and a smile on his lips. They circled, taunting Tib in Babarii, the woodmen’s language.
All about them, men fell. Bodies piled in wait for the vultures of the valley and the ravens of the North. This was no battle; it was a massacre.
A dagger missed Tib’s shoulder. Scythe ringing in unison with the longsword as they danced. Tib aimed an overhead strike, the barbarian ducked. Their footwork was intense as they engaged each other in combat. He was quicker, capitalizing each attack from Tib’s sloppiness. Parrying or countering, the longsword was taking its toll. Who can blame him, his opponent was a boy of roughly twenty, just sprouting a beard. Tib had seen two scores of winter, with the last five manning post watch and guard patrol. He was as rusty as the rustiest blade yet he joined this boy to this dance. The final waltz of his life.
An arrow ended the party eventually. A kinsman’s arrow missed its mark, striking the barbarian finely to the chest. His mouth agape.
Tib was kneeling on the uneven cobblestones. Panting. He could see ten barbarians matching every soldier who remained. The riders hacking from behind. His longsword beckoned, but he lacked the energy to pick it up.
Tib could hear angry screams. The raiders were near. They would kill him the same way they killed Owin but how did he want to die? He had thought he would die on a fine summer evening, watching the sunset with Maurin, drinking curdled milk that night, and knowing it was his last. He would hug the kid and hear him tell his stories of knights and dragons and when he closes his eyes, he wouldn’t see death but just pass to a new world like when a man dream.
Isn’t it true that he can still dream? He knelt there; eyes closed. The wiser him begging for prayer but who should he pray to? The seven gods or the five gods, the Ragnar gods or the two kings or is it the One God, Maurin has been seeing in his dreams.
‘Stupid kid’ He managed to smile.
He felt the boy must have read it somewhere but somehow, Tib believed. Yes, he would pray to this One God. He had prayed to the others and they had answered but the boy believed them not. Maurin was always like that. Naïve.
Tib gave up. His thoughts to Eira, Gilmor, Aspeth, Owin, and Maurin.
He closed his eyes and said a prayer, to Maurin’s God? I cannot tell. All I know is when Tib opened his eyes, it was too late. An axe was forgotten in his skull.