“Ye thought ye could win?” A mirthless laugh erupted from within the ox of a man. The large man kneeled on the ground beside the seemingly frail mass, and leaned forward to put his mouth close to the wounded man’s ear. “Ye are a worthy opponent, I give ye that. Took out a few of me own men, ye did. But…” an ever brief pause followed by a gloating snort, “…I always win!”
A small group of raiders stood surrounding the large heap that lay wounded on the ground just outside the castle’s doors. He was weak from the mortal wounds he suffered, and it was emphasized by his low, guttural groan.
The burly man grasped the mouth of the fallen between two massive fingers and moved it to face him. ‘Aye, ye be sayin’, Masta Alton?’ With barely an ounce of life left within him, Alton summoned enough strength to spit a mixture of blood and saliva into the burly man’s arrogant face. Shocked, the leader of the group sprang backwards and wiped the fluid from his face using his filthy sleeve that hung in shreds from his scarred and blood-marred arm.
Another mirthless laugh erupted from him. Putting his boot on the wounded man’s side, he shoved hard to put him on his back. “I always win me lad!”
Horses neighed and whinnied outside the closed castle gates, signifying their presence as the rest of the raider party sat astride them waiting and longing for orders to leave the site of such meaningless destruction. There was nothing more for any of them to want here.
This tall, burly man, whose hair grew wild as if shunning all need for maintenance, searched the faces of the small group of men. His large hand descended upon one if his younger lads in the raid party. “Kill him!”
The man’s voice was low, and menacing. The lad bowed his head in compliance, and the small group left him to do the ominous deed.
With a knotted gut at the thought of his task, he turned his eyes toward’s the destruction the horde left in its wake. Thick and hazy smoke-filled air almost nauseated him as it carried the smell of smoking ash, scarred earth, and agonizing death that pervaded one’s nostrils from miles away.
All but two of the remaining party mounted their steeds and left the grounds of the once pristine castle and its grounds. Now it was consumed by glowing embers, ash, and remnants of a once blazing fire. “Me own executioners, if his will be not done.” The lad sighed heavily, and grasped the blade at his waist.
Alton lay at his feet and moaned softly as pain racked his body. The lad stood frozen for an instant as he stared at this weakened man with a certain amount of awe.
“Even on ye deathbed, ye not giving up...or giving in.”
The lad crouched beside the man that astonished him and alarmed everyone else. “Ye fought bravely and valiantly in a futile effort to save ye family and home.” A small, sad chuckle escaped the lad as he shook his head and continued, “Hugh MacPherson did not appreciate that. Ye took out wave after wave of his own men, plowing through them even after ye took on mortal wounds.”
Even now, those wounds spewed the remnants of this man’s life to an ever-thirsty earth below him. The sensation of guilt almost rang through the lad’s ears, deafening him. “I do not know why MacPherson wanted ye all dead, but, he does want ye dead.” Looking down at the blade in his hand, he let his thumb slide tenderly against the blade. “And he left me to do the deed.”
Another deep, heavy sigh. “Tis a test, I know. I canna take another’s life unless it be for me own self preservation. I canna kill in cold blood, and yet I must now for me own self preservation. A bit ironic, eh?” He glanced at the two men still manning the castle gates, and then turned his gaze back to the blood marred face of the man lying in front of him. The lad watched as the man’s face contorted in pain and agony.
“It is not only the pain the grips ye, is it? MacPherson had no right to force ye to watch ye family brutally murdered.”
Briefly, the wounded man’s eyes opened and met the young lad’s gaze. The lad’s heart softened, and his resolve weakened. “Were one of the women they defiled ye wife? Maybe the one with child?” He bowed his head, “I couldna stay to watch. It was a wretched thing to do to a lady, and even worse to do to her unborn.”
A horse neighed, and brought the lad out of his one-sided conversation. “Ye head is expected on the stakes next to that of ye father. Ye brother will no doubt have his own place there.”
Raising his sharpened dagger, poising it just centimeters above this man’s bared throat, the lad glanced up. Looking into the distance, he spotted a shadowed figure moving through the trees that covered the hills on the border of the castle and its walls. A smile spread wide across his face.
“Not me call, me friend!” Already, he had spent too much time pondering over his dilemma, and he knew he had to act quickly before the other men decided to check on him and his progress. “They are a daft bunch!”
Curving his fingers tight around the hilt of the dagger, he thrust it into the earth above the man’s head. “It ’tis for a higher power than me own.” Then, almost cryptic-like, “May ye find in death what was denied to ye this night.”
Taking his index finger, the young lad jammed it into a mound of ash to his right. With it, he made the symbol of a cross on the wounded man’s forehead. Casting another glance back to be sure he wasn’t being watched, he made the same gesture in the air in front of his own body.
Once he felt that he had completed this rite for the dying man, he placed his hands and blade against one of the gaping mortal wounds to provide himself with the anticipated evidence of his completed deed. “We will meet again!”
One more look into the man’s face, he gave a slight bow, turned on his heels and ran to his awaiting horse before the other two raiders came to retrieve him. It would be his head on a stake if any of them ever found out that he had disobeyed orders from their leader, Hugh MacPherson. There was no doubt MacPherson would find out, but he planned on being long gone before then.