The Tale of Delving's Father
Thaelving led the band of Tripoli soldiers. More than anything he wanted to return to Aheron. His thoughts strayed to his wife, and his son. He fingered his precious Lewhe longbow nervously. The Naeglim could come any moment. He might not ever see his family again. This outpost would be useless against the machines he had seen them roll out against Farath Dûr.
The wind swept through the small outpost. The palisade walls rattled against its heavy beats. The men shivered in their metal suits. Some bowmen were lucky enough to enjoy the boiled leather which was not as cold against the skin. The short brown-skinned Naeglim were appearing out on the fields. To Thaelving’s dismay he could see them reconstructing the catapults. It was a doomed resistance. He wished he could teleport away. Home. A warm home with the family he loved. He sighed heavily. Duty. He hated it. Maybe death would just be a liberation from the longing that had been haunting him for so long. No. He would fight. He would fight for his family. For his country. The air was melancholic and already the rank of death and doom spread through the area. An old proverb struck him, ‘Death is lighter than a feather, but duty heavier than a mountain’. Yet there was honour in completing one’s duty. There was no honour in death. Not self inflicted death at least. If they died tonight at least they would be remembered as heroes who fought for their country. But then again who would survive to tell their tale? No-one.
Thaelving shook the thoughts out of his mind. He had to focus. The Naeglim were coming. The general had already left with his elite cavalry units. They would warn Tripoli while the unit here had to “hold back” the Naeglim. Like that would work. It was suicide.
The sun had disappeared behind the western mountains. Dark clouds hovered in the night above. A lightning struck out on the plains. To Thaelving’s surprise a few howls erupted. Maybe El Elyon was watching over them after all. Thunder rolled heavily, as if a hammer had struck an anvil. The rain struck down like large ballistic arrows crushing the earth with its heavy impact. The strides of the Naeglim echoed the rain as they charged.
“Brave men of Tripoli! I will not lie to you, tonight we will die! But it is up to us to decide the manner in which we will die and be remembered! Tonight, we will show these cursed Naeglim how to fight! Tonight, we will bring honour to our family names! Tonight, we will shape history! Tonight, you will fight for all that you are worth and we will bring down as many of these demons as we can! For tonight my friends, we fight for all that we are worth. And we fight as men. Tripoli is famous for its strong and fearsome soldiers, and tonight, my friends, we will be that definition and we will prove it true!” Adrenaline rushed through Thaelving as he caught his breath. The men cheered. They would fight. And they would fight well. The previously gloomy mood had been destroyed by the determination to be something. To shape history, and be remembered.
“Archers, ready!” Thaelving roared and checked to see the response. He heard the shuffling of arrows and bows being drawn and ready. “Legionnaires form up at stations!” Again he glanced to certify that his order was fulfilled.
“FIRE!” Bowstrings twanged. Arrows pierced the wind, soaring through it with a will of their own.
Naeglim stumbled in their charge, lethal arrows puncturing their armour. Raging and whimpering howls pulsed out from the charging horde. Some Naeglim attempted to flee but were immediately pierced by the dark, hooded, Naichar. Thaelving had seen a Naichar before. Their accuracy with the bow was legendary.
Three more volleys followed the first one. Naeglim fell, yet more filled their place. They were like cockroaches crawling out after someone had lifted a rock. A massive boulder flew over Thaelving’s head and crashed into the wooden tower that had stood proudly behind the gate. Men screamed and bodies cracked as they fell. The wooden outpost had been obliterated into four jagged poles that had been its foundation. Smoke and dust erupted violently as walls were struck by the catapults. As the walls failed the Naeglim were suddenly amongst them. Thaelving threw his bow and drew his simple, standard Tripoli long sword. Running down the simple palisade stairs he joined the legionnaires and swordsmen who were slowly pushing back the short, scar-faced Naeglim.
The legionnaires’ spears with the large square shields were able to keep off most of the Naeglim from even coming close. The coarse, black-feathered arrows thumped against the silver-blue shields, but were unable to penetrate them. Lightning struck the fields again. More howls erupted amongst the battle cries. Thaelving saw the legionnaires fall in front of him and rushed out.
“Attack!” He thrust his sword into a confused Naeglim. A strike just missed him at the side. He turned to face the Naeglim which snarled and struck again. “For our families!” He dodged and finished with a thrust. The Naeglim’s eyes bulged open in surprise. Black blood poured out. “For our country!” He slashed another one at its arm and then spun to complete with a stab. “For the good of this world!” He yelled as his men fought beside him. He saw men shielding each other by picking up fallen legionnaires’ shields. Some where even risking their lives for their comrades by extravagantly exposing themselves to save each other. The Tripoli soldiers were becoming berserkers but with each others’ survival solely in their mind. It egged them on to fight for their lives. Thaelving would have cried at the bravery and heroism his men displayed had he not himself been in the midst of battle.
Thaelving’s sword broke as he blocked a Naeglim’s black axe. His shoulder shook violently as the axe sunk through his armour, but luckily the sword had taken the heavy part of the hit and it only just scraped him. The Naeglim pulled the axe out and Thaelving grunted as he stabbed the sharp broken sword into the Naeglim. He picked up a nearby two-handed sword to continue fighting. Sweat poured down his face. He rapidly beheaded a charging Naeglim. His arms bulged out of the strength that was needed to fight. An arrow struck him. He felt his legs fold underneath him. Clenching his teeth he yanked the black-feathered arrow out of his thigh. He thrust his blade through another Naeglim and then fell to the ground again. Another arrow stood out of his other leg. He tried to push himself up but fell again, tasting the bitter, bloodied earth. He spat out a clot of blood and phlegm. As he got himself to his knees he looked up. The two-souled Naichar stood before him, arrow drawn to the place where its ear would have been.
“Do you wish to live?” It snarled cruelly.
“No-one wants to die,” Thaelving replied cautiously.
“Look around you.” He tried to turn his head slightly. His soldiers were dead, a small battalion of fifteen men were still fighting in a tight circle, but it was a doomed cause. “You have lost. But my master Beliar offers you life. He is convinced that with some training you would make a perfect Deirm in his army.” The Naichar’s voice had a high but sharp tone to it. It felt like an arrow piercing itself into his mind. Thaelving felt himself consider its words. Then his thoughts returned to his wife and son. No. He would die with honour. He would prove his family name’s worth. Only worthless wrecks betrayed their cause and country.
He heard his faint voice barely echo his thought.
“No? You refuse my master’s act of mercy?” The Naichar laughed. Its hood as always covering its face. Thaelving thought he almost saw a bit of it and shuddered out of fear. No-one survived seeing a Naichar’s cursed face.
His mind drifted back to thoughts of his family. Faintly he heard an arrow being released. Then again and again. Blood flowed down the remains of the outpost. Pain screamed into his mind. The burning, piercing arrow wounds all burst out in pain, telling his body to stop it. Thaelving saw his wife in front of him, imagining the smell of her hair and the tone of her loving voice. Then he saw his son as a toddler walking towards him a wide smile on his face as he took his first steps. Memories flowed into him filling him with peace. He forgot the pain and surrendered.
“Fool,” the Naichar
murmured, surprise in his voice as he watched the dying man smile faintly. It
released its seventh arrow to finally end the man’s life. Thunder rolled, the
storm echoing the battle’s harshness. A rain of tears dropped heavily from the
Copyright © Danai Gabre, 2008-12-13