DAOC fiction: "Journey's End"

Dark Age of Camelot in general.

DAOC fiction: "Journey's End"

Postby Svartmetall » Sat May 22, 2010 8:30 pm

THE FORUM JUDGES HAVE AWARDED A 250-DREAD PRIZE TO SVARMETALL FOR THIS STORY.

Sigurd shook his head to clear the blood from his eyes and propped himself up on his elbows so he could look around him. As far as he could see, the snow was littered with bodies and stained red with blood. Corpses of Trolls, Men, Frostalfar, Half-Ogres, Kobolds and Inconnu lay all around him, some still steaming in the autumn chill. Nothing moved in the pale evening light, not even the crows who clustered silently together on the bare trees that overlooked the battlefield as if awed by the scale of the slaughter. Groaning with the pain from the wound in his leg, he managed to struggle to his feet and stood swaying, dizzy for several moments. He bent – making himself dizzy again – and tore strips of fabric off the tunic of an Albion man who had fallen right next to where he had lain, and bandaged his leg as best he could. How long had he been unconscious in the snow? Judging by the lengthening shadows, a good few hours. Surely not everyone could be dead? Where had he dropped his sword? It was nowhere to be seen now. His chainmail was damaged in several places, especially on his chest. Nothing moved on the battlefield in any direction, save a few tattered rags of banners drooping from their poles, thrust into the ground to mark the spot of the last stand of bands of warriors around the snowfield, stirring in the faintest of dying breezes. He started to shiver.


”Charge!” the Jarl screams, drawing his sword and running towards the swirling centre of the battle. The Albion attack had caught the forces around Nottmoor almost unprepared, formations being assembled hurriedly out of whoever was at hand, no semblance of usual battle-order being maintained in the frantic need to get someone – anyone – out to defend. Sigurd had dropped his plate of bread and sausage at the sound of a Wizard’s bolt detonating on a nearby tree and grabbed his shield before rushing to find the guard commander. Now he finds himself in the middle of a hurriedly-assembled phalanx of Norsemen, the Jarl of the keep leading from the front, arrows slicing the air around him as he runs to the defense of the keep. A few paces to his left, a giant Troll roars in pain and fury as a crossbow bolt appeared in his shoulder; ripping the bolt out with one huge hand, the Troll draws a jagged two-handed cleaver that’s almost as big as Sigurd himself from a sling across his back and sprints at the Armsman who fired the bolt.
Ahead of him, the defenders’ charge meets the incoming Albion fighters with a great clash of steel and bodies that can be felt through the ground as clearly as it can be heard. Sigurd glances to his left again to see the Troll who was wounded a moment ago shudder with uncontrollable rage and shapeshift into a massive black bear as Modi’s fierce blessing courses through him, his axe cleaving the Highlander in front of him in two with a single horrific blow. Blood sprays over the newly-transformed Berserker’s fur as he roars with battle-lust and lunges for another target over the still-twitching body of the Highlander, the man of Albion’s own blood dripping over him from the fur as the Berserker steps over him. Another Albion fighter dodges the charging Berserker and runs at Sigurd, swinging a wickedly-curved blade at him as he screams an incomprehensible battlecry…he draws his sword and raises his shield to block the blow…



With some effort he limped across the body-strewn field to where he could see his Jarl’s banner laying in the snow, bodies all around it. Jarl Thorsson lay beneath the torn cloth of his own banner, face almost peaceful in death, armour covered in blood. Even in death he still gripped his sword, which was still thrust into the neck of the Half-Ogre who had killed him, whose own broken polearm lay in two pieces to either side of the pair. Sigurd arranged the fallen Norseman’s body as best he could, and began a traditional prayer for the fallen, realising how cold he was as his teeth chattered almost uncontrollably as he recited.
“Sorry, Harald,” he said as he carefully knelt down to the dead warrior’s body, “but I have more need of this than you, now. You’ve earned your place in Valhalla today.” Standing up, dizziness once again threatening to overcome him, he wrapped Thorsson’s thick Fenrir-fur cloak around him as best he could and turned to face the west, where the sun lay close to the snowy horizon. He waited until the dizziness had faded somewhat and set off slowly to the edge of the battlefield, stepping over piles of corpses when there seemed to be no way around them.


…the blow numbs his shield-arm, but he stands his ground and swings his own sword past the Briton’s guard into the man’s sword-arm, feeling the blade bite through flesh and meet bone, before swinging the pommel of the sword back into the bridge of the man of Albion’s nose. Stunned, his weapon-arm hanging limply by his side, the Briton staggers back a pace as Sigurd brings his sword in a wide sweep around his head and hacks into his foe’s neck. As the man falls to the icy ground Sigurd feels a hand clap him on the shoulder and he turns to see Snorre, his friend and mentor grinning fiercely at him.
“Not bad for your first real combat, little one. We’ll make a warrior of you yet!” Snorre whoops and ran to meet the invaders’ charge. Realising that he has for the first time just taken another man’s life, Sigurd blinks in surprise for a moment then goes to follow Snorre as yet another arrow cuts the air just a few feet away from him. Turning almost involuntarily to follow the arrow’s flight, he sees a Runemaster a few dozen feet behind him chanting an invocation to Odin and starting to conjure great spears of fire that smash into the ranks of the enemy, to his left a great Troll Thane calling down Thor’s lightning to do likewise. Another bolt of fire from the enemy ranks flies past him as he watches and catches the Runemaster full in the chest, leaving him sprawled on the ground gasping with a smoking wound burnt into his torso. Cursing the invaders, Sigurd screams his hatred as he charges…



Was that movement ahead…? Squinting, the sun in his eyes, he realised one of the figures at the edge of the battlefield was moving slowly, though he could not make out who or even what it was at this distance. He had never dreamed that so much carnage could surround him; the bodies seemed endless, and somehow unreal on this same field that had so recently been so full of movement and chaos. A thin plume of smoke rose waveringly from the remains of a burnt-out portable ballista, impossible to tell now which side it had belonged to as the bodies around it were similarly burned. He shuddered to think what fearsome magic could have done this to the bodies of men. Behind him, a crow called mournfully across the snow. As he made his way forward the slowly-moving figure ahead became clearer. It was a Briton.


…surrounded by screaming, yelling, roaring fighters on all sides…slash at an enemy, block his counter-attack, strike again, parry, riposte, steel ringing on steel, block, cut, parry, weapons locked as he stares into the eyes of the Highlander who is trying to kill him, their sweat mingling despite the snow that has started to fall, shoving, each trying to put their opponent off-balance, surprise in the man’s eyes as the Valkyn next to Sigurd half-punches, half-carves a hideous gash into the side of his head with a jagged hand-to-hand fighting claw, swinging with his sword down into the man’s body, turning to thank the Valkyn only to see an arrow slam into her eye and knock her to the floor, jerking spasmodically. He curses and looks around for Snorre, who is once again in front of him. Snorre has cut down a tall Avalonian mage of some sort and yells in triumph as he thrusts his broad-bladed sword into the downed enemy’s robed body. Running forward, Sigurd sees the air shimmer behind his friend as an assassin uncloaks and stabs deftly through the gaps in Snorre’s chainmail into his body, the vicious blow leaving the tall blond Norseman stunned and bleeding as the Infiltrator prepares to stab at him again. Roaring with fury Sigurd sprints at the enemy and smashes his shield into the olive-skinned man’s head, the iron dome in the centre of the shield connecting with the back of the Infiltrator’s skull and stunning him…he pulls the two-handed great-sword from its sheath on his back and slashes at the enemy assassin once, twice, the thin leather the man wears proving to be of little use against good Midgard steel…almost cut in two, the assassin lies blinking at the snowy heavens as his lifeblood reddens the snow about him. Sigurd runs to Snorre, who has fallen to the ground and is moaning in pain.
“I got the bastard,” he pants as he tries to help Snorre to his feet, “I got him for you!”
“Aye,” Snorre is pale and can hardly stand, “You got him good. I think I need…to sit down though.”
Sigurd puts his friend’s arm over his own shoulder and leads him back to where a healer is waiting towards the rear of the Midgard lines. Just as they are nearing the waiting Seer there is another shimmer in the air and another Infiltrator appears, slicing at the unwitting Frostalf girl’s neck with her daggers…



He made his slow, painful way across the corpse-laden ground, limping as best his wounded leg would allow to where the Briton was crawling away from the battlefield. Intent on her struggle to move, the woman didn’t hear Sigurd approach until he prised a hammer from the grip of a fallen Troll a few feet away. At the grating sound of the weapon being drawn across the dead Troll’s chainmail, vivid in the eerie silence of the evening, the woman turned and her eyes widened to see a Norseman just a few feet away. Having been crawling on her belly, one of her legs clearly broken, she managed to roll over onto her back, small sounds of pain escaping as she did so, her face contorting. Sigurd advanced on her, face grim, and stood over her. She stopped moving and stared up into his pale grey eyes, propped up on her elbows, her finely enamelled armour a shade of light green to match her eyes. As he looked down at her, the face of the Briton in front of him changed in his mind’s eye into the face of the pretty young Frostalf healer as she fell to the ground in front of Snorre and Sigurd’s horrified eyes. Something must have shown in his face as the Albion woman raised her hands in a universal gesture of pleading, saying something in her own tongue. Sigurd raised the fallen Troll’s hammer over his head – though considered one-handed for a Troll, he needed both of his own to lift it – and as the woman’s voice raised high in panic he swung the hammer down with all the force he could muster. And all was quiet again as the sun sank lower still.


…Snorre’s sightless eyes gaze up at the clearing snow-clouds, blood pooling around his sides as he lies where the Mercenary has cut him down. Tears mix with blood and grime on Sigurd’s face as he chases down the fleeing Saracen, gripping his great-sword in both hands, his shield having been shattered and discarded what seems like hours ago. The battle has degenerated – as all such affairs do – into many small skirmishes, bands of a few enemies on either side circling the field and killing the unwary or the unlucky. Bodies already litter the fields, broken or abandoned weapons and siege equipment everywhere, the forlorn wailing of the wounded mixing with the fierce cries of those still fighting. The last time Sigurd could find Jarl Thorsson on the field, he seemed to think the Albion attack had been repulsed, but in all the chaos it is hard to be sure, so he goes on killing every Albion invader he can whenever he sees them. Mist now begins to drift across the field as the slaughter continues…


He limped through the snow, slowly, his bad leg reducing him to a snail’s pace. The sun cast a rosy glow on the snow around him, the trees on the hillside casting dark shadows behind them. He had been feeling cold, but that seemed to have passed now. His chest felt numb. He had let the Troll’s hammer fall by the dead Briton woman’s body and now was armed only with his dagger, but that didn’t seem to matter much any more, either. He hadn’t seen a living soul for what must have been an hour, so he guessed all the Albion invaders had either fled or been killed. Walking was harder and harder, though, his leg was going to need some serious attention when he got back to Nottmoor itself. The hill became slightly steeper, and even this made it very difficult for him to make it to the top…the urge to sit down and rest for a while was almost overpowering, but he knew from his childhood that sick or injured people who lay down in the snow tended never to get up again. Though the amount of willpower it took to make it to the brow of the small hill seemed entirely out of proportion to the task itself, he eventually staggered to the top and was able to look down across a wide, snow-filled valley, the deeper parts of which were already in shadow as evening advanced. Out of the corner of his eye he caught movement to his left…his hand moving almost unconsciously to his dagger, he peered into the dusk light and was able to make out the figure of a woman, walking towards him.
She was hidden in the half-light at first but as she drew closer he could see long red hair spilling out from the hood of a fur cloak and saw that on her cloak was the distinctive emblem of Odin’s Eye. He relaxed and took his hand off the hilt of his dagger.
“Ho!” she called to him, her voice clear in the cold air, “where are you going? Are you injured?”
“Yes…yes. I was in the fighting at Nottmoor…the Albion forces, I think we fought them off, but so many dead…” It was difficult to speak, he realised, he was so damn tired.
“I heard, yes. You fought valiantly! They’ll think twice before coming back to try the gates of Nottmoor again.”
“So many dead, though…I’ve never been in battle before...”
“The dead will have earned their place in Valhalla, I’ll wager, if the reports of the fighting I heard are anything to go by. You were outnumbered so badly yet still prevailed. You should be proud.”
Sigurd felt numb, not proud. He could see Snorre’s face as he lay in the red-stained snow, so vivid it hurt to think of it. “I’m trying to get back to Nottmoor Faste…I need to report…”
“I’ll help you on your journey. My name is…well, just call me Hilde.” And so saying, the tall woman took his arm and draped it over her shoulder – much as he himself had done for Snorre in the battle – and led him off through the snow.


…all that surrounds him now is bodies, friend and foe alike, their blood running together in the snow as if to mock their enmity in life. He is covered in blood, some his, some that of the invaders, chest heaving as he gasps with exhaustion, the blade of his great-sword covered with drying blood and gore. He trips over the twisted bluish corpse of an Inconnu, caught by some Warlock’s spell, burned and distorted, and falls to the ground, breath going out of him and everything going dark as he lands…


It was getting darker, but Hilde’s eyes seemed to shine as they walked through the snow in the quiet dusk, the snow crunching underfoot. The pain from his wounds seemed to be gone, now, a sense of calm filling him despite the horrifying things he had seen that day. It seemed to be harder and harder to walk, though, as time went on, because even though his leg was not hurting as much as before it seemed to be harder and harder by the minute to co-ordinate his limbs.
He turned to the woman at his side. “Would you mind if I sat down for a minute? I’m so tired…”
“Of course not. You’ve earned it. Sit down here, I’ll keep an eye on you.”
Gratefully he sank to his knees. There was no pain now, but the weariness was overwhelming. He knew he should move soon, the cold would kill him if he fell asleep out in the open - especially wounded as he was - but a few minutes’ rest would help. Just a few minutes. At least his wounds didn’t hurt any more. He would rest a while. He’d earned it today. The woman stood by his side as he sat motionless in the snow, her hand on his shoulder.




He opened his eyes. He’d fallen asleep after all! He should have known better, but he’d been so tired. He didn’t feel so tired now, though.
“I’m sorry,” he said, getting to his feet, “didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said quietly, “don’t worry.”
“It’s almost dark…we should be going.”
“Yes, Sigurd. Yes we should.”
He thought for a moment…he’d never told her his name.
“How do you know who I am?” he asked her.
“We know the names of all true warriors.”
“Who are you?”
She smiled at him, revealing herself as radiantly beautiful even in the fading light of dusk. “You know who I am.”
“I…”
“Look behind you, back the way we came.”
Sigurd felt his mind clearing as his weariness left him, and knew the truth of her words.
“Come with me, warrior. It’s time to be with your friends again. For ever.”
She held out her hand to him, and even as he looked, somehow behind her he could see a great hall full of mighty warriors, some looking at him even now, grinning their approval and raising their flagons in salute. In her other hand she held a mighty spear, and as she cast her cloak aside he saw shining mail armour.
At her feet he could see the figure of a man, curled up as if asleep.

He looked back across the snow where he and the woman had walked, and realised there was only one set of footprints.


_____
Svartmetall
 
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