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Old 10-08-2003, 03:23 PM   #41
The Squatter of Amon Rûdh
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Sting

Haleg watched dispassionately as the final blow was struck. He could feel no sense of satisfaction as a dying man exacted his desperate revenge, and he had seen the horror in the girl, Catrina's eyes as her lover's blood and entrails spilled onto the cobbles. There was no honour here, and scant justice; there was only death. He knew that Halasan was dying, and he could see how his only daughter now looked on him with horror: a gaunt and wild-eyed killer, still clutching a sword clotted with gore. They had come seeking vengeance, and they had carried destruction in their wake.

For a moment, as Halasan clutched Catrina hungrily to his breast, the axeman's mind filled with visions of a dark night long ago, the blood black on the ground and on the edge of Durithil; blood thick on his hands, and pooling around the broken, whimpering thing at his feet. The heroic couplets had no comfort in them when this mood was on him; when he was drowning in long-shed blood and tears long dried. He prepared to turn away: the killing was over, and he was no longer needed here.

Suddenly the shaft of a long arrow sprouted from Halasan's body. In a frozen moment he saw bright blood from a pierced lung speckling the goose-feathers with red, and then he was turning, axe in hand, as a young woman's voice called down the storm. Once again armed men were about him, and another waited eagerly to drain that same bitter cup whose dregs still frothed on Halasan's lips.

Another shaft flew before the first clash of steel, but his movements had been swift and it missed its mark, driving into his leg and filling his mind with pain-driven rage. The first opponent charged him and he barely looked at the man's face as he parried and lashed Durithil's haft across it. He felt bone give way beneath his blow as he swung with its momentum, ducking his head to evade the weapons that he knew were sweeping towards him as he moved. A blade bit into his turning shoulder, its force diminished by his motion, and scored a deep cut across it to join the pale marks of countless others. Haleg spun, his eyes lighting on another man, this one already in the process of lunging. As many men did when faced with a man of Haleg's bulk, he was underestimating the speed at which his opponent could move, and a look of amazement swept across his face as the axeman stepped aside, sweeping his blade across to strike his enemy's unguarded back. The surprised expression froze, and he fell; and Haleg wrenched his blade free in a spray of crimson. Even as the mercenary died, he was turning away to parry another lunge.

Jorgen knew when he first saw the big man that he could beat him. Here was a savage, who would rely on strength to batter down his foes, and he, Jorgen, was a superior mind entirely. He knew that he could outwit this great lumbering ox, could stall and poleaxe him as easily as thinking, and he launched into his favourite attack, in which he feinted twice low and then struck high at the neck. It had never failed, and he had chosen his light sword for just such a delicate manoevre. Even as Haleg moved to block his second feint he knew without doubt that he had the man at his mercy. The fool was parrying the feint, and would be unready for the final, killing blow, which would slice his throat like butter. He allowed a brief smile to play on his lips as he checked his blade and launched into his last lethal swing.

The blow did not connect. Haleg had seen the trick played before, although this time the sheer speed of his attacker almost defeated him. He pretended to parry the second feint, knowing that he was expected to see the first, but he checked early, moving to parry the genuine attack with vicious force. The jarring impact nearly spun Jorgen's sword from his hands, and he took a step backwards. Haleg swung round to face one of his companions, and so the new man lunged point-first at the big man's back; but Haleg was expecting this and merely stepped aside. Jorgen and his opponent were briefly off-balance as they strove to avoid stabbing one another, giving Haleg time to lunge his own weapon into the face of another man with a knife before he swung back. The younger man was already on the offensive again, but his attack was high and Haleg had learned from his father that an enemy who cannot stand is an enemy who cannot fight. He ducked the slashing cut with moments to spare, feeling the draught of it above his head as his axe splintered its way into the younger man's leg. It shattered below the knee and he fell, a broken sob escaping as he did so. Forgotten, his sword followed him to the ground.

Haleg was now surrounded on all sides. A lunge sliced his forearm as his parry just failed to deflect it. A knife stuck in his side, mainly stopped by the hard leather that he wore, but still driving into muscles already stretched to the limit by the strain of combat. The knife-man died with his head half-severed, and now there were four opponents, one of them burning with rage for his broken face.

Joal moved warily towards Haleg. He knew better than to approach an enemy without a care, and he was gauging the older man's movements. Haleg was fast, but he was no longer exceptionally so, and much of his speed was born of skill. Also the axeman seemed driven by rage. Until the first arrow had struck him he had seemed almost drunk, apparently aware of nothing, and now he fought with astonishing brutality. Joal waited until the storm of Haleg's wrath was focused on one of his companions before he struck, and his blow was true. This time the axeman's luck had run out, for he could never parry this blow in time. At that moment, though, Haleg's opponent leapt at him, throwing both of them to the ground, and Joal's blow missed its mark, throwing him off balance and momentarily out of the fray. Behind him Haleg rolled desperately to avoid three weapons and to throw off his assailant, driving his forehead into the other man's face to bespatter both of them with blood. Leaping to his feet, he roared his defiance at Jair, who was approaching with a knife in either hand, and charged directly at him, his axe held head-first ahead of him aimed at his enemy's chest. He felt now the old exultation as he drove the man back into a wall and felt ribs crack and give way as though beneath a hammer. He was shouting obscenities into the other man's face, drinking the fear in his eyes like wine, and when he turned away Jair simply fell to his knees and made no effort to strike; his weapons falling from his nerveless hands.

Joal knew now that he faced a man in the throes of a berzerk battle-madness. Nothing that he could do would bring fear or pain to their mark, and only death would now prevent him from slaughtering them all. Whisper's voice rang in his ears, shrill, harsh and urgent with the lust for the man's blood, but she demanded that which mere money could not purchase. As Haleg threw another man to the ground, he lunged in again, whirling his blade in a dazzling series of arcs to confuse his man. Each was parried, the last few clumsily, and he opened a vicious cut on Haleg's forearm that began immediately to seep blood. The return attack was stunning: the axe seemed to come from every direction at once, and for a moment he fought for his very life for the first time in years. As he backed away from the last blow, parrying desperately, he saw his remaining fellows break and run, and he knew that he had lost. Nothing could be gained by pursuing this fight, and he screamed at Whisper to follow him as he ran after them. She notched and fired one arrow before Haleg saw her, and lunged after her with blind rage in his eyes. He was past the point of seeing his enemies' faces, and he was deaf to the screams of flesh. For the first time in the chase she realised what it was to face such a man, and her hand trembled slightly as she drew back on the bowstring, cursing as she released the shaft too soon. It drove into Haleg's side, but its force was diminished and it damaged only muscle. She was running after her men even as the arrow flew, and never had the satisfaction of seeing Haleg fall.

As the red mist cleared from his eyes, Haleg was whelmed in a flood of pain. Every inch of him felt battered and smashed; scores of slashes and gouges oozed blood, staining clothing and exposed skin red. The arrows pulled at his tortured flesh, a stab wound in one shoulder screamed agony and every muscle burned. His breath was coming in harsh pants and it seared his throat like fire. He fell to his knees, dropping his axe, only gradually becoming aware of the bodies lying on the ground and the frail girl who stood alone in the blood-drenched street, eyes wide and mad with fear. The fight had lasted for a few minutes, and now the old soldier sank under a weariness that dragged at him like weights. He rolled from his knees to rest his back against the wall of a building and pulled Durithil onto his lap. He was too tired even to wipe the blood and sweat from his eyes, and his vision clouded with bloody tears. Once more he had won, and once more victory was dust and ash in his mouth. There was no meaning here, no glory or fame: he had won a squalid brawl, and the prize was life itself.

He knew that he should speak to the girl, should say something to calm her tattered nerves, perhaps to reconcile her to the battered creature that had been her father; but the words would not come. Unconsciousness was a welcome relief from that lonely figure, whose shattered isolation was a condemnation of his whole life. Defeated, Haleg slept.

[ October 13, 2003: Message edited by: The Squatter of Amon Rûdh ]
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Old 10-22-2003, 09:58 AM   #42
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Voiceless, Catrina could only mouth her incredulous question of "Why?" to her father as he grabbed her.

Then blood splattered over her as an arrow protruded from her father's chest and she recoiled. Suddenly the air was filled with arrows, then gutteral curses and cries and the clang of sword upon metal and rock and the awful crack of bone splintering. Fear and rage flew around the air like sweat flung off a desperate, racing body. She collapsed, cringing towards the wall, and could not tell what act was being played out before her blurred eyes.

~ ~ ~ ~

An unnatural silence haunted the scene as the stench of gore, entrails, and bodies releasing their last invaded Catrina's nostrils. Her own body protested and she retched with dry heaves but her throat closed and she nearly choked. She looked upon her father's yellowed, wax-like flesh and could not recognize the face she had once loved and then disobeyed. She looked upon the contorted visage of Kiatus, tongue lolling with blood outside the mouth, eyes distended in frozen grimace and horror marking every line. For that she had run away from home and brought ruin upon her family.

A clamy coldness swept over her and she began to tremble, violently, loathing herself and then swaying in utter estrangement and abject remorse, muttering to the rank air and the vultures which had descended upon the ground. It was a contemptible squandering of life in which she had been pawn, a mere pawn, in the men's arrogant acts of supremacy and authority. And stupidly duped by her own strong-headed willfulness. No lesson in self-knowledge should ever be bought so dearly.

Catrina's mouth went dry; her lungs emptied of air. She stared blankly into the sun, the white light branding her soul with the awful weight of understanding. Her hair seemed to whiten on the spot and she turned to look at the axeman, crumbled against the wall. His flesh still looked soft. At least he perhaps was still alive.
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Old 10-23-2003, 04:47 AM   #43
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The world swam like a thick soup; images dancing from place to place without form or substance. Halasan tried to remember where he was or what had happened to him. But it was beyond recall. Flickering memories played with him and the only sound he could hear was a gradually slowing thump…thump that brought renewed light and visions in his world of vagueness.

Thump… He was running through the woods of mirkwood following a feisty young deer. It was to have been his first kill to show his ever demanding father. But he had been too hasty for the kill and startled it. He had run for hours, even after loosing sight of his prey, ever hopeful that he would turn a corner and find it waiting for him.

Thump… Golden light played off her soft hair as they sat in the meadow and stared lovingly into each others eyes. In all his young life Halasan had never seen such a beauty. Gwen had walked into his world and nothing had been the same since. They held hands and for a moment the air around them froze, like magic. The moment passed and. circling his arms around her they lay down in the heather; lips meeting, inexperienced hands searching…

Thump… The air was pierced with a scream. Sweat glistened on Gwen’s brow as she prepared for another push. Halasan gripped her hand tightly and whispered words of encouragement while her mother peered between Gwen’s legs. “The head is out.” She said in well practiced tones. “Take a breath dear, and then we’ll get this stubborn little thing out for you. Halasan tried to have a look, but Gwen’s hand clamped him down in place. Gwen screamed again, one long scream that seemed to last for hours. Out side his sons waited anxiously, crowded around the doorway. Suddenly a new scream replaced Gwen’s. Higher, and weaker. “It’s a girl.” Her mother shouted out. Tears falling from her reddened eyes. Halasan began to cry with joy while Gwen held the child and wrapped it in a towel close to her chest. She looked up at her husband with a pale but joyous smile that melted his heart.

Thump… Halasan sat and watched his children play out in the field. Next to him his wife sat and watched. He turned to talk to her but could not remember her name. Suddenly his children were all standing around him, their eyes fixed on his. Their mouths opened. Flames erupted from their mouths engulfing them both. The pain washed over him again and again and he watched in horror as his flesh shrivelled and fell away. “Why? Creid a voice beside him. Gwen was now wreathed in flame, blood washed over her face…

Thump… He rode over the hillock, ahead was a small farm on fire . Four figures walked towards him on engulfed in flame. Their screams echoing around him.

Thump… He lay atop a boat, staring at the stars. Heat washed over him and he sat up. Around him stood Azariah, Ellena, Tunar, Haleg, Catrina, and Kiatus. They were covered in blood. As one they began to scream.

Thump… He rode into the farm, drenched in blood. Thump… He lunged out with his sword, burying it to the hilt in Catrina’s belly, but she only laughed. Thump… Gwen lay on the bed, screaming as he lunged his sword into her. Thump-…Thump… Thump…

Catrina began to tremble. The cloying stench of gore and death choking her as she sobbed. Suddenly Halasan began to convulse. She looked down at him. His eyes opened wide, staring blindly at some distant place. “Father” she called out, her voice thick with anguish. He whispered something that she could not hear. She moved so that her ear was by his mouth while her hand stroked his hair. “S… Sorry” he whispered, and then, with a slow sigh, he went limp in her arms. His glazed, lifeless eyes fixed at some distant place beyond her reach.

“Father… no!” Closing her eyes she cried in silence.

After a while a voice, heavy with sadness, called out to her. “He loved you lass.” The voice said. “No matter what happened. No matter what he did, remember that.”
For a moment she ignored the voice.
“Revenge is a terrible thing. It eats at you, feeding on your soul. Believe me, I know!”
Catrina looked round. The Giant warrior was now sitting up, his face pale from blood loss but still very much alive. He looked upon Halasan with an unwavering stare. “The lust for revenge made him forget who he was for a while.” A cough erupted from his mouth forcing Haleg to stop and check. No sign of bright blood. “But I would hear him at night, when he was dreaming. I think he loved you above all his other children, which was why he was harder on you, to ensure that he was not unfair on the others. He said to me once that you, above all the others looked the most like your mother…”

Catrina digested his words, and thought back to all the times they had argued in the past. With wiser eyes she could see the truth in his words. Never had he raised a hand to her. He was protecting her out of love, but had made the easy mistake of letting that protection lead to repression.

They let the silence grow again until the guard arrived and ushered them both away to the house of healing on an unending wave of questions.

[ October 23, 2003: Message edited by: Palando ]
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Old 11-30-2003, 08:36 AM   #44
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* * * * To Elvenhome * * * *
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