Friday 15 July 2016

Trollbane - Part 3

At the end of the second day of their travels, the mercenary band stopped to spend the night at a small village that was signposted Briarmoot. The settlement was surrounded by farm fields and was made up of no more than 30 ramshackle buildings. Barns and sheds scattered the distant landscape and the land looked green and fertile even in the fading evening light. 

The band made their way into town without Reven and Fang, which was customary. The warhound was a fearsome sight to behold and had too often scared timid villagers in the past. Lesson learnt the hound and his master would stay outside the village until lodgings had been secured. Agrippa brought them to a halt outside a large wooden building that sported a sign that read, The Emperors Hand Inn. Their horses were tied to the hitching rail outside the inn and the mercenaries moved inside buoyed by the idea of cool ale and warm food. 

The inn was close to empty. The common room before them was lit by a few scattered candles and a fireplace that was little more than embers. Two men that had the look of farmers propped up against one end of the bar and engaged in casual conversation with the stocky barman that ended abruptly upon the warrior's entrance. "Ho travellers, welcome to Briarmoot and The Emperors Hand. What can I get you today?" Agrippa and his brethren were taken aback by the man's sunny disposition and welcoming manner. It was in stark contrast to the gloomy interior of the inn but it immediately put the men at ease and they moved toward the bar to quench their thirst.

Reven relaxed against the trunk of an oak tree a short distance from the dusty track that led into Briarmoot. He had let Fang hunt and sat alone as night crept up on the evening. The sunlight waned as he closed his eyes. As he started to doze words sprang unbidden into Reven's thoughts, 'I am the vessel. Look upon me and despair'. Instantly he rolled to the left a fraction of a second before an arrow whacked into the tree where a moment before he had been resting. As he rolled he grabbed his sword, Bloodthirster. It sang as he whipped it free of its scabbard coming to his feet in one smooth motion. The vampiric blade flickered as it moved to intercept another missile, smashing it out of the air. Reven could see his attackers as they moved toward him. They were still a way off but they moved with purpose and precision as they closed on him. Reven had used this technique himself and he scanned left and right to find where the trap would be sprung. It didn't take him long, he ducked behind the tree to avoid more arrows and spied the pincer movement that was supposed to have caught him. Four men, two on the left and two on the right crouched low in the grass made their way toward him. They broke into a run as soon as they knew they had been discovered. Reven regretted not unpacking his bow from Fang's harness, with the four at his flanks and the six or so that advanced from the front it would have been good to have whittled down their numbers before engaging with them up close. Bloodthirster twitched in his hands, hungry for blood the blade almost willed Reven to battle. 

They were almost upon him. The arrows came less frequently but did enough to keep him pinned behind the tree. They came on him all at once, adjusting their pace to hit with maximum force. Reven ducked under the first swung blade and it splintered tree bark as it landed. Up close he could see all the men wore similar garb. Light leather armour and masks, dyed black or dark brown. They roared as they swung at him. Three swordsmen made up the front rank, well trained and vicious they thrust and swung at Reven in unison forcing him to parry with his swords and vambraces. He whirled lashing out with his sword but even as he moved men at the rear stabbed through openings with spears and tridents. They formed a tight circle around him, forcing him repeatedly onto the tree at his back. Within seconds Reven was covered in nicks and cuts and bled freely from a spear wound in his side. He dropped low and took one of the swordsmen's leg off at the knee and pushing his advantage launched himself through the gap he'd made, barreling a trident wielding attacker to the ground in the process. Leaping to his feet he back-peddled desperately as he tried to prevent the attackers from closing round him again. One thing working in his favour was the combination of the blood-drinking blade in his hand and the newly stumpy swordsman. Blood flew through the air from the severed limb to the blade splashing the attackers as Reven swung the sword in defence. The blood drew one of the attacker's attention and Reven capitalised on the moment and with a neat back swing carved the mans face in two. He pressed his advantage snapping the haft of a spear with his vambrace, he spun into his next pursuer impaling him through the chest, the light leather offering no resistance to Bloodthirster. Sensing a change in fortune the attackers re-doubled their efforts. Pressing Reven into defence again. They circled around him trying to force him back to the tree. Reven was breathing hard and now laboured to see after a large gash had been opened across his forehead and his vision swam with blood. 

It was as the attacker's confidence grew and Reven's dogged defence weakened that the tide turned once more. Silent in his approach and deadly in his arrival Fang's hunt had led him full circle. The towering mass of muscle exploded into the fight frantic in the defence of his friend and master. Hitting the attackers at full speed he sent them sprawling. Reven emboldened by his warhounds arrival ceased his retreat and once more went on the attack. Fang tore men limb from limb as Reven enacted his revenge on the ambushers. One tried to flee only to be pounced on by the beast, his head removed in one swift bite. 

The whole exchange lasted less than two minutes and the broken bodies of Reven's would-be killers lay strewn around the tree where only moments before he was resting. Reven rested his hand on Fang's lowered snout and met him forehead to forehead. The wound in his head ached but he needed to thank his companion for his timely intervention. Fang had saved Reven's life countless times and the bond they shared was unbreakable as a result. A whimper from one of the downed men drew Reven's attention, "Time to find out who these bastards are my friend" he whispered to Fang. Exhausted but determined he made his way over to the man and drew his skinning blade. He would get the information he required before this wretch died.