Free Stuff: Preview from Echo of the High Kings, Part 3

A third installment from Echo of the High Kings.  The section covers a skirmish between Lady Katarina’s followers and some of Duke Hector’s men.

Aerion set his back against the tree and took a deep breath.  Through the trees, the squeal of pigs and the rumble of wagons carried.  He listened to that sound, and he waited.  For a moment, he remembered his home.  Aerion remembered Old Taggart’s voice, rough and low, filled with caution, as if every word were some precious coin to spend.  He remembered the smell of his mother’s apron, the scent of stew and bread, and of smoke from the wood fireplace in the inn. 

And then he remembered the fire, and the screams.

At that moment, a clear trumpet clarion sounded as Gerlin signaled the attack.

Aerion leaped from behind his tree, and immediately spotted the wagons, only thirty feet away.  He ran forward, hands clenched on the greatsword.  One of the guards on foot, raised a drawn bow, arrow pointed at Aerion.  The guard released just as Aerion stumbled.  Aerion felt the arrow’s fletching kiss his neck.

The guard reached for another arrow.  Aerion felt his world narrow, as everything but that guard and his bow vanished.  He felt his legs pump him forward.  His heart raced, a steady drumbeat that drowned all else out.  Aerion felt a cry of rage and fear open his mouth, but he couldn’t hear it, couldn’t hear anything.

The guard, knocked another arrow.  The mercenary seemed to move in slow motion.  He raised the bow, drew it back.

And then Aerion had closed the distance.  He swung the sword downward, all memory of his training lost, he swung the four foot blade like an axe.

The sword struck the mercenary between his right shoulder and his neck.  The blade chopped down through his simple leather armor, and a fountain of blood erupted.

Aerion stumbled back, spitting blood and suddenly sickened.  He had to tug hard, foot pressed against the corpse to pull his sword free.  Some motion sensed as much as seen caused him to turn.  He ducked under a spear thrust and caught the shaft just behind the barbed head.  Aerion pulled hard, and suddenly stood, face to face with a blonde bearded mercenary, his eyes wide, pupils dilated.

Aerion saw him release the spear, hands going for a dagger at his waist.  He brought the pommel of his sword up into his opponent’s face.   The mercenary stumbled back with a cry.

A shout made him turn, and he saw one of the Jasen on the ground, a brutish looking warrior above him with an axe.  Aerion lunged forward, sword extended.

The iron tip of his sword skidded off of the axeman’s chainmail.  Aerion continued his move and slammed his shoulder into the larger man’s back.  The axeman stumbled away, and Aerion stumbled back.

Another man, his face drawn in a rictus of hate, swung a sword at him.  Aerion brought up his sword to parry, and a shock went down his arm.  The beserk warrior swung again, and again Aerion blocked.  He kicked out, desperate to get some room to move, but his opponent caught the blow on his shield and continued his wild attack.

Again and again the madman battered at him, Aerion desperately swung his larger sword to block blow after blow.  He backed away, tried to gain some space, but his attacker didn’t slow his own pace, and continued to press him.

His feet caught on something.  Aerion fell back over a still body.  Aerion hit the hardpacked road on the flat of his back.  The impact drove all the air out of his lungs.  Aerion brought his sword up to block as his opponent swung a powerful overhand blow. 

The sword struck just inches above the crossguard with a sound like a hammer striking glass, the brittle iron of his sword snapped.

Aerion held the stump of his blade up in shock as the berserk warrior above him raised his own blade for the finishing blow.  Aerion kicked out hard.  His leg struck his attacker’s knee, which bent backwards with a horrific crackle.

The warrior dropped with a scream, and Aerion stood, still clutching the stump of a sword.  The beserker still swung his sword at Aerion.  He crawled towards him, maimed leg dragging.  Aerion saw Jasen, a bloody gash down the side of his face, drive a spear down into the beserker from behind.

“Grab his sword, boy!” Jasen shouted.  He pointed over Aerion’s shoulder.  “There’s more of them, ancestors know where they came from, but they’re attacking lady Katarina!”

Aerion felt a jolt of ice water pump through his veins.  He looked over, just in time to see eight horsemen push through a cluster of fighting.

He saw her then.  She stood in the middle of the road, only twenty feet away.  She had her sword in her left hand, something else in her right.  She looked like a scene from a story.  She stood like a savage warrior princess, her dark hair back in a braid, her chain shirt spattered with blood.

Aerion blindly reached down.  His fingers found the hilt of the sword that had nearly taken his life.  He charged forward.  Jasen had already run ahead, but Aerion’s longer legs easily outpaced him.

He sprinted past Lady Katarina, just as she raised her right hand.  He heard her shout something as he raced past.  He couldn’t hear her words over the roaring in his ears and his own labored breathing.

One of the horsemen reared before him, and swung down with a blade.

Aerion ducked under the horse’s head, then thrust up on the horseman’s left side.  He felt the lighter blade skitter off the horseman’s greaves, then catch and plunge up under his breastplate.

The horseman sagged, just as the frightened horse sidestepped.

Aerion jerked the blade free and turned, just in time to see two more behind him.  Time slowed again as he saw the nearest had his hammer raised, about to descend upon Aerion.  Aerion tried to force his body to move out of the path, but he didn’t have time.

He heard Lady Katarina shout something, her high, clear voice cut through the shouts and screams.

Aerion watched the hammer descend, saw his death in that swing, with no time to move out of the way or block it.

Then the world flared white.

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