Blood arced through the air as his sword slashed across his enemy’s neck. He turned his head away, avoiding the spray while seeking his next opponent. They attacked from everywhere, these northern barbarians who invaded his land so suddenly.
He grimaced and parried the awkward blow of an ax as he spun to kill another enemy. He ducked the axman’s second attack and twisted to slice through the man’s scant armor. For a moment, the space around him remained clear and he searched for his men. They had lost formation, but he wasn’t worried. The Southerners called them barbarians. They weren’t, not like these newcomers from further north, who covered themselves with nothing but leather and hides and often painted their faces as well.
At least his men wore real armor and battled with good weapons. They fought in formation like the Southerners, but could also fight on their own. They even learned to fight in pairs in the style of armies past, before Glendor became a country and nomadic clans roamed their land.
He cursed as the invaders pushed his men back. If a god of war truly existed, he had surely abandoned them this day.
He laughed at his own thought. The gods disappeared long ago. They remained only in stories and distant memories, all except Lady Death. She likely walked the field even as she crossed his mind. He feared he would see her terrible beauty this day.
“Fall back!” He raised his arm and gained the attention of the men nearest him.
His soldiers reacted to the command and made their way toward camp. The enemy continued to fight with every step. Would they get no respite?
He gathered his men as they neared camp. Chaos reigned within as cooks, field medics, wounded soldiers, and the rest scrambled to evacuate.
She caught his attention and filled his vision, the slip of girl who called herself a healer. She came from the south, from Hancar. Her large brown eyes and hair, a mass of brown curls, gave her a child-like appearance. The king acquired her mere months ago to tend those at the keep. At the first sign of attack, the king ordered her north to tend the wounded.
He initially scoffed at the king’s decision. The worst the girl had seen had been kitchen injuries and runny noses. However, in the days since she had arrived at the border, he had changed his opinion. She deftly splinted bones and stitched wounds, even though he could see she wanted to be anywhere but here.
She stood frozen with fear near one of the tents, eyes wide at the carnage around her. Gods, she looked innocent, small, and helpless. He cursed the king for bringing her to the border and for not taking her back to the city with him.
The king, thinking the worst passed, had left the battlefield a day earlier and took a good part of the army with him. He ordered his men to remain behind and deal with the Northern stragglers.
Unfortunately, more of the enemy remained than first thought. Glendor scouts found nothing to indicate their presence. He had no reason to doubt the skill of his scouts, and yet…Where had they all come from?
He resumed the fight, arms aching. He left behind a trail of blood that covered everything. The invaders fought relentlessly as they pushed forward, heedless of their own dwindling numbers. His men regrouped and held their ground at the edge of camp. It did not take long before the Northerners forced them back into the camp itself.
They sidestepped around scattered gear, fire pits, and tents as they fought. He pushed himself harder in an attempt to buy time for his people to escape. He tried to ignore the screams around him and had little desire to consider how many of the horrid pleas belonged to civilians slaughtered throughout the camp.
He feared for the safety of their healer. Gods only knew what would happen should she be lost. Not only would it decimate the men’s morale, but her death might cause repercussions with their southern neighbors as well. Hancar valued their healers above all else. If he allowed the one in Glendor to be killed…he did not even want to consider the consequences. They did not want Hancar as an enemy. Theirs was a large and greatly populated country with a daunting army. Its size easily dissuaded invasion by its neighbors.
He pushed his thoughts aside as he struck out, killing another man as he sought out the healer again. He finally spotted her astride a horse, struggling to keep the frightened animal under control. He grimaced. She should have long since retreated with the others.
After a few tense moments, she gained control of her mount and moved forward. He released the lungful of air he had not realized he held.
He turned his attention back to the battle in time to see a Northerner raise his bow and take aim at the healer. Shit!
Anger raged through him as he ran forward, his sword making short work of all in his path. While he raced toward him, the Northerner released not one, but three arrows in quick succession. He rammed his shoulder against the Northerner, foiling a fourth volley and sending them both to the ground. He reeled back and plunged his sword into the man’s chest. The fallen bowman’s scream joined those of so many others who lie scattered and dying around them.
He stood, his sword once again red with the blood of his enemy. He searched for the girl, and caught a glimpse of her as her horse veered wildly off into the woods to the south. Her mount had been hit, but she looked unscathed. Thank the gods.
However, the direction she rode caused him to growl in frustration. Bloody hells. She would get herself lost or worse–killed.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught movement to his left. Before he could react, pain flared across his stomach as the Northerner’s blade sliced through his leather armor.
He sprang forward in rage and pain, his blade striking a fatal blow. He cursed as the man slid off his sword and fell to the ground. He looked to the south again and saw no sign of the girl. With a growl, he swiveled and surveyed the camp.
“Regroup!” Forearm pressed to the wound on his stomach, he strode back into the fray.
He had to stop thinking about her and concentrate on the fighting ahead. Thoughts of a woman while in battle would lead to defeat, if not death. One of the many reasons he avoided them. A feminine distraction was neither wanted nor acceptable, and gods forbid he ever fall in love. Hah! The idea held no desire for him. He had always been, and would remain, a dedicated soldier, a warrior…a killer. His life held no room for the nonsense of love.
Despite such thoughts, he glanced back over his shoulder once more.