A Season To Fight – Chapter Eleven

Viggo watched from the top of the rise as a sea of red flooded into the once peaceful city. Tears streamed down his face as he watched the invasion in helpless horror, being as useless as a street urchin sitting on the roof of a tavern. They intercepted his entry back into the city. He wept as he thought of Agnita and what they would to do her, to everyone. They would burn them without mercy or remorse. He failed everyone on all accounts.

“Oh Agnita, why didn’t you run from me?” he wept. “God damn you, General Kaloun! May lightning strike you dead!”

His hand went to the hilt of his sword as a macabre thought crossed his mind. With the shame of failing Commander Voniz twice and the pain of knowing Agnita would not live to see another day because of him, he longed to end his life, to go straight to hell where he belonged. He began to pull out his sword and stopped.

“No,” he said. “I will be a man and watch the destruction. I will be a witness to a slaughter that will go down in history as one of Ustrunia’s many cruel acts. I will report to my superiors and tell them just how ineffective their strategies have been.”

He cast a gaze heavenward, longing to fall into the sky, to cease to exist. A sea of black moved from the east. In the corner of his eye, it looked like gathering storm clouds, but when he looked out, his jaw dropped. So great was the sight that he thought he was dreaming.

The Norforthian army rode for Phyllis Cove. Blinking back tears of relief, Viggo urged his horse into a run toward the black-caped force. Never before had he felt so willing to fight, so hungry to kill.

His heart raced as he approached the line of marching men.

“Viggo!” called Commander Voniz, his green eyes boring into him like glowing gemstones.

Viggo saluted him with a trembling arm. “Sir!” he called.

“I was afraid we lost you.”

“It seems that I have been granted another day to defend our country, Sir.”

“Stay with me now,” ordered the commander.

“Yes, Sir.”

“When this mess is over, we are going to save Otto.”

Viggo blinked back tears as they rode toward the city that swarmed with scarlet-caped devils. All he had to do was survive the day and he would finally be able to free Otto.

“For Norforth!” shouted Voniz.

His bellow rose above the incessant drumming.

“For Norforth!” echoed the rest of the army.

Violent energy surrounded the men as they raced ahead.

***

Phyllis Cove’s people fled from the burning town in carts, carriages, or on horseback. Some even ran on foot, falling well behind the rest. They were only a mile away from the enemy, leaving them vulnerable. An hour too late and every inhabitant of Phyllis Cove would have been killed and burned. The thought made the blood burn within Frenz’s veins as he rode ahead through the smoke, ready to charge the enemy, to run them through. They would catch the Ustrunians by surprise for the first time since the war began.  

He thought of Agnita. She was so brave. He was just too foolish to see it before. He longed to get to know her all over again when the war was finally over, to take her back to their hill and overlook the river.

With his muscles taut in anticipation of a long fight, he focused on the task at hand. The strongest Ustrunians fought their way through the mass of Nortforthian soldiers ahead, submitting themselves to lethal stabs and slashes, seemingly sacrificing their lives, their cause always valued above their own lives. They were no different from him in that way.

Loud battle cries from both sides rattled his ears. He leaned close to his horse and braced himself, gripping his sword tightly with one hand. He closed his eyes and recalled the last day that he and Agnita raced down the hill; the sun cast an angelic glow over her light hair. Her willful character as she argued with him about joining the army infuriated him so much back then. The thought made him smile despite the hell surrounding him. The world burned before his eyes, yet the thought of her comforted him, even as black death surrounded him.

Shouting and screaming tore him away from his musings of her. The enemy surrounded them, their scarlet capes cutting through the smoky haze like caustic blood. He had a strange, gut-wrenching feeling that he might never get out. It rose from the pit of his stomach until his hate for them boiled over into rage.

He screamed as he drove his sword’s blade through the first man that charged him. Clanging swords and dull thumps filled the air, assaulting his eardrums. It was difficult to see through the thickening smoke. Blood’s stench reached his nostrils. Death infiltrated the peaceful soil, defiling it forever.

With a quick look around, Frenz jumped off his horse and smacked its rump so it would charge through a group of Ustrunians.

“Go!” he shouted, setting him free.

The stallion retreated, leaping over some men and trampling others. On his feet, Frenz felt more agile and alert. He dodged the swing of a battle axe from a much larger soldier. He slashed at the man’s unprotected inner thighs and then drew back for the counterattack. Back and forth they went as Frenz’s rapid movements countered the Ustrunian’s forceful attacks. It was yet another game of speed versus strength, boy versus man.

“You ready to die today, little boy?” he taunted.

His green eyes pierced through the gloom as his mouth upturned into a wide grin.

Frenz leaped to the side as the axe wielder nearly severed him in two with a forceful swing. He watched the man carefully, anticipating his next move. A loud cry sounded close by and the Ustrunian growled before stumbling to the earth. A boy with blonde hair and blue eyes stabbed the man in the back.

“Viggo!” cried Frenz.

Viggo ran around the fallen man and gestured for Frenz to follow him. With his weapon still in hand, the large Ustrunian attempted to stand one more time, quickly taking a stab at Viggo. Being much smaller, he easily dodged it and then finished the enemy off with a stab to the chest.

Frenz patted Viggo on the shoulder as they exchanged wild looks. “Thank you, friend.”

“Where’s your horse?” asked Viggo.

“I set him free.”

Viggo nodded, wiping blood off his face with his hands. “I did the same. Managed to knock off a few of ‘em in the process.”

They scanned the area and spotted two big Ustruians as they stood over a wounded Norforthian soldier.

“I’ll take the fatter one,” said Frenz.

“Deal,” said Viggo.

He sprinted for the cumbersome warrior, jumped onto his back, straddled his torso, and slit his throat from behind. Viggo killed the other one quickly and helped his wounded comrade to stand.

“You think you can carry on?” he asked.

The fellow Norforthian wiped the blood from his face, nodding bravely. Then the three of them exchanged glances.

“You think we’re gaining on them?” asked Viggo.

“Well, we’re not dead yet,” said Frenz. “We’ll worry about numbers after they surrender.”

He took in the sight of the battle that raged. Ahead were several hundred new chances to die and he intended to beat every single one of them.

“Let’s kill as many sick bastards as we can get our hands on,” said Viggo with a wicked grin.

Frenz returned it. It didn’t seem so daunting to have a friend fighting at his side. The three of them drew their swords and immersed themselves into the thick of the battle. Frenz zoned in on the most vulnerable enemy bodies, prepared to kill repeatedly until it was all over. He, Viggo, and the other young soldier slew many together, but they kept coming. The red-caped devils seemed to increase in number just like before. Eventually, the Ustrunian oafs separated him from Viggo. Isolated, Frenz felt his resolve weaken when all he could see were red capes surrounding him. He screamed curses, fighting blindly, angry with fate, angry with the men who started the damned war.

***

The sound of men fighting and dying travelled far. It chased the retreating people like an evil spirit. Agnita stood up in the cart, trying to see if she could catch a view of the battle. All she could think about were Frenz and Viggo out there risking their lives to protect their country, to save them.

“Please, sit down!” cried Lady Jaquelline. “We can hear them good enough. No use in scarring yourself for life by seeing it as well.”

Agnita clenched her fists. “My friends are in battle and I carry a weapon that could be of use.”

Jacqueline cast her a scathing glare. “You will be no help to anyone if you go and get yourself killed. Where did you get that thing from?”

“My friend gave this bow and arrow to me. He’s a boy who is fighting against the Ustrunians as we speak. I feel so selfish running away to safety while boys my age are fighting.”

The lady wrapped a comforting arm around her, which only fuelled her panic. She did not want to be coddled, she wanted to do something, anything besides sitting down and listening to the agonized cries of men and boys. 

Jaqueline gently squeezed her upper arm. “It is a man’s job to defend his country. You have no obligation to risk your life as a young lady. A woman’s duty is to give life and to raise a family, to create a good heritage for her children.”

“Says who?” muttered Agnita.

A young man rode past them. His eager grey eyes went from Agnita to the lady. He looked noble, elegantly lean as he sat tall in the saddle.  

“Any news, Martin?” asked Jacqueline.

“We will arrive in Copin by next evening if we travel through the night,” he answered. “If the army isn’t on our tail by dawn, we’ll rest the horses for a few hours. What do you think, M’lady?”

Agnita flinched. That was assuming no Ustrunians would take chase of them.

“I would rather be far away from all the hideous noise,” answered Jaquelline, making a face.

Agnita could have punched the spoiled woman in her perfectly shaped nose. To her, the battle was little more than an inconvenience of her day.  

Martin rode ahead and spoke with the family in the cart just ahead. As she watched the gentle way that he treated his horse, she thought of Maiden. She imagined riding her still healthy and alive. They could ride out to the battle and help Frenz and Viggo fight the enemy off. If only she hadn’t pushed her so hard.

The refugees travelled up a small mountain, Mount Beauty, she heard someone call it. Travelling uphill was the last thing they needed, yet they ascended the rise. The distant sound of more beating drums rose above the village people’s murmurings. It was a distinct Ustrunian beat. Agnita was about to jump down from the cart and run up to the edge of the mountain. She longed to get a better look at what was going on in the city. Lady Jaquelline grabbed her by the arm.

“Stay put,” she demanded.

Some of the men leaped off their wagons and gathered at the rocky ledge to try and see what was going on. Agnita already knew and she felt like a caged animal.

“Must be Ustrunian reinforcements,” said one of the men. “If we don’t pick up our pace, we’re all dead.”

Agnita shuddered.

“How do you know it’s them?” asked Martin.

“Our battle drums do not sound like that.”

“We are all dead,” muttered several people in unison.

Distant, high-pitched yells filled the air and drowned out their voices. Even from a few miles away, the sound was deafening. Black hell raced through Agnita’s veins at the thought of several hundred blood-covered warriors making their way toward them. The men in the group cursed, the women wept. She wrapped her arms around herself, frozen in fear.

Several people raced by, the ones on horseback disappearing into the night. No one could blame them. Someone had to live to tell the story of how Phyllis Cove went from heaven to hell all within one hour.

Lady Jaquelline placed a hand on Agnita’s shoulder. “It will be all right,” she said softly before urging her horse to move forward.

As they travelled through the woods at a terribly slow pace, Agnita sat in awe of her guardian’s naivety. Death was riding on their heels, but she didn’t seem to care.

“What a time to be alive,” someone grumbled in the wagon ahead of them.

Agnita’s face flamed as she thought of Frenz and Viggo. They were smart. Both had survived battles before. She told herself that they would know when it was time to flee, to retreat from being slaughtered.

The loudening battle cries carried on and they moved closer as every minute passed.

“When they get too close, we’ll need to hide, M’lady,” she said sharply. “We’re not going to outrun them.”

Lady Jaquelline glanced over at her. The quarter moon highlighted the tears that streamed quietly down her pale face.

“We’ll hide, of course,” she said.

Agnita kept her eyes peeled for secure places to squeeze into. Simply hiding beneath bushes wouldn’t do. Soon, the Ustrunians would cover the land, stabbing at the ground with their filthy swords, impaling anyone who hid on their path.

***

You killed the saint in me

How dare you martyr me

You killed the saint in me!

– Slipknot, Unsainted

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