The Battle of Locke’s Hill
Murdo Droost is eager to begin the slaughter. Even if it means his own grizzly death. For certainly, anything would be better than continuing to slog through this godforsaken realm of watery filth and decay.
Taking rare sanctuary upon the crest of a rocky outcrop, Murdo casts his steely gaze about in a mixture of open disgust and dogged determination. The warlord of clan Droost surveys the grim, filth covered faces of those nearest. There he finds little doubt about the six hundred or so men who have followed him into this hellhole. Despite the ever-present stench of rotting vegetation and moist earth, the seasoned warrior recognizes the scent of murderous anticipation hanging heavily in the air. Set jaws, furrowed brows, and tense muscles give further evidence to their intent. Today, bloody greed infuses every boot with purpose. Boots that only days before were being wearily tugged at and pried from the fetid muck that constitutes the great northern marshlands.
Dragging his eyes from his men, Murdo spies a weak glow, low on the eastern horizon. The raising sun, slow to burn off the morning’s mist, marks yet another day in a forced march through the world’s largest cesspool. What lies behind it is a full week’s trudging over sucking marshland and unforgiving sinkholes. Land, if it can even be named as such, that has claimed more than one careless victim… all on the promise of glorious battle and riches to be plundered should Murdo’s army make it through and arrive on time. Thankfully, scouts have brought reports of solid footing ahead and the not too distant ground at which he and his men are to find what they’ve come for. With this news his warriors have easily forgotten their misery of days past. They are eager to get to the business of killing. The promise is taking shape. If the timing is correct, an unsuspecting prey should be moving into striking distance.
For with the plan intact, victory is assured. Soon he will be in possession of the key to unlock the power and wealth of this land. It is simply a matter of collecting the heads of those who will fall before his mighty sword. But first things first. He must get himself and his men out of this colossal sewer.
Stepping from his refuge, Murdo Droost growls a few words of encouragement to those who can benefit from his wisdom.
“Well boys, if’n this bitch hasn’t sucked ya dry in seven days, then she ain’t worth the coin you’re payin’! Best ye be humpin’ your limp dicks to more promising ground.”
It’s the kind of remark that gets a few hearty chuckles and more than one or two coarse replies about somebody’s sister. But it serves its purpose and the men trudge steadily onward.
In the passing of the next few hours Murdo eventually sees his army safely out of the marsh’s muddy grip. As the last of his warriors step out and onto dry land, the warlord hocks a brown gob of disdain upon his conquered nemesis. They’ve made it, but with little time to waste. What can be spared is only enough to put some dry cheese and beef down the gullet, while emptying both the contents of boots and bladder.
Scouting the nearby hills, Murdo can’t help but think upon the events that delivered him to this side of the marshlands… to the highlands of Entia… the land of his enemy.
What he wouldn’t give to be warming his aching bones upon the great hearth of den’ifer Clan Droost, with a bowl of wife Morda’s best lamb stew and a tankard of black ale close at hand. For such was his at the moment Fergus O’Chonaill burst into his home, scattering clansmen and dogs alike. Few could be forgiven such transgressions against the peace of his home. But Fergus is just such a man.
In his mind’s eye, Murdo sees it all happen anew.
Massive strides equal to his towering six and a half feet take Fergus across the not insubstantial hall in less than a dozen steps. Simultaneously he tosses his double headed axe to a startled, but accepting clansman. His immense size and thick limbs belie a cat-like agility, movements that make Fergus one of the more lethal warriors in all of the northern lands. He is a hard man, not to be taken lightly or dismissed easily.
Though technically still summer, there is the hint of the far northern winds in the air. Meaning to warm his meaty hands at the nearby fire, Fergus draws close. Murdo stands and offers his full and untouched tankard to the new arrival. It is the least he should do, considering the giant who just entered his home is the recognized Clanlord and Chieftain of the Twelve Tribes.
Accepting Murdo’s tribute, Fergus gulps more than half its contents down before handing it back with a grunt and a nod.
“We need to talk,” comes Fergus’ gruff words behind a froth-covered mustache and ale soaked beard. “Alone.”
It takes but a single word from Murdo to signal the complete evacuation of those who sought the earlier shelter of the hall. The two men are soon left in conspiracy.
Once alone, Fergus gives a wicked grin behind his full black beard. The only evidence of it existence is in the creases at the corner of each eye. Murdo has known the Clanlord nearly all his days, but as such he almost fails to recognize the tale signs. A smile is a rare thing on Fergus’ stern face.
“I am to be congratulated, my friend,” begins Fergus, slapping Murdo on the back. “Word has it clans McAlesters and McPhersons are at each other’s throat. That they all but went to war at those infernal games they play, and it shouldn’t be long b‘fore they’re more than willin’ to take the field in settlin’ their grievances. When that happens, that bastard of a mouse Locke will have no choice but to poke his head out of that hole he hides in. And doin’ that, the trap will be sprung!”
“So you’ve said before,” offers Murdo after a gulp of what remains in his cup.
“And that’s all fine and good Fergus, but how are ya to know when and where to spring this trap of yours?” Murdo questions. “It’s not as if ya can name the time and place they should decide to start their killin’. Or, for that matter, whether Locke will be there or not.”
Fergus lets a second rare smile reach his eyes. This time it’s a little easier to see.
“Ah, but that is where you, Murdo Droost, are wrong. I’ve already baited the trap with our friends and distant cousins, the Blackmoores. And soon, a third party challenge shall find its way to each clan-head, demanding they settle matters in the old ways. Should the McAlesters and McPhersons react true to form, as I fully expect they will, neither shall think twice before acceptin’ the time and place offered in the challenge. They’ll be too interested in spillin’ the other’s blood to consider any trickery. When that happens, Locke will be right where I want him!”
Reaching over and taking Murdo’s shoulders in each of his giant hands, Fergus squares off on the slightly shorter man, “And that’s where I want you to be. Waiting for Locke and whatever fools of clans McAlester and McPherson should show up.”
“But that could be nearly a thousand strong!” protests the warlord. “You know I’ve never been one to shirk the fight, but I’ll be damned if’n I’ll throw my life away, or those of my men, on a fools errand.” Remembering who the man is that stands before him, Murdo quickly adds, “Or for those of my Chieftain.”
“Nor would I want you to,” assures Fergus. “You are too valued a warrior and friend to throw away. But consider this before ya think me the fool.”
“The challenge will be offered up in the old ways,” states Fergus. “Which means they’ll be leavin’ those bloody bows of theirs at home. And since neither side will want any interference from Locke, they’ll keep quiet about what’s to happen. Only the closest of family will be knowin’. That assures us that most, if not all, of the two clan’s leaders will be present for the killin’. At most, we can expect thirty men to a side. Fifty too sixty between the two.”
Growing ever more excited with the details of his plan, Fergus continues his assessment.
“Then there’s Locke. Certainly the man has a substantial force of arms, but he has a castle to protect and can no leave it entirely undefended. So count on less than half of his numbers takin’ to the field. And don’t forget most of those inside his walls are but miners. Nor can he risk drawin’ on the locals, for they’re just as likely to join either clan in hostilities than help stop it. I estimate Locke will field one hundred fifty men-at-arms, no more. He’ll be there to stop a clan squabble, not fight an unsuspected army.”
Throwing his hands up into the air and walking about the long hall, Fergus delivers what he can only believe to be good news, “That means you’ll be lookin’ at a force of two hundred at most! Certainly not a thousand! And should those idiots, McAlester and McPherson, get to the business of killin’ before Locke arrives, then all the better. He’ll have fewer to come to his aid when you let it be known who the real threat is.”
“All right,” acknowledges Murdo in a challenging, but guarded voice, “let’s say everything you just said holds true. How then is Locke to learn of the ensuing battle? How is he to know when and where to be, if everybody is keeping their mouths shut? Answer me that? And how are we, for that matter, to know that any of this has taken place? Last I checked, neither of us has a magic eye giving witness to what happens across the marshlands.”
“Speak for yourself on that account Warlord Droost!”
Fergus’ earlier excitement has given way to a more menacing presence. His use of Murdo’s formal title reminds the warlord just who is the master in the room.
Dropping the fullness of his dark gaze upon Murdo and taking a step closer, the Chieftain’s words leave no room for a retort. “Leave such matters to me. I assure you, I have such means as to guarantee Locke knowing where to be. As for you, accept what your Clanlord has offered. Prepare your men and be ready to move across the marsh at my orders. I’ll expect you’ll have the necessary force in place within the next three days.”
There was nothing for it. He had to follow his Clanlord’s demands. And though three days was barely enough time to muster men and supplies, it was all the time Fergus gave him. On the morning of the fourth day came word to begin their forced trek across the marshlands. Along with his men, several guides had been secured to keep the large group intact. But even with this precaution, the marsh exacted its toll upon the six hundred and fifty men Murdo deemed essential to his success.
Now, a week later, Murdo and his army have found themselves on the opposite side of the marshlands. And if the mouse has taken the bait, then he should be quickly leading his men into position. It would not serve to be late to the festivities.
As it turns out, the warlord need not have worried. For no sooner are Murdo’s men back to their feet and marching towards their final destination, than one of his advanced scouts comes running back. Though fairly out of breath, the young man has a fresh look of excitement about his face and a desire to convey whatever he has discovered beyond the hills.
Using his official title, the young warrior reports between much needed gasps of air, “Warlord Droost… there has been battle before us… a force in march comes… from the northwest… towards what remains.”
Grinning wickedly, Murdo demands, “Did you view the bodies? Were they highlanders?”
“I believe so,” offers the runner. “I could not get close milord. The force was soon to arrive, and I thought it best to bring you news rather than risk being seen or captured by their outriders.”
“You did well, Shamus. What else?”
“The battle must have been some hours old. Already there are carrion circling the skies. It is what drew me to the ground, and no doubt the others as well. If there are survivors, there is none in evidence. Those that are arriving fly the Locke banner. I estimate no more than what you anticipated.
Murdo can’t help but ask the question, “How many mounted knights?”
“Perhaps a score, not much more. I could not wait to be certain.”
Murdo ponders the number as a manageable risk. He expected as much, even slightly more. Shaking his head, Murdo accepts the man’s assessment, “No, I suppose not. Better to know at least this much, than have you fall into their hands and spoil the surprise.”
Recognizing the runner has little in the way of items to weigh him down, the warlord offers Shamus his own water skin, “Here, drink your fill and then show me the way. We have our own killing to get to.”
Circling the otherwise clear skies above, Death’s winged messengers proclaim a victory over the once living below. “Just as it should be,” muses Murdo Droost.
By whatever favor from the gods Clanlord O’Chonaill made this happen, the results surely speak for themselves. All the same, Murdo finds it difficult to believe his own eyes. As predicted, Locke and a force equal to a quarter of Murdo’s own is marching towards the remains of an earlier battle. He could hardly hope for better.
Not wishing to alert the Entians to his presence, Murdo maintains his position, lying flat atop a small rise in the long summer grass. Shamus has led his warlord to the perfect vantage overlooking an open landscape of low rolling hills and the small woodland to the west. Little more than twice the flight of a longbow’s arrow separates the two parties. Certainly, the warlord could signal the attack to begin at anytime, but he wants his opposite to suffer the loss of those already lying dead. For failure has a nasty way of replicating itself, and he wants Locke to have a long, hard look at his lack of success.
An ugly grin plasters itself across the warlord’s thin lips. Turning to the young warrior at his side, Murdo gives voice to his thoughts. “Ya have to appreciate the man’s sense of timing. Locke may be too late to do anything to stop the slaughter between McAlester and McPherson, but he’s right on time to meet his own.”
Shamus looks to his warlord and nods his silent agreement.
Remaining patient and unmoving, Murdo watches the events unfold before him. He awaits the efforts of Locke’s own scouts: their survey of the battle scene, checking for survivors, reporting the lack thereof. The warlord only wishes he were close enough to see the emotions play out across the youngin’s face as he is told the gruesome details. To be able to see Locke begin second-guessing every decision that has led to his all-too-late arrival. The self-doubt seeping in. Asking himself what he should do next. And of course, with every question comes the erosion of certainty, festering and undermining the man’s confidence.
Murdo knows this is the time to gather his own troops and send them forward.
Beginning his low crawl back down the hill, a halting hand is felt upon Murdo’s shoulder. Shamus points towards the open field in front of them. Looking out, the two witness the most unexpected sight.
Riding full tilt towards the remains of the battlefield is what can only be considered a child of seven or eight. A Highland girl if Murdo were to guess by the superior horsemanship and long red braids. Shouts to return follow her, but are ignored. And as if that weren’t enough, it isn’t long before the first child is followed by yet another. By the looks of it, this time it’s a boy of the same general age.
The warlord can do not but shake his head in disbelief. “Of all the people to take into battle, he brings children!”
Turning to the young man at his side Murdo asks, “When did you first pick up the spear and shield?”
“When I was twelve, Warlord.” Shamus proudly replies.
“And how old are ya now, lad?”
“This is my seventeenth summer, Warlord.”
“Bah… I have fleas older than you. Still, I suppose it’s old enough. Unlike them two. Well, I suppose there ain’t nothin’ for it, but to see if they stay out of the way. Should they not get themselves killed, perhaps they’ll make decent slaves once we deal with the rest of ‘em.”
Looking back, Murdo can now see the pair dismounted amongst the corpses. Obviously they are looking for fallen family.
“Come on lad. I got a war to start and plenty more orphans to make this day.”
Quickly regaining the army’s lead, Murdo has his group leaders assembled for a quick and final word. Despite speaking in a low grumble, he has no difficulty being heard by those in attendance.
“Remember, first and foremost we’ve come here to take down Locke. Who, I’m please to say, has done us the good service of showing up today.” A small round of chuckles is offered up. “So let us not waste this opportunity!” continues Murdo. “I repeat, Locke is in no way to be allowed to retreat from the field of battle. If this means having to kill him, then so be it. However, let me also remind you,” And this is said while looking each individual in the eye, “the Clanlord will bestow great favor upon any man who has a hand in presenting him a still breathing captive. That said, consider your actions and those of your men carefully. Are we clear?”
A restrained chorus of agreement meets Murdo’s ears.
Satisfied, the warlord continues, “Good, now let me offer you this bit of cheerful news. Seems the Entians have already done some of our work for us. Clans McAlester and McPherson finally decided to bury the hatchet on their grievances… only they buried it in each other. And fairly deep I might add. You’ll have a good look at their handy work on your way to where I expect Locke will deploy his troops. Just beyond their rotting corpses you’ll also see a large copse of trees. If Locke tries to make a break for it, he might very well head in that direction. Be prepared to cut him off should it come to it. I do no want to have to go in there after him!”
“Aside from that, they’ll have some archers and a score of knights, but we have them outnumbered four-to-one. Keep the men close… shields up when they let loose with those bloody bows… packed spears on the riders when they charge. If we keep it tight, we should be able to overrun their position with little effort and loss of arms. Questions?”
His query is answered with an assured silence.
Offering a final nod Murdo dismisses those listening in, “Very well, get to your men. And remember… it is Locke we want! Now go!”
As Warlard Droost expected, Locke has failed to turn tail. For how, in good conscience, could he abandon the bodies of his fallen clansmen to be further savaged by either man or beast? Certainly, common sense and the size of force now confronting Locke’s own would dictate a withdrawal from the field. Yet, honor has commanded otherwise. Thus, Murdo is pleased to see his adversary having staked his banner upon a nearby hill, its field of solid black with a white castle at its center flapping lazily in a weak breeze.
Just below the crest of the hill and its flag, the majority of Locke’s men have formed a crescent shaped defensive line. They are steady and well trained, looking capable in their chosen profession as soldiers. Yet, they will not be equal to the task. Murdo Droost swears he will not be denied his victory.
At the head of a far more considerable force, the warlord has brought his six hundred plus warriors forward. They have steadily closed the gap to less than a hundred yards. There his men stop to raise the traditional war chant against the enemy of the day; a mixture of low grunts joined by the banging of weapons on shields that grows in intensity to a final, resounding howl. The cry is enough to make any foe’s blood freeze in his veins. It is their warrior cry, born of a hard fought existence in the far northern lands of Uster. What follows is sheer silence. How long it lasts is a matter for Warlord Droost to decide.
In the calm before the storm Murdo can’t help but search for what is obviously absent from the chosen battlefield: Locke’s cavalry and archers. No doubt the knights have taken temporary refuge behind the hill, from which they will eventually attack his flanks. His captains have been briefed on this likely tactic and will not be taken by surprise. The bowmen are another matter. They too could be behind the hill or possibly in the nearby woods. Surely he will lose some to their arrows. But no matter, before the day is done they too will be put to the sword.
Drawn by movement to his left, Murdo notices the two children from earlier. They have finally remounted their ponies and are hastily making for the false sanctuary of Locke’s troops. “How unfortunate,” growls Murdo under his breath. “They would have been much better off having stayed amongst the dead. Now they must suffer the fate of the living.”
Raising broadsword high above his head, Warlord Droost circles the heavy blade three times and slowly lowers it to shoulder level, pointing stiff armed at the enemy across the open field. It is the signal to move forward, and all along the line his men do so as one.
As if triggered by this hostile act the Entian’s let loose with the first volley of arrows. They arc out from the blind side of Locke’s hill. Their number is unclear, but Murdo estimates near fifty from the feathered shafts that fall from the sky. The accuracy is potentially deadly. Most catch raised shields, with a dozen finding their mark. It isn’t long before a second and third volley rain down in equal effect. Each is on target and at different points along his line. Murdo can only give grudging respect to their skill and curse the eye of whomever is in charge of making adjustments for the constantly changing distance. Wishing to make it a little more difficult on these would-be killers, Murdo decides to hasten the step of his men, bringing the line to a steady trot.
The left flank is just starting to catch an eye-full as they draw closer to the desecrated bodies already littering the field. Murdo can hear it in their derision of the dead Highlanders. See it in the quickening of their pace. The barely restrained desire to add more death to the day’s tally.
With his attention elsewhere, only the reactions of those nearby cause Murdo to raise his shield in time to avert disaster. An instant later the wicked end of a warhead crashes into his small rounded shield, splintering through just above the brace holding onto his left arm. The metal plating over stout wooden planks is barely enough to arrest the arrow’s killing force. But it is still enough to keep the shaft from burying itself into his helm and skull. No such luck is afforded the warrior to his right.
Murdo’s focus is forcefully brought back to what is in front of him, to those upon the hill and the arrows flying out to greet him and his men. They have covered half the distance to the waiting enemy, while more feathered death falls all around.
Scanning the crest of the hill reveals Locke’s banner continuing to flutter in the slight breeze. Beside it stands a knight in fine armor wearing all the trappings of the lord himself. Murdo can only believe it is Locke.
What the warlord can’t reconcile in his mind is the nature of those having joined Locke upon the hill. If he didn’t know any better, Murdo would swear the man has brought along his court jester and the remainder of the nursery to fight in this battle. For where once there were two children, there is now three of a like age. And along with this brood is the most colorful riot of a man, wearing a long feathered, wide brimmed hat, making the oddest of jestures. But Murdo can only give them fleeting interest. More serious matters draw near.
With all of twenty-five yards before the two forces come in contact, Murdo is about to give the signal releasing an all out sprint towards the Entian line. Only his intent is brought up short as a loud explosion to his left commands everyone’s attention. Trailing black smoke falling over dead Highlanders follows the echo across the hills.
At that moment, Warlord Droost’s entire world turns upside down.
The dead are no longer still. For what should be nothing more than a field of lifeless meat rotting in the noonday sun has suddenly animated into a most ghastly sight. One phrase passes through Murdo Droost’s lips as he looks on. “Ag’siul bas!” Walking death! What others in the world term, necromancy… a black and malevolent word of which the Highland corpses have chosen to heed.
With the horror of the undead now upon them, the entire left flank of Warlord Droot’s line comes to a panicked stop. It is an image that can’t be ignored. Eviscerated guts hang below one man’s knees, another’s left eye at his cheek, while still others feature bloody wounds of horrific consequence. It is a spectacle that taps into every superstitious belief and fear of his northern warriors.
Murdo curses violently in the name of the dark underworld gods. The dead should stay dead. They have no business walking about. It is why Uster burns their greatest heroes, and those that must be buried are done so without their feet. But before his men can compose themselves, seemingly as one, the newly risen offer up a hideous challenge to the living and attack in shocking mass.
Yet, at that moment the undead are not the only ones to assault the line. Locke’s archers, having crested the hill, begin firing directly into the invaders. With such close range and strength of pull, only the heaviest of shields and armor stand any chance of deflecting the death to be found in each arrow. So said, few are denied. In three successive volleys from their longbows the front ranks of the Uster center is quickly thinned. And taking the opportunity to press the attack, advancing from the hill, Entia’s line swiftly follows in the chaos of those struck down. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Warlord Droost finds himself in the true thick of it.
Too busy surviving, Murdo is unable to witness the third prong in Locke’s attack. For not only has the Entian Lord brought forth his archers, but so too his knights. They have taken the right flank at full charge. And though only twenty in number, the effect they have is devastating. Those unfortunate enough to be caught upon their long lances and under steel shod hooves give little resistance. Why exactly Murdo’s men failed to follow his directive concerning the use of their own spears against the cavalry, he’ll never know. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that none where aware of the danger until it was much too late to do anything about it. No warning came before the slaughter. One moment their flank was clear; the next, it hosted a full score of trampling steel and sharpened death. As if masked in the mists of magic itself.
To make matters worse, arriving from the west and beyond the trees is another force of Highlanders. By now, the entire left flank of Murdo’s line has been turned and is in collapse. Little better can be said for the right. While any that break through the front of the Entian line are quickly cut down by a barrage of arrows. With all this, doubt of victory begins to seep into Warlord Droost’s consciousness… but only as a distant possibility.
Murdo Droost has lived through worse, and he’s still here to tell the tales. As his father was fond of quoting, “It ain’t over till the fat lady serves the last ale. And even then, there’s still another cask somewhere in the world that needs drinkin’.” Murdo’s sire was never one for an empty mug, and neither is he. He has always been at his best when things were at their worst. It is why he was made Warlord of the Twelve Tribes. Second only to the Clanlord himself.
But such thoughts are little comfort to those suffering the bite of cold steal this day. For swords, axes, and spears continue to be put to ugly use as all around men contest the other’s right to keep breathing. Desecrated bodies soak the ground, turning the late summer grass a rustic brown. And as a growing number of Entian’s join the battle, more and more of Murdo’s warriors fall. The number of the truly dead is beginning to outnumber the living. Where once Warlord Droost boasted superior numbers, he is lucky if he can claim more than half of those he started with. Despite his earlier thoughts, Murdo recognizes the situation is turning sour.
If there is any hope in surviving this day, perhaps it is to be found in the trees. For what was once viewed as a possible escape for Locke is now looking more like Murdo’s only chance at seeing tomorrow. It’ll mean fighting through that which is already dead, but it can’t be helped. There is nothing more than open field and a mounted enemy to the right and behind. And to press forward is to invite death from piercing arrows. No, the trees are his only hope.
Commanding those nearest, Murdo signals a sudden withdrawal from the center. The collapse will leave the right flank to a grizzly fate, but his intent is for those rushing the gap to serve as a buffer between him and the Entian knights now at his rear as he swings to the left. It is a tactic he’ll mourn for in success or burn for in failure.
Murdo’s gamble quickly brings the warlord face to face with those who cursed his victory from the beginning: the walking death. They are a fairly hideous sight. At first glance it is difficult to determine if the blood and gore they display comes from themselves or that butchered in turn. Certainly it is a mixture of the two. The only reason Murdo fails to be turned aside by his own revulsion is the sure death being offered by those pursuing him from behind.
That these Highlanders are as vicious in death as they were in life is soon apparent. For Death has obviously failed to rob them of their skill in arms. All are equal and ready to the task, steadily increasing their ranks from among the living. This will prove no easy path towards the trees for Murdo and his men.
It isn’t until several such attackers confront the warlord that he begins to notice what was not so obvious from a distance. One man features what can only be counted as a third eye hanging from his helmet. Another’s entrails seem to be neatly tucked in his belt. While others offer gaping wounds flayed open over protective chainmail. All of which brings their deathly condition into sudden suspicion.
Murdo can’t help but feel the victim of a well-conceived hoax.
With that one thought plucked from his consciousness, the damn holding back the remainder collapses. A river of ideas is let loose as he lifts his sword, blocking the three-eyed enemy’s downward slash.
“It’s nothin’ more than a trap! Locke had this planned! He knew we were coming! Curse the Entian bastard and his trickery!”
All this flows through Murdo’s mind as his warrior instincts drop his blade low, redirect it in an upward arc, and bring it between the open legs of his assailant. A quick release of life and the sickening splash of guts are followed by a solid thud as the body falls upon the ground. The Highlander will die a truly agonizing and real death. Murdo’s thoughts continue unabated, but all the more satisfied by his recent efforts.
“Aye, it certainly goes a long way in explaining why he would bring children along. He knew the dangers to be faced and felt no risk in them being here. Locke had everything under control from the start. Damn the man’s foresight!”
It is only then that Warlord Droost stumbles upon a most disturbing thought.
“Perhaps Locke is not alone in creating this deathtrap. Dare I think it? What if this is exactly what Clanlord O’Chonaill wants? Such a massacre may very well be what Fergus requires to declare open warfare between the two countries. While at the same time, removing one of his strongest rivals for the position of Clanlord.”
It is an ugly thought that will bear some consideration should Murdo be afforded the opportunity. Right know he needs to give his full attention to surviving this day.
Looking to his left, Murdo is gratified to find the young scout, Shamus. With short sword and rounded shield in hand, he is amongst those fighting their way to the tree line. Though lacking the heavy armor of most, the boy is effectively making up for it by moving deftly about his slower opponents, landing mortal blows whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself. If he were alive and here to see him in action, Shamus’ father, Murdo’s brother-in-law, would be proud of the warlord’s godson. Murdo gives a rare complement to no one in particular, “The boy’s a natural. I need to make sure he gets home to his mother.”
It is a good thought. It is a worthy thought. It is the last the warlord has upon the battleground.
Turning forward to greet the next attacker, Murdo is suddenly struck at the side of his head by a mind-numbing blow. All too quickly the warmth and wetness of his life flows freely down his face. His vision narrows. Knees buckle. Murdo’s trusted sword slips from his grip. Finally, this mountain of a man crumbles to the ground. Sadly, he will not fulfill his last desire.
Casting a long, thin shadow across his prone body, a single dark feathered shaft protrudes from the side of Warlord Droost’s helm.
To the uninitiated, the shaft looks little different from the hundreds of others littering the field of dead. But upon closer inspection, the feathers are of a unique quality, black and glossy, while the paint scheme is particular to only one archer of the Highlands.
She has been standing watch upon the hill ever since the archers broke cover. She has been watching over kin and clan with a keen eye and deadly accuracy of aim.
It was a shot of no great distance. Fifty… sixty yards at most. With the target the size of a man’s head. For the archer in question, neither represents any great difficulty in and of themselves, or taken as a pair. However, factor in the sporadic movement of battle… the uncertainty of the target’s progress… that, along with the distance and size make it a truly remarkable shot by anyone’s standards.
Ruby McPherson cares not for the difficulty, only that she is successful in stopping those that would do her family harm. She is a mother… a wife… a Highlander. She is no one to be trifled with.