Copyright 2016, 2018 by Raymond Johnson.
Cover photo provided by Duncan1890. (www.iStockphoto.com).
to all my readers who've given me invaluable
feedback on my books.
strength is measured by the size of his heart."
In the midst of
battle a young recruit has been placed on
guard duty and is directly responsible for
the protection of a wise mystic, dozens of
civilians and wounded soldiers who are hiding
within an ice cave. He is proud to do his
duty and seeks nothing more than honour as a
reward for serving the realm. However once
the marauders discover the makeshift hideout
they turn their attention away from the
battle intent on sending their soldiers to
clear the cave.
Chapter 1 - In Hiding
wind echoing through the icy confines of the cave I
felt frozen to the bone within the thin materials of
my tatty robes. We were low on supplies of clothing,
armour and weaponry, as well as food, and I knew it
wouldn't be long before we perished from either the
cold or malnutrition. We did have a number of fires
going but they had the tendency to suck cold air from
outside the cave causing an ever increasing draft.
The trees were scarce within the valley at the base
of the mountain and our supply of logs was already
next to Elise, the mystic, as she hugged herself
beside the fire. Something about standing beside a
woman increased my confidence as though I were
protecting her, even though I was only in my late
teens and very scrawny.
not despair," I told Elise trying my best to act
confident whilst repressing my own fear, "Our
day is yet to come, and God is on our side, you'll
see. The people of our lands will rise again."
turned and faced me with an angry look upon her face
before forcing herself to remain calm. The large scar
down her right cheek glowed red as the cold irritated
it further. She closed her eyes momentarily before
attempting a smile which came out lopsided.
can't stay here," she said softly, "Why don't
we flee, you and I, find some hovel somewhere to live
out the rest of our days?"
tell if she was being serious or not, and whether she
literally meant me and her or all our people. Maybe
it was a distorted marriage proposal, she was thrice
my age and recently a widow.
I said still unsure as to her true intensions, "Maybe
we should... let.s um..."
supposed to be a warrior," she responded calmly,
"Be decisive, yay or nay, and do not erm with me
began to beat with more force. Was she really asking
me such a thing? It was unseemly. Even despite the
age difference I was a warrior and she a mystic, not
the kind of compatible pairing for a happy marriage.
I still needed to be certain what she was requesting.
sorry, but I don't truly understand what you mean,"
I said in a slight panic, "So, please explain
both hands she adjusted her long black hair tucking
it behind revealing her previously covered cleavage.
Her silky white robes appeared bright even within the
dank confines of the cave. Her chest heaved as she
took a deep intake of breath then stared directly
into my eyes. I wasn't used to being looked at in
such a way and had to blink. Her dark brown,
practically black eyes, unnerved me.
think you understand precisely what I mean but are
fearful of the question," Elise responded matter-of-factly,
"Fearful that your captain would disapprove of
such treachery if you abandon your cause, or that you'll
never forgive yourself once the battle is lost. We
have no hope of survival in this war so why not
simply give up the fight?"
I took a
large breath and glanced around making sure no one
was overhearing this ghastly conversation. The
confines of the cave carried sound so easily and it
was imparative that no one overhear such talk. Elise
was our mystic, vital to the war effort, yet appeared
aloof to our cause. Part of my wondered if she was a
fraud, only claiming mysticism as to be placed under
our protection. But it was also possible she was
would never give up the fight," I said within a
raised whisper, "While there's breath left
within me I will continue to fight for freedom. It's
not just lives that are at stake, we are fighting for
the realm and honour itself."
2 - A Call To Arms
was the sound of movement toward the front of the
cave near the entrance. It was clear something was
happening and it was my duty to find out what. If
only we had more soldiers at hand. I was more of a
personal guard than a soldier of battle but when duty
called I knew my place.
will take my leave of you," I told Elise, "Remain
here and stay quiet."
first time I actually saw fear in her eyes as they
your place is at my side," she quickly said,
"You were ordered to protect me."
exactly what I am doing," I responded.
the wooden stick that I was using as my weapon and
hurried up the passage, making my way past the
civilians and wounded soldiers within the relative
safety of the middle of the cave, then further to the
cave's entrance where my captain and a half a dozen
or so fellow soldiers stood waiting.
saw it clearly, over there in that direction,"
one of the soldiers said whilst pointing.
what? What is happening?!" I quickly said while
making my approach.
captain turned and faced me. His rough beard
containing frozen droplets of blood along with his
sword which was now stained red.
are you doing 'ere lad?" He moaned at me, "You're
supposed to be looking after the mystic!"
safe at the far reaches of the cave," I quickly
responded, "And I feel I'm needed here."
just a case of following orders, it was a case of
following your gut feelings which the captain had
told me often enough in the past.
captain quickly turned his head back into the
direction of the valley as the soldier pointed his
finger again. Everyone remained calm and there was
silence all around as we stared out. My breath grew
shallow as I concentrated trying to focus upon
something unusual. There was a reflection of light on
one of the distant snow topped hills, flashing a
number of times before stopping, as though someone
was communicating a message.
we be sure this isn't just a natural trick of the
light?" I whispered to the captain.
was then the sound of something darting quickly
through the air followed by pandemonium and panic.
One of our soldiers had been shot by arrow directly
into his throat. His body flopped to the ground.
under attack!" One of our soldiers yelled as he
and others raised their swords and ran out aimlessly
into the valley.
your ground!" The captain ordered, "It
could be an ambush. We don't know what were up
ignored him like an undisciplined mob, hastily
heading for the treeline in the distance, their
swords raised for the attack. The captain grunted
with annoyance loudly knowing that he couldn't let
some of his men run into slaughter so he gave a
direct order to myself and the soldiers that remained.
guard this cave!" He said addressing me, "Everyone
else accompany me!"
quickly made his way out of the cave entrance
following the others who were already some distance
ahead. The rest of our soldiers, of which there were
six, ran alongside him. My only hope was that they
survive the attack or it would be down to me to
protect the civilians and the mystic Elise alone
using nothing but a stick.
soldier, with the arrow protruding from his throat,
was still alive and gargling blood. I dared not set
eyes upon him and hoped his demise would be swift,
but he was fully conscious and aware of his
circumstances. He caught my eye contact.
it out," he whispered while spurting blood from
ahead then back into the cave hesitating on the best
course of action. I then stepped away from the cave
entrance heading towards him then crouched down. It
was a ghastly sight that made my stomach turn.
the arrow out," he continued with his body
writhing in pain.
you'll die," I said knowing full well he was
aware of that fact.
my eyes and plucked up the courage before placing my
shaking hands around the shaft of the arrow. He
attempted to nod his head to tell me he was ready.
Then with one hard action I pulled the arrow from his
neck causing a fountain of blood to trickle into the
air and over my robes. It was no more than seconds
before his twisted body went limp and he passed away.
I threw down the arrow and placed my hands over the
fallen soldier's face in order to close his eyes.
great care I removed his helmet and placed it on top
of my head, then picked up his shiny iron sword. It
was heavy and took a lot of effort to grip within my
have died a warrior serving the realm with
distinction," I said softly, "And it is an
honour to wield your sword and wear your head armour.
I will avenge you and your name will live on. History
will record your valiant service."
3 - A Fight To The Death
even had the chance to stand up from my crouching
position I was knocked forward flat on my face
hitting the icy stone ground hard and bloodying my
nose. Luckily I was wearing the helmet of my fallen
I had no
idea where my attacker had come from, it was as
though he had appeared from nowhere, but I knew full
well of his intent. I wiggled my body trying to stand
but the person on my back was large and holding his
hands on the sides of my head trying to pull it
backwards. He was either attempting to break my neck
or getting me into a better position to slit my
throat. I had dropped the heavy sword and could see
my stick at my side, a useless weapon in any
situation, and far too long to give a good swing. But
then I spotted another item, a deadly weapon in fact,
I would just have to use it in a non-conventional way.
I screeched trying to muster up my strength as I
reached out grabbing the arrow I had previously
pulled from the fallen soldier.
even having time to view my attacker I swung my arm
round plunging the arrow deeply into his eye, killing
him instantly, causing his lifeless body to collapse
on top of me. In a panic I wiggled and slid myself
out from under him then looked down at the enemy
soldier. He was a giant of a man, in full body armour,
and I was very lucky to have hit him in a part of the
body that was unprotected.
forward against the cave wall coughing and
spluttering trying to regain my breath. My chest
heaved while my body ached. Even my legs shook with
fear. I was suffering the effects of battle fatigue
and it was essential to calm my mind as to avoid
insanity. My heart beat heavily with each trembling
twitch of my body. I reminded myself that my enemy
was not a true civilised human being, he was nothing
more than a savage intent on destroying everything
the realm stood for. He meant nothing to no one. The
lowest of the low. I calmly walked over to his
lifeless body on the ground then spat into his face
as one final act of defiance.
4 - Defending The Cave
the distance just beyond the treeline I could see a
scuffle of many soldiers in battle fighting with
their swords, but with so much thicket and the glare
of the sun it was difficult to make out who was
winning. Part of me begged to join them as my body
tingled with anticipation at the thought of killing
again but I knew that was a feeling I needed to
repress, besides my captain had given me a direct
order to stay put and would not be best pleased if I
turned up at his side.
quickly glanced to the side of the cave entrance as I
heard footsteps against the icy ground. My heart
began to pound within my chest and my muscles grew
tense as I very cautiously made my way out from the
cave entrance. Initially I saw nothing and assumed it
had just been my imagination until I saw an enemy
soldier dash behind me. I quickly turned around and
caught him attempting to sneak into the cave. He
looked terrified as he caught eye contact with me and
froze with fear.
where you are!" I yelled raising my newly
acquired shiny sword while it was already clear the
soldier was staying put.
younger than myself and it was clear he had no battle
experience. The small sword he held within both his
hands appeared fragile, yet was lethal nevertheless.
His eyes kept darting between me and the two bodies
at the cave entrance.
are you bad?" He asked as his voice trembled
like a child about to cry.
my head to one side perplexed by his question. He was
the savage not I, there was no honour in his way of
life, no realm or kingdom he was fighting for. I
decided to answer his question nevertheless in the
hope to lessen his ignorance and silence that
impertinent way of talking to me.
fight for the freedom of all the people of this land!"
I said whilst trying to sound both wise and confident.
glanced his eyes further within the cave as though
checking it out causing me to wonder if he was sent
to spy on us. Whatever his true intentions I wasn't
willing to let him leave.
aren't we people of this land too?" He said
staring back at me.
my head as I approached him. It was clear he was too
feeble to wield his sword despite it being so small
represent no one, your opinions don't count!" I
responded in a deep tone, "You have no sense of
loyalty to your people and therefore no honour!"
very little effort I calmly removed the sword from
his hands then dropped it onto the ground causing it
to ting against the stone floor. He looked at me with
glazed eyes while I was at a dilemma as to what to do
with him. I needed the captain's help in order to
reach a decision. Should I simply kill the unarmed
boy soldier or take him prisoner? What would a true
warrior do? I wondered. I decided to ask Elise as she
was supposedly wise in such matters.
5 - Distraction
my sword, heaving it at arm's length in one hand,
trying to act menacing while speaking with an
exaggerated rough voice. Luckily with the boy soldier
being so frightened it wasn't difficult to intimidate
with me!" I ordered waving the sword into the
direction of the cave taking care not to drop it,
"You're my prisoner now!"
widened while his body trembled.
don't need to take me inside," he said nervously,
"Just keep guard over me here, I won't cause
trouble, I promise you."
I believed him, for he was far too frightened to
attempt an escape, but something appeared a little
odd about his request. The cave was far safer for the
both of us so I wondered why he had no desire to
venture inside. The answer came to me when I heard
screams inside. The boy soldier had distracted me
while one or more of his fellow soldiers had snuck
did you do?!" I yelled at him while more screams
continued to echo within the confines of the cave.
had no choice..."
he reached the end of his sentence I plunged my sword
within his chest causing him to let out screams of
his own as the blade slid right through protruding
from his back. As I tried to retrieve the sword his
light body weight caused him to lurch forward
resulting in me having to physically stand on his
body to retrieve the sword. He was still alive and
his screams and cries were loud yet somehow I felt no
empathy due to his deceit.
pray you suffer a slow death!" I screeched at
6 - Clashing Swords
cautiously I continued deeper inside the cave keeping
my ears poised while trying to make out any figures
within the darkness. The screaming had stopped and I
hoped to dear God that the civilians hadn't all been
murdered. It was possible some may have been keeping
quiet and hiding within the shadows but it was also
possible the enemy soldiers were doing the same.
solitary oil lamp flickered on the cave floor stained
with blood. I stared at it whilst imagining the
atrocity that the holder must have experienced to
attempt to defend themselves within a hopeless fight.
headed towards me and out of the shadows appeared a
large man, in full body armour, carrying a heavy
sword similar to my own. Within mere seconds our
swords clashed as we fought in battle. The vibrations
of his heavy metal sword against mine shot up my arm
but I was determined not to drop my weapon.
I yelled for no other reason than to let out my
the sword hard against his side causing him to wobble
upon his feet, but his armour protected him from
injury. I struck again and again, becoming all the
more exhausted, then with one final blow I knocked
him to the ground. I stared at him, exhausted and
panting heavily, whilst I tried to muster up the
strength to swing my sword again, but alas I
collapsed to the floor in a heap.
for my eventual demise but to my surprise he was
making no attempt to stand up likely due to
exhaustion. The oil lamp was moving as someone raised
it high into the air. Some of the civilians were
still alive and had caught sight of what was taking
place. Two older men and one woman held the enemy
soldier down while another man thrust the oil lamp
into his face. The sounds of the enemy soldier's
screams echoed around the cave as he struggled to get
free as his head was on fire. It was a number of
minutes the screams fell silent.
7 - Innocence Lost
myself to my feet and raising my bloody sword once
more I turned to the sound of overlapped footsteps
making their way into the cave entrance. To my and
everyone else's relief it was the captain and five of
our soldiers. I lowered my sword letting out a deep
the battle a success?" I asked the captain.
looked sad and his clothing coated with stains of
blood. Something told me he had experienced a
terrible battle. His sad face then changed to one of
He cried out happiness, "We are victorious. The
battle is won and we all live to see another day!"
soldiers who had survived with him let out the same
joyous cry while the captain began walking over to me.
Some of the remaining civilians began relighting the
candles and lamps within the icy cave revealing the
full gruesome sight of bodies scattered upon the
see you've been busy defending our makeshift base,"
the captain said calmly.
continued glancing at the bodies for a few more
moments before responding to the captain.
killed two of the enemy and assisted in a third,"
I said in a proud tone whist standing tall.
turned to the bodies again knowing full well there
were far more of our dead that the enemy. Many of the
surviving civilians had bloody wounds that they tried
their best to tend to.
I'm afraid our losses are far greater," I added
softly with a sense of shame.
captain hesitated before responding as though
formulating a response.
far as the enemy are concerned they sent three of
their finest soldiers who failed to return," he
said, "So at the end of the day they'll believe
their loss was greater and think twice on the next
suppose..." I responded slowly.
how's our mystic doing?" The captain asked.
open my mouth then ran down the cave as fast as I
could trying not to trip over the bodies laying on
the ground. At the far end I could see a single
flickering lamp and a body slumped to the ground.
no, no," I muttered to myself as I grew closer.
was beating so hard I was sure could hear its echo
within the cave walls.
I called out, "Elise are you well?!"
crouched down next to her and could see her eyes open.
Her silky white robes were stained with blood yet she
was still alive, just barely.
in there," I told her, "We've won the
battle, and the war will soon be at an end. You'll
stared at me and I could sense she was in a lot of
pain. Her mouth opened but she couldn't form words.
She was not long for this world. I closed my eyes
trying to think of something comforting to say.
answer to your question is a resounding yes," I
said softly whilst caressing her hair, "You are
right, this is a meaningless war, and I'm no warrior.
We'll run away together like you wanted, and live in
a small hovel on the outskirts of the villages and
towns, out of reach of any army. We'll live as
peasants, living off the land, poor yet happy. We'll
be married, and have lots of kids, and live life to
the full as we..."
passed away silently as tears flowed down my face.