Proud Warrior.
Copyright 2016, 2018 by Raymond Johnson. Second edition.
Cover photo provided by Duncan1890. (www.iStockphoto.com).

Dedicated to all my readers who've given me invaluable feedback on my books.

"A warrior's strength is measured by the size of his heart." - Hercules.

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

With the 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 diminishing.

I stood 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.

"Do 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."

She 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.

"We 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?"

I couldn't 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.

"Erm," I said still unsure as to her true intensions, "Maybe we should... let.s um..."

"You're supposed to be a warrior," she responded calmly, "Be decisive, yay or nay, and do not erm with me young man."

My heart 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.

"Um, sorry, but I don't truly understand what you mean," I said in a slight panic, "So, please explain once more."

Using 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.

"I 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 testing me.

"I 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."

 

Chapter 2 - A Call To Arms

There 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.

"I will take my leave of you," I told Elise, "Remain here and stay quiet."

For the first time I actually saw fear in her eyes as they widened.

"But your place is at my side," she quickly said, "You were ordered to protect me."

"That's exactly what I am doing," I responded.

I raised 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.

"I saw it clearly, over there in that direction," one of the soldiers said whilst pointing.

"Saw what? What is happening?!" I quickly said while making my approach.

The captain turned and faced me. His rough beard containing frozen droplets of blood along with his sword which was now stained red.

"What are you doing 'ere lad?" He moaned at me, "You're supposed to be looking after the mystic!"

"She's safe at the far reaches of the cave," I quickly responded, "And I feel I'm needed here."

It wasn't 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.

The 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.

"Can we be sure this isn't just a natural trick of the light?" I whispered to the captain.

There 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.

"We're under attack!" One of our soldiers yelled as he and others raised their swords and ran out aimlessly into the valley.

"Stand your ground!" The captain ordered, "It could be an ambush. We don't know what we’re up against!"

They 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.

"You guard this cave!" He said addressing me, "Everyone else accompany me!"

He 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.

The down 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.

"Pull it out," he whispered while spurting blood from his mouth.

I looked 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.

"Pull the arrow out," he continued with his body writhing in pain.

"But you'll die," I said knowing full well he was aware of that fact.

I closed 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.

With 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 hand.

"You 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."

 

Chapter 3 - A Fight To The Death

Before I 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 comrade.

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.

"Grr!" I screeched trying to muster up my strength as I reached out grabbing the arrow I had previously pulled from the fallen soldier.

Without 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.

I leant 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.

 

Chapter 4 - Defending The Cave

Within 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.

I 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.

"Stay where you are!" I yelled raising my newly acquired shiny sword while it was already clear the soldier was staying put.

He was 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.

"Why are you bad?" He asked as his voice trembled like a child about to cry.

I tilted 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.

"I fight for the freedom of all the people of this land!" I said whilst trying to sound both wise and confident.

He 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.

"But aren't we people of this land too?" He said staring back at me.

I shook my head as I approached him. It was clear he was too feeble to wield his sword despite it being so small and lightweight.

"You 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!"

With 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.

 

Chapter 5 - Distraction

I raised 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 him.

"Come with me!" I ordered waving the sword into the direction of the cave taking care not to drop it, "You're my prisoner now!"

His eyes widened while his body trembled.

"You don't need to take me inside," he said nervously, "Just keep guard over me here, I won't cause trouble, I promise you."

At first 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 inside.

"What did you do?!" I yelled at him while more screams continued to echo within the confines of the cave.

"I had no choice..."

Before 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.

"I pray you suffer a slow death!" I screeched at him.

 

Chapter 6 - Clashing Swords

Very 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.

A 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.

Footsteps 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.

"Urgh!" I yelled for no other reason than to let out my frustrations.

I swung 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.

I waited 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.

 

Chapter 7 - Innocence Lost

Heaving 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 breath.

"Was the battle a success?" I asked the captain.

His face 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 joy.

"Yes!" He cried out happiness, "We are victorious. The battle is won and we all live to see another day!"

The few 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 ground.

"I see you've been busy defending our makeshift base," the captain said calmly.

I continued glancing at the bodies for a few more moments before responding to the captain.

"I killed two of the enemy and assisted in a third," I said in a proud tone whist standing tall.

I then 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.

"But I'm afraid our losses are far greater," I added softly with a sense of shame.

The captain hesitated before responding as though formulating a response.

"As 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 occasion."

"I suppose..." I responded slowly.

"And how's our mystic doing?" The captain asked.

I gasped 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, no," I muttered to myself as I grew closer.

My heart was beating so hard I was sure could hear its echo within the cave walls.

"Elise!" I called out, "Elise are you well?!"

I 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.

"Hang in there," I told her, "We've won the battle, and the war will soon be at an end. You'll see."

As she 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.

"My 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..."

She passed away silently as tears flowed down my face.

THE END.

 

<<< Back Author's Notes