The mountains that surrounded the valley imposed themselves as a fortified prison upon its inhabitants during the Dark Lord’s reign and a steeply difficult defense against armies seeking to assault his lands directly. The more fortified and militant castles of the land were positioned strategically along the major roads that lead into and out of the area.
Survival was difficult owing to the cold and lack of easily available supplies. Much of the danger was easily offset by my undead nature. The same could not be said of my men. In spite of these difficulties however I could feel victory was close.
I sat mounted atop my horse as my men surround one of the war camps we had managed to locate. Once they were in position I made myself known.
“Enemies of Lady Gwenyth lay down your weapons and surrender! Resist and suffer death!”
The camp stirred into action as men hurried only to stop when saw they were surrounded and outnumbered. I could almost taste the fear and confusion that laced the air, it was enticing and added to my growing thirst. Tonight I was going to enjoy my drink.
I looked to Remus on my side, “capture them and if any resist cut them down. Bring their leaders to me.”
He acknowledged my order with a nod and strode forward, “men of arms, carry out the will of our Lady!”
Several of my men moved forward armed with swords and ropes to take the prisoners captive. A few of our would be prisoners charged against my men. A swarm of bats descend against them faltering their attack, and allowing my men countercharge the would be assaulters. I dismounted and dashed forward into the brief skirmish to grab one of the traitorous servants to indulge my thirst.
By the time I had finished my meal the rest of the war camp had been bound or slaughtered, leaving the sweet taste of blood in the air.
“My Lady,” Remus approached with my horse’s reins in hands.
“Thank you,” I said as I dropped the lifeless body I held in my hands body before remounting my horse.
“A good meal?”
“It was pleasant,” I acknowledge, “though I can understand if you find unsettling.”
There was a shrug from Remus, “I will admit I had reservations when Brutus explained your condition.”
“Condition is putting it mildly.”
Remus gave a small dark chuckle, “Indeed, and I am also glad you are selective in your choice of drink. Something I believe the Dark Lord had lacked.”
“I appreciate the idea that I am doing far better than what he managed in spite of this curse.”
He smiled and put a hand on mine. The touch startled me and I almost immediately withdrew my hand. If Remus noticed I he didn’t show it.
“I think you will be a fine ruler,” he said as he gripped my hand comfortingly then released it to turn his horse about to give orders for the men to march our prisoners out.
I sat there lost briefly in thought about the moment that had passed between us before I managed to recollect my thoughts enough to focus on the present matters at hand. Turning my horse about I caught up with Remus to discuss the current strategy for the rest of the night.
“Any word from Vernt?” I asked.
“Not yet,” came the reply form Remus, “I did send a messenger ahead to relay our success. With any luck we should hear back from him soon.”
“Hopefully with some good news.”
“Indeed, I am looking forward to see if either of the camps we had attacked might give us the lead we needed.”
The prisoners that surrendered were being loaded up into caged wagons for transport. It was a slow going process that was impeded by the occasional scuffle of someone trying to fight back. With the latest one I stepped in personally to make an example of the fool. He broke an arm free and swung a fist into one of my riders, then managed to pull a crude knife from his belt and started swinging wildly as I approached the disturbance.
“Leave him to me,” I commanded. My men backed up form a tight circle around him. I dismounted then casually approached pushing aside my men.
“Lay down your weapon or die.”
“I choose death usurper! I choose death so that my soul will better serve my masters in death.”
He charged at me with his knife raised. I made to grab his arm and missed. The blade buried itself into my shoulder above my heart. I restrained myself from grimacing and instead I forced a smile. It was strangely pleasant to watch his expression shift from satisfied victory, then confusion before settling on horror as I grabbed his throat with my remaining good hand.
“I will gladly accept your token of death to feed my own hunger,” I said, letting my fangs extend eagerly. His struggle was brief and violent as I feed.
When his body fell I turned back to my men that were still gathered.
“Return back to your duties.”
Quickly they retreated from me. A few mounted up onto horse to help oversee the prisoners others resumed the processes of loading them up. I found Remus standing by my horse again with a quizzical look on his face.
“Have you always had red eyes?” he asked.
“Say again,” I asked confused by his remark as I remounted. Remus looked into my face again then shook his head.
“Never mind must have been a trick of the light.”
“Odd,” I muttered.
There were relatively few issues after the last incident. As the last of my men mounted up, finally departed for the base encampment back at the stone bridge and watchtower. It was slow going with the addition of our prisoners. With a bit of luck one of them will tell us where to find the main encampment of the Dark Lord’s supporters.
“I think that narrows it down.”
Vernt slammed his knife down on the rough drawn map we had managed to put together. I made plain my annoyance as I pulled the knife out of the table.
“I’m sure a charcoal sketch would have worked better then defacing our only map.”
Instead of replying Vernt only smiled and produced another knife that he stabbed into an available fruit from one of the open crates lying about.
“We should send a scout force to confirm the intelligence,” suggested Remus.
“I concur,” I said placing the knife down. Vernt picked it up to peel the skin off his selected fruit.
“It will take some time to properly set something up,” he said waving his fruit around.
“Why the delay?” I asked.
Vernt leaned back in his seat, “most of my men are still recovering from their last mission up into the mountains.”
“The men I brought are still fresh.”
“True but they don’t know the land yet. Hence it will still take some time to set things up,” Vernt gave a dark smile, “At least the Dark Lord understood some patience.”
I grinded my teeth at Vernt’s verbal stab at my expense. Remus stood up and glanced over the map himself. He seemed to be in thought as he considered something.
“I can help lead the scouting party if that will help,” he finally offered.
“I appreciate your offer but I was considering assigning one of my own men to the task, someone who is familiar with the surrounding area. That being said,” he pointed his speared fruit in my direction, “our Lady here does offer a good suggestion. I think I will shuffle some of the fresh men into the mix. Perhaps a few days and nights out in the middle of the cold wilderness will cool their excitement for battle.”
“Then it's settled,” I said, “we shall-.”
The door to our meeting was burst open.
“My Lady, my Lords, raiders have been sighted.”
Vernt stood flicking the fruit off his knives and sheathing them quickly, “Where?”
“On approach, they will upon us within the hour.”
“Rally the men!”
“Assemble the men!”
Remus and Vernt spoke simultaneously.
“Remus organize the men we brought into a defensive line,” I ordered, “Vernt are your men willing to harass and skirmish the enemy?”
Vernt offered a wicked smile as he grabbed his cloak to depart, “It would be my pleasure to buy you some time.”
“May the Goddess go with you,” said Remus as he stood and clasped forearms with Vernt. I flinched at the holy invocation, and as Vernt left the room Remus looked over at where I sat with a look of concern, “My apologies my Lady I should be more mindful of what I say.”
“No worries Remus. I have learned to put up with it and have had to deal with worse.”
A confused look crossed Remus face but he made no further inquiry.
“You have work to do Remus,” I reminded him as I stood and approached the window.
“You're right my Lady. Will you be contributing to the battle?”
I glanced back at him from looking out the window of the watchtower, “Of course. I will not stand by idly as my men fight and die for me. I will be joining the conflict. Now leave me, I need to focus on summoning more help.”
“As you wish my Lady,” he said with a bow and departed from the room.
Alone I glanced upwards to the night sky over head. Dark clouds block most of the light of the moon and stars that left night a near pitch black. Fighting was going to be difficult for both sides, but perfectly ideal for me. I could easily see as if the sun had been shining through the clouds.
With a deep breath I focus my mind and issued a mental summons across the mountain landscape, calling for the wolves that lived there to heed my war cry. I could feel their response to the call and I sent them to harry the oncoming attackers. There was an eagerness that emanated from them as well as a hunger and I smiled in satisfaction.
When I emerged from the watchtower I could see Remus had already started a rough barricade as he directed men to gather wood and stones. The earth was too hard, otherwise I am sure he would have tried to establish a trench.
Vernt was mounted at the head of a small group he had selected to depart with. He gave me a brief salute and trotted off into the dark. I continued to let Remus handle the fortification, as I kept my mental focus over the wolves I was summoning. A hushed silence fell over the camp as the last of the fortification were erected. It wasn’t ideal but it would hopefully be enough to hold against the raiders.
“Do we have an estimate on their numbers?” I asked Remus.
“The scouts were none too sure on the numbers, my Lady. They estimate at least twice the size of the warcamps we had captured earlier.”
“Do you think we have managed to provoked them?”
A smile spread across Remus’s face, “We might have, though I get the impression they are none too fond of you to begin with, so I am sure they would have gotten the courage to attack us sooner or later.”
“I have taken the Dark Lord’s throne for myself and they seem to be under the impression that they can win it back for him,” I said.
Remus gave a bark of a laugh, “Of course, all we would need is for the Dark Lord to come back from his grave.”
We let the silence fall as we waited.
I hated the waiting. The prolonged anticipation of the inevitable conflict was grating on the nerves and I was sure it was worse on my mortal followers. Even I as looked over our defensive line I could see them shivering in the cold and some where starting to struggle to fight off the weariness of the night.
Still we waited.
Finally there was a thunderous sound of horses and the men around us stirred. I peered across the ravine and saw the Vernt’s returning forces.
“Make way,” I ordered. Men hurried to remove the temporary blockade as Vernt’s men rode past. As they dismounted I realized I was only seeing a fraction of the number we had seen depart, and Vernt wasn’t among them. One of the riders approached out of breath clutching at a wounded arm. The smell of blood was enticing and I found myself drawn towards him, almost reaching out to take the bloody arm into my hands.
“My Lady,” the rider dropped to one knee while unaware of the bloodthirsty thoughts that lingered in my mind. I shook my head to clear the thoughts away.
“Report,” I commanded.
“Lord Vernt has engaged the enemy. We have ambushed a number of their scouts but the main force is pressing on and will be upon us soon. We were sent to give warning.”
“You warning is appreciated.”
A cry was taken up by the defenders and I turned to see the enemy force emerge from the rocky hills and terrain.
“And it seems they have arrived just on your heels,” I commented.
“Men of arms form up!” shouted Remus. Spearmen formed up a line interspaced with the barricades as I drew my sword.
I was surprised by the large host of men that came charging for the bridge. Several carried torches to help illuminate the way forward. In the distance came the sound of howling wolves. In the past I might have been apprehensive about a battle but now I smile eagerly for the conflict to begin so as to let the blood spill freely.
Once the enemy began to thunder across the bridge, Remus gave the order to release the arrows. I could see many of the shots missing, several not even hitting anywhere near the bridge. There was enough however to strike down some of the enemy chargers.
“Slay the Usurper!”
“Hold the line!” shouted Remus over the chaos moments just before the enemy smashed into our forces. I rushed forward to strengthen a weak point in the line that wavered before onslaught of the enemy. My blade danced through the dark and cut down the first of many that broke through the defenses. His eyes alighted with surprise when I had dashed almost through him as my sword arched.
Someone managed to take me by surprise and shoved a short spear into my leg. With a hiss of pain I pulled it out and threw it through the mortal fool. He collapsed backwards and fell off the bridge. Another arose to take his place and met the same fate as I ducked underneath the wild swing of his ax. I grabbed and pushed him over the edge.
Reinforcement surged up to replace the fallen of my men that had been broken under the initial charge, and as I pulled back I grabbed one of the enemy’s injured to take with me. I could hear the beat of his heart and tore open his throat to drink his blood. I felt the strength reignite my body as my injuries healed quickly under the influence of fresh blood.
When I finished I looked up to see Remus attop his horse leading a charge of reinforcements to strengthen a portion of our defensive line. For a moment I considered joining up with him, but noticed a small group of the enemy had managed to push past the line and I leapt forward.
I landed hard attop one of the large brutes that managed to break through. As we fell my hand hand gripped the underside of his chin and my fingers elongated into talons that ripped apart his jaw. I was not expecting that as I had hoped to aim for his throat.
A heavy ax swung down towards me and I rolled to the side. The wildman screamed a war cry as he hefted his weapon again for another swing. I scrambled to my feet and charged at him with a hiss. I deflected his axe with my sword and my hand barely grazed his face.
I snarled thrusted my sword forward. He tried to dodge but the point of my sword caught the rough of his thick furs that forced him to stagger. I took the opening swiped again with my talon fingers. This time I grabbed the front of his fur cloak and slid my blade up through his torso.
As he fell I hear the sound of someone shouting, “For our Lady!”
A surge of men rushed passed me to fill the gap and push forward. The rest of the defensive line took up the momentum and began to push back the enemy off the bridge. I licked the blood off my sword, then smiled triumphantly.
Just as I was about to look for Remus, a stiff cold wind picked up. As it blew I heard the sound of chanting. I could feel a cold, almost enticing darkness emanate from the otherside of the bridge. When I looked across the gorge I noticed standing aloft from the enemy an old crone waving her hands about. Even though I know couldn’t possibly hear her from this distance over the sounds of conflict, I knew she was the one that was bringing forth chanting.
When the wind suddenly stopped and an eerie stillness filled the void, I knew something was about to go horribly wrong.
With a low groan, the fur covered man in front of me slowly rose to his feet. His chest still bleeding from where my sword had killed him.