D I E S I R A E
Irae was hesitant to allow Bradshaw to be the one at the front driving the horses. For one, he was far too imposing a man, and he himself could probably play it up better than he could. Secondly, he was worried that taking the time to dramatically take off his cloak, reveal his armor, and draw his sword, they’d already be on guard and ready to slaughter him like a ripe pig. Nevermind the fact that hiding Irae back here was kind of a waste of resources, but of course, this was perhaps his own expertise talking and he was expecting too much from a small handful of roadside brigands. When their fearless leader gave the cue, the other two combatants hiding with him burst outside armed to the teeth with oversized weapons to bear down upon their enemies. Meanwhile, Irae stayed seated with his dagger in hand and center to his body, held up almost ritualistically, as he closed his eyes and prayed for a bloody end to his enemies.
Outside, the battle proceeded as expected. Compared to trained mercenaries, these bandits were no match. At the front of the cart, Adam faced off against the largest of the bandits, sword in hand against a boar spear. The spear, Adam knew, was a hunting tool, not a weapon, and despite its appearance, the crossguard beneath the spear point was a liability Adam could exploit. Held at a range, Adam feigned a lunge forwards, and the bandit took the bait. He thrust out with the spear towards Adam, who side-stepped and brought his sword up swiftly, catching the backside of the crossguard with the blade of his sword. The blade now secure, Adam pulled, bringing the bandit in close, then shoved the spear to the side with a quick thrust. The spearpoint pushed off to the side, Adam reached forwards with his off hand and grabbed the spear shaft, securely neutralizing the weapon. Before the bandit could react, Adam pulled the shaft and thrusted simultaneously, stabbing the bandit between a pair of ribs. The blade pierced through the back of the bandit’s torso, running him through.
The bandit struggled weakly, blood rushing from the wound. He grabbed at Adam’s forearm, attempting to remove the blade to no avail. Adam let go of the spear and put an arm around the bandit’s shoulders, pulling him close. At closer inspection, the bandit was a lot older than he initially looked; tufts of grey sprouted from his messy hair and beard, and wrinkle lines ringed his eyes. He was probably around Adam’s age. The bandit opened his mouth to say something, but only blood escaped. Slowly, Adam lowered him to the ground and withdrew the sword.
“Sorry, old man,” Adam said, looking down at the dying man. “May you rest in peace.” With that, Adam stood up, leaving the man to watch the swiftly blackening sky.
On the other side of the cart, Iulian and Amelia fought the other bandits. After her initial attack, the bandit was able to get back his footing and prepare to defend. She lunged forwards, trying to catch the spear with her parrying hooks, but the bandit backpedaled, the blade glancing off the tip of the spear.
Iulian was far more ravenous in his approach, wielding a khopesh and nothing else with surprising effectiveness. Unlike his quarry and the allies he fought with who grunted in exertion and effort or gasped in pain, Iulian cackled, his gravelly voice taking on an unnerving laugh as he powered forward. His chosen bandit was a young man, likely a decade his junior. The bandit’s approach had been energetic at first but he was worn down fast by Iulian’s seemingly endless barrage of heavy strikes. The bandit parried a downwards arc of Iulian’s sword and brought it upwards, glancing Iulian’s flank, but he overextended. Iulian’s hand came up and caught the boy’s forearm in an iron grip. Out of instinct he pulled backwards, but Iulian moved with him. The young man was off balance and panicked, and swung with his free hand in an attempt to punch the larger man to gain some breathing room, but Iulian was undeterred. He lunged forwards with ferocity unlike a normal man, and sunk his teeth into the boy’s neck. There was a seize, and a gurgle, and Iulian dropped the still living young man- roughly shoving his body to the ground. He had a chunk bitten out of the side, and blood was flowing freely from the bite. Iulian spat that chunk out and wiped his mouth with his forearm, electing to pay no further attention to the dying man, either unaware or uncaring of his injury. Saliva and drool strung from his mouth like a rabid dog, now tinted red with the blood from the bite.
Irae heard the wet gnashing of blood and flesh and teeth from behind the canvas and signed a cross over his body with his hand. It was very likely Iulian’s doing. That man always had a habit of playing with his food — a messy eater with such terrible table manners, and it was doubtful he even brought a napkin with him. He made a rueful sigh as he held his reliquary and called out from inside the wagon, “could we please expedite this?”
As if on cue, a blade ripped through the canvas beside his head and tore a two foot vertical slit in the wagon covering, to which Irae acknowledged with a surprised widening of his eyes, albeit nothing more. The sound of impact against the side of the wagon, conjoined with the mutual grunting of a man and woman, Irae assumed that Amelia pinned one against the side of the wagon. A quick peek through the new hole in the canvas confirmed this. With a tired rolling of his eyes, he broke form (that is, praying), and brandished his dagger and stuck it blindly through the canvas and into the torso of the bandit engaged with Amelia. One shrill yelp later, the weight on the wagon shifted as he heard the sound of a body crash against the ground, followed by a quick and bloody end on someone’s blade as he cleaned his own with a spare red handkerchief. This was just another day in life.
As the last ground bandit slumped to the road, leaving a bloody smear down the side of the canvas wagon, Amelia frowned and rolled her eyes. Before speaking, she lifted her blade and plunged it down into the chest of the bandit, confirming his death. Then she looked up at the cart, anger in her eyes.
“That was my kill!” Amelia shouted. “You’ve got no business flexing your weary priestly muscles.” Adam walked around the corner and brought the conversation to a halt.
“No time for small talk,” Adam said. “The archer and tower teams have moved. Let’s head to the base of the tower and try to get out the rest of the bandits. Adam looked around this side of the cart; the fights over here had been much bloodier. Furthermore, the canvas of the company’s troop cart had been torn and bloodstained— a costly repair. Adam groaned as he walked out towards the tower.
“And Iulian,” he called over his shoulder. “Wipe your goddamn mouth off, won’t you? We’re soldiers, not cannibals.”