“Arise, ye true sons of Yelia.”
The winter chill was biting. It reached deep inside the bones of every man, its deathly grasp strengthened by foul Majick. And yet, for all those who had perished, it only steeled the hearts of the sons who still stood. The fury that raged in their souls, the anger that fuelled them, made them endure more than anyone should, that was their fire that kept them from succumbing to the icy winter.
Arjen picked up all his worldly possessions. It saddened him to think that from all twenty seven years of his life, all that he could show that he ever existed was his hunting bow and his hand axe. Nella perished in the flames when a Pyresian raiding party attacked the village. She was his everything. She was his wife, his home, his purpose. But she was gone, and now he was here, enlisted in the army. It mattered not. Live or die, it didn’t change anything. His life was over. The only thing left for him in this life was vengeance. Vengeance for Nella and his unborn child.
“The Schism has trapped most of their armies in the south. The remainder in the north are trapped. We will hunt them down to the last man. But make no mistake. These beasts are still dangerous. Follow your general and you will live through this. Remember, you are the Emblazed, blessed by Yelia. Now, move.”
Another day of marching lay ahead of him. They hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning. During the night, some of the men broke into the village’s houses and stole what they could get their hands on. Once General Aryn got word, he had all of them executed on site. The army was one, he said, and punishment for the actions of one required the punishment of all. And so they marched on empty stomachs, to lands unknown.
Arjen didn’t care for names of villages they past. He didn’t care for mountains, rivers, lakes or forests. They simply existed as an obstacle between him and vengeance. He put one foot in front of the other until the General would tell them they have found the Pyresians.
They were close. They found their camp abandoned, their dead left where ice had claimed them, often huddled around a burned-out fire. The wounded only slowed them down and were left behind, hoping that death’s icy embrace claimed them before the Yaleans came for them. But there were always some who had made it through the night, those who had the strength to endure. How they prayed that they didn’t though. Often, they were huddled together, ready to kill each other before the Yaleans had a chance to exact their own rendition of vengeance. They even laid traps around their broken men, knowing that the Yaleans would come for the survivors. Poison barbs hidden under the soft snow, an archer or two hiding behind a tree. They were cowards, all of them. They raided defenceless villages, pillaged, raped. They were no longer human in Arjen’s eyes. They were lower than the beasts that he used to hunt in the northern wilds. He would say a prayer to Yelia when he felled a great elk, or even when pickings were slim, a simple hare. The wilds provided for Nella and him, and he was grateful. But these Pyresians provided him with nothing but anger, the only thing stopping him from taking his own life and reuniting with his beloved in the afterlife. He had unfinished business, and he would see to it first.
The trackers of the Emblazed were simple hunters before the war. They lived simple, peaceful lives, and kept to themselves more often than not. But the flames of war had come to their doorsteps when Pyresia turned its back on the mother. They had lost their way and were intent on taking them all down with it. First, the tithes on the villages came. Villages that had lived for generations without contact from the outside world. When they couldn’t pay, the slaving began. Even the earth itself revolted, not left untouched by blasphemy. A giant schism had torn the earth asunder, dividing the north from the south. Then the blood Majick came. People, taken from their homes to be sacrificed in rituals, offered to Yelia for salvation. That was the last the people could take. Loyal subjects who could endure no longer, they rose up. They grabbed what they could from their homes and joined the rebellion. Arjen joined the rebellion upon returning to his home burnt to the ground. He didn’t bother sifting through the ashes, instead choosing to leave with the other men of the village who had endured the same fate.
And now the same people who had hunted for sustenance for centuries now tracked down a new kind of prey, one that knew fear, knew retribution would come knocking. The earth itself had cut them off from the mainstay of their forces, and now they were to face judgment at the hands of those once thought defenceless.
They tracked them through a forest of evergreen. The fresh snow covered the Pyresian tracks, but their need for fire was inescapable. Firepits remained, and corpses that froze during the night often accompanied them. They knew they were being hunted.
“They will force a battle soon.” Said the General. “They are bleeding men, they will find they have no other choice.”
Arjen’s day of reckoning would come soon. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, when they cleared the forest, there were open plains, the General had told them. There they would make their stand. And they would kill every last man.
The day had arrived. The winter sun rose from its slumber and its rays pierced through the trees. The scouts had returned with good news. They had found the remnants of the Pyresian army. They knew they had been followed and had set up their formation.
“We count about four hundred, lads. They are weak, hungry, frozen to their bones. But they are cornered, and they will fight with the strength of four thousand. Let us be cautious and not play the part of the fool. Then, we will seize the day.”
This was it. This was all Arjen had left in life. He would kill many. He was good with a bow. He had felled many beasts with but one arrow. He would not be wasteful now. Every arrow was another dead Pyresian. When his quiver was empty he would use his axe. He would use his fists, his feet, his teeth.
The General ordered them to line up at the edge of the forest. The Pyresians had ridden themselves of their burdensome shields long ago, when the hunt had begun. They had nowhere to hide. They would be butchered. The only course that lay before them would be a desperate charge into the Yaleans.
“Pepper the bastards with arrows.” The General said, as the Pyresians charged forward. Arjen begun his vendetta with vigour. Unlike the wild beasts from the north, Pyresians were famed for their armour. Unfortunately for them, however, this Majicked winter of their own doing had forced them to abandon their steel plate. He aimed for the hearts, and he did not miss. He shot arrow after arrow, ignoring the cold that had bored its way into his extremities. It mattered little to him. He had just this one task to do and he would let winter take him. He fired again and again, the Pyresians dropping one after another, desperate in their charge to reach melee combat.
But they did not. The Emblazed had many hunters in their ranks, and though there were not soldiers by livelihood, they were soldiers of the rebellion. Their arrows were no less accurate than an archer. The last of the Pyresians fell mere feet away from the Yalean battleline, where the ragtag entourage of axe, sword, spear, club, anything these men owned were waiting to meet their enemy.
The day was won. But the Pyresian dead still groaned, rolling around in agony. Arjen still had a job to do. He took out his hand axe, the same one that had cut many trees back in the village. The same axe had fed the fires of his home, provided hot meals and warmth for his family. Today, it would feed his family through justice.
He got to work. From soldier to soldier, an angel of death, putting them out of their misery. Countless screams, whimpers, pleas. They all fell on deaf ears. They were all beasts who had fed upon the flesh of humanity.
The last soldier lay on his back, breathing heavily. An arrow had hit him in his abdomen, and another his shoulder. He looked Arjen in the eye, but not with fear. It mattered not. He would die the death of his fellow soldiers.
Arjen raised his axe, already soaked with blood. He looked down to find the soldier had thrusted his sword straight through his chest. It mattered not. His task was done, with one last swing of his axe. He would die here, among the corpses of those that had taken everything.
The Emblazed moved on, to continue their hunt. Arjen would stay. He would meet his family soon. It would not be in the afterlife, however.
His wife, having seen the raiders coming through the forest, hid in the bushes and waited until they left. She could feel the heat of the flames as her house burnt to the ground. She dared not move until nightfall. Her husband did not return. The next day, some of the men had told her they were leaving to join the rebellion, and that Arjen had already left. She left with the men who promised they would join up with the rest and she would meet up with her beloved. And she did.
She stood over his frozen corpse, the spear standing upright. She wept.
Her son, Arjen, would know no father.July 22, 2017, 2:31 p.m. 0 Report Embed 0
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