Erik Henrickson, the second in command of the Royal Guard, paced the ramparts of the town watching the raging fire within the walled compound. In his training with Berdlukare he learned of using fire as a tactical weapon. I cannot recall anyone using it before. Why now? Who are the invaders that they know of our tactics?
The Royal Guard, severely out numbered by an enemy waiting for the right moment, or direction, to enter the town, stood nervously. Only Henrickson knew of the Queen’s demise and could only surmise that the warriors outside the wall wanted to bring about a change in ruler. If the Berserkers do not return with sufficient numbers then our town will be lost to the enemy he thought as he surveyed his troops and shook his head. The Royal Guard is ill trained to keep an army of marauders at bay if they decide to attack and enter the town now.
“Keep steady men,” Henrickson called down to his men assembled at the gate. “Keep your swords drawn and at the ready for their attack.” His eyes tracked to the fire where the town’s folk were throwing buckets of water to douse the flames. Some fled the town for the countryside when news spread of the enemy at the door, but most stayed to fight alongside the warriors to defend their land and Queen.
Henrickson brought a horn to his lips and blew out a message that all warriors should return to the town. He felt a sense of betrayal by their missing leader Haklang. Surely she knows of the attack! Why isn’t she here with us? The members of the Royal Guard knew of her absence and dissension had already begun as to why she wasn’t there with them ready for the battle.
He watched as his troops nervously stood with fingers twitching on the hilt of their swords. If only Berdlukare were here then the guard would be more confident of the outcome. I’m not sure that would happen under Haklang. In many ways Haklang was mighty, but it was Berdlukare that the warriors wanted by their side in battle.
His head jerked at the sound of Berdlukare’s horn echoing from over a hill. The Berserkers are coming. A cheer from the Royal Guard and town’s people bounced off the walls and Henrickson felt injected with a new lease of strength. Thank Odin for his timely intervention . At the top of a small rise he saw a line of black horsemen with the golden mare in the centre.
Berdlukare held up a hand and stopped her warriors. Her eyes surveyed the terrain and the invaders assembled by the town’s gate. “For Xanadis and our Queen,” she screamed before the words, “Attack.” Within seconds the line moved like a small swarm of dark locusts headed by the light of a firefly showing the way. The thunder of the hooves moving forward and a second blast on the horn had Henrickson moving his own forces into an attack position.
“Men this is our moment, our chance to show Odin our strength in battle.” For years they had practised for such an occurrence but never thought it would transpire. From his vantage point on the rampart he saw the enemy move into a strategic position that would out manoeuvre anything the mighty Berserkers had to offer. How can this be?Only warriors trained under Berdlukare would know of her strategies. His eyes narrowed. Is it possible? Can what I’m considering be true? He progressed to the main gate to lead his men in battle. We have a traitor in our ranks!
+ + +
Haklang and Mercie arrived at the brow of the hill just as the Berserker brigade began to plough through the army advancing on the town defences. They were clearly outnumbered but their superior abilities made up for that.
Over several years, Mercie watched many of the training sessions her brother took partook. She was proud of her brother’s accomplishments and her presence encouraged him although she was also there to covertly watch Berdlukare. Her hand went to her mouth as she witnessed not a safe training session, but an all out battle. Where have all these dissenters come from? How can so many be against the Queen? The sounds of battle cries and swords cleaving flesh filled all her senses as she watched in horror as the skirmish unfolded. Yet, as with all things, a certain degree of fascination held her attention.
Warriors, brave and strong, fought with the might that they had garnered with many years of practice. To Mercie, the fight was nothing more than one warrior butchering another in an attempt to prevent the other from gaining the upper hand. As she watched, several Berserkers carved their way through the enemy much like they might slice the hard flesh of a tomato with ease. Except this isn’t a tomato, it was the living flesh of another human being. Why is this carnage happening? Then her eyes caught sight of the one person she knew would protect them no matter what - Berdlukare.
With her giant stance and powerful arms, she wielded her sword swiftly and with deadly precision. As the sunlight hit the polished surface of the metal, it flashed only to quickly dull with the blood of the warriors she splayed. This is like a horrific dream. Mercie felt a connection to the warrior as never before - the exhilaration running through her blood was intoxicating and fleeting. One day I will tell Berdlukare of how it felt to watch her do battle…if I ever get the chance.
“My Lady, this place is not safe, may I suggest that you return to Larsen . I can see him and the others in the far off field with Finch and his granddaughter. Please take refuge until we send someone when the town is safe. I must leave for my duty is with my warriors.” Although Haklang spoke quietly, distress clearly tinged her tone.
Mercie did not protest. As the leader of the warriors she should be with her troops and not me! “Go Haklang. Please keep the Queen safe for us.” Mercie waved the warrior away.
Haklang gratefully acknowledged her words with a slight bow of her head before kicking her horse into a fast gallop. “For the Queen,” she exclaimed as she headed for the fray.
Mercie had no intention of leaving. Larsen will be here soon and together we shall enter the town by the secret entrance. She watched as Haklang entered the battle with her sword hacking at any enemy that stood in her path. When her eyes caught an enemy warrior appear from out of nowhere behind Haklang, Mercie covered her mouth and let out a scream. She watched in horror letting out a strangled shout, “Behind you Haklang, behind you.” But her words were lost in the noise of the battle.
Helplessly she watched the enemy knock Haklang to the hard ground. She’s not moving is she dead? Then she watched powerlessly as the combatant jumped off his horse and approached Haklang casually with a sword held carelessly at his side. Haklang grabbed for her sword and struggled to her feet until the enemy pushed her back down with consummate ease. Mercie saw a booted foot stomp down on Haklang’s back – the woman she had just rode with was at the mercy of the enemy. It seemed to Mercie that the unknown warrior was taunting Haklang by jabbing his sword into the woman’s arms and legs. Then in one fell swoop the broad sword bore into the leader of the warrior’s neck. With her mouth wide, Mercie saw the enemy warrior pull out the sword and kick the lifeless body of Haklang before mounting his horse.
Mercie, sick to her stomach turned away. How can a life be so quickly expunged? Only minutes earlier she was beside me talking! This is not right. A morbid curiosity made her once again watch the battle below. Her eyes captured Berdlukare moving aggressively on her horse towards the warrior who just killed Haklang. From her position Mercie could not see the features on Berdlukare’s face but could imagine all too well what they looked like - fierce, angry and out for revenge. Her heart fluttered in distress as she watched Berdlukare edge closer to the enemy who had slain their leader.
+ + +
Carolyn and Richard reached the top of the hill and saw a number of horses with warriors guarding the entrance.
“Okay lets go, I’m sure they’ll be only to happy to have us out of here.” Richard was relieved that Carolyn had agreed to come back with him. His protective male ego was upset that Jenn wanted to stay behind. It was my responsibility to protect her. At least she has her grandfather and that is more than Carolyn would have had if she’d stayed behind. He nodded. She made the right choice…no the only choice. Any way who wants to be here when there is a war going on. Besides, the people here didn’t want us so it makes sense we leave and go back to our own chaotic world. He felt Carolyn’s hand on his arm holding him back and shook it loose. “Come on lets go.”
“Get down,” Carolyn said as she pulled him with her to the ground. Her photographic memory had her eyes searching the warriors for any sign of familiarity - there was none. "Those warriors don’t belong to the town or swore allegiance to the Queen. All the warriors I've met wear an emblem on their clothing and these guys have none." Although she couldn’t be positive that every warrior had one, logic told her that they would. Which means that they belong to another fraction altogether and that means trouble for us. "We won't be safe...I'll stake my reputation on it.” Her eyes never faltered in their scanning of the men below until she caught an image that sickened her. Bodies were in a heap in the overgrowth and what she thought body parts covered the earth.
Richard sighed heavily, “Look I know you don’t really want to leave just yet, but please don’t be ridiculous. Whoever it is they’ll be glad to see our backsides.” He tried to stand up but Carolyn dragged him by the arm back to the ground.
“Look over there!” she pointed to the piles of bodies.
Richard’s eyes skimmed the scene and what he saw caused him to gag, but he controlled the urge to retch. “That puts a different light on things. What do you suggest?” He wasn’t stupid and Carolyn had relied on that.
Carolyn remained silent for a few minutes. “We could always go back the way we came. If the trouble in the town is over perhaps they’ll retake the gate then we can return home.”
“That’s a long shot. What if they don’t retake the gate and haven’t turned back the troublemakers? That will make us appear as collaborators. We’ll never get out of here,” he said desperately.
Carolyn digested the information. “Only you would think like that Richard.” He is probably right.
“One of us has to. You are hell bent on believing that the people we’ve met are the good guys. Have you considered that perhaps they’re not and these others are? We haven’t been here long enough to know the political complexities of the place. I say we wait a while and when night falls we try to enter the gate.”
As the facts go, he’s right. However, that doesn’t make the sensation in my gut go away. I know the people we’ve met are the good guy’s, I know it. Carolyn pulled on her lip deep in concentration. Although, when has my gut ever the main criteria with which I make decisions.
+ + +
Jennifer traversed the last of the fields before the final hill and the town. When you looked from the hut, the town appears much closer than it actually is. She peered at her grandfather to check that he was doing okay. He was and looked in far better shape than she felt at this moment. Could be an elixir they put in the water, because he certainly doesn’t look eighty. I’m going to have to ask him when we get a chance. Right now, our main task is to reach the town safely and hopefully avoid becoming embroiled in the battle I hear up ahead.
“Poppy is that Lady Fulla waiting at the rise of the hill?”
Mark focused his gaze in the direction of Jennifer’s pointing finger and with a puzzled expression nodded. Then he shouted at Larsen who was at least five paces ahead of them. Keeping up with the warrior has been like trying to catch up with a hare when you’re a tortoise...it is not possible.
Jennifer watched Larsen turn back to them complete with a ferocious expression. Under normal circumstances, she would have shrunk back from it except this man was their protector. God help anyone who got in his way. He spoke quickly to her grandfather and then increased his pace, more intent than ever on reaching his destination.
“What did you say to him Poppy?”
Mark smiled slightly. “I told him that Lady Fulla was on the rise and did not appear to be moving.”
“And what did he say?” This strange language is beginning to fascinate me – wish I understood it. Hmm, if Carolyn had a few more days I bet she would have mastered it. The thought of Carolyn created a sickness in her stomach that she pretended wasn’t there.
“He said he saw Haklang leave her some time ago and he needs to protect the lady and that was why he increased his pace. As the battle is still raging he fears for her safety and will not allow anything to happen to her.”
Jennifer heard the urgency in her grandfather’s voice and wondered why the young woman needed that level of protection. It is almost the same as the Queen gets…that seems very odd to me. In reaction to the earnest words both increased their pace. “Poppy, is she related to the Queen?”
“No. Why do you ask Poppet?”
“Well, everyone seems to go out of their way to protect her. At least it appears that way to me. It seemed the obvious deduction.”
The old man chuckled as he reached for his granddaughter’s hand. “Young Mercie’s only brother is a keeper. He was guarding the gate as we left. Many see her as a sister in the warrior ranks. Then there is the matter of Berdlukare.”
“Poppy what does Berdlukare have to do with Lady Fulla…unless she protects her for the Queen.”
“It is not that simple Jennifer. According to my friend in the royal kitchen the rumours are rife that Mercie loves Berdlukare and not as a sister. However, the leader of the Berserkers does not appear to show any sign she knows this although they are sure that if anything happens to Mercie even Odin himself could not stop the rampage within Berdlukare. For though she will not admit such a thing many believe she cares deeply for Mercie in much the same way many believe.”
“Wow an unrequited passion and its simmering away as all hell is breaking loose. Does the Queen approve?” I know what that feels like. Larsen had arrived at Mercie’s position and Jennifer noticed she was agitated. As they drew closer she saw that Mercie’s features were pale and drawn.
“No one but Lady Fulla can answer that.” Mark didn’t say anymore as they hit the rise of the hill where they saw the remnants of the battle that had been swift, decisive and deadly. Only two warriors now faced each other in combat - Berdlukare and an unknown warrior.
Mark spoke to Larsen who stood protectively beside the young woman still atop her horse. Before Jennifer could enquire, he twisted to her and repeated his question in English. “I asked Larsen if he knew who the unknown warrior was.”
Larsen, not willing to take his eyes from the ensuing combat, gave a guttural one word reply, “Amundason.”
Together they all stood on the rise of the hill with their eyes transfixed on the scene exploding below.
+ + +
Body parts along with lifeless warriors littered the battlefield. Moans and screams of pain from those that remained alive filled the pungent air as the remaining Berserkers and Royal Guard finished off the last of the invaders. A silence, greater than any ever heard permeated the area. All eyes turned to watch the two leaders of the opposing armies engage in a fight to the death.
Once Thorkel Amundason and Berdlukare dismounted they stood with bloodied swords drawn eyeing each other. Thorkel knew that with the defeat of his army his plan to dominate the town with his warriors was no longer viable. Nevertheless, victory would be his if the final piece of his plan fell into place. Berdlukare, the supreme warrior of the land will follow me in death. There would be no finer accolade to his power over the sword than to defeat their greatest warrior. Odin may not have been watching over the other warriors in my army, but I feel the presence of Odin at my shoulder approving this final battle.
Berdlukare, soaked in the blood of her enemy narrowed her eyes. The man had changed little in stature to when she had last seen him banished to the borders. His face now held, instead of the bitterness of the past, pure evil. No one would mourn his passing and if he should die at her hand, he had no place in the halls of Valhalla as a deserving warrior. The dead of my warriors have already taken their places. She felt her anger rise but pushed it down. Now is not the time for anger…it is the time for focus. I should have finished him off three years ago when I had the opportunity. I chose to put Mercie’s feelings for the man above my own. There is no room for a traitor as this foe is to me. The faces of all her fallen brethren flashed in her mind until Edmond Fulla loomed bright. This man is responsible for all this death and destruction. She stepped over a body as the heady stench of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, assailed her nostrils. Raising her sword she said, “For our Queen and Odin I will see you rot in Hel.”
Thorkel relished the battle ahead, for warriors of their ilk the bloodbath before them was of no consequence. This is what we were born to do. I have another vision and this is merely a stepping-stone to usurp the ruler, whomever that maybe, some time in the future.
As the warriors faced each other further words were unnecessary and each lifted their swords. Berdlukare was not surprised when Thorkel lunged at her first allowing her to deflect it away with ease.
A trifling blow to gauge her reaction, Thorkel thought. Hmm, she is quick I will give her that but she is no match for me. He attacked her again with a heavy blow only to have it once again stop short of her body.
The air was deathly quiet except for the sound of the two heavy swords clashing in a violent power struggle for supremacy. Berdlukare had only one mission, to kill the man who had brought such carnage to their community and her warriors. She envisioned Mercie crying inconsolably once she knew that Amundason was responsible for her brother’s death. She grimaced and thought she will want me to avenge his death. With precision her sword found its mark and slashed her opponent’s arm. “That is for Edmond,” she screamed as she raised her sword and struck again.
The sun that had earlier glanced off the blades where it could find a spot clean of blood, now sunk into the hillside. The meager light did not deter the two waging war against each other. For what seemed like hours to the onlookers, but merely the ticking of minutes, the sun lost itself finally behind clouds mounting in the early evening sky. With a hefty blow Thorkel’s sword cleaved a slice of Berdlukare’s shoulder down to the bone followed by another swift parry striking her in the upper chest. All the spectators gasped at the sight of their ferocious warrior dropping her sword and falling to her knees with crimson flowing from her wounds. For her part, Berdlukare did not cry out in pain or allow her expression to change - she merely watched her opponent.
Thorkel smiled with cynical satisfaction. “I have true justice with Odin’s hand behind me.” With both hands clenched around the sword’s hilt he drew it high above his head.
Berdlukare, who was always ready for any situation on the field of battle waited for a sneer crossed her face. Her wounds no longer a barrier to her mind, she drew a small dagger from her belt and wedged it with as much power as she possessed into his heart.
Thorkel Amundason dropped like a stone in front of her. Berdlukare staggered to stand with as much composure as she could muster then turned the dead body over with her foot - unbelieving eyes stared up at the darkening sky. After a moment, a stunned crowd cheered Berdlukare’s victory. With great effort she picked up her sword and raised it to the heavens in tribute to Odin as her lifeblood drained rapidly from her body. For a few glorious seconds she put her fist to her chest for the dead before collapsing in a heap over the top of the slain enemy.
+ + +
Richard glanced at the darkening sky, contemplating if this was the right moment to set about the task of fleeing through the gate. I’d feel happier if we are on the other side by total darkness and this place finally out of our hair.
Carolyn had spoken no more than a few words for the last hour. He had known her for years and knew that she was thinking deeply about something that didn’t have an immediate answer. She would frown and her eyelids flickered as she tried to attain something out of reach. I’m perplexed because she made the decision to go home readily rather than my cajoling her. Maybe she is thinking about Jenn, yeah that is probably the answer.We are in a sticky situation now, but going back when the town is under siege could be damn more dangerous.
His face contorted slightly as he considered something else equally as intriguing. Carolyn had made the decision for them all. How did she really know that Jenn wanted to stay behind? True her grandfather was there and they hadn’t seen each other for years, but he had wanted her to leave. The old man’s face fell when Jenn reluctantly agreed to Carolyn’s announcement. I wonder what the discussion between them was when they were alone for those few minutes before we parted ways. “Did Jenn want to remain behind before you spoke for us all?” he quietly asked.
The tone of his voice rather than the words first crept into her brain. She gave him a puzzled look. “Yes, she wanted to be with her grandfather. She never had any intention of returning. It really didn’t matter if her grandfather was alive or dead she wasn’t leaving.”
Richard heard the melancholy reply. “Perhaps she changed her mind. She didn’t look over the moon when you spoke for us all.”
At his insinuation Carolyn’s head shot up. What is he implying? “You disagreed with my view on us leaving? I find that hard to believe when all you’ve done is moan every single second of this journey. Why you ever came defeats me.” Her words filled with frustration, not necessarily at him, but for her own inability to make the right choice. Going back is what Richard wants but its not what is right for me. Like a miracle, the mist that had been clouding her ability to understand the mess finally cleared and found its way forward.
Carolyn irritated him when she spoke in that manner. She blames everything and everyone around her for her lack of understanding of people. “That was uncalled for Caro." We aren’t all as gifted as she is why can’t she see that. "You know I came because of you. If you remember you were seriously ill not too long ago. This journey might not have been the wisest choice you’ve ever made. Besides you needed me to put up the tents and make the coffee.” He ended his rant on a lighter note and saw the flicker of a smile on his friend’s lips. Yep, the bottom line is I love you my friend and will never see any harm befall you if I can prevent it.
Carolyn lowered her head. “ I’m sorry for being such a selfish idiot. You’re right…I do try to meddle where I shouldn’t, but you have to believe me when I tell you that Jennifer wanted to stay . In fact, I think she wanted…oh well never mind.” Carolyn scrunched her lips together as her voice trailed off. What use is it to dwell on that now?
Richard stared at Carolyn and saw what reminded him of an inconsolable child who had lost something precious. I know that inside my friend you’re feeling vulnerable. Your eyes always did mirror your emotions when you let your guard down. “She wanted you to stay too didn’t she?” He had seen the bond of friendship grow between the two women and a part of him was jealous. Carolyn always seemed to want Jennifer’s attention whenever she was around. It took me years of knowing her before she allowed me inside and I doubt that I ever truly touched her heart the way Jenn has. Love is a strange fellow. ”You know you can always come back. We have the map and I’m sure you can locate the book again.”
“I could that’s true. In fact, I’ve decided to help you to the gate and then return. It’s what I want and where I know I should be.”
Her voice held a conviction he knew he wouldn’t break. He glanced at the skies again as darkness was homing in fast. “I guess we’d better get going then.”
They both stood up and began the precariously dangerous venture to the entrance of the gate. As they began the decent of the hill, Carolyn saw a lone rider heading in their direction. Now is not the time to be inquisitive, but this might prove to be the distraction we need.
+ + +
Mercie experienced a gurgling in her throat as her strangled cry refused to enter the world. She kicked hard on her horse’s flanks when she saw her beloved Berdlukare fall to the ground after her victory. Larsen didn't have time to stop the woman and turned to Mark and Jennifer with an anxious look. He quickly gave Mark instructions before he took off after the woman on the horse.
“Wow that man sure can run fast!” Jennifer said with a slight laugh. “ What did he say Poppy?” she asked absently. Her eyes were fixed in fascination on the battlefield as stragglers from the enemy camp were rounded up by the exhausted Royal Guard.
Mark smiled briefly. “He was disappointed that the battle was won without him. He said it was safe to bring you to the town. He would meet us in the assembly hall and await the Queen’s verdict on your remaining here.”
Jennifer stared hard at her grandfather. No way did he say all that. “You’re teasing me Poppy. He barely muttered more than a sentence.”
“True. However, he did say it was safe to bring you to the town. The rest I embellished a little but it is all fact. He did miss the battle and they did win and the Queen will have to approve your staying.” Mark held up a hand before she could question him again. “Let’s get behind the safety of the town walls before you ask me anything else.”
They began the slow walk to town stopping once they got closer to take in the carnage. What happened next was as unexpected as it was astonishing. An enemy warrior, who had feigned death, sprang up with sword in hand to take down two more victims before he joined his comrades in Valhalla.
Jennifer didn’t know what drew her attention. A sound perhaps, but whatever it was it made her hackles rise as she instinctively spun around to protect her grandfather with her body. When the warrior lunged at the old man, Jennifer, on intuition alone, pushed her grandfather to the ground and charged at the warrior. They began a tussle that drew the attention of many of those still on the battlefield. Although she put up a good fight, without a weapon she was no match for the warrior. When the man overpowered her and pinned her between his broad chest and the ground he raised his sword.
Damn is this it? I wasn’t expecting it to end so soon.
As if in a slow motion, she saw a dark figure grab the warrior, lift him in the air and then slam his body onto a lance lodged in the ground. The figure looked at the body hanging lifelessly from the lance and laughed while the onlookers cheered loudly. Stunned, Jennifer looked at the dark figure - Keeper Larsen had saved her life. In an attempt to stand on wobbly legs Jenn got part way up before falling onto the blood soaked ground. She looked up and saw a large outstretched hand and when she didn’t immediately take it Larsen spoke. All Jenn could do was stare blankly at the man. "I don't understand."
Mark still gasping for breath automatically translated for her, “Take my hand Mgni you have proven yourself worthy of the name.”
She give him a faint answering smile and grasped the huge hand. When her body was in an upright position, Larsen grinned and slapped her heartily on the back mumbling something that she was sure would translate to way to go. Mgni hmm? I wish Carolyn were here she’d know what that meant. She turned to her grandfather and asked, “Are you okay Poppy?”
“Thanks to your quick thinking I am. Let’s get inside and see what else lies in store for us.”
+ + +
Behind a hedge of tall grasses that hid her from view, Carolyn edged stealthily to the side of the cave entrance. She silently blew out a breath as they successfully circumvented the riders who were watching the lone rider moving at great speed towards their position. If we can somehow manage to get past the guards Richard will be on his way home. Her eyes scanned the area and once she determined it was safe she signal Richard, who was hiding in a nearby thicket, to join her. Once I have him on his way I’ll go back the way we came and surprise Jennifer…I hope it’ll be a good surprise.
“I’ll go the rest of the way on my own and you head back,” Richard whispered when he arrived at her side. “I’ll watch from here until you make it to the top of the hill and then you can signal to me that you’re okay.”
Carolyn shook her head vigorously. “No way! I’ll see you through the gate and then I’ll go back to town.” She watched the guard’s movements before whispering, “You might need me in there to watch your back.”
Richard sighed heavily. It’s no use arguing with her. “Fine, have it your way but remember it was your idea if something goes wrong.”
“Exactly my point,” she said nodding in the direction of the cave opening. “Let’s go.” She crept inside the darkened cave before he could answer.
The flickering torches that lit the way to the gate made it easy for Richard to follow his friend. He quickly looked in the direction of the guards. If I can make her out can they? With a sigh of relief, he arrived at the exact spot where they encountered the two giant men only two days earlier. I can’t believe it has only been two days… it feels more like two years.
They slunk along the cave’s wall until they found a place that concealed them from the two warriors guarding the gate. It was to their good fortune that the guards were so engrossed in conversation that making discovery of their position was unlikely. Carolyn’s agile mind sorted through all the ways they could proceed and came to one conclusion - we need is a suitable distraction. Suddenly voices from the riders on the outside bounced off the cave’s walls. Carolyn, frustrated that she could understand only one or two words, looked to the warrior’s body language for any clue as to what was happening. Both guards tensed in reaction to whatever the riders said. Uh-oh, this can’t be good she though as the two warriors began walking in their direction. Shit do they know we’re here?
Richard grasped Carolyn’s hand sure that the men would find them - they didn’t! Instead, on their way to the cave’s exit, they passed within inches of their position. This is our chance to get out of here…well mine anyway if she still insists on staying behind. She’s crazy, this is a dangerous place and I don’t want to leave her here. If I argue the point with her now it might make them notice us and that would be worse
Carolyn moved closer to Richard, hugged him hard and whispered, “good luck,” before pushing him towards the gate and the path leading back to his world.
Knowing it was his only chance he softly said, “Thanks, good luck Caro and for god’s sake be careful! I’ll miss you.” He reluctantly began to leave before he ran for the gate as quietly as possible.
Carolyn watched her friend leave and gasped when she saw one of the warriors return and see Richard fleeing. The man shouted something indecipherable before he reached for a small dagger hanging from his belt. She sucked in a deep breath and without thinking left her hiding place and cannoned into the warrior.
“Richard run, leave now!” Carolyn screamed as she went down heavily in the dirt. The warrior grunted something unintelligible and turned his attention to her. She saw his upper lip peel back into a snarl revealing rotted teeth and was certain he meant to kill her right then - he didn’t. Instead he placed his foot hard on her stomach and she felt all the air in her lungs escape through her mouth. She tried in vain to move and the warrior growled as he hovered over Carolyn’s inert body holding his dagger over her heart.
In different circumstances, Richard might have gone through the gate, but not when it came to helping out an incapacitated soul. No contest it was Carolyn after all. He peeled away from the gate in a rush to help by springing on the warrior in an attempt to deflect the dagger’s motion. The warrior let out a long, low menacing groan. Richard didn’t need a translator – the warrior was pissed. Soon Richard and the warrior were rolling around on the dirt floor in a fight for supremacy. The bulk of the guard was not a plus as Richard countered with agility that the larger man lacked. Silently he thanked his self-defence instructor for insisting they fight against all sizes of opponents. He scampered away from the clutches of the man and stood up taking on a classic defensive stance. The warrior got to his feet, lowered his head and charged Richard. That was the opening Richard needed as he side stepped then grabbed the man in a neck lock before slamming his bulk against the wall of the cave. Richard felt his body surge with an adrenaline rush as he bounced on the balls of his feet expecting an immediate retaliation. When a voice from outside the cave echoed all around them the warrior, with another nasty snarl and a growl that was fitting for a wounded wolf, turned and ran out of the cave.
Richard gulped in deep breaths as he attempted to settle his rapidly beating heart. Damn that was a lucky escape. Wonder what the other fellow said that made him leave. He chuckled. I actually wish I knew the language. He turned his attention to Carolyn who remained in the same position where she had been pinned by the warrior. Quickly he knelt beside her. “Hey, you can open your eyes now he’s gone.” When she didn’t respond he touched her shoulder. “Come on Caro, wake up.” He fished in her pack, found a small flash light and focused it on her face. He saw a laceration on her head and surmised that she was unconscious from a blow to her head. When the light illuminated the deep crimson stain on her shirt he sucked in a deep breath and closed his eyes in disbelief. “Damn! Oh no Caro, this can’t be happening.” When he gently peeled back the shirt and saw gaping flesh five inches long and at least an inch deep he felt sick. The blood seeping from a wound wasn’t gushing but to his untrained eyes it didn’t look good. Oh, my god I was too late. What do I do now? What? Think man think!
He rummaged in his knapsack and retrieved a first aid kit. He gently cleaned the area with an antiseptic wipe then placed several gauze pads over the wound and taped it in place. “It’s the best I can do right now,” he whispered while gently touching his friend’s cheek. He knew he had to make a decision. I either take her back to the town in the hope that they have medical help, or…go home . He shook his head.This is a no brainer. “I know what you’d want but I can’t take that chance. At home I know you will receive the right medical attention.” He picked her up, kissed the top of her head and started for the gate. “I’m taking you home Carolyn, I hope you’ll forgive me,” he whispered as they passed through the gate embarking on the journey home.