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Swordman

I am in a farmhouse. There is a woman, there, sitting in front of me, looking at me. I have a sword in my hand. She just stares. I could take her, but I do nothing. I stare at her, then, delicately, I close the door.

Then there is the noise all around. Men are screaming, fighting, bloody swords flash in the dull light. Another warrior enters the farmouse. I hear a scream. He comes out. I look at him. He stares back at me. "You killed her" I say. He stares back at me, a blank, evil expression on his face.

I don't go back in the house. I know what I would find: the woman's headless body on the floor, her head a few feet away. I killed her, really, because I could have been the one to kill her. My heart tightens. This war makes no sense. I don't know what evil deed the King of N did, but surely it was not reason enough for this beautiful woman to die.

So, now, I feel the historical wind flashing through my mind... I see the past, the present, the future, all laid bare before my eyes.

Six warriors come my way. I dispatch the first three in a grinding of metal and blood. It streams down my face; my elbows drip to the ground with the blood of the dying. My steps and my sword take a fourth. The other two, horror in their pale eyes, turn to flee.

I walk away from the butcher's block, sticky flesh grabbing my ankles, fighting with the mud. A light drizzle washes my hair flat over my shouders, seeping under my helmet, cooling my boiling head.

I drop my shield, pick up another sword, one that once belonged to a fierce warrior, now dead. I walk, like in a trance. I hear drumming in my head, muffled by the sticky rain and the sound of my boots in the soft earth.

Three uniforms to the left. Archers. I don't know what they're doing here. I wave at them. They look at me. I walk away, disappearing into an open door. I shut the heavy door against the narrow arrows. The room grows dark, oppressive. Above, holes in the thatched roof drop raindrops in darker pools. There is blood on the earthen floor. I hear screams outside, screams of anger, then screams of the dying.

Two eyes peer at me from the darkness; a child's eyes. I approach the eys in the dark. There's movement and a muffled scream. I stop. I wait. My vision clears. There is a young man, a farmer, a woman, and a child, huddled together behind an overturned oak table.

I lean the sword in my left hand against the wall; blood slowly slinks down the blade to the tip. My left hand is free. The child's head trembles with fear. I rest my hand on his head and smile. The farmer smiles faintly. The young woman's eyes stay shut, head bowed in fear.

Something heavy hits the door. I spin bringing my sword up. Two blows from the war hammer crush it open. Through the opening, the uniform stumbles in. His eyes cannot see me in the darkness. My sword runs him through, his hammer falling to the ground. I push against his bloody chest with my boot and pull my sword out with a grunt. The body falls backward, lifeless.

I take my other sword from the wall, my back to the couple and child, I face the door. Another enemy stumbles in, arrows peltering the stone wall after him. A wide circle of my sword slices his belly and he falls forward in a gush of guts, screaming.

I do not finish him, intent on the door. From the corner of my left eye, I see the young woman approaching. She holds a dagger tight in her hand, tip downward. I step aside, wondering what devil got into her. She then proceeds to methodically stab the fallen man until his raspy breathing stops. She withdraws the dagger one last time and returns to the safety of the overturned table. I am appalled by her ferocity.

I look out of the door. Arrows fly back and forth. Screams echo down the valley further south. I close the shattered door as best I can. Noises from the back of the house spin my head. A small door opens. I ready my sword, aiming for the head. I stop. It's Eirik. He sees me, grins. Behind him, two archers enter. They wear the livery of the Prince of Malok. I nod toward the front door. Then a crossbowman enters.

Eirik picks up the war hammer and knocks an even bigger hole in the roof. The archers look around.

I walk back toward the family in the corner. They hug each other and the wall. I grab the man's arm. He yields and follows. I motion him to the table, to go to the other end. We right it and carry it under the hole in the roof. The farmer returns against the wall, hugging his wife and child.

The two archers stand, side by side on the table, and look out of the hole in the roof. They speak to each other, grunting in their guttural tongue. Then one drops off the table and holds the other at the waist. The archer on the table stands very erect, eyes staring out, then, in a much practiced motion, withdraws a long, stout steel-tipped arrow from his quiver, presses the handle of his bow into his left palm. Then he notches the feathered end of the arrow in the horsehair string, pulls, then lets the arrow fly with uncanny force. Before the first arrow hits its mark, he has already notched, pulled, and let fly another. Then her stares out of the hole again and smiles. The other archer pats him on the legs and grunt.

The crossbowman has drawn his spring, and waits, his quarrel aiming through the cracks of the splintered door. He waits.

The archer on the table scans from left to right and right again, then drops off the table. "We go."

Eirik grins again and opens the door, springing out, running in the mud. The crossbowman flips a latch on his crossbow and steps out too. The archers look at me, at the family, then, grabbing my elbow, force me out behind Eirik, and they close the door behind them. "No killing" one says, grave and deep voice coming from a weathered, hard face.

I guess I could have given that impression, being covered in blood, a sword in each hand, and wearing a uniform that killers wear.

We run to the fight, Eirik, the crossbowman, the archers and I, and now I know what I am fighting for.

©2001 Chris Mahan