My story is winding down, but it is still far from over at this point.
The two men keep the pace even as night falls, using the moonlight to guide them to the crossing. “Do we stop for the night?” Tullo pants as they come to rest at the stone bridge.
“We can’t, we need to send him home as soon as possible, intercept any army she may send if the note does not convince her.” Urzoth pants, far behind them a drum roll starts up as Sir Eastland begins to march his men out of the keep and walled city, their drums just barely audible from the crossing, though neither men recognize the danger that comes with the low, deep rumbling.
“I know but if we exhaust ourselves and must fight we’ll be unable to do so.” Tullo points out, Urzoth straightens and looks across the bridge.
“We’ll camp at the far base of the second rise.” Tullo nods and the pace begins again, their legs protest the movement and their lungs scream for more oxygen but neither stop till they crest the hill and run down the other side. There will be no fires that night, nothing to draw attention to the men as they cuddle together for warmth, forgoing a lookout that night.
Sir Eastland’s army marches at a slow and steady pace, their torches lighting up the road and surrounding area as they plod toward the western mountains, war drums having fallen silent once they are out of the city. It is slow going, armor and weapons clank and creak as they march down the path, the moon rising higher in the sky as they go; when the moon has reached its peak in the night sky they stop and make camp, not far from the crossing. The army of six hundred start dozens of fires, eat, drink, then slept till dawn when they break camp and return to their march, war drums setting the pace to be maintained the rest of the day even as the drummers fall silent.
The chief and his companion wake early, and hurry on their way, attempting to reach their camp before days end; the wind is at their backs and they run as though death is chasing them. They crest hills, huffing and puffing but still unwilling to stop their jog to their home; finally they crest the last hill and they come to a stop, taking a moment to catch their breath in the relative safety of the close proximity to their homes. Thin wisps of smoke betraying the life still within the encampment, Urzoth and Tullo return to their jog, assisted by the slope leading down to their homes. The camp, as peaceful as it seemed from the hill top, is in an uproar. A small crowd gathers in a semi-circle cheering while Margon is kept at bay by a few still standing warriors. “STOP! What are you going to to do?” He screams as the chief and his companion, confused, hurry toward the gathered people; as they near both come to a stop, gaping at the scene before them; the third elder stands towering over James- pale, bruised, and bleeding- with a thick branch clenched tightly in his old hand. “You can’t do this! Stop!” Margon struggles, not seeing the chief as he fights to free himself and save James from the fate that is before him. Without thinking Urzoth runs toward them, tackling the elderly man to the ground and giving James a chance to escape. Tullo follows close and pulls James to his feet before shoving him away from the scene of the chief and elder wrestling in the dirt, stunned the group releases the large warrior who comes immediately to Urzoth aid, dragging the elder to his feet, his arm pinned painfully behind him.
“Enough!” Urzoth screams, looking around him at the crowd, looking away. “Stop, just stop. We don’t have the energy for this.”
“Everyone is dead! Why must he live!” The question brings nods from the gathered group and Urzoth looks around as their eyes again drop under his intense gaze.
“Because if he doesn’t we’ll all die.” The chief sighs “He will be leaving us as soon as he can, understand?” The gathered look back at James, some biting their lips or rubbing the back of their neck “Whats wrong? What did you do?” Margon looks beyond the chief at his brother-in-law, his eyes widening; Urzoth slowly turns and finally takes in the state of the king, once again propped up by Tullo, head hanging against his breast, blood dripping down from his nose to the ground.
“He can’t walk.” The healer finally volunteers.
“What did you do…” Urzoth whispers stepping to James.
“He deserved it!” The fifth elder shouts, anger tinting his voice.
“For what!” Urzoth screams turning around “Because he’s different? Because he isn’t one of us?”
“He’s killed us, Urzoth! We have no hope, he needs to die!” Urzoth sighs and shakes his head.
“This is what we’ve been reduced to?” He looks at them “We take in a man, treat him well but the second I vanish you all treat him like we are barbarians?”
“He-” the elder starts
“We have honor!” The chief screams “Or does that mean nothing to any of you? He surrendered, he deserved to be treated like a man.”
“He brought us the sickness!” A woman screams “He’s killed us, Urzoth! You know our anger, there is no coming back from this! Honor doesn’t feed children, honor doesn’t bring the dead back from the heavens! Honor is an empty promise when there is nothing left!” the crowd seemingly agrees with the woman, leaving after she storms off leaving Urzoth with Margon and the elder.
“Tell me the truth Margon.” Urzoth asks softly. “Why save him?”
“I let anger get the best of me before, but he surrendered, he may be our enemy, his sickness may have taken my wife, but I still have my girls to think of, what kind of man would I be if I didn’t help someone who needed it?” Margon shrugs and Urzoth smiles.
“You are a good man, Margon.” Urzoth sighs and turns, looking at James.
“He’s breathing but he can’t walk, he might not even be able to see…” Tullo sighs and shakes his head “So much anger and hate…”
“I can’t say I blame them. If I lost one of my girls it would have been me with the club and not the elder.” Margon admits looking away.
“At least you’re honest.” Urzoth whispers “Gods only know what I would do if I actually could.” The men chuckle, all of them having some idea of what he would do if he could. “But lead by example, I learned long ago that ‘do as I say and not as I do’ just doesn’t work.”
“Chief, as much as this conversation is wonderful, with your permission I will tend to him.” Healer sighs, annoyed that the injured has already gone so long without help.
“Of course, of course.” Urzoth turns “Tullo can you carry him?”
“Probably?” Tullo asks shifting the weight, Margon rolls his eyes and takes James’s limp body from his smaller brother-in-law.
“To your tent?” He asks looking back at his chief, Urzoth nods and the larger man is off, carrying the body with ease across the nearly frozen ground and into the tent, laying him on the bed Lana had made when they first took James hostage. As Margon steps out the healer steps in and cuts away the few clothes James has on and frowned.
“I’ll need water and rags.” Urzoth nods.
“Margon, keep him safe, Tullo if the healer needs anything go get it. I’ll go get the water.” The two men fall into place as the chief vanishes into the woods with two large buckets, it takes no time to find a small stream and fill the vessels. He lugs the heavy buckets back to the camp, huffing and puffing as he walks, his body used to the weight but not the days of running followed by the heavy lifting, half way through the camp one of his warriors comes and takes a bucket, then another takes the other and a woman brings forth a pile of rags. He gives them a questioning gaze and they look at the ground.
“You’re right.” One warrior says.
“We couldn’t see what we were doing.” The woman continues.
“We acted without honor, without thought.” The three carry their loads to the tent with Urzoth, they let themselves in and offer apologies to the man laying on the bed barely breathing.
“Healer,” The man looks over at his chief, his tired, aged chief. “Make him well, please. I know not what or who is being sent here either for him or for us. Speed is needed.”
“I understand, Urzoth. I will do what I can, please lend me Tullo, I will need him, I think.”
“Keep him, I need Margon though.” The healer nods and Urzoth leaves, tapping Margon on the shoulder and motioning for him to follow leaving Tullo pouting in the back ground as he and the warrior go house to house gathering what fighters they can.
As the Sparrows rushed to return home and heal the injured king, Sir Eastland leads his men from the walled city at a slow pace, they cross the river two days after first being ordered by Alexandria to save the king from the hands of barbarians. The river valley and its many hills offer an exceptional challenge to the men trained to fight on flat land in open battlefields; progress is slow as the armor weighs down the men, sapping their strength as they march up one hill and down another for four days before a camp is set just yards away from the Sparrows quiet camp and readied to defend with regular patrols and low wooden walls that allow some men to sleep safely at night. Sir Eastland dispatches lightly armored, poorly armed men to first survey the Sparrow camp and the second to count their standing warriors. It takes another day to survey the whole camp, and two more to get a read on what is happening within it. “What do you mean?”
“I mean there is no one left. The life I find, most have the sickness, the others are weak and hide within their tents.”
“Could it be an act?”
“No sir, I have seen the men, their leader does not talk of reinforcements or in coming supplied, he talks of the after life, he talks of honor and pride should they die. Sir, I think the queen has made a mistake, I think we should send word back to her.” Sir Eastland’s face is set in stone, a frown tugging at his mouth.
“I agree, if what you say is correct then we should wait for further orders.” he turns and pens out a quick letter before passing it to the man and sending him away with orders to be as quick as possible.