Journey of the Warrior Ch. 00byRoadbug©
THE LAST STAND
This story is a work of fiction. All resemblance to people or places is purely coincidence.
Thanks to DesertPirate for his assistance.
Through the dark he rode. The path down the pass was narrow to the bottom where it came out of the ancient forest to a small castle.
He held is side where he had been hit by an arrow. He knew that this would probably be his last night but still he rode on. Ignoring the pain, he urged his horse down and into the forest.
The moon occasionally showing through the trees gave him enough light to see the trail he had followed for two days and the previous night.
He saw the castle as he emerged from the forest. Watch towers with torches were clearly visible to him now. Only a short ways to go before he could deliver his message.
Even then, he knew, he would find no rest this night. He would have to lead the defenders of the castle back up to the pass. To save the castle, he would have to lead them on the shortest path to the pass.
He rode to the gate and yelled to the guard his identity. Although it had been some months since he had been this way, the Elves that defended the bastion knew him well. He had traded his furs with the castle since he had come to this strange and ancient land. They had been his first friends and teachers when he had arrived.
At last, he thought, as the gate opened for his admittance. He told the commander of the gate guard to tell the lord of the castle that he had news of great import from the other side of the pass. The guard, seeing the blood on his side instantly ran to the entrance of the caste proper.
Shortly after, the lord himself came out to the one on the horse. Seeing the blood on the humans side and how he sat his horse, he tried to help him down.
The human said, "No time. Rouse your entire guard. An army approaches the pass and we must go and meet it with as many as you can summon. We must go now. I will guide you on the shortest route to the top but be quick in readying your forces."
The Elven lord looked into the face of the human he had befriended five years previous to this and saw what the human already knew. He was dying from his wound as the arrow had been poisoned.
The lord summoned his guard and told them to prepare to meet an invasion of the lands defended by the castle. After giving his orders, he went back in to tell his guests of the night the grim news. He also told his eldest daughter of the one who had likely given up his life to warn them and guide them through lands rarely traveled by Elves.
Hearing this grim news, she rushed to the side of the horse where sat the injured man. Placing her hand upon his while tears flowed down her pale cheeks, she said, "Always know that here you have a home. If this night you live, you will be welcome here as long as either my father or I live. This night, you have given us our lives."
The human looked upon this Elven maid and seeing her tears he said, "You and your kin have given me welcome since I came to this land. Always you have welcomed me and always you have been kind and generous even though I am human and not of your own blood. I have given you nothing more than what you have already gifted me with."
"Cry not for me, my lady," he continued. "All must die one day, even those such as your kind. I only meet my fate sooner than you. The arrow is poisoned and has spread too far even for the healers of your castle. A great mage or healer might help, but none are here and there is no time left to summon one even if they would come."
The Elven woman looked upon the human as he spoke, and while placing her hand over his wound she said, "By the blood spilled I say and by the pain you have suffered in our service I say, you will return to this place. Take my strength and lead as you must but return to us who are your friends."
A glow appeared around her hand and the human gasped. His pain was less and he felt stronger than he had in the two days since he'd been wounded. He looked upon the face turned up to him and saw the glow in her eyes that matched that around her hand.
Drawing another breath, he said, "I know little of the ways or the strengths of your people. I only know that five years ago I was lost. I am not of this land and I knew not of it's ways. I was hungry and thirsty. I was ill with fever also. A band of riders found me as I lay dying in the forest to the south of this castle."
"Here it was they brought me. Here it was that I was nursed back to heath by two beautiful women. Elves though you be and human as I am, these two beautiful women and their father made me well. They taught me the ways of the forest and the lands around. They gave me an even greater gift while they did this."
He paused for a moment then said, "They gave me friendship."
"This night I give freely. Live or die I give back what I received when first I came here. Feel no sorrow in my passing. This gift you have given me tonight will aid me in what I still must do. I must lead your father and what soldiers he can spare to the pass. I know of a way even faster than the one you use so I must guide them."
"On the morrow, I will stand with those who have given me this great gift of their friendship and live or die with them."
Drawing a pouch out of his jerkin, he took it off. He held it for a moment and taking her hand off of his wounded side he handed the pouch to her. "Take this as my gift to you and your sister. Tell her that I love you both like the daughters I never had. I have nothing much of value except what is inside and I wish you to have it."
While the two had been talking, the guard had formed up and mounted. The lord of the castle and another group strange to the human came out of the doors and also mounted.
Looking down upon the Elven maid at his side, the human said, "Take this and go to your sister. The two of you must ready the castle folk to flee into the forest in the event that we fail on the morrow. You have no chance to hold what comes even with twice the number of guards sworn to your father. The enemy is strong and has great numbers."
The Elven woman looked up on the human and said, "We cannot forsake our duty. Here we hold and here we will live or die. This is our trust and our honor. Ride well and know that my sister and I will pray to our goddess for the safety of you and our kin. Fight well knowing that you have our hearts and always have."
With these words, she ran into the castle. The human watched as she vanished from his site, then turned to the Elven lord and the stranger beside him.
The stranger road forward and held up his hand in greeting. "Grave news you have brought upon my visit to my kin. What know you of those who come?"
The human answered with a sigh saying, "They are from the kingdom to the east of the pass. The king there has decided that your lands should be his and the Elves here should be driven out or exterminated."
"Greed is his only reason for this," the human continued. "He has gathered a large army and even now they are less than a day from the other side of the pass. There is no hope of holding them here as their numbers are too great. Only at the narrowest part on the other side may we hope to hold them for any time."
The Elven lords studied the humans face for a moment, then the lord of the castle said, "I have sent out a messenger already. He left from the southern gate moments ago. By tomorrow dusk, there should be a force large enough to hold the castle and the pass if we succeed."
The human said, "Let us go then. We have only a few hours to get to the place where we can make our stand. I will guide you there by an old trail that I know. It is steeper than the main but we can make the top in half the time as the regular route."
So saying, the human turned his mount and started back the way he had come so shortly before.
He led them up to the pass and down to the narrowing part of the pass. Upon arriving, he said "Here we can hold them for a time. I don't know for how long but it may be enough to save your lands and people."
With these words he sagged in his saddle and started to fall.
One of the warriors jumped off his horse and ran up to catch him just in time to prevent him falling.
It was then that the others discovered what the lord already knew. Even wounded and the arrow head still in him, this human had led them to a point where they would have a chance of defending the route to their homes. To them, he had given more than a warning and a guide. To them he had given his life's blood
The warrior gently lowered the barely breathing man to the ground and called out for the healer who had accompanied them on this desperate ride.
The healer ran up and put his had upon the wound and focused his power. Try as he might, he could not defeat the poison from the arrow head.
Bowing his head, he stood and faced the lord and his cousin.
"He is dying, my lords," the healer said. "There is nothing I can do as I am not strong enough to defeat the poison within him. I have eased his pain and given him some strength but that is all I can do. He will be gone by tomorrow evening at the latest."
Hearing the grim news, the warrior standing there told the others the same.
Dismounting, they all came to him one at a time. Each thanked him for his bravery and his great gift to them that they could defend their homes. Each bowed his or her head and gave a prayer to the Goddess of the Forest to intercede for he who was lay there before them.
This done, they went about what they had come here for. Already they could see a host approaching them from below.
Seeing it, they knew from the numbers approaching them that they would have little chance to hold for the day required. Even knowing this, they prepared. They knew that they would have had less chance at the castle for the enemy army approaching was large indeed.
As they readied themselves, the human sat up. Slowly he stood. Walking to his horse, he gathered his weapons. He only carried a staff and a large ax and a few knives. He was unskilled with the elven bow or the swords they carried.
Opening the bedroll behind his bloodied saddle, he took out a crossbow of strange design and assembled it.
Finishing his task, he walked to where the castle lord and his cousin were sitting.
Slowly going to one knee as was the way of the Elves before a lord.
The lord looked up at once and seeing who was before him he said to all within hearing, "Be witness to me my men." Stooping down to the human he raised him to his feet. He said, "Never again will you kneel before me nor will you bow your head. If we live this day through it will be because of you."
He looked upon his men and said, "To this man we owe a debt. Even if we die here today, we may save those we love. Only because of this man do we have the chance to do this and only because of his bravery do we stand here where we might yet do so. Never again will he sit at the common table. When we sit in my hall he sits at my table."
To a man, each Elf knelt before their lord and the human. Even the lords cousin bent his head before drawing his ancient sword.
Placing the tip upon the humans shoulder, he said "Few are the knights of this land. I serve the king and am his knight. Only one of us may name another. I name you knight and say before these who witness that you have already proved your bravery. If we live through this day, I say that you will be a brother to me for saving my home and those I love."
The ancient sword began to glow blue, surprising all who witnessed. The glow covered the human for a moment and then centered upon his wounded side. Slowly the glow seemed to seep in to the wound.
The human gasped and staggered, being caught by the lord before he could fall. There was a strange sound like water falling into a pool, and the arrow head fell to the ground.
The human again gasped as the glow slowly receded back to the sword still touching his shoulder. When the blue light had faded, the human fainted. Catching him before he could fall, the castle lord and the elven knight carried him to where he had been laying before. Two of the warriors carried his weapons and placed them beside him as he slept.
As they gazed upon him, the cousins noticed a change in his skin. The pallor that had been was fading and a healthy cast came to his skin. Even the gray in his beard had faded.
They looked at each other and stood. "My cousin," said the knight, "I have held this sword for many a year and never have I seen such. It has power, but it is a weapon of war. I have never seen it heal one who was near death."
The lord looked at his cousin and said, "I have heard many a story of this sword you carry. It has been in our family for countless years, from before our people came to this land. Never have I heard of it healing nor have I heard of it showing such power of any kind to benefit a human. Truly, this man is more than he seems."
"Agreed cousin," said the kings knight. "I have named him brother and so he is if we both live through this day."
"I shall call him so also," said the lord. "He was willing to die for us so now he shall live with us as he chooses. I will always have a seat at my own table for him and if either of my daughters still wishes and he chooses I will grant either of them leave to take him as husband."
The Knight nodded at this pronouncement and said, "If this should come to pass I will give the challenge and I will stand before all who would say nay. He shall always find me at his back if he has ever the need."
Shortly after this talk, the human again woke up. He felt no more pain from his wound and the burning from the poison was also gone. Standing, he felt healthier and stronger than he had in many years.
Holding up his right hand and looking at the back of it, he saw that the bent finger he had broken when he was younger was now straight and no longer pained him.
Turning the hand over, he saw that the scar from an old injury that had almost taken his thumb as a boy was now gone. All the pains that accumulate with age had faded to nothing.
Smiling for the first time in many days, he looked at the castle lord and the kings knight.
"I was going to tell you this before," he said. "The enemy has the custom of having a champion challenge to fight any who would face him in single combat. I ask for this chance. Before, I thought that I would do so as I was dying anyway. Now I wish it as a chance to pay back those who used a poisoned arrow."
The Lord looked upon the human and said, "You have already paid a price in blood so we may defend our lands. No more is needed nor is it asked."
I ask this for myself," said the human. "I won't be much use to you in battle, but I might be able to buy you some time in this way. Your warriors have worked together for years but you know nothing of me or how I fight."
"My name is Armetur," said the lord. "I give you this," he said handing the human a ring, 'to show that you are my chosen champion. Wear it always."
The man looked at the ring and then to the face of the Elf Lord and said, "I have no name now. I am called Hawk by my friends. I would be honored if you called me by that name."
Armetur looked to his cousin and said, "If you should live through this day and I do not, let his name be entered in the family listing. Let none forget the deed he did last night to bring us word."
The Knight nodded his head and said, "He shall be known as the brother of Deliand." Looking at the human, he held out his hand and said, "I greet you brother. One so brave that he would give his life for those not his kin should be kin at heart if not blood. I greet my brother."
The human looked at the hand offered to him then raised his face to the Knight and said, "I have no kin left. I am not of this land but the people here gave me a home for a time and gave me friendship. I would have died without that friendship. I only repaid a debt." He took the Knight's hand in his own and for the first time Armetur saw his smile.
"Last night, I knew I was dying," he said. "I brought you word to pay for the five years of life that I've had. Lord Armetur, you owe me nothing."
Turning to the advancing army, the human picked up his staff and handed the crossbow to Deliand. "Hold this for me while I go to meet the champion. If I fall, use it well for it was a gift from a dwarf who is my friend."
With those words he walked to where the pass again widened and stood watching the approach of the enemy. Calmly he stood waiting.
A herald with a flag of truce approached him. The elves saw them speak for a time, then the human walked forward and planed his staff in the ground and held up his ax.
Returning the ax to his belt, he picked up his staff and stood with his shoulders squared and his feet spread and waited for the enemy champion to come forward.
Suddenly the enemy lines parted and a huge warrior stepped forward. The man called Hawk moved to meet him.
They talked for a few moments although none on either side could hear them. After the short conversation, they both stepped back.
The giant champion drew his sword and Hawk lifted his staff in both hands. With this salute, they moved toward each other.
They exchanged blows so quickly that even elven eyes couldn't follow. The fight went on for several minutes and suddenly the giant warrior was on the ground!
The man called Hawk stepped back and allowed him to regain his feet. Standing, the giant warrior bowed slightly and saluted Hawk.
As he lowered he sword, an arrow was fired from the enemy lines. It struck Hawk high in the left side of his chest, staggering him. Lowering his staff to the ground, he held it with both hands to keep his feet. He said something to the giant warrior then collapsed and was motionless.
Seeing this, the giant warrior sheathed his sword and yelled out something to the enemy lines then turned and lifted Hawk like a child.
Standing again, he turned toward the elven forces and carried the wounded Hawk back to them.
When he came to the elven line, he said to them in his own tongue, "I had nothing to do with this evil deed. I will not fight you this day or any other until my honor is regained. If this man, your champion should die then I ask for the same fate. I will not live with his blood staining my honor."
Armetur looked upon the wounded human and said, "I saw the battle. This was not your doing so you are not to blame."
The giant warrior said, "I guaranteed his safety should he defeat me. I promised this on my honor. Now he is wounded by treachery. It does not matter who struck the treacherous blow. I gave my word and now it is broken. I will stay by him until the end of the battle. If he lives, I will take him through the pass to those who might help."
Walking through the line of elves, he saw where the bed had been made for Hawk before his healing earlier. He carried the champion to this simple resting place and laid him down upon the blanket.
Standing and drawing his sword, he placed it point down on the ground and said, "Here I will stand. It matters not who wins this day, none shall cause him more harm as long as I live."
Raising their weapons in salute, the elves moved into the narrow part of the pass and formed their lines to await the advance of the human army before them.
They formed two ranks of swordsmen and one of bow. Standing there, they waited.
The enemy began to advance upon them. As they closed, the bowman in the back began to fire their great elven longbows. Many of the enemy dropped as they advanced, but not enough to change the outcome.
Hawk regained his senses as this was occurring. He felt the arrow in his chest and knew that the wound was deep.
Looking up, he saw the warrior he had been fighting and in the tongue of the giant warrior he said, "The shaft is almost all the way through. Please push it the rest of the way and help me bandage the wounds."