Last Stand

 

I’d never given death much thought, never had much reason to despite the fact that I kill people for a living. When you’ve been killing people for as long as I have, you’ve seen it all. Death isn’t some mysterious thing to be scared of, it’s some guy in a bar sticking a rusty knife in your guts while you try to throttle him, or a guy with an axe knocking your brains out as you lie in the mud, or any number of other scenarios. I’d been death for enough people that I’d grown comfortable with the idea that, some day, someone I met would be mine. After that I guess I just put it all out of my mind and got on with the work of being other people’s death. I didn’t think about dying, not until that last day when I knew it was inevitable. I know, I’ve often said that nothing is impossible, nothing inevitable, but I lied. Some things are.

The Captain told us that General Borgensen had chosen my mercenaries to be the rear guard. We were to hold the pass as long as possible and give the rest of the army time to retreat and regroup. That was shaite, and we all knew it. The general’s feet hadn’t touched the ground once between him hearing that the enemy was coming and him clearing the edge of camp. The regular army, mostly green recruits who couldn’t hold a spear straight let alone use one, grew worried about the general’s health and, to a man, lit out after him to ensure he got home safely. That left my squad, a hundred hardened mercenaries, to cover their arses. Well there aren’t many mercs who’re going to stand and fight to the death unless they have to, and the general consensus was that the general running off voided our contract. Most of the troupe told the major to sod off, packed up and lit out for parts more profitable. A few of us stayed though, all Named warriors, all either too stupid, too stubborn, or too bloody minded take to our heels before even sighting the enemy. It was a chance to be in on a last stand that would immortalise our names, a chance too, to teach those farm boys what a bit of grit can accomplish.

The captain left ten of us squatting around a small fire in the centre of the pass. The fire was burning low but we sat hunched around it anyway, putting a last edge on our weapons and waiting for the opponents to show up. Tarfolg tossed out the idea that they’d decided to use the smaller, unguarded pass that crossed the mountains further to the north. I had to remind him that the captain had said that their trogs wouldn’t be able to use the lesser trail. Well, you see what I mean, the doubts that assail you when you have to wait for the opponents to show up. I can’t stand people who aren’t punctual for a fight.

Fearg the Archer had taken lookout so she could take some shots at their lines before the main fracas made good shooting all but impossible. When she notched her first arrow there was still time to get in a few blows before the sun set. Fearg’s hands were a blur as she fired. She had twelve arrows in the air at one time, a feat unheard of before, or since, so I’m told. The first three rows had melted into the ground and the fourth was looking to go the same way before the arrows ran out. Good thing too or there wouldn’t have been any of them left for the rest of us. If they’d had a large enough stock of arrows they could have posted Fearg there and the rest of us could have had a couple of drams whilst we waited for her to finish them all off, she was that good.

The nine of us blades walked out and waited. We were recognized, which is always nice. They sent their heroes against us and we killed them, though Tarfolg’s hero managed to stick her sword rather convincingly into Tarfolg’s guts before Tarfolg took off her head. Which left just the eight of us until Fearg stepped into the line with her bow on her back and her twin axes ready. Then they tried to swarm us, which is never a good idea on a narrow pass with warriors of our experience. We had their advance guard dead or dying before their main army turned up. We were all tired and wounded, though only Jovil’s was serious, but now we faced the trogs and knew we were done for. I gave some thought to dying then, but the thought passed and it was back to work.

Trogs are the devil to kill. Their hides make a bull elephant’s look like paper. The best thing to do is work in pairs, hamstring them, bring them down so that you can reach their heads and then blind them. This won’t kill them, but they won’t be able to see, or walk, so you can generally move on to the next one and let the wounded ones kill each other. This only really works on a large battlefield though, where you’ve got room to move; ‘cause if a trog gets a grip on you, wounded or not, you’re done for.

Fearg and I had downed a few trogs before Fearg found a new way to kill them. I don’t recommend it as cutting a trog’s throat from the inside doesn’t leave you too many opportunities for survival.

So, Fearg was gone, Jovil hadn’t lasted past the first trog, and Sammel, Yoe, and Thaniel had also succumbed. The rest of us backed off a ways and let the wounded trogs finish each other off. The opponents were also keeping well clear for wounded trogs don’t tell friend from foe too well. We weren’t in good shape, Givern had lost an arm and I had to cut off a couple of my fingers that a trog crushed.

The next wave did us in. They sent regular troops to protect the trogs’ flanks. With only four of us left and all of us at least partially disabled it was all over and they were at camp before the sun set.

I don’t remember dying, which is a pity, as I kind of think that might have been something worth remembering. But what the hell? The gods treat me alright. I’ve got my seat in Dath’s Hall and enough opponents to last me through the afterlife. I’ve even taken a liking to Fearg. She’s a good sort, and quick with a blade in any fight.

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