This story is by Gary G. Little and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A hand grabbed his left shoulder and shook him.
“Tsuri! Wake up!”
He recognized Tarbus’s voice. Whispering, but yelling that close to his ear.
Half asleep, he focused on Tarbus. “What? Why?”
“Get up! You must take a warning to the village! Tell them raiders are coming. Now Tsuri! Do not dawdle! Now! The rest of us will delay them. You must go, now!”
And Tarbus was gone. Tsuri heard yelling as he gathered his things and rolled into shadow. He heard weapons clanging and men screaming. He had bedded down away from the fire, as he always did, to have a good view of the sky and stars.
He crept back and found a vantage point where he could see the camp. He saw Tarbus held by two raiders. His chest bloodied, he faced a third holding a black iron sword dripping blood.
“Run, Tsuri, run!” Again that command. Tarbus received a backhanded slap.
Tsuri did not want to hear the order. Run? No! I must fight! Tsuri grabbed his weapons to join the fray, but he hesitated. Tarbus had ordered him. His warrior blood and training argued with that order! I cannot run! But the leader of the tribe ordered him.
Tsuri watched as Tarbus’s bronze sword was forced into his hands. He assumed a guard stance. His opponent swung and thrust, and Tarbus parried. He staggered, weak from blood loss.
With a spin, the leader’s sword became a menacing black iron blur. When it connected with Tarbus’ blade, it broke the bronze sword in half, the pieces fell from Tarbus’s hands. He stood unarmed, naked, against the best warrior of the raiders.
Two raiders forced Tarbus to his knees, but he returned to his feet as soon as they released him. He would face death as a warrior, and not on his knees. Angered, the leader thrust his sword into Tarbus’s chest to the hilt, looked Tarbus in the eyes, and then pulled the sword back.
Tarbus stood a moment, already dead, and fell towards his left side, sprawling on his back. Tsuri wanted to cry out, but he bit his tongue till it filled his mouth with his own blood. Tarbus, he screamed in silent rage.
“Rhemaxos! Rhemaxos!” The raiders chanted.
For a few moments more, Tsuri watched as Rhemaxos strutted like a bully, cuffing any warrior that was slow in obeying a command. He would remember Rhemaxos.
He low crawled down the slope and away from the massacre of the camp. Before the sun began to brighten the sky, Tsuri fled towards the rising sun and home.
Now it was midday, his shadow a puddle at his feet that wiggled and waggled as he continued his loping run. The sun heated everything; the rocks, the scrub brush, his own skin, his tightly coiled brown hair. Everything seemed to soak up the sun’s heat and blast it back at him. A single cloud, high in the sky, shielded him from the sun for a few strides.
I should have fought! Only a coward runs. Damn Tarbus for giving me that order! Tsuri ran the scene over and over in his memory. Not at all happy. The choices he had were no choices for a warrior. Fight like a warrior, disobeying, and dying, and no one to warn the tribe. Or, flee like a coward and warn the tribe. Tarbus commanded him to run. He had no choice, but it did not lessen his conflict.
I could not have defeated the raiders by myself. One on one he could take Rhemaxos, with any weapon. That fool depended on his iron blade. He was a bully, a loud mouth. From the brief fight around the fire and the final fight with a weakened and bloodied Tarbus, Tsuri had seen the bully’s weakness.
Again he heard the voice of Tarbus, “Tsuri, sometimes it is best to bend with the wind. Live to fight another day. There will always be another fight, another day to die.”
His choice galled him, sickened him. He fled, to warn the tribe, and to fight another day. There would be a reckoning, and he would right that decision. That Tsuri knew. For now, he traveled home.
Tsuri entered his village just before sunrise, hours ahead of the raiders. He entered the first hut and wakened the occupants. “Raiders are coming. Sound the alarm. All fighting men assemble at the canyon gate.” Then to the next, and as he continued he saw young boys flitting to other huts, spreading the alarm. Good discipline. No lights flickered, anywhere.
He entered one last dwelling, his own, and that of his father. He hurried to the sleeping mat where the old man had drawn his final breath. There, above the mat, was what he sought.
A rhomphaia. Made of the same black metal as Rhemaxos’ sword, it had been folded many times in the forge. A spiral pattern twirled across the blade, burnished and polished with the blood of enemies and raiders. The cross-section, thick through the slight inner curve, gave the blade mass and strength. The razor sharp edge followed the outside curve. Obsidian flake sharp, it was perfect for a sweeping cut. The blade, affixed to a fire hardened piece of maple, reflected the early morning light flooding through the eastern window. It was a thing of beauty. It was a thing of terror. Twelve hands long, it could be used to pick an apple from a high branch. Or used to remove a head from its shoulders.
Tsuri removed the weapon from the wall and slung the scabbard across his back. He bowed deeply in memory of his father and strode through the door of the hut.
Two scouts returned from the western side of the main trail. They confirmed the raiders were coming. One of the two scouts sent along the eastern side of the trail returned. He was bloodied. They had encountered flankers and a brief fight ensued. Three raiders dead, his partner too injured to walk, he had returned with the news. He fled … no … he obeyed my orders, Tsuri thought, to bring us a warning.
The raiders gathered outside of the canyon gate, working up their courage, shouting insults at the defenders. They charged, their shields deflecting arrows and spears. They surged over the battlements Tsuri and the defenders had raised. In short order, any battle plan either side may have made, debauched into a one on one melee. Rhemaxos was first over, shield smashing, black sword chopping, stabbing, his body whirling. He lost his shield but that did not slow him.
Tsuri engaged raider after raider. He swept a leg, slashed a throat, swept another leg, stabbed through the chest. He developed a killing rhythm that felled raider after raider.
At last, in a circle of the dead, wounded, and standing warriors from both sides, two bloodied men faced each other. Rhemaxos took a knee and breathed. He used his kilt to wipe the blood from his sword. He pondered the edge of his weapon. In the same way, he pondered the edge of his enemy.
“Tsuri, you must be Tsuri. You watched in the shadows.”
Tsuri remained silent.
“You watched him die, and you did nothing. You ran. Turned tail and ran.”
Tsuri, in a squat, wiped the blood from his hands, his eyes, and the haft of his rhomphaia. Now he found the wisdom in Tarbus’ counsel, “there will always be another fight, another day to die.” He looked at Rhemaxos, and he too pondered the edge of his enemy. He stood, feet shoulder width, his strong foot slightly back, knees bent, arms loosely held to his side.
Tsuri remembered another lesson Tarbus had taught him; Sword battles only last, for any length of time, during the play between brothers and friends. Kill or be killed, Tsuri, that is the only rule to remember in mastering the sword.
Rhemaxos rushed forward. He swung and his sword sang through empty air. Tsuri ducked and pivoted to his left on the ball of his right foot, his left leg balancing his movement, his rhomphaia positioned for a killing sweep. The blade met Rhemaxos on his left side just above the navel. Slicing through the leather armor with ease, it passed through muscle and opened the abdominal sack.
Dumbfounded, Rhemaxos could only grunt, “Huh?”
“It is not my day to die,” Tsuri said, as he continued his momentum, swung his weapon with both hands, and delivered the coup de grâce. Rhemaxos’ severed head, eyes still not comprehending that he was dead, fell to the ground, the mouth gasping for breath. It watched its body stand for an instant, and collapse like an uncontrolled rag doll, twisted and crumpled.