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Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
Hard skills are harvested in harder times..
Shaking on the ground, Borothar was suffering the pain of a hundred drowned men, and the alert had echoed.
Most likely led by Theodran, the free companions rushed in the rocky corridors, the steel of their boots drumming in the distance. Unimpressed like he trained himself to be, Norman Daegoln grabbed his gasping squire and pulled him on his shoulder, his rapier in his strong hand this time, the right. Basic juggling had done the trick! The boy kept gasping which irritated Norman who struggled the enter the Kyai serenity, which came after hours of Kyai breathing. However, Norman wasn’t an average Kyai Knight, neither was he a great one. He was the best. Hard skills are harvested in harder times, said Ithildir Merethil in his indigest treaty. The God of the Sword? Overrated!
This belief of excellence which the empires in the four corners of civilization shared helped him enter perfect alignment between his mind and body, and, used to perform in public, smiled, dazzling as always.
Now, Norman could see them clearly and five Oursifer sellswords were rushing in his direction, climbing wooden ladders on the edifices below. Calm as always, Norman cheerfully walked towards them, and pushed the ladder with great might, one enhanced by his vial, and the crying men fell downwards, two less lucky cried as they drowned in the pound, their armour too heavy for another outcome. Considering the pound’s smoke, Norman understood that they also boiled as they drowned. Alas, it wasn’t a time for compassion and the mana lake needed to wait. The other three would soon stand and from a natural raw in the cave charged two sellswords, the builkier man armed with an axe, the other, athletic and blonde, with a warhammer.
These two needed to be disposed of.
With Borothar on his left shoulder, Norman positioned his stance in order not to expose the squire and he rushed forward, his Golden-Eye deeming the warhammer bearer more dangerous. His precision had nothing human, and the man fell, a red spot on the forehead. The strength of a spear and the precision of a needle, Norman acknowledged, determined to practice his reach more in order to save stamina. From the left, Borothar was now exposed to the axesman who stroke, but Norman had stepped to the right. Before the axesman could readjust, Norman had stepped left and his blade entered the man’s stomach who screamed, aware of his upcoming agony.
Earing a noise behind, Norman ducked and a crossbow’s bolt pierced the axesman’s eye as Borothar’s tunic had slapped, the squire saved again!
Drawing a dagger, Norman stood up in a jump and the blade entered the crossbowwoman in the face who hadn’t even dreamt of recharging, and she fell backwards as the three men succeeded in climbing the ladder. Norman analysed his situation and he deemed fit to seize his rapier from the axesman’s stomach. The man still lived! It was commanding, and Norman apologized as he removed the blade, the poor fellow casting another scream.
Now, he faced the two sellswords and looked at them closely. Two weaker men with average range and weaker builds surrounded a stronger man with a large claymore and a decaying face, completely burnt. The claymore bearer had long greasy hair, raven black, and his pale skin indicated he came northwards, most likely from Ashtown, the Aeirn dukedom on the continent. This claymore would be difficult to outmaneuver, but Norman decided that the use of magic would have to be delayed, for it would consume his flesh and he couldn’t afford to become like Dantena van Torquaz. He too had been a pretty man, but Norman was handsome as a Illyrian dragonlord. A fel-addict scarred by his crime against nature – the said magic – never attracted sympathy or sponsors. He knew well enough that career heroes and Kyai Knights were losing popularity. However, a scar from a claymore would be as disgraceful, if not worse for born out of martial incompetence.
Lost in his thoughts, he saw the first man charging, one of the weaklings. Describing three circles to impress the claymore bearer with the burnt face, Norman slashed the mace-wielding sellsword and maimed him from both arms before kicking him to the ground with great flexibility. Out of the two remaining, only the second weakling felt threatened. However, the Ashtown claymore-bearer pushed him forward and Norman much obliged and, still trying to intimidate, jabbed with the rapier. The swordsman blocked with surprise himself, before Norman delivered a high kick in his face, spattering with his armoured boot the sellsword’s chin into scattered red. Falling to the floor, he cried before Norman finished him with a soft piercing on the neck. The squish was poetic, Norman believed.
Behind, the axesman still begged for life. Truly impressed, Norman granted his request and left him to try with the bolt in his eye and the hole in his stomach. Sometimes, murderers needed to give up when justice came, for they had chosen their path.
Now, Norman was covered in blood and if he could imagine the dread he inspired with his burning red eyes, he felt awkwardly uncomfortable with the shaking squire on his shoulder and the reek of death on his skin.
Now, only two remained in the cave. He and his fierce and unshakable opponent. Three with the squire.
Where did Theodran go?
“Don’t you recognize me?” the man with the burnt face said, an anger called vengeance in his voice.
“Do you want a truthful answer or a glorified lie?” Norman’s answer was true to his belief.
“I assume I have changed…” the burnt man said before revealing his medallion, an aspic tangled around a bear’s neck as a necklace. Or a bear strangled by a snake according to the perspective. “I have grown since last time, Daegoln. Never shall a man humiliate my father and I ever again, I have vowed over my elder brother’s corpse. At Castralstag, we were outnumbered three to one, we had been deceived by a raven-haired squire with a sharp tongue. He had convinced my House, bearer of the Imperial Mantle, to face Arius on an open field. Arius who then served the rebel king Thorgrim. When you three slaughtered us all, from old men to children, the apostle theo-magus crowned the slave Thorgrim as Emperor! What a joke! A disgrace to the Imperial Mantle! Us Oursifer were the true blood of Sigmalion and you, a squire at the time, has…
– Oh! I recognize you now! You are Theodran!” Norman’s revelation surprised his opponent who spat.
“Worse than anything, you are sincere!” Theodran the Valiant barked. “Do you know what my House has gone through because of your deception!
– I never betrayed you, Oursifer, for I never served you. I sided with Arius from the beginning.
– You…” Theodran began than composed himself, teary: “I must acknowledge I am proud of what you have become. I rather have lost to the deadliest champion of the Empire than to any other blade…
– Contemplating the past is irrelevant. If your father had ruled wisely none would have contested his bearing of the Mantle. You have suffered from your father’s irresponsibility, Norman’s judgement remained sincere, for he didn’t hate Theodran vainly. “As for yourself, the crimes committed as an Iron sellsword are unacceptable. Come, and meet my blade, ser.”
– You offer me to die as a knight, but I shall slay you as a prince!”
They can never be short in words the fallen devils…
As Theodran the once-named Valiant charged, Norman, who had no intention of leaving of this cave with a scar, dropped his squire on the ground which halted the bandit prince’s assault, now trapped in disbelief. Norman put his hand in his leather purse, hanging on his belt.
“The great knight that you are, sacrificing your attendant!
– I am sacrificing nothing but time.
– No need, for you bear no future! Oursifer!” And he roared with his claymore ready. For Borothar or for Norman didn’t matter.
Grabbing a glass flask in pyramidal shape from his purse, Norman cast it with great precision into Theodran’s face, spreading black ink on his face. Barking like a hound, Theodran stepped backwards and Norman jabbed in his forehead, his trademark Griffincliff assault, fast as lightning. The blade went past the skull and Theodran looked confused with his blackened dark face, unwilling to die just yet. Sadly, anatomy wasn’t in his favour and his will to live fainted faster than the screaming axesman, who too had stopped crawling behind.
Removing the blade, the body fell, dull and heavy, a cling from his grey and iron armour hammering the ground.
“If you had used swordsmanship instead of rhetoric, you might have prevailed, ser”, Norman’s only regrets for Theodran was his inability to ear his closing words.
Now, it was time to heal Borothar, for the second bloody time in a month! Deciding to teach him an important lesson, he allowed himself to sacrifice a great portion of the energies he had gathered in the previous weeks – for the cave had been cleaned – and he snapped the boy out of his dreams.
In his drowning, Borothar had dreamt of Kiba. And of messer Den, a good man, and of Elijah, his energetic friend… But the drowned faces with the slit throats had invaded his dream and the nightmare of the pound had consumed his flesh and he had screamed for what had seemed a timeless eternity.
Suddenly pulled by an invisible hand, Borothar was grabbed by the drowned who tried to keep him, but this godly hand was stronger and he emerged in the surface and…
Saw his master with his brown eyes and feline face, covered in blood.
Too shocked to understand, he tried to Kyai breath to ease his waking, but he felt no need. A renewed vitality was flowing in his body and he wanted to go run and jump for he felt too… awake.
“What happened? he wondered, gasping at the sight of corpses everywhere, death, gruesome killings that must have occurred.
– Not for my vial, his master said, you would have to be interned in Alethor Asylum for what you witnessed was no mere triviality… You have been drowned into… pure and malevolent magic. It is important for you to know this, Borothar-lad.
– But, master, with all due respect, you have…”
He felt to scared to express his resentment. His master had exposed them and did nothing glorious. He might have killed all these men, Borothar had actually seen nothing. So far, his two defeated foes had been a chicken and a little girl… Norman Daegoln had started this day nicely but had sadly proven a disappointment. Even in training, Asral and the other bachelors had displayed more bravery.
Then, his master stood, ignoring him. In his hands, a feather and a scroll he must have brought in the leather bag on his back. For some reason, ink had been spattered on the ground and… on the largest fallen’s face.
There is no honour in combat…
Intelligent himself, Borothar closed his fist, angry.
As for his master, Daegoln-elda, he studied every body, taking notes. He counted up to eleven, the corpses on the ground. Then went until thirteen. Finally, he studied a sellsword with a bolt in the eye and a wound in the stomach and wrote extensively on his scroll. He achieved his notes by sketching the picture of Theodran’s burnt face, then rolled the scroll back, sealing it within his leather back he stripped on his brown cloak.
“Why have you recorded your… victories, Eldarnei?” Borothar asked.
Norman turned around, satisfied. Killing seemed to have made him happier and Borothar’s question had stimulated a professorial pride.
“Well, Borothar-lad, I have never taken Death lightly. Every fallen, as rotten were they in life, deserves respect. This is why I have taken records of my 397 victories, for even triumphs hide flaws. Never let the gold and the women distract you from your human condition. This is why I still analyse, to this day, all my battles, in order to reach a perfection that I won’t ever achieve. This is our penitence, as warriors, for hard skills only hail from hard times…”
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