His breath was heavy as Karl stumbled down a hill, with branches whipping his face through the thicket. Hoarse voices echoed his surroundings and men rushed down beside him. Karl grit his teeth as blood trickled from a gash on his forehead into his eye, turning the world red around him. But he carried on, even as men without breath fell along the way. At the base of the hill, the reached the banks of a river and Karl fell on his knees in the soft sand and wheezed. For a moment, there was nothing but him and the roaring river. But the serenity faded as battered men stormed out of the woods and feel to their knees in the sand.
Karl rubbed the blood off his face with his sleeve and the gash stung painfully. Other pains (wounds he’d not noticed) surged as his body rested and exhaustion crept over him. Karl looked at the men around him, recognising nobody.
None of his friends had survived…
Embers float near their faces and Karl jerked his head around and stared at the raging fire that burned their homes up on the hill. A tear tricked and he shivered; the man next to him cursed into the air, another stared blankly at nothing – their grief expressed in a multitude of ways.
Then, somebody shouted.
“For the Turda!”
Then there was a gurgle and blood coursing over the man’s chest that puddled the sand. The men looked at each other with hard expressions. No words were uttered, and they drew their knives, placing the egg of the blade at their throats.
Death on our own terms, Karl thought, and did the same with a trembling hand. He fumbled with it, and as the roars of the fire and the coursing of the river drowned every other noise, men on horses burst out of the thicket, trampling a man next to him. One of the men, furthest from the woods, stood and roared, bolting towards one of the riders. With an inch to spare, he dodged the blade that came for his head and he dragged the rider off his horse. They both fell on the sand, and he pierced the gap in the armour of their enemy, mercilessly stabbing until he was decapitated by another rider. All this, Karl saw as he huddled near the woods, unseen.
One after the other, his comrades fell while they downed more than a few of the riders in the process. But Karl could not move, seeing the madness of death anew, he wanted to live. He looked to the river, and without hesitation, he threw himself into the water. He sank quickly and he reached desperately around himself to remove his chest armour, but it was no use. Death drew nearer and he stared up at the surface. Bodies sank around him with the fire in the background, turning the night into orange. Blood trailed as his comrades sank to the bottom – their eyes wide and fiery.
He would not be able to face them in the underworld.
© Christopher Stamfors
Featured image by ChrisCold