Mark Newton: Nights of Villjamur

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Mark Newton Nights of Villjamur
  • Название:
    Nights of Villjamur
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    Фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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One of Brynd's soldiers, meanwhile, had his head smashed in with a mace. Another received an arrow through his eye. In his peripheral vision, Brynd could see the gheels had arrived to maul the dead, flensing, then hauling out innards, trails of intestines vividly colourful against the grey stones.

Everyone suddenly looked up and the scene became inactive.

A flaming orb ripped through the sky from deep within the forest.

Crashed into the remaining ship.

Throwing up great hunks of wood.

'Fuck!' Brynd yelled. 'Get away from here!'

The Night Guard retreated quickly up the shore.

'Head up into the forest!'

The fire spread rapidly, then another orb landed in the water. Brynd counted the time until the flames reached the cargo.

A white flash, and he pulled his cloak up to shelter his eyes, falling to the ground as the third ship exploded.

Noise saturated the air. Debris clattered on the stones around him, raked across the water, rattled the trees.

Men screamed as they were hit by burning shrapnel.

'Commander!'

Brynd stood and pulled back his cloak as he looked up to see who called his name. He shambled up the bank, glancing around wildly, whilst his men fought on.

'Commander,' the voice beckoned, nearer now – from the darkness of the trees.

Fyir was lying on the ground, and as Brynd approached he noted he was clutching what was left of his leg. The stump had bloodied rags tied crudely around the end.

'Sir…' Fyir pleaded again, before screaming, tears covering his blackened face.

Brynd squatted beside him. 'Lie still.'

He peeled back the rags: Fyir's lower leg must have been destroyed in the explosion. The blond man's ear was also missing, a fragment of skull glistening in its place. 'Don't think about this,' Brynd said. 'Think of something. Anything… Do you know who's attacking us?' He then slid a strip of bark between Fyir's teeth.

Fyir shook his head, wincing as Brynd tied some of his own torn-up cloak around the wound, and he screamed again, spat out the bark, moaning, 'Ambushed…'

'Sabotaged,' Brynd muttered. 'No one was supposed to know we were here. There, that should hold it. You'll live, so that'll at least stop the gheels getting you. How badly does your head hurt?'

Fyir closed his eyes, squeezed out more tears, whispered, 'Cultists?'

Brynd shook his head. 'I doubt it was cultists. Since when do they use something as simple as arrows and axes? Have you seen anyone else?'

'What about… orbs?'

'Yes? What indeed?' Brynd reached into his top pocket, pulled out a small silver box. Inside it there were several coloured powders in tiny compartments. He pinched a bit of the blue, and placed it under Fyir's nose. Within seconds the man's eyes rolled back and he passed out. Brynd stood up, placing the box back in his pocket. He was vaguely surprised at the severity of these wounds. The Night Guard were artificially enhanced, albeit slightly, and they were meant to recover quickly, suffer wounds hardly at all.

As he moved away, he gathered up a sword lying on the ground, a sharp Jamur sabre. Pieces of butchered flesh littered the shore like after a cull of seals, and the skies around the fjord were black with smoke.

Another arrow skimmed past, and Brynd dived to grab a ragged piece of ship's timber on the rocks nearby. Using it as a shield, he advanced towards the archers firing from the darkness of the trees. Shafts drove into the wood or clipped the stones around his feet, as he ran into the relative safety of the forest. Casting the timber aside, he headed further along the shore to hunt down the archers and whatever it was that had launched the fire upon his ships.

On reflection, it might be foolish to attempt to eliminate personally an enemy that had obviously planned this attack in such detail.

But who? Why? All he was doing here was handling the collection of fuel. The Emperor had insisted on sending men he could trust, men for whom his paranoia was at a minimum. The Night Guard.

One of the enemy could be seen crouching at the forest's edge, peering out across the fjord. Like a hunter, Brynd stalked wide so as to keep outside of his target's range of vision, drew the dagger from inside his boot. The crackle of the burning ships was enough to enable some stealth in his approach, and when Brynd was just twenty yards from his target, he flung the blade through the air.

It lodged in the archer's face and he fell silently to the ground. A second tribesman ran to his side. Brynd was on him, immediately scraping his sabre across the man's throat.

This tribe wasn't from Jokull, or any other of the Empire's islands. The clothing wasn't local for a start, and there was no adornment save the bone charm hung around the remains of the man's neck. Brynd withdrew his dagger from the first victim, cleaned it off, placed it back in his boot.

Gheels crouched in the half-light, awaiting their moment. He decided to go back and wait near Fyir, killing only those who approached him. Revenge could wait until later.

*

Night-time, and in these moments Brynd's mind became ultra-rational. Things became lists, strategies, probabilities. He knelt next to Fyir, a man in a resting state, now calm and peaceful. Whilst he'd been away, blood beetles had begun feasting on Fyir's damaged leg, shredding the cloth Brynd had used to staunch the bleeding, and reducing his truncated leg by at least a hand span. In the process, the fist-sized insects had secreted a resin that stopped the bleeding and induced healing, so maybe they weren't completely a bad thing. Brynd had to scrape the creatures off with a sabre, then split them down the centre of their shells to kill them.

The skies cleared, and the world became unbearably cold. He couldn't yet light a fire because it would inevitably draw attention. Three horses were hidden deeper within the forest so they wouldn't be stolen. What strategy now? If only he'd brought Nelum along, a man who could generate plots in his head with simplicity, but Nelum was back in Villjamur, because Brynd hadn't thought he'd need him.

There had been several more explosions, sparks that shattered the darkness as barrels of firegrain were touched by the spreading flames, but Brynd was confident that the night ahead would be calm. Thirteen of the Night Guard were dead. That left five more unaccounted for, so he assumed them dead too.

Shadows had moved in front of flames for a while, a few hours back.

A featureless ship had rowed away.

Eerie stillness now lingered.

He could barely remember a time when the Night Guard were made to look so easy to defeat. The Empire's forces usually dominated battles, clearing rebel islands with brutal efficiency. All those years of early confidence since he'd begun his service for the current Emperor in the Regiment of Foot, then transferred to the Dragoons, and finally to the Night Guard. For his loyalty and renowned fighting skills, he had climbed to the rank of commander. Was he really so loyal? Or, because of the colour of his skin, did he feel he always had something to prove?

He needed to show he was normal, steadfastly loyal to the Empire. That made his life easier. Being one of only a few albinos known in the Jamur Empire, he was used to being considered as a permanent outsider. True, people found him curious more than anything else. Their gaze usually settled on his red-tinted eyes, hesitating there a moment because of either fear or amazement, he'd never know – because people liked to stare, didn't they? As a result of his abnormality, he had worked on improving his fitness and knowledge with remarkable dedication.

He stared out from the cover of the trees at the fires that still burned where the firegrain had spread amongst the debris. Most of the grain would be underwater, soaked and useless. Some of it had caught on the wreckage floating along the fjord, and small fires lit its passage to the sea as if there was a festival for the water god, Sul. He wondered vaguely if priests from the Aes would come down to the shore to look for shells as a result of these fires to supply their divinations.

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