Monday, November 19, 2012

Story of William, part four

William woke with a start, his eyes snapping open and his hand reaching for a sword. All around him, he saw darkness, heard unfamiliar groans and... With a sigh, he sat up on his cot. The creaks and groans of a ship at sea were not new to him, but he hadn't slept well since the bomb. In truth, it wasn't the bomb that bothered him. Being relieved of command, that was what tormented him. He would never rise to general, not now. In his heart, he knew that he had done what had been needed, but now, he'd never follow in his father's...

“No,” he told himself. “Don't dwell on that.” He took a deep breath and walked to the porthole, sliding the cover to let some light in. Brilliant sunlight cut the darkness, revealing a cabin of deep red wood, warm and inviting in the soft glow of the morning. He turned to the chest under his bunk and drew out a fresh set of clothes and set about preparing for the day. After he had dressed, he pulled the studded leather armor hanging from a hook on the wall, then belted on his short sword and dagger.

He smiled, thinking back to the first voyage he took, heading to retake the city of Compa from the monstrous fishmen. A salty old sailor had looked at him and shook his head. 'Son, I'm sure you're tougher than steel on dry land, but here, that armor sinks and that long blade catches the lines. You'll make a right pretty corpse.” While he felt strange without his familiar, heavy plate, he pushed the concern aside and headed to the deck.

Some things he expected to see. They had left shore yesterday, heading back towards Andol. There were Jenar sailors, as confident on these decks as if they'd been born there. Some stories said they had; Jenar always claimed to be happier at sea than on land. But where you'd see them bare-chested and empty-handed in years past, now they walked with leather breastplates strapped on, and short swords or daggers thrust through sashes. Spears hung in racks along the rails, ready to repel borders. Some of the larger men even carried heavy-bitted axes that looked stained from hard use.

Things he didn't expect to see were some of the men with him doing as poorly as they were. Anton sat with his back to the mainmast, his face green and his eyes fixed firmly on the deck. William walked to the youth and knelt down. “Anton,” he said quietly, “how are you?”

“Fine, sir,” he replied. His eyes remained firmly on the deck, which was an oddity. He had regarded William as something of a hero since the rescue a few months back, but now he wouldn't even look up.

“Are you now? Why don't you look me in the eye?”

“I can't, sir,” Anton said glumly. “If I look up and see the horizon pitching around again, I'll get sick. One of the sailors told me if I got sick on the deck, I'd have to hang from the prow and clean the figurehead.”

Did he now, William thought to himself. “Then you stay here. If you need to go to the cabins, go to mine. Understood?”

The youth's jerky nod was his only answer. William left him to his misery and turned on his heel. He'd had a similar experience his first journey by ship as well. The pitching to and fro had settled out in fairly short order, but it wasn't how he was most confident.

Standing at the rail, Adovan looked out over the choppy waters. His blue eyes were hard and cold, and he still wore his long blade on his hip. But, he had listened as well and had layer of studded leather instead of his breastplate as well.

“Adovan,” William stated as he walked up. “How are you this morning.”

“Well enough, sir. Feeling nervous. I heard about the fishmen.”

William leaned on the rail and looked out at the waters. “Yes,” he said quietly. “I fought them on a few occasions. Compa, Glaris, and a few times in between when they tried to harry the fleet. I learned to get my sea legs pretty quickly.” He felt a wave of nausea roll over him as one of the beach assaults tried to pull itself from the corner of his mind he kept it in. “Very different. They don't speak our language and they smell horrendous. It's a... disconcerting mixture to a battle.”

Adovan's eyes twitched to him, then back to sea. “I see. Sir.”

William sighed. He couldn't read Adovan. The man was as cold and steely as when William had pulled him off the torture rack in that goblin camp. “Ever since Glaris, though, I haven't heard any stories of them attacking ships. I can't help but think that holding cities on land must have stretched them, and with those losses, they're not strong enough to resume raiding.”

Adovan's posture didn't change, but a slow, deep breath signaled a little tension fading from the air. “Aye sir, you'd have heard more than I.”

William pushed away from the rail. A few days out from Andol, on the sea under which the vicious fishmen dwelt, and he was focused on what would happen in Andol. He was relieved of command. He was no longer a soldier in Andol's Great Horde. He wasn't what he always wanted to be. How would they be received on return?

His head swimming, he didn't even noticed the thudding steps as Detrius marched up to him. “Hey 'dere boss!” he said in his typical rumble. “How you like 'dis weather?”

William looked up at the looming Detrius. The big troll had a jolly smile on his face, trying to be cheerful despite the gray mood following everyone around. William sighed and began to answer.

William turned aside a thrust from a shoddy goblin spear and slashed at the horrid little creature's throat. It collapsed, unable to scream, as he stepped over it and thrust into the back of another and upward, into it's ribcage. He withdrew the blade with a grunt and a kick to the creature's back and stopped a brief moment to assess his position. The battle raged in earnest around him. Detrius stayed right at William's side, his own shield not so much turning aside strikes from poorly made goblin weapons, but smashing them with incredible force, almost as impressively as the blows from his mace. Bannerman Torval had strapped the flag of the unit, a fight clutching a blade of lightning, to his back and had set about, his two axes catching blows and cleaving at arms in the way he favored in turn.

William stumbled, tasting something bitter in his mouth. “No, not again,” he whispered.

That's when he saw it. One small goblin squirmed it's way through the legs of others and bolted forward, its eyes glued on the general and clutching a wooden box to its chest. As it ran past others, they started to chant in their screeching voices.

"Bomb! Bomb! Bomb! Kill the general!"

William felt his blood run cold and forced his way forward. He felt like his legs were churning through deep mud and time was running more slowly. Next to him, he saw Detrius lift his hand and throw a minor magical spell from his hand. It landed and the box clattered to the ground, bouncing forward towards Korgan. The goblin had stopped, confused and died to the crushing blow of a blacksmith's hammer. William's eyes flicked from the box to the general, whose eyes widened.

There was one choice.

William dove, dropping his sword and shield and throwing himself onto the bomb. He pressed the box to his breastplate and curled in to try and cover as much as possible.

"Boss!" Detrius' voice bellowed out.

Boss!” Detrius' voice bellowed again. William felt something warm on his chin, but felt too weak to lift his hand to it. Detrius was blocking the sun for a reason he didn't quite grasp, and Anton and Adovan were looking at him. Adovan's long hair was hanging towards William's face. He realized he was lying on the deck.

Get him to the cabin!” Detrius shouted. “You 'dere, make way! Get outta 'da way!” He hefted William's form, supporting under one arm while Adovan supported him under the other. Anton ripped a strip off his shirt and started wiping at William's face, the white cloth coming away stained with crimson. William tried to stand on his feet, to push them away, but he felt weak as water. His head lolled and his eyes shut.

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