CHAPTER 4. THE REVENANT, PART II
Henrie pulled the bloody cloak from around the brigand’s neck. Standing, he wrapped it around his shoulders and returned to the fire. He searched the ground for the discarded sword. He recognized it as the one that belonged to Morgan. It was a single-handed blade of good quality.
Henrie tossed a several logs onto the embers of the fire. He picked up the spear and used it to stoke the fire until it was blazing bright. Satisfied, he stuck it into the ground and continued to add more logs until the flames were leaping as high as a man. Then he turned his back to the huts, lowered his head, and waited until sounds of movement once again came from behind him, the sword concealed in the folds of his borrowed cloak.
“What the bloody hell?” A cloth door was flung open. “Have you lost your bloody mind, Craig?” The footsteps on dead leaves grew louder. “Are you deaf?” The sounds were approaching more quickly. “I’m going to put my foot up your arse if you don’t—.”
Henrie spun around and silenced him with a rising, lateral cut up through his jaw. The strike was immediately fatal. The brigand could only sputter a final gasp as his momentum carried him forward; the knight deftly took a traversing step off-line, pivoted on the balls of his feet, and used his off-hand to shove his adversary into the fire.
Flames leapt high overhead. The knight turned his attention to the huts. There were multiple voices murmuring inside—Henrie guessed three or four. The makeshift curtains on each building flapped momentarily.
“Who’s out there?”
“It’s that bloody lord you shot. He’s returned from the dead.”
“Shut your bloody mouth. He’s dead and gone.”
“No, he’s out there. I saw him with my own eyes.”
“I’m telling you. You drank too much of his wine.”
“I swear it’s him. He looks just how we left him—face half-gone. Bloody disgusting!”
Henrie knew there was no chance that he could charge in and prevail against them, yet he also doubted he could that take them all at once if they rushed out both doors. Divide and conquer. He reached down and picked up the end of a burning log that he tossed atop the nearest hut. It took a while for the tightly-bound bundles of grass to ignite, but once it began to smolder, Henrie grabbed the spear and hurried into the woods beyond the huts.
“Marry!” he exclaimed with shock at the sight of several sets of eyes twinkling in the darkness. He had found the horses. They were tossing their heads in panic as the fire began to grow. Henrie wanted to cut them free, but raised voices behind him turned his attention back to the huts.
“Bugger me! He set the bloody roof on fire.”
“Where’d he go? I can’t see anyone.”
“I don’t know. He was right there a moment ago.”
“It’s now or never, boys. Let’s take him in a rush.” Four men filed out of the huts and gathered around the fire.
“Is that Allan? He threw him in the bloody fire!”
“Spread out,” the leader order. Slowly the brigands took a few collective paces into the darkness, their heads darting right and left in search of their assailant. Rabbie was in the middle and had his arms stretched out in front of him, a long sword in one hand and a steel buckler close by in the other. The other three men, each armed with a short sword, remained no more than a few feet away from one another.
“I said spread out.”
“But the fire's too bright,” the fat brigand whined. “We can’t see nothing.” Taking several more steps, Rabbie kept the blade and shield projected out in front of himself as if they were holy artifacts warding off evil. His companions refused to leave the circle of light.
My sword. Even from a distance, Henrie could see the golden pommel in the leader’s hand. The knight had hoped to lure them out into the woods where he would have tried to take them on individually; instead, they all just stood there. Henrie placed his back against a tree and swapped hands with his sword and spear. After a couple quick glances, he chose the easiest target. Using the burning hut for cover, he rushed forward and hurled the spear at the fat brigand whose pale blue cloak almost glowed in the light of the fire. The missile cut a low arc through the night sky, but Henrie had misjudged the distance. The spearpoint struck much lower than he had hoped, leaving only a deep gash in the brigand’s thigh. With a loud scream, the man collapsed to the ground.
“Augh! The bastard got me. It came from over there!”
The knight quickly withdrew and concealed himself in the shadow of another tree, careful to angle the sword behind him like a steel tail.
“Where is he?” the leader demanded.
“He’s out there somewhere,” the injured man screamed, waving a finger in a wide arc as he half-crawled back towards the fire. “I don’t know where, but he’s got to be close.”
Now. Henrie stepped out from the tree and began pacing forward, angling toward the far hut to obscure his approach. Suddenly, an arrow whistled through the air from out of the shadows ahead and thudded into a trunk a few feet behind the knight.
Run, the voice of reason urged him, but he knew the archer would eventually pick him off if he hesitated. Hate consumed him. He was determined to have satisfaction.
The brigand reached down and quickly plucked an arrow from the ground; he had at least half a dozen stuck into the earth in front of him. Seeing the knight charging forward, he fumbled with the arrow, trying to get it nocked in the dark.
Henrie wove between the trees, moving as fast as he could. The archer drew his bowstring back to his ear and immediately let it fly. Henrie instinctively ducked and lunged to the right, and the arrow barely missed his forehead.
Again, the brigand grabbed an arrow, frantically nocked it, and pulled it back to his ear. Henrie darted around a tree, trying to close the last fifteen or twenty yards. He did his best to blade his body as he saw the archer’s fingers open while still maintaining his forward momentum. The arrow slammed into his left shoulder like a mattock, causing him to veer to the side and stumble from the sudden excruciating pain. He tried his best to catch his balance, but nothing could stop him from falling. The arrow snapped as he flopped to the ground.
“I got you, you bastard!” the archer declared triumphantly from only a few feet away. “You guys come here. I got him. I got him.”
Knowing he only had a moment, Henrie forced himself to rise. Somehow, he had managed to hold onto his sword. The archer stared at the knight with mouth agape. As Henrie started forward, the brigand’s hand dropped to his waist intending to draw his own sword; his eyes flared when he realized that he had left it inside the hut. Henrie raised his sword high in the air for a powerful stroke, and the archer reacted by blocking with his bow stave. The knight’s overhead blow cut through wood and bone until it was lodged in the brigand’s skull. The man collapsed onto his knees and crumpled to one side. It took a bit of effort for the knight to wriggle his blade free.
Henrie leaned against a tree and looked down at his wound. The arrow had passed all the way through his upper breast, and its bodkin tip was protruding several inches out the back of his shoulder blade. The pain was excruciating but would not be immediately fatal. As footsteps approached, the knight curled his arm and braced it tight against his chest, readying himself for the next fight.
The brigand leader was the first to round the corner followed closely by two others. The one to the left was young and clutched his sword with awkward inexperience; the one to the right had a bandaged hand and was obviously wielding his weapon in his off-hand.
“By the Virgin,” the younger brigand whimpered as he made the sign of the cross. Even in the shadows, the knight could see that their faces were contorted by sheer terror. It gave him another surge of hatred. He stalked forward, eyes leveled on the leader.
“It’s not our fault,” Rabbie pleaded. “The innkeeper put us up to it.”
Henrie ignored his lies. He was only a dozen paces away now. The other two began slowly to back up.
“It wasn’t personal.”
Henrie swung the blade around in a wide arc, aiming for Rabbie’s temple. The brigand frantically blocked the cut with his shield, sending the knight’s blade skittering off to the side, and quickly followed up with a thrust of his sword. Henrie took a step back and reversed his cut in order to parry his opponent’s attack.
Henrie’s chest heaved as he struggled to catch his breath. His wounds made it harder to react, but the adrenaline coursing through his veins was enough to keep him in the fight. Sparks from the burning hut had ignited the roof of the other one, and it was becoming fully engulfed. The horses grew increasingly panicked, rearing against their halters until the rope snapped and they raced off into the forest.
“Glenn,” the leader said with a sneer, motioning to one side with his sword point, “move around to his left. Gregor, ease around to his right. He can’t take us all on.” The two men looked to one another and then their opponent.
Henrie seized on their reluctance to engage. He feigned an overhead blow to Rabbie’s left causing him to raise his buckler for protection. At the last moment, the knight changed the angle and the blade slipped underneath the edge of the shield, cutting deep into the brigand’s forearm. He recoiled in sudden pain, dropping the buckler to the ground and taking several steps back until he was as close to the burning hut as he dare get.
“Mercy,” cried Gregor.
“Whut mercy d’jew shew mah sun?” Henrie turned to face him, letting the tip of his sword drop and trail behind him as he slowly advanced, chest heaving with every step.
“Mercy,” he again pleaded, glancing behind him as if considering where to run. The brigand’s eyes narrowed as he saw his opening; he lunged forward and cut at the knight with a high overhead blow, confident he could strike before the knight could block it.
Henrie almost smiled. He immediately stepped forward and cut straight up, taking his opponent’s blade on his and deflecting the strike harmlessly off to one side; in almost the same motion, he let the momentum carry his sword in a tight circle to slice into the side of Gregor’s neck. With a diagonal step offline, he drew the blade across the brigand’s throat and continued past him. Pivoting on the balls of his feet, the knight spun around to watch Gregor collapse to the ground clutching his throat as his life blood poured out.
Henrie reveled at the shocked expressions on the two remaining opponents. He once again locked eyes with Rabbie and strode directly towards him. The knight halted just out of range.
“Mah sword.” He motioned to the blade in the brigand’s hand.
Rabbie stared at him blankly for several moments, unsure what to do. “You’ll spare me if I give you back your sword?”.
Rabbie’s eyes darted between Henrie, Glenn, and the direction the horses had gone, contemplating his chances. Finally, with a nod, he turned the blade over and presented the hilt to the knight. Henrie stuck the tip of his current blade into the ground and quickly grasped the hilt of his own sword. He rotated it in his hand admiring its shiny gold pommel. It felt so natural in his hand.
“Now you’ll let us go?” Rabbie was still clutching the end of the sword as if waiting to finalize the bargain. Henrie stared into the brigand’s eyes a moment before the shoved the hilt forward; the blade passed all the way through. Rabbie coughed and sputtered as he looked down and watched his bright blood stain the polished steel.
Henrie lifted the hilt, causing the brigand to rise up onto his toes, then shoved forward, using his shoulder to force Rabbie back against the burning wall of the hut before jerking the blade free. The brigand roared with pain as his clothes immediately ignited; he lumbered forward at least a dozen steps before collapsing into a fiery heap.
Only the young brigand remained.
“Please, sire,” Glenn dropped his sword and prayed to the knight with folded hands. “Have mercy. I may not deserve it, but please have mercy on me.”
“Pick’t up.” Henrie motioned to the sword at Glenn’s feet.
“Please, sire, I’m only fifteen.”
“So’uz mah sonne.” The knight raised his sword to strike the brigand down, but the lad only shielded himself with his arms. Henrie halted the blow a few inches from Glenn’s head and held it there until the lad finally lowered his arms.
Stephain. The knight imagined his own son standing there before him, same eyes brimming with tears of guilt. Glenn gingerly backed away several measure steps before turning and sprinting towards the road.
“Come on, Dom,” the boy shouted a moment later from somewhere beyond the bonfire.
No. Henrie hurried around the burning huts and past the fire ring. It did not take long to find them. Dom was using the spear like a crutch as he hobbled his way out of the woods, and Glenn was urging him on.
“Oh no,” the boy muttered when he saw the knight step out into the moon light. He looked at his companion for a brief moment before turning and running for the road.
“Bugger me,” the fat brigand squeaked as he limped around in a circle to face Henrie. He lifted his sword and pointed it feebly at the knight; he was ghostly pale from blood loss. As the knight strode forward, Dom lowered his sword and began pleading to a litany of saints for deliverance.
Henrie hesitated. Perhaps he was finally succumbing to his own wounds. Or, perhaps the mercy he showed Glenn had quenched the hatred that burned in his breast. He lowered his blade and prepared to let the sniveling brigand go.
Then he recognized the sword in his hand. It belonged to Stephain. Without another word, Henrie took off the man’s head in a single blow. Tears once again streamed down his cheeks; the pain was refreshing. He looked up at the sky. The moon had retreated, and the faintest orange glow could be seen in the east. Henrie wavered there for some time. He felt so weak and tired.
In the distance, Henrie could see a small cluster of torches and lanterns where he imagined the road should be. Unsure of what else to do, Henrie stumbled down the hill, falling several times, but he somehow willed himself to get up each time and keep going. His face felt as though someone were twisting a dagger into his brain. His shoulder throbbed with every step. The front of his shirt was soaked in blood. He kept his arm curled tightly across his chest in an effort to stabilize it as best he could.
The crowd drew near. The farmers, up at first light to head to the fields, must have seen the fires on the hill. Several were still carrying their implements. Henrie hoped they would be able to tend to his wounds.
“He’s after the boy!” one shouted.
“No,” the knight groaned as he staggered forward
“It’s a monster!” another exclaimed, pointing at Henrie with a horrified look on his face.
“Ahm not uhmanster,” the knight protested weakly.
“Send him back to his grave.” The lead farmer rushed forward and thrust his pitchfork into Henrie’s abdomen before jumping back. The knight immediately doubled over; he reached out a hand to plead for mercy, but another man ran up and hacked him down with a pruning bill. Henrie fell back into the tall grass unable to move. The indigo sky began to slowly darken as the townsmen circled around and stared down at him.
“Should we summon the coroner?”
“No. He’s a revenant. I’ve heard all the stories. We have to cut out his heart and burn his body. They say it’s the only way to keep him from ever rising again.”
About the Creator
I'm a weekend novelist & backyard daredevil. A lifelong medieval history buff, I enjoy the knightly pursuits of jousting, hunting & sword fighting.