|Mikkal, Book 2: Soldier's Fortune
Author: Snake Doctor PM
The Third War has begun. Prince Arthas has assassinated his father and the Scourge now control the capital city. With the government overtaken by the dead, the citizens have been left to fend for themselves. Starving and angry, two Hearthglen orphans turn to the only organized resistance left: The Scarlet Crusade.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Horror - Human & The Scourge - Chapters: 3 - Words: 4,756 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 09-23-12 - Published: 10-30-11 - id: 7507804
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The man clutched the bag close to his chest as he walked down the muddy Hearthglen street. It may have been to protect the contents of the bag from the rain, but more than likely he was worried about losing it. Food was scarce this spring. After the Scourge had nearly wiped out the town that fall, then returned in the winter to begin ransacking Lordaeron and start what people were now calling the Third War, resources became hard to come by. Those families that survived that winter were reduced to scrounging. It was not uncommon for a belly to go unfilled for days.
But this man was smiling. The town governor, Lord Fordring, was a man of wealth and power, and a goodly, Light-worshipping gentlemen. He began releasing his personal stocks to the townspeople, food rations meant to feed a family of three for the week. With the pre-war population, this would have been impossible to do. But now….
Well, now there were much less mouths to feed.
Living mouths, anyway. Wandering packs of zombies and platoons of Scourge ghouls prowled the country side, spreading Plague wherever they went. The flora and fauna were not more immune to the Plague's effects than humans and dwarves were. Travelers and refugees never lasted long, and their bodies only added to the problem. Every member of the living the undead took down bolstered their own forces. Those zombies were once people. Those ghouls were what happened when necromancers got a hold of them and exposed them to more potent, powerful Plague. The Scourge was taking over nearby farms, converting the farmers and tenants and replacing the crops with great cauldrons of smoking sludge that spread Plague across the entire area. That's where all the crops went. Dead in their own fields and surrounded by bloodthirsty unloving monsters.
Welcome to the scenic forested country of Lordaeron. Where the dead are about to outnumber the living and the only things worth eating are whatever you can safely cut the rot off of. But today, there would be no scraps for this man. Today…no, this week, he would eat. He could spread this food across several days. His belly would be filled.
Or so he thought.
I watched as he walked near my alley, oblivious to my presence. This guy was no spring chicken. He walked with a limp, an old wound from years past, and there was more grey than brown in his months-old beard. His left hand was twisted in what I recognized as arthritis. He was elderly, or close enough to it, and crippled. Hearing and vision was probably starting to go too. That I could not be sure of, but I was hoping the sound of the rain hitting the ground would mask my footsteps.
There. He passed the opening and continued on, completely overlooking me. I gripped my knife, did a three-count, then moved. I slipped behind the man and wrapped my left arm around his mouth. He let out a muffled yell of surprise and started to struggle, trying to get lose. But my grip was solid, and I had back up. My right hand, my knife hand, came around his waist and poked the blade against his left kidney. I jabbed him hard enough to hurt. He stopped moving after that.
"Drop the bag."
He moaned. I pricked him with the knife again. He squirmed as the blade pierced his skin. "Now!"
The old man released the bag. I half-dragged, half-walked him backwards away from it, then turned him towards the alley and let go. Before he could turn around I shoved him into the wall and held the knife out at him. The point was red. "Stay."
"HELP!" he shouted. "Thieves! Thie-!"
I ran forward and grabbed his head again. This time, though, I did not gag him. There was a loud thud as the back of his skull hit the wall behind him, and he dropped, stunned. I knelt in front of him and stuck the knife into his nose.
"Not another damn word," I said. "Not a one. You're making this harder than it has to be."
"You – "
I punched him. "Stay put, or I'll make you stay put."
I went to get the bag. But the old man didn't take the hint. "You must be so proud," he said. "Attacking and robbing an honest man." But I ignored him. As long as he did not start yelling for help again, I had no problems with him. I went to his bag and opened it, checking inside.
Jackpot. Three loaves of bread and a whole bushel of apples. Someone somewhere was looking out for me. I smiled slightly and I closed the bag back up. This was worth the effort. My family would be set for weeks. I shouldered the bag and walked past the man, who glared at me from his seat. I went to a nearby garbage can, opened it, and drew another bag of food.
Lord Fordring's hospitality had not gone unnoticed. I was perfectly aware of his charity and I was taking full advantage of it. But I saw the crowds lining up for the food. I saw the stocks myself, after some sneaking around. And Lord Fordring's stores were not going to last long. Not long at all. Trying to feed everyone in this town would be using a bucket brigade on a forest fire. It would help, it would stop the fire, but the fire would still burn at the end of the day. People were going to starve, and people were going to die. And I refused to let my family starve, for any reason.
"Please…" the man moaned. "I have a daughter. She's sick."
I shouldered both bags and walked past him. "Your problem. Not mine."
I made it to the end of the alley and looked both ways. No witnesses. Perfect. I blew rain-soaked hair out of my face and started walking.
I heard a scrape behind me. I turned around, saw movement, then felt pain. Something hit me in the side of the head and dropped me. I went down, hard, against the wall and slid down it. The bags dropped. I rolled over, wincing and holding my head, then felt another hit. When my senses finally cleared, the old man was straddling my waist and holding a rock. He raised it over his head with both hands and a roar.
My knife came up and went straight into his neck. His roar turned ended in a gurgled moan as he rolled off of me. I took his rock and slammed it into his head. Then I hit him again.
Finally I threw the rock away and retrieved the bags. The old man had hit me good. I was bleeding from a large cut on the side of my head. Most of the moisture on my head was my blood. I could see it dripping into the mud as the rain washed it off. But the rain wasn't doing much for my hand. I tied the bags together and draped them across my neck, then I went to get my knife. It took some effort to get out. When I finally pulled the knife out of him, his body rolled with it and his shattered face stared up at me.
Accused me. Judged me.
I couldn't take it.
"Dumbass!" I kicked him. "You had a daughter! All you had to do was go back tomorrow for more food. Now you're dead and so is she. Over bread!"
The old man didn't have much to say to that. And honestly, neither did I. If I were a better man, I'd bury him. If I were a better man, I'd find his daughter and give her the bag, and break the news to her. Hell, if I'd been a better man, I'd have offered a trade for the food.
But I am not a better man. And I have a family to feed too. My family would not starve, for any reason.