AN: Sorry for the wait, but life, y'know? I was struck by writer's block halfway through this and had to leave it for a while, but I came back to it, just as I said I would. Sorry for any spelling mistakes.
Of all the horrors of war, the smell was by far the worst.
There was nothing on the planet that rivaled the unique scent of human flesh burning. It was as unique as blood was to the nose. Oddly, there was a heaviness to the smell; like it wanted to linger so as to better torment those who set the flame alight. Burning flesh was a smell Hadrian would never forget and one he doubted would ever leave his clothes. It was just one of those things that you knew would haunt your nightmares for the rest of your days.
In the darkness of their camp's edge, the two fires were the brightest lights. Bright orange flames rose above the tents, easily five or seven meters high. Somehow, one of the knights in the pyre was still alive. Or, rather, he was still twitching and struggling, but that could have been nerves or muscle spasms. The other one had died rather quickly, the act of breathing in the heated air of the fires after letting loose a terrible shriek had collapsed the lungs.
Hadrian stood in front of the fires, dressed in his blood stained armor and black cloak with the Discerner sheathed at his hip. He had only slept a few hours, just long enough for Lagan to prepare the executions and flay the three soldiers. A good bit of her time had been spent braiding the blood soaked skins into rope. From what he'd heard, she had complained a good bit about not having the time to tan the flesh properly for better bindings.
Apparently, bloody skin was very slippery and hard to grasp.
He was the only one remaining stoic in the camp. All around him, music was playing and the people were dancing jubilantly. There was drinking and feasting, one or two of the soldiers were even having sex in the center of camp. At another time, he would have reprimanded them for the break in discipline, but tonight he didn't care. If no one else cared, he could not bring himself to do so. Not now.
Beside him stood Lagan, still wearing the vicious grin on her face that had been there ever since he gave her the order. Her gray eyes held the gleam of obsession and madness, looking the most lively he had seen from her yet. She had needed this. They all had, to one degree or another, but for her it was more. A goal reached, the down payment for a pact of vengeance or just the sheer need to see cruelty revisited on her tormentors. He did not know for sure.
"Satisfied, Lagan of Temergood?" Hadrian asked mildly, ignoring the raucous partying happening around him like the calm eye of a hurricane. His dark cloak enveloped most of his body, allowing only around six inches of his breastplate to be seen.
"Not yet, milord." Lagan confessed in a croaky whisper, hungrily drinking in the sight as if burning it into her memory for all time. There was a sad desperation to her. "Not yet."
"Good." Hadrian solemnly said, knowing that there would many more pyres in the future and more torturous humiliations to be heaped on Bayar's men. "Tomorrow, we rest. Let the men nurse their hangovers. On the morning after that, I want you to send your fastest runner west."
"You mean to meet with the Highland Chieftains." She realized, glancing at him. He nodded in answer. "The clans and tribes of the painted people are many and scattered. They do not take well to outsiders. We should wait and call on them later when we've increased our notoriety, milord."
"We'll need their help, if we are to endure Bayar's response." Harry explained, green eyes not leaving the flames as the skins crackled and the fire hissed from the grease dripping down into the hot coals. "The runner will carry some gold and sealed letters. In return for their services, they will be paid in blood and gold. If I am victorious, they will have an ironclad peace treaty with me."
"Again, you think like a Roman." Lagan rebuked, shaking her head. "Send steel instead of gold. Some of those swords we've recovered will do. Once they have steel, the promise of blood and sanctuary will be enough. Gold can come later through spoils and victory."
"I will take your advice into consideration." Hadrian responded archly, making her give a short mocking giggle at the way he spoke. His face hardened and he grabbed her shoulder, yanking her around to look into his cold green eyes as he hissed, "But if you ever call me a Roman again, I will have you stripped and flogged in the center of the camp for all to see. Am I clear?"
"Perfectly, milord." Lagan said more respectfully, giving him a short bow. She looked nervous, that was good. The girl had been becoming too familiar. "I have a friend in Clan Dun'ka. I will send the runner there first. They, at least, will hear him out and spread the word."
"That will do." Harry nodded, then he turned around. His green eyes stared out at the debauchery, lingering a few exposed parts appreciatively. "Make sure all those who killed today are blooded. Tomorrow morning, take the blooded to the lime spring just south of here and sap them."
"You do remember." Lagan' voice sounded stunned, but there was an odd note there, something between approving and sovereign pride. "Will you be joining us?"
"I'm afraid that I would look horrible as a blonde, Lagan." He responded with amusement, smiling briefly at the thought of what Morgana's reaction would be if he did that. She would either love it or stab him in his sleep. His intended did not do things by halves.
He left Lagan then, walking around the camp. The men needed to see him among them, so he talked with a few of them; listening to their embellished stories about the battle, how good vengeance felt to them, their apologies for doubting him. More than once, he had to turn down a drunken offer from several of the women and a few from the men as well.
In the future, he would likely have to partake in a few rituals that would require him to have sex with someone other than Morgana, but until it was necessary and that point was accepted by his intended, then he dared not do more than look. It would not be wise to upset Morgana by sleeping around. She didn't strike him as the forgiving sort. Understanding, yes, but forgiving?
No, no, and...no.
"I tell you my friend, there is no greater pleasure in this world than to have a woman of your own who enjoys the female form as much as you do!" Alvarr crowed jubiliantly to Harry as they rode through the woods. He had been bragging for the last two days. "Three! Three in a single night and oh what a night it was! There's something about battle, I think, that calls out to the beast in all of us because Enmyria was bloody amazing."
"Alvarr, I understand being proud of your lover and your sexual exploits. I really do, but if you keep talking about that damned orgy of yours then you will be walking the entire way to Temergood." Harry growled out with annoyance, a migraine pounding in his head from listening to the 'former' thief speak for three hours.
"Alright, then. If you don't want to talk about the love of my life, then let us talk about the love of your life." Alvarr smirked insufferably, leaning forward eagerly. "I've heard many stories about the Lady Morgana, but none from your lips, old friend."
"Morgana is...complex." Harry said slowly, trying to find a way to describe her yet no words could possibly do her justice. "She isn't like most noble women. Morgana is, well, she's very smart and impossibly passionate. Everything she does, she puts all of her into it. She has a better head for politics than myself."
"Bugger that, tell me what she looks like?" Alvarr grinned. The urge to punch the blond's whiskered face was extremely tempting at that moment, but the young Warlord valiantly restrained himself from doing so.
"She's perfect." He smiled slightly in remembrance, drawing up her image in his mind. "Skin pale as snow, the softest lips you could imagine. It's like kissing a flower's petals. Her hair is the most lustrous black, thick and silky to the touch. The only thing my Morgana doesn't have is patience. She is fierce, clever, I could go on."
"Do so, by all means." Alvarr said teasingly, waggling his eyebrows. That got a short laugh out of Harry. "Come now, you said she was fierce. How so?"
"Well, she kicked my arse in spars. She's better than I am with the sword. Morgana has one of hell of a temper and she isn't opposed to getting her hands dirty." Harry chuckled. "Sharp as a blade and just as unforgiving."
"A little more detail, please?" Alvarr urged, a bit of a lecherous glint in his eye. Harry gave him a sharp glare. "Come on, your description is so generic it's sad. You've courted her for months, surely you must have done something fun?"
"Morgana is to be my wife, Alvarr. She is worthy of the utmost respect." He answered stiffly, looking around warily as if expecting to see his intended spying on him from behind a tree then leaned close to Alvarr and told him, "She has the most unbelievable pair of eyes, they'll burn right through you and steal your soul if you aren't careful. There's never been a pair of breasts or legs that stirs me like those eyes."
"Eyes? My friend, you've gone too long without a woman if your favorite feature is her eyes." Alvarr jeered, laughing quietly. "Now Enmyria, there's a woman. I want to die looking at that arse of her's. I want it to be my last sight in this world."
"So vulgar, old friend." Harry reprimanded with good humor, giving Alvarr a playful shove. "I don't want to die not knowing Morgana. I want all of her, head to toe. There's not a single thing about her that doesn't make me want her. Sometimes, I still can't believe she's real."
"Aye, I know what that's like, mate." Alvarr nodded, looking back at Enmyria and giving her a large smile. She returned it, riding a few lines back in the ranks. "Speaking of my lady love, why did you turn her offer down? You would have enjoyed it."
"You knew about that?!" Harry half-shouted, startled. He looked around, then contiued quieter, "I mean, I didn't want to say anything about it, but you knew she invited me to bed?"
"To our bed, yeah." Alvarr said with some confusion, looking at Harry as if was an idiot. "We don't invite anyone into our bed unless both of us approve. What? You don't like a bit of variety, Hadrian?"
"I...just wasn't expecting that is all." Harry managed, feeling at once relieved that he didn't have to keep Enmyria's offer a secret and embarrassed at the same time. "I never expected you to be the sort that would share your bed with another man."
"I am not. There were three women there that night. I would have kept to my side, you to your's." Alvarr shrugged, seemed simple as pie to him. "Enmyria likes women mostly, but you caught her eye down by the river so she asked me if I minded and I told her that I didn't. Are you saying your Lady Morgana won't be inviting anyone to your marriage bed?"
"Ah, no. Morgana isn't the sharing type." Hadrian shook his head quickly. "She's more the type to be possessive and exceedingly violent towards even the slightest bit of infidelity. If she wants a woman in our bed, it'll likely be for her pleasure alone or just to tease me. I would kill any man if I found him in my bed."
"Your marriage is going to be a very, very long and boring one." Alvarr opinioned, shaking his head in disbelief.
"No. Not boring." Harry quirked a smile. "No, Morgana is many things, but the one thing she is most definitely not...is boring."
"If you two are finished gossiping like old women, we have a pressing concern." Enmyria snarked, riding up to join her leader and her lover. She nodded forward, "Four miles up the road, there's a good spot for an ambush. It's a small, narrow canyon with walls between six to fourteen feet."
"I remember that place." Alvarr recalled, a fond smile on his face. "Made a bit coin the last time we were in the area. 'Course, the bounty we picked up was more. Come to think of it, it doesn't really make sense to put a bounty on a man for twice what he stole."
"Is there a creek or is it just a narrow pass?" Hadrian frowned, ignoring Alvarr for the moment as he raised a closed fist to halt the procession. There was a general clatter behind him as the small army came to stop.
"Mostly a narrow pass, but half of it has a stream flowing through it. It isn't deep, about shin high for a good bit, but there's places knee deep." Enmyria described promptly. "It's fed by a spring, so it should be good for wetting our beaks."
"Maybe." Harry said non-committedly, thinking over the situation. They had been traveling on back roads and forgotten deer trails for three weeks now, stealthily sneaking their way through the mountains to strike at Pine Peak.
Pine Peak wasn't anything special: an old trading post that turned into a decent sized town that dealt in furs and raw iron ore. It's location, however, was special. Surrounded by thick forests, guarded by the mountains from the southwest to the east with the sea a few days ride to the north. If he could take Pine Peak, it would be a simple matter to capture a small corner of Wales for himself.
Holding it was a different matter entirely. Defensively, it was decent, but the mountains were not harsh, a motivated army of good size could cross them relatively unnoticed assuming they didn't march in the thousands. Harry was banking on recruiting from the locals, then expanding his influence to the small islands northward into the sea.
If he set up the proper watchtowers, the entire region could be on alert within hours. The mountains offered excellent viewpoints, well enough that no army measuring more than fifty could slip passed without being seen so long as he had those watchtowers erected.
From there, he planned to commission a small navy that could slip through the waters quietly at night and allow his people to sneak behind enemy lines. Bayar would believe that Harry would want to consolidate his power and stay in his niche, therefore sending a large force to reclaim it. Bayar was expecting an arrogant boy, flush with victory who would be unwilling to let go of what he claimed.
Instead, Harry planned to take every bit he could then spearhead back south with a much larger force to sack villages and cut off the enemy's supplies; slicing his way through Wales' middle. From there, he would choose an ideal location to meet Bayar's men in battle. Where that battle would be depended completely on Bayar and his commanders. With victory, there would be no army within a month's ride to trouble Harry thus allowing him to fortify, resupply, and train the new recruits he would pick up.
That was assuming Harry was smarter than Bayar's men, however...
"How long would it take for us to go around?" Harry asked sharply, looking over to his two main officers. He didn't like this. His instincts told him to be wary. It felt like he going into the Department of Mysteries again.
"Weeks." Alvarr answered shortly, frowning at Harry. "Why?"
"Because, I think Bayar is following your playbook." Harry stated grimly, looking over his shoulder at Lagan and gesturing for her to come up. She did so, her newly bleached white blond hair spiked with tree sap. "Lagan, take our two quietest people and scout out the stream ahead. We'll take a rest here. Assume enemy eyes are watching. Tell the men to set up the tents."
"Aye, milord." Lagan nodded seriously. "Are we to make camp?"
"No, but we're to look like it." Hadrian explained, dismounting from Hermes. "Be back before sundown. I do believe we have a trap to spring."
"And if you are wrong?" Alvarr questioned, also dismounting and gallantly helping his lover down from her brown mare. Of course, he took the opportunity to grope the backside he loved so much.
"Then we're out of a day's ride and our route is assured. Bayar's men are battle hardened, his officers are clever; more clever than we are." Explained the young Lord, "We have to assume they will be waiting at every vulnerable place. Better to overestimate one's enemy than to underestimate them."
It took a few hours to set up camp properly and that gave Hadrian time to plan. Assuming that there are eyes upon them, they are likely conscripted locals and hunters. It was unlikely he could take them out without the other spies noticing and there was no way to move his men without being seen, either.
If this was a trap by Bayar, then it was the perfect set up; no way to march his army around the pass, no way to move unseen, and if he was correct then the way back would be blocked by either stones or fallen trees. The only thing to do would be to move forward into the trap and that was suicide. If he tried to avoid the pass, it would take add weeks to their march and when they arrived at Pine Peak they would be fortified.
Finally, Lagan appeared out of the nearby bushes; fiddling with her pants as if she had done off to tend to bodily necessities. That deception let Hadrian know that, yes, there were spies about and a trap had been set. She did not come directly to Hadrian, but paused to speak and laugh with some of the army, slowly circling around the camp. As soon as he saw her actions, Hadrian went into his tent.
Alvarr and Enmyria were already there, drinking some of the mead he had set out for guests or when he really needed a drink. They were stoic, quiet, and watched him as he paced restlessly while wracking his brain for some strategy that would see them through, but until Lagan reported to him with the enemy set up, he could not choose a tactic in answer.
"Milord." Lagan greeted as she entered the tent, promptly walking over to the table where Alvarr and Enmyria sat. She grabbed the wineskin, pulled out the cork with her teeth, and drank deeply of the mead within.
"That bad, huh?" Alvarr murmured, sighing to himself. Lagan only nodded, still chugging down the mead. She finally stopped, hanging the now half-emptied skin onto the hook.
"I saw at least one hundred archers, fifty to the north side and fifty to the east. If we try to go through, we're dead in minutes. Further on the pass in at least eighty knights, all of them lanced cavalry and I think there are infantry behind them., but I couldn't get closer." Lagan reported, no emotion in her voice or face. "There are ten spies around us that I could see, probably twice as many that I couldn't; all Celts."
"So death lay on all sides." Hadrian stated with a frown, trying to work out a way to either avoid the battle or spring the trap. In conventional military terms, he was buggered. Bayar had sent a heavy army, a veritable juggernaut to crush the resistance. "Have you received word from Clan Dun'ka?"
"Aye, they've pledged one hundred clansmen to the cause. More in the future with further offerings of steel." Lagan informed him, then shook her head, "They're at least three weeks away, but they've also spread the message to the local clans. With luck, the closer ones will send a few men. That's still time we don't have."
"It's not enough. I'd need a thousand men to power through that ambush, all in heavy plate and shielded." Hadrian said in annoyance, frustrated by the situation.
"Isn't there some spell we can use?" Enmyria asked, not willing to admit defeat. "Surely there is some ritual or other than can give us the advantage?"
"Yes, there is, but I've never cast it, even if I were to use that spell and it worked I would be bedridden for at least a year. Probably longer." Hadrian admitted, not wanting to mess around with powers of that level yet. The consequences could and likely would be severe. "If we had ten able sorcerers, experienced ones mind you, then maybe it would work."
"Really wishing we had kept one of those prisoners alive right now." Alvarr noted, berating himself for not thinking ahead. "Sacrifices would be a huge help to us. I don't want to sound like a bad guy here, but if we were to sacrifice some of our number to the Morrigan, a spell of the level Hadrian has in mind might work."
"I'm not sacrificing some of our own men unless we have no other choice. I'd rather be bedridden for years before I do that." Hadrian growled harshly, making Alvarr raise his hands up in a gesture of peace.
"What you'd prefer and what we must do are two different things, milord." Lagan pointed out heavily, biting her lower lip. "You are the only fully trained sorcerer we have. Alvarr and Enmyria are novices, half-trained at best."
"If you sacrifice a few of our men to the Morrigan, we have a chance of victory. If you don't, we're all dead or worse." Enmyria stated clearly, no judgement or approval in her voice as she laid out the facts. "We'd be losing no more of our numbers than in a skirmish. Does it matter if they die before battle or in battle, so long as victory is achieved?"
"It doesn't feel right." Hadrian shook his head, despising the choice placed before him. "Even if I were to do it, how many of our men would desert us when they learn I would murder them for spells?"
"At least they'd be alive to desert us. Better than all of us dying." Alvarr advised pragmatically. "I understand your dilemma, my friend, but this is the choice the Fates have placed before you. Are your morals more important than their lives?"
"Even if I were to make the sacrifice, would the Triple Goddess even accept them if I were to do them in secret? I can hardly sacrifice lives in public, the spies are Celts too so they'd recognize the rite." Hadrian questioned, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "If She takes offense, we are all doomed."
"We must risk it, milord." Lagan said softly, looking up at her leader with cool gray eyes that held the slightest bit of sympathy. "If it would help our cause, I volunteer to be one of the sacrifices."
"No Lagan, I need you alive." Hadrian denied, scowling heavily. "So long as you follow me, desertion would be kept at a minimum. The men trust you. Lagan, Enmyria; go among the men and find me three willing sacrifices; one for the Maiden, one for the Mother, and one for the Crone. If you can't find any volunteers, draft them instead, but do it quietly and bring them here. We perform the rite in my tent."
"As you command." Enmyria answered obediently, standing up and heading for the exit with Lagan following close behind.
Alvarr and Hadrian sat in the tent, their heads bowed and neither saying anything. The weight of the choice weighed on them both, Hadrian as the commander and Alvarr as his friend. A few moments later, the tent flap opened to reveal a hooded figure wearing a blood red cloak. Alvarr stood, startled by the sudden entrance with dagger appearing in his hand as if by teleportation.
"Hold your blade, Alvarr." Hadrian commanded, knowing the blood red lips and pale chin that he could see. He bowed his head low, "High Priestess Nimueh, what brings you from the Isle of the Blessed?"
"I could hardly miss the first true sacrifice to our goddess in ten years, Hadrian." Nimueh pointed out, pulling back her head and gesturing impatiently for Hadrian to rise. Alvarr, upon learning the identity of their guest, had dropped his dagger and knelt. "I've come to oversee the rite and the sacrifice."
"And I am grateful for your presence, High Priestess." Hadrian recognized formally, knowing better than to speak to her with familiarity in front of others. "May I offer you something to drink?"
"No, thank you." Nimueh smiled tightly, her cloak rustling near her stomach as if she had moved to touch it. "Which spell is it that you wish to cast?"
"The Dragon's Breath." Hadrian admitted, watching as the High Priestess went still with wide icy blue eyes. He felt his face burn, wondering if he had chosen wrongly or foolishly.
"The Charm of Making?" Nimueh breathed out, swallowing tightly. "That is bold, Hadrian. Maybe too bold. You have neither the power or the experience to perform that spell, even with three sacrifices to empower and dull the consequences. I see now why the Triple Goddess sent me here."
"There is no other way. We need the cover and confusion of the Dragon's Breath to ambush our would-be ambushers." Hadrian explained to her, needing her to understand. With the High Priestess present, the chances of success increased enormously.
"Are you prepared to do this, lover?" Nimueh asked quietly, close enough that Alvarr could not overhear them; although the blond man's eyebrows rose at their closeness. "To take life in battle is one thing, to sacrifice three lives outside of it is another."
"If I don't, hundreds of my people will die. Whether I am prepared or not, this is something that must be done." Hadrian replied just as quietly, pained green eyes meeting cool blue. She nodded slowly.
"Very well." Nimueh murmured, pity in her eyes. She straightened, the icy cold mask covering her face once more. She half turned toward the tent's flap, "The sacrifices have arrived, Hadrian of the Blacks."
Sure enough, Lagan and Enmyria entered with two volunteers and one bound man for the rite. The two volunteers were nervous, terrified, but had a determination in their eyes for which he was thankful. One was an elderly man for the times, over fifty with a thinning hairline of shoulder length dull brown hair and the other was a young woman with four fingers missing on her left hand. The last was a man in his prime with desperate eyes, plainly terrified.
"Stand them in a triangle." Nimueh ordered, causing the two women to look to Hadrian who nodded in answer. They obeyed, quickly standing them in the center of the tent. The unwilling sacrifice had to be bound to the tent's pole to prevent him messing up the triangle.
With a wave of her hand, Nimueh created a swirling three pronged triangle on the earth beneath the feet of the sacrifices that glowed a gold color. Three drawn ravens done in tribal style appeared, each one grasping a swirl with clawed feet. She then lit three fires and placed three stone basins of water beneath them.
Finally, she turned to Hadrian and held out a silver ritual dagger for him, "The rite is primed."
He took the blade, breathing deeply as the feel of Old Magicks filled the tent in an almost suffocating wave. Gathering his will, Hadrian walked over to the unwilling sacrifice and held the blade to his neck, "Oh Morrigan; Goddess of Sovereignty, Battle, Death, and Strife, hear my plea and find favor in me for my humble offering. To the Crone, I present an unwilling man afraid of death."
Hadrian closed his eyes, pausing for a moment, then opened them revealing glowing golden eyes as he sliced the throat of the man. He held the man's hair, ripping the flesh as he titled the head backward and leaned the struggling figure over the flames so that the blood gushed onto them. The fires grew in brightness, turning blue in acceptance of the sacrifice. He swallowed the bile that rose in his throat, forcing himself to watch as life left a man who would have died for him in battle.
He let go of the now dead sacrifice and walked over to the determined old man who stared ahead stoically. The elderly man held out both wrists, palms up. Hadrian took one hand, stabbed the wrist deeply then sliced upward through tendons. He did the same for the other wrist, allowing the blood to flow out of the flesh and into the flames. Again, the fires lit up in an eerie blue in acceptance.
"To the Mother I give a determined, selfless sacrifice who has willingly given both blood and life for your glory." Hadrian intoned, nodding respectfully to the man who returned it with a pained face. He held the man's hands, directing the blood into the flames until the old man fell over dead. "May you guide him into the afterlife with all the gentleness he deserves for he has given all that he has to you for me."
Finally, he turned to the trembling girl who whimpered as he approached. He walked behind her and embraced her from the back, petting her hair and giving her a thankful kiss on the cheek. He aimed the knife for her heart, grasping it in both hands as her backside was pressed against his groin. Against his will, the Old Magick's presence hardened him and he wet his lips, "To the Maiden, a young girl who has given four fingers for me and willingly gives her life to you. Although touched, her intent is as pure as any maiden. Take her into your arms and find a place for her at your side, oh Goddess."
Hadrian jerked the knife back into her heart, causing the girl to cry out for a brief moment then go limp in death. He held her there, allowing her blood to pour onto the fire which turned blue in acceptance. Tears were in his eyes, but he blinked them away, touched and grieved by their sacrifice.
Nimueh took an ostentatious goblet from her robes and dipped it into the basins of water in front of each sacrifice; the water tinged pink with blood. Once she had filled it with water from all three, she presented to Hadrian, "The Morrigan has granted her blessings to you and bids you to drink of her strength."
With shaking hands, Hadrian took the goblet and lifted it to his lips. He hesitated for a moment, then drank the offered contents down in several large gulps; leaving a mouthful in the bottom. Nimueh took the goblet from him, taking the last sip for herself and closing her eyes as the Old Magick in the tent was increased several fold. Both of their eyes glowed with the gold of the Old Religion, merciless and full of the Morrigan's power.
"Cast your spell now with the Triple Goddess' power flowing through you and keep to Her faith with all of your strength. She is the Maiden you love, the Mother who held you, and the Crone who guides you to your fate." Nimueh intoned the rite, backing away from Hadrian as he struggled to maintain his identity in the enormous wave of power that consumed him.
"Anál nathrach, orth' bháis's bethad, do chél dénmha." Hadrian chanted, his voice layered over with the voice of a woman. Burning golden eyes looked skyward as he continued with greater urgency, "Anál nathrach, orth' bháis's bethad, do chél dénmha. Anál nathrach, orth' bháis's bethad, do chél dénmha!"
The gold drained from his eyes, revealing sickly green orbs. He fell to his knees, panting loudly as if exhausted. From time to time, his body shook with convulsions; trembling from the presence of the Triple Goddess who had worked through him and guided him in casting the mythical Charm of Making.
"It is done." Nimueh declared with finality, her own eyes still golden as she held onto the power of her goddess from her years of experience. Her cheeks held a blush to them and the ladies in the room recognized her arousal. "Attack in one hour. The Dragon's Breathe will grant you sure footing even in air and shall hide you from all enemies."
Alvarr stared at her wide eyes, turning to look at the trembling form of his friend and lord who nodded to him. A bit doubtful, Alvarr walked over to the flap and peaked out of it only to return a bit shaken. "It worked. There is a fog thicker than any I have seen surrounding the camp."
"Will he be able to ride?" Lagan questioned the High Priestess, pointing to the kneeling Hadrian who was struggling to both get his breath back and hide the arousal the Morrigan's magic had inflamed in him.
"Oh yes, he will ride and he will fight." Nimueh purred confidently, smirking eagerly at the thought of what he would be capable of. "Our Hadrian is uniquely favored by our goddess among men. She usually prefers to work through women, but he is the exception. He has been touched by her this night. When he rides, She will ride with him. When he battles, it will be Her hand that guides him. On his charge, Bayar's men will be afflicted with strife among their ranks. Such is Her power and blessing for those favored few."
The screams were what alerted Bayar's men. Loud, piercing cries of agony and the horrible gurgling sounds of men choking on their own blood. In the abominable fog, none of the men could see further than five feet in any direction and the fog shifted like a living thing; twisting and swirling ominously. Off in the distance, all of the men could hear the chilling high pitched wailing of women in unison that shook them to their core.
In the blackness of the night came the thundering sound of hooves that echoed all around the army, letting them know a charge was coming, but from where and which direction was impossible to know. Thwipping sounds of arrows was a constant backdrop, barely audible over the bloodcurdling screams of the dying and wounded. Not one of Bayar's soldiers felt brave, all was confusion and fear. The wait for combat, for their opponents to show themselves was far worse than the fighting itself.
Out of the evil fog came Death itself, an armored black cloaked devil atop of an evil steed the color of the darkest night. It was an ominous figure, riding out of the fog with lightning speed as it's silvery blade slashed through armored men as if the steel was made of leaves instead. As soon as it appeared, the Black Knight was gone, but the thundering hooves of his steed echoed all around, reminding the soldiers that he was still out there somewhere cutting down their friends and allies.
Wild beasts lunged from the shadows, painted red with blood and blue with war paint. Hair bright as moonlight, spiked like a hedgehog, they couldn't be human. They screamed like wild animals, frothing with madness and their eyes were the eyes of the damned; wild, savage, and utterly without mercy. As soon as these demons in human flesh appeared, they would be gone as if made of the mist itself.
Always you could hear the terrible wailing of women, sad and hateful: the Banshee called for their souls, announcing the death of the men to the world. The military lines broke in places as men tried to flee deeper into the fog, only to have agonized screams or sudden silence replace the panicked shouts. Everywhere there was blood and mist, slickening hands and making footing difficult. There was so much blood that even the fog itself was tainted with the evil red color in places.
Again the Black Knight appeared, reared back on his unholy steed with the shining sword held high and the black plume of his helmet whipping around behind him like a demonic shadow. In the black cloak the Knight wore you could see the shrieking faces of damned souls and demons, fanged and mad from pain. None dared approach the Black Knight, yet he rode them down regardless, cutting down the retreating and the brave men alike with contemptible ease.
Surely the Devil walked the earth, riding a black stallion as he harvested souls for his unholy army. The steed was a demon, a creature of pagan myths from Wild Hunts for it killed half as many men as the rider by kicking and stomping the life out of those near it. Those who had been near the beast screamed about demonic yellow eyes and steel hooves, panicking those in the line even more. In the mist, men could see the shapes of skulls and demons before the mist swirled into other designs that played tricks on the mind.
The snorting of a steed and pounding of hooves was the only warning the northern line of arches had before the Black Knight rode out of the darkness and the steed leaped completely into the line until he was amongst them. The shining sword was covered in blood and it slung the red liquid about the Knight with each swing as if he was painting the men he intended to target with a ruby red marker.
Bestial growls echoed from the visor, proving the suspicions to the men that he could not possibly be human for no man made sounds like those. The painted devils joined him, leaping down from above and rushing in from the sides with howls like wolves. Each swing from the Knight was a kill, each enemy blade dodged no matter the angle as if he was aware of all that was around him. Some of the demons fell upon the wounded, tearing at their flesh with teeth and blades like rabid animals hungry for skin and muscle.
Soon, the panicked men realized that their only chance for survival was to charge the Black Knight for he commanded the demons. They crowded around him, only to be flung back onto the swords and spears of those behind them by some invisible force. The stallion whinnied evilly in the echoing sounds of the mist, joining the cacophony of screams, pleading, and sobbing from all around.
Fire exploded in the distance, lighting up the fog with the orange-red of flames until it was a vision of hell itself wherever you looked. The Black Knight became even more ominous, riding through the throngs of men and cutting them down by scores. He never tired, never missed, and none could stand against him. He split shields like they were weeds to the scythe, armor was as air to him, and he rode upon the mist in a mockery of the holy angels from above, ignoring ravines and ditches as if they weren't there.
Everywhere there was death and blood. You could not ignore the screams nor could you tell from whence they came, be that behind you or to the side of you. Mingling with the shrieks and howls came a mad laughter, a deep and satisfied echoing chuckle that somehow was worse than anything else.
Long banners tied to spears stuck out of men all around, black as the Knight himself but with a white dragon curled into a circle. It was a sigil none had seen before and it mocked them with each turn to see it impaled in another of their friends. Fathers and sons lay side by side, knights lay by their squires, and all were made equal by bloody death, noble lords and peasant archers alike.
And everywhere one turned, the banner of King Bayar burned to the sickening laughter of the Black Knight as the world was consumed by unholy fire.