Updated: Jan 16
Chapter One: Unease At Dawn
Torrin opened his eyes and lifted his head from his saddle.
The still air was cold and smoke from smoldering cook fires lay heavy on the camp. Nathell, still snoring softy in his blankets, was an indistinct hump, and the forms of their horses, tethered close by, were dark shadows.
What had awoken him?
Scanning the disorganized camp, Torrin looked for the sentries. He could see two of the five that kept watch through the night. One man looked like he was asleep, sitting upright and leaning on his spear.
Torrin narrowed his eyes. His hackles were up, and gooseflesh crawled over his shoulders. Something had awoken him.
He sat up and let his blanket slide down. He was fully armored and he reached for his scabbarded sword lying beside him. Torrin nudged his brother with a toe, waking Nathell.
Rubbing his eyes, his brother sat up and frowned at Torrin. "What? I was having a nice dream."
Torrin shook his head. "Not sure," he whispered, "but I think something is wrong."
The silence of the sleeping camp was almost complete, save for the occasional snort or murmur from the sleeping warriors. Unlike the disciplined army camps Torrin and Nathell were used to in Pellar, the Ren warrior cohorts were more akin to a rabble, commanded by the strongest warrior, who was not necessarily the most intelligent. Torrin and his brother had been hired for their swords. Although he often disliked how things were done, they were here to fight, not to reform Rennish warrior society.
In a way, Torrin welcomed the chaotic structure. Ren warriors were savage and without remorse when it came to battle and killing. Raiding was their way of life, the only thing they lived for, well the men at least. It matched his own inner turmoil and he felt strangely at home, despite how far they were from Pellaris.
He knew Nathell would go back north in a heart beat, but his brother refused to leave him here, even when Torrin ordered him to go. Torrin couldn't go home. The thought of being surrounded by the ordered civility of his homeland, with sympathetic expressions and words from the well-meaning, made him sick with anger and shame.
Here, no one knew his past. No one knew the tragedy that led him to go as far south as he could, abandoning his previous life in self-imposed exile. They knew only that he was a Northman, and good with a sword, very good.
Already many of the men in the cohort looked to Torrin for direction, something that had not gone unnoticed by the Ren commander.
Nathell sat up and looked around, his peevishness gone. He knew Torrin's instincts were rarely wrong.
Torrin stood, quietly buckling his sword belt around his waist and loosening the blade in its scabbard. He stepped carefully toward the sitting sentry, scanning the edge of camp. The man did not move as he approached.
"Hey," Torrin whispered as he drew near. The idiot was sound asleep. Torrin shook him by the shoulder. Then jumped back as the man slid from his perch. His head lolled to the side, revealing a gaping wound in his throat.
Hissing, Torrin drew his sword with a ring, shouting, "Up! Awake! The camp has been compromised!"
Men gasped, scrambling out of blankets and drawing weapons, their wide eyes darting about in the muted dawn light.
"Look to the sentries," Torrin called. 'Watch the perimeter."
Several men nodded and ran toward the outer edge of the camp pulling others with them.
"Here! What is the meaning of this noise?" A large barrel-chested warrior in overlapping disc armor – the only complete set among the cohort, save for Torrin and Nathell's – strode from the tent at the center of the camp, scowling and jabbing a finger at Torrin. "You presume too much, Northman," he snarled.
Torrin pointed his sword at the dead sentry. "We have been surrounded during the night. The enemy likely snuck up on all the sentries. This man was asleep when his throat was slit."
Commander Dakar looked down at the body in dismay, then swiveled to survey the camp. He squinted back at Torrin. "How do you know this?"
Torrin stared at him, then said in a low voice, "It is what I would do."
Dakar spat and placed his fists on his hips. "Well what are you waiting for? Send men to check the rest of the sentries and patrol the edge of camp."
"It is already done," said Torrin flatly.
Commander Dakar's eyes narrowed and he appraised Torrin, looking for a reason to dress him down, but Torrin and his brother had been hired by Dakar's warlord, Rathus. Unless Torrin blatantly transgressed the warrior code, Dakar could not kill him or call him out. Besides which, Torrin and Nathell's combined swords were too valuable. They were taller and more powerful than Ren warriors, and their skills, coupled with the reach of their blades, had already tipped the scales in Rathus's favor.
Dakar spun and stalked back to his tent, shouting for his horse to be saddled. He styled himself a mini warlord, and even carried stands with the armor of his vanquished foes which he had his servant set up in his tent.
Torrin turned away, shaking his head, caught Nathell smirking at him. "What?"
"Oh you know, it is fun to watch, Dakar trying to find a way to bring you down." Nathell grinned openly at him.
Torrin growled. "We've a fight on our hands, Nathell. We don't have time for your jokes."
"Oh Tor, that is where you are wrong. There is always time for a good laugh," said his brother as he fell in beside Torrin.
Torrin sighed. He had to give his brother that. He usually had a ready smile and a quip. But when push came to shove, Nathell was as good a swordsman as Torrin was, and his brother always had his back.
They reached the edge of camp and looked out over the lightening landscape. Mist lay heavily on the rolling plain that spread from the tree copse they had set camp in. It appeared quiet and Torrin heard grumbling among the men about being roused from sleep for nothing.
The faction they were raiding against was led by a rival warlord, named Falkus. The two cohorts were equally matched in size, but Falkus's commander was smart. Torrin had watched him successfully rally his men, turning the tide of what could have been a disaster into a draw with Dakar.
Torrin and Nathell moved on, making their way around the perimeter. All five sentries had somehow been silently killed. Torrin frowned as he stared down at the body of the last man, his throat slit like the others.
How was it they had not raised any alarm?
He eyed Nathell and saw the same question in his bother's blue eyes. Ren warriors could not have done this. Some of them were good warriors, but they relied more on brute force than stealth.
Scanning the trees that crowded the southern edge of the camp, Torrin felt again what he has experienced upon waking. a shiver went down his back and he knew someone, or something was watching them.
He looked back among the dense trees, scanning the cover between the trunks. Something – there, to the left, behind a larger pine tree, Torrin glimpsed a figure. He saw a flash of coppery skin and black hair, and then an odd shifting and blurring, before it was gone.
Torrin blinked. What in the name of Erys?
"What is it?" asked Nathell. His brother followed his gaze, frowning. "Tor, what did you see?"
Torrin turned to stare at his brother. "I – I am not sure. It was gone before I got a good look. It was a man, I think, but I also saw –" Torrin swallowed and shook his head.
Nathel gripped his shoulder. "What?"
"A fox. A large black fox."
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Book One The Messenger from Myris Dar
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