Finale, Part 1
The wraps around Sir Liam’s knees had come lose again. The pain that he felt shooting up and down his legs was like his entire lower body was being crushed between two boulders. Admittedly even when the bandages were tightly synched the pain that he felt in his knees was still a considerable sum. The Helm Breaker was reminded of the heavy wear that the last ten years had inflected upon his body with each heavy footfall. As his feet pounded into the ground over and over he felt his bones clattering underneath his skin. Sir Liam never wanted for his youth for vanities sake but he still longed for the fortune that his body had enjoyed in his fledging years as Raywards Master of Arms. Sir Liam was still possessed of the same fortitude and endurance that he commanded before the majority of his hair had gone grey. In those days when he called upon his body to preform it did so without unleashing a protesting battery of aches and pains.
Amid the pain that he felt in his legs, Sir Liam became aware of a rumbling in the pit of his belly. The Helm Breaker nostalgically reminisced on the fact that he had been able to count on regular meals, even if they were modest fair during his time as a solider. Since his return to Rayward food had not been as easy to come by during the five years of red rains or the five years that followed after the great storm had broken.
Sir Liam let out a ragged gasp of air as his beaten and worn body crested the hill he had been traversing. As he drew in a labored breath of fresh sweet air his aged eyes came to land on the object of his dauntless pursuit. The body of the stag lay still and motionless on the other side of the hill. He could still see the arrow that spurred the creature’s flight jutting out from right above the animal’s shoulder. The Helm Breaker looked back in the direction of Rayward’s Gate from his vantage point on the hilltop and made some mental calculations and estimates. After recovering his breath and a few quick tallies Sir Liam began to decent down the other side of the hill, satisfied with the likelihood of being able to carry the deer’s carcass within the protection of Rayward’s city walls before nightfall.
As Sir Liam made it to the base of the hill he pulled his great maul from where it was slung across his back. He held the weapon tightly in his grasp as he cautiously approached the fallen stag. The Helm Breaker readied himself to deliver a finishing blow in case the creature had any life still left in its body. He lamented the idea of having to give chase to the animal once more. Sir Liam’s knees were not up to the task of another sprint deep into the wilds that bordered Rayward’s Gate. The formidable warrior waited for a few moments and observed the motionless animal from a safe distance. He did not see even the slightest rise and fall of the stag’s chest or any other indication that the beast still clung to life. Once he was certain that the stag was deceased, Sir Liam approached the carcass.
“Hold there, my friend. What do you think you are doing with our quarry?” came the sound of a man’s voice from the tree line.
Sir Liam quickly spun toward the direction of the speaker. He brought his weapon up to a half ready position. The fatigue that coursed throughout the enormous man’s body prevented him from fully raising the great maul to a battle ready posture. The Helm Breaker saw a pair of disheveled looking woodsmen in tattered green cloaks coming towards him. He saw the gauntness of their cheeks and the hunger in their eyes as they hungrily viewed the slain deer on the earth. Sir Liam noted that neither man wore a bow or quiver. The only semblance of arms he could discern on their person were some rusty hand axes and hunting knives. “The only quarry here is the one that I hunted and will be taking back to Rayward’s Gate,” responded The Helm Breaker while he still battled to return his breathing to a regular interval.
“I think you must be mistaken friend. This stag is ours,” said the woodsman who was taller and leaner than his companion. The two men stopped their advance well outside of striking range and warily regarded the armored man who stood between them and their intended supper.
Seeing the two men stop at a safe distance, Sir Liam huffed and allowed his great maul to stand upright as he rested his hands upon its broad head. The veteran warrior delighted in the unburdening of the weight that his arms had carried. “You mind that, friend, talk of yours. I don’t know you past trying to lay claim to what is mine. You say that this is your quarry. Then you mean to tell me that you loosed the arrow that brought it down using your backside,” Sir Liam goaded as he indicated the lack of archery paraphernalia on the other men.
“We might say the same of you, friend,” said the shorter and heavier of the two woodsmen. The man used a mocking cadence in his voice as he gestured to the similar absence of bow or arrow on Sir Liam’s person.
The Helm Breaker gave a small belly chuckle before responding to the stocky man’s antagonism. “Well now that we have all determined that none of us have a bow at the ready, I think it wise you lot push on. You can see I have the best of it should it come to close quarters,” said Sir Liam as he brandished his intimidating great maul.
The taller woodsman laugh in disbelief. “We have no interest in fighting some old man. So it looks like we have equal claim to the stag, all of us being without bows that is, but there are two of us and the one of you, so naturally we should take the meat. It will keep us fed for the better part of a season,” said the lanky man while best trying to present himself as a formidable physical specimen.
“I will not tell you to mind the tone you take with me again. The meat is mine but I have little patience or stamina to deal with you lot. So in the interest of stooping you before you try something dumb and I have to exert myself, I will see each of you get a helping of the beast’s flank once I get it back to Rayward,” Sir Liam said with a glower that burned deep into each of the other men.
“We have no want to end you bloody but we have even less want to continue starving. Leave us the stag. There will be no more talk of it,” snarled the tall woodsman as his hand came to rest on the head of the ax that was tucked into the leather belt around his waist.
The Helm Breaker took a slow measured breath. He winced at the relentless soreness in his knees and between his shoulder blades. Sir Liam frowned as he accepted the fact that the men before him were bound and determined to get themselves killed over a matter of empty bellies. “I will not go. I will just say that I rather not have to swing this big old thing after the sprint I just had,” said the Rayward warrior with a sigh and menacing nudge of his great maul.
The woodsmen said nothing more to Sir Liam. They passed a tense look between one another before returning their attention to The Helm Breaker. The taller of the pair shook his head in haughty disapproval as he drew the ax that was sheathed in his belt. The other woodsman unsheathed a long and moderately rusted hunting knife.
Sir Liam acknowledged that the man with the ax was resigned to bloodshed. As the woodsman approached him the Raywand man dug his heels into the earth so he would have a sturdy center of gravity. He blew the air from his lungs before drawing in a deep breath. Sir Liam tried to push the pain from his body but he was unable to cast off the wear of age and exhaustion. The woodsman was within killing distance of The Helm Breaker before Sir Liam’s weary arms were able to ready his great maul.
Before the woodsman could bring his ax down for a lethal blow an arrow launched right over Sir Liam’s shoulder and embedded itself in the lean man’s right eye. The woodsmen stopped his advance and hung suspended by the last thread of life within his body before crumpling into a heap. The stocky woodsman looked at the corpse of his compatriot and froze while he tried to make sense of what had just happened. The man’s paralytic quandary did not last more than a heartbeat as it was ended with an arrow that pieced his throat and lodged in the bones of his neck. The second woodsman fell to his knees and gurgled incomprehensibly and he grasped at the shaft of the arrow that stuck in his body. The man’s suffering did not last long before he to was a lifeless body on the earth.
The Helm Breaker regraded the two dead men and the pair of expert shots that had laid them low. After a moment of contemplation Sir Liam turned and cast his gaze back up the hill. His eyes came to rest on Tinaca drawing and nocking a third arrow.
The girl surveyed the scene of her kills with the same dark brooding eyes that had remained with her through the course of the red rains and the years that followed the breaking of the storm. Tinaca rested the arrow on her bowstring as she nimbly made her way down the hill. She tried as she might but the girl was unable to fully conceal the smirk that wanted to break across her face as she looked to Sir Liam.
“You could not have shot with that sort of precision when taking aim at our supper? I would have preferred not have to chase the blasted animal halfway across Rayward,” Sir Liam said to the girl with exacerbation. He pointed to the perfectly lethal arrows that felled the woodsmen and then to the notably far less precise shot that was embedded in the body of deer.
“Would you have preferred it the other way around, me killing the stag quick and only wounding the men that meant to end you?” Tinaca rebutted.
“If you had slain the stag quick I wound not have had to deal with these fools,” barked the weary sweat soaked man.
“Your age is showing,” Tinca said with a smile that she made no attempt to conceal this time.
“Lass, I think you had better explain what you mean by that,” Sir Liam responded with a glare that was perfectly opposed to Tinca’s smile.
“What, you do not remember? It only just happened. I am the one who dealt with these two fools. You just stood there scowling and out of breath,” the girl said with a cocky wag of her head.
“Do not push me lass. You have not grown so much that I can not still put a red mark on your backside if I were so inclined,” Sir Liam said with a menacing inflection. He could see that his words still carried enough weight to piece the warrior’s confidence that he had worked so hard to instill in the girl. For all her teasing Sir Liam knew that Tinaca still held him in the highest esteem.
“You would have to catch me first,” Tinaca said as she soaked the threat of her teacher and returned to her filial state of jest with the older man.
“Good that I have recovered enough of my wind by now to give renewed chase then,” said Sir Liam as he turned his soured expression into a smirk that shown through the few brown whiskers that remained in his bristly white beard.
Tinaca fixed pulled her eyes form Sir Liam and fixed them on the image of a mounted rider who was fast approaching from off of the travelers path that ran towards Rayward’s Gate. “You may need to save that renewed breath to deal with this one. I think I have fought on your behalf enough today,” Tinaca remarked. Despite the passivity of her words Tinaca still flexed her muscular forearms and put some tension on the arrow she nocked using her alarmingly board shoulders.
Sir Liam hefted his great maul into his hands as he turned to face the unknown rider. He just as quickly returned his weapon to a state of rest once his eyes accessed the man swiftly approaching. “You say that I am showing my age, lass. Even these old eyes can see that is a Red Cloak on that horse,” Sir Liam said with a hearty laugh enlaced in his words.
As the mounted Vermillion Councilman came closer to Sir Liam and Tinaca, the arrow that the girl had nocked on her bowstring fell to the ground. A shocked hand covered Tinaca’s mouth and her mind tried to deny the truth that her eyes presented. Though many years had passed she knew in the core of her bones that what she saw was unmistakable. “That is not just any Red Cloak. It is Pratt!” Tinca said with deafening excitement.