This is the 107th in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.
Strangers in the Woods, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 18th March 2013
Word count: 686
“Fortune came down and slapped him in the face,” Ryan said laughing by the fire.
“Oi!” Harold said from across the fire.
“Oh you know it’s true,” Ryan said, raising up his glass. “The Gods had to smile upon you, a gifted soldier, a scholar, a hero prince in all but name.”
Harold held his silence, he knew full well his squad would just keep needling him, but they were loyal, and that’s what counted in the heat of the fight.
“Is he really a prince?” he heard Eric ask, incredulously. Eric was the newest member of the squad, barely old enough to shave, some rich merchants son. He had been foisted on Howard, but he earned his keep.
“Oh yeah,” Thomas said sarcastically, “Grew up with a silver spoon up his arse, and a golden sword just for practice.” Thomas the Huntsman lived up to his name, an expert tracker, and a marksman with a bow, but his solitary nature gave him a generally foul temper, and strange humour. The boy Eric looked up to him more than any of the others.
Suddenly a bird cry rang out through the air.
“On your feet,” Harold said, his men knowing this was the call to arms gathered themselves.
From the knoll in the clearing they could see trees moving. Harold judged the sentry that had given the bird call to be leading the way back, meaning there were at least twelve attackers.
“Thomas give some fire to the chasing men,” Harold commanded.
Eric followed the same instruction, he was new, but he picked up on the order well.
“Everyone else form line, Ryan hang to the right,” Harold commanded purposefully, Ryan’s weapon of choice was a great war hammer, he needed room to swing, but it was guaranteed to smash the flank of an approaching enemy.
Four swordsmen, two archers, all in position. Harold looked behind for any sign of Luke, the sentry from the other direction, but there was no sign.
Harold tapped the young journeyman, John, on the shoulder, “Cover the rear,” he instructed him, just in case.
Harold took position behind his line of three swordsmen, not entirely for safety, his own main weapon was a hefty spear, and also if an attack came from behind he could switch easily.
The sentry broke through the treeline first, but he was quickly followed by dozen armed men.
Harold quickly assessed the attackers, leather clad with inferior weapons, disorganised and chaotic, but there were numbers, thirteen against seven.
Then twelve against seven. Ten against seven. Eight against six, Eric was down, minor injury.
Harold shifted position, using his spear to cover the young man’s prone form.
“Behind!” someone screamed.
“Ryan, rear cover,” Harold said skewering one of heavier armed opponents. Then he dropped his spear and drew his sword to see at least eight other attackers entering the clearing.
The situation was dire, the first attackers still standing were hardy and not going down easy, the second set were fresh to the fight, and more were coming.
Eric appeared at Harold’s side, blood still running down his chain vest where a sword had broken through its protection to his chest, he was armed with a long dagger.
“Onwards!” shouted Harold and all four charged into the affray.
An hour later and the bloody task was over. Scores of the attackers lay dead around the clearing, Harold counted his own losses as heavier though as he surveyed the scene. Three dead, Thomas, John, and Ludd, the sentry. Ryan had gone down with an arrow in the shoulder and a gouge out of hours leg, Eric was collapsed now the action was over.
“We bury our dead,” Harold said, fighting against fatigue and emotion to keep his voice steady, “And then we move on. It’s not safe here, and we must still get this shipment to where it’s due.”
He didn’t tell them they’d done well, didn’t reward them for risking their lives, that would come later. First they must complete the mission, and then meant focus and moving on, rewards and recriminations were for another time.