Chapter 13: A Haunting Realization
by Julian Lawler
Table of Contents|
Chapter 12 appeared
in issue 134.
The scout’s foot was within arm’s reach of Palance’s place of concealment. Palance hid beneath the ground, under a layer of dirt and thick grasses. He stared up at the enemy scout who was dressed in a red vest. He held his breath steady as the enemy moved with tentative steps through the encampment. Palance gave a silent prayer to the sun blazing overhead that none of his men were revealed. From his vantage point, the area appeared empty.
Palance was sure the stranger was an enemy scout. The prince hoped the man wasn’t one of the best. The men of the Iinnin Lodar were trained and highly skilled. They could take cover in an empty room and not be discovered, but even a tracker of no minor skill had his tricks.
Palance grimaced as dirt accidentally went into his mouth. He didn’t risk the chance of spitting out, though. They had spent the morning preparing for what was to come. The enemy camp had been taken down just slightly before dawn, but they had stayed put. After evading their scouts the whole night, Eliath had instructed everyone to dig themselves into the ground. Hiding ninety-six men was no easy task, but the grasslands and spacious hills made it more than possible.
Laying flat on his back, covered in dirt and grass, feeling the sweat run down his body beneath his armor, Palance was not about to give himself away because of some minor discomfort. Too much depended on his inaction: the chance for surprise, for victory.
Palance felt his fingers tingle, the chance to save Andina’s life. He resisted the urge to grip the hilt of his sword. His movements might cause the dirt and grass around him to shift.
He watched the enemy scout move slowly away. His head turned from here to there, scanning the area with obvious deliberate care. Palance’s heart stopped as the man drew near Soulcryst’s place of cover. If the man continued, he would walk directly over Soulcryst. The prince knew for certain Soulcryst would not resist the temptation to strike at such close range.
Palance wasn’t sure that he would mind. These men were here to do Andina harm. They would kill anyone who got in their way, he was certain. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if Soulcryst did strike out. Palance was dying to know who it was that was after the woman he loved. A prisoner would be of some value to Palance only because he would have information the prince needed.
Palance continued to watch as the man drew to Soulcryst’s spot. It would be essential for Soulcryst to strike out hard and fast enough to kill the man before he could cry out. There were plenty of ways to do this, but none of them pleasant. Palance was loath to use such tactics on any man, but he was sure Soulcryst would have no qualms.
Palance fingered his sword, risking giving his position away. Even though he was surrounded by almost a hundred other men, he was ready to rise should Soulcryst failed to strike quickly. If the scout found their position and ran, Palance was going to make sure he didn’t get very far. The prince knew all his men were watching Soulcryst’s position closely. He could feel the tension in the air.
Palance tensed when the enemy scout pulled short. Stooping down slightly, the man in the red vest drew an arrow from the quiver at his back. In one fluid motion, he had it knocked on his long bow, where it hung over his shoulder. The prince forgot the discomfort of grass and dirt between his neck and shirt as the scout began to turn his head. He was waiting for something.
Maybe looking for someone, Palance told himself.
As the scout turned to the right, the prince saw the ground at the scout’s feet shift. He had to breath to steady himself. He had to trust in Soulcryst’s judgment. It was a tense moment, but the scout didn’t see the movement and continued to look about. He was sure Soulcryst was getting ready to lunge when a voice called out from the top of the hill.
“Hey,” came a rough voice. “Let’s go. The Falcon has called us back. The wench is coming. We had runners come in an hour ago that her carriage comes.”
The scout standing so close to Soulcryst waived back angrily for silence. He motioned for the man to come down. But the man refused.
“Roelen, the place is empty,” came the rough voice again. “I can see the clearing from up here. Believe me, it’s empty. Now, come on. You’re going to miss out on all the action.”
The enemy scout named Roelen didn’t move from his position. He stood coiled like a snake ready to spring. He knows, thought Palance. He knows someone is here. Roelen relaxed slightly after he scrutinized the area over and over. The prince noted the man’s bow wasn’t taut with tension anymore. Satisfied, the man turned his full attention to the man on the hill. Palance felt the man’s eyes pass right over him as he walked by.
This is too easy, thought the prince.
As if seeing nothing, the man began to walk back towards the hill, right towards Palance. Anger began to seep into Palance’s blood. They were going back now because they had Andina in sight. These were killers, cold-blooded murderers. Palance had handled the situation quite calmly, holding all his emotions and nervousness in check, but now, hearing them call Andina a wench made him boil.
“Yeah,” said the scout as he moved away. “I think nothing is out here.” His hands moved in quick signs and gestures. “I’ve checked this area four times already this morning. If there was anything out here, I would have seen it.”
Palance watched as the man’s hands continued to move.
“I’m telling you,” came the voice from the top of the hill. “You’ve been wasting your time out here.”
The scout was almost beyond the edge of the Iinnin Lodar camp. A couple of more steps, and the scout would pass the prince. The scout would only have to pass Larson before he was free to run. Palance continued to watch the man’s hands move. They were moving in quick gestures. There was an alarm going off in the back of his head and then he had it.
The man was talking.
It was a decision Palance didn’t want to make. Attack or wait? They had been discovered. The scout was reporting what he had seen. Palance was sure the man on top of the hill already knew everything there was to know. He hesitated to act on his decision. Three more steps and the scout would only have one man to beat before he was free.
Two more steps. The scout was acting as if he had discovered nothing. His gait was relaxed, his body at ease, and his stance poised. But the eyes belied the tension underneath. They darted back and forth as he walked across a floor littered with bodies that would rise and strike him down.
More than once, Palance saw the other’s eyes flicker to his.
One more step.
Copyright © 2005 by Julian Lawler