Darya, herself grievously wounded, half crawled and dragged herself to the side of her fallen son.
The vicious Red Blade the delivered Taras’s death blow unwisely took a half second to gloat with a sneering laugh.
“Ba lak tu….”
But his words were cut short by the ferocity of father, Pyotr. The Sukiskyn leader uttered a cry of rage and sorrow while hacking the goblin to pieces, several of which he sent tumbling over the battlements.
Stephan, feeling a chill at seeing what was surely the death of his nephew, made quick work of the final goblin. The body was still whole and kicking when Stephan managed to send it cartwheeling to the ground below.
“Humph,” said Feldard, seeing the last hunk of goblin meat impale itself on a fence post. “Is that all?” He was about to turn away when the last goblin splatted with what to the dwarf was a satisfying finale.
“Now! There’s a punchline!”
Stephan turned to do what he could for Taras. Pyotr searched his son’s body, hoping against hope life was still there.
Darya sat slumped against the stonework. Her vacant eyes told the truth. Her son was dead.
Hasan watched the young man fail, mutely, horribly, with no breath to vocalize his anguish. Hasan briefly rested his fist on Pyotr’s heaving shoulder, then left the family to their own.
Below, Feldard was still in the midst of battle-fervour, when he saw the Red Blade turn and flee. The dwarf, intent on the death of every last goblin… gave chase. Speed-wise, the goblin did have him at an advantage – it wasn’t wearing platemail; but Feldard was a man driven. He charged out of the broken doorway and across the compound, axe upraise ready to bring it down on the hapless foe just a step or two out of range. The moment it faltered—he would be on it and the deed done.
Unfortunately for the creature, he had not looked up to see two of his fellow footsoldiers falling down from the battlements, shoved out by the enraged Sukiskyn clanhead. One of the two landed right in front of him, tripping him up. The dwarf closed the distance, raising his might axe for a deathblow.
* * * * *
The goblin hung in the air. It had stopped struggling though but Miklos knew that the spell wouldn’t last forever.
The priest watched Feldard bound off after the unfortunate Goblin that had fled before Maruc had a chance to get a proper swing at it. “Stop stealing my foes Dwarf!” he laughed after his retreating back. He looked up. Ah at least there was this one. “Yes Miklos?”
“I’m going to have to drop it soon. Be ready catch it.”
“One sec, I need some thing to bind it with.” Maruc yanked a strip of a ruined curtain. “Ready.”
Miklos raised the goblin to about ten feet and dropped him. That should stun him enough for Maruc to jump him. He cancelled the spell.
With a cry of dismay the goblin plummeted to the ground with a sickening thud. Quick as a flash, Maruc kicked the axe from the goblin and pinned him—the platemail lending much needed extra weight. He expertly grabbed an arm and twisted it behind the stunned creature. Trapping the arm between his legs, he fished for the other. Leaning on the prone arm sent enough encouragement to the goblin not to struggle too much. He looped the strip around the loose arm ,and bound it to the other behind its back frapping it in both directions. Lifting him by his bound hands, he frog-marched it to an over turned chair and righted it. There, he tried to force the goblin into the chair, but had to threaten violence with his flail before it got the idea. With the remainder of the strip,he bound it to the chair then bound its legs together.
Coming downstairs, Hasan saw the remains of the lopsided contest. Gesturing at the enchanted goblins, the elf halfheartedly accused, “Your handiwork, I trust, master mage. We could have used your help above. Two of the Susikyn, Taras and Darya, fell; though Darya may recover, the boy will not.” He frowned at Maruc’s clean weapon, and said, “not much of a contest, in the end, eh? I shall scout a bit outside, I won’t be gone long, but let me see what I can find while you’re cleaning up here.” The elf slipped out the doorway and gingerly crossed the northern clearing.
Miklos clapped, “I’m glad for your dignitiy that I was the only one watching that display.”
“I thought I did quite well,” he replied a little too defensively.
Maruc watched the mage circle the balcony and descend the stairs. He looked ashen-faced.
“You need a rest. That poison hasn’t left you yet.” Marucs eyes returned to the captive. “Can you speak the Black speech of goblins?”
“No, I know a passable elvish. That is all. Feldard is your man.” Miklos replied.
“Err, Dwarf?” grinned the priest. He returned to the doorway. The goblin had put a good distance between itself and the murderous dwarf. “Perhaps we should get him stilts? Or a warhorse? Warmule?”
Miklos laughed. “I’ll give you a crown if you say that to his face.”
“Well, I could talk to the top of his head…. would that count?”
“Your’e a very bad man Maruc.”
“Oh hang on, no its tripped over. Unlucky.” Maruc said with meaning. He winced at the spray of black blood. “Thats got to hurt.” He turned to the struggling captive. “I’m sorry, your mate tripped over and got, well, ‘dwarfed’ for want of a better adjective.”
The look of incomprehension, or what Maruc thought looked like incomprehension crossed the goblins face. “Nevermind, I’m sure Feldard will explain to you all you need to know.”
Maruc turned back to the doorway. Feldard was returning, coated in gore, looking like some undead revanent. His gaze swept back and forth expertly scanning as he returned to the homestead. He didn’t look in need of humour. Running was not an activity he enjoyed, but at least his sprint was rewarding in that the dwarf got one last goblin kill for the night.
“On second thoughts, you can keep your money Miklos.”
* * * * *
“I’ll, get Kuzma.”
It was all Stephan could say or do. He rushed down the tower spiral, wincing a few times at his own wounds, and emerged in the main hall.
“Please,” he said in a weary voice, “where is Kuzma? Taras is fallen. On the battlements.”
The fleeting hope that Havlav could bestow his grace upon Taras through his servant Kuzma crossed his mind.
“Maruc,” perhaps you too can say a prayer over the young man? It might bring some comfort to his parents. Even now, they are alone atop with their fallen son…”
Maruc’s head snapped up. “What news is this? Taras is dead? Of…of course Stephan lead the way.” Mixed emotions swamped the priest as he follow Stephan to the body on the battlements, but he hid them with a professional somber face as he stepped up onto the gusty battlements. The iron grey sky bleached the colour in the faces of Pyotr and his wife. The rustling of the trees sounded like a sea of lost souls.
One look told Maruc Taras was beyond any aid he could summon. He knelt beside to boy he ran his hand gently closing his sightless eyes. He looked up into the pleading faces of his parents and shook his head sadly. An urgent sob escaped Darya. Pyotr stared, stony silent, a tear caressing his cheak.
Maruc stood over the boy. He glanced up as others gathered around, grave faces and grim. He bowed his head. “To the halls of hero’s and enternal rest grant brave Taras entrance, Holy Halav. Blessed is he for he sacrificed himself for the life of his family and homestead. Few amongst us will have so noble a passing.” Maruc looked up. “Folk gathered here, fix in your mind his smile and courage. For these shall be our lasting memories and his final gift to us that have known and chreshed him as he has chreshed us. At the right hand of Halav Incarnate he now stands tall and uncowed by the ravages of time until the end of days when at last all of us are reunited with Him.”
“Bury him at the foot of the halls he defended with his life as a blessing to this house.”
Maruc stepped back, turned and gazed over the battlements and the foreboding wood, his knuckles whitened on the cold stone. “What a waste.” He didn’t realize he’d spoken aloud.
Stephan caught Matvey as the lad made for the battlements.
“No, Matvey. It’s best you stay. Your parents are with your brother.”
Turning, he saw the ashen face of Alfana—new widow of Taras. Stephan went to her. The poor woman’s legs collapsed under her and Stephan helped her to a chair.
“I’m sorry, Alfana. He fought well and died bravely.”
Alfana looked up at Stephan with watery eyes. Then down at her midriff, her hand resting gingerly there.
“Taras will yet live…in a way,” she spoke with choking words.
* * * * *
Dawn finally broke over the Sukiskyn homestead, revealing in full the carnage caused by the battles of the previous night. Burnt oak and goblin bodies littered the landscape. For some unknown reason, the Wolfskull had not chosen to take part in the final attack.
Hasan hoped to make some sense of it all as he surveyed the forest for tracks. There was ample evidence of the goblins’ presence in the form of camp fires, chewed animal bones, fruit rinds and other rubbish. All of the goblin corpses were stripped and left bare. The Red Blades had made their camp in the woods to the east of Sukiskyn. Hidden amongst all these tracks, there were a few larger prints. Hobgoblin from the look of them. Some tracks led off in many directions—clearly, they were making efforts to hide their trails. Amongst the rubbish was a silver amulet in the shape of a ruined tower.
In the woods to the west and south of the river, there were numerous footprints of goblins, along with dire wolves. Their clan had abandoned the Red Blade before the final assault. Their trail led to the east.
Lastly, the trail left by the Viper goblins and the stolen horses was very clear. The goblins, who had stolen the prize Calaari horses right before the companions’ arrival at the homestead, had also gone east.