Lorne was tired. He had experienced enough of war. He had seen enough devastation, and he had witnessed enough death for multiple lifetimes. He had been a soldier since his early manhood and now, well, it wasn’t early manhood anymore. By his estimation, he had spent more time at war than he had in peace.
At forty-three years, his body wore the scars of a life spent in battle. His mind retained scars of its own, like the near-photographic memory of every man or woman who seasoned the tip of his blade.
Yeah, Lorne had experienced enough of war. He was tired, he wanted to go home, and he yearned to reconnect with Marissa, his teenage sweetheart, whom he hadn’t seen in more than twenty years.
Home was a fishing village on the Western shore of the Salted Sea named Anchoredge. The small village, best known for its smoked fish, smelled of it year round. It took Lorne, who was desperate to leave in his teens, years to finally forget the aroma. Occasionally, however, he would happen upon a smoked fish, perhaps one made by his own father, who operated a small smoke house, and be instantly reminded of his home. The air in Anchoredge was thick with sea salt that would sooner or later coat anything left outside in a chalky white powder. One of his childhood chores would be to go outside several times a year and remove the layer of salt from his father’s store front.
The briny waters of the Salted Sea were thick with dangers, home to many a monster and predator fish, known to take the lives of those with less sense than a herring itself.
Lorne brought his sword edge down through the shoulder of a shorter and thinner man named Bron, who had only today tried his armor on for the first time. It was previously used armor and didn’t fit him very well, leaving a large gap where his shoulder met his neck, which was easily spotted and then targeted by Lorne.
It was no hard task to be shorter or thinner than Lorne. He stood a few inches over six feet, and while he wasn’t as muscular as some of the Northern men in his company, Lorne was well muscled and what some may consider a brawler.
Bron screamed as his clavicle was fractured by Lorne’s blade and he twisted violently to escape any further damage, trapping the blade, and ripping it from Lorne’s grasp.
Lorne gasped as the sword was ripped from his hand and he stumbled over the rocky terrain in an effort to once again grab the weapon before it was entirely out of reach.
Without much thought, Bron kept spinning until he once again faced Lorne, who had all but fallen, after tripping over a large rock at his feet. His own attempt to bring his sword down on Lorne resulted in his striking that same rock, as Lorne rolled to his left and into the legs of Bron, trapping the younger man’s feet underneath his own body.
Lorne kept rolling and pushing left, until Bron was forced to fall backward, his armor crashing against the rocky ground. By the time the inexperienced fighter’s head thumped against that same rocky ground, Lorne was upon him, dagger in hand, thrusting it up through the other’s neck and into his skull.
Bron remembered seeing a flock of migrating birds that had flown over his home, every spring as a child, their numbers blocking out the sun for nearly twenty minutes until they had all passed, and then he was dead.
Lorne stood and grabbed his sword once again, cursing under his breath and hoping no one saw his nearly dying at the hands of a child. Then, Lorne glanced about his surroundings, littered with the carcasses of lost men and the weapons of war. The battle had raged about him but it had settled into the second phase.
Lorne had found that battles generally went through stages. The first stage was simple enough, fueled by battle lust and adrenaline. Each participant had his own reasoning for being there, and whether it was for revenge, honor or just some demented urge to kill, each one was determined that they would, against the odds, survive. Lorne was the exception to this line of thought, as he had assumed over the past twenty years, that would die in the next battle.
That initial phase consisted of the charge, followed by some extended time of combat, through which only those that were battle hardened or lucky would survive. That initial combat was fierce, with doses of both courage and fear mixed equally amongst the contestants. This part of the battle was also comprised of mostly the lowest of combatants, of which Lorne had been a member, the foot soldiers; pikemen and swordsmen. These were the peasant warriors, never to be mounted on a horse.
The next phase came as the ranks had been thinned and the combat had tired many of those in the fight. Weapons were swung with less frequency and accuracy but with greater effort, and Lorne had found that blows struck during this phase were consistently harder than those that were delivered in any other phase.
Then, came the cavalry. Knights mounted on giant war horses, propelled by their own ego, swinging giant weapons that would shatter bones and crush skulls. During this phase, the most blood thirsty or desperate of men would gather their courage and gain their second wind, chopping down those that were wounded or left behind. Slaughtering or being slaughtered.
Lorne found himself suddenly within that phase, on the losing side of the battle. He could see none of his king’s banners. In front of him, mounted cavalry were sweeping through the pikemen and leaving a wake of blood and death behind.
He looked down at the shield that lay at his feet, his king’s heraldry emblazoned upon it. He couldn’t remember what he fought for any more. Did he fight for his king? Did he fight for glory? Did he fight for vengeance?
He fought for none of those reasons. As a youth, he fought for the glory and for the honor. He fought to make other men tremble. But at his age, he fought for the coin and he fought because it was all he knew. He fought to live.
He bent down and hoisted the round shield on his arm, just as the first horseman arrived, his long horse hammer in his right hand.
The stench was unbearable.
Lorne awoke to the cackling of women and the clanging of armor. He opened his eyes but could only see from his left. He was unsure how long he had been lying there but remembered why. His head still throbbed and his body wanted most to remain motionless.
The crow had landed on his chest and was pecking at the wound on his face. He wished he could feel it.
He swatted at it desperately slow and awkward. It took to the air, his eyeball held tightly in it’s beak, joining the hundreds of other scavengers that have come to the former battlefield.