It was nearly a month since my encounter at my old family keep when on of the rangers told me the bad news. The rangers are a squad of scouts that are in the crowns servitude. They watch the borders of the kingdom and ensure that nothing is amiss through the kingdom. They protect the kingdom but they also serve as the King’s eyes and ears throughout the land.
I was initially worried when they visited me. Maybe they had found out about the ring and that I had become an Apostate. As far as I knew that was impossible, the only way to identify an Apostate was to see them use their power. However if I was wrong and there was a way… however that wasn’t that case this time. They came with different grim news.
Today they came to tell me that the orcs were gathering. It was terrible news indeed. Orcs had not gathered in decades, not since my father’s time and this time it seems that their forces were even larger then that time. All the border lands were in danger and while my fiefdom was not the closest it was still at risk from orc invasion. It would still be monthly likely before the orcs invaded but all the nobles were expected to gather their soldiers and provided support for the king to defend the lands.
Something in my head whisper, the ring maybe?, that it was all too convenient. The threat of orc invasion just after I had been attacked. I wasn’t sure how it could be too convenient, how could the attack on me be connected to the orc. It made no sense and I didn’t want to risk putting on the ring to find out more.
However the King’s orders were law and I had to gather up my soldier and travel with them south to the border. While I didn’t technically have to go with them, my knights could have been in charge without me, I didn’t want to stay nearly unprotected at my manor. It might have been more dangerous to be near the battle line but somehow I felt more conforming away from the manor. The scene of the manor burning and the man laughing still felt fresh in my mind.
“Is everything alright my lord?” It was Sir Nathan’s comforting voice and he rode beside me on the way south.
“It is nothing. The thought of the orc invasion lays heavily on my mind.” I said absently.
“Like it does us all, but you have just seemed more distracted recently.”
“It is nothing of importance. Right now we need to think about the job at hand and making sure to protect the kingdom?”
Sir Nathan smile wryly, “Is it about Lady Kindeily then?”
“What… no…” I sputtered trying to find words. With everything that had happened she had been driven mostly out of my mind… No, not exactly. I had been avoiding thinking about her. What would she think about me being an Apostate? I wanted to avoid that question as much as I could.
“Of course not.” He say in a disbelieving tone. “My lord would not normally join us on the front line. Are you trying to earn her favor by showing her how heroic you are? It will probably take more then that to earn her favor. She is a renowned swordswoman after all.” Sir Nathan laughed, “Is that why you have been asking Sir Janet to teach you the sword too?”
I grimly smiled at him. “If only I had the luxury to learn the sword for that reason. Nathan…” I paused, “I’m afraid.” There were very few people I could confide anything too but I felt like I could trust Sir Nathan, at least a little bit. “That man, that Apostate, might be after my life again. I was terrified that I would die before you and Janet recused me. I…” I trailed off not wanted to continue the sentence.
Sir Nathan must have understood what I meant however, “I understand my lord.” He changed the topic but only slightly. “Still you haven’t seen Lady Kindeily recently. With the orc invasion you may not see her for even longer.”
“She would have been called to send her soldiers to aid the king as well. We might see her there.”
“That isn’t the same and you know it. Business and pleasure don’t mix well. You should invite her to visit your manor while the summer is still good.”
“I’ll think about it.” I said as none commitedly as possible. There was not adequate explaination for me fear. Normally I would be happy to invite her to join me for something. She was usually too busy to join me, her fiefdoms were larger than my own, but one rare occasions she had enough time to indulge in my whims. There should be no way for her to tell what had happened to me but I was afraid anyway.
Sir Nathan however just grinned and said, “Good, it is settled then.” Like my non-commitment had somehow been agreement. “I’ll make sure that one of my men finds her and delivers the message to her.
I glared at him angrily. I sort of wanted to punish him for his initiative but he was a knight. I couldn’t punish him over such a minor thing, especially when he technically wasn’t disobeying me orders. Plus he was my friend and as annoying as he was he had my best interests at heart, probably… he might just think my embarrassment was funny.
Noticing my glare he turned his horse and rode a little bit away from him. He motioned one of the soldiers and began talking to him, probably giving the orders to invite Lady Kindeily to something. Acting before I could give him an order not to, classic Sir Nathan. I sighed and let him do it, he was probably right. Seeing Lady Kindeily would probably ease my anxiety.
Out of some nervous fear I reached into my pocket, and gritting my will, touched the golden signet ring inside. It was could to the touch and unusually didn’t blade me with headaches and indecipherable visions. Instead I felt a deep sense of fear, like a deer who had spotted the hunter. In that terrifying moment I realized that we were surrounded. I screamed as loud as I could,
“Orcs, ambush! At our flanks!” It was just in time. Arrows flew out of the trees at my men. My moments warning saved many of their lives. They ducked or brought up their shields fast enough. A couple however were too slow and fell as the arrows sprayed blood everywhere.
The dark green skinned monsters broken from the underbrush carrying spears or axes. My men turned on them and a bloody battle erupted around me. My memory of the engagement is indistinct at parts, I remember Sir Janet pulling me off my horse to get me clear of arrow fire. She pushed me into one of the wagons and I stayed there huddling with screams and war crys are my only company.
There was the moment of absolute terror as one of the orcs pulled back the wagon cloth and climbed into the wagon with me. It has a small bloody axe and there was madness in the thing’s eyes. In instinct and desperation I grasped the ring in my pocket so tightly the I could feel the metal bitting into my hand.
In a way nothing had before suddenly everything seems to make sense. The orc thought he had an easy target, it was wrong. It swung the axe down at me and I grasped the handle just above its hand with a speed that I didn’t realize that I hand. A quick twist and the orc was forced to let go of it.
I kicked the orc shoving it back a foot and I lifted the axe and brought it down at the monster. However I didn’t hit its head or chest, no that would be too quick, instead I hit the leg. The was the snap of breaking bone and blood splatter over the floor of the wagon and over my clothing. I didn’t care.
I could see it now. The orc realized what was happening to it. It realized that it was losing. It tried to move backward but its broken leg collapsed under it. I drew back the axe again and brought it down this time on the orc’s arm. It howled in pain, something that I felt was musical and lovely. It was scared, scared of me and that felt wonderful.
Finally with a slow deliberate motion I raised the axe one more time. I paused for a moment savoring the orc’s expression before bringing it down into it’s skull. There was a moment of near silence, and I came to my wits. The scene flashed through my mind once again and I released the handle of the axe with a sick realization. I released m grip on the ring in m pocket and scrambled out the back of the wagon.
I heaved into the grass and things became dizzy to me. The next moments were a blur before I remember Sir Nathan finding me hidden behind a rock after the battle was complete. “My lord, all you all right. We were worried when we found the dead orc in the wagon. What happened?”
I shook my head trying not to remember. I have always considered myself quick witted so I was able to come up with a lie. “I don’t remember. The orc came in, attacking me. I think one of the soldiers saves me while I escaped” It sounded false on my tongue but Sir Nathan seemed to buy it.
“Your all right and that it what matters. Please let me help you up. We need to get to safety. There may be more orcs around. We have already lost a fourth of the men and even more are wounded. We might not survive another ambush.”
I nodded and let him help me up and leading me to my horse. Sir Janet was there too although her shield arm was in a makeshift sling. There were a small fire burning the body of some of my men. Sir Nathan looked gloomy when he way it. “They deserve a proper burial but there isn’t enough time. Better to burn them than let these monster desecrate the corpses.” I numbly nodded in approval. A few minutes later I was on my horse and we left the battlefield behind.
Sir Nathan and Sir Janet let the soldiers because I was still too much in shock to give commands. I remember them taking a different route than we initially planned. Less travels roads and keeping more alert.
“How were there orcs this far inside the kingdom?” I remember Sir Janet saying.
“I don’t know, to think a group that big managed to sneak past the main encampment and the king’s rangers.” Came the voice of Sir Nathan.
“If there was more than that group then the villages nearby might also be in danger.”
“That is only if they haven’t already been attacked.”
“Still we should send riders out to them to check on them and to make sure they are aware of the threat. If they have notice they should be able to defend themselves.”
“Agreed but it will be dangerous. Some of the riders might be ambushed.”
“A necessary risk.”
I managed to clear my head and sit up enough to give them an order, “Do it. The people must be warned. Also send a rider to the rangers to make sure they now.”
They both nodded. “Yes my lord, we will see that it is done.”
I rode for a little longer after that before I couldn’t ride anymore. While not comfy I took lodging in one of the wagons (not the one I killed the orc in) for the rest of the journey.