When we set out it becomes clear there is more to the Byzantine than previously met the eye. He has dressed in full armour and even carries a rather magnificent blade. It surprises me, but I am glad he seems to have some notion of fighting, even if I must see him use the blade to believe him a warrior. His huskarls, seemingly from all corners of his empire, look like they have been blooded in many a combat. Lord Radu’s men seem born in the saddle. Good, they will not need me to hold their hand.
When I talk to them, the mortals seem loyal enough, even slavish. In fact, they seem scared of Afterganger, even of me. What has spooked these men, these hardened mercenaries, so? I have heard stories of the iron boot of the Saxon vampyrs, are these Eastern Tzimisce the same?
On our second day, already disaster hits. During the sun hours our men are ambushed, some of them maimed, others killed. We don’t find out until after dark. That, in itself, is testament to their skill and loyalty.
It quickly becomes clear that the ambushers were sent with some dark purpose, for even their old, young and women rushed in to fight. By the looks of the battle damage they took, many of the tribes folk simply refused to fall when they had been killed many times over. Are these the local Bear People?
It was a simple murder-make, for they came to kill our guards, and probably us. None of the goods were stolen, only burned or hacked apart. Also, the cart with labourers was burned, killing those inside with smoke and fire. I hadn’t even learned their names, and they deserved infinitely better than to be the victims on our behalf of some holmgang with an unknown tribe.
We make a quick round of the camp, to establish who of our own is wounded, dead or missing. We seem to have done well. The Tzimisce goes all quiet, and seems to melt with his land without disappearing into the ground. I leave him to it. After some time he says he can feel the spirits and they are angry. If he speaks of the same spirits I have felt, seen, tasted, I am hardly surprised for I have only ever known them furious and ferocious.
Luckily, two ambushers were captured alive, a boy and a man. I decide to be rough with the boy as that might soften the man. After some simple questioning, the boy’s tongue is loose. He reveals his tribe was sent by evil knights on hellish steeds with shields with three eyes. That, by my count, is at least one too many. I have seen those on some of the Saxons, and Zedenek believes them to be of the Blood Mages. We will see, probably sooner rather than later.
The man shouts at the boy to shut up, but it is pointless. Zedenek steps in to make the man cooperate. Whatever may be said of these Tzimisce who turn men into slaves, the fear they carry with them is certainly a tool. The man sings like a bird.
It is quickly decided we must slay both boy and man. The Byzantine objects, invoking the mercy of his Christ-god. I explain they won’t make loyal labourers and if we let them go they will simply come again for murder-make tomorrow. He still disagrees. So be it.
To his credit, the boy doesn’t show fear when I feed from his neck, or even when I brandish my axe to cut his thread. His head rolling through the bloody, trampled mud snaps the man, however. He sets off, as if seeing into the wyrd, and quotes several passages from what must be the Bible-book. Apparently its rot has spread to even the far corners of these eastern lands. They speak of destiny and revenge and are full of portent, but many of those passages are. Yet another sign that the Christ-god is not as merciful as some claim. The man’s words seem to have some hidden meaning for the Byzantine priest, however, for he looks like he just saw a Wight.
Clearly Zedenek has heard enough. I am not sure it is because of the disobedience of the man for talking out of turn or giving lip to his ‘master’, or because the Tzimisce has some aversion to the Bible-book. He speaks several oaths of his own and unsheathes his bastard blade. The Byzantine objects to yet another killing, this time more forceful than the last, but the Tzimisce is proud and beheads the man with a single, practiced stroke. That, at least, is merciful.
I decide to destroy the corpse of the boy, the one I questioned. He was touched by maleficarum and should be made an example of to the knights of the three eyes. Let them see what happens when they inhabit someone with their evil souls. I do the same with a woman with a score of arrows sticking out of her. The Byzantine does not object, but I can smell his disgust. I am curious about how his people deal with the corrupted.
Most of our wounded men are tended to, and the Tzimisce can shape their flesh like thick mud, healing but not quite. In the end, we lose two. The Byzantine gives one of his huskarls the kiss of death. I can see it pains him, and I most certainly understand this mercy.
Not long after the slaughter, the green lights appear, in some shape or other. Of course they do. Fresh blood makes them hungry and mean, and Zedenek had practically warned of as much. Except, this time there are no lights.
At some point it seems one of the Tzimisce’s huskarls calls out from the forest for help. I must admit I hadn’t missed him. He claims he got shot in the foot and can’t walk. I don’t believe him, and neither does his liege, if only because none of our company were that soft-bellied or soft in the head, that likely to get dragged away from the fight to be taken down alone. It is a lure, and the Byzantine almost goes for it. I don’t blame him, for he doesn’t know the lights. He acts from the heart but this land is no place for that. He will learn tonight.
The Tzimisce seems genuinely afraid of whatever hides and begs in those bushes, but he is no fool and stands his ground. Better to engage and die than run and die. I stand beside him and bring up my shield, the Eye facing out. I call to the All-father for strength and guidance, but don’t want this expensive and pointless fight.
I only understand half of what Zedenek says, with many words between him and his gods in his own speech, but the gist is clear and he seems enraged. He believes the lights are trespassing onto his lands! He draws his sword and his arms turn into the blades of a sawfish. Impressive, but I do not see them in use. Not this time, for through whatever skill, oath or luck, the green lights are kept at bay.
However, Zedenek says we have no time to burn or bury the bodies for the lights will not be denied indefinitely. So be it. When the green lights are done with the battlefield, there will be nothing left for any pursuers to find. Not a drop of blood. And whether through forest daemon or beast, the bodies are brought back into the earth, back into the lifecycle.
The knights of the three eyes will at some other time learn what happens to those whom they send against us.
We turn around and hook up with the rolling caravan. Behind us come the sounds of rustling bushes and hissing and screeching. I look back but still no light breaks the darkness of this night.
All in all, the losses were acceptable, considering the number of attackers and their ferocity. Our men fought well and hard, and let none of the witch-fouled tribesmen escape. Most importantly, they kept us safe during the sun hours. I must remember to thank Drago and his men when I have time.