My name is Marcus Clearbrook and I fucked up. Well, I am still living that fuck up, so I guess you can say that I’m still consistently fucking up. My hands and feet are bound around a limb of iron wood, to which was being carried by two Ulven to Gods knows where. I must have looked like a dead deer being carried home to be skinned and quartered. The binds cut into my hands and feet to the point where I could not feel them anymore. And my head pounded like the drums of the nine hells. What I wouldn’t give for a drink!
“Great Wolf! This human weighs as much as a spring heifer. He better be worth all this trouble” Growled the forward litter bearer.
“I agree! I feel that we should just slit his throat and be done with it. One less human to worry about” Piped in the Ulven next to my feet.
“Hush up you witless pups! This human is in league with the Phoenix, who are very wealthy. We sell him to the headman at Davon’s Reach, and get supplies. Which is good for us, because we are down to our final rations.” Chastised a woman who brought up the rear.
As much as I don’t want to agree with her, she was right. I went over the events of the past couple days in my head. After my group got ambushed by the bandits, while attempting to fix the cart, I got separated from the group. Myself and a young, but fierce, Ulven female. After we wondered the wilderness for what seemed like an eternity, we were found by my captors. I hailed them and they lowered their weapons, claiming that they are friends. Not knowing what the brands on their faces meant, I sheathed my weapon and went out to meet them. At the time they seemed good enough. We then joined them and went in search of my party. We searched for an hour or so, and then we stopped for a meal on top of a hill. I noticed people moving down the vale that looked like my comrades. When I told my Ulven companion that I see our friends and turned around to see the branded Ulven with swords drawn. My hand went to my sword, then I got hit in the back of the head and everything went dark.
I now know that branded Ulven are not good people. As I said, I’m still living my fuck up. I don’t know how long I have been out. The only silver lining is that these guys get to haul my fat ass around the wilderness to Gods know where. I should play unconscious for a couple more hours till they stop for a break. At the moment, I notice that I am parched and starving.
My two bearers dropped me expectantly, my head hitting a rock as the result. Causing my head to pound harder than before. I slowly stirred trying to get into a sitting position, my body protesting very minute. “Thanks for warning boys!” I said through cracked lips. The Ulven in the front of me, turned around and kicked me in ribs. With my hands and feet bound, all I could do was flex my muscles, which didn’t do much. Fire erupted in my side and I swear he broke a rib.
“Thanks buddy. When you go before the Great Wolf and ask to be reborn, you might want to ask him for some balls. Cause you kick like a bitch!” I grinned through pain. In retrospect, I should have kept my mouth shut, but I kind of want this shame to end. My kicker drew a wicked knife and kneeled next to me. “I would rather starve, than deal with your insolent tongue any further.” He reached forward to cut my throat. I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth, but the bite of the knife never came. Instead I heard a couple of thuds. I looked up to see the branded Ulven woman stand over me, and my attacker on his ass, holding his jaw. “Damnation Bartax, we need this human pig alive!” She roared at him. “We have less than a day till we get to Davon’s Reach! Keep your knife in the pants, or else I will gut you myself!” She looked to the other litter bear. “Huskar give the pig some water. I don’t want him to die. Yet.”
The Ulven named Huskar cut my feet loose and propped me up so the water didn’t dribble down my chin. The lukewarm water from the water skin tasted musty and unpleasant, but it was ambrosia to my lips and body. Bringing new life to my limbs, and lowering my headache slightly. “Any chance to get something to chew on?” I asked him. He looked up at the woman and she nodded. Huskar asked the woman to untie me, as he went behind me and held a knife to my throat. I felt a sense of Deja-vu as the woman untied my hands from the stick and retied them. The knife rested against the right side of my neck and it felt cold. I could feel my blood pumping against the blade, almost trying to push the knife away.
After I was retied, Huskar produced a piece of dried meat and offered it to me. I took it with a thanks and started gnawing on it. The woman stood up and gestured for us to move again. I slowly got up on my wobbly feet, and gingerly took some steps. The other two Ulven started walking ahead, “Move, pig!” Bartax said harshly. I took a few steps forward and he shoved me in the shoulder. I lost my feet and grabbed a maple sapling staying upright, dropping my dried meat. I looked at Bartax and gave him the best stink eye that I could. I reluctantly followed behind the other two Ulven, with pins and needles in my legs.
We marched for the rest of the day and by the time the sun had disappeared behind the western horizon I could smell wood smoke. My captors probably smelt the same, because they increased their speed and seemed more watchful. We moved out of the forest line into an open meadow, which sloped up to a hill and near the apex of the hill was a walled settlement. The Ulven woman looked back at me and said sourly, “Welcome to Davon’s Reach pig. Hopefully all this effort to keep you alive will be worth it. If not, I will take great pleasure in flaying you.” As she said the last part she grinned maliciously, her white fangs shining menacingly in the twilight. I saw this and it scared me so thoroughly that I paused for a second. My stupor was broken as Bartax hit me in the back of the head. “No time to waste pig, your fate is about to be revealed.” He chuckled
We walked into the thick grass of the meadow toward the settlement. No more than 100 yards from the tree line, a man in brown and black leathers stood up from the tall grass 10 paces ahead of our group. “Hold, state your business?” The Ulven woman took a few steps to get past Huskar. “I am Voska, branded Sister of Gaia. My branded brothers seek shelter at Davon’s Reach. We bring a gift as payment.” She gestures toward me and says, “The fat human in red and brown rags is an important member of the Phoenix.”
The man in the grass showed no emotion. “I will send a runner to the headman. In the meantime, my men and I will escort your group to the gates.” As soon as he was finished talking, six men in black and brown leathers, with bows drawn, stood up from the tall grass. The speaker walked to the closest archer and whispered in his ear. After a few moments, the archer lowered his bow and took off at a surefooted run toward the settlement.
Looking back at us he beckoned with his left hand. “Come.” I was then immediately shoved by my captors, my ruined armor clanking with the motion. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. I don’t suppose it’s too much to ask if I can walk back the way I came? I thought sourly as a moved tiredly on.
We trudged toward the east side of the settlement, my captor’s captors always watching, with one knocked in their bows. I can tell that Voska and Bartax were getting agitated, not quite sure of the situation that they put themselves in. Me? I couldn’t care less, I was fucked either way. By the time we reached the gate the shadows were long and torches were being lit along the palisade. The eastern gate supported two solid oak doors that were about 3 paces long by a man and half tall. On each side of the doors a covered tower rose higher into the air, armed with two crossbow men.
The left door cracked open just enough to let one man through at a time. Three men filed out. The runner, a burly man with a huge ax strapped to his back, and finally a man about average height in black leathers. The man in black leathers regarded us with interest. “Ho friends, I am Percival Von Borscht, headman of this establishment. What can I do for you?” He said politely, putting his hands on his hips, hands not far away from a pair of curved short swords. Voska stepped forward about two paces from the headman. The guards eyed her warily, hands on weapons, bows raised at her approach. She straightened her back, hands clenched into fists at her side. “I am Voska, branded daughter of Gaia.” Gesturing to her comrades. “We wish to join your clan. If that is not possible, we would like to barter for supplies. What say you?”
“What do you have to barter, from what I can tell, you don’t have much in terms of possessions?” Percival stated dryly, clearly getting bored.
Voska’s gaze never left Percival’s. “We have this human pig to present you. He is a member of the Phoenix, and from what I remember of my time at Clan Stormjarl, they are very wealthy. We wish to give him to you, to do as you wish. I tire of his wagging tongue and foul smell.”
She was right, I did smell like shit. “You haven’t even begun to experience this wagging tongue!” I said loudly at her back. I was rewarded with a couple chuckles from the towers, and a hit in the back of the head from Huskar. “Quiet pig or I will remove said tongue. You don’t need it to live” He said as he grabbed me and put his knife to my cheek.
“Hold your knife Branded!” Percival commanded. “While this is true, he doesn’t need his tongue to live. He is worth more undamaged. I also would like verification from him that he is a Phoenix member. Bring him forward to the light” Huskar growled, but removed his knife and escorted me the few paces to the brightness of the torch light. We stopped in front of Percival and got a good look at the headman of Davon’s Reach. As I said, he stood at about average height, light build, long brown hair tied back, and an expertly trimmed beard. He didn’t look all that imposing to me. But I learned the hard way, never underestimate the little guy.
“How do I know that you didn’t kill a Phoenix member and take his clothes?” Percival asked as he took a step toward me and looked at my tatters. I smiled and shrugged. “You don’t.” I said simply. “But I am pretty sure I am better company than these branded scum. Minus the smell of course.” A toothy smile split the headman’s face. “No doubt, but I must beg your forgiveness for what I am about to do.”
I cocked my head at him in confusion. One moment Percival’s smiles vanished, the next moment he drew a throwing dagger. At the third moment it was sailing in the air toward me. I brought my bound hands to block the dagger flying toward my neck. I wasn’t fast enough, but the dagger didn’t bury itself in my throat. It brushed my unkempt hair to lodge itself in the right eye of Huskar. The blade didn’t kill him outright, but he screamed bloody murder as I dropped to my knees. Percival wasn’t done though. When I was falling he drew a short sword and sliced the screaming Huskar’s throat. His screams died fast as he fell to the cold ground, his warm blood fountaining from his body.
“Betrayal! Bar….” Voska yelled as she tried to draw her blade. The big guy with the huge ax, stepped forward and punched her out with a leather gauntlet to the temple of her head. She fell silently and laid still. I looked back to where Bartax was. He was on his knees, with six arrows shafts protruded from his chest and back.
I felt my heart beating like a humming bird’s wings. My previous captors were dead or unconscious in less time than it takes me to piss. My bound hands were next to my left ear, exactly where I felt the dagger wiz past my head. My breath coming out in ragged breaths, and my eyes wild with fear, looking for an escape. Percival walked over to Huskar’s corpse and wiped his bloodied blade clean on the dead man’s trousers. Sheathing his blade, he smiled down at me, then offered me his hand. I looked at his hand, back up to him, and grabbed his hand. My legs were unsteady.
He looked at me with his cold, calculating, blue eyes. “Now, before we go in. I want you to be honest with me. Are you in league with The Phoenix?” His voice very neutral without a hint of malice. I returned his gaze trying not to show fear. “I am in league with The Phoenix, but I am not a member of their group. I am a paid warrior that is employed by The Phoenix. A Gallant Feather.” I reached up and showed him my tattoo over my heart, a red feather.
As far as I knew I was the only one to get a feather tattoo over my left breast. I got the tattoo to signify my new home and that I was proud of being a Gallant Feather. I’m pretty sure I was the only one in the organization that had this tattoo, but Percival didn’t know that. I kept my face stern, like I had shown something to Von Borscht that few people ever see. Well other than the occasional tavern wench, it was true….ish.
He looked at me in the eyes for a moment. His deep brown eyes betraying nothing. Then he smiled and said as he lead my through the gates, his arm around my shoulder. “Welcome to Davon’s Reach! I’m sure we will work well together.” His sudden change in behavior really made me wary of his temperament and I decided that I should really try to stay in his good graces.
On the other side of the wooden doors, the first thing I noticed was the smell of cooked meat and stews. My mouth started to fill with saliva as my stomach started to audibly protest to the lack of sustenance. Percival must have heard the sounds coming from my stomach as he patted me on the back. “Marcus, please join me for dinner. We have much to discuss. While I go make the preparations, I would like it if you freshened up at the creek.” He said as he turned to big and ugly with a huge fucking ax and said. “Corin, please take some men and our guest to get freshened up at the river. Also supply him with different attire for the evening.”
Corin put a hand on me and I stopped immediately. Von Borscht didn’t even notice the transaction as he strode confidently through the dilapidated settlement. I turned around toward Corin and gave him the best smile I could. “So you’re the sorry shit that gets to watch me wash my ass.”
Corin gave me a huge smile full of crooked, broken teeth. “That’s only if you don’t try to run off. I would hate to explain to the boss how you drowned and then was hacked into pieces.” He then gave me a scowl and turned me back toward the gates. As I walked out the gates again, I noticed that the bodies of Bartax and Huskar were disposed of. All that was left was a flat patch of broken, red grass. Yup. If I plan to make it out of this place alive, I will have to play the next few hours very cautiously. Heh, never a dull moment, right? I asked myself as I trudged through the night.