I'm surprised you came back for another round of true stories. I have received many complaints about my first story detailing the true version of the rescue of Princess Persephone, including death threats. Perhaps you are not a fan of Bloodblade. Or maybe you can just appreciate honesty.
Either way, welcome back.
For those of you who may have picked up these stories out of order, let me state up front - I am not the hero of this tale.
Goron Bloodblade is the hero, and somehow, my best friend. Although, in this particular story he did not set out to be a hero. Rather, we were both just trying to survive. The siege of Seren Screl is the ballad that made Goron not only a legend to those who like adventures, but also to those who love military stories.
Don’t get me wrong, Goron is no soldier. He doesn’t have the discipline. The thought of Goron standing on a parade ground for inspection or doing mundane tasks like polishing armour is laughable. We were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. But as always, Goron charged in head first, caused a heap of chaos and carnage, and was hailed as a hero while I was completely forgotten about as usual. I guess it sounds more heroic when you do things alone. I don’t know. I really should ask a bard one of these days.
But I digress.
We had arrived at Seren Screl via an unconventional route, having been employed to protect a merchant train that decided to take a circuitous route through the mountains rather than the conventional highway. Goron and I were critically short on coin at the time, and it was either take that job or start stealing bread again. Because of that, we didn’t ask too many questions about the route. And yes, we both knew it was likely a smuggler we were helping. Get over it. I told you last time that we did what we had to in order to survive and sometimes that meant doing things that were morally grey. But none of this is central to the story. Because we had come through the mountain, we had no news about what was occurring and no warning that Warlord Brutus Amarok was currently marching his horde on the city state of Seren Screl.
‘I’ve gotta bad feeling about this place,’ I said to Goron as he leaned his mighty frame against the side of the lead caravan. The rickety old thing looked like it would buckle if a strong wind hit it, and I’m still surprised it didn’t fall apart under the weight of Goron leaning on it.
‘What ya mean?’ Goron asked around the apple he was munching on.
‘Look around Goron.’ I waved my hand broadly at the muddy street we were standing in the middle of. ‘We’re blocking a main road with the caravan and no one is yelling at us, all the shops look like they’re barricaded, the only people we’ve seen have been rushing around like madmen. Oh! And not to mention the way the guards acted when they realised the caravan was full of food and weapons.’
‘It was a bit strange how eagerly they waved us through the gate,’ Goron admitted. If his bushy black eyebrows converged any closer as his brain tried to process what I said, he would have ended up with a monobrow. ‘Who gives a fuck, Ned,’ he eventually decided, giving up on the obviously strenuous thought and throwing the apple core away. ‘We got the caravan here and are about to get paid. We didn’t even have to fight anyone along the way. That’s a good deal if you ask me.’
It was true, the caravan had made it through the mountains without incident. ‘That makes me more nervous,’ I muttered as I looked around the empty street.
Far too long had passed without Goron killing something or getting us into some sort of trouble, which always puts me on edge. It’s like walking through the dark when you know there is a cliff somewhere in front of you. If I ever give the impression that being friends with Bloodblade is easy, let me tell you now, that is not the impression I intended to give.
The clank of steel brought me out of my reverie, but did nothing to improve my mood. Tramping up the muddy streets towards us was a squad of the city guard, all arrayed in polished steel breastplates and conical helmets, halberds held tall and swords strapped to their belts. I knew that sound implicitly because it was always the sound of trouble for Goron and I.
‘We’re fucked boys,’ Terrick said, coming up behind us. The short, rotund man owned the caravan we had been guiding. He had been relatively good company on the journey, keeping us and his men well fed but also not lording it over us. As he wiped his sweaty, balding head with a meaty hand, my stomach sunk.
‘Not another prison,’ I sighed, closing my eyes and turning my face to the skies.
‘Worse,’ Terrick replied.
‘What could be worse?’ Goron asked, tying his hair into its customary warrior’s knot, ready for a fight.
The squad of guards stopped alongside the four wagons, their leader stepping forward to address the three of us. His tabard bore a braid of rank underneath the cities blue coat of arms, which made the falcon look like it was perched on a branch. I don’t think they had thought that through when designing it, but I definitely wasn’t pointing it out.
'Your arrival is fortuitus,' the guard captain said with a cultured accent. I was fairly certain straight away that he was a younger son of a local noble who had bought his commission.
'What fort?' Goron asked with a frown. The giant lug actually glanced around looking for a fort somewhere.
'The captain is here to confiscate the merchandise,' I explained to my friend as I rubbed the bridge of my nose.
Goron grunted and reached for the axe at his belt.
'Don't,' Terrick said, placing a hand on Goron's shoulder. 'Let them take it. We are stuck here now and our lot would not be improved if we were thrown in the dungeon.'
'Smart decision,' the captain said, waving his men forward. 'My men will take the wagons from here.'
A couple of minutes later, we were left standing on the muddy street with the four wagon drivers and Terrick, watching the merchandise and hence our pay roll away. To be fair, we have been left in worse circumstances, but watching your money roll away is never easy for someone who grew up on the streets with nothing. I was actually surprised by Goron’s self-control at this point.
'Let's get a drink,' Goron grunted. He started towards the pub before Terrick stopped him.
'No good, big man,' the smuggler said dejectedly, 'the governor had all alcohol confiscated as well.'
'Shit,' I muttered.
'Why would he do that?' Goron growled. 'What the fuck is going on?' I could see how clenched his jaw was, the vein in his forehead practically thumping with his pent-up rage. Losing our pay was one thing, but then not being able to drink away the frustration was almost too much for him.
'There's a lot of scared people in the city.' Terrick took a seat on the small set of steps up to the now dry pub, wiping at his sweaty brow again. 'The horde of Warlord Brutus Amarok will be here by nightfall. Apparently, the governor doesn’t want people getting drunk and making things worse once the siege starts.’
‘I’m guessing it’s too late to get out of town?’ I asked, already knowing the answer. I’ve often criticized people for asking questions which they already know the answer to, but honestly, sometimes you just need to hear it out loud from someone else.
Terrick nodded morosely.
‘Even if the guards did let you back through the gate,’ he said. ‘By now, the horde will have cut off all escape routes.’
Goron was growling like a wild animal, starting to pace through the mud.
‘Let’s get something to eat,’ I suggested.
Terrick agreed quickly, standing and gesturing to the pub behind him. ‘The innkeeper is still serving breakfast.’ His tone told me he had recognised the impeding danger of Goron losing his temper. After a close call with one of the drivers provoking Goron early in the journey, Terrick had seemed very attuned to his tempers, ensuring the others in the convoy had stayed away when Goron was in a bad mood.
The four wagon drivers followed us into the dark interior of the pub. Like most establishments of its kind, it was a large open room with a bar along one wall, a flight of stairs leading up to the rooms, and a large open space filled with benches at which the patrons could drown whatever sorrows they had.
Or at least, that’s what they would normally do.
This room sat empty and silent, the absence of alcohol removing the whole reason people bothered to walk through the squeaky door.
The drivers crowded into a booth while Terrick, Goron, and I sat at a bench in the middle of the room. Terrick grumbled about the cost as he sat.
‘Food prices will soar even more in the next day or two,’ I commented. ‘You will be dreaming of a meal at this price very soon.’
Terrick only grunted his assent, slumping back into the chair like he was trying to melt into it.
The innkeeper dropped a bowl of thin broth on the table for each of us. The prices may not have soared yet, but the quality was already declining. I stirred the watery concoction, searching in vain for any chunks of meat beyond the couple of tiny pieces floating near the rim of the wood bowl.
All too soon we had finished the food and sat silently, lost in our own thoughts and pondering what could be done about the predicament we found ourselves in.
'We should climb the walls,' Goron finally blurted out.
'What?' I asked. To be honest, I had been so lost in my own gloomy thoughts about what normally happened during a siege that I almost fell off the bench when Goron spoke.
'Climb the walls,' he repeated, a serious look on his face. 'Make a run for it.' Goron thumped a fist on the table, making the wooden bowls jump and clank.
Terrick snorted. 'Even if you could get past the lines of soldiers on the walls and make it down the other side,' he said, 'you would then still have to make it through an entire horde of bloodthirsty lunatics. It would be suicide.'
'We will find a way out,' I said quickly. Considering he had showed good sense for Goron’s tempers on the road, Terrick now displayed a shocking disregard for the danger he was courting. Normally, a stout drink would defuse the situation, but that wasn't an option.
Goron rose slowly from his chair, glaring at Terrick viciously. I think Terrick noticed he had pushed too far and he leaned back on his chair in what looked like an unconcious need to put distance between himself and the angry giant at the table.
'Shit,' I muttered. I had no idea how I was going to stop Goron from throttling the smuggler.
Thankfully, a warning horn trumpeted through the city, followed by a clamor of warning bells. Terrick and I stood, joining Goron as he ran for the door, the innkeeper and wagon drivers only a step behind us. There still weren’t many people on the road, but the few that were ran as fast as they could away from the walls, straight toward the centre of the city.
'Lugo!' the innkeeper bellowed to a skinny man wearing a baker’s apron who was part of the small crowd running past. 'What's happening?'
'They're 'ere,' he tried to yell in between panting breaths. Panic tinged his voice and he didn't slow, simply kept moving as fast as his stick thin legs would carry him. The moron obviously didn't realise that he could run as fast as he wanted but he was still stuck inside Seren Screl like the rest of us.
The door to the inn slammed behind us. I could hear the bolts sliding into place as the innkeeper locked us outside, apparently not wanting company during the siege.
'Whoreson!' one of the drivers screamed, pounding on the door.
'Let's go to the walls,' Goron said. He still had the crazy glint in his eye that always meant violence and trouble.
'You're crazy if you think you can escape,' Terrick called as Goron made his way into the muddy street.
Goron stuck up a finger at the man, not even glancing rearwards as he settled his sword and axe on his belt, shrugging his massive shoulders under the leather jerkin he wore. I looked at Terrick, shrugged and set off after my friend.
'Climbing the walls with an army camped outside is probably not a good idea,' I said, falling in beside him.
'I thought it was a horde?'
I wanted to slap my face, but with the mood he was in, I didn't want to risk a punch to the face from his meaty fists. 'A horde is just an undisciplined army,' I opted to explain instead.
'Wouldn't that make them easier to get past?' he asked. It looked like he was calming down slightly, but I honestly didn't want to find out for sure.
'Let's just go have a look,' I sighed.
It was a surreal feeling, walking through the near abandoned streets of a major city like Seren Screl. The majority of the buildings we walked past were constructed from a dull brown brick, which would be a boon when the horde started lobbing fire over the walls. But, although most were brick, many had extensions built on top which were almost exclusively wood. Apparently, as families grew, they had started building upwards and with the nearby mine almost depleted, had turned to the forest for wood as the preferred construction material instead. I was hardly an expert in siege warfare at that point in time, but I was fairly certain it was not a good thing.
The lack of activity turned into a veritable hive of action as we neared the city's walls. Soldiers ran to and from, orders being yelled and a slight edge of panic to every movement. Those men and women of the Seren Screl city guard may have considered themselves professionals, but they were a far cry from a professional army and were definitely not mentally prepared for the horde that had just arrived outside their city. Seren Screl had always relied on mercenary armies to fight their wars, but the speed with which Amarok had marched his horde left them without the time to contract one.
Goron and I were not stopped as we approached the interior stairs which lead to the top of the wall. The wall and stairs were both constructed of the same dull brown stone as the buildings in the city, only of blocks of far greater size. I didn't appreciate it then, but looking back, the wall itself was an impressive structure and therefore unsurprising that part of the guard's lack of preperation stemmed from overconfidence in it. But I digress, as I am want to do.
'That's a lot of soldiers,' Goron commented as we reached the top of the wall and looked out over the force camped outside.
'I think calling them soldiers is a stretch,' I replied drily. 'More like bandits that masquerade as a legitimate force.'
Goron's brows drew tight on his forehead.
The Horde of Brutus Amarok sprawled around the city, just out of effective bow range, pulsing back and forth as the savages roared incoherent cries at Seren Screl. I am not a military man, nor am I particularly good at judging large numbers, but there were easily several thousand men now surrounding the walls.
'Stand ready, men of the watch,' a voice screamed from our right.
Guardsmen all around us responded, readying bows and loosing swords in sheathes.
'Surely, they won't attack right after arriving, will they?' I asked, looking at Goron.
For once, he actually looked as concerned about a pending fight as I did. As you would be aware by now, the man loves a good brawl, but there is a huge difference between a small fight between ten or twenty people and the all-out war that was about to start. And we were stuck right in the middle and at that moment, it hardly looked like we were on the winning side.
'Who the fuck are you?' the same yelling voice asked from right behind us. The man was barely more than half my height, but easily twice my width, and he stood glaring at us from under his conical helm as we turned.
'Goron Bloodblade,' Goron answered before I could silence him.
I groaned as a glimmer of recognition reached the short guard's eyes.
'The same Bloodblade that rescued Princess Persephone?' he asked. '’Bout time I had some luck,' he commented after Goron nodded his confirmation. 'None of these boys have seen more than a bar fight. It will be good to have another seasoned warrior on the wall. Head over to my lieutenant's command post there and he will find the best place to have you on the wall.' The guard pointed along the wall to where a young man stood behind a foldable table. 'We'll show these fuckers that Seren Screl is no easy nut to crack,' he finished with a laugh, pushing us both towards the command post. The short guard started following us, falling behind slightly as he stopped to yell at different people before resuming the walk.
'Why the fuck did you tell him your name?' I hissed at Goron, ignoring the glances the soldiers around us shot as we passed.
'How was I supposed to know he would want us to fight?' Goron complained.
'Oh, I don't know, maybe because you are a famous fucking warrior now!' I struggled to keep my voice down. Goron's anger had seemed to have dissipated after seeing the horde, but mine was only just being stoked and I am still far from articulate when angry.
We walked the last twenty metres to the command post in silence, the eyes of the city guardsmen that flicked towards us as we approached showing barely contained fear.
'Sir,' the short guardsman said, coming to a halt beside us and saluting.
The young man behind the foldable table looked to be barely past his twenty-first nameday, a soft fuzz covering his chin instead of the beard that he was clearly attempting to achieve.
'What is it, Sergeant Baldry?' he asked. Although he was clearly in charge, and by his speech, a noble, the young man didn't seem to know what to do. By the way he kept looking at me and Goron, he clearly wanted to know who we were and what we were doing there, but lacked the confidence to ask in case it was something he should already know.
'Sir,' the short guard, Sergeant Baldry, said. 'This here is Goron Bloodblade. He has come to help us fight.'
I saw Goron out of the corner of my eye opening his mouth to protest. I nudged him sharply with my elbow, our long-term signal that he should shut up. Thankfully, he seemed to remember the pre-arranged signal this time, something that was not always a guarantee. There was a reason it was a less than subtle signal, and that reason was Goron.
Now don't get me wrong, I had no desire to get embroiled in a siege and certainly didn’t want to fight on the walls during it. But I could also recognise desperation when I saw it and doubted that the guards would act rationally if we told them we didn't want to fight. That seemed like a sure-fire way to be hung as cowards.
'Excellent,' the lieutenant said.
'I recommend you position them with me above the gate,' Baldry said when the lieutenant failed to give any orders, ‘the fighting will be the fiercest there and I could use seasoned fighters.'
'Yes, very good,' the lieutenant said, looking down at the map of the city in front of him on the table. 'Do that, sergeant.'
'Yes Sir,' Baldry confirmed loudly, saluting and turning away. He ushered us back the way we came.
So, there you go. We were now part of the Seren Screl guard, defending the walls from the horde of Warlord Brutus Amarok. Goron had no grand and noble intentions, we simply got stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time and couldn't find a way to avoid the coming fight. The bards would have you believe that Bloodblade rushed into the thick of the fighting, eager to save lives with the skill of his blade. In reality, however, we would have slipped out of that accursed city the first chance we had if things had transpired just a little differently. I wonder how many of the soldiers that worship the myth of Bloodblade will still do so after they read this truthful rendition of the Siege of Seren Screl? Not many, I would wager.
'The lieutenant is a good lad,' Baldry said when we were well out of earshot. 'But he is so far out of this depth he is beyond drowning.'
'Is there anything anyone can do at this point?' I asked. Although I would not have admitted it to Baldry at the time, I was desperately seeking a way out of the coming fight. I was hoping he would agree and we would find an ally in our escape.
'We can fight like hell,' Baldry growled. He looked at me, like he was finally noticing that someone other than Goron was present with them. 'I'm sorry warrior, I didn't get your name.'
'Ned,' I answered simply. At this point, correcting him about me being a warrior seemed fruitless. My hope of escape was drowning just like the lieutenant.
The portion of wall above the city's main gate looked much like the rest, only a small set of four steps led up to a raised area above the actual gate and two parapets on its flanks. The guards here appeared less anxious than those below, clearly all of them were at least slightly more seasoned than the other men they had been passing and whom were on the edge of panic. A gap opened up in front of us, letting Goron, Baldry and I step to the edge of the wall and look down on the horde.
'Attacking as soon as you arrive at a city isn't normal, right?' I asked Baldry. Every story I had ever heard about military ventures said you never attack after a march because the troops were exhausted. I desperately wanted someone to confirm it was true, just so I knew we weren't about to find ourselves in combat.
'Normally, yes,' Baldry growled, glancing across at me. 'But from what I've heard, Amarok is one crazy fucker that doesn't follow conventional wisdom.'
'They're going to attack,' Goron said. His booming voice echoed over the troops on the wall, setting off a series of movements as the guards readied their weapons.
'Keep your voice down,' Baldry chided him. 'You trying to stir my men up?'
Goron's anger was starting to reassert itself. I was surprised as he had remained quiet and calm for far longer than was normal, but the bottling of his frustration and fear, I could recognise, was about to burst forth. Right then, it looked like Baldry was about to be the focus of that outburst.
But Goron was right.
I know. I was just as surprised as you are now. It is a rare occasion when I admit my giant friend is right.
Amarok's horde surge forward, the constant roar it had been sending towards Seren Screl now reaching a crescendo. Time seemed to still. I could see hundreds of leathers clad, axe and sword wielding, face painted maniacs charging straight at us. It may seem ridiculous, but I can still picture the exact details of a single warrior that was in the vanguard; his scraggly brown beard, lank and greasy hair, the bulging biceps peaking from underneath his leather tunic. Other details from that moment are hazy at best, but that man will always be ingrained in my mind. Especially the moment an arrow slammed into his throat and he disappeared under the stomping feet of the horde.
When my mind finally slowly returned to focus, I saw the guards around me frantically firing arrows at the charging horde. Baldry was pacing up and down the raised area of the wall above the gate, shouting obscenities at a rate that made me worried he would run out of breath.
Did I mention that my mind thought and focused on strange things at that point in time?
Goron's meaty hand clamped down on my shoulder, pulling me back behind the line of guards on the wall as the first of the horde's ladders hit the wall. They appeared on the flanks of the raised portion, leaving us in the middle of a pincer, the boom of a battering ram hitting the gate starting to echo from below.
'We need to fuck off,' he said, leaning in close so I could hear him. Even so, he had to shout to be heard over the clang of steel and screams of men; screams of anger and pain alike.
I nodded my agreement, clenching my stomach muscles as my bladder tried to void itself. Looking around, I tried in vain to find a way through the fighting that was now raging all around us. Goron seemed to notice the same as me, drawing both his hand-axe and longsword.
'Let's fucking go lads!' Baldry screamed, his short legs propelling him into the group of horde soldiers that broke through the line of guards to our left. The small, stocky sergeant was like a boulder rolling down a mountain as he crashed into the grubby lunatics wildly slashing their way across the wall, sending them tumbling like bowling pins.
Although he stemmed the breach they had made in the line, Baldry was unable to stop them all alone, and several were still coming towards us. Before I could even consider what to do, Goron stepped in front of me and did what he did best.
Even surrounded by warriors, guards, and barbarians from the attacking horde, Goron stood out. He towered over most of them, his massive arms making his weapons look like children's toys as he viciously swung them into the enemy, hacking them down brutally. I saw at least one blade glance across his chest, his leather vest turning the blow. A single enemy fighter managed to get around both him and Baldry. The dirty man, dressed in a strange metal platted skirt, was clearly trying to stab Goron in the back, taking the chance to remove what was clearly the biggest threat to him and his friends trying to make a beachhead on the wall.
If the way the bards tell this tale were true, Goron would have ended up with a sword in his back. They speak of the skill and ferocity with which he fought, citing the luck that was on his side as arrows zipped harmlessly past him.
But Goron didn't need luck. He has never had luck.
He has me.
Dashing forward, body moving with little conscious thought, I rammed my short sword through the fighter’s back. I'm not the hero of this story. I didn't act to be a hero. I protected my friend, something any decent man would do.
Blood gushed over my hand, the weight of the fighter’s body dragged him off my sword as he went limp, crumpling to the stones. Goron continued to scream, hacking apart the last of the attackers nearby, completely oblivious to how close he had come to death. On the up-side, he had found an outlet for the rage and frustration that had been building in him since arriving in the city, which would make my life easier, or at least that was my theory.
Baldry was screaming orders as the attack faltered, guards rushing forward to push the ladders away from the wall.
'Looks like we won this fight,' Goron grinned. Even from the short skirmish, he was spattered with blood and gore, his brutality evident from the mess he can make in such a short time with only a sword and axe.
'You realise there is still an entire horde out there that wants to kill us?' I asked rhetorically. Fighting always excited Goron and it was clearly overriding his common sense about the situation we were in.
I watched his face drop as reality crashed back into his tiny mind.
'Good scrap, ‘ey lads,' Baldry boomed, strolling over to join us. Looking at the squat sergeant, anyone would think he was out for an evening stroll with his woman. 'Not sure we would have held without you.'
'I'm sure you’ll be fine without us,' I said quickly. The horde had withdrawn out of bow range, still screaming in rage at the walls of Seren Screl.
'That was just a quick probing assualt,' Baldry explained, hefting his sword and giving it a casual swing. 'And yet, they still almost succeeding in achieving a beachhead.' He snorted, shaking his head. 'I don't have enough real warriors to hold the walls. The city will fall when the horde launch their first sustained attack against us.'
Baldry's statement silenced us. We were both desperate to find a way to escape, and I think Baldry knew it. I was certain he would do anything to keep us on the walls fighting with him.
'They seem to be settling,' Baldry continued when we remained silent, sheathing his sword. 'The sun will be setting soon and I don't think they will attack again today; the booze will probably already be flowing out there.'
'Any chance we could get some?' Goron asked. The mention of alcohol brought a glint to his eyes.
'Doubt it,' the stout sergeant admitted. 'But I can get us some decent food.'
Goron grunted and we both watched as Baldry set off to get the promised food. The sun was just starting to sink below the horizon, a wave of exhaustion rolling over me like a tide. The day had been full of highs and lows, so not only was I physically tired, but also mentally and emotionally exhausted. It felt like I was empty, all hope of escape and survival seeming to drain from me.
‘Come on.’ Goron jabbed a finger into my shoulder painfully, getting my attention as he strolled off through the ranks of exhausted soldiers.
Trotting quickly to catch up as he made his way along the wall, wisely in the opposite direction to Sergeant Baldry, I couldn’t help but feel pity for the men lining the wall. The siege had just begun and they already looked ready to break. Their armour was almost too clean, having clearly been more useful on a parade ground than in combat. A faraway gaze seemed to emanate from every second man. And using the term “man” was generous noting the majority looked like they had barely started shaving. I purposely avoided looking at the bodies lying on top of the wall, unmoving and stained red.
‘Where are we going?’ I asked with a tired sigh. If I was going to die on this wall, I at least wanted to die with a full stomach.
‘The sun is almost down,’ Goron said, pointing unnecessarily at it. ‘Let’s find a way over the wall.’
I was too tired to protest, following with a numb mind as we wove our way through the guardsmen, boots thumping softly on the stone. Lost in my own thoughts, thinking of all my regrets and things I wished to still experience, I almost walked right past the hulking frame of my friends as he stopped. I must admit, there are times when I give Goron too little credit, and this was one of them. While I had succumbed to despair, accepting our morbid fate, Goron continued to fight. You can always count on Goron to fight to the end.
‘How deep do you think it is?’ His deep voice rumbled as I joined him near the edge of the wall. It took a moment for me to realise what he was talking about.
A body of water was pooled at the base of the wall; a portion of wall with few guards nearby I noted. It looked as if they were relying on the water to dissuade the horde from attacking here, despite the pool of water barely standing a hundred metres wide.
‘It can’t be that deep,’ I answered. ‘It doesn’t look like a permanent body of water. I doubt it’s large enough to survive through summer.’
‘No one’s attacking or defending here,’ he pointed out. Goron looked furtively around at the relatively empty portion of wall we now occupied. ‘Must be deep enough to break our fall.’
My jaw fell open as I finally caught on to the reason behind his stupid questions.
‘You want to jump?’ I had to stop myself from yelling, my voice changing to a clipped growl. ‘Are you fucking mad?’
‘We’re fucked if we stay here,’ he said. I wasn’t sure when I became the angry idiot and Goron the one with common sense, but I definitely didn’t like it.
I half sighed and half growled, shifting my weight from side to side as I tried to work up the courage to willingly leap off a perfectly good wall. To this day, I still yell at Goron for throwing me. He still maintains that I wouldn’t have jumped myself. We will never know who was right, but at least the water was deep enough to break our fall and not our legs. Barely.
I won’t repeat the string of curses I hurled at Goron in a half-hearted whisper after I came spluttering out of the water. He had landed just to my right, barely a second later, and now held my arm as we worked our way out of the small pool.
‘We didn’t die,’ he said in defence as I trailed off. ‘Quick, over here.’
We rushed over to a stand of tall grass, trying to hunch while still moving fast. The results probably would have been comical to anyone who saw us from the wall, but we thankfully avoided that.
‘My knees feel like there’s broken glass in them,’ I complained with a groan, lying in the grass and trying to catch my breath. Although the water had been deep enough to break our fall, I had still hit the bottom with significant force.
‘Baldry is probably very unhappy right now,’ Goron chuckled next to me. His features were quickly disappearing as darkness fell around us.
‘Well, he is facing certain death,’ I replied drily, ‘along with everyone else in the city he is charged to defend.’ Now that we were free of the city, I felt a surge of guilt. Logically, I knew the presence of Goron and I would not change the outcome, but emotions have little to do with logic. ‘We are not exactly home free yet,’ I commented. ‘We are still stuck between the walls and the horde. I doubt Warlord Brutus Amarok is just going to let us stroll through his camp to freedom.’
Goron didn’t reply.
So, now you know. The selfless sacrifice Bloodblade willingly made to break the siege was in fact the exact opposite. We were trying to save our own hide. Like so many of our adventures, we got lucky. Or unlucky, depending on your point of view. But I digress, and for the single person in the world reading this that hasn’t heard the ballad, I am getting ahead of the story.
'Should we wait out the battle here?' Goron asked eventually.
'And get trampled when the horde attacks?' I asked sarcastically. Goron looked ready to punch me. 'Sorry,' I said quickly, trying to get my ever-fraying nerves under control. I'm not proud about how I had been treating Goron, but to be fair, it was an extremely stressful day. 'I think we should try to get through the horde. The battle could still take days, and even if we didn't get trampled, we can't sit here for that long with no food.'
'It sounds like they’re having a party.' Goron shifted his bulk and tried to peer over the long grass we lay in. 'Should we wait until they all go to bed?'
The sound of wild revels coming from the horde was indeed an eerie counterpoint to the silence of the city walls behind us. How anyone can be that happy about killing other people will always be beyond me.
'I think we should go now,' I answered. I shifted and tried, unsuccessfully, to see the horde over the grass. There was a quarter moon providing enough light to see by, but I am significantly smaller than Goron and the tall grass overcame my ability to crane my neck. 'If we can get in their perimeter, we might be able to pass unnoticed if we pretend to be part of the horde. Sneaking through once they are asleep would be hard to explain if anyone saw us.'
'Alright,' Goron agreed, cracking his neck and pulling the leather jerkin over his shoulders.
'What are you doing?' I asked, raising an eyebrow.
'We need to act like them, right?' I nodded my assent. 'Well, when I get drunk, I always take my shirt off.'
He wasn't wrong about losing his shirt when he got drunk. Although, that didn't only happen when he was drinking. I thought about pointing out that being shirtless and the size of a mountain would likely draw attention in the horde, but honestly, Goron drew attention no matter what. How we managed to sneak mostly undetected through the Caverns of Mornac was beyond me, but that’s a different tale altogether.
'Let's go,' I said.
We crawled through the long grass side by side, making our way towards the glow of the horde's fires. Words cannot describe the fear. My heart pounded in my chest, forehead clammy with sweat, hands shaking uncontrollably. No. Words don't do it justice. But at least I had Goron by my side, and if anyone had a chance of pulling off this feat of madness, it was him.
It didn't take long to reach the perimeter of the horde, although calling it a perimeter was giving it a lot of credit. They were just out of bow shot range from the walls of Seren Screl, far closer than conventional military wisdom would dictate, and seemed to have few formal guards. The members of the horde just seemed to sprawl out wherever they wished, the perimeter being marked solely by where the furthest member collapsed in a drunken stupor.
The one advantage to this chaotic mess was that Goron and I easily transitioned from crawling to walking, slipping in amongst the haphazard hide tents without notice.
Dirty, smelly men were everywhere. Sitting around campfires. Lounging under their hide tents. Strolling along the ill-defined walkways that disappeared whenever someone decided to sit in the middle of them. I have seen some poorly designed villages, chaotic campsites, and overcrowded cities in my time, but the horde of Warlord Amarok was by far the worst.
It almost seemed too easy, which did nothing to calm me. Goron and I pretended to stagger, putting on bleary faces that I hoped looked like we had drunk too much already. Our crazy plan seemed to be working. We were able to shrug off people trying to talk to us or draw us to their fires with some hasty, incoherent, drunk mumbling that no one appeared to question. There were plenty of others around us that had already passed out, bodies strewn everywhere around the camp.
The glow of the fires gave the place an almost demonic feeling. Shadows flickered everywhere as men passed in front of the fires placed haphazardly around the camp, creating specters that had my heart jumping with almost every second step.
As we turned a corner around a large tent, I was hit in the chest and knocked sprawling towards an adjacent fire. Drunken cajoling assaulted me as I hauled myself out of the dirt, head swiveling as I got my bearings back, only to notice that the cajoling was not a result of my tumble. Goron, as always, was drawing attention.
A skinny man in brown leathers was on his back, arms clamped around Goron's neck as he tried to choke him. Another man gripped his arms, grappling in vain in an attempt to bring the giant down. Two of their comrades were already lying in the dirt, unmoving and one of them with blood gushing from his head. Normally, this would be a lot for a person to take in, but it was such a common sight being Goron's best friend that it all registered in an instant and I knew what was happening.
Clearly, I had run into one of the four men when we had walked around the tent, which had been the cause of my tumble. As usual, Goron had let the primitive side of him, which to be fair, is the majority of him, take over and started a fight.
The men at the fire behind me roared again as Goron broke the grip of the man holding his arms, twisting easily despite the extra weight of the skinny man on his back, and breaking his assailant’s arm. As the man with the now broken arm screamed, Goron reached over his shoulder and practically plucked the fourth man off his back, flipping him easily over his shoulder into broken arm. Within seconds of the fight starting, it was over, with four warriors laying broken and bloody at Goron's feet.
Say what you will about him, and I certainly do, but the man knows how to break people.
Goron let out a booming laugh, the thrill of the fight clearly outweighing common sense and the fear of being surrounded by a horde of enemies.
'That all you fuckers got?' he boomed down at the four men. The man with the broken arm groaned loudly, the others were still unmoving.
I shuffled over to him as quick as I could and grabbed his arm. He spun, fist raised ready to strike before he realised it was just me.
'We need to go,' I hissed as quietly as possible, glancing at the men by the fire who were cheering Goron's victory. One of the dirty men stood and beckoned Goron to join them, his greasy hair swaying in the firelight as he swayed on unsteady feet.
The reality of the situation finally sunk into Goron's head, his grin dropping from his face in an instant. We managed to skirt around the now broken assailants, taking what I think was only a mere five steps before being stopped.
'Not so fast,' a voice called from behind us. If a glacier could talk, it would sound like that voice. It was cold but intelligent, and carried the whisper of death itself on it. If I ever hear a voice like that again, I will pray to all the gods it is on my deathbed.
We both took another heavy step, planting our foot so we could start running, but a wall of beefy men merged before us from the gloom. And these weren't the common, drunken rabble that surrounded us. These men made the horde look like gutter trash, with their well-maintained leather armour and polished weapons. The men before us were true killers, not the raving lunatics that made up the majority of the horde.
'That was an impressive display,' the cold voice said.
My jaw dropped as we both turned, giving up on the hope of a quick dash to freedom. Standing before us, silhouetted by the fire behind him, was the largest man I have ever seen.
Yes, he was bigger than Goron Bloodblade, as hard as that is to comprehend.
'I am Brutus Amarok,' the man said, sending a chill down my spine. The warlord was head a shoulder taller than Goron, and half again as wide. He wore a wolf-fur cloak, the paws of the beast on his shoulders and its head artfully converted into the hood which now sat upon Amarok's head. He wore only a leather harness that crossed in the middle of his chest, and black leather pants with an axe dangling from one hip. His whole visage was designed to intimidate … which it did extremely effectively.
'The warlord?' Goron asked next to me, voice unusually subdued. Apparently, even he was feeling intimidated.
A smile that didn't reach his pale blue eyes broke Amarok's face. 'So, my assumption that you are not part of the horde was correct.' His gaze passed from Goron to me and back again.
I have said often that I'm not the hero. I generally stick to my assertion that I don't want recognition and am happy being the forgotten sidekick. But we all know I wouldn't be writing these if I didn't want at least a tiny bit of recognition for the part I have played in Goron's adventures. I don't want to take the mantle of hero from him, but just a recognition that I exist and helped would be nice. Well, in that moment, when the Warlord Brutus Amarok looked at me, I would have been quite happy to turn invisible and never be spoken of again.
Thankfully, Goron refrained from speaking.
'You don't strike me as city guards, and therefore are not strictly deserters,' the giant warlord mused. His men patiently waited around him, most of them fingering their weapons in anticipation of being given permission to tear us to pieces. 'Spies, perhaps?' A cool breeze blew through the camp, rustling the warlords wolf-fur cloak and cooling the sweat on my brow. 'No. Maybe, if it was just you,' he pointed at me, almost stopping my heart, 'but not this one.' His attention shifted back to Goron. 'Who are you?'
'Goron Bloodblade.' I doubt anyone else noticed the slight hesitation in his voice, but I still remember it.
'Ne… Ned,' I managed to croak out.
'Bloodblade,' Amarok said, seeming to swirl the name around in his mouth. 'I've heard of you. Why are you here?'
Although I could still hear the revels of the horde around us, the camp seemed to still, like it had drawn its breath and was waiting to exhale.
'Just passing through,' Goron answered glibly.
'We got stuck in Seren Screl,' I said quickly as the Warlord stepped forward, clearly unamused by the reply. 'We were guards for a convoy that arrived without knowing your horde was coming and weren't allowed to leave the city. We slipped over the wall to escape.'
Amarok eyed me for what objectively was only a second, but subjectively was at least an hour. Then burst out laughing, tilting his head back, causing the wolf-head hood to look like it was howling at the moon above us. All around us, men burst out laughing with him.
'You got stuck in the fucking city,' Amarok repeated, still chuckling.
'Yes,' I near whispered in confirmation. Goron squared his shoulders beside me, trying to figure out whether to be insulted or not.
'So, you were the one that pushed back my assualt above the gates then?' Amarok asked rhetorically.
'It wasn't by choice,' Goron answered before I could stop him. 'One of the guard sergeants trapped us into it.'
The men around laughed, but this time Amarok just stared at us intensely.
I couldn't pull my gaze away from his pale blue eyes. They seemed to drill into me, weighing my soul, measuring every aspect of me for judgement.
'I will give you one chance to live,' he said as the laughter of his men slowly faded. 'You will fight me, Bloodblade. If you kill me, my men will let you leave.'
The men surrounding us burst into shouting cheers as the giant warlord shrugged off his wolf cloak, drawing the half-crescent axe at his hip.
'Fuck me,' Goron growled next to me.
Everything seemed to happen at once. Goron pushed me sideways, sending me sprawling into the dirt again, this time at the feet of the circle of killers around us. He drew his own sword and axe from his belt, barely moving in time to duck under the vicious swing Amarok aimed at his neck. The warlord had wasted no time waiting for a response before launching his assualt.
Goron had barely enough time to bring his sword up to block Amarok's backswing, the force of it sending the sword twirling from Goron's grip. A pain-ridden scream reached my ears but I didn't dare look away to see who had been hit by the flying sword. Finding his footing, Goron was able to dodge the next swing and follow up with his own counter-attack, swinging his own axe three times in a lightning-fast combination.
I thought the fight would be over then. The number of fights I had seen Goron in, even at this early point in our adventures, told me that the combination would overwhelm his adversary and he would hack them to bits effortlessly. So, you will understand my shock when Brutus Amarok caught the hilt of Goron's axe in one hand.
A split second passed, in which I saw Goron's eyes go wide, reflecting the orange firelight filtering through the wall of men around us. Before Goron could respond, Amarok swung his free hand, the fist clenching his own ax pounded into the side of Goron's head with enough force to crack a watermelon open.
The sound of that blow still makes me wince.
Goron rolled with the blow, a lifetime of combat refined instincts kicking in. Don't ask me how, but he managed to come back to his feet, axe still held in one hand. I could already see a massive black bruise coming up on the side of his face and under his eye.
'Impressive,' Amarok commented, a bloodthirsty grin on his face.
I have commented extensively on Goron's own desire for combat, and the thrill he feels when fighting. But Goron has never enjoyed killing simply for killing. He revels in the challenge of combat, of pitting himself against others to see who can overpower the other. Despite my criticism of the brute, he is not a mindless killer.
Amarok clearly was.
The giant warlord stepped forward casually, clearly enjoying what he thought was soon to be a thrilling kill. But he clearly hadn't paid enough attention to the stories of Bloodblade that he had heard. Although, to be fair, there weren’t too many at that point in time.
Goron straightened, standing tall. Normally, he would be towering over his opponent, but that didn't matter to him right then. I could see the rage building behind his eyes.
'Shit,' I whispered from the dirt. In case you were wondering, I was still sitting where I had fallen when Goron had pushed me. It seemed like the best way to remain unobtrusive.
My heart stopped as I watched Goron drop his axe.
'Surrender won't save you,' Amarok said, stepping forward in the circle of combat.
Goron's lip curled.
Then he dashed forward to meet the warlord, dropping his head at the last second as he rammed his shoulder into the giant warlord’s solar-plex. A roar of pure rage came from Goron as his muscles surged, lifting the surprised Amarok off his feet.
I'm honestly not sure who was more surprised. Amarok? The men around us? Me? I guess in the end, it doesn't really matter.
Goron hefted Amarok over his shoulder as he straightened up, shifting his grip under the warlord’s ass, and throwing him forward with all his prestigious strength. The warlord, despite his massive size and strength, was like a ragdoll right then, helpless under Goron's rage as he flew backwards towards the ground. Amarok slammed head first into the ground. I swear the back of his head sunk half-way into the ground, although that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Goron had put all his strength into the tackle, and that coupled with the warlord's own weight meant I practically felt the force of the impact through the ground, Amarok's axe flying from his grip causing another scream from the circle.
Wasting no time, Goron leapt onto Amarok's and started to pound his face into the ground, each blow sending out a crunch of bone and blood. Within seconds, in which countless fury filled blows fell, Bloodblade had reduced the warlord's face to a bloody pulp while his horde looked on in shock.
I stood as Goron rose up from the corpse of his foe. He raised two bloody fists above his head and roared a bloodcurdling cry into the night.
This time, I'm pretty sure the camp actually did go silent.
Amarok had promised that we would be allowed to live if Goron won their fight. But right then, Goron apparently realised the same as me: there was no reason for any of them to honour their now-dead leader's word.
As the echo of his war cry died, Goron jumped forward and grabbed me by the shoulder with a blood-soaked hand, dragging me forward as we started to run. He shoulder-barged a gap in between the circle of men, the killers around us still in shock, processing what they had seen and deciding what would happen next.
Thankfully, organisations like bloodthirsty hordes don't have many processes or rules surrounding succession. Fighting broke out almost as soon as we barged through them, each of the killers in Amarok's inner circle deciding they should now lead the horde and trying to kill their competitors for the title.
Our subsequent mad dash through the horde's camp is honestly a bit of a blur to me. I remember a couple of short scuffles as drunken warriors tried to stop us, and a lot of swearing, but that's about it. By morning, we were well out of sight of the camp and Seren Screl. We didn't really care where we ended up, as long as it was far away from there, and didn't even stop to rest until the following night.
Well, there you have it.
The famous duel between Bloodblade and Warlord Brutus Amarok. The real duel.
As you can see, the prattle about Goron marching alone from the doomed city of Seren Screl to challenge the entire horde to single combat was not exactly true. The fight happened, sure. But not through any willing choice on our behalf. About the only thing they got right was that Goron finally met someone bigger than him.
I still think part of Goron's strength that day came from jealousy. He didn't like the thought of there being someone in the world bigger and stronger than him.
I'm sure you know already, but for the sake of giving all the details to finish the story, Seren Screl survived. The fighting that broke out in the horde when Amarok died continued for three days, with factions in the horde breaking off and a war of succession playing out under the city's walls. I heard from reliable sources that the guards on the walls spent the next three days betting about which faction would win, with a certain sergeant finishing the siege with enough money to retire on.
But that is just hearsay. There is no way I am going back to Seren Screl to find out for sure. Despite how it turned out, I don't think Baldry would forgive us for abandoning him and his men on the walls.
By the time the civil war ended a victor crowned, the horde was easily routed by a single sally from the guards.
The Siege of Seren Screl was broken a mere four days after starting. From among the prisoners that the guards took when they routed the horde, tales sprang of the warrior that defeated their leader.
And so, the legend of Bloodblade grew.
With no mention of me. As usual.
But hey, there's only one hero in this tale, and I'm proud to call him my best friend. And like all best friends, I'm going to make sure I share the embarrassing truth about him.
Until next time.
Oh, and remember, don't tell Goron about these stories. I don’t want to get punched in the face again.