Art by Mackenzie Hollman, 2021.
Eitra stood on the bow of the boat, staring at the dark, stone fortress ahead. Towers and walls seemed to rise up as an extension of the cliff’s rocky ground, scraping the sky as they rose above the clouds. The water was calm, the mist hung low in the air, and little sound could be heard from the surrounding outskirts of Arabouth’s city.
“I still can’t believe they went along with this,” Borivin, too, was staring up at the castle looming in the darkness.
“I can’t believe it either,” Taris said. “I didn’t even have a chance to punch one.”
“They’re restless for a fight,” Eitra said softly. “They know that this could be their only chance to take down the castle.”
Borivin grunted, “Or they’re afraid of those creatures. We need to be careful of those hunters… they could very well be using us for their own agenda.”
“If all goes to plan,” Eitra said, “we’ll be able to fulfill our own mission before they get to theirs.”
Laughter erupted from the back of the boat. The Historian, tied up next to a large box of cargo, pulled back his head, eyes alive with hysteria, “Th-the past has once again become the future, yes… it has. Our ancestors in the stars are very pleased, pleased indeed.”
Something about the way The Historian had mentioned the ancestors sent a chill down Eitra’s spine. It was the same things her father would tell her when they used to lie in the grass staring at the night sky.
“Will you shut him up?” Borivin grumbled. “He’s been rambling on about that stuff for hours now.”
“What do you expect?” Taris frowned. “He’s as crazy as those creatures are. Must be why he likes them so much.”
“Oh, but th-that’s not why I talked with them, is it?” The Historian laughed, “They knew the-things. Information is a valuable tool… it is. Yes, information on the future… or should I say the past. But yet, th-the past is our future–one in the same.”
Borivin growled in frustration, reaching for his sword strapped to his back.
Eitra put herself between the two men, “Wait! He needs to be left alive!”
“That conspiring piece of slime deserves every bit of pain he’s about to get,” Borivin attempted to push forward.
Eitra blocked his path, “No! If he knows things about the creatures, he’s more valuable now than he ever was!”
Borivin snarled, “I’ll show him what’s–”
“Um, guys?” Taris interrupted. “It looks like we’re approaching the docks.”
Eitra looked ahead. They were at the base of the castle now, at the side of one of its outer stone walls. A small outpost was attached haphazardly to the side of the structure, guarding the gates that allowed the river’s current to flow inside the castle and form an outer ring of protection. A large metal portcullis jutted up from the depths of the waters, blocking their entrance inside.
Eitra pushed past Borivin, “We’d better get ready.”
The boat flowed slowly across the river’s current, the new white sail flapping softly in the breeze. A man stood on the platform outside of the outpost, a spear and roll of parchment held in his hands.
“Prepare for your ship to be boarded during inspection,” the man called out to them and adjusted his helmet awkwardly on his head. “Be ready to provide the Council’s Seal for safe passage.”
“Should be anytime now…” Taris muttered under his breath as he led the boat to the guardhouse.
“That is, if they are going to follow through at all…” Borivin grumbled.
“Please begin to stop your boat!” The guard called out. “You must be granted–”
The man was interrupted by the sound of a warhorn in the distance. Then, like a voice echoing in an empty room, another horn came from the north, then another and another and another, until Eitra felt as if she was being surrounded by the sounds piercing through the thick fog.
“Hunters!” the man at the outpost shouted. “To your posts! Don’t let those traitors get into the castle!”
The walls were now alive with the sound and sights of guards rushing from one checkpoint to another, all brandishing weapons in anticipation of a fight to come. Senior soldiers barked orders as volleys of arrows were sent up from the ground, sending men falling off the walls, arrows protruding from their chests.
“That’s our cue, I guess,” Taris drew his bow.
Borivin unsheathed his sword and let out a roar as he charged the man at the docks, knocking him off his feet and bringing his blade down into his chest. “Open the gates!” he bellowed to Eitra.
Eitra jumped off the boat, dagger drawn, and raced inside the outpost. Two guards rushed out, drawing their swords from their side. One immediately dropped to the ground as Taris sent an arrow through his chest. Eitra managed to parry an attack from the other, swiftly sliding her blade to his hilt, curling it over his grip, and piercing it into his stomach.
She entered the outpost, kicking a surprised guard in the knees, and grabbed onto a large lever attached to a pulley system. She put all of her weight onto the contraption, attempting to force it downward, but failed to move it.
Eitra felt a hand grab her ankle as the guard she’d sent to the ground reached for his sword, slashing at her leg. She cried out in pain and kicked his hand away, throwing her dagger at his sword arm. He cried out in pain as he dropped his blade.
She pulled her dagger out of his arm and, thinking quickly, slashed at the pulley’s ropes. The outpost shook as sandbags hit against its base and the gates slowly began to open.
“Nice work!” Borivin shouted as he took down another guard with a swing of his blade.
Eitra made her way out of the outpost, taking down a guard occupied with Borivin. Eitra slid to the ground, slicing at another guard’s legs sending him tumbling into the river howling in pain.
Eitra jumped from the dock to the boat, catching her balance on it’s mast. Borivin charged past another guard, pushing him into the river, and jumped off the docks, catching the boat’s railing and pulling himself to the deck. Taris strapped his bow back to his back and yanked at the sail’s ropes, catching a bit of the wind and sending the vessel on its way through the open gates.
All around them, Eitra could hear the sounds of battle ringing throughout the castle. A few of the bowmen had managed to climb to the top of the castle’s walls using makeshift ropes and ladders and now stood guard on top of the castle’s gates with arrows notched in their bows. Eitra spotted Arragof leading an assault on a tower topped with a ballista, taking down guards as they went.
“Up ahead!” Borivin warned as the boat approached a sharp corner stretching around the castle’s inner walls.
Taris pulled the rope to the other side, catching the wind in the opposite direction, wood scraping against stone as the boat grazed the keep’s wall. Up ahead, they could see the storage chamber’s docks where merchants would usually drop off goods for the castle’s kitchens.
“Hold on!” Taris braced himself on the mast of the ship. “We’re coming in fast!”
Eitra dropped to the floor and grabbed on the side of the ship, the wood digging into her palms and pain shooting up from her injured leg. The boat hit the docks, shattering it’s wood planks and support beams before crashing against the stone ledge and coming to an abrupt halt.
“Ugh…” Taris collapsed to his knees in exhaustion as he let go of the ropes and looked down at the damage to his boat.
Borivin grabbed the old man and easily heaved him over his muscular shoulders. Eitra helped a dazed Taris take the large cargo box, setting it down on the docks.
“How’s your leg?” they both set down the box.
“It’s fine,” her teeth were gritted through the pain. “Let’s just get inside.”
The doors to the storage chamber flew wide open, two guards standing in the doorway, weapons raised. Borivin and Eitra raised their blades, but the guards fell to the floor, an arrow notched in each of their backs.
Valin stepped out from the doorway, flanked by two of his hunters, “Arragof and his men are holding the council hostage in their main hall. The soldiers are still fighting to take back the rest of the castle.”
“Do we have a clear path inside?” Borivin said.
“We should. Take the creature,” Valin commanded his men.
The two hunters hefted the cargo box onto their shoulders.
Valin turned to Eitra, “It’s still unconscious?”
“As far as we can tell, yes,” she replied.
The Historian laughed as he struggled against Borivin’s grip, “Oh no no no… he’s about to be awoken. It’s only waiting–hoping to stay alive as you bring him further away from his comrades.”
“Making no sense as usual aren’t you,” Borivin growled.
“Wait,” Eitra said. “What do you mean ‘waiting’?”
The old man chuckled, “Th-they’re clever, they are. When one leaves the pack, th-the others have a way of knowing where to find it. Th-they sleep… then the others come.”
Shock hit Eitra hard in the stomach as she realized what he was implying, “They’re coming here, aren’t they. They’ve found Arabouth.”
“Oh yes…” The Historian smiled, “and you’ve led them straight here.”