The Last (b)

Simen glances briefly at the spent field behind him.  “I can see that.  What of your allies?”

“Death.”

“All…?” he asks, a bit too carelessly.

The lone man gazes wearily at Simen, having lost the strength to be angry at him for such a tactless remark.  He inhales deeply, taking care not to choke on the nearby smoke.  “All,” he replies finally.  “They came in the night on a stiff wind; we only just had enough time to barricade the fort before they got to the walls.  They burned our boats while we held off the first attack.  Sieged us for three days.  When we knew we couldn’t drive them off we snuck out of the fort in the night and burned their boats.  The rest is blood.”

There’s a murmuring behind Simen amongst the other members of the party, which he quickly silences out of respect for the dead.  The group sits down on the ground near the fire, warming themselves from the chill sea air.  Simen helps the stranger toss the last of his wheelbarrow’s bodies into the fire for good measure, and options to aid him in the next load while they continue their conversation.

“How is it that you survived?” he asks, steeling his nostrils against the stench of the dead around him.

The weary man shrugs.  “Everyone else was dead; there was no one left to kill me.”

“Yes, yes, but…  How, how did it happen?”

Again he shrugs.  “When they broke through the gate the siege became a battle.  When both our ranks thinned the battle became skirmishes in the courtyards, the inner rooms, a dozen here and a dozen there.  The skirmishes devolved into ambushes when it turned dark; we were picked off one by one.  Endless game of cat-and-mouse that lasted through the night and all the next day; role of the cat kept switching with every turn.  That was three days ago; if anyone was still alive I’d have found them by now.”

Simen frowns pensively as they heave the bodies onto the wheelbarrow, burn and return again.  Long battles…  He’s had his share, and all were hell.  When the true enemy becomes thirst, fatigue, and hunger, and you’d gladly wade through a hundred foes than spend another hour with a thin blanket around you shoulders, waiting for the next clash of steel that never seems to come, and licking your lips for something that’s actually “food”, and not just something “edible”.

 

{Saw this laying on my desktop, decided to keep going on it}

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