By Fire And Blade

Right, this time I’ve got a non-Sci-Fi story involving a warrior and his service to a ruler. Not going to say much more than that other than it’s about 13500 words. Hope you enjoy it!

The thick metal armour covering Galrun’s body is starting to weigh heavily on him. His muscles are straining as he slashes the point of his longsword across the throat of the last of five enemy combatants that rushed him. The enemy soldiers’ hands having shot up in response to the wound, which has severed his jugular and resulted in a wide arcing spray of crimson that shot off to Galrun’s left. But the attempts by the soldier of Halberg to stem the flow are useless as thick blood dribbles from between his gauntleted fingers and down onto his armoured chest. Galrun feels nothing for the man, who it seems has not yet worked out that he won’t be alive much longer. At least, that is what the look of desperation in his eyes tells Galrun, who is taking this time to cast his gaze over the battle riddled field. The once green grass that reached to the height of his ankles is now embedded in the mud, while white fluffy clouds pass by overhead. The air is surprisingly warm for this early in the morning, as the sun only rose a couple hours ago.

Galrun doesn’t know how long the battle has been raging, but from the strain of that he feels in his muscles from the armour that covers his bulk his guess would be well over an hour. And given that the blood spilled has managed to turn the field to mud his approximation would seem to be about right. Still, the break from the dispatching of his enemies will have to suffice.

Beads of sweat make the undercloth of his armour cling to him uncomfortably. He wishes he could remove his helmet but such a prospect would be unwise, as while there are not as many Halberg archers as Galrun would have expected there are still enough left that could lodge an arrow in his eye. Galrun isn’t willing to take the chance and risk his life. So instead, he slowly rolls his shoulders hoping to ease the stiffness that he can feel spreading through them. It is a greater irritation to him that his helmet and he knows that he needs to stay limber even if he is over six foot five inches in height and nearly four feet at his widest point. That means, he sure as anything doesn’t have the speed to make up for any stiffness that could occur due to his size and that is why he soon begins to gently and slowly twist and bend his wrist. It’s an old habit but one he would never be willing to give up. He’s testing the flexibility and reactions of his sword arm and thankfully he finds that it, unlike his shoulders, is still in fine working order. He would expect nothing less seeing as his longsword is an extension of his arm, unlike his armour which he seldom wears this long, seeing as he marched for two days before the onset of this battle.

In fact, he would have preferred to rest before the fighting started. But the Halberg’s were never going to allow such a thing. They hoped the lethargy and exhaustion of the march would be enough to guarantee them victory. Galrun had to give King George IX a commendation for such strategy, but still the superior numbers of the Halberg’s are losing. It might be barely, and possible of flipping in the opposite direction at any time, but still from what Galrun can observe they are on the back foot. He takes some comfort in that. Even if the battle is far from its conclusion, Galrun notes as he hears a voice roar angrily. The cry manages to beat out the sounds of battle as others cry, scream, plead and weapons and armour crash and clatter. Galrun is always impressed when the cries of the attacking beat the cacophony of battle sounds, but he isn’t concerned by it. Though, he knows the attacker is coming for him and turns to face the owner of the call well before they reach his enormous size.

The owner of the cry is younger than Galrun would have anticipated them to be, but they are barely armoured and much to his surprise without a scratch on him. Galrun doesn’t know how the young man of maybe nineteen has managed the feat but he does commend it, even if it is clear that the man is not a professional soldier.

From what Galrun has seen thus far that is not exceptional as it is clear that many of those fighting in this battle, on the side of the Halbergs, are simple farmers who have taken up arms to fight Galrun and those that fight alongside him. His fellow combatants aren’t his army. He is just a part of this force. An important part with an important task, but a part nonetheless.

Perhaps, Galrun considers, that is an explanation as to why there are fewer archers than he would have expected. It would make sense that King George would be hesitant to allow those not well versed in the use of bows to brandish one. Novice bow users being able to could cause as much, if not more, damage to their own forces if not experienced in its use.

The young roaring man only now manages to reach Galrun. His speed had been slowed by a patch of thicker mud which he had been forced to essentially wade through to reach the hulking armour clad man on its opposite side. Not that it matters to Galrun. He knows how this clash between two enemies will end. He is an experienced warrior after all who has trained from a young age to wield a sword and fell those he is pointed toward.

He doesn’t remember his life before. At least not in any great detail he thinks as the young attacker raises his sword and swings. The man, Galrun notes, is already off balance before he throws the blade toward the warrior, who simply raises his own sword and blocks the attack. A chime of metal on metal rings out as the young man almost topples over. It is clear he had not been expecting the block, but Galrun feels nothing. The vibrations of the sword harmlessly dissipated as they rippled up his arm. Though, he does not attack. Instead, he wishes to see exactly what this young Halbergian can achieve. He doubts it will be much, but still he’s curious. His target is not yet in his line of sight. Once he is, or once Galrun is bored, he will dispatch this attacker with ease and then move on. But until that time he will see what the Halbergian has got.

The young Halbergian having regained his balance decides to take a horizontal swipe at Galrun this time. If he were a smaller more agile man Galrun would leap aside, but he isn’t and he knows his limits. So again he simply blocks the attack, but as he does so he pushes back making the young man’s sword almost fly backward over its wielders shoulders and across the battlefield. But the Halbergian manages to keep hold of his sword somehow. That pleases Galrun who smiles beneath the full faceplate of his helmet. The helmet is but one of the items which his Halbergian opponent is without, in addition to the limited armour covering only a section of his torso and his upper arms.

Galrun concludes the man has likely had a few days training with a blade, at most. That marks him as a newer recruit. Galrun isn’t sure whether King George has been conscripting these men or not, but it wouldn’t surprise him if he had. Especially, as the king has already suffered two defeats prior to the commencement of this battle. Those battles have clearly and obviously resulted in a drastic depletion in number of professional soldiers. As a result he has become desperate and desperate men rarely win wars, irrespective of how seasoned they are with combat. Whether the king knows that, Galrun has no clue, but he’ll learn it soon enough.

The young Halbergian stabs at Galrun now. If the man was a professional soldier Galrun would believe him to be testing his own defences, but he isn’t and that is not what he is doing. In truth, the young man is desperate and running out of ideas as to how he can defeat this opponent which he himself decided to take on. Clearly the young farmer turned soldier did not see what happened to the men, whose bodies are lying only a couple metres from where he now stands. If he had he would almost certainly have concluded that Galrun would have been a poor target for him to attack alone. That was the Halbergian’s first mistake and one that Galrun will make him pay dearly for as the hulking armoured mass of a man slaps the stabbing attack away with a casual flick of his wrist. The blades clatter again and the momentum of the slapping strike forces the young man into a half spin. The force of the block shocks him and he curses several times while trying to heave the heavy metal up onto his shoulder. He doesn’t know what he is going to do or how he is going to survive this, but he knows he can’t run now. The farmer turned soldier wonders whether he should call for assistance, but as he casts his gaze across those closest to him he finds everyone is deep in conflict. There are no idle bodies here, except for the dead. His feet sinking into the mud as the metallic smell of blood fills his nostrils. He hates the smell and it makes him want to gag but somehow he fights the urge to as he achieves heaving the sword up onto his shoulder ready to spin back round. He hopes the momentum he will be carrying will allow him to break the guard of this man mountain. The size of man is unlike anything he has ever seen before.

Galrun had expected the desperate exhausted attack from the young Halbergian even before the young man had managed to haul the blade atop his shoulder. If Galrun were in a hurry he would not have allowed the Halbergian to get that far. But Galrun is playing with his opponent, though he doubts his opponent has grasped that fact, as he waits for the futile strike. When it comes it is slower than Galrun would have expected, which is why he reaches out with his hand. The blade slams into the palm of his thick gauntlet with a dull bang and then Galrun closes his fingers around the blade before wrenching it free of the Halbergian’s hands. The look of shock in the young man’s eyes is all Galrun needs to see as he tosses the blade aside without looking where it lands. The young man tumbling backward as fear paralyses him and he is left to simply stare up at the huge figure he chose to face. He knows he is going to die and scrunches his eyes shut in preparation.

Galrun meanwhile simply thrusts his blade forward. It’s a simple yet effective attack, especially when your target is barely armoured. The tip of his sword plunging into the man’s chest as it dives between ribs and spears one of his lungs. The Halbergian screams in agony, his eyes bursting open to stare at Galrun for a few moments before his gaze shifts downward first to the blade and then to the growing dark red patch that is spreading across his chest. The young man can’t breathe and begins to panic as shock sets in, but Galrun isn’t going to leave the young soldier to die like that. So stabs the blade sharply and quickly further through the man’s chest, skewering his heart. The Halbergian lets out a gasp, his body shudders a few times and then the blade is torn from his chest. Blood bursts from his heart as the organ tries to continue beating blood around the young man’s body. Instead, the blood spills into his lungs and chest cavity. The man raises his hands in an attempt to cradle and stem the flow of his blood while continuing his fight for air. He won’t last much longer but Galrun has no intention of leaving him to struggle as he pulls his blade back. The Halbergian having caught sight of the movement pulls his head back to look up and away from his wound now. It is what Galrun had been waiting for and is why a split second later he slashes the blade across the young man’s throat. The blade cuts deep into his neck, almost beheading him, while blood is thrown wide and the body if left to slump to the floor dead.

Again Galrun surveys his surroundings and finds himself in a respite. But the break doesn’t last long as he soon catches sight of his target, King George IX. Galrun grins beneath his helmet and then begins to advance. At first he walks, his progress slow as he trudges through the thick patch of mud he watched the now dead young Halbergian he fought wade through. It sees no reason to waist energy trying to do more than walk through the mud.

But once past the natural obstacle Galrun begins to build speed as he breaks into a trot, then a jog. As he advances a few Halbergian’s dare to get in his way but with a quick slash or stab of his sword they are dispatched. It takes no more than a single wound to stop them and clear his path. Then he dips his shoulder and slams at speed into a group of Halbergian’s ahead of him. They are sent barrelling out of his way, for the most part, which gives his own soldiers the chance to run them through unchallenged. Still, Galrun doesn’t care. He has his eyes on a single target, the king. If he falls then Halberg will follow. Galrun knows that for a fact as he has done it many times before and become a dab hand at it as a result. In fact, some even say that is what he was born to do, kill monarchs, royals and rulers. Galrun doesn’t know the difference between monarchs and royals. Attempts had been made to explain it to him once but he simply didn’t care and still doesn’t. It isn’t an item which aids him in achieving the job that he has been sent here to complete, or at the least die trying.

“Stop him!” A voice shouts.

Galrun knows that the call is aimed at him, but he refuses to slow as he continues onward. He is close now but suddenly his route is cut off. There are too many between him and the king for him to try and charge his way through, so he puts on the breaks. His feet sliding in the mud as he comes to a skidding halt. Once he has though, he smiles as while his own progress may have been halted those fighting beside him have been able to encircle the remainder of the Halbergian forces. The same forces who themselves have encircled their king for protection. Galrun doesn’t know for sure, but he can see no other reason as to why they would allow themselves to become cut-off in such a manner. Unless they wish to die that is and Galrun doubts that.

He knows what he will do next as he again tests the sword in his right hand, which continues to obey him perfectly. Galrun wonders how many others of those around him, on both sides, can say that. He doubts the answer is many. He can hear the breathing, deep and heavy, from soldiers on both sides. Though he thinks the Halbergian’s breathing is louder, but he can’t be sure. Not that it matters. What he will propose will make their exhaustion mute.

“If your King, George XI, faces me in one on one combat then no other will need to die.” Galrun declares with a booming voice that matches his size effortlessly.

His voice is more muffled than he would like but loud enough for his statement to still be heard. However, that doesn’t stop his own voice from sounding wrong to his ears. He has the same feeling every time he speaks while in full armour. He puts it down to the faceplate which is making his voice echo in his ears, but whether it is that or because it has been a while since he spoke, he does not know. Still, it doesn’t matter how his voice sounds to him as that does nothing to change the content of his words, which is he waiting patiently for a response to. How long the response will take to come he does not know, but he is sure he knows what the response will be. It’s always the same. The arrogance of rulers and kings forces them to accept the offer. Galrun, if he were in George IX’s place, would not accept the challenge. Honour has no place in war. Victory is all that is important and that should be achieved at any cost, even if it means using deception and lies to achieve it.

“I accept.” A strong voice fires back. It’s a voice which Galrun takes as belonging to King George. It could be a ruse, but something tells him it is not.

“No your majesty, you can’t.” Someone explodes with a panicked tone confirming Galrun’s assumption. Still, the hulking giant of a man accepts that it could still all be part of some deception.

“I must. No one else should have to die. This is between me and…” The strong voice replies before trailing off.

It doesn’t surprise Galrun that George IX doesn’t know who has issued the challenge. Galrun, after all, wears no insignia that hints at rank or superiority. Such missing items always confuse the leaders of nations who expect the challenger to be their counterpart. Galrun is certainly not that. He is simply a warrior sent to kill a man so his nation will fall under control of the banner which he is aligned to. He can’t say he aligned himself to it as that would be untrue, but it is the one he fights below.

“I will fight you sir, but what assurances do I have that you will keep your word?” The strong voice questions now as several of the Halbergian soldiers, clad in full armour and brandishing swords, back away to reveal the brown eyes of the forty something year old King George. The monarch has thin strands of sandy brown hair clinging to his forehead. They are sprouting from below the rim of his helmet while his face is uncovered and his helmet appears to show no signs of possessing mountings to allow for a faceplate to be an option. That surprises Galrun who would have thought that a king would know better than to display his face so brazenly on the battlefield. But then the arrogance of men and women of such positions always baffles him, while the far shorter King George stares up at Galrun with defiance in his royal eyes.

“None. You would have to take me at my word.” Galrun replies succinctly.

Following his response there is a long pause. King George is considering his options, not that he has many. Galrun knows that and he knows that the king knows that as well. If George IX refuses then he and his men will be slaughtered where they stand because not only are they surrounded but also outmatched. Even if perhaps three dozen of those closest to the monarch are professional soldiers, the rest are not. That means that for the soldiers supporting Galrun they will pose little threat.

“Fine. I accept. But I am taking you at your word…” King George IX says but trails off unsure how to address Galrun. The king doesn’t know his opponents name or another form in which he can refer to him. That makes Galrun smile as he can see the discomfort on George’s face. It isn’t necessary for the duel that will come next, but it pleases Galrun nonetheless to cause the king discomfort.

“Back.” Galrun grunts.

In response the soldiers of his own side shuffle backward clearing a space within which the pair will fight and one will die.

Galrun doesn’t know if King George realises that one of them will die and that there will be no mercy here, but it’s too late now for the king to try and change the dynamic or ask questions.

The Halbergian’s take longer to mirror the actions of their adversaries but finally they do the same and clear an area around their king, who stands alone, sword in hand, ready to fight.

King George raises his sword, the tip pointing toward the blue sky and its scattered clouds. He can hear his thumping heart in his ears, but he refuses to let his opponent glimpse the fear that is residing within him. There is no need to give his enemy that satisfaction. He just hopes the man will stay true to his word if he defeats the king. George has no intention of allowing himself to be defeated, but he has to accept the possibility that he might. He just wishes he could see his opponents face, though it was clear from the man’s voice that he is a number of years the monarchs junior. That on its own would normally not be room for concern but seeing as the man before him is more than seven inches taller and a great deal wider, George can’t help but feel some doubt in his options for attack. True, he will likely be quicker and more agile, but whether that will be enough he simply does not know. The only real item he has in his favour is the fact that his adversary has been engaged in battle for nearly the last two hours, so may be struggling with fatigue. But from what George viewed as the man had come racing toward him that seems like it may be in doubt as well. He just has to hope for luck favours him as he tightens his grip on the sword in his hands.

Surprisingly though the man mountain doesn’t attack, so King George decides to instead. He lashes out with a slash of his blade but Galrun bats that away with his own blade. Though, the king is not thrown off guard unlike some of the ‘soldiers’ that came to fight in this battle. Galrun takes that as a good sign, but he has no plans on playing with the king like he did that young Halbergian. Not because he believes George IX offers any real threat to him, but because he has no curiosity to test and study the training a king may have received.

George tries an overhead strike of his sword now, even though he is much shorter than his opponent. He aims for the strike to dislodge the blade from his adversaries hand but Galrun blocks the downward hit throwing his weight behind the block as he does so. In response the kings’ sword is sent back over his head, leaving him open to an attack. It’s an opening that Galrun takes as he takes a step toward the king, thrusting his sword forward as he goes. The blade pierces through the kings’ armour. George is shocked by the force of the jab and the fact that it has pierced the metal plate covering his abdomen. The tip of Galrun’s blade jutting out of the kings back seconds before his grip on the weapon fails and his swords slaps to the mud with a wet thwack.

The Halbergian’s are gasping in shock. They believed the fight would last longer than this. In fact, they were sure of it. Perhaps they had been too sure of the might of their king, even though they had been apprehensive of allowing him to accept this challenge. However, Galrun doesn’t stop as he continues to drive the sword deeper and deeper until the crossguard of the cruciform shaped weapon is pressed against the metal of King George’s cuirass.

George lets out a gasp of air which quickly turns into a ragged attempt at trying to control the shock that is setting in. He can’t, but he isn’t dead yet. He has to keep fighting, he tells himself. Though, the king hasn’t realised he no longer has hold of his weapon, unlike Galrun who is fully aware of that fact. That is why he quickly rips his sword from King George’s gut, stepping back as he does and then quicker than any of the Halbergian’s would have expected for a man of his size whips his right arm across his chest before slashing at the kings’ neck.

The blade cuts through the kings’ unarmoured neck without an ounce of resistance. The body and severed head of the king left to topple to the wet mud with dull thumps while Galrun flicks the blade of his sword to castoff the excess blood that is coating the weapon. Then his shoulders lower. Suddenly he hears a shout of his name. However, Galrun makes no attempt to turn away from the Halbergian soldiers who he are staring at him in disbelief. He sees no reason to bring attention to the fact that he is who the voice is calling for, even as it grows in volume.

“A-are we free?” A terrified looking ‘soldier’, who is clearly not of the professional variety, stutters the question after a period of silence has hung in the air.

“Kill them all. No survivors.” Galrun roars seconds before his allies, who still have their weapons brandished, most of which are swords, bellow with joy and then quickly begin to hack what remains of the Halbergian army to death.

Galrun takes no part in this. His job here is done. Those he fights alongside of can claim these lives, while he plods away heading for the still advancing messenger. Galrun knows that is what the barely adult male is as he completes his approach and reaches Galrun. The messenger is panting heavily but manages to keep pace with Galrun nonetheless. Seeing as the massive warrior refuses to pause.

“The great leader is calling for you to return to him and issue your report Galrun. He says it cannot wait and that you have been given more than enough time to complete your task.” The messenger explains as Galrun continues to plod further away from the slaughter at the end of this battle. His sword is now in its scabbard, which hangs dutifully from his waistline.

“What should I inform him?” The messenger then queries clearly not having realised that the battle is over and that the King George IX of Halberg is dead. It doesn’t surprise Galrun but it does irritate him. Messengers are always so clueless and oblivious to their surroundings. Galrun presumes it is the result of being single minded in their wish to ensure the message they are carrying is received. Still, he refuses to forgive the lack of observation.

“Nothing. I will reach Tyran before you will.” Galrun growls back feeling drained now. He knows he needs a rest but seeing as Tyran is demanding an in-person report he knows he won’t get the chance. Still, Galrun wonders why Tyran is sure he has had long enough to defeat Halberg. However, he quickly concludes that he doesn’t care for the reasons and simply throws himself atop a horse. It isn’t his horse, but it will suffice for his ride back to the castle of Tyran Polenter, ruler of the One Sun Domain.

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