Of Blood And Bone: Episode 2: Forsaken
Morrith rose to his feet. Before him the body of his mother lay on an old wooden bed, the straw mattress stained with blood and bile until it was more brown than yellow. The smell in the room was near overpowering, and Morrith wrinkled his nose at it. His eyes looked slowly around the room, taking in the pristine condition of everything, even the lack of dust on the dresser. He crossed the room and stepped out into the living room of his parents small stone home. Compared to the bedroom it looked like someone had thrown an explosive alchemical mix. The wooden dining table was overturned and blackened with what looked like soot, but the table itself was oddly unburned. On the stone oven a skillet sat, filled with a black sludge that had once been food. A horse whinnied outside, more a shriek than Morrith had ever heard a horse make, and he sprinted to the door, kicking it open and stepping out into the quickly darkening streets. His sword near leapt into his hand as he watched his horse drug to the ground, zombies scrambling over each other for a taste of it’s warm flesh.
“Divinum Furis!” Morrith felt the rage build up inside of him, the heat of it filling his body before travelling to his sword. The sword itself glowed with a holy light, and Morrith charged. He slammed into the pile of zombies with his shield, bashing out and sending them tumbling. The rest looked up from their slowly dying meal, mouths gaping open and low moans escaping their throats. Morrith didn’t give them time to react, his movements fluid and practiced. His first strike stabbed down into his horse’s brain, instantly killing the beast. A zombie rushed him from the side, a fat old woman that Morrith vaguely recognized as the village baker. He bashed her across the face with his shield, but she latched on and pulled herself closer with an unnatural strength. A flash of glowing steel and her arms separated at the elbows, causing her to stumble back. Morrith lashed out and cut the head from her shoulders before turning back to the horde, many of whom were edging toward him with open mouths and hungry eyes.
“Augus Luminos!” Morrith shouted and his rage poured out of him in all directions. The holy light shred all the undead near him, their horrid shrieking matched by the thunder of the spell. When the light finally died, Morrith stood alone in the small square, his dead horse at his feet and nothing left of the zombies to be seen. Morrith stumbled backward until the wall of his parents home braced him and he took a moment. His breathing was ragged and his head was swimming. Though some of his peers could sling spells around like it was easy, Morrith had always found it difficult, especially after a particularly tough spell. He quickly undid the saddle bag from his dead horse, his fingers fumbling with the clasps. Finally he pulled it away and slung the leather bags over his left shoulder.
He stumbled down the street, vaguely aware that he needed to get away from the town before he was overrun, when a whinny brought him back to reality and he pushed himself on. As he neared the butcher shoppe the smell of decay lessened. The doors were whole, but there was no guarantee that there was nothing inside, so Morrith gripped his sword with what energy he had left and flung the door open. The room was empty, aside from the usual; a desk with a chair, a counter with a few choice cuts of meat that had long since rot, and a door at the back leading to the meat locker.
A whiny echoed through the small shoppe from the meat locker, and Morrith cocked his head to the side in a moment of confusion. He crossed the room and threw open the door, sword at the ready, only to be greeted by rotten meat hanging from the walls, and a living, very hungry horse chained to the floor. He didn’t want to know why a horse was chained up in the butcher’s shoppe, or what the meat hanging on the walls was, but he was immensely relieved to see the horse was fit to ride. He grabbed the chain with his left hand and swung his sword as hard as he could. Three swings later and the chain snapped.
The horse neighed with approval, or so Morrith fancied, as he turned it around and led it out of the shoppe. The smell of meat, both living and long dead, had caught the attention of a massive horde of undead. Zombies, skeletons and shades shuffled slowly towards the shoppe and Morrith took it all in. He still didn’t feel ready, especially for a fight like this, so he whipped his sword into its sheath and leapt onto the back of the horse. It neighed a complaint, but Morrith dug his heels into its flank and it charged like a bolt at the line of undead. Morrith kept his head down, his hands gripping the animals mane as tight as they could, and plowed through the zombies as they reached out, hungry for the warm flesh of the living.
Once through the wave of undeath, Morrith let the animal fall into a trot. He wanted to ride as fast as he could to New Haven, to get help, to return with an army to clear the undead from this village, but the animal was as exhausted as Morrith was, so they trotted along the road, making their way toward New Haven at a leisurely pace. Soon Morrith was swaying on the horse, his eyes closing with the clomp clomp clomp of the hooves. He leaned forward, resting against the neck of the horse while forcing his eyes to remain open.
Morrith woke with a start and blinked back the haze of sleep. The horse clopped along the dirt road at a walk, paying no attention to the man on it’s back.
“By the Virtues, I can’t believe I fell asleep.” Morrith patted the horse on its neck and he sat back, saddleless and sore, and turned his head up toward the sky. The stars shone brightly that night and he let their light wash over him as the horse clopped along. After a while the wilderness receded on either side of the road, replaced with well maintained flowers and fruit trees. They passed a small grouping of apple trees and Morrith slid from the saddle, dust billowing up from his boots as he hit the road. He took the chain in his hand and led the horse to the apple trees, then reached up and plucked several, holding them in his tricorner hat. They were rich and juicy, much larger than the small green apples that grew near Britain, and not nearly as sour. Morrith held one out for the horse, then another. It ate hungrily from his hand and Morrith had to wonder how long it had been inside that butcher shoppe, and what it had subsisted on before he arrived. When Morrith had had his full he offered another apple to the horse, but it had fallen asleep and woke with a start.
“You’re right, we need rest,” Morrith said to the horse as he led it just off the road. He dug around in the saddle bags he was carrying and came up with a blanket roll that he set out on the grass. They were far enough from the village that he wasn’t worried about the undead, and a fire would keep the wild animals away. He tied the horse to a tree near his bedroll and grabbed tinder from the ground. It was dry and lit easily, and before Morrith realized it he was asleep next to a roaring fire that filled him with warmth.
His eyes opened again when he heard footsteps. The sun was low in the east, the fire long dead. Morrith climbed to his feet and quickly rolled up his blankets, throwing them back into the saddle bags. His body ached and he stretched as best he could in his red travelling leathers. Finally he grabbed the chain and led the horse from the trees and back onto the road. A young woman with blonde hair, green blouse and purple skirt walked up the road calmly. She stopped and stared as Morrith stepped out of the trees with his horse, her hand going to her purse and a look of fear on her face. Morrith realized how he must appear, covered in dirt and blood and stepping out of the forest in front of a traveller, and he raised his empty hands, palms outward.
“I’m no highwayman Milady, I’m sorry if I scared you.” She narrowed her eyes suspiciously but didn’t run, so Morrith figured it was a good start. “I wouldn’t head that way, the undead have overrun Old Haven.” He forced the words out of his mouth, the pain still nearly unbearable for him. The young woman, a comely young girl he didn’t recognize, simply shrugged and cocked her head at him.
“O’course, been that way for months. You not from around here?” She asked, and Morrith felt his knees nearly give out on him.
“Months! Why haven’t the guards from New Haven cleared it out yet?” Morrith was almost screaming, and the poor woman took a step back and held her hands up, terror written on her face. Swearing, Morrith grabbed the horses mane and pulled himself up onto its back. It gave a snort and took off as Morrith gently kicked its flanks. The two raced down the road, dust flying behind them in a cloud that nearly obscured the sun. By the time they finally saw the walls of New Haven the sun had moved from behind them to directly above. The torches outside the walls burned even in the noonday sun, inviting travellers inside, and Morrith raced paced them and through the gate heading for the keep. His horse’s hooves clacked wildly on the cobbled streets, and men and women were forced to leap aside as he flew through New Haven. He passed through the gates of the keep, wooden walls used to separate the soldiers in the training field from the general population.
His head down, Morrith didn’t even slow or dismount as he entered the keep proper. A young squire stood before him, eyes wide and filled with terror, as Morrith pulled his horse to a stop and leapt off. He handed the chain to the young squire and squinted, staring into the kids eyes.
“This horse will be here when I get back.” The squire nodded emphatically, his hair flapping back and forth, and Morrith knew it would be. He heard soldiers shouting out in the yard and realized he must have caused a dreadful stir, but he didn’t have time to worry about it. He near sprinted through the halls of the keep, his feet carrying him without his brain paying much attention. Finally he tore into the chambers of the High Paladin of New Haven. Most major cities had a contingent of Paladins on hand, usually used as regular guards or soldiers, but ready in an instant to combat any undead threat the city might face.
Before him stood a massive, imposing man. Dressed in pristine platinum coated platemail, trimmed in gold, Aelorn was a bear of a man. His long brown hair was combed and shined nearly as much as his plate, and Morrith suddenly felt subconcious in his dirt and blood stained travel leathers, leaves and blood caked into his beard, black hair disheveled beneath his tricorner hat. Aelorn raised an eyebrow at him and placed a hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Ser, if you’ve come for something other than a swift death, I would out with it,” Aelorn’s voice boomed throughout the hall. Behind Morrith the doorway was suddenly full of men in various types of armor, each wielding a weapon and all of them glaring at Morrith. Aelorn held a hand up and they stopped, though Morrith could tell that many of them were eager for a fight.
“Ser I come with grave news! Old Haven to the east has been overrun with the undead. I found nothing living there, my family, everyone I grew up with is dead,” Morrith spurted out, careful to keep his hands away from his weapons. His eyes darted past Aelorn to a slender man behind him. Dressed in the same platinum coated platemail as Aelorn, this figure cut an even more impressive sight due to his massive white wings that sprouted from his shoulders. Morrith dropped to a knee and lowered his head in reverence of the High Paladin of New Haven. Brahman looked him over but spoke not a word, meanwhile Aelorn watched the exchange and he lowered his hand from the hilt of his sword.
“The news you bring is rather old, Ser…”
“Ah, Havenson. I remember when you came here, many years ago, and enlisted in the Paladin Order,” He paused for a moment, his eyes taking in Morrith’s disheveled appearance. “Are you still one of us, or have you run away from your training?” Morrith rose back to his feet, the fury building in his stomach. Aelorn kept the content out of his voice, but Morrith could see it in his eyes.
“I am a Paladin still, and I would have cleaned before coming here if I had known this news was no news at all,” He said, managing to keep his voice from quivering in anger. “If it’s known, why has nothing been done to eliminate the undead in Old Haven.” Aelorn waved his hand and the soldiers in the hall began to disperse, some reluctantly.
“Ser Morrith, I understand your anger. You’ve come home after many years to find your family, your entire town raised to the ground and infested with the undead,” Aelorn stepped over to a large table in the center of the hall and picked up a golden goblet, draining several gulps before continuing. “Know that, while it was terrible what happened to Old Haven, we have no interest in ‘eliminating the undead’.” Morrith stood dumbfounded, his jaw hanging open in confusion and horror.
“Why the hell not, Ser?” Morrith forced out as he slammed his mouth shut and ground his teeth. Aelorn just smiled serenely and shrugged.
“Business.” when Morrith didn’t comprehend Aelorn continued. “We could destroy the undead in Old Haven, and spend the next hundred years trying to consecrate the earth there to prevent the dead from rising, or we could take this tragedy and turn it into a benefit.”
“How is the dead walking around eating people a benefit?” Morrith raged.
“First, the only people near Old Haven are the bastard scoundrels living in that shanty town. Pirates and thieves, the lot of them. Second, we have two training halls and both of them are packed with students, too many to handle really. We can’t really go around setting up villages of the undead for our recruits to practice on, the people wouldn’t stand for it, but we can take one that happened naturally and turn it into a training ground.” Morrith was gripping the haft of his sword so tightly he could no longer feel his hand. Aelorn caught the movement and chuckled. “Besides, the Necromancers and Mages here are thrilled at the chance for easy access to ingredients that are usually pretty hard to come by.” Aelorn watched as Morrith mastered himself, forcing his body to stop shaking.
“So that’s it? Good people are dead and nothing is going to be done about it?”
“Verily, even if we wanted to we….well, we don’t want to,” Aelorn shrugged and Morrith scowled. “If that’s all, I have to ask you to leave, we have a lot of work to get back to. Dozens of recruit applications.” Morrith managed not to punch Aelorn in his smug face, turned on his heel and stormed out of the room. His feet carried him back to the entrance hall while his mind raged with curses and silent screams. Finally he heard the snort of a horse, and as he turned into the entrance hall he saw that it was now packed with soldiers. He took the chain from the squire who stood there at attention, blinking rapidly and sweating like a recruit. Morrith scowled and led his horse from the keep while the soldiers gathered, jeering after him. He managed to make it to out of the courtyard and into the streets of New Haven before the cursing started. One hand pulled the chain connected to the bridle of the horse, the other still gripped his sword tightly. He followed his memory to the large, two story inn that was closest to the keep. The sing swinging over the door read ‘Gentle Sleep’, and the sneer that flew onto Morrith’s face nearly scared him. He tied the chain on the horse to the hitching post, then walked into the inn. The common room was nearly empty, though the fire in the hearth burned brightly, making the air stuffy and too hot. An old woman ran over to him, bowing rapidly.
“Hello good Ser, Janice at your service. I run this fine establishment,” she looked at his dusty, blood covered leathers and smiled. “A room with a bath ser?” Morrith nodded.
“A room with a bath, and my horse outside needs a saddle and reins, oats and a good nap.” She nodded and snapped her fingers at a young ginger haired boy, who ran from the common room out the front door to take care of the horse.
“Forgive me Ser, but how will you be paying?” She smiled widely, a gap toothed smile that did more to make her ugly than her parents had. Morrith ruffled through his saddle bag for a moment and withdrew a golden cross. It was his graduation present, given to him by one of his teachers. He weighed it in his hand for a second, then tossed it to the innkeeper.
“Have the boy take that to the local blacksmith and cut off a beam. That should cover me for the night.” The innkeeper’s eyes widened as she stared at the solid gold cross. She nodded and smiled.
“Of course Ser, just follow me and I’ll show you to your room.” He followed her out a side door and up a rickety wooden staircase. When they got to the second floor they went back inside and she led him to the first room by the door. She opened it, then handed him the key with a smile. “The bath is down the hall. I’ll send my boy up here with the rest of this cross as soon as it’s back from the blacksmith.” Morrith nodded and stepped into the room, then closed the door behind himself. The saddlebag was tossed onto the small chair.
Morrith took his time with a long, warm bath, then crawled into his bed and closed his eyes. He was exhausted and he had an early morning. He was up before the sun, pulling his chainmail from his saddlebags, strapping his fighting sword on his hip, and pulling his helmet down over his head. He hadn’t wanted to return home in battle gear, but now he had no choice. If the local Paladins wouldn’t put an end to the desecration of his home, Morrith would.
“Tonight, Haven will burn in purifying fire.”