Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off: The Art of Forgetting : Nomad by Joanne Hall
The Art of Forgetting : Nomad by Joanne Hall
This is an excerpt provided by the author for the Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off Competition
“Loose!” Rhodri couldn’t make out his own voice over the chaos, but his men heard. A volley of arrows arced high, to slice down like a deadly shower into the ranks of the Queen’s army. Sheets of arrows rained down, but the enemy barely faltered, replying with shots of their own. And then they were on them. Too late for shooting.
He stashed his bow and drew his sword, plunging into the fray. Instinct took over, made him its instrument. Ducking and weaving from side to side, horse and rider moved as one. Noise and movement, sweat and chaos, red mist drifting from the sky. Metal meeting metal, flesh, bone.
He felt blood spray across his eyes, and blinked it away. A hand seized his leg, and he kicked, booted foot crunching against bone. He felt a searing pain in his calf, but he couldn’t look down at the wound. Intent on dodging the next blow, fending off the next attack, Rhodri fought for his life. For the lives of his family.
One on one now. The disciplined lines broke down. Men grappled, on foot and horseback, slipping and sliding in the churned-up mud that was once a grassy road. Showers of blood mixed with the rain, dripping from Rhodri’s hair into his eyes. Every limb ached. The adrenaline spurring him on was gone. He moved like a machine, no thought but to evade the hits, dodge the tumbling arrows, stay alive a little longer. The idea of reaching the river faded. There was nothing, had never been anything, but the fight, eternal and exhausting.
Liberty stumbled, hooves skidding in the mud and gore, slammed by another horse barging into her shoulder. She slipped, flinging Rhodri from the saddle. As the ground rushed up to meet him he twisted his shoulder down and rolled. Over the sounds of battle, he heard a sickening snap in his right shoulder.
He staggered to his feet, quivering at the shock. Liberty had vanished, carried away by the storm. He was alone.
The horse that ploughed into them lay on its side, screaming, flailing hooves throwing up gobbets of mud. Splintered fragments of bone ruptured the skin of its left foreleg.
The rider lay on his face, one arm flung out, fingers twitching towards the wounded horse’s bridle. There was a chilling familiarity about horse and rider. Rhodri tightened his hand around his hilt, and tried to shift the weight of the shield on his left arm. The movement sent a hot lance of pain along his shoulder into his neck, and he hissed at the flare.
The injured rider sat up, and dragged his horse’s head into his lap. A warrior stumbled between them. Rhodri didn’t see the moment of death, but the screaming stopped abruptly, leaving behind an aching, silent void. A cloud darkened the sun, and the rain returned.
The rider raised his head. One blue eye glittered. The other was a dark slit, unreadable. He thrust the horse aside and leapt to his feet, sword waving. Rhodri stepped back, testing the uncertain ground beneath him. He tried to keep his weak arm steady. Without Liberty, he felt vulnerable and exposed.
Drusain advanced, wiping his eyes. “I thought it was you,” he said. His voice was soft, full of menace. “I’ve been looking for you. I want the honour of killing you myself.”
Rhodri’s muscles tensed as he sized up his opponent. “It won’t be me that dies today, Drusain.”
They circled, slow and cautious, boots dragging in the mud. Two old adversaries, looking for an opening, a weak spot. Rhodri knew his left arm wasn’t up to the fight. He hoped he could disguise it for long enough.
“You fucking traitor, you make me sick.” Dru goaded him. Rhodri tried to stay calm, not to rise to the taunts. If he lost his head, Dru would strike like a snake.
“At least your father only betrayed his friends. You’ve turned against your country!”
“I’ve heard the lies you spread, Dru. You have no idea...” He narrowed his eyes. “I should thank you. You’ve made me a legend!”
“I’ll make you a fucking corpse!” Dru charged in, sword raised, spittle flying from his lips. Rhodri barely had time to bring up his shield. The jarring clash buckled his knees. He gasped.
“Was it your idea to brand your own men, Dru?”
Rhodri ducked the blow whistling past his ear. He rolled to the side, crying out in pain as he brought up the blade. His two-handed strike crunched into the mail of Dru’s thigh. He stumbled, grunting. “Did you do it yourself? I bet it made your cock hard...”
“Not as hard as your little sister!” Dru flung up his arm to block Rhodri’s furious blade as he recovered his balance, panting. “I love how those savage whores moan. I’ll try out your woman, when I’m done with you!”
Blind anger triumphed over the pain, lent strength to his exhausted limbs. Dru staggered under the onslaught, blows crashing against his shoulders and limbs.
He dropped into a crouch, shield up to protect his face, sword lashing. A lucky strike against Rhodri’s shield split it down the middle, Dru’s blade wedged in the severed wood.
He tried to jerk loose as they circled each other in a morbid dance. The tip of Dru’s blade lacerated Rhodri’s forearm, blood trickling towards the hilt. Every movement wrought fresh hell in his injured shoulder, as he struggled to wrench free.
He pushed against Dru with all his strength, broken bone screaming under the strain. His mouth was full of blood, and darkness gathered at the edge of his vision as his feet scrabbled for purchase in the mud.
Dru’s wide eye brightened. He drew back his mailed fist, powered by the weight of his shield, and slammed it into Rhodri’s collar. There was a crack, an explosion of pain in his skull. His vision blurred. He had the distant sensation of falling, and then nothing.