Copper and Blood
Previous Story: https://forums.candarion.com/topic/1183/one-dull-distant-memory
“Savoh.” A voice whispered out to me in the darkness of the tent. Across from me, Khoroush remained quiet under his covers. I had not been asleep. “Savoh!” The voice called out sharply, and I turned towards the tent flap to see Aroysh peering his head inside.
“I’m awake.” I told him, making an effort to appear disgruntled at the man’s sudden intrusion in the middle of the night.
“Come. It is important.” He said, disappearing behind the tent flap as I followed him outside.
It was cold. The campfire had been put out haphazardly and I could make out the frantic patterns of footfalls in the sand. But everything had otherwise appeared as it had always been when we camped for the night.
“Someone has been following us.” Aroysh said, staring out into the desert. “I think they got Hvorti.”
I blinked, feeling a sudden knot tightening around my throat as I followed his gaze out towards the desert, seeing nothing at all but the pitch blackness of the night. “Are they… Bone-Eaters?” I asked him in a quivering voice.
He spat over his left shoulder against the evil eye. “I’m not sure. But we need to make sure.” He says, unsheathing a bronze dagger from his belt.
“Why me?” I asked him, staring at the weapon uneasily. The driver had returned to visit my dreams, his head hollow and blood streaming from the side of his face. The howling sound of a woman came from his mouth when he opened it, and it frightened me enough to give up sleep at all the past few nights.
“You’ve killed a man before, haven’t you?” He asked. I stared at him blankly and realised too late that he was making a jest. He sighed, shoving the bronze into my hands. “You are his Dosht, are you not?”
I nodded. “Then we are his lance. We must both go.” He said, blade drawn in his sword-hand as he started out into the desert without me.
I followed behind him closely as we disappeared into the dark, looking out for the tell-tale howl of Bone-Eaters - those beings who lure people into the night to suckle on their marrows, leaving nothing but their skinned flesh behind.
“We won’t go far.” Aryosh assured me, scanning the horizon closely. “He should not have gone far.” He added quieter.
We came upon a rocky outcrop, its boulders black against the dark horizon, dead trees standing eerily alive against the backdrop of the sky as multitudes of dark smaller rocks rushed downwards like a barren wave.
“There!” Aryosh pointed to a shape, barely visible, crumpled against the rocks. It was Hvorti, and his bones were intact.
"Whore's drums!" Aroysh cursed out from beside me. "Savoh, go back to the camp. We need to war-" An arrow thumped against Aryosh’s chestpiece, sending him sprawling into the sand as another arrow landed silently in the sand between us. I ducked, pressing myself flat against the ground as I heard Aryosh’s deep groans for help amongst the sudden rushes of footfalls among the rocks. I turned around to face it, and there was a man standing before me.
He was tall and gaunt, and even with multiple robes and veils covering him, I could see the fine scale armour and his sword glinted copper-like in the dark. He turned to look at both of us repeatedly, finally settling his gaze on mine as he approached me slowly. I raised the dagger Aryosh had given me uselessly, and he batted it away from my hand with one forceful stroke of his blade.
Desperately, I turned towards Hvorti, pulling the corpse over me just as he began to thrust his sword towards me. The tip scraped dangerously close against my stomach as it passed through Hvorti, and I saw the man pull back his sword and bear it above me once more.
“No!” I shouted, grabbing his wrist just as the blade descended. The man pushed down his weight upon me, forcing the blade to descend slowly. I pushed back against him, my knees digging upwards into Hvorti to hold him back. I could smell the acid in his stomach he was so close, teeth gritting with effort and anticipation as the blade inched closer and closer towards me.
I could hear more scraping, more shuffling amongst it all, as my eyes shifted from the blade into the man’s eyes. “Don’t. Please don’t. Stop!” I begged him, feeling the cold wet tip entering the soft flesh of my neck.
A hand reached out and tugged at the man’s chinstrap forcefully, pulling his head and the blade away from me. “Kill him!” Aryosh shouted.
Frantically, my hands slid down Hvorti’s body, holding onto the small handle on his belt hoop with a shaken grasp as I brought it out of its sheath. The man knocked his elbow against Aryosh’s face, but he held on, tugging at his helmet once more to arch him further away from me.
“Do it! Do it now!” Aryosh shouted once more as I brought the blade up from under Hvorti and thrusted upwards.
The blade entered just past his Adam's apples with a squelch, stopping abruptly as it caught against the man's jaw bone. "Twist it!" Aryosh commanded through gritted teeth. I turned the blade and thrusted deeper, letting go of the handle as the man pulled back to claw at his throat, eyes wide with terror and blood sputtering easily over me before he fell flat on his back to squirm, then twitch, and then not move at all as his wheezing breath slowed and stilled to a silence.
I sat up to look at the dying man with ragged breath. I could taste the warm thickness of his blood on my lips as I ran my tongue along it, wiping it off with the sleeves of my shirt as I quickly helped Aryosh to his feet.
“The prince!” He said through laboured breaths, falling back onto his knee as he snapped off the arrow shaft. “Leave me. Go!” He commanded. And I ran, back towards the camp where torches and shouts began to flitter in the dark.
Everyone was awake now, their weapons drawn and dazed still from their sleep as they looked around in a panic. There was another corpse lying atop the smoldering remains of the campfire, Khoroush standing before it.
“One escaped.” A laskari rushed up to the prince, turning to face me at my arrival. “Where’s Hvorti? And Aryosh?” He asked.
“Dead.” I said blankly, catching my words too late. “I’m sorry. Aryosh is wounded. He’s by the rocks.” The laskari nodded and rushed past me, disappearing into the desert.
I approached Khoroush slowly, eyes fixed on the corpse he was staring at sullenly. “Did you kill him?” I asked.
“Yes.” He responded, his voice was low and completely foreign to my ears before he turned to look at me. “Are you hurt?” He asked, coming to himself once more, panicked at the amount of blood that stained my face and shirt as he moved in close to attend to me.
“No, I’m okay. I promise.” I said, pushing him away from me awkwardly. I could still taste the blood on my lips. “Who are they?”
“Aspad, I think. Come to kill me with his men.” Khoroush answered simply, a tinge of bitterness in his voice as he gazed upon the man he had murdered once more.
I hesitated to ask. One more year I had repeated to myself throughout the entire journey north. “And what would that mean?” I forced myself to speak just as the laskari returned with Aryosh and Hvorti’s corpse.
“That my father is dying.”