Three Slaves of Rome

Book One:

Quiet Brook Publishing

Copyright © 2011 by Matthew Wilson all rights reserved.

THREE SLAVES OF ROME BOOK 1

All characters in this book have no existence outside the author's imagination.

For contact information and any other questions visit our website at ThreeSlaves.com


ISBN: 978-0-9838210-1-4 Paperback Book 1 & 2

ISBN: 978-0-9838210-2-1 eBook Book 1

ISBN: 978-0-9838210-3-8 eBook Book 2

Preface

During the glory days of the Roman Empire, seven Irishmen living in the midst of a violent war are captured and taken into slavery. Crossing paths with a lifelong slave, friendships are forged that lead them into an amazing adventure.

They traverse the known world, seeking a treasure dear to them. Some find love, but all encounter incredible obstacles and find themselves facing impossible odds.

Prologue

Her screams shattered the stillness of the night. “Tieg!! Tieg!!!” He jerked from a sound sleep, seized with panic. He sat upright in bed, searching for her.

Terrorized people were screaming throughout the village. As the grass roofs caught fire, he could see shimmering lights as though he were looking through a watery surface; his head felt as if he was beneath one.

He thought he could see shadowy images approaching from the doorway across the room. He scrubbed desperately at his eyes to clear them, but he was unable to comprehend through his intoxicated blur. A seemingly light brush against his brow caused him to fall back onto the bed. He struggled to rise, but then succumbed to the heaviness that tugged at him.

Chapter 1

He awoke to the feeling of needles in his backside; his head throbbed. Still disoriented, he probed at the sticky damp knot on his brow. His heart sank as his memory began to clear and he remembered the assault, the fire, and her screams. He raised his head up sharply to survey his surroundings and immediately regretted the move.

He dropped his head again. The pain bounced around inside his skull, causing bright colors to burst before his eyes. He blinked hard into the darkness, but could see nothing. Suddenly, he began to slide across the rough boards on which he sat. His stomach sank as he guessed what had happened.

The ship dropped into the trough of one wave and then slammed against the next. As the ship began to climb a huge swell, he could feel his body slip across the boards again until stopping with a jerk as he reached the end of his shackles. His wrists burned as the edge of the metal rings scored deeply into his open wounds. He pressed his feet into the floor to adjust his position and try to relieve the pain.

A muggy heat had replaced the cool night air; the crisp freshness was long gone. In its place, choking him, was the revolting stench of fecal matter and urine.

Though he did not know the ship’s destination, he knew the intent of its owners. They planned to sell him at some slave market. It was a common occurrence in his day, the very thing had happened to his father.

Chapter 2

Eight years earlier:

“We can thin out our herd and make do with the forest and the small valleys that we still have! That valley is not worth men’s lives!” Tieg’s father exclaimed, as he stood before the clan, pleading for peace.

“We would have to thin our herds to half before they could make it on the small valleys we have left and what they can forage in the forest!” A sour-faced man barked.

“Not half. If pressed to the point of necessity, we will come up with solutions. We always have; and if not, then who cares if we must thin to half. That is still better than your blood and the blood of our friends on the battlefield. What if we lose? What if we lose badly enough that they chase us all the way to our homes and burn down our village, taking us and our loved ones into slavery?”

“Are you saying we are weaker than they?”

Without waiting for Tieg’s father to answer, an older man jumped to his feet, and angrily shouted, “This man should not be allowed to speak like this! He is doing nothing but sowing fear into the men.”

“No, he is right! Let him speak! There is no real reason why we stand a better chance than they. With that being the case, we could lose in this way, and we will most certainly suffer loss,” someone said in defense of Tieg's father.

Then another bent on war stood; this one calmer than the rest. “That is an excellent point. There is no reason why we stand a better chance than they. That is why I wanted to hold this meeting. I have a plan that will give us a real reason as to why we stand to win and regain our grazing fields.” Now every eye was on this new speaker. Every eye except Tieg's, who thought no one would notice his staring since his gaze went right past the speaker. It rested on the lovely red-haired daughter of Riordan.

There was no question in her father's mind as to whether or not she noticed; the only question he pondered was if she was encouraging it. He watched as she smiled shyly and lowered her lashes. He was of the opinion that she was indeed encouraging it. In fact, he felt so strongly of the matter that he kept her locked away, never allowing her to speak to the lad. Riordan abruptly moved his daughter slightly to the left, so that a large man blocked Tieg's view of her. He shot Tieg an ill-tempered look to further discourage the lad. Used to it by now, Tieg only sighed and turned his attention back to what was being said.

“We number many more than they, if we engage our younger people.” At the outbreak of murmurs, he quickly continued, “Now, I do not mean place them in harm's way, of course. We have the advantage of a safe perch that the enemy does not have. On the south end of the valley, just to the left of our position, there is a very high ridge—too steep to shoot an arrow up, but perfect for raining arrows down upon the enemy.”

“They will have shields just as they always have. This will not have any effect on them,” Tieg's father stated, now angry.

After many hours of debating, they decided to let the majority decide.

In one last attempt, Tieg's father stood and quietly spoke, “You have heard all of the arguments brought before you today, but I tell you that you have only heard two reasons why we should go to war: greed and hatred. We do not need that valley. To go to war for it would simply be for greed. Yes, they have killed our loved ones and we theirs. Spilling more blood only leads to more blood being spilled. We are in no danger here, nor do we need anything they have.”

Chapter 3

Tieg sat on a rock overlooking the hillside where the sheep he had been tasked to watch were foraging. Here the trees were sparse, allowing enough sunlight for vegetation to grow. A thick fog lay across the ground, the sunlight causing it to shine white; the sheep, scattered about, slowly disappeared into it. With low visibility often being the case in this area, there were three other posts keeping watch, as well.

Suddenly Tieg felt something poke him. Startled, he bolted from the rock and, in lightning speed, whirled with sword drawn. His father, eyes huge in surprise, stood still holding the stick with which he had been poking the lad. “Whoa, if you were half as vigilant as you are fast, you would never lose a sheep.”

Laughing, Tieg lowered his sword, his nerves beginning to calm. “What are you doing out here? I was under the impression that you were retired since I became of age to sit with the sheep.”

“Whatever gave you that idea?”

“You sleeping late every day.”

“Yes, I can see why you would misconstrue that,” Tieg’s father said with a chuckle as he climbed onto the large rock and sat. “I did my time out here. For a long time, there were so few in our clan that I had to be out here every day, freezing, wet, and miserable. God bless your mother, she would often come out and keep me company. You lads only have to do this every three days.”

“Speaking of Mother, where is she?”

“At home, by the fire.”

“Tell her thanks for the partiality,” he grumbled as he took a seat next to his father and looked back out over the sheep.

His father just chuckled.

“Why the petulant disposition and faraway look, lad?”

“I cannot believe that they voted for the war, after all you said.”

“'The love of money is the root of all evil.’ That is what that old priest says, and he ought to be an authority on the subject—he is the most evil son of a bitch I know.”

Still troubled, Tieg seemed not to even notice what was said. “You are not going to fight are you?”

“Yes, son, I will have to.”

“Why?” Tieg asked indignantly as he stood and turned to face his father. “These sheep are not fat, but they are healthy. They will be fine without that valley!”

“I am aware of this, if you recall. That has nothing to do with why I fight. If you can calm down and have a seat, I would be glad to explain it to you.”

Tieg eased back into his previous position and said nothing. “Let me tell you a story I saw with my own eyes. I do not think you need the story to understand my reason, but rather to understand the gravity of my reason.

“When I was a child, your grandfather took me to the top of a very steep bank; somehow someone had gotten a large boulder up there. We sat completely still and silent, and a few hours later in the evening, five deer came walking along the trail at the bottom of the bank. When they were just under the boulder, my father cut the rope and gave it a push. We looked over to see four deer running in different directions, but one young deer just stood there, his eyes open so wide that his eyeballs would have fallen out if they were not attached. You could see the weight shifting from his right leg, to his left, then back again. The other deer had run in so many different directions that he could not decide which was right for him. With this division in his mind, he made the worst mistake of all.”

Tieg looked questioningly at his father who promptly continued his story. “Even though the clan makes stupid decisions and takes us in a terrible direction, we are still better off with them. If our unity falls apart, we will be crushed like that deer—if not by our enemies, then by the next band of marauders that pass by. There is a big difference in fighting for that field, and fighting for your home and family. Have you ever wondered why, in all the fighting we do, we never attack their home or they ours? When we fight out there in some far off field for the cause of greed, people stay behind their shields.”

Then, knowing how well the fog carried a voice, he leaned over and whispered into Tieg’s ear, “Especially me. I keep my sword and shield in-between myself and the enemy––they all do.” He straightened back up and continued, “I have seen wars for land in which we lost no one. They would not dare attack our homes, for the men would come out fighting like a she-bear robbed of her cubs. They would come out from behind their shields lunging and swinging. The dead from both sides would pile up. Everyone knows this consciously or sub-consciously. That is why we are safe, and why we must maintain our unity at all cost—even if it means we participate in a stupid war.”

“We?” Tieg questioned, not knowing if he meant it in the spirit of unity, or something like that.

“Yeah, you heard that stupid ‘safe perch’ idea. It made me realize I need to be far more diligent in your training.”

In one smooth motion, Tieg leapt from the rock, swirled around, and landed his shepherd’s staff a hand’s-breadth from his father’s face. He then said jokingly, “What I do not get is how you are supposed to teach me anything when I can pummel you like a child.”

His father brushed the staff aside as he stood and said, “You are like that deer—quicker than any man, but if you do not know what you are doing, you will just be crushed.”

“I thought the deer story was about unity,” Tieg said, going for a jab to his father’s ribs.

With a circular motion, he swept Tieg’s rod aside. “I was very young, and it was a very traumatic event, teaching me many things. The greatest of which was not to walk along a bank with rocks overhead.”

Chapter 4

The next day, Tieg’s family sat around the table eating. The normal conversation did not ensue, and after prolonged silence his mother asked, “When will you two leave for the battle?”

“In the middle of the night. We will get there a little before daylight, chase away their sheep and those assigned to watch them. Then about five hours later, they will respond, and that will be the battle,” his father replied, as though it was quite routine.

“Da, have you ever been in a battle in which people are attacking with everything they have and fighting for their lives?”

“When I was young and filling in the very back lines, some crazy man from a northern clan convinced his people to come south raping and pillaging everything they could. Our walls kept them from charging in, but that was about all they were good for. We had to go out and meet them. The first five that lead out our gate were killed—almost half of us that went through it never returned. I am sure you are aware of the rest of the story.”

“If you refer to how, after we routed them, we chased them, littering the land with their dead bodies for a mile to the north.”

“Yes. That is the good part of the story that everyone tells. You compare that with a battle for land, where two or three die, maybe five at the most, and you will see that greed is not very courageous.” Then turning to Tieg he said in a more serious tone, “You should not see any action from up there on the safe perch. You should just be shooting arrows down upon men that are covered. But just in case one of your arrows finds a mark, you need to know that it is not your fault. You are in a situation like that deer, and you have to move in a direction that preserves your life. Also, when they get close to us, your leader will give you the command to cease and go home. When he does, get out of there and don’t look back. Don’t stop running until you feel the embrace of your Ma.”

Tieg only nodded; and they continued eating.

Chapter 5

The next morning, just as the day broke, the valley that spread before Tieg and the other young lads slowly became visible. “All right lads, it is time to get out of sight,” the old man leading them advised. “Move back out of view. Form the line that you will be shooting in and have a seat. You know we will not be shooting straight in front, so when the line steps forward, it must do so at an angle. The man on this end needs to be as close to the edge as possible, then another man an arm’s length from him, all the way down.”

“I thought it would take five hours for them to get here,” a young boy questioned.

“It might, lad. But we cannot take the chance of being seen. If they see us, they may come down the valley instead of across.” Their leader was too old for the battlefield, but well suited for this position. His main concern was for the boys. His leadership of them was the only way that the land-hungry could convince the parents to allow their boys to go along. “Remember to keep an eye on your arrows. Watch where they are landing and adjust accordingly.”

Tieg was sitting with the rest of the boys, and piddling with a stick. Many of them were uneasily drawing in the dirt. They felt as though much depended upon them even though there wasn’t much that they could do.

The old man was lying on his belly, peeping over the edge of the cliff. After several hours, he slid back and turned to face his young charges. At his nod, they all took a deep breath and stood. Behind them now, he continued in a low voice. Only those closest to him could hear exactly what was said; the rest just mimicked the ones who were nearest to him. “Ease forward until you see them; take aim, one…” He counted as he moved down the line until reaching three. “Shoot.”

Reloading bows without ever looking at their hands, the boys carefully watched their arrows fall. The enemy was in two lines—a strange sight the old man thought. It almost doubled their chances of being hit. With the slight breeze and the boys not having practiced from that position, most of the arrows landed behind the two lines. However two men were struck down, mortally wounded, and two more were injured, but pressed on. While the boys continued to rain down arrows from above, Tieg’s clan had hoped to shoot arrows into the front line. But, as they watched, the enemy’s two rows quickly tightened together. The rear man raised his shield over his head and the head of the man in front of him, freeing the man in front to keep his shield forward.

“Hold! You are wasting your arrows,” the old man commanded. Some of the boys were fretfully shooting arrows that were straying wildly, while others, although bringing them in on target, were only hitting shields.

The old man watched carefully, hoping the top shields would come down, but no such luck. They were charging now, trying to close the distance. Once they were close enough that Tieg’s clan drew swords, the old man gave the command, “Home with you lads! Get going and do not stop for anyone, no matter what you hear!”

Chapter 6

As the boys approached the village, the gates swung open. Tieg anxiously looked for his mother. Seeing her, he dropped his bow and ran to her embrace, as the other young boys did the same. “That’s one of my boys,” she said squeezing him tightly and breathing in the smell of his hair. “If we can just get your father back in one piece, we will be in great shape.”

Tieg and his mother stood close to the gate, listening, hoping, and praying. Looking over, Tieg could see Riordan’s daughter, Maggie with her mother. Only this time, as he watched her, it was not infatuation on his face, but empathy; he understood perfectly, the concern she had for her father. When she saw Tieg’s compassionate look, her anxious expression melted into one that mirrored his.

Only an hour later the watchman at the gate heard something.

“Who goes there?” the watchman cried out. It was dark now and Tieg’s mother still held him close. They could not hear what was being said over the commotion.

“What went with the battle?”

“Who is it?” Everyone clamored to learn of the battle’s outcome.

The gates flew open and an exhausted man hastily came through. “It is a rout! We were chased from the battlefield!” he said breathlessly.

Slowly, more men began to arrive. They said nothing as they came through the gate. Their heads were down; most only looked up long enough to find their family members. Many of those waiting cried out the names of their men as they appeared while running to them. After the initial grateful embrace, they, too, hung their heads, and trudged to their homes, feeling both defeated and just a little guilty knowing that many waiting at the gate would not be so lucky.

As Riordan came through, Tieg looked to see Maggie’s face light up as though all of her burdens were lifted away. “Da!” she squalled as she ran to him. Her mother ran just behind her, lifting her skirts to keep up. Riordan did not look up. He just hugged them fiercely for a moment, and then began to survey the crowd.

Tieg was watching the gate for his father, when, from the corner of his eye, he noticed Riordan searching. With a feeling of unease, he turned quickly. Tieg figured there would only be one reason for him to be looking around in that manner—bad news.

His eyes met Riordan’s. And to Tieg’s relief, Riordan kept searching. Although relieved, he still felt incredibly sad after seeing the man’s face; he knew it meant bad news for someone.

Riordan’s eyes settled upon an eight year old boy seated on a nearby rock-pile. The boy’s name was Ball. He sat alone waiting for his Uncle.

Riordan’s wife had noticed him searching and the look on his face. She stepped back trying to understand the matter. When he turned back, her hand was over her mouth, and a tear running down her cheek. Without even a gesture his face somehow asked a question; after a moment she nodded.

He looked down to Maggie who had just noticed the exchange. She stood still, her face perplexed. He motioned her to her mother; her confusion only grew when she saw her mother’s face.

Riordan made his way over to Ball, and knelt down in front of him. “Lad, I fought next to your uncle, and he did not make it. I promised him I would care for you as though you were my own. I want you to know you always have a family, and a place to live with us.”

Ball just slumped over sobbing. Riordan stood, lifting the boy from the rock, and pulled him to himself. The lad’s head rested on Riordan’s shoulder as though he could no longer lift it. Making his way back to his family, Riordan stopped at Tieg and his mother. “Your father stayed, covering the retreat like he always does; he should be here before long.”

When Riordan got back to his family with Ball, Maggie and her mother consoled the lad for a moment before they all made their way home.

As yet another hour passed, Tieg and his mother grew more anxious. They could see someone coming through the gate now, but their hope did not stir; it was too lanky a figure and it moved too slowly. When he came closer, they could tell it was the old man who had been with the boys on the perch. His searching stopped at Tieg and his mother.

He walked over to them and said, “They captured him. I am sorry. They were in two rows—I have never seen that before. The row in back had a bow at the ready, shooting around the man in front of him. It kept our men practically squatting behind there shields. Finally, when they could take it no more, they broke and ran. It was horrible. The archers were shooting them in their backs as they tried to retreat. When your father saw this, he broke through their lines. He ran down the back of the enemy line cutting their bowstrings. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. He was able to move very fast, because he was just holding out his sword, giving a light hack to each bowstring as he passed. Their bowstrings were cut before they even knew he was there. Eventually, they caught up with him and tackled him from behind. They did not kill him, though,” the old man added, with a touch of hope in his voice. “I know it is terrible, and I am so sorry. There is that hope, though. Most of the time when a man is sold into slavery, he returns in about six years.”

There was such a knot in Tieg’s throat that he could not express his gratitude to the man for the kind way in which he delivered the news. He just nodded and turned to his mother who seemed to have wilted like a parched flower.

Chapter 7

The year passed. Tieg and his mother were doing okay. Their clan thrived. They had had plenty to eat throughout the winter since they’d had to thin a quarter of the herd. Their large gardens, both inside and outside the gate, also served them well. Tieg had to watch sheep four times a week now. He often took Ball with him to teach him and give the lad something to do. However, Tieg’s initial motive for this was getting access to Ball’s home. Maggie’s mother, although instructed to, did not participate in the cold-shoulder treatment of Tieg. When Riordan was not around, Tieg often got to talk to Maggie.

One day, when Tieg stopped by to get Ball on his way to watch sheep, he found Riordan and Ball pulling grass and weeds from around their house. “Good morning, Tieg. I have a load of grass and weeds you can take to the sheep.”

“They will be most grateful. You should come with us and see their gratitude for yourself.”

Riordan just looked at Tieg, then went back to pulling weeds. “How is your swordsmanship coming along?” he asked.

“Good. I practice almost every day with Brogan. Some days the roof needs mending, or the oven needs some mud work, but most days we fight.”

“Yeah, I am sure you fight with Ball some too, while the two of you keep sheep. While that is good for Brogan and Ball, if you are really going to improve, you need to be stretched. You need someone who can defeat you, hands down.”

“All the older men seem too busy. Are you offering?”

“Oh no, I would not do you any good. I can tell you who would be able to help you, though—McVeman. He has a trick in which he can pop the sword from your hand. Several people have tried to learn it, including myself, but it just will not work for most people. You have to be really quick, which is why I think it would be perfect for you. McVeman has his own style of fighting, that he developed around his speed.”

“Aye. He is such a hard-ass; I do not even speak to him.”

Riordan stood and brushed grass from his knees before looking at Tieg and saying, “Let me explain something to you, Tieg. When your Da was around, I would go up to him and say, ‘I want to buy that sheep,’ and he would inform me that that sheep was not for sale, or that he wanted this much for it. That is simple, right?”

Tieg just nodded, having no idea what Riordan was talking about.

“Not everyone can function so well with others in the village community. I would never just go up to McVeman like that, asking to buy a sheep. However, this is the point,” Riordan emphasized, seeing Tieg’s puzzled look, “that does not mean that McVeman’s sheep is not for sale, he just has to be approached differently.”

“How?”

“You will know the answer to that when you learn that trick from him.”

Seeing the dispassionate look on Tieg’s face as he probed at the dirt with his shepherd’s staff, Riordan knew that he would not have the motivation to follow through with it, so he added, “Next time I see McVeman, if he tells me that you are learning well, I will have you over for a meal.”

“Oh.” Tieg mumbled, looking down as he made another line in the dirt with his staff.

“Yeah, with me and my family.”

“Your family?” Tieg asked looking up. Then pushing passed the embarrassment he came out with it. “Maggie will be there?”

“Well yeah, she dines with us, you know.”

With a thoughtful look, Tieg said, “When we slaughtered a sheep or killed a deer, my father and I would always take a portion of it to McVeman and his mother, and they were always complete asses. Brogan and others started making fun of my father and me, saying we were ass-kissers because of all we did for them when they never showed us even a small measure of kindness or gratitude. Eventually, I stopped going with my father and had nothing to do with them.”

“Yes, that is because you are a fool like those mockers you speak of,” Riordan said dispassionately.

“Tell me what you really think next time, Riordan,” Tieg replied sarcastically.

Riordan smiled. He scrubbed some of the dirt from his hands, then turned to face Tieg before continuing, “You see, they decide how a person should be treated based upon how that person makes them feel. Sometimes this works well for them, keeping them from becoming slaves to their enemies or causing them to come to the aid of a fallen friend. There is a time and a purpose for every gift our Maker has given us, but like unlearned children, they misapply these gifts. Judging a fatherless boy whose mother was insane, as a misfit, and they would stone him for it, while at the same time they embrace their religious leader as he fleeces them. They have it so messed up that it is completely reversed. That last part was roughly a quote from your father. I know this is not all news to you, so why the bemused look?”

“I just miss him,” Tieg said snapping out of his daze. “What you said reminded me greatly of him.”

“I will take that as a commendation. I think we will see him again lad. I really do.”

“As do I,” Tieg said wiping the moisture from his eyes. He helped Ball gather the weeds and grass into bundles, and then turned to go tend the sheep. Before walking away, he said, “The meal sounds great. I will be looking forward to it.”

Riordan just nodded. “Aye, lad.”

As the Boys walked out of sight, Riordan stood watching with his hands on his hips.

“You were supposed to dry some of that grass for me to use to start fires.”

Riordan turned to see his wife looking at him, hands on hips, as well. Confusion flashed across his face at first, then was quickly swept away. He pointed, “I still have the back to do. That will be plenty for you to start fires with.”

“I could not believe my ears when I heard you inviting him for a meal. Does this mean that you are going to let her start speaking to him?”

“No, not at all. It’s just that one meal. They will be able to talk amongst us all, then he is out. His father is not around anymore to teach him how to negotiate and deal with different personalities. This lesson is going to be very difficult, and require a lot of motivation for him to see it through. You will still have to keep them from talking. If they get comfortable with each other, she will be pregnant before you know it.”

He watched his wife as she attempted to keep a straight face. She was never very good at it, he noted. Her eyes squinted, and her right cheek quivered, which rapidly seceded to a smile, that just as quickly gave way to laughter.

“It is not a joke.”

“I know you are serious, and there is the smallest amount of truth to it. I think that is why it is so very funny,” she said, as she laughed her way back into the house.

Riordan’s face however, showed no signs of humor. He just muttered something better left unheard, and went back to his work.

Chapter 8

As the next year passed, Tieg realized he would not be having that meal with Riordan any time soon. He did not understand what Riordan had meant by, “He just has to be approached differently.” He also did not understand why McVeman yelled and cursed at him for asking a simple favor. Tieg eventually gave up on learning any tricks from him, but continued where his father had left off in sharing and extending friendship.

It took the whole year before the monologue turned into dialogue. But once it did, a friendship was born—a closer friendship than McVeman had ever known. McVeman started coming to see Tieg and Ball while they were keeping sheep and he and Tieg would fight for hours with wooden swords.

Tieg had learned all of the traditional fighting tactics from his father, but McVeman had never been taught any of this. He had developed his own style around his speed. At first it merely kept him alive on the battlefield. Then it had slowly progressed into a skill that put him at an advantage. So much so, that by the time Tieg’s father and a few others had befriended him and tried to teach him, they could not, for they were unable to outmatch him.

Those hours of practice not only earned Tieg that meal at Riordan’s table, they were also making him quite the swordsman. For the next three years, a normal day was comprised of practicing an hour with Ball before McVeman arrived, then two hours with McVeman. Once he returned to the village, he usually spent two more hours with Brogan. It was enough to exhaust the heartiest of men, but it was what Tieg lived for.

Chapter 9

One evening, just as Tieg was finishing Supper with his mother, he heard someone yelling. He strolled outside in no particular hurry, and noticed a house on fire. He looked to his right and his chest tightened intensely. Part of the wall was on fire, and he could think of only one logical explanation for it. “Oh no,” he muttered, and grabbing his weapons, he ran for the gate.

He arrived at the same instance as many others. The watchman was frantically trying to explain how many and where they were. “They have set fire to loads of straw in several different places along the wall, and pulled back to a position in front of the gate, assuming we will charge out, no doubt.”

“What are we waiting for?” Tieg shouted.

A man stepped out of the crowd, “Let us attempt to put out these fires and hold our ground in here!”

Then one of the elders spoke, “You will never get all of that straw to stop burning! If we keep hesitating, they will throw more torches, setting more homes ablaze! Tieg is right! We must face them while these walls still offer our families some protection.”

Everyone just stood there silently, looking at each other. After a minute, Tieg turned and ran for the gate. Throwing down his sword and shield, he began struggling to remove the timber that had been placed in front of the gate in the case of a battering ram. Soon Brogan was by his side. Together they could get an end of the timber and flip it. Next, McVeman came and began to help. As they worked, a hand clasped Brogan’s shoulder, he turned to see.

“Da?”

“To the back line with you lad.”

“No, I stay and fight beside Tieg.”

“You know the rules. If a father is at the front line, then his son is at the back, or if a son is at the front, the father, the back; I say that you are in the back!”

Brogan picked up his sword and shield and headed for the back. He knew what his father said was right, and the clan would side with it. Brogan’s father then began helping remove the timber.

“Listen to me lads,” Brogan’s father said. “When that gate is open, there will be arrows coming in like a sideways rain. We will have to forge ahead into it. That is why we have the bigger shields here.” He pointed to some long shields hanging next to the gate. “You have to understand: they will shoot your legs, feet, arms, anything exposed. I was your age Tieg, when this happened last. I fought in the back line with your father. We both lost our fathers that day. I wish your father was here today to send you to the back line. You probably will not listen to me if I tell you to go, will you?”

“I will stand in my father’s position and defend my mother and the rest of my village,” Tieg said as he secured the long shield in his hand. He had always seen them there, but had never used one. “Besides that, I do not see anyone else volunteering.”

“They are just petrified. Hell, no one wants this. When they get involved they will limber up,” Brogan’s father stated. Then turning toward the others, he yelled, “Are you just going to stand there and wet yourselves, or are you going to get into position?”

Before they could finish muddling into position, Tieg swung open the gate. Yelling at the top of their lungs, he and McVeman charged. The shields were wide and rounded at the bottom, narrow and v-shaped at the top so that the men could run without squatting or taking small steps. The shields were contrived of small branches, with two layers of wicker woven over the frame. They would not last long in a sword fight, and someone could probably push a spear right through them. You could not see or reach around them to fight, but they were stopping multitudes of arrows as Tieg and McVeman charged forward.

The rest of their clan was still not charging. They were still trying to get the men in the front row with the wicker shields spaced properly. Brogan’s father yelled at them in disgust, “Come now!” Then turning, he followed after Tieg and McVeman, who were about to make contact.

They slammed into the enemy’s front line, pushing the front man backward into the second row. Turning slightly and swinging his sword, Tieg shattered the bow of the man next to him. The archer’s look of shock quickly turned to fear as he cowered, stumbled and fell back. Tieg leapt forward, landing in the center of his chest, pushing him all the way to the ground. A downward swing destroyed another bow.

The next man quickly began retreating into the second row with a terrified grimace. He trembled as he watched Tieg raise his sword. A look of relief quickly washed over his face, as Tieg moved past him and shattered another bow. With his shield protecting him from behind, Tieg tried to keep a body, or someone with a disabled bow in front of him to cover him from any arrows.

As Tieg came closer to the next man, it was clear he was not going anywhere. The man’s eyes bulged in excitement and concentration. The man gritted his teeth and began to draw his sword. His head rolled from his right shoulder before his sword left its sheath.

Tieg and McVeman had started in the middle of the line and were working in opposite directions. They were almost to the ends, and the clan was charging now with their wicker shields in place. The enemy archers were almost destroyed, and those left were doing no good shooting into the wicker shields. Upon seeing this, their leader gave the command, “Attack!” The gang of thieves shouted, and, waving their swords, they charged toward Tieg’s clan. As they ran past, Tieg threw down the large wicker shield, and snatched his small round wooden shield from his side. It had an iron bar that ran across the front, which he now used to cause head trauma for any man who was in his path.

There were about eighty men in Tieg’s clan, while there were only about sixty in this horde—closer to fifty now, thanks to Tieg and McVeman. Their leader sat atop a gray horse on their right flank. There were two men seated on either side of him, one sat a brown horse and the other a black one. Three more men stood guard, in front of him.

Tieg fought and killed a few more men, but most of the enemy lines just ran past him.

Tieg’s clan did just as he had; they tossed the wicker shields and pulled their regular fighting shields from their sides. They clashed into battle and the fury began.

As Tieg emerged from their back ranks, he looked to his right. Upon seeing the enemy’s leader, he did not hesitate. He ran toward him, saying nothing, attempting to avoid drawing their attention. But he had their attention, nonetheless. The group had been watching Tieg since he left the gate. The three guards did not have to be told—they charged.

When the first guard was just a few feet away, Tieg threw his sword, burying it in the guard’s chest. He rotated around the dying man, keeping him between himself and one of the other guards. He used his shield and his free hand to disarm the guard as he fell forward. With a swirl and flick of the wrist, he threw that sword at the next guard coming at him. A shield covered this man’s body, but not his face. The guard began to duck, but the sword was coming too quickly and he was too close. It slammed into his forehead, lodging above his eye, lifting him from the ground as his momentum and that of the sword’s equalized.

Freeing his sword from the first guard’s chest, Tieg continued to circle around him, forcing the other guard to do the same. They came together in battle. Their swords clashed and their shields met. The guard, being a very large fellow, threw Tieg back. He had to run backward to keep his feet beneath him. Tieg was still a lad of seventeen years, and this fact looked even more pronounced against the large man. Their swords and shields clashed again, and, again, Tieg went flying back. Watching this, a look of relief came over the man who sat atop the gray horse, for he knew that Tieg was coming for him.

They clashed yet again, and this time the large guard twisted as he slammed into Tieg, in hopes that the sideways force would cause the boy’s feet to become tangled and he would fall. Tieg was much too fast for that. During this maneuver, Tieg noticed something that made him want the guard to repeat the move, so he stumbled sideways as though he were about to fall.

The guard raised his sword to strike again, and Tieg quickly switched hands with his sword and shield, and hoped the guard would not notice and change his tactic. As focused as the guard was on his idea, he did not seem to notice. He lunged at Tieg again, twisting sideways. He just knew he would knock the boy over this time. As he twisted for impact with the same sideways motion, Tieg noticed the same thing again. The guard’s shield arm was briefly exposed. With the sword now gripped in his left hand, Tieg severed the man’s arm with a quick downward swing.

The shield fell, and as the guard’s attention was focused on his arm upon the ground, Tieg ran him through. Then, circling around from behind the heap of the large guard, Tieg stared up at the three horsemen, contemplating just how they should be handled.

The man on the gray horse looked to the man on his left, then to his right. When they didn’t move, he prompted, “Well, what are you waiting for?!” The man on the black horse charged Tieg. Seeing this, and then noticing that what was left of his clan was quickly retreating north, the man on the brown horse spun his mount around and also headed north as quickly as he could.

Though they had routed their enemy, not a cry went up from within Tieg’s entire clan, for they watched with great apprehension as the horseman bore down upon Tieg. He had nowhere to go. There was no way he could get to any kind of cover quickly enough. The horse’s nostrils flared, his feet pounded the ground with fury. Tieg’s heart was beating so hard, that he could feel it in his throat. As he watched the horse draw nearer, all he could think of was the saying of old:

“His majestic snorting is terrifying. He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons. He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword… With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground; he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet. When the trumpet sounds, he says 'Aha!' He smells the battle from afar…”

This memory seemed to intensify his fear; he felt it boil up from someplace deep inside. With palms that were beginning to sweat, he clasped his sword tightly. His eyes darted around searching for somewhere to run. He thought about turning and just running, but he knew he would be cut down, or trampled like grass.

Finally, with only one idea in mind, he ran forward as quickly as he could.

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