Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with a great story by Spoon. This was the winning entry in the contest promoted by Winfield in February 2015, with the theme
Much has been said of the arrival of the Outlanders. For some, their appearance in our world is the fulfillment of a prophecy spoken in days of old. For others, their coming has brought naught but many, many questions. What is beyond all question, however, is the great courage which many of these newcomers have displayed in the face of unspeakable danger. One of the earliest tales of Outlandish valor was a report told to me by none other than Halmar himself, the Captain of the Guard, a seasoned warrior and a trusted friend. With great admiration, Halmar spoke to me of such Outlanders’ courage as he himself had witnessed firsthand: the bravery of Spoon and his companions, new arrivals from a world far, far beyond our own.
* * *
“They are coming!”
The scout’s cry made Halmar look up. “No. Not so soon,” he said to himself out loud. A cold panic gripped his gut. They were too fatigued. After all, they had been on the move for two days straight. But now, the horrors of the past week had caught up with them. There would be no escape.
“They are coming!” shouted Dan the Scout again.
The original orders to Halmar and his squad had been simple: fetch the remaining folks from the surrounding farms and bring them to the safety of Solace Bridge Keep before the rumored Undead attack. Their orders received, Halmar and his company quickly followed through. The few left in the farms were the stubborn and the overwhelmed: those too afraid to leave their homes behind, the infirm, the elderly, mothers with small children. All else who had had the means had left of their own accord. Halmar had hoped the mission would be quick, but he soon found that his original plan devolved into a quagmire of weeping, coaxing, and delay. Finally, three ox-wagons and almost as many dozen evacuees in a sorry caravan of sorts were heading back to the safety of Solace Bridge Keep.
Those delays would prove a fortune in disguise.
The day before they were due in Solace, Halmar had dispatched Dan to scout ahead. From a hidden vantage point, Dan had seen the vastness of the Undead host and quickly deduced the outcome — Solace had been lost. When Dan returned, Halmar only needed to look him in the eyes: without a word, he knew all hope for a haven had been snuffed out. Solace was doomed.
A seasoned veteran, Halmar gave the harsh orders to change directions with no hesitation. At first the refugees and even some of his soldiers protested having to turn away when their goal was so close. But that night when they rested briefly, a great light could be seen from Solace, and all understood. One of the women tearfully asked why the Undead would burn their conquest. Halmar and his soldiers exchanged knowing glances in silence. The Undead would not, but people without hope would.
They had been fleeing ever since, Halmar and his troop doing all to move the slow caravan faster along the Solace River, though they knew it was all in vain. Dan scouted behind, reporting the steady decreasing distance between the weary fugitives and pursuers who needed no rest.
But now, with Dan’s cry, Halmar knew they had caught up. He looked at the wagons carrying the feeble and the small, the ragged and the struggling. He knew what had to be done.
Quickly he gathered his squad. “All of you,” he said to them, looking each in the eye, “you have served bravely and faithfully. You all know me. You all know what is behind. Most of them will not make it. But there may be hope for some. Each of you, take a child small enough to carry; leave everything and everyone else. Head for the coast. Go! ”
Halmar hated this part. His orders given, he walked away from the caravan, never looking back, ignoring the cries and shouts of confusion as his squad carried out his command. With Dan at his side, Halmar picked a good defensive spot, just above a brook with his back against some rocks. They could hold out there, but just for a short while. “Buy them some time,” he thought to himself.
“It won’t be long now,” said the scout. Halmar gave Dan a tired look but did not respond, instead he drew his sword. A line of figures approached. Oh, how many there were! Halmar swallowed and gathered his spirit.
Suddenly someone ran past them. “Wooohoooo! Over here!”
Halmar stared in disbelief as three warriors fully clad in steel crashed into the line of undead. With quick strokes from axe, sword and halberd, the fragile bones shattered. The three moved from foe to foe, dispatching each with abandon, and calling to each other all along:
“That one’s mine!” said the first.
“Kill first, loot later,” urged another.
“Quick, heal me!” And with a flash of light, the third’s request was quickly answered.
As Halmar watched, a stream of fire detonated into the host of undead, engulfing and shattering whatever it struck. Halmar held out his hand to shield his face from the heat waves, blinking in the bright light.
Then a piercing unreal scream struck not only his ears but also filled his heart with dread.
“There’s the lich!” shouted one of the warriors, “It’s on me!”
“Coming,” he was answered.
“Hey! Leave some for me!”
Halmar looked at Dan, both in amazement, neither understanding what legends had manifested themselves in front of their eyes. Heartened, the captain and the scout tightened their grips on their blades and went to join the fray. Before too long, the last of the unstoppable legion of Undead were defeated.
At battle’s end, removing his helmet, one of the warriors strode up to the captain and spoke, “Hey. I’m sorry — I forgot to ask. Did you mind that we joined your fun?”
Halmar just stood there staring, shaking his head at the absurdity of the question. The stranger smiled at him knowingly. “Name?”
“I’m Halmar, Captain of the Guard… ”
“I’m Spoon,” said the stranger, “pleased to meet you. Back there we passed some ragged people, are they yours? With the immediate threat gone, would you mind if we head back and help heal them up? Maybe even keep you company for a bit?”
Exhausted, relieved and stunned, Halmar grasped for something to say. “But…but where did you come from?”