Strifegorge was not the most creative of names, but it was true. It was known to travelers of the path for the suffering the terrain would cause. Wheels would fall from carts having gone hundreds of miles without any sign of wobbling, boots would be swallowed by mud and the rocks would nick and tear skin or clothing on the tired and weary.
The Bears would steer clear of larger gatherings, but the Centaurs - the centaurs would see them as a right of passage or sport.
A battalion of knights, battle-weary and wounded traveled home. They had completed their mission against the Sea Dwellers for to the south and were returning home. They had made it through the grasslands, through the perils of Verthedge forest and were in their final stretch.
But disaster struck. Injured soldiers became stuck in the dirt by the dozen and overfilled carts sank under the weight of their haul. They could see the Fortress in the distance, the fires had dimmed with all Knights deployed and they all knew it would be a cold night's sleep, but it would be in a bed, after a meal they just needed to get moving, they were so close to home... then the sound came. The booming war call, which would precede the sounds of a galloping herd: The Centaurs were coming.
Those who could hold a weapon were given one, those who could sit were moved beside those who could not, and those who could stand did so : bandaged, bloodied, dirty and often bootless they braced for the raid.
The sound grew louder and louder as they were making it around the bend. The Centaurs did not know much of battle or tactics but from the countless caravans they had saked they knew that the humans were not as accustomed to the bitter chill as they were and a cold sword arm is a heavy sword arm, which they do not swing as swiftly.
However, this was not a failed caravan this was a battalion of battle-tested knights and these mountains were there home.
The Centaurs slowed as they saw this was not a merchant caravan. As they did there was a sound to the north, the groan of Strifegorges massive doors opened.
The Knights held their formation, but could not help but look and the Centaurs halted. The Centaurs, being hunters, were not accustomed or familiar with how to retreat, they have never needed to - a quick fight, a good haul of items from a caravan was what they were familiar with. They had always avoided engaging the Knights.
Out of the looming darkness came two spears. They whistled and flew through the air then thwack, thwack: Two down.
Young, confused and enraged the Centaurs roared and cried out and their brethren's deaths...but they were not given time to think. Curses, threats and all manner of completely unseemly, absolutely un-knightley threats and insults echoed out from the Fortress forcing them to act.
Do they fight the broken forces ahead of them? Or the...two more spears sailed through the air, thwack-thwack.
Two more, the voice boasted in their language.
The band of centaurs galloped north, wild emotional and fully of rage. Their clubs, axes and curved blades were held high as their cursing and taunts boomed against the fortresses high walls. .
The Knights watched as the raiders passed into the blackness and jumped at the screams of violent, bloody mayhem echoed back towards them. The few who could, moved towards the fortress, ready as they could be to deal with what laid ahead.
They could hear the battle was done, and the only sounds were of gasping and gurgling - but they didn’t last long either.
They paused as blood-soaked knight approached. She was coated from head to boot in viscera and blood, her posture being the only way to truly recognise her.
She raises a closed fist to the bloodied crest of her armour, wiping away what she could, to which her comrades promptly reply to.
Her name was Knight Captain Ferecil. She was alone having lost her battalion in a battle to the west.
From that turn on, she marched into battle with a curved blade forged in the depths of the Fortress and carried a rage that would punish her enemies for the loss she had endured.
Kaitlelind’s hand on the door was met by another. A small hand, younger than her own, belonged to Jovak.
“Don’t go, Kaitelind,” Jovak was shaking. If Kaitelind could not see the tremors of fear that increased with each of his breaths, she could feel it in his touch.
“I must. They only want one of us. You must stay here with the young ones,” Kaitelind attempted a brave smile, “You’ll be the old man now… and you will need to make sure they stay safe. They have so much life to live,” the small humor in calling the youth of less than seventeen winters ‘old man’ was lost in the gravity of the moment.
Outside the door men grew impatient. Their unintelligible calls and hoots were clear in their unnerving intent; even when those inside the Temple could not make out the words behind them.
Kaitelind stiffened her spine, lifted her chin to cast gaze beyond Jovak and to the huddled mass of children in the corner farthest from the door of the single room temple, “You will be safe when I go with them. They promised.”
Jovak shook his head, desperation in every word, “We have heard what these barbarians are like! We cannot trust…”
“I won’t give them a reason to burn the Temple,” Kaitelind interrupted. Her resolute tone softened as she looked back into the fear laden eyes of Jovak, “Now… please. Step aside. You have children to tend to.”
Jovak’s head hung love in defeat. His hands dropping uselessly to his side as he turned away from the door and toward the children. Kaitelind grasped both sides of his head to hold him still before he could fully step away and pressed a kiss against his forehead.
“Stay safe, little brother,” She released his head and wrapped her arms around him in an awkward, but lovingly firm hug, “Raise them with the same love…” sudden tears choked off her words and she released her young brother, pushing away to create a small distance at the same time.
The shouts and clanging of metal on the other side of the door drew shrieks of fright from the children as Kaitelind threw the door open. She stepped outside with a new sense of urgency. Once outside, the band of men that surrounded the small temple gave a chilling, unified howl that could only be described as viciously victorious in nature. Lacking in both hygiene and civility, the men gathered closest to the temple entrance held torches high against the darkening of night. They scowled and spat. Their sneers bared broken or missing teeth in many cases. Their weapons and armor still dripped with the gore of their latest battle and conquest. They reeked of death and drink. Her first few steps were with trepidation, but she wasn’t given the luxury of an opportunity for a change of heart. One of the closest men grabbed her by the arm and immediately dragged her forward. The stench of him bit her senses as hard as the fingers that tore into the tender muscles of her arm.
The stinking man brought her to a halt in front of another at the center of the gathering the brigands. He looked her over with narrowed eyes and curled lip; as if appraising the worth of gifted animal pelt.
His voice was gravelly, speaking made the scar across the apple of his throat move in an odd ripple, “She’ll do…” He gave the other man a half nod, taking Kaitelind's other arm in a momentary tug-of-war as he snatched her out of the other already painful grasp. He gave her another shove forward away from the temple and toward the darkness without preamble, “Burn it all.”
Kaitelind could hear nothing except the calamitous shouts of the men. There was a sickening joy in the murderous act they were orders, or permitted, to commit. Her own screams of objection were completely drowned out by the sadistic laughing and cheering that surrounded her. She was pushed again forward, spinning back see the roof had already caught in a patchwork of flame. Her captor blocked her way back toward the temple with a squaring of his hips as he pushed down on the tops of her shoulders to send her flying back and downwards onto the ground.
Desperation in those moments of seeing the dark streaks of smoke curling in and around the temple guided her hand as she reached out and found the hilt of the leader’s broadsword; drawing it out of its scabbard as she fell away. Scrambling for the both the strength to stand and lift this mighty blade with unskilled hands, Kaitelind found her footing again. It took both hands to hold the broadsword above her head, calling with all of her breath for the gods to give her the strength to save those inside the temple.
She charged against the band of brigands that attacked the temple.
A brilliant spark of lightning struck down from the sky above. Kaitelind and her blade were bathed in a red aura of unspeakable power.
By the time Jovak emerged from the temple with the last of the choking, hysterical children clinging to him or held in his arms, Kaitelind was the only person standing. Her clerical robes now stained red with the blood of those that laid dead and dying across the grounds.
Her words reverberated with the power of the gifts of Sunrifter that left both her and her blade glowing in the night, saying finally, “No child shall fear death.”
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