Hakon’s camp was in chaos. He had sent his thanes out to restore order among the war party when the attacks began, but there were still third-tier warriors coming and going constantly as the fires were put out and the dead were counted.
But, finally, after two hours of getting what passed for coordination among the Valemen reestablished, the camp quieted down and Hakon’s thanes returned. They immediately made for Hakon’s tent, which was easily the largest tent in the entire war party and decorated with small silver statues and black silkgrass banners depicting Thunderbirds. In the center of the tent was another banner, with a black mountain beneath the pale blue sky, representing the Mountain Father and the Sky Mother.
“So, in total, our losses appear to be seven hundred and three dead, and one thousand three hundred and sixteen injured,” Hakon’s white-haired thane reported.
“Horned Serpents take those father-less bastards!” Hakon muttered bitterly. “Sometimes I wish I weren’t Chief of our tribe, so I could pursue our enemy myself! Waiting here and yelling at worthless third-tier jackasses who don’t know how to put out a damned fire isn’t nearly so fun as running through the woods with an ax in hand!”
“Speaking of fires,” the white-haired thane said, paying no mind to Hakon’s frustrated ramblings, “the Black-Valley Tribe’s camp was the worst hit. Over fifty tents were burned, along with all of their occupants. Their supplies were also burned, so if we don’t get them some food by tomorrow morning, then we’re going to have four thousand angry warriors stirring up trouble.”
“I’ll leave it to you, Hrorekr,” Hakon said to the white-haired thane.
“Just pushing your duties onto me, huh?” Hrorekr said with a playful smile.
“I doubt anyone will make any trouble if you tell them to give up some food. Especially since I ordered it…” Hakon stated, glaring at the dozens of third-tier warriors who surrounded him and his thanes. Those warriors who were representatives of subordinate tribes scowled, but none of them had the guts to go against Hakon’s order and deny the Black-Valley Tribe food.
“Moving on, where’s Ulfr? I sent him to hunt down as many Southern bastards as he could find, but he hasn’t returned. Haven’t all of those dogs returned back south with their tails between their legs, or is he still out tracking?” Hakon asked, looking at his five remaining thanes.
“He’s… still not back yet,” answered one thane, a man of average stature and looks. He had a round face, light brown hair, and brown eyes. In fact, apart from his relatively young age and fourth-tier aura, there wasn’t anything particularly notable about the thane judging by appearance alone.
“Well then where is he?!” Hakon demanded.
“None of us are sure, it’s not like he keeps us informed of where he goes,” Hrorekr said with a shrug.
Hakon frowned and went quiet for a moment. Ulfr may be a werewolf, but he was still one of his most trusted thanes. Hakon would’ve been perfectly comfortable with placing his life in Ulfr’s hands, so the fact that he wasn’t back yet despite the attack being over for more than an hour gave him a bad feeling.
“Hjalmar,” Hakon began, directing his next order to the average-looking thane, “I want you to get some people together and find Ulfr. I’m sure he’s fine, but I want to make sure…”
“Of course!” Hjalmar said, rising immediately and gesturing to a handful of the third-tier warriors behind him. His group left the tent to begin their search.
“Now, then,” Hakon continued, “What are we looking at? Is the war party ready for an attack?”
“Despite the losses we just suffered, yes we are,” Hrorekr said. “All twenty-seven thousand warriors have assembled—less our casualties, of course—and will be ready to assault that wall tomorrow night!”
“Good! Make sure everyone gets their rest today!” Hakon shouted. “And get some damned lookouts! We can’t allow a repeat of what just happened before we get our own attack underway!”
The warriors heard their chief’s orders and left his tent to get the parts of the war party they were responsible for ready. The following night would be long, but glorious. Every warrior that followed Hakon south knew that this was their chance to be part of a legend that every Valeman would know of for generations to come.
“Bring some bandages to the first-aid tent!” Jean shouted as he, Leon, and the rest of the men carried their casualties over the wall. Most of them were dead, but the third-tier mage who led Leon’s group was still breathing. Unfortunately, the blood seeping from his wounds had started to bubble, showing that air was leaking into his chest.
“MOVE!” Edmond yelled, getting the men on the wall out of their way as he carried the third-tier mage down off the wall, closely followed by Jean and Gaston.
For a moment, Leon was going to let them go and tend to the wounded soldier themselves, but Alix walked up to him and said, “Aren’t you going to help?!”
Leon gave her a strange look and said, “Wasn’t planning on it. Why?”
“This fort lacks healing spells! That man’s going to die without them!”
Leon’s eyes narrowed in annoyance. He had made some healing spells, which Alix knew about, but he thought that the fort simply didn’t have many such spells. He figured that what few they had would be taken out for the third-tier mage, and that he didn’t need to bother.
But, under Alix’s accusatory gaze, he nodded and sped off after Jean and the others without another word. They moved quickly once off the wall, and Leon didn’t catch up to them until they were already in the first-aid tent, trying to bandage up the man’s wounds and prevent more air from deflating his lungs.
“If we can bandage the wound, he might make it!” one of the medics said to Jean. “His own natural healing abilities from being a third-tier mage should be enough to help him live through the night, and if he can do that, he’ll make a full recovery.”
“But it’s not just the chest wound that’s the problem,” Jean informed, “those wounds were made by a werewolf’s claws. If Hugh’s contracted lycanthropy, then he’ll probably die from the wounds.”
The medic frowned. “We don’t have the supplies to treat lycanthropy here…” he said helplessly.
Jean was about to shout in frustration and disbelief, but he knew the supply situation of the fort better than anyone. That they could help Hugh with what their paltry medical staff had available was a fool’s hope.
“Keep an eye on him,” Jean said. “If his condition worsens…”
“Sir!” interrupted one of the other handful of medics. “We just received some healing spells!”
The medic speaking with Jean immediately turned and ran over to the other medic who had just spoke. Leon had just handed him a small stack of about ten healing spells, and both medics closely scrutinized them.
“You made these?” the lead medic inquired.
Leon quietly nodded.
The two medics glanced at each other, whispered a few words, then raced over to Hugh’s side. They both pressed a pair of healing spells onto Hugh’s chest, and the spells sparkled with golden light showing that they were working.
“We might be able to save him with these,” the lead medic mused.
Everyone was so preoccupied with Hugh’s treatment that no one noticed Leon slip out of the tent, despite being responsible for the healing spells. There simply wasn’t anything more he could do, so he left.
He made his way back to his assigned tower, where he found Alix waiting for him, though he made a quick detour to their original tent first to grab his books, enchanting supplies, and some of his clothes. If he was going to be stuck in the tower during the day, then he wanted to at least get some work done. He wrapped everything up in his white snow lion coat and returned to the tower.
“Did you give them the healing spells?” she asked.
“I did,” he answered.
Alix’s face broke out into a radiant smile. “Good!” she said. “Sir Hugh and Sam were friends. He’s a good man, and I didn’t want to see him die…”
“He may still die,” Leon said bluntly. “They’re treating him now, but that doesn’t mean he’ll live.”
Alix’s smile quickly disappeared, replaced with a worried expression, and Leon quickly regretted his choice of words.
“… I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Leon said. “The medics were hopeful and had already gotten to work when I left…”
Alix grimly smiled at him, but she didn’t speak. An awkward silence followed, during which the two sat down on a pair of cots they’d moved from their tent to the tower.
“You should get some sleep,” Leon said. “Or train if you can’t sleep. No use sitting up worrying over something that you can’t change…”
“I suppose…” she muttered. She then sat up to meditate and help herself relax from the night of tension and violence.
After a few seconds, Leon added, “… And thanks for staying. I mean you shooting arrows at that werewolf. I know you said you weren’t that good with bows, so I do appreciate you not being like those other guys who just ran away…”
“You helped me get back to the wall after my uncle’s death,” she responded matter-of-factly. “I wasn’t going to leave you behind like that.”
The two stared at each other for a moment, then Leon nodded and let her get back to her meditation. She wasn’t quite used to violence and needed to meditate to wind down, but he was already starting to relax. In mere minutes, he had already nodded off to sleep.
“He’s dead?!” Hakon asked in a disbelieving tone.
“That’s what I was told,” Hjalmar responded. He was pale and out of breath, a strange sight to see for a fourth-tier mage, but he had sprinted back to Hakon’s camp as soon as he heard Ulfr’s fate.
“What happened?!” Hakon demanded.
“From what we can tell, he pursued a group of Southerners all the way back to their wall but was then killed by the archers in the nearest tower,” Hjalmar responded. “I was even told that they left his body there, to rot!”
“Show me!” Hakon shouted. Hjalmar turned around and ran out of the tent with Hakon right behind him. They blitzed through the trees and arrived within sight of the wall in minutes.
“He’s there…” Hjalmar said, pointing to a large dark shape lying several hundred feet past the tree line. It had been clearly shot by dozens of arrows, and there were hundreds more still sticking up out of the ground all around it.
“Ulfr…” Hakon whispered in grief. He was far away, and it was dark, but he could still recognize his friend. There were about a dozen other Valemen around, so he couldn’t express his grief; instead, he channeled those feelings into anger, and his killing intent drove the other Valemen around him to their knees.
“Those Southerners will die tomorrow night,” Hakon whispered. “Alert the camps! I don’t give a single fuck if we’re still waiting on a few small groups to arrive! We attack that wall tomorrow! And we will burn everyone within to raise the souls of our dead!”
With that said, Hakon reined in his aura, allowing the surrounding Valemen to rise back to their feet.
“We need to get his body,” Hjalmar said. “We have to lay him to rest…”
“I’ll get it,” Hakon stated. Then, with barely any time for his thane to register what he said, Hakon burst out of the trees and sprinted for Ulfr’s body.
“Wait!” Hjalmar shouted, but he was far too late. He swore under his breath, then charged out after his chief.
Just as Hakon reached Ulfr’s body, he heard the sound of a horn coming from the nearest tower on the wall, and Hjalmar reached him less than a second after.
“They’ve seen us,” Hjalmar said.
“You’ve a splendid grasp of the obvious,” Hakon growled. “Help me with Ulfr, he’s fuckin’ heavy!”
The two powerful Valemen each grabbed one of the werewolf’s enormous arms and pulled. They started dragging him across the open space between the wall and the tree line, while all around them, arrows began to fall.
“What happened?!” Jean demanded as he arrived at the wall.
“Valemen, Sir!” answered the nearest knight. Jean recognized the man as one of the knights sent by the local Barons.
Jean glanced over the wall and saw two men hauling the corpse of the werewolf back to the trees, while the first volley from the archers fell all around them. There were only about fifteen archers, and they had all arrived at the wall that morning. Thus, they needed that first volley to gauge the range they were firing at; none of them expected to hit their targets with their first volley, but their second volley would be aiming to kill.
“Draw!” commanded the knight, and the archers drew back another shot.
‘That’s Hakon Fire-Beard!’ Jean thought to himself as he stared at the two men. One of them he could tell was a fourth-tier mage, but it was the man whose aura he couldn’t see through that drew his attention. There was only one man who could possibly have such a strong aura that Jean couldn’t see through it, and the blood-red beard Jean could see from the wall only confirmed his suspicions.
“Take your time and aim carefully!” Jean told the archers. “That’s the leader of the Valemen down there! I will personally reward all of you if you can bring him down!”
Hakon and Hjalmar kept dragging Ulfr’s corpse across the ground. The werewolf was incredibly heavy, and even those two were having a hard time maintaining any kind of speed. Then, to compound their problems, more arrows fell around them, with a few even lodging themselves in Ulfr.
Hakon growled in anger and frustration, but there wasn’t anything he could do except keep dragging Ulfr and hope to not get shot. Well, he could always drop Ulfr, but if he was willing to do that he never would’ve run out into the line of fire to begin with.
“Almost there!” Hjalmar shouted as they passed a few trees. The arrow fire thinned out, but just before they reached safety, an arrow pierced Hjalmar’s thigh.
“Keep going!” Hakon shouted, and Hjalmar fought through the pain and kept dragging his fallen friend.
Fortunately for them, no more arrows found their marks, and they reached the safety of the trees.
“Are you ok?” Hakon asked Hjalmar when the arrows stopped and the other Valemen rushed out to keep dragging Ulfr.
“I’ll live,” Hjalmar said as he pulled the arrow out of his leg. “Barely even a flesh wound,” he said with a smile.
“Still, make sure to get it bandaged up,” Hakon said worriedly. “Too many of my friends have died these past few days, I’m not adding you to that list!”
“Right!” Hjalmar said with a smile.
The two had lost many friends before, so while they mourned for Eirik and Ulfr, they didn’t slow down. But, they kept that grief and anger in the back of their minds, and with a last, hateful look at the wall, the two Valemen returned to the central camp, with Ulfr’s body in tow.
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