The ship swayed back and forth violently, tossing sailors from one rail to the other and setting the chained slaves crushing into one another when they weren’t throttling themselves on their own chains. At last, the vessel tipped left…and kept tipping. Water spouted through the portholes like geysers and rapidly flooded the compartment. Tossed on its side, the ship began to crack and break apart. It exploded in a tumult of splintered wood and frothy water. The cacophony died suddenly, erased as water ate the sound and drowned the poor devils within. Chains flailed around him and bit into his leg and chest…pain!
Sasha awoke with a start, his hair plastered to his head by sweat even in the cold rooms of Oleg’s trading post. The darkness all around him told him it was still hours to daylight and all his companions lay sleeping around him. Mopping his brow, he rose quietly from the bed and walked outside. The bitter cold was refreshing and chilled away the nightmare. He reached his arm back into the room and snatched up his heavy fur cloak, wrapping it around himself as he walked up onto the “battlements” of the old fort-cum-trading post.
He tested the ruin of one of the catapults gingerly before sitting on the sturdiest-looking part of the frame. With his cloak pulled tight, he spent a long time gazing up at the clear and star-filled night sky. The past week had been an unqualified success by any measure: a dozen bandits dispatched, Oleg’s was receiving more visitors, and they had made their initial forays into the woods. They had found enemies but those enemies had been found quite wanting…and yet…
And yet there was that man. He sobbed as Sasha had led him to the rope and the tree. He was clearly broken and no threat to them…but he had also lied and was still a bandit. Sasha had been in keeping with both tradition and the law, but it was strange for justice to taste so much like ash in his memory.
The cold kept the worst of the stench of the corpses on the wall at bay. Even in the dark, Sasha could see darker forms: ravens or crows, no doubt. They fluttered around the desiccating forms, their beaks make a cracking noise as they worked. Sasha watched them for a long moment before turning his gaze back to the stars, his expression somewhat pained.
“What am I to you?” he whispered. “I am your sword but is that all? Am I solely purposed to murder and slaughter? If so, how does that make me different from…from what I was? I’m confused, lady…and you have been so quiet.” But that was not exactly true, Sasha reminded himself. His sword was now pristine, and hints of gold were showing through the brass in the hilt and cross-piece. She had not been silent, but something still gnawed.
He heard the voices below and turned to see Oleg and Svetlana, gathering up wood to start the breakfast fires. Oleg picked up several large logs and Svetlana patted his back, muttering to him in a tone that made clear the bond between the two of them.
That, Sasha thought. That is what I’m here for. I may be an instrument of slaughter. But I drive back the darkness for people like them. Someone must stand and push back the dark. That is my…that is our calling. At that, he almost smiled. Then he stood and made his way down the stairs, calling out as he rounded the building.
“Need any help?”