Playing: Part XII
The cold steel of Christian’s blade swept down in a clean, efficient arc. The motion of the blade could nearly be mistaken as beautiful, artful. And as the edged metal entered the skull of the naked, spitting behemoth standing before him, cleaving brain and bone, sinking itself into the lower maxillary bone of the eye socket, the artfulness of the motion died. Died as the bowels of the berserker suddenly loosened and the tinny smell of fresh, steaming blood mixed with another, more fetid smell. Died as piss ran down the trembling legs of the man who was also dead, but who’s body wasn’t fully aware of the fact yet. Died as the twinkle of life winked out of the center of the one good eye and the final, exhausted breath left his bearded maw in a gasp of steam and spittle and wheezing agony.
Christian stood in the middle of a corpse strewn field, hardly noticing the bodies that lay broken at his feet. Green eyes peered out at him from a bronze helmet and the few red braids that had teased their way out at the edges of the helm revealed the owner to be none other than his quick tempered friend, Michael. They grinned at each other beneath the mud and blood that covered the parts of their faces that helmets didn’t, and Michael began to laugh. He laughed a deep belly laugh that said less about humor and more about relief.
The berserkergang had been nothing more than a scare tactic. A distraction from the real battle that awaited the Irish army. And Christian supposed it would have worked if they’d been unprepared to field a contingent of seasoned troops, but the Chief of the Irish tribe had studied his opponents well. And though the berserkergang had not been seen on the field of battle for some time, those who had encountered it before could never forget it and the panic that it could cause.
So the Irish had been prepared for the north men’s feint, and had beaten it back with a squad of its best men. But as Christian and Michael stood there grinning and panting they knew that the real test had not yet begun. Christian gave a quick nod of his head to indicate that they should fall in with the rest of the army, and Michael clapped his hands to signal the rest of the squad to follow.
The men eased back through the lines, swallowed up by the frontward troops, and made their way to the back where the supply chain and stores had been arrayed. Christian knew there would be little time for them to wipe themselves and their weapons down, take some water, and catch their breath before the next horn sounded, but he took comfort in the time nonetheless.
Michael found Christian standing over an oak water barrel, a line of men waiting their turns respectfully behind him. Michael pushed his way up through the ranks of men, mail and metal plates clinking and scraping as the shoulders of the men were brushed aside. Christian saw the reflection of his friend in the bucket of water and braced for the blow that would surely come. And Michael didn’t disappoint. His heavy gauntleted hand clapped Christian on the back, driving the sharp edge of a loose ring of mail into his shoulder blade. Christian winced but didn’t complain, not wanting to give his friend the satisfaction of knowing that he’d got the best of him.
“Well, what do think, man? We’ve got those bastards off running on the wrong foot, don’t we now?”
Christian grunted an affirmative. He knew it was a good start, but something felt wrong to him. Had felt wrong since he’d jumped into the game field. He’d never gotten any kind of resolution on the events surrounding Neal’s bizarre disappearance, and what he’d said he’d heard while in the safe room. Neal’s words came back to him now in an echo that seemed to bounce around in his skull over and over again.
“It felt like someone or something outside was trying to get inside to get him…” He subconsciously repeated the words that had been playing pin ball in his head for the past day.
“Huh?” Michael was standing there beside him, water dripping off his bearded chin, with a questioning look on his face.
“I just keep replaying what Neal said about the safe room in my head. I can’t stop thinking about it, and now that we are back in-game, something doesn’t seem right. I can’t put my finger on it, but something is… off. It’s like I can smell the iron scented, polluted air of the city here in Neverland, but that’s not quite right either.”
Michael fixed him with a queer look and shook his head. “Shit, man. You worry too much. We just kicked those damned northie’s asses and here you are trying to find something new to fix your worries on. Give it a rest. It was an isolated incident, and all that matters is that Neal is okay. Cool?”
Christian knew that Michael meant well, but his gut screamed “Beware!” If there was anything else to do besides taking the field and seeing what happened next, he was completely unaware of it. In the end, he grabbed his steel cap and visor, buckled his breast plate tight to his chest again and followed his friend back to the front line.
Thanks for reading.