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Well, there had been a score, but eight of their own number had fallen. Judging by the piles of their enemies, their deaths were avenged at least tenfold.


The warriors bore round shields, swords as long as a normal man's height, enormous double-bladed axes or spears the size of weaver's rods. The parts of their bodies not protected by iron armor, Turgar observed, were covered with white fur. The fur thinned out around their faces, the skin of which had a greenish tint. Each of them was half again as large as a big man. Most men were larger than Turgar, but these warriors were titanic.


Unable to access the flanks of the enemy contingent, much less get around to their rear, the front rank of Dijol's invasion column were forced to meet them head-on, with nearly even odds. But even odds were a death sentence against these creatures.


Turgar watched a spearman split from collar to hip with a careless drop of an axe. Next to him, a hammer blow smashed a bronze helmet and the skull inside it. One Dijolian thrust his spear at a giant's unprotected knee. A massive foot pushed the tip down, trapping it against the ground. Simultaneously, a huge hand seized the spear shaft farther up and pulled. Like a lever, the spear swung its wielder up and forward, to be skewered on a gigantic sword. Turgar saw these three soldiers die in a period of a mere instant, then their bodies added to the size of the death piles.


Twelve warriors were wreaking havoc on an army of thousands, and stalling the conquest of Fawlik.


"Who are these giants?" he asked.


"They are from the Bruk Islands," the Captain said.


"Do my eyes see truly--that a tall man's head is not even as high as their armpits?"


"Verily. And your head would scarcely reach the stomach of those furry, green-skinned ogres," quipped an archer, coaxing chuckles from his companions.


Turgar's bowstring was still dry inside his small wine bladder. But another archer nocked an arrow, aimed at one of the giant warriors below, and let fly.


Such shots were ill-advised in downpours like this. The rain distorted the vanes and caused erratic trajectories, as it did with this arrow, which flew so wide of its mark as to cause scornful laughter from its intended target.


Turgar glanced along the ledge and noticed that most quivers were nearly empty.


"With your leave," Turgar told the Captain, "I'd like to find shelter for my horse."


The Captain grunted. "You're certainly welcome to look. Just don't wander afar. Should the weather break, I'll need your bow."


Of all the archers recruited by Dijol's army, only those from Gabom were allowed mounts on every campaign. Their legendary marksmanship was worth the price. Gabomite boys, by their twelfth summer, could shoot birds on the wing from the saddle of a pony at full gallop. Many, including Turgar, could perform this feat right or left-handed. But alas, rain was just as much a bane to him as to any bowman.


Turgar stepped into the stirrups and rode back along the trail he'd taken to reach the outcropping. Just after the first curve in the path, he found the spot he remembered from his ride up--a meeting of two boulders. Beyond them was not exactly a trail, but a potential path up the rough mound of rocks leading perhaps to a crevice or something where his pony and equipment would be at least partly shielded from the rain. Most horses could never make such a climb. But then Mountain Wind was not just any horse.


A nudge of heels to ribs and the pony hurtled the junction of the boulders, then picked its way up the formidable rock with minimal guidance from his rider. They encountered a few more obstacles which had Mountain Wind blowing by the time they crested a rocky peak to find a hidden copse in a tiny saddle between three hilltops. The saddle was a natural bowl that collected enough dirt for not only trees to grow, but shrubs and grass, as well.


Turgar dismounted under the largest tree in the thicket, which deflected most of the rain with layers of leafy boughs. Mountain Wind snorted, shivered, then tested a mouthful of grass. Turgar unsaddled him and wiped him dry as best he could.


He noticed the sounds of shouting and steel on steel were even louder now than when he'd stood with the other archers. He followed the noise out of the grove and up one of the surrounding peaks. He spied over the rim and saw the battle of the funnel still raging below, spearmen falling just as fast as they could press in.


Turgar was closer now, though just as high above the scene as before. He considered retrieving his bow and quiver to try a few shots. The rain would soon leech the resin out of his string, and would interfere with true flight, but his arrows would hit something--even if not the precise marks he aimed at. Instead he watched the Bruk Islanders fight.


Their individual tactics were a devastating fusion of skill and savagery. Though they didn't move with the agility of many smaller warriors, they were far from slow or clumsy. Turgar had studied melee combat at every opportunity since boyhood, fascinated at why men would risk life and limb in such crude butchery instead of just letting arrows settle the matter from a distance where one still had a sporting chance to survive. These giants of Bruk seemed to fight purely on instinct, rather than training habits from system-based disciplines--which was the method used by warriors of Gabom who specialized in melee.


The piles of bodies grew until they merged, blocking the spearmen's access to the giants. Officers commanded their men to pull the bodies down and push them into the canyon. So obliged, a few did try. Huge Bruk spears flicked through the gaps, or down over the piles, and those soldiers' corpses soon added to the mass of death.


The front spearmen panicked, some dropping weapons, some screaming in despair, but all turning to flee. Their terror was contagious, and their numbers grew by the scores, then the hundreds. Many were knocked over the edge into the canyon in the stampede.


Soldiers farther back had not yet seen the horror the front ranks had, and attempted to physically coerce bravery out of their comrades. Battle broke out among the army of Dijol. Turgar watched in amused detachment as bedlam consumed the column below, thankful he was not still down there. Every man's spear was against his neighbor, and more fell over the cliff in the swarming, crashing maelstrom.



Steel on Steel image number 1
The Bloodstained Defile series cover
Steel on Steel episode cover
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The Bloodstained Defile

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Henry Brown
During the bloody wars of an alien world's dark ages, loyalty, integrity and friendship are rare commodities. Why would anyone guess they could be found in the hearts of mercenaries? Sir Javo left his native Cemar to join the Order of the Black Lancers, and has built a reputation as a champion in single combat. He has never met his match; but that is about to change. Krag the Wrecker has been promised treasure, a horse, and a lady-in-waiting if his suicide mission succeeds. "Victory or death" are acceptable terms, for a giant barbarian raised to worship Death. Turgar was once a troop chief in the nomadic armies of Gabom, until framed for a capital crime. Now he hires out his bow to the highest bidder. This job may convince him to re-think his pragmatism. A great storm, an epic battle, and three dangerous warriors...all on a collision course for a narrow mountain pass that is already a bloodstained defile.
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