Sir Reimund’s Tale continues on Fiction Friday here at Robot Viking. In Chapter 2 — Homecoming, Sir Reimund returned to his family estate to find it vexed by raiders, possibly giants. Bent on vengeance for his brother’s death and hoping for a permanent claim to his family’s holdings, the landless knight learns that Norse raiders are nearby. Are they connected to the prior raids? Do they know of the supposed giant? Were they responsible for Vinzent’s death?
Sir Reimund’s Tale, Chapter 3 – Hunting
by Ryk Perry
An hour later, Sir Reimund was riding towards the south ridge. He was accompanied by Konstantin, Helmut, Philipp, Pankraz and, to his chagrin, Brother Arnald. They were led by Willem, the peasant who had brought news of the chase.
Willem was leading them in the direction that Karsten’s men-at-arms had pursued the Norsemen. Willem told them that the Norsemen were not mounted and they were south of the ridge, travelling west. Karsten had headed south to a point ahead of the Norsemen to cut them off.
The more Reimund thought about it, the more he thought Karsten was acting the fool. He was chasing Norsemen into the wasteland south of the ridge, where a giant supposedly lived, while the sun was falling. The land would be against them, steep inclines and thick undergrowth limiting the effectiveness of their horses. So instead of four heavy cavalry, Karsten was taking four plodding, mounted footmen against an untold number of foes. Fool.
As they continued southward Reimund became more concerned with catching Karsten before he got too far into the waste than in finding the Norsemen or other raiders. He considered increasing the pace but feared he would need the horses fresh in the coming hours. The miles seemed to drag on.
The sun was low on the horizon when Philip spotted a horseman ahead. Reimund saw him a moment later. Reimund spurred his horse to a canter. The rest followed close behind. The other rider had seen him now and rode to meet the newcomers. As he drew closer, Reimund could see that it was Bernd, master of the hunt for both his father and his brother and father to Lars.
Bernd was a lean, rangy man, who reminded one of dried leather. He wore a chain shirt and had a sword and shield hanging from his saddle, but his main weapon was a great yew bow nearly six feet long. Few men could draw it, let alone aim it, but Bernd was deadly accurate, just like his son.
“Hail Bernd,” Reimund called “It has been a long time.”
“Sir Reimund! I am glad to see you . . .” Bernd trailed off as he looked over the riders following Sir Reimund. “I do not see . . . .”
“Lars is fine, Bernd. He and Gervas are collecting a bounty on some prisoners we had captured just before we heard about my brother. They’ll be along soon.”
“That is good then.” The old huntsman leaned forward and put a hand on Reimund’s shoulder. “I am sorry about your brother lad,” he said in a low voice.
“Thank you Bernd.” Reimund looked away for a moment. “So what about this Karsten? He’s got you tracking Norsemen has he?”
“No. I answer to Konrad not Karsten. I came to talk them out of this nonsense.”
“So have you seen these Norsemen?”
“Yes. I was patrolling the ridge and saw them enter the mouth of the valley on the far side. From my vantage I could see them for quite a distance. They are heading west and I think they are trying to stay away from settlements. They have already entered the wasteland at the eastern half of the valley. The wastes will take them more like than not.”
“But Karsten disagrees?”
“Aye. He wants to ride into glory and trample the Norse beneath his hooves. Never mind that the valley is covered with brambles and trees that will slow their horses to a crawl.”
“And where are they now?”
“They headed into the bramble about thirty minutes ago. I had sent Willem here to let Konrad know what was going on, hoping that he might be able to countermand this foolishness. I doubt Karsten will listen to an order from Helmut or even Konrad, but he might listen to you.”
“I’m not his paymaster and I have no authority to command him.”
“You’re still a knight. That might be enough.”
“We’ll see.” Reimund looked dubiously at the thick growth that covered the ridgeline. “Is there any way through for horses, Bernd?”
“Well, they will have cut a bit of a path with their own horses. And there are some game trails and a few large clearings. Generally I wouldn’t recommend it, but if we should see that giant . . . Well a knight’s lance might be the only way to take that thing down. I’d certainly feel better having them along.”
“Was it really a giant Bernd?”
“I don’t know what it was. But it was damned big and strong. You know, there was a time when border lords all throughout the marches maintained at least a dozen huntsmen to patrol these lands. My grandfather always complained that the practice should not have been abandoned. Now I agree with him.”
“Well there’s only one of you here Bernd, so I guess lances will have to do.”
Reimund looked over his shoulder and saw that the rest of his companions were close enough to have heard most of the conversation. “We are going into the bramble to try to catch Karsten and convince him to return to the manor. Willem, return to Master Konrad and tell him what is going on here. Everyone else follow me.”
Reimund transferred to Augustus from his palfrey, reasoning that Augustus might be better able to blaze a trail into the heavy undergrowth. Now I’m being as foolish as Karsten. If wear are caught in the thick growth, we’ll be slaughtered. Mithras look favorably on your son.
Reimund and the others headed into the undergrowth, following the trail of Karsten’s men-at-arms. It was slow going and the sun continued to drop toward the horizon. Time dragged by and Reimund considered abandoning his pursuit of the men-at-arms, leaving them to their own folly.
There were some open patches, fields of tall grass rather than thick bushes, where their horses could make better time. But still they were climbing, slowing their travel and sapping the horses’ energy. Suddenly he realized the ground was sloping downward.
“We’re through a saddle in the ridge, heading down into the valley on the far side. If we don’t catch them soon, we won’t be able to make it out until dark.” Bernd rode close behind him. “In fact,” Bernd looked around critically “this isn’t too far from the stretch of bare rock where those damned raiders disappeared.”
“Keep a close eye then. I want to find Karsten and get out, not fight raiders in all this bracken.”
Just then Reimund entered another grassy field. Ahead he could see four riders with lances just starting to enter the bramble on the far side.
“Karsten!” Reimund spurred Augustus into a canter to catch the men-at-arms. The riders wheeled their mounts, one starting to lower his lance before their leader ordered them to wait.
One rider walked his horse forward a few paces, then stopped to await the newcomer. Reimund advanced at a trot. He transferred his lance to his left side, canting it back over his shoulder and forward under his shield. With his right hand raised he covered the last few yards to the waiting rider. The rest of his companions were at least ten yards behind.
The rider also raised his right hand, letting the butt of his lance slide to the ground, to rest against his flank. “I recognize Bernd and Helmut, but you I do not know. Has Konrad hired more men-at-arms? He’ll soon be out of the coin he has so begrudged these past months.”
Reimund looked at the man before him. He was a dark haired, solidly built man. He wasn’t a large as Reimund, but then, few men were. It was clear that he was accustomed to using the weapons he wore. It was also clear that he didn’t recognize that he was talking to a knight.
“Konrad has hired no one, Karsten. I am Sir Reimund. Sir Vinzent was my brother. I have come to offer my aid and to avenge him of possible.”
“Then you are in luck, Sir Reimund. We have tracked the raiders into this valley and are going to treat them to the justice of steel.”
“Yet I have heard that you are tracking Norsemen. There were no Norsemen amongst the raiders that I have heard of.”
“The raiders keep to the shadows and do not reveal their faces. All know that Norse raid whenever it suits them. These Norsemen must be with the raiders.”
“I think that Brother Arnald here might object to your reasoning, but that is not why I have come. These wastes are treacherous and night is falling soon. I entreat you to return with me to the manor lest you be lost here in the dark.”
Karsten scoffed “I thought you said you sought vengeance? Yet here your counsel that we retire to the safety of the manor while Norsemen move unhindered less than a mile from us?”
Reimund’s face darkened. He leaned forward, slowly lowering his right hand. “You would do well to choose your words with care Karsten. Your health depends upon it.”
Now Karsten’s face darkened, but Sir Reimund continued. “I have come to ask you to retire to the manor because you cannot effectively pursue once night falls and we do not know how many raiders there may be, no matter who they are. An ambush by cowards is still an ambush and you will be no less dead for it.”
“I . . .” Karsten’s head snapped around behind him. A horrendous scream, thick with rage sounded from the bramble. Eyes flitted back and forth across the edge of the clearing. The source of the sound was not visible, but could not be far off.
“The giant . . .” one of Karsten’s men began walking his horse away from the bramble.
The terrible bellow sounded again, but now there were more voices, human voices, shouting in the distance. And then there were screams. Screams that were chopped off suddenly or faded piteously to be drowned by yet another horrendous roar. Shouting could still be heard, but fewer voices than before.
“Perhaps you were right Sir Reimund. Best no to be caught out after dark.” Karsten and his fellows spurred their horses and galloped across the clearing.
Reimund’s companions turned to join them, but Reimund heard the shouts of men in battle and the screams of the dying and knew that that horrible below was the voice of his brother’s killer. Reimund grabbed his lance with his right hand and spurred Augustus ahead.
Reimund charged through the thick growth. Augustus shouldered aside dead trees and creepers but quickly slowed almost to a crawl. Reimund held his lance backwards, trailing over his mount’s rump to keep from getting entangled. Ahead the bellowing continued, though all other cries had ceased.
Augustus bulled past a rotted stump and Sir Reimund beheld a grisly scene. Men lay scattered about a muddy clearing nearly thirty yards across. At the far side, a huge figure, bigger than anything Reimund had ever seen, was beating a fallen man with a club, bellowing hateful rage at the object of his wrath. Reimund knew the stories were true. This was the creature that had slain his brother.
The brute must be at least ten feet tall. Reimund could only look on in stunned silence as the giant thrashed the corpse of his foe, oblivious to the knight’s presence. Something seemed wrong with this creature. It was flailing away with its left arm, but its right arm hung limply at its side.
Looking closer, Reimund could see that the creature had an axe lodged in its arm, just above the elbow, crippling the limb. Reimund saw that something else was wrong as well. The club seemed to bend with each swing. In the fading light, it was hard to tell why . . . By Mithras, that’s a man! The giant had no club but was instead using the body of a man to thrash the corpse of another. Reimund grimaced with anger and began to haul his lance upright to skewer his brother’s killer.
Just as he brought the lance vertical, he saw a flash of red and gold push past Augustus into the clearing. Brother Arnald, on foot, his cassock disheveled and torn from his rush through the brambles, stepped boldly into the open. Reimund hissed at him to get out of the way, but the monk ignored him. It was comical. The skinny clerk, mace hanging heavy in his left hand drew forth a medallion from his cassock and held it out towards the beast whose legs each looked thicker than the monk.
“Degenerate spawn of Darkness I abjure you! Flee from this place lest the fury of Zuirel and the Ninth Host render you into the purifying fires of Creation!”
The giant, ‘til now unaware of the newcomers, turned at the sound of Arnald’s voice, lowering his corpse-club. Silence settled onto the clearing. I’ll be damned, the little monk actually stopped that thing.
The creature took a step, turning to face Arnald, then lowered its shoulders and roared with horrible rage. Reimund could almost feel the hot fury and hatred spewing from the beast’s mouth. That thing’s not fleeing!
“Move priest! Move!” Brother Arnald seemed stunned that the creature had not been stricken down by the angels and was oblivious to Reimund’s command. Sir Reimund walked Augustus forward a few steps, shoving the monk aside. Arnald, oblivious, stumbled into the mud.
Across the clearing the enraged giant staggered into an ungainly run. Its leg is crippled too. Reimund barely registered the thought as he spurred Augustus to the charge. I have to hit it before it gets too close to Arnald. Reimund lowered his lance, couching it under his arm. Augustus thundered across the clearing in a spray of muck as the giant rushed to meet them.
As the yards between them vanished Reimund began to doubt the outcome. The giant was so big that its reach, including its grisly club, was nearly that of the lance. In fact, if the creature aimed for Augustus, it might be able to smite the destrier before Reimund’s lance could strike home. And it might be strong enough to knock Augustus from his course, spoiling his aim.
Straining, Reimund shifted his aim. The giant had been aiming for Augustus. The beast swung the abused corpse in a blow that would surely have felled the charger had it connected. But Reimund had aimed for the creature’s arm, rather than its body. The lance caught the beast just before the elbow, punching through the tough hide and into thick muscle, arresting the arm’s movement.
The creature lost its grip on the dead Norseman who continued on with the force of the incomplete blow. The body slammed into Reimund’s unshielded side, blasting him from the saddle. Stunned by the impact, his breath was then hammed from his lungs when he struck the ground. Reimund forced himself to roll away from the brute, to gain distance while he recovered.
The creature almost looked comical with an axe lodged above its right elbow and a lance through the left, futilely trying to grasp either weapon with fingers that wouldn’t work. Yet its rage was unspent and its size was a weapon all its own. Hate-filled eyes came to rest on Reimund, still gasping for breath. With another thunderous bellow, the giant lumbered into a staggering run straight at its antagonist.
Reimund felt as if the giant was already stepping on his chest. He could not draw a breath and was slowing drastically. Even as injured as it was, the beast was closing the distance quickly.
Reimund again saw a flash of red and gold, this time behind the giant. Brother Arnald, spattered with mud, had charged up behind the beast with his absurdly large mace. He swung the iron club in a two-handed blow across his body, with every ounce of his strength. Yet the giant staggered only slightly as the mace head slammed into the back of its leg.
With another bellow, the beast turned to its newest tormentor. Its limp, flailing arms battered Arnaud into the mud. Now towering over the beleaguered priest, the creature raised its foot to crush the life out of him.
Finally air rushed back into Reimund’s lungs and he shouted “Bernd, feather him!” Reimund didn’t know if anyone other than Arnald had followed him but, a moment later, an arrow flashed from the edge of the clearing to lodge into the giant’s flank. Another followed, and then another. The beast lurched under the attack, trying to determine where this new danger came from. Its foot slammed down onto the mud inches away from Arnaud, now forgotten on the ground.
Arrows continued to pierce the creature, but Reimund could see that they weren’t penetrating far, given the thick furs the giant wore over its tough hide. The beast shambled towards this new torment and Reimund pulled himself up from the mud. Near Bernd’s position in the brush, he could see one of the men-at-arms, Phillip he thought, driving his horse through the heavy growth. But the mount was not making much headway and, even crippled, the giant was advancing on them quickly.
Reimund drew his sword and rushed after the creature. He used a heavy blade that was difficult to wield one-handed. Still weak, Reimund considered dropping his shield for a two-handed blow, but rejected the idea. Bernd was still firing arrows into the giant who was now fixated on the destruction of the horse and its rider. Reimund thrust his blade forward into the giant’s back with all the strength he could muster. He felt the blade pierce furs and hide and flesh, but it did not penetrate far, or damage anything vital.
With a bellow, the creature turned again, flailing its crippled arms behind it. Mentally, Reimund was ready for the blow, but he was still not fully recovered and moved a fraction too slow. He interposed his shield between himself and those flailing bludgeons, and heard a crack as some of the willow boards broke under the impact.
Reimund was again lying on the ground with the giant towering over him. He rolled to his right, discarding the damaged shield and heard wood splintering before it squelched in the mud under the giant’s foot. He rolled again but struck against something solid. He heard a gasp of pain and found himself face to face with a Norseman, lying in the muck. Pinned, Reimund rolled quickly onto his back and thrust up with his sword.
The strike was at an awkward angle, but caught the creature on its heel. It wrenched its foot in pain. Unable to stop its momentum, it stomped down into the mud directly between Reimund and the Viking. Mud splashed onto their faces and Reimund quickly thrust his blade between the giant’s legs. The squeal the beast made was so incongruous with its hate filled bellows, that the whole clearing paused for a moment.
Reimund recovered quickly. Even if I kill this thing, its fall will crush us both. Reimund scrambled quickly to his feet and grabbed the Norseman by the collar. The Viking gasped in pain but helped as best he could with one arm. Behind, Reimund heard the creature crash to its knees, coughing in rage and pain.
Beyond the creature, Philip had made it into the clearing and the other two men-at-arms were nearly through. Konstantin had abandoned his horse in the thicket and, rushing into the clearing with a spare lance, was now collecting up Augustus to help his master remount. Bernd was no longer firing into the creature which was now pierced by at least a dozen arrows. Arnald had picked himself up and was advancing slowly, blood dripping from his nose onto his cassock. Philip lowered his lance and made to rake back his spurs but Reimund shouted to stay him.
“Hold! This creature killed my brother and I now claim its life.” Philip raised his lance again and nodded to Sir Reimund. No one would challenge his claim. Crippled, the creature fixed hate-filled eyes on the knight.
Shield-less, Reimund advanced with his sword in both hands. The creature was badly wounded but still a threat and Reimund feinted towards it. Still kneeling, it lurched forward, flinging both arms together to crush the knight between them. Reimund dodged to the side, almost slipping in the mud. The giant’s hand clipped his right elbow, sending a shock up his arm. Reimund fought to retain his grip on the sword and the creature plowed headlong into the mud.
Seeing his opening Reimund thrust his sword at the giant’s shoulder, just beside the neck. He threw all his weight behind it, driving it through hide and muscle and down into the creature’s vitals. Blood gushed from the wound, splattering Reimund, but he leaned hard on the pommel driving the blade still deeper towards its heart. Finally the beast gasped and shuddered, and then lay still.
Reimund levered himself back to his feet. Panting he gazed down at the giant he had felled. “So the Baron thinks my brother was frightened of a bogeyman eh? I shall bring him the head of this bogeyman and see what he thinks of it now.”
“A better course Sir Reimund, might be to bring the head to the Markgraf to lay your evidence before the Baron has time to concoct a story.” Sir Arnald walked up, spattered in mud and bleeding from his obviously broken nose.
Reimund nodded. “That is good advice Brother Arnald. I thank you for it. And I thank you for your aid here today. Otherwise I might have joined these Norsemen in their fate.”
“And what of the Norsemen, Sir Reimund?” Helmut had ridden close to the knight and his fallen foe. “You have a prisoner.”
“He is no prisoner, Helmut. I have not fought him, nor he me. We are not within the confines of my brother’s fief and from what I see he fought honorably against a powerful foe who was also my enemy. We will take him back to the manor and see what he has to say for himself.”
Reimund turned to look at the Norseman he had saved and saw that he had levered himself to a sitting position against a tree at the edge of the clearing. The wounded man was watching the knight with interest, but took no other action. Five other Norsemen lay about the clearing, all clearly felled by powerful blows of a large blunt object. None were alive.
“Konstantin, help the men-at-arms collect up these bodies. We shall take them with us.”
“You mean to take dead Norsemen with you?” Brother Arnald seemed shocked.
“Yes priest. It is already dusk and will soon be dark. I want to be away from here before we see to their funerals.”
“Funerals? But they are pagans! They do not worship our God!”
“Neither do I priest. I owe you thanks, but I will not suffer your interference with my orders.” Reimund turned a very chilly gaze on the monk. “Go and see to the wounded man, perhaps your powers will be of some use there.”
“God will not heal a pagan . . .”
“Then fashion him a sling and help him to his feet. And be quick about it!” Reimund turned on his heel and stalked away for the priest.
The men in the clearing, even Arnald, worked quickly. Spent arrows and fallen weapons were gathered. Bodies were stripped of anything with little or no value to reduce the burden for the horses. Each rider had a body lashed before his saddle except for Reimund, who had the head of the giant tied to Augustus in a bloody cloak, and Bernd who might have to range ahead and scout the way. The surviving Norseman was mounted on Reimund’s palfrey and placed at the middle of the column. The light was fading quickly as the party made their way from the clearing into the thick undergrowth.
As they passed back up through the saddle, they began to hear noises from the thick growth. It sounded like whispers, many whispers, that they were meant to overhear. The whispers seemed to come from every direction and carried a message of malice towards the listeners.
Reimund could not make out the words but they conjured all manner of bedtime stories of ghosts and ghouls and goblins. Had he not just killed a giant, Reimund might have scoffed at such childhood fears. Now he just wanted to get himself and his men out of this clinging growth and back to a warm hearth fire at his brother’s manor. The darkness was growing oppressive and Reimund fought the urge to spur Augustus to his best speed to break out onto the fields below.
Suddenly a horrible scream lashed out from far behind them. The scream was laden with anguish and a rage more potent than anything they had encountered since coming to this ridge. The whispers ceased and the party scanned nervously over their shoulders. As one they spurred their horses, heedless of the dangers of galloping in darkness. Augustus, in the lead, cut a path for the rest, following their earlier route.
At the end of the formation, Brother Arnald mumbled prayers to Zuriel to stay the creatures of darkness and succor his companions.
Crashing through brambles and low branches, Reimund felt their stings and forgot his fear. Exhilaration filled him as he charged recklessly ahead, for he was certain now that they would succeed. Whatever was behind them it would not catch them before they entered the open fields below. Whatever evil pursued them shied away from open confrontations with mounted knights and so in the fields lay safety.
Augustus stumbled once or twice but, though he felt a stab of anxiety each time, nothing could shake his conviction that he would reach the open safely.
And suddenly he was there.
Augustus thundered into the pasture throwing up clods of earth. Reimund righted his lance and raised it high, circling to give the others space to enter the field while at the same time positioning himself to charge anything that might be pursuing. As the rest galloped into the open, Reimund scanned the dark bramble.
Nothing else moved. Nor was there any sound coming from the darkness before him. There were no whispers, no scream, no shouts. Nothing stirred the way he had come. So Reimund wheeled his horse with the rest and rode toward the welcoming warmth of the manor. Certain that he had thwarted some unknown evil and avenged his brother, Reimund smiled all the way back.
And behind him, hatred and malice grew in the darkness.