Know When To Run
“Know when to run” = 1098 words (not including title) (Warhammer Fantasy by Andygorn)
The northern winds whistle through the hut’s ceiling-holes, lilting through the air and caressing the skin of anyone who hears them.
Your hands reach across the table towards your former mentor...long has she been the ‘wise woman’ of the area and none who gain her advice are ever the same again.
Yet you tell yourself that the risk is worthwhile, for your wife still ails and the medicine supplies ran dry days ago. Who else might save her? None but this ancient crone: Gerel.
Beneath her stinking, dank capes, the hooded eyes blaze violet with hidden wisdom as she grips trembling proffered digits in her own spindly ones. Not for the first time, you’re reminded of soft spiders skittering across your flesh – leaving no footprints, yet indelibly changing all who feel them.
Her parched, croaking voice matches both this blasted land and her broken frame:
“She withers and dies, so you bend the knee to me once more, apprentice.” She lets out a harsh coughing fit, spasming at the sounds.
Your eyes open wide, horrified that death might finally be claiming her in your most urgent hour of need. Seconds later, you recognise it for laughter.
“Yes Gerel, Ancient of our people...she was detained by the Lord of Seven this Spring and there is no other hope than you!”
Your fervent eyes fill with tears as you recall the skirmishes against the Pustulent God’s minions. Nobody knew what happened whilst in his clutches but -although she fashioned escape- she had been plagued by fevers and dreams which daily robbed her of strength.
Despite your eagerness (which now borders on mania), you were reluctant to seek Gerel sooner because of your misdeeds...it had been impossible to follow all of the rituals she ordered, because piety could never feed hungry bellies.
“Your timing is poor, Novitiate: the green pox is inside her flesh? Her eyes bleed?” Seeing your despairing nods, she continues: “The magic shall be wrought, Chieftain, yet the tax...”
You set down a sizeable bag of stolen treasures upon the groaning table, but she dismisses your looted valuables with a shake of her crooked nose and lumpen head.
Letting go your hands, they tingle with the nascent power in her decrepit limbs and the obsessive hope-against-hope in your own.
Sighing heavily, she adds: “It shall be more than you want to pay...now leave.”
There is nothing more to be done, but your mind races with unchecked haste as you leave and begin addressing your commander-at-arms, Denar:
“When will my Queen be free?” “Where is the foe?” “How soon can we wreak vengeance upon those who harmed us?” “Will the recruits be ready in time?”
Denar struggles to keep up with the barrage of questions but all the while noticing the increasing frustrations written upon your face. His hand falls to the hilt of the axe in his belt...your temper is widely-known and even he no longer feels safe in your company.
If you had time to think, you would have realised the signs, yet thoughts come too fast to follow and you push him away brusquely.
Over the next fortnight, only the spectacle of brutal melee is sufficient to slake your haste:
At the culmination, you walk over to congratulate the victor as his foes lie wounded, unconscious or bleeding upon the scorched, hard-packed ground.
“This man shall be my champion!” you announce to roars of approval.
“Yet he has one more task due to him...kill me and take his rightful place...for I have nothing to lose and my wife lies close to the door of doom.”
A harsh blast of air rushes through the encampment, accompanied seconds later by the song of mosquitoes...both unusual for this place and month.
The man’s heavily-bearded visage shows confusion and hesitation, lastly bewilderment as it joins those of the other decapitated victims inside the arena.
Two others are similarly slow to follow and meet the same fates.
Yet the last four react like panthers, attacking from each quarter.
If they sought to defeat their lord by mere numbers, then it was a poor choice. For, as their weapons swung into the invoked illusory body in front of them, you had already spun away to take one head from a pair of shoulders and gutted two more with your axes.
As they collapse into gurgling heaps, a woman’s cry rings out, piercing the evening’s darkening gloom:
“She lives! The Queen lives! Come now!” a hush descends over the throng, eager for their master’s words, yet you hesitate upon seeing the last opponent crouched into a fighting stance.
You drop a weapon and offer him the empty hand of friendship; the soldier stands and accepts it with a look of glee, but his eyes bulge as your other axe smashes into his collarbone, cleaving into his chest.
“No...there is no-one to be my champion this season...not one amongst you who dares call me equal. Fetch me some new guards...these are fit only for horse-meat!”
Ignoring the screaming protests of the ones being led away , you swiftly run to your tent, espying Gerel inside...your eyes blaze with hunger and news, yet she shakes her head and drops your wife’s lifeless hand like so much lifeless meat that you now know it to be.
Your axe takes a lady in waiting across the throat, opening her arteries to the cool crisp air and she sinks with barely a murmur.
Now dripping with crimson vitality, Gerel’s face hardens and then her body sags as though giving up the will to live...her voice demonstrates the same weary emotion, so how can it halt the protests in your throat like the strongest of hands?:
“Chieftain Anket: you were called upon the wind, but failed to listen?
“Or perhaps you listened to the insects’ call, but in ignorance failed to comprehend?
“At the last, even the shout of that poor lady was insufficient to stir your limbs to movement, or had you found something more urgent to occupy your time?
“Whichever it was, does not matter...because my master does not suffer fools gladly, nor does he offer any boon thrice. He has handed you...me...us all...over to his nemesis as playthings. The Lord of Seven’s handiwork can no longer be undone by any mortal means...you have ended us all.”
With a slow cracking sound, your wife’s body twists and contorts on the bed, bending almost in half before finally snapping in twain as a million hungry horse-flies exit her ruined body, burrowing into the eyes and ears of every member of the tribe, leaving you as their final meal.
Urgently trying to trace any living relatives of Private Sam/Samuel "Jock" Wilson (Black Watch, No. 6 Commando, UK Army Service ID 2764432, died 10.06.44). Any info/suggestions gratefully received.
"Mockles! Pent on silpen tree, blockards three a-feening. Mockles! What silps came to thee, in thy pantry, dreaming?"
Please check out the HOES (Heresy Online Stories) threads and vote for the tales.
More feedback = better stories for everyone.