no meaningless words from me, simply the final instalment of THE RAIDERS
He leapt from the structure, rolling as he landed, and was up and running before the raiders knew he was there. He cut straight for the trees. From the sounds behind him, he knew that they were following, but night was quickly falling and they would surely miss him in the dim light.
When the sounds behind him grew fainter, he doubled back. The raiders would continue to look for him, that he knew, but whether they would think to look behind them he doubted very much. It was said that trying to out-think the raiders was like trying to out-think fire; they were savage and impulsive, but there was also a kind of mad cunning to them. Evasir was clever enough not to be complacent. When a man thought he understood the raiders, that was when the danger came, that was when the fires turned his town to ash and his legs were cut from underneath him.
He danced through the trees, his fear driving him on at reckless speed. Twigs snapped at his face and legs. Thorns and brambles bit him at every opportunity. He did not stop to listen for his pursuit, but from the smells he could not escape. Night smells; the greens earthier than before, but now also a sharp silver scent, and always the brownish tang of the things that hunted at night. He did not know for how long he had run, but when his legs could no longer carry him he sank, shredded and bleeding, to the ground. It was no longer raining. The moon was up and the forest was bright. A hunter’s moon, and he the prey. The Gods truly despised him.
Although he had not fully recovered his breath, he got to his feet and began walking. Truly, he had no idea where he was. The forest had twisted and turned him, but his goal was to somehow get back to that village on the coast. In a village already sacked by the raiders, he might be safe – but of course he could never be sure.
Like trying to out-think fire.
He emerged into a small clearing. There was a large stack of rocks in the middle, with smaller jumbles all around it. He listened. The night was silent, which meant that the raiders were not close by; they were not famed for their stealth. He approached the stack and began to climb. From the top, he would command a much better view of the surrounding forest, and would be able to pick a direction with a little more certainty. He had no qualms about showing his silhouette against the night sky; either the raiders already knew where he was, or they were looking in the wrong direction.
He reached the top of the stack and balanced lightly on the balls of his feet. The night was not dark, but it yielded none of its secrets to the man on the rocks. Around him he saw only forest, endless forest. No coast; no village; no beautiful woman, dead by his own hand. One direction would be as good as any oth–
The earth rocked as if struck by a hammer and he stumbled. The light of the moon threw long shadows across the clearing, making the jumbles of pale rock appear to shine. Evasir whipped around; he saw nothing. The earth shook once more, and this time he lost his footing and half-slid, half-fell from his lookout. Evasir hit the floor hard, and looked back to see legs as thick as his body stomping towards him. Legs made of stone.
Acting on instinct, he rolled to the side as something crashed into the earth beside him. The moon he had once cursed gave enough light for him to recognise that the weapon the beast carried was indeed a hammer. It was a well-made hammer of polished wood, probably the whole trunk of a tree, with an enormous carved stone head. Animals could not make such weapons. Did the raiders have beasts of war now?
Like trying to out-think fire. He turned on his heel and ran.
He quickly made headway across the clearing, but once in the forest again, the monster had the advantage. The bushes and thorns that snagged at Evasir’s clothing were mere nuisances to the beast, which crashed through them, bellowing like a bull, an open invitation to every raider in the forest. Looming in the distance, he saw another pile of rocks. They might have provided him some safety until they, too, rose up and lifted a warhammer. This was the end of the road. If he slowed down to change direction, he was lost. If he stopped to climb a tree, he was lost. By now he had sprinted nearly to the feet of the second creature, and he knew that when he got there, he would be lost. He closed his eyes and dived.
He had judged it perfectly. Though the leap had been desperate, he had made it through the gap between the beast’s legs; he took the fall on his shoulder and was rolling to his feet as the two animals collided. Evasir skipped sideways through a gap in the trees. He paused. A crash behind him announced the two monsters falling to the ground. Questioning his sanity, Evasir crept back to observe, crawling deep into a thick bush. By the time the cumbersome creatures found their feet, the man had completely hidden himself.
Instantly forgetting their quarry, the monsters began swinging their hammers at each other, the colossal heads crunching into chests and bouncing off arms. Evasir carefully noted that the creatures were not particularly artful about where they hit each other, preferring instead to rely on their terrible strength and size. Against a man, or even a company of men, the effect would have been devastating. Against another each other, the result was predictable: the fight would probably continue until one of them struck a lucky blow to the other’s head and knocked it out. Evasir did not plan on waiting that long. He gently withdrew from the bush and crept silently away. When he had reached a safe distance, he began to run.