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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 28

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

I, too, am forced to look away from the light, but at least I am free of the confusion sowed amongst my enemies. Offering silent thanks to the Grackle, I leap from the back of the Roaring Bear I’d punctured and hustle to Nertram’s side, dropping to my knees.

“Brahkis?” he groans weakly, eyes still shut, reaching out blindly with one hand.

The golden light dissipates, but my vision is still plagued by residual spots of light and dark. I clasp my ally’s wrist, trying to assess his injuries as quickly as possible. My deficient sight betrays me.

Movement to my left precedes a club smacking down on Nertram’s ribs with an unnervingly hollow thud. He groans and I splay across his body to shield it with my own. My back pays the price, taking the second wallop. I feel useless, my arm still too numb to lift a heavy blade. What can I do but shut my eyes and take the beating?

An animalistic snarl suddenly pricks my ears – different from the imitations rendered by this encroaching clan. The ripping of flesh and a terrible, clearly human wail follows, and I can’t help but twist to see the cause.

Shadow has come! I’ve gotten so used to him following me that witnessing his wrath is a startling sight. He is huge and strong, ripping out my assailant’s throat with awesome ferocity. As my sight returns with the dimness, I notice two other Roaring Bears stumbling over one another to the ground, shocked by the arrival of this fearsome, midnight-clad beast.

A swell of human cries surges from behind and I swivel toward the gate where a crush of Shadowwolves are forcing themselves into the fort. I dare to grin, but of course, merely thinking we’re safe renews the stabbing pain of my injuries. I rise to my knees, still hovering over Nertram, my arm, back, and skull throbbing as the ebbing battle breaks around me, pushing the Roaring Bears to the rear of the yard. I hope my brethren don’t forgot how dangerous cornered bears can be.

“Can you stand?” I ask Nertram, unsure of the severity of his injuries.

He wipes blood from his eyes and blinks up at me. “Not comfortably, but I’m sure as shit not going to lay here.”

I grin again and offer the hand of my uninjured arm, which he clasps. I shift my weight backward and groan at the strain on my body as I help lift a wincing Nertram to his feet. Beside me, Shadow growls menacingly at anyone moving past, guarding my flank but not pursuing further kills.

With Nertram stable, I place a hand on the back of Shadow’s head to reassure him. His fur is thick and stiff, reminding me how much I also need a bath. “Easy,” I say, stroking his fur. “You did well.”

The fighting ends soon after as the surrounded Roaring Bears revert from fearless creatures to men bent on self-preservation. Our final enemies drop their weapons and surrender, resulting in a chorus of victory cheers from my clansmen.

I remain silent but nod my satisfaction, then turn to assess the carnage. Many have died. Roaring Bears and Shadowwolves alike, litter the grounds. I scan the dimness of the fort’s interior for signs of the Grackle, but find none. Nertram’s posture starts to wither, so I weave an arm under his to prop him up.

“Come, let’s look for a place to check on your wounds.” I say nothing of mine, but I’m worried about how much damage was done. We limp toward a bench lining one of the out-buildings, with lit torches suspended nearby. It will do. Shadow whines and falls in behind me, probably unconvinced the danger has passed. I’m not versed in how to show proper thanks to an animal, but it is something I shall have to practice.

My head throbs and I reach up to feel the knot forming underneath my hair. No new blood marks my fingers when I examine them, though my hand is streaked with the staining ichor of others. Nertram gingerly lower himself onto the bench, wincing at the effort.

“Let’s get this off,” I say, already working with my right hand to unlace the straps securing his leather chest-piece. My left arm doesn’t want to straighten, but I force my elbow into compliance, clenching my jaw through the pain. Bruises will show soon enough, but nothing seems broken.

The same cannot be said for Nertram. Once it’s loosened, I lift the flexible armor over my ally’s raised arms. In the orange torchlight, his torso resembles a map of the Volcanic Rim. Blood has leaked from a crescent-shaped laceration to the left of his heart, down through the valleys formed by the swelling ridges of a dozen blows. It looks painful as a hornet swarm but hopefully not lethal. We’ve both seen worse.

Around me, the brief euphoria of victory has shifted to the grim reality of aftermath. The surviving enemies have been bound and my fellow Shadowwolves comb through the fallen, separating the injured from the dead. It is going to be a weary night.

“Stay put,” I say to Nertram. “I’m going to scavenge supplies.” Heading for the structure the reinforcing Roaring Bears spilled out of, I am not surprised as Shadow falls in beside me. I am surprised, at least a little, at how his presence is becoming a comfort.

My suspicion proves correct – many of the fort’s provisions have been assembled in the largest hall, which is lit by a series of well-distributed braziers. Stray weapons, beyond what their warriors were wielding, sit propped against one wall or scattered on the floor nearby. On the other end of the hall, foodstuffs and sundries are stacked, which is what I’m interested in.

Fortuitously, the Roaring Bears have already separated a roll of undyed cloth for bandaging. I reach for my knife to portion the cloth and realize it must still be in the yard, possibly in the body of an enemy. I’ll have to go back for it, but first I rummage through the stocks of food. It’s a wonder how many of even my own clan fail to recognize the medicinal uses of what we consume every day.

I find what I need, uncut garlic and a jar of honey, and turn to leave just as one of my kin clumsily pounds the door open, dragging a wounded man by his arms. Nodding, I know my knowledge will be needed by many, but Nertram is my first patient.

I squeeze by the rising flow of other incoming bodies, back out to the yard, and nearly drop my supplies at what I see: Hagen, headed my way, carrying the Founder’s Blade as if it was his personal trophy of battle!

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