Ahusaka’s warriors spread out to the left and right of Lord Rainport’s flanks and they were met by horsemen. The battle had begun.
The 16 and auxiliaries pushed into the loose formation and broke the minion line. The minions showed little concern for their own safety and leapt onto the formation.
The dark horseman who demanded surrender returned and circled around the side of the formation at a full gallop with a mace in hand. He struck a O’Hagan down, killing him.
He spurred his horse and caught another man by the back of his helmet, breaking his neck instantly. He dragged the body along then trampled it with his horse.
He was toying with them.
His voice thundered,
“I am your fear, your dread, I am pain.”
A voice from the melee thundered back.
“I AM BEAST. I EAT THE FLESH OF PREDATORS!”
Jeptha Berengar broke rank and charged the horseman. The warhorse reared and kicked in a trained deadly manner. Undeterred, Jeptha ducked the hooves and leaped under the saddle.
In a wild fury, he grabbed the horsemans’ stirrup and swung upward, feet first, unseating the rider.
The rider was battle hardened and quickly regained his footing. The mace, a specialty weapon, was discarded and the dark rider withdrew a large sword the length of a man.
There was menace in the voice.
“Jeptha the Beast, it has been a while since you escaped the rack on a full moon. You were a pitiful shell of a creature as you are now.
“Look above, Beast. It is daylight and you are weak. The moon is waxing crescent.
“Today, I will break you like we did last time.”
Jeptha did not speak. He was shaken by the words of Lord Rainport’s son. They had indeed tortured and broken him. He had found that it was the Rainports that had accused him of eating a child when he escaped their cruel hands so he would not have credibility to accuse them.
He had read his own accusation. The Shepherd’s Crook Man had taught him to read.
Rage and bitterness filled Jeptha’s mind.
He gathered himself and roared,
“I AM BEAST!”
The downward slash of the greatsword left a superficial cut on Jeptha’s chest as he narrowly avoided decapitation. Angrily, Jeptha circled Lord Rainport’s son.
He heard Brother shouting. “Jeptha! Your Sword!”
Jeptha placed his left hand on the Montante hilt then a right. The scabbard fell to the ground with a metallic ring.
There was evil laughter.
“Do you really think you can defeat me with that? The Rainports are renowned for greatswords. Cower and die, filthy creature!”
Swords clashed and power was met with power, technique with like response. Their swords were held chest high and each pushed for mastery.
It was Jeptha who spoke.
“JAMES SAYS NEVER DO THAT.”
He parried the push and struck to the neck. Had it connected, it would have severed the younger Rainport’s head from the shoulders.
He was shocked. “JAMES?”
Jeptha was grim. there was death in his eyes.
“ YOUR BROTHER, JAMES, TAUGHT ME THE SWORD. NOW, I WILL TEACH YOU BEAST. “
Jeptha dropped his sword and tackled the heavily armed noble, pinning him to the ground.
Purposefully, he ripped off his helmet.
“JAMES TOLD ME YOU MARRED A PRETTY WOMAN AND MADE HER UGLY AND HURT OTHERS. YOU HURT ME. DIE EVIL MAN!”
With uncontrolled savagery, he crushed his skull with his helm.
Jeptha stood and looked at what he had done.
The battlefield was in favor of the Warriors of Northwich. He could see Lord Rainport retreat to the rear.
Nicholas sounded a horn to regroup. Tired men limped and brought themselves to order. There were catastrophic injuries. The battle was won, but at a horrific price. Ahusaka, proud leader of the Heron, was carried to the ranks. He shivered from blood loss and many wounds.
He spoke to Brother.
“Emerson, Friend, we have fought each other and made war with the enemy together. I go the way of my Elders. Leave me space that I may sing the song of death.
Emerson spoke the language of the Heron.
“Mu ‘yan uwan juna ne cikin aminin jini” (We are brothers in blood)
Ahusaka smiled faintly. John the sawbones tended to him.
A trumpet was blown from the palace wall. It was a warning.
As they looked toward the town, Turlough O’Hagan shouted “Behind us!”
Lord Rainport had not fled. He had ridden behind them and was throwing scrolls on the ground. When he did so, evil creatures appeared. They shrieked and danced, causing terror. There were upwards of three hundred of them.
Turlough O’Hagan looked with wonder. “Brother, we all be singing a death ditty a’fore long.”
Nicholas yelled, “Shields up! they march!”
Baldwin Mailer nursed a broken arm. John had reset it and secured it to his chest with fabric he had rolled in his satchel. He was not in high spirits but he would be blamed if he would go out as an unscripted scribe.
“Nick, you’re a saint, but you forgot the magic words.
“Boo that man, Nick, Boo that man.”
Weakly, the men shouted, “Boo.” There was no heart in it.
Around them, friends and family lay strewn on the ground. Soon they would join. There were just too many.
Ahusaka breathed heavily. He thought on his life and reflected. He had won many battles and gained renown amongst the Heron. Today, he would die lying on the ground and helpless.
He was Ahusaka. He would die as he had lived.
Under his breath, he muttered.
“Magasakawee, Wispy, Keezheekoni,
“Na gaza ku. Ina son ku. bayan rayuwarmu za mu koma ciki.”
(I failed, I love you, we will meet again)
The creatures advanced.
Jeptha Berengar rushed and slowed the onslaught but was overridden. Valiantly, the shield wall held but grew smaller as the Warriors of Northwich made their stand.
Murders of crows circled and were already consuming the dead.
Suddenly, from the air could be heard a deafening scream.
An enormous bird with a long neck dove from the sky and landed in the midst of the creatures. They fled in terror. More of them descended, tearing the creatures apart.
Ahusaka recognized the sound.
“Keezheekoni,” he whispered.
He had set her free, and she had returned in his time of need.