Homecoming

During the night, as he tried to sleep at the edge of a clearing, Ned looked at the silver and blue pendant he had received. He thought about the troubled past which led him to this moment. He sighed at the thought of killing Big Nose and Kroll in combat. Ned had avenged the death of his family, but it would not bring them back. At least the long-lived anger was beginning to lessen. He had the blood of many Malaxian soldiers on his hands and his demons were being laid to rest. Krea was his one regret. There was no going back to her in Malaxian territory. He reflected as the fire crackled, its flames dancing in the light breeze.

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Medals

The king’s army cheered in the valley. Swords waved. War dogs growled. Some coughed up blood.  Many were sick. Others put their head in hands and wondered how they were still alive. Gobba scrambled from his hiding place and joined the celebrations. He smeared blood on his face and tore some clothing so he looked the part. Ned walked back to where he had last seen Lord Snookington. He sat in a pool of blood. Ned grabbed his arm and patted the nobleman’s back. A tear ran down Harry’s face as he was led back to his knights. They took Lord Snookington away to be cleaned up.

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One Versus Two

Despite his valour, Lord Snookington’s leg was slashed and the nobleman fell to his knees. An enormous Malaxian warrior stood over him, about to deliver a fatal blow. The warrior looked up and saw Ned. A hint of recognition caused a split second delay. It was Big Nose. His face was creased with age beneath a darkened helmet. Ned focussed on the uniform as everything seemed to slow down. He leapt forward and kicked Big Nose in the chest. Spinning around, Ned cut him down.

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Battle

The order came for the King’s infantry to advance. Rough barks of war dogs pierced the morning air. Soon the battle raged in the valley. Swords clashed and it rained arrows. Ned cut Malaxians down with his sword, ever looking for their elite unit. The savagery struck fear into Gobba so he held back. At the forefront of the fighting, it was ferocious and blood flowed, but neither side yielded so knights on horseback entered the fray. Lord Snookington led his knights thundering downhill and stormed toward the Malaxians. The sound of battle was everywhere. Shouts. Screams. Grunts. Sobs. Thuds. A smell of death burnt nostrils. The former farm and mine workers from the Snook had never before witnessed such butchery.

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Ready

Ned and his fellow soldiers settled down in the camp. A light wind swept over the soldiers as Ned built a small fire using his flint and steel. The flames warmed him and he ate well. Afterwards, he cleaned the short sword and arranged his kit so he would be ready at short notice in the morning. He had a broken sleep, thinking about Kroll. It was time for revenge.

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Journey

All too soon, it was time to join the rest of the King’s army. Led by Lord Snookington on horseback in a full suit of armour, his knights followed on their horses. Villagers waved flags and cheered. Trumpets reverberated the air and church bells rang. A ragtag rabble of semi-trained peasant soldiers brought up the rear in leather and chainmail. Toward the foot of the High Street, they turned right to march North. Once beyond the village, Lord Snookington called a halt so the knights could take off their heavy armour and load it all onto horse-drawn carts. Feeling lighter and more comfortable, the noblemen mounted their horses and continued. Orders were shouted at the soldiers laden with bags and weapons to speed up.

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Recovery

In open land, the soldiers relaxed and hurried toward the village. The jolting was almost unbearable for Ned. The solemn parade made it to the Snook and village folk gathered around to witness the amount of dead bodies being brought back. On an open area of grass at the foot of the High Street, the bodies were laid out and funerals hastily arranged. The soldiers would be buried with full military honours. The merchants would organise a ceremony for their men. But, for Ned and his dead family, there was a problem. Funerals were not free of charge. Lord Snookington stepped forward and announced he would pay for the burial of the unknown swordsman’s family. His tales of bravery were legendary. And folk in the Snook owed him a great debt.

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Protect

The four bodies were strapped to horses ready for the off. Ned was put on a makeshift stretcher and tied to a horse. His dog was lifted on and she settled down. The column snaked its way downhill through the forest. The soldiers did not lower their guard, even though it was unlikely the Malaxians were still in the vicinity. It was common knowledge the bandits had a pact with the Malaxians and the unknown swordsman made their lives difficult for a couple of years. He must have been tracked to his home and slaughtered with his family. Only one injured boy had survived the Malaxian onslaught. It was a miracle he was alive.

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Discovery

A soldier ventured into the burned out shell of the cabin and found the charred remains of a woman and two children. It looked like they had been slaughtered inside before the building had been set alight, but it was hard to tell. The four forest dwellers were laid in a line on the grass outside. Soldiers searched the area and an eerie quiet descended. The horses could sense something. Soldiers stood still, wielding their swords at the ready. They waited.

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Aftermath

From a hill, the men hunkered down and observed a pathway below. All was quiet, so they moved off. Rounding a bend to the right, hills rose on both sides. The soldiers noticed three Malaxians had entered the forest to the right, but the rest stayed on the path. They remained as one force and moved along the pathway. Further up, the men came upon three dead Malaxian soldiers in a clearing. Two had been killed by arrows and the other a stab wound. It was clear from their leather uniforms the dead were from a crack troop of the Malaxian infantry, renowned for their ruthlessness. These warriors covered ground quickly and were the fiercest warriors. And three lay lifeless at their feet. The troop commander gave the faintest of nods. Skilled fighters must have been at work during this encounter.

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