By: Aaron E. Smith
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Simeon Kane scanned the hillside for pursuit. There was none, yet. From his position, he could see that hiding was not an option. The brush and trees that dotted the eastern edge of the village weren’t enough to provide cover. Not that it would matter. The trail of blood he left behind would be easy to follow after the battle was done.
The sounds of fighting grew less frequent. The attack was a failure, which didn’t surprise Simeon in the least. He had argued against the attack from the beginning, citing numerous defensive advantages that the village possessed. But his pleas fell upon the deaf ears of the clan leader, who had positioned his unproven son, Nemick, to lead the assault.
It was those defenses that had taken his legs. As Simeon led the first of the warriors up the hill, the defenders triggered a hidden log trap. An avalanche of lumbered trees rolled down upon them before they could react. Simeon dropped to his knees and dove for a nearby jut of rock, but was knocked into the air by the leading tree. He fell hard into the tumbling mass of men and logs and was swept away; his legs smashed to pieces in the fray. When he came to rest in the carnage below, Nemick’s horn rang out calling for full advance.
“Fool,” Simeon whispered as he turned to continue crawling.
The hillside ahead grew steeper to the south, and gave way to more layers of dirt instead of rock. Far ahead, Simeon could see that the southern base of the hill sat just inside a dense forest. Simeon remembered that one of his scouts had advised him not to go anywhere near those woods, as it was known to be a primal forest populated by Fey creatures. He hesitated a moment, but continued forward, his eyes fixed upon the shadowed woods. With only two hundred or so paces between him and a rival clan that took no prisoners, the Fey seemed a less permanent concern.
Gradually, Simeon’s flight led to more and more moments of rest. His massive arms became weaker and weaker, unable to match the pace set by his need to flee. He paused to take a deep breath, and lurched forward, but stopped. An explosion of pain ran through his leg, causing a wave of nausea that left him retching upon the ground. He looked at his knee. It was bloodied and twisted. The sharp fragment of bone that jutted from it had become entangled with an arching root that rose from the ground. Simeon forced himself to sit and frantically wrestled with the root. His head burned with the effort. Again and again he sat up, pulling at the knee, squirming to and fro, until finally it tore free. He threw up all over himself and collapsed to the ground unconscious.
The sound of dogs startled Simeon awake. He clawed frantically upon the ground, half-swimming toward the woods. His fingertips split open, many of his nails ripped from place by the dirt and rocks. Still forward he labored, his body wracked with fever.
They were searching for survivors he knew. In his dementia, the howls of the dogs seemed muted and distant, but he could feel their pursuit getting closer and closer, the creeping feeling driving him forward like a wind on sail.
“This way,” he heard through a rising din of noises. “He went this way!”
He began crawling faster. He was close... there was no pain any longer, no sense of fear. Simeon was numb and his hearing muted. The sounds of the dogs faded away, the shouts of men subsided... the ground below him became still. All that Simeon was aware of was the wood, the safety of the shadowed wood... it beckoned him through the silence.
“You will be safe here,” it promised him.
Simeon was close enough to smell the moss and the loam of the woods then. He ushered the sweet fragrance into his lungs and heaved himself closer, but a tugging at his leg gave him pause.
He twisted around to find the dogs upon him, five or six of them perhaps. A large, dark-colored mastiff had Simeon’s foot in its mouth, violently twisting it to and fro. Simeon lashed out at it as the others circled behind. He roared at the dog and slapped at it’s snout to free his dangling foot, but the hound kept yanking him prone. In the distance, he saw men in pursuit as well.
They would be upon him soon; no time to fight.
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