As you may have guessed from the title, this is the second part of the Caledon short story that follows the Dariniae attack on Mobryn (as defended by a certain Bevan son of Bradan!). Enjoy!
The Blackwood Ship – Part II
The sand beneath his feet felt loose and treacherous, but he told himself it would be alright further up. Bevan clenched his right hand tight over Brackenthorn’s hilt, the fingers of his left hooked into his belt and gripping as subtly as he could. For all his prayers and preparation, for all the woad and the blessings and the warcries, he was still terrified. He longed to be brave, to prove himself worthy of his father and the Caderyn, but all he wanted to do was turn and run from the raiders massing at the water’s edge.
The Dariniae had beached their ships, and now blue-painted warriors were clambering out to make a line where the waves met the shore, axes and swords shining in Belenos’ light. It seemed that most of them had discarded their traditional black cloaks for ease of movement, but even their tunics and breeches were made of dark wool, and they formed up in a shadowy mass in front of their black-sailed ships. Dark colours, for dark deeds. As Bevan had guessed from the ships’ size, there were perhaps threescore Dariniae coming ashore; more than there were Caderyn to fight them, but not by much. But we have right on our side, and this is our land. The gods and Sidhe will be for us here.
Bevan tried to take some comfort in that thought, and in the friends who stood to either side of him. Garan and Derwen would see him alright, and he had a duty to do the same for them. He set his jaw and straightened his back. And that duty is more important than worrying about your own hide! His feet itched to move as the Caderyn waited for their enemies to make ready, and Bevan tried not to let his fear worsen when he saw a Gadarim emerge from among them. Like Arran the Dariniae’s finest warrior was bare-chested and covered in blue battlemarks, though unlike the Caderyn Gadarim the Darin’s shaped beard was still it’s natural shade, a rich chestnut brown. Instead he had bleached streaks of white into his hair, giving the impression of a giant, fearsome badger.
Bevan saw his comrades shuffling their feet anxiously, and it seemed like an age before a horn blast came from the shoreline and the raiders began to move forward. Further up the line, Bradan raised his sword above his head and Rhys let out a second note on his dragon-mouthed warhorn. The headman pointed Longthorn at the enemy and bellowed a single name.
Fifty Caderyn, Bevan included, drew forth weapons as they echoed the War God’s name, and as one they began a slow jog down the beach. His heart was racing but Bevan felt Garan and Derwen keeping pace with him, and he reminded himself of his duty as his heart began hammering even harder. You have a town to defend, friends to protect, and your worth to prove. You are Bevan son of Bradan, be worthy of your father. The Dariniae were getting close and Bevan clenched his teeth so tight it hurt his jaw, willing his fear away as the Caderyn advanced. All men die one day, and better as a hero than as a coward. He snarled to himself as the steady lope became a run. Get this done!
The sand shifted awkwardly under their feet but Bevan wasn’t thinking about that. His eyes were on the black line surging towards them, and he forced himself to breathe slowly as he picked out a target. The man directly in front of him was shorter than Bevan but much broader, and bore a long-handled axe that glinted in the sunlight. The young Caderyn lifted Brackenthorn and focused on the Darin’s throat. Mine.
Only twenty paces separated them now, then ten, then five. Bevan screamed to the War God once again and banished his fear as bloodlust flooded through him, willing him to fight and kill these men who dared to trespass on his land. His sword crashed into the first man’s neck to hard it almost struck his head off. The Darin crumpled but there was no time to watch him fall because another man had already stepped around him, a knife in one hand and a hatchet in the other. He swung the axe at Bevan’s head but the Caderyn brought up Brackenthorn and stopped the blow dead in its tracks. The force of it almost made him step back and he saw the Darin lunge the knife at him as he leaned off-balance. But then Derwen was there, shouldering into the black-clad raider and shoving him back into his comrades. Bevan recovered himself quickly and slashed at the next raider to come his way. She parried his first cut with an axe-haft but Bevan flicked his wrist around it the way his father had made him practice, and Brackenthorn’s tip licked across the woman’s face. She flinched back and a heartbeat later Ceriad’s boot struck her in the chest, knocking her to the sand with a gasp and a thud.
Blood was rushing in his ears and Bevan almost laughed as excitement flooded through him. All his fears were gone, replaced by an almost insane desire to cut and kill, and he obeyed the instinct willingly. A brawny Darin had just smashed a ham-like fist into Garan’s jaw and Bevan leaped to his friend’s defence, swiping Brackenthorn at the raider’s head and forcing him to back off. He had no time to press on because another foeman had appeared to his left, but he blocked his attack with a speed that surprised even him and ducked around the Darin’s next stroke to hack down into is leg. The man cried out and Bevan struck him with Brackenthorn’s pommel. Blood and teeth spat onto the sand and the raider dropped, knocked senseless by the blow. Bevan took in a breath to shout out the War God’s name, then something hit him hard in the small of his back and he arched up in pain before collapsing to his knees.
The young Caderyn had no idea what had happened but he tucked himself into a roll, ducking away from whatever had struck him. It was awkward trying to rise from the wet sand but he struggled up to a knee and tried to block out the pain in his back. He saw a spear-wielding Darin rushing towards him and some detached part of his brain thanked Taran that he’d only been caught by the haft. If the Darin had been better positioned that spear might have impaled him, and the first Bevan would have known of it would’ve been the sight of the tip bursting through his chest. He shoved the thought away and lifted Brackenthorn, barely catching the spear in time as it thrust towards his face. The blade parried the weapon aside and Bevan made a grab for it, but the Darin brought it back quickly and his hand closed on thin air. He shuffled back and tried to get to his feet and managed to stagger up just as the next thrust came at him. The block almost cost him his balance again as the sand shifted beneath him but Bevan corrected himself, and this time he succeeded in catching hold of the spear-haft. The raider grunted and hauled back and the Caderyn leaped forward with the motion and crashed into his enemy. The pair fell to the sand with Bevan on top.
Seen up close the Darin was a tough-looking bastard, with a thick black beard and a scar across his lip. He abandoned his spear and grabbed Bevan by the wrists, forcing Brackenthorn away from him with impressive strength. The Caderyn got a foot up and tried to strike him with his knee, but the Darin twisted and writhed like an eel and the kicks landed with a fraction of their power. Bevan decided to change tactics and simply leaned his weight down hard. The raider might’ve been strong but Bevan was no small man himself, and slowly, inexorably, his arms began to give way. Brackenthorn was lying across him, almost perfectly in line with his neck, and Bevan bared his teeth as the iron crept closer to the raider’s throat.
The blade was less than a finger’s length from killing the man when a voice cut through the shouts and warcries, and Bevan blinked as he recognised his father. The words were hard to make out but it was definitely him, and a moment later the clamour of battle seemed to fade away. He was still leaning forwards, eager for the kill, when the voice rang out again, louder and clearer this time.
‘Caderyn, back off! Give ground!’
Give ground? But I have him! Bevan’s heart was still racing with battle-lust and he almost ignored the command. This one is mine! The Darin beneath him met his eyes without fear and if anything that look only encouraged him. He knows what battle is. He won’t hate me for killing him; he’d have done the same to me. When we meet in the Otherworld he’ll greet me as a friend. But then someone caught him by the shoulder and dragged him to his feet, and Bevan turned to see that Garan was hauling him back along the beach. He wanted to rail at his friend but a glance behind him showed that Bradan was watching him carefully. Bevan felt a punch of shame hit his gut and nodded dutifully to his father before backing away as he’d been told to. You might not have shamed him with cowardice but you damned near shamed him with disobedience. His hands still itched to be fighting but he controlled himself and joined the other Caderyn as they lined up.
At a glance it looked like a good dozen of his fellow tribesmen were down, but it also looked like at least a score of the Dariniae had fallen. Dark-clad bodies were far more common than those garbed in red or blue, and the sea was washing the islanders’ blood back towards their ships. He watched as wounded raiders limped back to join their fellows, and the man Bevan had almost killed began scrambling to his feet. The Gadarim who’d led them strode to the centre of the line and faced the Caderyn with a grimace. Bevan wanted him to call another charge, the Caderyn were winning this after all, why not finish it and drive these thieving scum back into the sea? Along the line he saw Garan and Cerian, Berian and Derwen, Shoned, Wynn, Gruff and Bloedwyn, all gripping their weapons hard and glaring at the Dariniae, as eager as he was to go on with this. Let us send them back to Morannan, and see what the Sea God thinks of beaten warriors!
But the choice was not Bevan’s to make and he bit back his frustration as Arran stepped forward from the Caderyn line. He had blood on his chest and arms but Bevan guessed that it wasn’t his own. The Gadarim locked eyes with his counterpart at the water’s edge and spoke a single word, his voice strong and calm.
Part of Bevan wished that the enemy Gadarim would refuse him, and that the fighting would re-commence and he could kill the man who’d escaped Brackenthorn. But a part of him was tired, so very tired. The fight had barely lasted a few hundred heartbeats but still the whole line was breathing hard, and Bevan wondered if it was cowardice to wish the Dariniae to simply give in and let them all go home?
Whatever his thoughts on the matter it seemed the Darin Gadarim had made his mind up, and the badger-haired warrior locked eyes with Arran.
‘It was a good fight, but you had the better of it.’
He nodded his head at the Caderyn Gadarim, and Bevan felt a tiny wave of relief run through him as he spoke a final word.