Maleus II - Blood (Part 1/2 - Long)

Kami

Part of the furniture
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Having to split this due to it's length, sorry.


Maleus II - Blood (follow up story)


"Wake the lord at this hour? are you crazy?"

Captain Smythe eyed the young servant worriedly. His Lordship had indeed asked to know immediately if anyone approached the forest. But the hour was late and his lordship wasn't the young man he once was.

"I'll pass on the message to him, he's likely to give you a beating.", the servant nodded as he left and Smythe was sure he heard a sigh of relief.

Climbing the steps of the high tower the Captain began questioning the reasons behind his decision. He could have let the boy take a beating, sure the lad had made plenty of mistakes in this duties lately and was in less than good standing with his Lordship. But he'd seen enough bloodied servants in the past few weeks and he knew the old man wouldn't raise a hand to him. He wouldn't dare.

Berry Smythe was twenty years younger than the Lord of Tir Na Nog and a local hero. He'd never done any great heroic deed, never killed a dragon or driven away a terrible Kraken from the harbour. But he'd tamed his Lordship's anger and that earned him more respect and gratitude than he'd ever imagined. Promoted to Captain of the Guards and chief man at arms by 23 he'd held the position for almost 5 years, even the older guards who he'd been promoted older had to admit - he was a fine and fair Captain. Moral was good, as long as his Lordship wasn't around.


"Despite his temper, he's still my Lord and Commander, I will show him the due respect." Smythe reminded himself as he approached the Lord's chamber door.

"Come in Berry", his Lordship called from behind the ornate wooden door. "I could hear you're plodding the moment you stepped foot on the stairs."

Entering Berry found himself facing an unusual sight, His Lordship was standing near the fireplace and dressed in full battle armour. Saluting he announced "My Lord I have news of the Darkened Forest it appears tha.."

Lord Fairley cut him short "I know about the intruders".

"But how my Lord, I've only just found out myself" asked Berry, but he received no reply as his Lordship gazed into the fire at his feet.

"Gather 3 of your best, most loyal men and meet me in the courtyard in one hour. We'll need provisions and our fastest horses." commanded his Lordship

"yes sir". After a perfectly executed salute, Berry marched out of the room.

One hour later Boyle, Fraser and Mackenzie stood holding the horses reins. All three had seen active combat and the two younger men, Boyle and Fraser were exceptional horsemen. Mackenzie on the other hand could barely ride a horse but he'd keep up and Berry trusted him completely. Mackenzie had been second in command of the guards for over twenty years, many expected him to become Captain and were surprised when the young Smythe was promoted instead. Rumours were rife for months about a feud between the pair but there had never been one, the older man even congratulated Berry upon news of his promotion.
"You'll make a fine Captain, you've broader shoulders than me lad and a sharper mind than I ever had."

Lord Fairly entered the courtyard promptly as expected and the five men set off just before dawn. It would take them half a day to reach the forest, what awaited them only the gods knew.

======================

The Darkened Forest was somewhere that most of Tir Na Nog's citizens were forbidden to approach, never mind enter, Berry had always wondered why the ban was necessary when the forest had some a bleak name. Surely nobody would want to enter such a place. But now standing on the edge of the forest he found himself questioning the name, it positively teemed with life. He could see squirrels, rabbits and deer foraging for food and the trees were alive with birdsong. It seemed the name "Darkened Forest" was a little misleading, at least to his eyes.

The men dismounted and slowly lead their horses through the forest, Lord Fairley had taken point. Oddly eager to lead the group rather than take his usual position in the middle or even at the rear. Berry had never known his Lordship to take the lead and it appeared that he wasn't the only one surprised by it. Both Boyle and Fraser had looked at him, as if expecting an explanation.

Progress was slow, the forest grass was waist high and his Lordship didn't seem entirely sure of where he was going. Occasionally doubling back or pausing for long moments and looking around, as if expecting a signpost to appear to show the way. Berry knew were they were headed, even though he'd never been told. They were going to Maleus's cottage, somewhere in the heart of the forest. Even thinking the name sent a shiver down the young Captain's spine.

Maleus had once been a great soldier in the Tir Na Nog Army, a fighter of tremendous skill, courage and strength. When he changed, betrayed his people and started on his ravaging crusades across the countryside many didn't believe he or his band of murders could be stopped. Even now it wasn't known how they'd been stopped, new rumours still circulated about it but most seemed too far fetched to be truthful and in any event what did it matter? Maleus had been stopped and to Berry the real mystery was why the murderous leader was still alive.

A glint of gold caught young Smythe's eye from beneath Lord Fairley's cloak, keeping his eyes on his Lord's back as they walked it slowly dawned on the Captain what it was - the Fairley Blade. Why in the name of the gods would his Lordship risk a family heirloom on an expedition like this? The sword was a relic, nobody but a Fairly was permitted to touch it and rumour had it that evil couldn't unshealth the blade from the beautifully decorated scabbard. But why bring it along? the blade alone was worth more than even the Lord's great castle, to Berry it seemed out of place and just didn't seem right. he just hoped the other men hadn't noticed, it'd be unnerving, especially for the superstitious Fraser.

Noticing that he'd fallen behind slightly, Berry picked up his pace. Best not to get separated from his companions in an unfamiliar forest. Especially when Maleus lived nearby.
======================

The cottage was indeed at the heart of the forest, it'd taken them over 4 hours to reach it on foot and the sight in all fairness was a disappointment. The cottage was nothing more than an old huntsman's log hut and one that Berry spotted from a distance away was poorly maintained. A large section of the thatched roof had been blown off and apparently never repaired. As they approached Berry corrected himself, the roof had been repaired but with the only material at hand, branches, twigs and leaves. Indeed Maleus did keep himself warm and dry within and since he was barred from leaving the forest Berry assumed it was the best he could manage in the circumstances and without the proper tools.

"Tie the horses up around the back" commanded his Lordship, "Fraser to guard them and Boyle to watch the door". The men did as ordered without a word, Berry could feel the tension in the young men's movements. Scared he thought, then he realised he was a little too. Good, a little fear will keep them on edge and alert.

Lord Fairly knocked on the door, a simple action but one that struck Berry as very odd. Here was the Lord of Tir Na Nog, asking permission to enter a murderers home. Regardless, no answer came and his Lordship proceeded inside, Berry and Mackenzie on his heels their hands ready to draw their weapons.

The cottage stank, Berry couldn't quit figure out what the smell was coming from but it certainly clung to his nostrils. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather wait outside Milord?" asked Berry, this wasn't the place for someone of Lord Fairley stature but the older man seemed none to fussed about the smell or the mess.

"No I'm fine thank you Captain, I'm quite capable of withstanding a foul odour for a few minutes." barked his Lordship.

Mackenzie looked over at Berry, he seems unsettled by the sudden change in his Lordship, Berry didn't let it bother him. He knew that being am arrogant, uptight bastard was part of the Fairley tradition and it'd been a long time since he'd let it trouble him. He smiled back at Mackenzie, trying to reassure him that everything was fine.

Fraser opened the door, "My Lord there's a fresh set of tracks leaving the back of the cottage and heading south into the woods. One horse, one person. I wouldn't have spotted it but they went through some mud and seemed to be in a hurry."

"Are you sure there's not two tracks?" inquired Lord Fairley. "No sir unless one is riding the horse, which is impossible to tell" Answered the young guard.

Back outside, free from the stench his Lordship spoke to the guards, "Leave the horses, Boyle you stay with them. If Maleus approaches you grab a horse and come after us. DO NOT SPEAK TO HIM!"

"What about the other horses sir, shouldn't I bring them with me?" Asked Boyle politely. "No" was the curt reply. "Maleus won't be interested in them."

The four men headed off, lead now by Fraser. Berry was impressed by the guards skill at tracking, he'd have to chat with him later. As Captain he liked to know the skills of his soldiers, it helped him make decisions but regardless he was glad he'd ordered him to come along as it'd probably save them a long wait at the cottage.
======================

"Over hear!!" yelled Fraser, "A body"

Lord Fairley and Mackenzie ran over to where Fraser stood, Berry jogged along watching their backs. He felt uneasy, Maleus had himself been murdered and even though a relief it left him wondering who'd done it.

Berry Smythe shivered again, he'd been doing that far too often lately. Peering down at the fallen man's body he noticed that there hadn't been just one wound, whoever had killed him had kept hitting him even after the man was dead. Blood splattered the area, his back was covered in deep wounds. If he'd survived those the axe which now rested in the back of his skull had surely finished him off.

Lord Fairley pulled the axe from the mans head with a sickening pop, turning the chap over he froze.

"That's not Maleus, but that is his axe" muttered his Lordship. A worried look on his face "I've no idea who this unfortunate man is, but his time is at an end in this world."

"Shall we prepare him for burial my Lord" asked Mackenzie. "No you old fool, with Maleus still running about we need to find him and now more urgently than ever." was his Lordship's reply.

Fraser called to them from a tree nearby, apparently the guard had continued his tracking whilst the rest inspected the body. "There's a trail of blood, lots of it headed this way."

"Lead on" commanded Berry, his Lordship unusually quiet followed behind.

A few short minutes later they found a second body, oddly Fraser said that it wasn't who they'd been following, that trail continued onwards to the west. The four men stood in a clearing, knee high grass covered the ground. They'd spotted the dead horse from some distance, the body next to it however was unusual.

Face up, staring forever at the sky lay a young man. A massive wound cut straight through an older wound on his chest, he had the look of surprise on his face, as if death caught him unawares.

"That's Maleus's mark" muttered Lord Fairley. "This man has survived an attack before, but his luck ran out this time."

"A mark my Lord?" asked Mackenzie, unusually his Lordship took the time to explain "Maleus liked to play with the last victim of the night, he'd cut that mark into their flesh and leave them to bleed to death." Mackenzie looked visibly shaken, the wise old guard seemed to pale and he took a step back from the corpse "what sort of sick bastard would do such a thing my Lord?"

"Maleus" replied Lord Fairley.

Berry looked at the horse, he'd never seen one killed in battle before. Usually soldiers did anything they could to keep even their enemies mounts alive, since they could be useful afterwards and a trained mount was worth a small fortune. Maleus it seemed didn't care and had almost severed the poor animals head.

"Be alert, but don't draw your weapons unless I order it or to defend yourselves. I want to give him no reason to attack." Warned Lord Fairly as they followed the trail of blood Fraser had spotted. "These men attacked him, what he did was in self defence".


My Lord defending the actions of a murderer, the realisation made Smythe feel sick. As they walked, trying to be as quiet as possible Berry found himself wondering why Lord Fairley hadn't just had Maleus killed. He could have done so at any point in the past five years, he had legal grounds too as well, but instead he'd let him live here in peace and have even sent regular supplies. Raised never to question his betters, Berry still couldn't help but ponder it.

(Continued)
 

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