The Hill Folk Pursue, Part 2

Introduction:This the second part of the first scene of a larger fantasy story that I’m writing. It should be seen as a work in progress, and I should very much appreciate any feedback. Enjoy!

His breath was heavy and labored now. He had run for four hours, two at something close to his fastest pace. Known though he was in his Legion for his stamina, he could not sustain such a pace for much longer.

The pursuing war-cries had not diminished, and now they rang out from the south as well, echoing between the wintry boughs. He changed direction when he began to hear the second group of pursuers, but now he considered that the hill-men, whatever their true numbers, were driving him somewhere… very likely to a place where their numbers would be larger, or where an ambush was already set.

With this thought the pure urge for flight abated, and though his running pace did not slacken, he began to think, as a solder, once an officer of the Shentegha legion, and not merely as a man fleeing from others who sought to kill him.

He had no weapons. Now his jerkin was torn ragged from careening through the brush, and he himself bled from a handful of small cuts. But in this cold forest his enemies would wear no more than hides themselves and he could obtain a cudgel easily enough.

In these woodlands the clans fought mostly each other, and their tactics were predicated on stealth and surprise rather than assault. If he chose terrain favorable to defense, he could limit the foes that could face him at once and so diminish their advantage of superior numbers. Though he was but one, and the number of the hill-men surely greater, would they take the bait? Or would they call a soldier’s bluff, deny the engagement and force him to flee again, until they could overtake him at night, or in sleep?

It was a fair gamble, he decided. Even an arrow in the back or a knife in the dark would be better than ending his days in a Yerayn cookpot or flayed alive on a rack in this forsaken wilderness.

When he found a broken hillock, therefore, unclimbable from the rear and tall enough to protect his back, strewn in front with thick old elm and aspen, he stopped, panting. The Yerayka would be upon him before long, but at least he would have a few minutes rest before facing them. Looking around, he selected a stout limb of elm as big as a smith’s forearm and snapped it from its tree. A blade would be better, especially against the copper axes of the clansmen, but this would do. He eased his breathing as he uttered a prayer to Desheng, dimly recalled from his youth, in a low chant. He would take as many as he could with him to the Afterlands.

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