Another story in the somewhat incomplete history of the Alter-Dimension’s Dark Age.
“Well, Son of Scartho, there has been no word as yet so it looks like I may have to cut off a piece of you and send it to your father to hasten his response?” suggested the bearded man stood before the cage.
“When I get out of here, Botha, I will strangle you with your own bowel!” snarled Leofric Da N’tan defiantly. For an answer Botha pissed on the captives and walked away laughing.
“Well that did a lot of good,” remarked Saewine wiping his face with disgust.
“What happened to your legendary foresight shaman?” asked the younger warrior.
Da N’tan and Saewine had been riding to discuss border issues with Aethelflaed, the Cwene of Mercia when they were ambushed by Botha of Wolfdene with a large war band. He was a brigand leader who fancied himself a great chieftain and had taken them hostage as they travelled along the old Roman way east. Da N’tan’s small retinue had fought fiercely to protect their lord but to no avail, he hoped some at least may have escaped to Tamworth.
“In truth Leif, I did not see this, perhaps Botha has a powerful dryicge who cast a potent charm on me… or perhaps I am just getting old.”
Da N’tan looked at his friend, he did look older and weariness seemed to exude from him. “Saewine I did not mean to offend, I rely on your visions too much sometimes I fear.”
“Hist Leif, you do not offend me for in truth I am weaker than I once was.” he thought for a while then spoke again. “We may not have much time so may I speak honestly with you, Son of Scartho?”
“You can always be open with me, Saewine my friend,” replied Leofric.
“If I am to die here, Mim should take my place as seer but I believe she has defiled herself with you so it will have to be another.”
“You know about that?” Leofric was surprised for Mim had shared his bed several times.
“So it is true then?” the shaman laughed bitterly. “Leofric, you know nothing about bluff.”
Da N’tan was in no position to be dishonest so confessed. “Saewine, I have no excuse for my behaviour, I lusted after Mim and should we get out of here alive please do not punish her, the responsibility for this is mine and mine alone for I betrayed our friendship. Saewine, can you forgive me for covering your woman?”
“Oh, foolish boy!” he laughed bitterly. “Mim O Dyffryn Gwyrdd is not my woman!”
“But when you brought her back from Brythony to live with you I thought, we all thought… you perform rituals together naked!” Leif exclaimed.
“So we go unclad to talk to the gods and in your eyes that makes us lovers, we both knew of this folly of course and did nothing to prove or deny it in the belief it would help keep Mim’s virtue safe thus ensuring her passage to becoming a powerful shaman, even more than me. How easy it is to forget how a young girl’s head can be turned by a handsome face and heroic action, when she gave you her maidenhood she lessened her powers and for thanks, you lose your head over that Soomilek creature.”
Saewine turned his back as much as their confined conditions would allow, he did not seem inclined to further conversation so Da N’tan perused their prison. It was a square cage set in the yard of the brigand’s fortress and barely big enough to hold both of them and they could neither stand straight nor lay in it with ease. It was a sturdy wooden construction fastened together with iron rivets and a heavy lock held it closed, he could see no easy way out of it.
The stockade gates opened to allow in a rider who went swiftly to Botha’s hall, the man himself emerged shortly afterward and strode to the cage once more. “My messenger has brought news from your father, he will pay half the silver I asked for and gave me a dire warning that if I harm a single hair on your head he will hunt me down and kill me himself” the bandit chief drew his sword and crouched by the cage. “Brave words, should I take notice I wonder?” he held the tip of the blade to Da N’tans face through the bars, “your nose or perhaps an eye?”
“It would better to kill me now Botha, for my promise still stands,” answered Leofric in defiance.
Nicking Da N’tan’s cheek he withdrew the blade and stood up. “If there is too much delay I will take a piece of you for a keepsake.” Da N’tan wiped his face and spat after him as he returned to the hall, Botha wanted silver to hire Frishan mercenaries and increase his territory. Leofric doubted the man would release them alive in spite of his father’s threats.
As darkness fell one of Botha’s men threw them some bread and passed a jug of water through the bars, Leofric passed a piece of the hard loaf to the shaman, saying. “Saewine, the scunung may still kill us despite the ransom, please do not let us part as enemies.”
“I am not your enemy, Leif, but I am disappointed at how quickly you threw Mim over for Kukka.”
“Mim said nothing of her feelings for me and she made Kukka most welcome, I thought she only sought pleasure with me, nothing more.”
“It is in her nature to be welcoming and she did it because of her love for you.”
“I am foolish and have erred greatly, are we still friends?” asked the young warrior.
“That we are Leif and if I am to die I can think of no man I would rather be at my side” the fellow captives shook hands and settled back as best they could as.
It was a clear starry night and Da N’tan was watching the silhouette of a guard walking along the wall when a dark shape sprang nimbly over it onto the walkway, the man turned at the sudden noise but before he could raise the alarm the figure drew a blade across his throat and the man fell to the ground dead then the mysterious intruder scrambled down to move swiftly across to their prison.
“You pair are in a mess and no mistake,” said a familiar hushed voice.
“Mim?” whispered Da N’tan.
“Ya, who else would it be, you ffwl?” she answered.
“Mim,” Saewine was visibly concerned. “You shouldn’t be here it’s too dangerous!”
“Don’t be a silly man, who else will rescue you?” she rebuked him and Da N’tan saw love for the shaman in her eyes. “The bahstard’s men are watching the eastern road to Scartho but stupidly haven’t thought to look towards Brythony.” She picked at the lock briefly but to no avail. “I wanted to get you out before opening the gates but I can’t beat this latch!” there was a hoot like that of an owl close by and on hearing it Mim passed Leofric her curved black knife “Leif, protect Saewine, you have friends close by.”
“Mim, take care” hissed the shaman as she dashed towards the gates, stopping only to loose an arrow at a man who had emerged from a nearby door then, after checking he was dead, she began straining to lift the heavy bar holding them shut.
“Alarum!” a voice shouted and a bell began tolling. Mim had been spotted but not before she had managed to release the stockade gate.
Standing to one side and snatching up a spear from the fallen brigand, Mim, skewered the man who had raised the alarm, yelling. “Mae’r giatiau ar agor!”
The gates were forced apart and a score of Brython warriors in heavy armour charged in with none other than Bran the Bullroarer at their head, he was a giant of a man with a large beard and was known for his extremely loud voice. The brigands, now out in force were having difficulty holding back the attackers despite their greater number, there was no time to form a shield wall and the fight became a bloody free-for-all with the Brythons in their gilded mail swiftly gaining the upper hand.
“Kill the prisoners” ordered Botha who, being no coward, was at the forefront of the battle.
Two men rushed to the cage to thrust spears at Da N’tan and Saewine, one fell to an arrow shot by Mim but the other impaled the shaman.
Da N’tan grabbed the assailant through the bars and pulling him onto them stabbed him viciously with Mim’s dagger, he turned to Saewine and was horrified to see he was mortally wounded.
“Leif my friend,” said the shaman, blood bubbling from his mouth. “Look after Mim… look after my daughter… in truth, I did not foresee this…”
“Mim is your daughter?” he grabbed the man’s shoulders. “Saewine, my friend!” the light died from the man’s eyes.
“Dada, no!” screamed Mim, who had finally reached their prison
The Brythons had pushed Botha’s men away from the cage and Bran waded through the stragglers knocking them aside with his great axe, which he then swung to smash the cage’s lock with ease.
Da N’tan climbed out and with Bran’s help pulled Saewine’s limp form from the enclosure, Mim threw herself on his body and began sobbing as the Bullroarer handed Leofric an axe. “Come Aenglishman it is time to make your shaman’s death mean something!” Leofric looked at the distraught girl and feeling his blood growing heated threw himself at the enemy with Bran, bellowing a deafening war cry, following him into the fray. The defence of the stockade lasted only a little longer with Botha’s men turning to run upon seeing the fight no longer in their favour.
Few of the Celts had been killed but over half of Botha’s retinue lay dead, most of the survivors had fled to the forest outside and the would-be chieftain now stood with a Brython warrior grasping each arm tightly. “Well Scarthling, do you intend to carry out your threat, do you have the courage to do such a bloody thing?” He was brave even now in the face of death.
Leofric held Mim’s sharp blade to his abdomen and paused in uncertainty, it was a terrible thing to do.
“I knew it, Scarthling, you are weak-willed.” Botha mocked.
“Give this piece of excrement a sword and I will best him in combat!” ordered Da N’tan. Before his request could be carried out, Mim, who had until now been forgotten, came up behind the brigand leader flinging a bowstring around his neck and pulling it taut. “No, Mim, this is my task!” He yelled and started forward as she began to tighten it with a look of wild-eyed rage upon her face.
Bran placed a meaty hand on Leofric’s shoulder to hold him back. “Nay, Aenglishman, let her have her vengeance,” he said almost in a whisper and they watched as Botha’s face turned black.