Here is the last part of Valar’s story for now. His tale is far from over.
You can find the rest of The Immortal Lords here, including all of Valar’s story.
There wasn’t much space between the buildings, leaving Valar often bumping one shoulder or the other against the walls. Behind him, some person or another had blocked off the enterance by the front of the church. Noises still flowed over, but they were much diminished from what he’d experienced before now. More than once, he had to turn sideways to brush past a barrel or stack of crates on the uneven ground. Senar had no problems, but that had more to do with his bulk than her being too thin. She wasn’t that, thank the Immortal Lords, but his muscles had long ago been covered in a layer of fat. More than once, he wanted to kick something out of his way.
The temple ended, but a high wall still stood over their heads as the alley started moving back upward in fits and bounds. Ahead, Valar could see masses of people moving toward his left, toward the road out of town. No one headed toward him. Maybe they all knew that this was a dead end with only the hick farmer from out of town getting stuck in it. At least no one pointed and laughed, though a few people did glance absently down toward him before moving on.
When they reached the end of the alley, Senar grasped his hand before moving off into the crowd. A few people jostled him as they entered the flow, earning him and his daughter a few dirty looks before they all focused back on getting out of town.
That in and of itself seemed like a forlorn hope to Valar. Maybe the army hadn’t reached this street yet, but that wave was coming. And if he’d needed any confirmation, that rhythmic pounding on the temple door had supplied it. They were coming, and both of them needed to be somewhere else.
Gripping his daughter’s hand tighter, he pushed forward faster through the crowd. At first, Senar had trouble keeping up, but Valar pushed harder, starting to shove people physically out of the way. That cleared a path for the two of them. Angry cries filled his ears from behind, but they were quickly muffled by a greater roar.
A glance behind showed Senar doing her best to keep up with him. Years on the farm helped with that. Behind them, several people had taken advantage of the path he’d created in the crowd—much like the plow broke the earth—and were increasing their pace in order to follow as closely to him as possible. But behind all that, the wave broke.
Amid the debris from cannon fire and the cries of scared people, came the roar of the crowd Valar had seen from the bell tower. Most carried nothing on their backs, the weight only serving to slow them down. Those that refused to rid themselves of any extra trappings were slowly, but inevitably pushed back until they tripped and fell only to be trampled to death. Their bodies caused others to slow down or risk falling and sharing the same fate. But with each step, they seemed to approach faster. As the road took a small climb, Valar could see what pushed that mass of bodies forward.
Granted, they were far away, well down the road and away from where he know ran. But horses were faster than men, and while they weren’t at full gallop, they seemed to be making good time. Blue uniform jackets blended them into the night, and if it weren’t for the white slacks, then they’d just look like grey mists. Grey mists that cut people down like sheeves of wheat at reaping. No one stood a chance against that. Not unless they were trained soldiers. And even then, it took a lot for a line of men to hold against that kind of charge. Down there was nothing more than a slaughter, pure and simple.
Suddenly, one body, then two and three, hit him in the side, and Valar went down, losing his grip on Senar. More bodies slammed into him and it was all he could do to protect himself, let alone stand up. He did, slower than he’d have liked and only because there’d been a sudden clearing of the crowd. Looking up and rubbing a sore spot on his skull, he saw no sign of Senar. Then he saw that had caused everyone to stop moving forward.
Another division of cavalry had crashed into the side of the escaping people. Their swords went up and down in red arcs as people cried out in desperate fear. Some had raised their hands and arms up in a vain attempt to stop steel. They were chopped down where they stood, creating a wall of corpses. More cries went up as more people fell. And Valar stood in the center of it.
With a cry, he went down again as a boot heel took him in the back between his shoulder blades. Horse hooves stomped around him, and he rolled away, doing his best to avoid danger. Those instincts were old, and he’d thought, long forgotten. Least that proved to be wrong. Rolling to his knees, he grabbed a cobblestone someone had pried loose and threw it at the horseman bearing down at him.
The brick hit the cavalryman square in the head, sending him tumbling to the ground. Scurrying on all fours, Valar found the brick again and attacked the dazed man, beating around his head with savage blows that barely registered on an emotional or intellectual level. He only stopped when the body had stopped twitching. Another cry, this one angry, sounded through his haze and only then did sense return.
Glancing toward another cavalryman, Valar felt around the body between his legs to find a pistol or some kind of weapon. He found nothing beyond a saber, its loop wound around the dead man’s wrist. Prying it free, he looked back at the soldier who’d cried out. The mount wheeled and bucked, striking out with its hooves and teeth, laying men flat with seeming ease. However, the cavalryman’s eyes never left Valar.
Pushing himself to his feet, Valar grasped the saber in both hands. Battle lust glittered in the eyes of both man and horse, and the horse lunged forward at a gallop toward the—just what was he anyway? A simple farmer? No not anymore. Not since these old reflexes had resurfaced. Muscles had remembered old tricks. It wasn’t an important question. Just the one Valar’s mind turned to as he watched death come riding toward him.
Between infantry and cavalry, the mounted man held the advantage. Mobility, agility, height. These things all played to his advantage. The trick was to remove it.
As the horse bore down on Valar, the other man raised his sword and started its swing downward, predicting Valar’s next move. It was the same move that dozens, if not hundreds, of other men had made, costing each his life. That wasn’t the way to win. The horse’s eyes were wide and its mouth hung open, its breath coming in labored gasps. Valar could see the bridle in that gaping maw. Instead of turning, or dodging, or one of a dozen other choices that would only end with his skull split, Valar swung at that black maw.
The sword dug deep, nearly severing the jaw and stopping the horse dead. It reared and fell on its side. Valar was unable to keep ahold of the sword lodged into the bone as it was. He’d half expected this and fell sideways, not trying to keep control of the saber. Half a second after he hit the ground, the cavalryman landed beside him. His skull hit a protruding stone and blood started to seep from a gash in his head.
Valar left nothing to chance. Lying between them was another saber, broken in its fall. Grasping it, Valar shoved it into the other man’s chest. He could hear sucking noises as the other man tried to breathe through torn lungs and a pierced chest. The cavalryman’s eyes went wide and he clawed vainly at Valar’s face. Falling backward, Valar watched, amid the maelstrom of panic and death, as one man’s eyes went dark. That was one feeling he didn’t miss.
Another saber swung through the air, clipping his left ear. Valar rolled right, then scrambled on all fours toward the lee of a building. Horse hooves followed him, but he never felt another strike come anywhere close. His ear burned and blood ran down his neck.
Reaching the building, he collapsed against it. He looked out at the death and distruction in the square that had once held so many. Horses whined and soldiers lay still among the dead citizens of the city and the hamlets that surrounded it. They were unarmed. For every dead cavalryman, he saw ten, fifteen civilians. This wasn’t a battle, this was a slaughter. The horse that he himself had struck still flopped about on its side, the saber still in its jaw. Its screams would be heard for miles. Both other than it and himself, nothing moved.
Chest heaving, Valar just sat there. Senar. Oh by the Immortal Lords, Senar. Where was she? He couldn’t leave her to the rabble. She needed him. Needed him by her side. Unless—No, he wouldn’t entertain that thought. He would not.
Valar stood up on weak legs and started south once again. The road was south. That’s where she would go. He’d find her at his sister’s. They’d agreed on that. As he walked, he couldn’t stop himself from looking at the face of each person as he passed.