This story is continued from Swan Warrior parts 1 & 2
For the Silver Sword's background please refer to Forging and the 1st Unworthy.
Swan Warrior Part 3
Let the praise of God be on their lips and a two-edged sword in their hand, to deal out vengeance to the nations and punishment on all the peoples.
Psalm 149: 6-7
Norin crossed the quiet campsite easily despite the dark. A sentry guarding the dwelling of his chieftain looked up in surprise as Norin and the small ragged man following him stopped in front of the tent.
“I need to speak with Chieftain Keth,” said Norin.
“He’s sleeping…” the guard began but Norin interrupted him.
“This is urgent. Wake him.”
With an uncertain look over his shoulder, the guard entered the tent. There was a shuffling sound inside then Keth emerged, fully dressed and looking worried.
“What is it, Norin?” he asked.
Norin opened his mouth to reply but before he could speak, Oathswine’s voice cut through the silence of the camp.
“What is the meaning of this, Norin?”
Norin clenched his hands into fists as he turned to face Oathswine and Utaria. Now there was no chance of keeping this from the rest of the camp.
“The guards said they woke us on your orders,” Utaria added in a softer voice. “What is the trouble?”
Norin gestured at the man beside him and said, “This man stumbled upon our camp and needs our help. I think you should hear his story.”
The man swallowed, nodded to the chieftains and Lady Utaria, and fiddled with the frayed end of his tunic. At last he took a deep breath and worked up enough courage to speak.
“Sardi slavers came up from the south and captured most of my clan. I’m one of the few who escaped.”
“This is what you dragged us out of bed for?” demanded Oathswine. “Slave traders often turn on the clans at this time of year. The seas are so rough this season that Sardi can’t send ships to make raids on the islands where they usually get their slaves.”
“Why should that make it any less our concern?” asked Keth.
“He was not finished.” Norin snapped. “Hear him out!”
Encouraged by Norin’s support the clansman continued, “There is a rumor that the southern empire’s slave markets are paying the slavers extra if they capture chieftains and bring them to Sardi alive. I heard of another clan who lost their chieftain to the raiders much earlier in the year, before the seas would have been rough.”
Norin watched Oathswine and Keth’s expressions change and Utaria’s eyes widen, satisfying him that they understood the threat to themselves.
“It is said that Chieftain Tayad will provide protection to the survivors of any clan which is attacked,” said the clansman. “The survivors of my clan chose to send runners in each direction to find him and his warriors. We figured with so many slave traders in the area he couldn’t be far.”
“Tayad is hardly a chieftain!” Oathswine scoffed.
Norin cocked an eyebrow. “You’ve heard of him?”
“Most of the clans have,” said Keth.
“Tayad appeared shortly after the attack on your clan, Norin,” Oathswine added. “Most of the clans see him and his band of vagabonds as saviors. To me they just sound like trouble makers.”
“Tayad was the second son of a chieftain but he was never meant to lead the clan,” Utaria explained. “His father died of a wound inflicted in a battle against the Roviniens. Not long after the death of Tayad’s father, Sardi slavers found the clan’s campsite. The slavers took his mother and older brother captive along with many members of the clan. Tayad and a few warriors who escaped chose to live in hiding. It is said they raid the encampments of their Rovinien and Sardi enemies in retaliation for their injustices on the clans. I have also heard what your friend here tells us, that Tayad offers protection to clansmen in trouble.”
“I think I should like to meet this Chieftain Tayad,” said Norin. “Before that, though, it is our responsibility to rescue this man’s chieftain…”
“Chieftain Fin,” the clansman said.
“Chieftain Fin,” Norin repeated. “We cannot let the Sardi slavers believe that they can continue to capture chieftains and prey on their people. If we are to save Fin’s clan, we’ll have to reach the slavers before they make it to Sardi. The clansman can lead us to where they attacked. From there we will do our best to track them.”
“If you are suggesting we attack the slavers you are mad!” cried Oathswine.
“No, he's right. If we do not wish to be oppressed we must fight back,” said Keth. “I’ll rouse my warriors at once.”
He called his guard, instructing the man to wake the warriors then gathered his weapons and gear.
“I do not agree with your methods,” said Oathswine giving Norin a hard look, “but I am not going to let you and Keth ride into danger alone.”
He moved toward his tent calling orders to his own warriors in his loud voice as he went.
“We will need my warriors here to guard the camp,” said Utaria. “I will remain to supervise them.”
“Very good my lady.”
Norin moved quickly toward his tent, returning a few minutes later wearing chainmail and carrying his horse’s gear. As Norin readied him, his horse flattened his ears in annoyance at being woken.
“Norin!” a voice cried from behind him.
He turned to face Elena.
“My father told me what you plan to do,” she said taking his hand. “You are doing the right thing, Light bless you for it! Just be careful.”
“I promise,” he said.
“We are ready Norin,” Oathswine called.
Norin turned to see a small group of mounted warriors with Oathswine and Keth at their head. The refugee clansman rode between the two chieftains. Oathswine frowned deeply at Norin and Elena. Norin gave Elena’s hand a quick squeeze then released it and mounted his own horse. He followed the warriors with one last glance over his shoulder in time to see Elena wave. Oathswine’s frown deepened.
The warriors rode far south through dark, silent hours of the night, tracking the course of the slavers. Cool wind slipped over their backs as they followed Norin, turning into a ravine near the dark mass of a campsite. There they would be out of sight of any Sardi guards. Norin nodded at Keth, who signaled two of his warriors. They slipped over the rocky edge to crawl on their bellies toward the campsite. The morning star shone in the east and the horizon was edged with grey light when they returned.
As Keth, Oathswine and Norin clustered around them, one of the scouts whispered, “The clan is chained together in the center of the camp guarded by four men. Judging by the snoring, I’d say there are at least five more asleep.”
“We’ll be more than a match for them,” said Keth. “Besides, we have the advantage of surprise.”
“We need a solid strategy,” Norin replied. “I suggest we creep into the camp and take out the guards as quietly as possible. Once the guards are down, Keth’s warriors and I can free the prisoners while Oathswine’s warriors enter the tents and kill the remaining slavers.”
Keth’s eyes gleamed. Oathswine nodded then turned to his warriors and commanded, “Dismount. We will leave the horses here. You are to enter the camp through stealth and take out the guards. After that, follow my lead.”
The warriors left the horses huddled beneath the walls of rock in the care of the refugee clansman and moved through the dewy grass at a crouch. As clouds in the east turned glorious colors, Oathswine, Keth, Norin and the warriors drew their weapons and stalked between rows of dark cloth. Norin came upon the first guard who was pacing from tent to tent on his watch in a bored manner. Leaping up from his crouch, Norin drove the Silver Sword into the Sardi man’s back, covering his mouth to muffle his cry as he slipped to the ground. One of Oathswine’s warriors took out a second guard by slitting his throat. An archer of Keth’s shot the third near the center of camp. A voice yelled something in the Sardi dialect from close to where the third guard fell. The last guard had seen his companion fall and raised the alarm. He slipped behind a tent still yelling.
As the guard dashed forward, making his way deeper into the camp Norin cried, “Stop him!”
Keth’s archer took aim and shot. His arrow buried itself in the back of the guard who staggered forward another couple feet before falling face down on the grass. The damage had already been done. Five slavers hurried out of their tents armed with scimitars forged from a strong black metal only found in the Sardi Empire. A few also carried whips. The cord of one slaver’s whip shot toward Norin’s left ear. He twisted in time to catch the blow on the Silver Sword. The cord wrapped around his blade and he yanked it toward him. The slaver stumbled as the Silver Sword sliced through his whip, which fell in several harmless pieces at Norin’s feet. The dark man of Sardi tossed aside the now useless handle and advanced on Norin with scimitar raised.
The slaver’s first blow vibrated up Norin’s arm but the man gave him little time to recover. He was fast and agile, forcing Norin to use all the skills he learned from the elves just to keep him from landing a blow. Norin danced to the side putting a tent between himself and his attacker for a minute in which time he realized that the warriors were overwhelming the slavers by sheer numbers. He turned just as his attacker came around a corner. Norin focused all his energy on forcing his opponent toward a large group of warriors led by Oathswine.
Suddenly a voice rang out commanding, “Stay!” in the language of the clans with a heavy Sardi accent. Norin flung his opponent away, and positioned himself so he could see in the direction of the voice while still watching his enemy for another attack. Near the center of camp a slaver was holding a knife to the throat of a man bound in shackles whose brown eyes were wide with fear. More clan members old and young were chained nearby, many of them weeping, all looking terrified.
“Stay,” the slaver repeated, “or chieftain dies.”
Oathswine cursed, the warriors froze and the slavers moved closer to the man holding Fin. Out of the corner of his eye Norin saw Keth’s archer move behind the slaver and his hostage. The archer took up a shooting position near the group in chains and slowly raised his weapon. Everyone’s attention was so focused on Fin they didn’t notice. Norin gave a slight nod and he released the shaft. The arrow pierced the slaver’s right shoulder causing him to drop the knife with a howl of pain. Norin leapt forward, grabbed Fin’s arm and pushed him in Keth’s direction before stabbing the wounded slaver in the chest. The remaining slavers turned and fled.
“My warriors, to your horses, we will pursue them!” cried Oathswine.
As Oathswine and his warriors thundered into the distance, Norin and Keth worked to free Fin and his clan from their chains. As Keth told Fin about the allegiance of the clans and offered to make him part of it, Norin called to the archer, “Good shooting.”
The archer smiled and nodded his thanks.
Soon the group headed back toward the joint campsite. The warriors allowed the children of Fin’s clan to ride their horses while they themselves walked beside the liberated clan members. The refugee clansman who had first spoken to Norin found the members who were still in hiding and gave them the news of Fin’s rescue. Before long they also came to the large camp. Late in the night Oathswine and his warriors returned and reported that the slavers had escaped but even this bad news couldn’t damper the spirits of the camp for long. Fin chose to remain with the other clans, swearing that someday he would repay Oathswine, Keth and Norin for his rescue.
As the fall days turned shorter and the season became colder, Norin collected information from other clansmen about Chieftain Tayad. On days when affairs at camp seemed relatively calm he took to riding out in search of Tayad and his elusive warriors.
When Elena asked him the reason for his search, Norin told her, “I believe Tayad is a warrior much like myself, fighting for the future of the clans. He and his men would be invaluable if they become part of our alliance and I doubt that either Rovinien or Sardi would dare stand in our way with him in our numbers.”
“Perhaps you are right,” Elena agreed. “Already the mention of you strikes fear into the hearts of soldiers and slavers, but if you were to join forces with another of their enemies, the men of Rovinien and Sardi might think twice before crossing their borders.”
So the search for Tayad continued even as fall gave way to winter.
One cold morning as a soft snow fell, Norin rode into a narrow valley surrounded by
naked trees. As he passed the edge of the first hill a soft sound reached his ears. A puff of snow drifted down the slope and swirled around him. Had it fallen from one of the trees? Another noise similar to the first came from his other side. Sensing danger, Norin pulled his horse to a stop and placed a hand on the hilt of his sword. A man wrapped in furs sprang out of a drift to the left of the horse. Norin drew the Silver Sword and swung at his head out of pure instinct. The man caught the blow on a long knife then danced aside laughing.
“It’s no wonder you’ve lasted so long! You’re quick,” said the man.
Norin’s eyes moved to the hills which were covered in more fur wrapped men.
“And alert,” added the first man.
Norin returned his attention to him and lowered his sword. The man had the look and sound of a clansman. He was young, probably in his twenties. His over long blond hair was tied back with a thin leather strap.
“Chieftain Tayad?” Norin asked.
“That’s right. I heard you were looking for me. After all the talk floating around Rovinien and Sardi camps about the unstoppable warrior with a sword of white fire I knew I had to meet you, so I decided to camp to the area.”
Norin took a breath to calm himself and sheathed the Silver Sword. Tayad smiled and put his knife in a sheath hidden beneath his furs.
“Come with me,” Tayad said nodded in the direction of the valley. “The falling snow will cover our tracks.”
Norin dismounted and followed Tayad, leading his horse. Tayad’s guards remained on the hillside where they stood vigilant. After a few feet the valley floor dropped into a deep, rough bowl. Tayad and Norin stopped at the edge of the drop-off and stared down at a village of small crude huts. A few people wrapped in layers of warm clothing moved about, but it was clear that most of the inhabitance were staying out of the cold.
“This is my clan,” said Tayad gesturing at them. “We’re a tribe of refugees and survivors nothing like the ones you brought together.”
Norin turned to him, surprised by his words.
“I have eyes and ears all across the land,” Tayad explained. “It’s the only way I can find out when soldiers or slavers are near or if there is another clan in trouble. Of course you’ve done more than I ever could.”
“From what I hear you have done plenty for other clans.”
Tayad shrugged. “I give them a place to stay when they have nowhere else to go. I get back some of their possessions when the Roviniens steal from them or rescue a few people from Sardi slavers. I’ve never been able to help more than one or two people escape at a time or unite rival clans against groups of soldiers, though.”
Now it was Norin’s turn to shrug. “We have each done the best we could for those we care about.”
“There is at least one other thing we have in common.”
“What is that?”
“Rovinien and Sardi want us both dead.” Tayad turned to grin at Norin as he added, “Unfortunately for them we met before they could kill one of us.”
“So you will join the allied clans?”
“On a few conditions…”
“There are too many of you to be in one camp out in the open,” Tayad told the chieftains once they called a council in a hut near the center of the joint campsite. “This camp is too easy a target for your enemies if they choose to attack you.”
“But there is strength in numbers,” Keth argued.
“Only if you use your numbers wisely,” said Tayad.
“What are you suggesting?” asked Fin.
“You would be safer if each clan made its own camp in hidden spots across the land.” said Tayad. “You can send messengers between camps when you wish to communicate. When men of Rovinien and Sardi are in the area our warriors can raid their camps to dwindle their supplies. If we diminish their stores enough they won’t be able to make it through the winter and will be forced to return to their own countries.”
Norin watched the chieftains’ faces as they considered this. Most of them seemed to see the sense in Tayad’s words. Only Oathswine continued to look unhappy.
“You cannot seriously be considering living like a band of thieves, can you?” Oathswine demanded giving the other chieftains a deep scowl.
“This may be the best way to keep your clans alive,” Tayad replied. “If you wish for your clans to survive you must develop methods which allow you to attack your enemies from hiding.”
“We are the chieftains,” said Oathswine, his voice angry. “We do not have to take orders from this boy.”
He jabbed a finger in Tayad’s direction.
“Chieftain Tayad is right,” said Utaria. “I for one agree with his plan.”
“So do I,” agreed Fin.
“He is not a chieftain!” cried Oathswine jumping to his feet. “You are all fools.”
He turned to Norin and snapped, “You most of all for bringing this rogue into our midst. Go on then, join Tayad’s group of bandits. I will hear no more of your foolish plans.”
He stormed out of the hut while the other chieftains stared after him in shock. Norin followed the angry chieftain, gesturing the others to return to their council. Oathswine paced on the already hard packed snow between two huts. He turned at the sound of Norin’s approach.
“Being a good fighter does not give you the right to lead clans as you and Tayad seem to believe,” Oathswine snapped before Norin could say anything. His breath made little clouds of fog with every word.
“I am not trying to take control of your clan away from you,” said Norin.
“Do not lie to my face! I see through your plan and I have seen the way you look at my daughter. Elena will marry a chieftain not some lone survivor of a dead clan!”
Norin took a step backward, too stunned to speak. Oathswine pushed past him before he could recover. For a minute Norin stood there feeling like he had been stuck by lightning until Keth’s voice called him back.
“Norin, were you able to talk some sense into him?”
Norin let out a long cloudy breath before answering. “Oathswine has chosen to go his own way. We can’t force anyone to join us if he’s not willing. Come on, we have to prepare the rest of the clans to move to the hidden campsites.”
Around the middle of winter another clan sought Tayad’s protection. The chieftain, a man named Wiltor, asked for an audience with Tayad and Norin, who was at Tayad’s camp at that time.
“I have lost many good warriors fighting the Rovinien soldiers,” said Wiltor. “Now I have so few left that they cannot properly defend my campsite. The Roviniens are taking advantage of this. Every time their supplies run short they steal goods from my camp. I was hoping you could me defend my clan against this persecution.”
Norin told Wiltor about the alliance of the clans and the rules by which they lived. “So long as you can live by this code you are welcome.”
“I would consider myself honored,” Wiltor replied.
“In that case we must help you retrieve some of your stolen goods,” said Tayad.
Three days later they marched against an encampment of Roviniens. A group of warriors led by Tayad, Keth and Wiltor crept into the supply tents and took some of the soldiers’ food. As they made their way back toward their horses, a guard spotted them and raised the alarm. Soldiers grabbed weapons, stumbled out of their tents and hurried to meet the intruders.
While the Roviniens were thus distracted, Norin waved forward a second smaller group of warriors led by himself and Fin. They scraped away some ice stiffening a rope securing the gates of a corral containing a number of horses. Then Norin tugged at the creaking wood to open the pen. Some of the animals were brought from the plains of Rovinien by the soldiers, others were stolen from the clans. As Fin’s warriors mounted several horses and the herd thundered onto the snowy fields, one of the Rovinien soldiers cried a warning. The heads of several other soldiers turned and Tayad, Keth and Wiltor took advantage of their distraction to mount their own steeds and ride into the distance. The Roviniens found themselves at a disadvantage because of their lack of horses. The soldiers split their forces, some following Tayad’s group as best they could on foot, the others charging Norin and Fin. Norin and a handful of Fin’s warriors rode forward cutting the supports of several tents to further slow the Roviniens. Then they too rode away from the camp.
About a mile east, Norin, Fin and the warriors herded the horses into a narrow canyon between huge cliffs. Once they were deep in the gorge, a number of people led by Lady Utaria moved out of caves pock marking the rocks. They ran to the place where the warriors had turned toward the canyon and, moving backward toward the rocks, used branches cut from evergreens to clear the snow of tracks. Norin spotted Tayad as he dismounted and felt relieved that his group was already there. Taking a pine bough from a clanswoman, Tayad beckoned Norin and the other chieftains onto the high canyon walls. From there they watched for the Roviniens. Tayad joined them once he wiped away the traces of their climb. At last the soldiers ran into view and came to the place where the tracks ended. They stopped and huddled together for a moment then spread out, searching for more tracks.
Tayad leaned closer to Norin and whispered, “Their confusion makes it all worthwhile.”
A smile spread across Norin’s face and he nodded.
Tayad’s raids lasted all through the winter and the return of spring brought a new set of problems. Tayad’s scouts reported the return of the Sardi slavers. The slavers were capturing more people from the southern clans than anyone could remember them taking at a single instance in time. Norin, the chieftains and their warriors were gathering a rescue party and preparing to ride south when Tayad’s guards reported the presence of an unexpected visitor.
Story continued in Swan Warrior Part 4.