DargonZine 13, Issue 9

Loren Armare Part 2

Yuli 8, 1014


This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Loren Armare

The instant the very repute of land is mentioned, the people seem to bid farewell to virtue, worth and merit, to common sense and prudence, and act with the primitive barbarism of tyrants in conquest of frontiers tended by their neighbors.

 

“Videre Virile” (unfinished)

Lord Bistra Scire Deriman,

College Guild of Khronica

 

Captain Tybalt Binu squinted in the bright daylight, trying to read the name of a lone cog fighting its way upriver on the Laraka. It was a hot summer day not particularly hospitable to waging war, but war was not a trade that could be scheduled based on weather. Any contact with the enemy came at an inopportune time. The cog he was watching was, without a doubt, a Beinison ship. The scouts had noticed it over a bell earlier, slowly making its way up the Laraka, fighting the strong current the whole way. Halting the regiment’s advance, Binu had scrambled to higher ground to evaluate the ship and the risk it presented and decide how to deal with the vessel as it slowly caught up with his position.

The fading Beinison lettering on the ship’s side identified the enemy cog. In war there was little time to maintain the paint when men and supplies had to be ferried back and forth. Binu recognized the characters as members of the Beinison alphabet, but was unable to put them together. The few words that he knew came from tales told by his second-in-command, Hakan Magnus, but those words had come with no description of letters associated with them.

 

The cog, set low in the dark water, hinted that it was loaded with supplies, no doubt looted from the shops and markets in Port Sevlyn and Sharks’ Cove — Quinnat’s contribution to the Beinison war effort. A group of sailors stood gathered on deck at the front of the ship, right above the barely legible name. Tybalt shifted uneasily. Did it make sense to let the ship go through? Besides the consideration of how critical the supplies were to both sides, there was also a question regarding the nature of the ship. Cogs were among the toughest, sturdiest and most flexible ships in the service of any navy, but they weren’t galleons. And as soon as one disappeared, people would take notice. It would be hard to hide a cog from passing traffic on a river such as the Laraka. Yet, waiting for a galleon could cost them the fortress at Gateway.

 

Soft rustling in the brush alerted Binu of company and he shifted off to the side, to let the others join him. He recognized the footsteps: Magnus and Bellen. Two others with them. No one spoke.

 

“Can you read it, Magnus?”

 

Long moments of silence passed while the younger man squinted, trying to see against the glare of the sun across the water. “Older script. Southern influence.” Another long pause. “Tolazhur Tolah er-Zhur. Tolah ihn-Pehal er-Zhur!”

 

“Are you going to sneeze?” Catalin Bellen chided.

 

Tybalt turned back, ignoring the woman’s remark. “The Prince of Lashkir?”

 

Magnus nodded. “But I’d expect a prince’s name on better walls.”

 

“I want that ship, Magnus,” Tybalt turned back to the river. “Look how low she is. She’s loaded with supplies. We can’t let her reach Gateway.”

 

“We’ll take her, sir,” the officer promised.

 

Retreating footsteps sounded in the brush behind Tybalt Binu and he turned back to the cog slowly heading their way. He could now see most of the deck, exposed below his position, with a ballista secured down with heavy rope right at the forward tip of the deck and a second one secured sideways behind it. He frowned at the idea of this ship passing supplies to the army upstream. There was no way he could permit this to happen and he was positive that Baron ReVell Dower, leading three more regiments upriver a half day behind this force, would want nothing less. In this darkest moment any miniscule amount of help Gateway received could be paid back with a much-needed victory. Any break in the enemy’s overextended supply line could mean the difference between Baranur’s victory or eventual defeat.

 

***

 

“Magnus, slow down,” Catalin hurried after her companion. “What does that name mean? Who’s the Prince of Lashkir?”

 

“Durn, get me some men,” Magnus sent one of the attending soldiers away, pausing to let the woman catch up to him. “Tolah.”

 

“Yes, who is that?” Her shorter stride did not allow her to bounce down the side of the hill as easily as Magnus and while her zeal to take the Beinison ship was just as great, her ability to keep up was somewhat hampered.

 

“Tolah ihn-Pehal er-Zhur — Tolah, son of Pehal, of the City of Zhur — was a Lashkirian warrior in the last century. He was a minor noble who ascended to princedom by attrition of his family in the war with Beinison. He held Lashkir against the Beinison army for over five years before being crushed. With an army of about ten thousand, he out-maneuvered and out-fought a giant thrice his size before the Fist of the Emperor itself trapped and killed him in the desert. Some even say that he never really died, that he’s the savior — the sahwi — who will return to free Lashkir from Beinison.”

 

“Is this real history or just a story?” Catalin asked.

 

“He really lived when Beinison conquered Lashkir a hundred years ago,” Magnus answered. “He martyred himself for his country, but I don’t believe in prophets. He was merely a skilled general who fell to our common enemy. What surprised me is that his name is on that ship.”

 

“Let’s hope his spirit helps us today,” Catalin whispered.

 

Magnus looked towards the river, hidden somewhere behind the trees. “We’ve got more men, but we’re storming a fortress. We have to use them wisely.”

 

“Let’s go down, take a look at the river.”

 

Followed by a pair of soldiers, Magnus and Catalin made their way closer to the water, watching the large ship slowly move against the current and wind. The ship fought the elements at a pace that was barely as fast as a walking man, her crew shifting and adjusting sails and forcing the ship to zig and zag through the wind.

 

“It’s a hard life,” Catalin commented, watching the crew battle what was only a light cooling wind on land.

 

“We can make use of their hardship, though. The ship is moving slowly.”

 

“Listen, what if I give you a better target?” Catalin asked.

 

“How?”

 

“Say I take a dozen archers to the other bank and herd the ship to you?”

 

“Must be a quarter league swim,” Magnus noted.

 

“So we’ll leave our armor here.”

 

Magnus considered. Baron Dower had three full regiments on the north bank of the Laraka, one of them less than five leagues behind them, and there were patrols as far as five leagues in either direction, watching for both stray Beinison troops and ships. There was no danger in letting archers cross to the other shore, except that they would have no cover from the Beinison vessel. On open water they could be spotted in a matter of moments.

 

“How will you cross?”

 

“Downstream, maybe a quarter league back, then catch back up.”

 

“Think that’ll give us a better chance?”

 

“You do.”

 

Magnus nodded in agreement. “I do that. You get them close enough for us to board, we’ve got them.”

 

Catalin started undoing buckles on her corselet in preparation for her task. By the time she was done, a hundred soldiers stood around the two lieutenants, waiting for orders.

 

“Archers by that tree,” Catalin pointed beyond the circle, letting her heavy armor drop to the ground.

 

Soldiers with bows started separating away from the main group. It was understood among them without any additional instructions that even though most of them had bows and knew how to use them, when archers were ordered to separate from the main body, it was implied that only the best were needed.

 

“Here,” Catalin handed her sheathed sword to Magnus. “It’s my father’s. I don’t care about the armor, but if something happens to this sword, a fifty year old man will hunt you down through fire and snow and beat the life right out of you. Straight?”

 

“You don’t really mean that, do you?” he asked.

 

“Which?”

 

“The armor.”

 

“No. I expect you to defend it with your life, but if only two can come out and your life absolutely has to be one of them, the sword will be the other. Straight?”

 

“Straight,” Magnus agreed. “I’ll be sure to put it ahead of my life. Better I fall to honor a sword than to satisfy an old man’s vengeance.”

 

Catalin headed for the tree where the archers waited. There were fewer than she expected. “I hoped for more,” she commented to the other lieutenant, but did not stop to send for more men. “Everyone out of your armor,” she ordered. “We’re going for a swim.”

 

The soldiers started undressing to a salvo of cheers and whistles from their companions.

 

“Beat you on the head!” one of the archers yelled back.

 

“Even the sergeants get no respect,” Magnus laughed.

 

Catalin studied the twelve men and two women preparing to cross the river with her. She knew everyone in the regiment could swim. That was a requirement. But she worried about the duration of the swim. The water was cold from the mid-summer mountain run-offs and the current strong and the distance was a serious stretch on any day. And compounded by a strong need for concealment, the crossing would be difficult at best.

 

“We’ll attack immediately, if they spot you,” Magnus detected her concern.

 

Catalin nodded, but did not answer. “Sergeant, bows only. Quarter league downstream.”

 

“You heard her, slugs. *Run*!” The sergeant’s weathered voice incited the archers into a trot.

 

“We’ll be back this evening,” Catalin cast her farewell and followed the small squad.

 

“Durn,” Magnus called to his assistant, “give them an escort, now!”

 

A score of fully armored men quickly detached from the group and followed the archers downstream. The remainder of the men reorganized in anticipation of further orders.

 

“Skoji,” Magnus called one of the other sergeants once the archers and their escorts were out of sight, “set up a full perimeter a league upstream. We’re taking that ship. I want observers a quarter league in either direction, a couple of men on the hill behind us and some archers to pick off any strays and offer cover in case of a retreat.”

 

“We won’t be retreating, sir,” Skoji said confidently. “They’ll be retreating and without a bridge, the men will have to get their britches wet.”

 

“We’ll improvise, Skoji. If there is no bridge, we’ll build one. And if Tolah can’t come to us, we’ll go to him.”

 

“Aye, sir.”

 

The men quickly moved upriver, hidden from the Beinison cog by trees and thick bushes. Dispatching a message to Captain Binu and another to the remainder of the regiment, Magnus followed his men east. They had plenty of time to set up their offensive. It would take at least a bell for Catalin to go downstream, cross the river and come back up on the other side. The exercise on the whole would be much harder on the archers.

 

Finishing his tasks, Magnus hurried after his men, catching up to them as Sergeants Skoji and Dyl directed the men into their positions. He paused, examining the site his men had chosen. It was in a narrowing of the river where it straightened out from its northwesterly flow and headed directly west. The rough shores created an obstacle for the rapidly flowing waters, causing sporadic foaming rapids along the shore to create additional navigation hazards. It was a good spot where the cog would have to battle the turn and the flow of the river all at the same time. Soldiers crawled through the brush, gathering in small clusters along the shore. In moments there would be no trace of almost one hundred men as they settled to wait for the approaching enemy.

 

“Skoji, concentrate the men just after that bend,” Magnus pointed to a cluster of rocks and mud extending into the river, “and put a smaller group just on the other side.” He broke a twig off a bush and sketched the shore. “First wave here, then here. The remainder can hold on to the other side until we need them. Dyl, pass the word. We’re going for a swim, although shorter. Let the men judge for themselves if they can handle the water in mail and if their mail can handle the rust. I want you to take the west end of the point, short of those rocks. If the ship drifts back past them or turns to run, I want you to attack. Otherwise, hold in reserve in the event that we’ll need you on the east side.”

 

With a nod of agreement, the sergeant disappeared into the green of the forest to organize his men.

 

Magnus sat back, watching the Tolazhur slowly approach. He was aware that Catalin’s plan could cause severe damage on the deck of the Beinison ship and force the crew to take the vessel closer to the south shore, but the problem of having his own people cross into the river under a possible missile assault from both the ship and his own regiment’s archers was a threat he would have to live with. He intended to lead the first wave himself, using the cog as a shield from Catalin’s assault and hopefully permitting the attack to be a sufficient distraction to halt the vessel’s progress upriver. The remaining men would have to depend on his ability to board and immobilize the enemy ship.

 

 

Almost completely dry after the lengthy swim, Catalin Bellen directed her troops to set an extended perimeter along the north shore of the Laraka, two men to a group, spaced over a quarter league of the northern shoreline of the Laraka. Her goal was to herd the Beinison ship towards the other shore or at least hamper its progress enough for Magnus to get his men on board. Her only way of doing that was by creating the illusion of a large force on her shore and to make every single arrow count.

 

Studying the south shore, she saw no evidence of Magnus or his men, but had a good guess at their positions. The main body’s lookouts signaled them with metal mirrors, indicating the points along the shore from which the attack would take place. Without knowing in advance, there was no way to tell that a force one hundred soldiers strong was located mere feet away from the waterline. The ship, which she had once again overtaken, was closing to comfortable bow range and the soldiers were all set for the attack.

 

Catalin herself took up a position shielded by a bush between some rocks where the forest turned into the narrow dirty beach of the river, and prepared her own bow. She was a good shot and felt confident that even if the Beinison ship, Tolah someone or other, was to drift all the way to the opposite shore, almost a quarter league away, she would still have a good chance of bringing down anyone stupid enough to expose themselves to her view.

 

The unusual concept of a land-bound army attacking a naval vessel was not lost on her. Catalin was aware of land-based catapults being used to attack ships offshore as a defensive measure, preventing them from approaching, but here, as a purely offensive gesture she suspected that she might be among the first to wage war from land and onto water, aggressively using ranged weapons to force a naval vessel into close combat.

 

“All set, ma’am,” the sergeant’s voice sounded from somewhere behind Catalin.

 

“Just as we planned,” she answered without looking back. “Anyone exposed on deck goes down. Take your time. I want every shot to count before they get out of range.”

 

Rustling of branches was the only answer she heard.

 

Long moments passed while the cog came before the position of the archers hidden in the brush. Catalin wondered how long it would take for the vessel to come in-line with the first team, when she saw a sailor, working on the ropes a respectable distance above the deck, tumble down. A few sailors rushed to him. What seemed like an eternity passed as they gathered around the fallen man, when another in the crowd fell over. Commotion overtook the deck of the ship.

 

Catalin leveled her bow, setting and bracing for the shot. She had a perfect view of the lookout in the crow’s nest, accented by a large white cloud behind it. She could see what appeared to be an arrow lodged in the wall of the nest, indicating that one of her men had already tried to make that shot. As she aimed, she heard the snap of an arrow being released to her right and another man fell on deck. A patient moment passed as she adjusted her aim for the light wind. The ship’s course held. Catalin released her arrow. For a moment there was no indication that she hit, then the man in the crow’s nest staggered and disappeared from sight. Another arrow was released somewhere near her. She picked up an arrow that was waiting its turn and again took aim. There were only a handful of men visible on the cog’s deck and the most prominent of them appeared to be the ship’s pilot. Catalin took aim. The man was not moving and as she forced her eyes to see the full distance, she realized that the Beinison pilot had sunk down to his knees, still holding on to the wheel, as if tied to the instrument. The other sailors were taking cover.

 

The deck of the ship remained empty for a moment. Another arrow penetrated the pilot, someone deciding it would be good to make sure he was dead. Then a pair of heads appeared over the railing on the left side of the ship. The tip of a bow could be seen near of the heads. Catalin took careful aim, but several other arrows beat her to the target, most sticking in the hull of the ship, but perhaps one or two hitting their targets. The two men disappeared behind the rail. She laughed to herself. Stupid sailors. Being on water is akin to being a huge target with no terrain to take advantage of.

 

With no timely control over the sails and rudder, the ship slowed down, no longer following its crisscross pattern though the current and wind. The only sailor visible on deck was the dead pilot, now attached to the wheel by at least three arrows, a grim phantom blindly guiding the vessel into the wind.

 

A terrifying crack and splintering disturbed the quiet of the river as a huge bolt tore through the hull at the front of the ship. The blindly launched ballista missile passed over the water and beach, crashing into the trees on shore.

 

Catalin’s instincts had forced her to duck, although the bolt had been too high and too far upstream to be a threat to her. She considered her men upriver. The bolt had probably been too high to hit anyone, unless they had been in a tree, and she did not expect that to be the case for archers intending to make their shots. “Is anyone hurt?”

 

There was lasting silence, which caused her concern.

 

“They’re hunting firewood,” a voice eventually came back.

 

Catalin released her breath. That would have been a stupid way to die. She waited, then got back up to her knees and looked at the vessel. Tolazhur free-drifted, caught in the wind and the current as the river bent to flow northwest. Twirling waters at a jagged outcropping forced the ship to begin to turn with the flow of the river. A swirl of water at the jagged shoreline made it totter, shaking the dead pilot loose off the wheel. Someone else was crawling along the deck to take his place. The man got to the body, checked it, then pushed the pilot away and, getting up on his knees, took his place. Several more arrows were released nearby, all targeting the brave Benosian sailor. The man on deck froze.

 

***

 

Tolazhur moved slowly against the strong current. It was not a particularly graceful ship, but its job was war, not speed. It moved along the river, trying to take the current at its best speed, crisscrossing from one shore to the other. As it neared the rock outcropping, Tolazhur slowed. The scattered rocks broke the pattern the vessel kept as it sailed against the current and the wind and the sails were adjusted to modify the course.

 

From his position on shore, Magnus had a perfect view of the man in the crow’s nest, with at least two arrows in him, go tumbling from his perch high above the ship. He fell into the water, creating a splash, and just floated. An arrow in his back pointed straight up, the fletchings a distinct marker of the Arvalian regiment.

 

For a moment there was commotion on the deck. Sailors ran around; some screamed. At least one more body slid across the deck as an arrow hit it. Someone jumped overboard.

 

Magnus tensed. They were not ready for the Beinison sailors to abandon ship. There was no reaction from any of the men in the brush and he hoped that would last until they could take the man by surprise.

 

As the escaping sailor made his way to shore, all commotion on the deck of the ship ceased. Magnus was contemplating ordering his men forward when a loud crack sounded from the vessel. It sounded like a ballista and Magnus was ready to bet that the target was the other shore. He drew Catalin’s sword and got ready to charge the ship. The Beinison sailor in the river was now waist deep in the water and was blindly heading for shore. He hit the sand, took one look back, and noisily entered the bushes. The brush shook as he moved through it, then, abruptly, all motion ceased.

 

Magnus smiled and headed for the waterline. Others had already appeared from the brush and a pair of men with grapples hooked the side of the ship. The silent assault was well on its way.

 

A soldier, sword slung over his back, was freeclimbing the rope. Another was throwing a third line. More and more men were making their way into the river.

 

Magnus paused, watching the ship rock in the water. It was caught in a more rapid current coming around the bend up ahead and had been pushed downstream and towards the shore. Tolazhur was slowly turning in the water and drifting backwards to where Dyl held the reserve men.

 

Suppressing the wide grin, Magnus replaced Catalin’s sword in the scabbard on his back and burst into the water, heading for one of the four lines now hanging over the side of the ship. When he was hip deep in the water, he broke into a swim, rapidly covering the short distance to the ship. “Stand down,” he warned the man getting ready to climb and eagerly took his place. The water receded below him as he easily climbed hand over hand, occasionally using his feet for added traction on the hull of the ship.

 

A body tumbled overboard, nearly knocking Magnus off his rope and landed in the water like a sack of flour. Magnus secured his grip, shifted on the hull of the ship and continued his climb, occasionally glancing up towards the deck. A few more feet and he made it up to the deck of the cog, where a battle was already raging. As he grabbed hold of the rail, a large knife came down hard on the rope he held on to and it went limp in his hand.

 

Releasing the severed line, Magnus lunged for the man with the knife, grappling him by his weapon arm and opposing shoulder. He was now suspended over the water, supported only by an enemy soldier struggling to stay on the ship. At this particular moment the risk of falling ten feet back into the river was delicately balanced by the threat of being stabbed with the knife. Ultimately, a few bruises and a nose full of water were infinitely preferable to being stabbed.

 

The man Magnus grappled was a large sailor, strong from years of hard labor at sea. He lifted the Baranurian soldier and smashed him into the rail. Magnus heard something crack. He wasn’t sure if it was the rail or Catalin’s scabbard, but he was fairly certain it was not his back. He could feel the scabbard’s hard edge along his ribs, easily out of his reach. His own sword dangled off a scabbard on his waist, too low for him to be able to grab without taking a risk of being stabbed or thrown. He was glad that he was no longer over the river.

 

Releasing the sailor’s shoulder, Magnus punched the man in the face, but retained the grip on his forearm, trying to make sure the knife stayed right where it was. The large sailor was hardly fazed by the punch. He kicked at the Baranurian lieutenant and backhanded him with his freed arm.

 

A weaponless combat could go on for a while and Magnus knew that if he could only pull his sword, taking down a poorly armed sailor would be trivial. The trick, though, was to get up without being stabbed first. He twisted, trying to tangle the sailor’s legs in his own, preventing him from kicking again and possibly taking him down. Instead he found that the sailor had grabbed him by his neck and was lifting him up once again. Magnus gasped, grabbing hold of the man’s wrist, trying to pull his arm away. He was now trying to hold back a knife with his off hand and break the choking hold on his throat with the right. He managed to get his feet firmly on the ground, bringing himself face to face with his opponent. The sailor was young, but weather worn, indicating he had been at sea for many years. His face was contorted in anger and pain and he was pushing Magnus backwards, back over the rail.

 

Magnus struggled for breath, realizing that he could not both fight to break the sailor’s grip on his neck and stay on the ship at the same time. He shifted to better his position, then brought up his foot and forced it against the man’s stomach, firmly wedging himself between the sailor and the ship’s rail. This evened out the fight. Now the sailor had to decide if he wanted to choke Magnus unconscious or simply fling him back into the river. Either way, the knife would have to go.

 

A few moments passed as the two men wrestled for control, then the sailor let the knife drop and attempted to reverse Magnus’ grip on his arm. As their positions changed, Magnus was able to fully extend his leg, kicking the sailor backwards, leaving scratches on his own neck as the sailor tumbled backwards. Right then Magnus felt a rush of air and a whistling noise as an arrow flew past his ear. It had missed the sailor by a mere moment.

 

Magnus had no idea where the arrow came from or who it was meant for. He was hoping that his own archers, on the hill behind him, had been trying to help. At least that was what he hoped. He did not want to be saved by archers a quarter league away, trying to get in a lucky shot, nor assaulted by anyone on the ship who just happened to have a bow. He dropped down to take cover behind the rail, drawing his sword as he did so.

 

The sailor was quick to get up, once again towering over Magnus. There was a great height differential and fighting from a squatting position was far less than what Magnus intended to do. He was at a disadvantage already, realizing that only he and two other soldiers from his regiment were on Tolazhur. They were also now facing off what must have been a dozen mad sailors. Magnus lunged forward, coming down hard on both knees, thrusting his sword up at the sailor who had attacked him. The blade slid along the man’s stomach and catching on his breastbone penetrated his skin, sinking deep under his ribs. The sailor gasped and tumbled forward, almost crushing Magnus in his fall, giving him no chance to retrieve the sword.

 

For the moment no one on deck moved. No one wanted to risk getting hit with an arrow and as Magnus looked about, he realized that a dozen bodies already lay dead on the deck of the ship. Two were his own men. The others were Beinison sailors and most had arrows poking out of them. The deck of the ship ran for what seemed to be fifty feet in either direction. There were two ladders leading to the higher deck both ahead and behind him. The Beinison sailors were all around. Magnus didn’t like these odds.

 

Magnus observed one Beinison sailor climb out a door below the rear upper deck and head his way. The man had a sword in hand and his intentions were easy to guess. As the sailor got close, Magnus drew Catalin’s sword from the scabbard on his back and leapt forward to meet his opponent. Their swords clashed above them. The sailor was strong, but not a very good swordsman. Magnus parried, feinted a strike, then brought the sword around and let it sink into the sailor’s ribs, catching him in the middle of a needless parry. Whether alive or dead, the sailor dropped, clearly no longer able to fight.

 

The fight paused for a few moments with Magnus being the only man still standing. He turned in place, making eye contact with everyone on deck. The Beinison sailors were at a disadvantage here. If they waited long enough, allowing themselves to be pinned down by the archers, the Baranurian troops would again try to board. Magnus had the time to waste. No doubt they must have realized it.

 

There was a sudden yell and Magnus spun about to catch of glimpse of one of his men engaged in combat just before being swept off his own feet by two more sailors. He felt his back impact the ship’s rail and heard the now familiar crack. He had no doubt that what had given way had been the now empty scabbard, but the sheath was the least of his concerns.

 

Engaged in close combat, there was no real way to use a sword and that was fairly evident when a gloved hand made contact with his jaw, momentarily throwing him off balance. The back of his head impacted the top of the rail and he struggled forward to make sure he wouldn’t be thrown overboard. An opportune target passed in his line of vision and he thrust out his arm, hoping that a hastily made fist would catch the head that was passing over him. Even though he could not see it, he felt a satisfying connection between his fist and what must have been his assailant’s head. The man staggered backwards.

 

Before Magnus could regain his feet, he felt a punch to his midsection and instantly realized that the wind had been knocked out of him. He stumbled backwards, tumbling down to the deck, up against the rail. He knew that in spite of the pain and the tightness in his chest, he hadn’t the luxury of rolling about on the deck in agony. As he tried to get up, the sailor who delivered the lucky punch closed in and punched him again, leaning over him to do so.

 

Magnus heard a loud agonizing yell. He wanted it to be his own yell, to feel his lungs fill with air, to drain the pain and frustration of his situation, but he knew that at this particular moment, no sound he heard could be made by him. The sailor above him staggered and Magnus used the opportunity to kick the man’s feet out from under him and roll out of the way. As he did so, the sailor dropped to the deck. Magnus allowed himself the luxury of acknowledging his own pain for a moment. He pulled up his legs and tried to inhale, but the spasm that went through his gut still had not relaxed. He was feeling the desperate need to breathe in now and wondered if anyone had ever suffocated from being hit in such way. Next to him, the Beinison sailor was struggling to get up. Magnus now realized that the reason the man screamed was that a grapple that had been tossed up had come over him and snagged his shoulder and as it was pulled to be secured, it penetrated the man’s flesh and was now anchored to him.

 

At last, Magnus found the strength to take a labored breath and let it out. The action on deck shifted as two more of his men came on deck using two lines further down the ship. The Beinison soldier next to him again screamed out in agony. The line he was attached to tore out of his shoulder, leaving behind chunks of ripped flesh. He was rendered helpless for the remainder of the confrontation.

 

Drawing in more air, Magnus got up, picking up Catalin’s sword as he did so. The Beinison sailors failed to repel the attack and now it appeared too late to change the inevitable outcome. More grapple lines came over the side, catching on the rail. Without a doubt Tolazhur was not going to remain a Beinison vessel much longer.

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