Cador jumped to his feet before the huge warrior could complete a vast swing of his impressive sword. From the man’s appearance and age, I guessed he was none other than Blake, Chieftain to the entire Durotriges Tribe and Morven’s father. His muscles bulged, his jaw set, he lunged again at my brother with a weapon of the highest calibre.
What Blake gained in power, Cador matched with speed. His youth and vigour made him nimble. He side-stepped the next swipe and blocked the following with his shield, taking the strain on bent forearms as Blake hefted blow after blow down on our leader. Cador spun around, taking a few strides to put some distance between himself and the lumbering Chief.
Composing himself, Cador’s grin faded into a scowl. I could tell he was struggling to mask his fear, although no one else would’ve sensed his distress. It took close kin to judge his state of mind. The men rounded on each other, dodging and twitching, spitting and growling like dogs on a midden pile.
By now, the archers were closing in on them, tracking the movements of our warriors with their sightlines and picking off one or two of our toughest men. Those with axes and spears cleaved skulls and ripped open bellies, spilling their guts down onto the shore. The bleached stone of the beach was slick with entrails and vile humours, the stench of which mixed with the kawgh expelled as the bowels of the dying men loosened upon death.
I crouched low, retching and heaving. It was the first time I’d been this close to a battle and I was ill prepared for its effects. Most of those who’d lost their lives were known to me. I’d grown up under their shadow and felt the comfort of their protection. Watching as they passed into the arms of Cernonnus was not the glorious event that songs and stories would have you believe. It was beyond any brutality I could have imagined.
As much as I wanted to turn and run, the need to see the outcome was more pressing. Using the dune shrubs for cover, I scurried closer until I could see the fighting as it played out. Cador was surrounded, his men were subdued and held at spear point or dead. All the Duros crowded around their Chief while he toyed with my brother.
Blake slashed at Cador’s shield until it was little more than splinters. His crushing blows eventually slowed from exhaustion.
“Surrender to me now, boy, and I might let you live.” Blake crowed before kicking out at the remnants of the shield, freeing it from my brother’s grasp and sending it skyward.
Cador could not afford to admit defeat. Whether this was to be his end or not, there was more than pride at stake. The respect of his tribe would live or die on the decisions before him. I could also see that Blake had riled him. The glower and sneer returned; his anger renewed. They danced about one another until Cador lost his footing on the shifting pebbles.
Blake saw his opportunity. With a flick of the wrist he sliced a gash into Cador’s chin. My breath caught in my throat as I strained to see over the heads of the crowd. Why didn’t he kill him while he had the chance? What had stayed his hand?
Staggering backwards from shock more than pain, Cador touched his fingertips to the weeping cut. There was a moment of incomprehension before his wits returned to him. Seething, Cador let out a low growl, summoning his strength and launching himself at the bigger man.