Beck’s hand tightened on his great sword and he looked around Nightstorm. Taking shape from the trees were small dark green skinned demons. Most of them walked on two feet and carried sharped sticks in their hands. The rest were on all fours, snapping black mouths full of fangs and showing off short pronged horns. Their large eyes were red and glowing in the shadows of the trees. Their chittering noises changed to loud howling cries.
‘Treomun,’ Beck hissed, ‘forest demons. We should get out of here.’
‘But what about-’ Olwyan started.
‘They have a taste for horse flesh and an even greater one for humans,’ Beck cut in.
Olwyan glanced at the frozen face of her husband to be then at the demons, swallowing her words and tears. She went to touch Nightstorm, but the warhorse was shifting uncomfortably, his nose flaring at the scents drifting from the demons.
Beck threw the reins up to her, but she failed to catch them one handed. Olwyan scurried after the leather straps and almost tumbled off Nightstorm. Beck bet her to them, grabbing them and steadying her with a single hand. She looked at him, marvelling at his speed and strength.
The howling stopped from the trees and Beck tore his eyes away from her’s. He moved swiftly around the horse, coming to a stand a few steps before Nightstorm and the forest demons. He two handed his sword, spread his feet over the snow and prepared to meet them. Beck’s eyes scanned across the enemy, he could not pick the leader out and there was too many to count.
A sharped branch whistled through the air, but the wind caught it and pulled it off to one side. A loud chittering went up then a small group broke away from the front and charged him. Beck swung his great sword to meet the first one and sliced through three almost at once. The small bodies tumbled into the snow spreading black blood as the five survivors jumped as one. Beck swung back, cutting down two more. The other three sunk their teeth into his arm, stomach and legs.
Another small spear was launched and Beck dodged it, but the wind blew it off course again and it land as aimlessly as the first had done. One handing his sword, he plucked the forest demons off and threw them back at their companions. The demons were as light as the branches they were throwing and landed just as weakly amongst the others, still though it caused a small disturbance. They hurried to rearrange themselves and the stronger ones pushed through to the front ranks.
Beck stole a glance at the warhorse then slapped his flank to get the stilled animal to move. Nightstorm jumped into a walk then a trot, heading down the road. Snow kicking up in his awake and the Treomun yowling after him. Beck rushed forward to meet the new front line, districting them from splitting off after the horse.
Olwyan twisted desperately to look back, tightly clutching the reins whilst trying to unsheathe the short sword at the same time. She felt a wave of sickness and was tipped forward as Nightstorm stumbled over something. She went to grab the saddle, missed it and pitched forward into the horse’s mane.
Crying out, Olwyan struggled to stop the short sword from slipping from her sweaty hand. A small pain kicked into her chest as Nightstorm recovered and carried on. She straightened and the sheath fell off the short sword. She looked back at the black leather lying on the crisp snow and saw the end group of forest demons breaking off towards her.
Whipping back, she urged the old warhorse on with a slap of the reins. Nightstorm picked up his pace into a full run causing Olwyan to flatten herself down as best she could and hang on for dear life. The white forest blurred around her and she shut her eyes as an icy wind hit her face. She felt Nightstorm running into something and heard his panicky cry loudly as they tumbled into the snow.
Olwyan instinctively rolled away as she fell off the horse, desperately trying to keep hold of the sword. She slammed into a tree trunk and saw blackness dancing before her as pain jabbed into her stomach. Groaning, she eased herself on to her back and looked up at the grey sky above, heavy with more snow. She looked to the side and saw Nightstorm picking himself up.
She went to ask if he was hurt then stopped herself. The warhorse shook his snow covered coat and walked back up to the road. Olwyan thought he seemed fine. She sat up, breathing deeply, one hand pressed to her stomach were pain throbbed. Using the tree for support, she pulled herself up and looked up at the road. They had not fallen that far from it. Trying to follow in the horse’s hoof prints she walked back up the small slope, her feet sometimes slipping.
Olwyan found Nightstorm standing, head lowered and almost, she thought for a fleeting moment, as if he was waiting for her. Then she saw the approaching Treomun and realised that he was watching them. Quickly, she went over and tried to lift herself into the saddle. She planted her hands in the middle of it and jumped up. Her feet scrapped over the stirrup, missing it a few times before she lost the strength and had to stop. Landing back down, she looked at the forest demons, they were closing fast.
‘Olwyan!’ she heard Beck screaming in the distance.
She screamed his name back as the Treomun rushed her and Nightstorm then screamed again. She swung the sword out wildly in front of her and felt the blade connect with crunch. Shooting a look down, she saw a green body tumble into the snow then sliced out again. She heard Nightstorm neighing loudly and felt a rush of wind. Glancing over her shoulder she saw him mount up, kicking his front hoofs.
Fear shot through her and Olwyan rushed forward, forgetting everything as a terrible memory played out before her eyes. She felt small fangs sinking into her hand bring her back to the forest. She flung her empty hand away, but the demon did not let go and she met its red eyes as she brought her hand back. She felt other small bits and scratches all around her as she turned madly around.
Beck shouted her name through the haze of snow then appeared before her. She watched him kicking the Treomun aside and slicing his sword through them. They chittered and mustered around him, a few luckily enough to get close to biting at his legs. Beck grunted and flung them away into others close by.
‘Get back to Nightstorm!’ Beck yelled.
‘I’ll try,’ Olwyan cried and turned around.
She saw the forest demons clustering around the horse and biting into his legs. One had even climbed up onto the saddle and was starting to crawl along the warhorse’s mane. Feeling determination filling her, Olwyan lashed out with the sword and freed herself from the surround enemy. She rushed over to Nightstorm and began jabbing at the demons before him.
The warhorse was twisting, almost dancing about as he stomped and bucked. He turned around and Olwyan stumbled backwards as a Treomun that had been clinging to his tail flew off and hit her in the chest. Nightstorm reared then broke into a run.
She called after him then cried out as a sharp biting pain shot into her already bleeding hand. She looked down, saw the little demon and pierced him with the sword. He gurgled, spit black blood at her then slipped limb from her hand. Another came at her, jumping from the ground and to her knee. She twisted and it smacked into her side instead and fell back into the snow.
Something landed on her head and she blinked away a melting snowflake. Stealing a look up, she saw it was snowing then her eyes slide across to Beck. He was still fending off the Treomum, who did not seem to be depleting in number. Olwyan felt a tug on her skirts and looked down to see the demons crowding around her once again.
‘Go away!’ she yelled and brought the sword down on the first one’s head.
The blade easily sliced through the thin skull and the creature slipped to the floor. She swung out at another, dispatching that one too then carried on cutting them down.
‘Run, Olwyan!’ Beck roared.
She looked up, shaking snow from her hair and saw that something else was looming out of the forest. Beck ran passed her and grabbed her right wrist, narrowly missing the blood stained blade of the short sword. He yanked her into a run and somehow, she managed not to fall over as she turned to follow him and swapped hands. Beck swung his sword at any Treomun that got in the way, but it looked to Olwyan as if they were running too.
Beck cut down his final demon and the road opened before them. Pulling the woman behind him, he rushed on, hoping that Nightstorm hadn’t gotten far. He risked a look back and saw passed Olwyan the last of the Treomun scattering before a huge forest ogre. He decided not to tempt her in looking back. Beck urged her on instead, ‘come on! Hurry! We can’t lose Nightstorm!’
Gasping, Olwyan pushed harder, trying to ignore the pain that now seemed to be all over. Snow landed thick and fast around her, building up to a blinding blizzard. She smelt something rotten and damp that caused her to start gaging.
Beck swore then yelled, ‘we have to get off the road!’
‘But Nightstorm!’ Olwyan shouted back.
‘We don’t have a choice!’
He twisted to the left and jumped off the road, dragging Olwyan behind him. She cried out in pain, feeling her wrist sparking up in deep agony then her mouth was full of snow. She lay still, breathing deeply, tears running down her face. Her body throbbed and ached with the cold. She tried to move her left hand and felt sharp shot of pain. Coughing out snow, she cried then felt a hand wrapping around her month.
‘Be quiet,’ Beck hissed in her ear, ‘and kept still.’
She nodded, he took his hand away and she felt him throwing snow on top of her. She pulled up her hood and lay cheek down, trying to stay quiet. She forced on the trees, slope and road ahead of her trying to spot Nightstorm. Silently, she prayed the horse had gotten away and he was safe. She felt Beck patting the snow down around her then heard him began to bury himself.
Olwyan sniffed and felt her nose growing wet, but couldn’t move to wipe it. A growling drew her attention and she looked up to the road. A large creature was stood there against the gloom. She could make out huge bent shoulders covered with moss and sticks and a large rounded head with sprouting black hair and when it turned, she saw the face had squashed features. The nose was large and flat, the nostrils flaring quickly and the eyes were small and beady were scanning through the trees.
A maul mouth full of flat teeth was hanging half open, drool dripping from it as the remains of a Treomun tumbled out. She looked at the trunk arms and legs, seeing patches of pink flesh colour underneath all the green moss and plants that seemed to be growing on the body. The creature sniffed and with a low groan, ambled forward along the road, dragging half a tree trunk behind it.
Olwyan shut her eyes and let her face slip further into the snow. She breathed deeply and waited for Beck to dig her out. A few minutes went by and listened to her own breathing and the fading callings of the forest demons. A soft scrambling and movement close behind her, made her wonder if Beck was moving then she felt the snow shifting around her.
‘Olwyan? You must stay quiet, the forest ogre has good hearing as well as smell,’ Beck’s voice whispered from above her.
‘I think my wrist is broken,’ Olwyan muttered.
She felt Beck’s breath on her nose then cheek as he lightly pulled back the edge of her hood. He was laying over her through the snow and she could feel warm air coming off him. His rough fingers touched her left hand and moved it. She bit back a wave of pain and pressed her head into her hood to hide the tears. Beck’s fingers went down and moved her wrist. She sank her teeth into the fabric of her hood and moaned.
‘It is,’ Beck replied, ‘I’ll dig you out some more, then we must find Nightstorm.’
Olwyan murmured and felt him moving more of the snow. With her right hand she helped him then he pulled her upwards. The short sword slipped from her and fell back into the snow. Beck picked it up, sheathed it and attached it to his other hip.
‘You got the sheath?’ Olwyan asked.
Beck nodded and reached for her wrist, he looked at it then cast his eyes around.
‘There’s nothing I can use here. We need to get back to the road. This way, we will loop around first and avoid the ogre. He’ll turn when he losses the scent and come back here.’
‘You’ve faced one before?’ Olwyan asked.
Beck nodded, ‘they are almost un-killable. Here take my hand.’
Olwyan took it and together they walked through the fast falling snow and the trees.
To Be Continued…