Stench of Death

Their voyage into the unknown.

Salt stings the noses of the small band of survivors crossing a narrow channel of calm, crimson stained water. Smoke bellows from where they came and ash lightly falls through the heavy fog. The men cough and tremble, each of them are scared in some way. Captain Wayland sits at the helm of the ship that carries fifteen men including himself. Many of them are too wounded to sit, let alone stand. The ones that do sit and stand, endure the odor of their comrades’ burnt flesh rising up to their noses. Captain Wayland drifts back and forth as blood runs down his chin, he gently looks upward. The tight vein of water is enclosed by large walls of stone, sharpened like the spears of giants. The fog and smoke lay a blanket over the sky dripping ash through the air and into the men’s lounges. He wipes the blood from his jaw and looks down towards his soldiers that shiver and cry.

“Dragon’s breath”, says one of the soldiers curled up on the hard boards of the ship, “Dragon’s breath, that’s all it could be. Hellfire from a beast”, he says nervously, “No, it wasn’t a fucking dragon”, scoffed a older knight. “No I saw it fly over the river. It was there I swear it.”, the soldier responds half heartedly. “He's right what else could it have been”, yells a squire. “Bullshit.” shouts Wayland. He coughs when blood drips from his snout. “Catapults lit by fire, all it was.” he grunts.”They used the same at Ravenhold.” He slowly turns his head towards where they came. ”No beast did that, only gutless cunts.” Silence shrouds the small group as they ponder the previous morning, shouts and screams stir in their pounding heads.

Quiet rustling is all that's heard and then the wounded knight sits up, “A cunt, that’s what we all need. A nice warm bed, with a nice warm body next to us.” Some of the men snicker at this comment, while others fall quiet, thinking they may never feel the touch of a woman, ever again. The knight stands, “When we get back to Sarengrad, first thing I will do is grab a lovely redheaded maiden and sit her down. Then I’ll say to that woman that her flowing red hair smells like the lilacs of my family's farm. Tell her of when I would ride through those fields of lilacs, the smell overwhelming me with warmth, I would look towards the night sky and the just as her eyes do when I look into them. Tell her, that I need her that night and the nights that follow, to be with her till time ends.” He pauses and every soldier lays silent, waiting for the end.” Then the next night I’ll grab another and say the same.” The men in chuckle and laugh, amused at the tale. The knight slightly grins, pleased with how he lightened the wounded spirits of the young men. The laughter drifts into coughs though, and then back to silence.

More time passes as a thicker fog moves in. The knight stands and limps towards Captain Wayland, “Between us, veterans, what is the chances of our survival?”. Wayland stands motionless, looking at the knight with a grimace.The knight breathes in, “That’s what I thought.” He stumbles over to a barrel that sits next to the Captain. Hunching over it as pain contorts onto his face, he moves his hand over the wound on his side. The knight slides on top of the barrel, heavily breathing out the pain.

Time passes by, and the vein tightens, starting to curve towards the right. Wayland looks down towards the knight sitting left of him. “What is your name son?” he asks. “Felix.” responds the knight. “Family name?’ asks the Captain suspiciously. Felix leans forward, “None.” Wayland is amused by this, “A bastard knight.” he scoffs. “The bastard son of a bastard.” says Felix as he chuckles at his fate. “I grew up in house Browne though, my father was a cook there. The Brownes were always sweet to me, even though my father was a drunken asshole and I, a little shit. Darian Browne was the one who really raised me and Lilan, his youngest daughter, was the kindest. We used to play in the farmhouse all day, chasing the chickens, riding the horses across the field. We practiced with swords as well. If you can believe it, she was actually a better swordsman than me.” Felix takes a pause, recollecting the nice memories, then notices the annoyance on his Captain’s face. “Anyway, after my father passed from a fever, Darian took me in. He always wanted a son, he even trained.” The knight chuckles again. Wayland looks back out across the water. “I fought with Darian.” says Wayland, “At Ridgeway. He was the best swordsman there and he knew it too. Cocky, but when in battle, he was something else. A beast almost. “ Wayland coughs again. “ He took down four horsemen right in front of me..’ Wayland drifts into his own fine memories of Darian Browne. “He never was afraid of death was he?” says Felix as his posture changes automatically and he grits his teeth. “He died a fortnight ago.” Wayland shifts uncomfortably in his armour, off put by the news. “A fever took him.” says Felix looking down once more. Wayland then stands straight again. “He was an honorable, strong man...” Wayland coughs, “...and a sickness is what took him.” Felix wrenches forward, “Well he’s dead. Doesn't matter how he died. He’s dead, buried.” Wayland looks down and nods, then lifts his eyes out across the boat filled with broken men.

The waters start to clear of blood and the air starts to clear of ash. The Captain breathes in and a small grin comes across his face. He looks down the passageway of water almost seeing an opening to a horizon. Felix sees this as well and slowly he leans back against the rail. Men’s coughs are all that break the silence. Felix’s leg twitch nervously. “Anyone here, know of any tunes, to ease our sorrow?”, he shouts across the deck. The men still sit silent. “No one? No one knows not one sea shanty?”, Felix protests. “I know maybe one or two sir.”, says a lowly squire. “I can’t hear you speak up lad!”, says the knight as he shifts his position. The squire quickly turns to the bridge.”I said… I said, I may know of one sir.” he states again.”What’s your name boy?”, inquires Felix. “Jeremiah, sir”, responds the squire looking down at the floorboards. ”Well let us hear it then.” Felix encourages. The squire clears his throat and starts slowly.“Oh the times was hard and the wages low, leave her Johnny, leave her.”, softly sings Jeremiah pausing and looking to the knight for approval. Felix nods his head reassuring Jeremiah. “And the grub was bad and the gales did blow And it's time for us to leave her. Leave her Johnny leave her, oh leave her Johnny leave her.” Jeremiah continues to sing and as the chorus comes around again Felix stands. “The winds was bad and the voyage was long, now it’s time for us to leave her”, Jeremiah sings louder. Then Felix joins. “Oh leave her Johnny leave her, oh leave her Johnny leave her, for the voyage was long and the winds were bad leave her Johnny leave her.” Felix is now standing over the men as the squire and him finish the tune. Felix walks over to Jeremiah and clutches his wound again,”So how does it end?” he asks with a smile. Jeremiah reciprocates the happy tone. “Leave her Johnny leave her, leave her with a grin, for there’s a many worser we’ve sailed in, so leave her Johnny leave her”, Jeremiah then looks down, “And now it’s time to say goodbye, for the old pier head's a-drawing nigh, and it’s time for us to leave her.”Jeremiah concludes the tune and keeps his head low. Everyone is still then Felix laughs, “A very nice tune that is. Thank you son.” The knight clasped the squire’s shoulder. Then slowly Felix walks back towards the helm of the ship again. “He’s choking, he’s choking!” yells a solider from the front.

Felix twists his head back and Wayland yells his way,”Take the wheel!” Felix’s shock wears off at the command and Wayland pushes past him. He runs to the end of the boat tripping over some men and firmly handles the wheel. Running the opposite way, Wayland pushes others aside and kneels next to a convulsing soldier. The young man’s mouth was pooling with blood. Wayland sees this and hurriedly strips the man of his armor, as he does he feels a deep gash on the soldier’s left side and blood rushes onto the deck, he's already dead and Wayland knows this. He stops undoing the straps of the armor and the man’s eyes slowly glaze over. “Why did you stop! Why did you stop!”, yells a younger soldier to his captain. Wayland looks grim and the soldier quickly bends down and continues to take the armor off of the limp body. “Somebody help, somebody help him please!”, he yells at the others. They watch the man ripping off the steel of his fallen brother. Slowly each of them come out of the daze and some grab the frantic man off the ground. The young man slowly goes with them muttering to himself with a wild face. A body is thrown over the side of the ship and a few men comfort the grieving man sitting in front of them. Another two take buckets and filter out the bloody water from the stern of the ship. The wet and shaking soldiers snort the mucus back into their noses, while they wipe the tears and sweat from their contorted faces. The grey fog comes swiftly back and engulfs the ship of lost men.

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Stench of Death
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