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The Price of Freedom, Chapter 3: Blood

Aefion sauntered nonchalantly into the satyrs’ lair and seated himself at one of the tables. The single satyr already sitting at the table ignored him, his eyes fixed on the challenge being fought.

The two combatants were fairly equally matched in terms of size and build. However, one of them was clearer older, and Aefion assumed this was the current chief. A shaggy mane of dark grey hair hung down around the creature’s shoulders and his movements were slightly slower. He wore crude armour of leather and bronze, a riot of talismans and amulets fastened on a string around his neck. Amongst them Aefion spotted a miniature drinking horn: the symbol of the satyr chief.

The young challenger had sharper eyes and quicker reactions. Like most of the satyrs his torso was bare, but rippled with lean strength his superior lacked. A strange, flickering blue rune had been carved into each of his horns.

It wasn’t long before the youth began to gain the upper hand. Exchanging blows with the hafts of their wooden spears, they battled furiously across the cavern. Tables and chairs were knocked over, food was scattered and wine was spilled but the satyrs were too caught up in the excitement to really notice.

Suddenly the two satyrs leapt atop a nearby table. A goblet was knocked to the floor as the younger satyr slammed his spear haft into his opponent’s face. Stunned momentarily, the elder staggered back. But in his moment of pause his eyes alighted on the elf. He hesitated; spear frozen and that gave the youth a chance to strike. Reversing the spear with a flourish, he plunged its bronze head into his foe’s chest. With a grunt of pain, the former chief was thrown backwards to land with a back-breaking crunch on the rocky floor. Then, spinning to face Aefion, the challenger pointed his spear at the elf, an eyebrow raised questioningly.

‘And what would a tree elf be doing in the Great Hall of the Night Thorns?’

Silence descended like a death shroud and all the satyrs turned their attention towards Aefion. Calmly, Aefion stood, pushing the spear away and ascending onto the table to face the young satyr. When the challenger tried to bring the spear point back to Aefion’s chest he grabbed the haft, twisted the weapon out of the satyr’s grasp and turned it on its owner.

‘I am Aefion Bloodclaw, of the Eldenians. And let it be clear that I am not here to disturb your customs. I am looking to pass through your caves. I believe you have kidnapped the princess Cassandra.’

‘And what if we have?’ The young satyr sneered. ‘What are you going to do about it?’

In one fluid motion, Aefion spun and kicked the legs out from beneath the satyr, bringing him crashing down. He twirled the spear and touched its razor sharp tip to the satyr’s throat.

‘If my assumptions are correct, you have just won a challenge against the chief of your tribe. That makes you the new chief. I’d say lying on your back at the mercy of a stranger isn’t a very good start to your reign.’

The atmosphere was tense, and all eyes turned to the new satyr chief. He snarled; his eyes like pools of ice. But after a moment he raised a hand in submission.

‘Very well, elfling. We, the Night Thorns, did kidnap Cassandra. But we were well paid. You should know of the Black Satyr way.’

Aefion reflected on the origins and current ways of the Black Satyrs. Recently, in the final stages of the Fifth Age, a group of satyrs had drunk wine made from grapes tainted with demonic energy. Over many weeks their appearance had darkened, their eyes changing to an icy blue and their horns became gnarled and twisted. Also, they soon developed an unhealthy bloodlust as the darker side of their natures warred for control. Realizing what had happened to them, the satyrs departed into self-imposed exile. Some chose to fight against the Tainted in vengeance whilst others chose the life of wandering mercenaries. It seemed that these Night Thorn satyrs had chosen the latter.

‘Who hired you?’ It was a rhetorical question. Aefion already knew the answer.

‘It was a human,’ the satyr spat as if saying the word befouled his mouth. The elf didn’t respond, so he continued. ‘Grey hair, tall.’

‘And where is the princess being held?’ The peridot of Aefion’s burning eyes clashed with the satyr’s own.

’I’ve told you enough, elfling.’ Nevertheless, the chief’s gaze had all ready betrayed him. He struggled to get up, only to stop short of stabbing himself on the unmoving spear tip.

Following the satyr’s gaze, Aefion noted the cave mouth under the snake statue. Giving a small nod, he withdrew the spear and stood back, throwing the weapon to the chief as he regained his feet. The chief caught it deftly before glancing around at his tribe. His eyes sparkling, he motioned and Aefion’s path was cut off.

‘Well, as your new sovereign, my first order is kill the elfling!’

Suddenly Aefion found himself surrounded by a circle of bristling spear tips.

’Don’t be a fool. What is your name, satyr?’

’It’s Runehorn. I am now your master in all things, unless you’d rather die.’

‘Well, Runehorn, I think I’d rather you go take a wash in a nearby lake.’ Aefion wrinkled his nose at the stench of the satyrs’ sweaty bodies.

‘What?’ Runehorn narrowed his eyes. ‘Run him through!’

As one, the satyrs lunged forwards. Simultaneously, Aefion leapt high into the air. Clearing the circle, he smiled grimly as his foes promptly impaled themselves on their fellows’ weapons. Whipping his sword from its scabbard, he neatly parted a satyr’s head from its shoulders with a spray of blood before landing squarely on his feet near the serpent cave entrance. The bloody head bounced and rolled across the floor, leaving a messy trail behind it. Runehorn himself had made a narrow escape.

‘After him! Kill the elfling!’

The remaining satyrs surged forwards, roaring wordlessly. With his back to the small set of steps leading up to the cave mouth, Aefion adopted a fighting stance and intercepted the first satyr’s attack. His sword whistled as it sliced through the beast’s neck. A gout of blood fountained and he dodged backwards, avoiding the filth. Quickly, he raised his blade to parry the next. Two piggish, blue eyes stared at him with a malicious gleam. A diagonal cut brought his foe down. As the greater numbers of the satyrs was brought to bear, he backpedalled up the steps. Parrying and slashing arteries, stabbing vulnerable spots and slicing legs to bring his opponents down, Aefion fought with courage, and with passion. Many of the Elde were formidable warriors, used to fighting in the defence of the Treevyllas against marauding Harpy raiders. Aefion was no exception, and had insisted on the training as soon as he had come of age. Soon a dozen or so satyr bodies began clogging up the steps.

‘Out of the way,’ he heard Runehorn shouting. ‘I want him for myself!’

‘I think I’ll be the one to kill you,’ a satyr hissed as it slashed at Aefion wildly. Battering aside the flimsy spear with a backhanded blow, Aefion lunged and his sword impaled the foe. Placing his boot on the satyr’s chest, he pulled the weapon free as the corpse rolled backwards. He retreated another step as more satyrs piled up the steps towards him.

‘Time to die, elfling!’ Another satyr shrieked. Aefion grinned and spun his blade, bringing it down on the satyr’s face. The monster’s leer was split vertically as blood spurted and the satyr was pushed aside roughly.

‘Let me get at him!’

‘Move aside, he’s mine!’

‘The elfling dies by my hand!’

Aefion raised an eyebrow, fending off the spears of the enemy as best he could. He cut down another satyr with a horizontal cut to the chest, splashing the steps with blood.

‘Patience, you can’t all kill me at once!’

He swung his sword in a figure of eight, deflecting a satyr’s attack before raising his weapon over his head. As the satyr made to strike another blow it died under his flashing blade.

Without warning, an arrow came sailing over the heads of the satyrs and grazed his left arm before clattering against the wall behind him. Jolted back slightly by the unexpected attack, Aefion roared and leapt forwards swishing his blade at the satyrs’ heads in a huge arc. This made them jump back momentarily, and in the brief second of respite, he looked past them to where an archer was standing on a rocky shelf, a wooden hunting bow grasped in his claws. The satyr was already notching another bone-tipped arrow to his bowstring. With one swift movement, the elf brought his knife up from its sheath and hurled it into the archer’s throat with pinpoint accuracy. But Runehorn was shouting orders, and more archers were lining up, ready to fire. This wasn’t good, Aefion thought. He was outnumbered, and if they were going to start shooting as well, he didn’t stand much of a chance. He couldn’t switch to his vambraces and engage in a fire fight because he had the spear-wielders to deal with. It was time to withdraw.

’It’s been fun,’ he yelled, as his foes closed upon him again, raising their spears simultaneously to strike. He passed beneath the stone serpent into the next chamber and, dropping his sword, he aimed his vambraces up at the entrance. With a flash of crimson, two bright red arrows sped upwards and demolished the top of the doorway. There was an explosion of dust and rock and with a crash the statue toppled down, bringing a small avalanche with it. Within seconds all light was blocked out as the cave mouth was filled in and Aefion was coughing madly in the resulting cloud of dust.

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