Jacob's Ladder - Part 1

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Jac advanced on her. "Better at me than at you." And seeing that held no sway with her. "Or Milo, or Baya."

Catalin stopped her retreat when she reached Baya's side. The child gazed up at them both with an angel's face, a snotty nose, and incomprehension. "Here then, take it."

Jac forced his fingers to close about the leather-bound grip. They remembered that it had once burned him, though it had never been hot. The rust came from the years it had lain buried after he first took it. Even now memories seared through him and his hand spasmed, nearly dropping the sword. The feeling wasn't so different from times he had touched the wreckage that sometimes washed up on the cove beach after a great storm. Jac would hear faint echoes of the screams of sailors falling from the deck. Their cries always seemed to sound from where his fingertips touched the salt-stained wood. The sword did the same thing but where the boards of a wrecked ship might whisper the sword would roar.

Jac had been younger than his son, Milo, when war first found him. He had lived then in Granite Bend, a larger, older village closer to Renstown. The lord of Abervan fell to feuding with his neighbour as country lords are wont to do out on the fringes of civilisation. And in time the tide of their battles swept through Granite Bend where the Entwill scours its course across the bedrock.

The village folk hid as peasants do when their masters set to blood-letting over matters of ownership disguised as matters of honour. After several hours the fighting had been drawn away to the east, Abervan's riders harrying Gerrent spearmen and the foreign mercenaries hired to bolster their numbers. Jac's father had dragged him out to scavenge the battlefield before the Abervan warband returned. His father had always had a greedy streak and a tendency to reckless acts, neither of which Jac recognised until the man had been laid beneath the sod long enough to take the scales from a child's eyes. That day though Jac had followed him out among the slain thinking his father a hero.

The battle had been a particularly bloody one and nearly half a hundred men lay dead between the high pasture and the low. Jac remembered the stink of it now as he took the sword from Catalin.

There had been one man, a huge Arkasian in black iron armour, whose foes were heaped around him, few of their bodies in one piece. He lay pierced by many wounds but it was the spear that had pierced him just below his breastplate that would kill him first. The splintered end of its haft still jutted out from him. In one hand he held a greatsword that would have been two yards had it not been shattered. A smaller sword impaled the ground just beyond the reach of an outstretched hand whose fingers were darker than the mud.

Jac had been tugging at the sword though his father had told him to look for rings or coin. Somehow even amid that butchery, and the moans of those too wounded to crawl away, that child of seven summers had wanted to lift a blade. Without warning, the enormous mercenary heaved in a sucking breath as though he had broken the surface of a deep lake. He slung his head to the side and on seeing Jac an unexpected horror had filled his face. Immediately he rolled the other way, stopped only by the spear that still impaled him. With a roar he reached for his belt knife and began to drag himself toward Jac's father. Kennan Summer backed away rapidly, and to be fair, so did every other villager. But Kennan was the only one abandoning his son, and also the only one who tripped.

The Arkasian caught Kennan's ankle, hauled him closer, then thrust with his knife. Somehow he missed his mark, just opening a shallow cut along his victim's upper arm. Kennan screamed and flailed about, and in the confusion the mercenary's next stab found only earth.

Despite the multitude of weapons scattered within reach of Jac's father the man only struggled in blind terror, wholly unable to break the giant's grip. When he thought back on it Jac could never understand how so deadly a warrior could slash at a trapped peasant so many times, roaring vile insults, and leave only the shallowest of cuts. He struck perhaps seven blows before Jac managed to work the sword free of the ground. The weapon had seemed impossibly heavy but somehow Jac had lifted the thing and staggered forward with it, one hand on the hilt, the other supporting the blade as though it were a lance. He knew enough not to aim for the man' back-plate or the gleaming steel of his helm, and angled instead at fleeting glimpse of dark flesh between the two.

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