5: Blood And Smoke

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Jared put an arrow through the eye of the first Marmack to reach the gates. He made the shot despite an odd angle: he was positioned a few dozen feet down the wall east of the gates, aiming almost horizontally. The main archers' group was deployed to the western side, where Elder Betenson thought the largest force would come from. The walls were weakest there, where the terrain was uneven, and from that side they had the clearest approach to the gates.

The Marmacks had appeared with the sun, and Bountiful's fighting men had responded with impressive speed. Elder Betenson's drills were showing their value today.

Depending on how you looked at it, the Elders had ordered him to the eastern wall either because they wanted to keep him out of the worst of the action or because they trusted him to pick his own shots. Jared was one of the most talented of the archers of Bountiful, but he was also one of the youngest. It didn't really matter; he preferred to choose his own targets anyway. Firing volley after volley with two dozen or so other men from below the walls was frustrating in comparison.

Elder Betenson called out for the first volley a moment later, and the archers released a rain of projectiles with a harmonious thrum. They were angled high, and well, and a few seconds later they fell amongst the onrushing Marmack attack party to a chorus of screams that made Jared want to sing a hymn.

He didn't rebuke himself for taking pleasure from the battle; there was time enough for that when it was over. He had never killed a man before he and Ever got caught on Golden Neck. The shame and fear he had felt hours later—only last night, which was difficult to imagine now—were still sharp in his memory, but now, just as then, he felt only the need to draw his bow.

Firing a few more shots over the edge of the wall into the first rush, Jared scuttled farther away from the battle and scanned the woods to the east.

Bountiful's rampart was a stout wooden affair, built from hardwood logs planted vertically into the ground and joined together with tar and heavy iron spikes. The walkway that ran along the top of it was just wide enough for the men that manned it to be able to fight without fear of falling off the back. The parapet was chest-high and crenellated. It was from these convenient notches between the tarred logs that Jared aimed his bow. The wall was over twenty feet high, with a hundred yards of cleared ground on the landward sides. To the Marmacks, whose own settlements were usually unfortified or at best surrounded by heaps of rubble, it was a formidable barrier.

Or so Jared told himself, if only to keep his mind on what he was doing. The Marmack tribe were unsophisticated warriors. Most of them were brawlers and berserkers rather than real fighting men. They charged into the fray wielding whatever rusty piece of sharpened metal they could scavenge, screaming war cries that chilled the blood until you realized that half of them were drunk on the white liquor they distilled from wood and roots and corn and the other half were too stupid to do more than slash at the first man who presented himself. They were frightening, and loud, and fearsome, but they were unorganized and valued brute strength over precision.

Nonetheless, they had the numbers. The numbers and enough fear of whoever leads them to storm our walls when they could be hunting easier prey. The fact that they had attacked Bountiful at all was worrisome. The community had withstood worse raids than this one, but not for many years. If the Marmacks were getting this desperate, they had bigger problems than one raid on the walls.

Movement at the edge of the forest caught Jared's eye and he scanned the treeline again. Nothing moved. The Marmacks' main force numbered around fifty men, aside from a few loners who hurling rocks and shooting small arrows from weak bows at isolated parts of the wall, hoping, no doubt, to distract the defenders away from the gates. A larger force than they'd seen in a long time, but nowhere near as large as the one that had attacked the community and breached the walls when he was only a boy. Ever's parents had been killed during that raid, Jared remembered. He wondered where she was, and if she was all right.

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