The clangor and clash of battle gave way to the moaning, sobbing and gasping of men in extremis, and the plaintive squealing of a fine Hyborian warhorse in agony. The captured mules stood indifferently, flicking their ears around and switching their tails against the flies that were already gathering on the dead and wounded. The captured horses stamped and nickered, seeking reassurance. Three survivors loitered with the air of victors around the wagon. A youngster approached them at a trot, out of the trees not far away, somewhat weighed down with spare equipment and tools.
“That was amazing! When the knights started galloping and galloping, I thought you were all dead!”
Darius finished wiping blood off his face. Beside him, Theodora re-tied her hair: it had come undone in her berserk frenzy. Color had returned to her cheeks: she looked much the better for it. Hod Hewson, who had no interest in his own appearance, had pushed the driver’s body off the wagon and was sitting admiring her: when she wasn’t venting her rage on all mankind, Theodora really was a striking figure, with her height, dark hair and fine dark eyes. You Bossonian bumpkin, Darius thought, you don’t have the guts to handle her waking nightmares month after month.
“Aren’t you supposed to be hiding in the forest, guarding our camp, Zekias?” Darius asked. Zekias blushed guiltily, edged around the swathe of blood, and tried not to look at the hideous pile of dead and dying:
“Uh, sure thing, Mr. Darius sir! Only, I wanted to make sure anyone who needed water or medicine or stitching could get it straight away! And see: Kuruk is over there, making sure the other Hyrkanians don’t kill us!”
“All right, suppose you bring that gear to Friar Edric then… he’s over yonder, still checking on Vorel, I think.”
Darius studied the knot of five Hyrkanian riders narrowly as the lad scampered away, kit and costrels bouncing at his side. Not that he knew anything about Hyrkanians, but it looked to him as though they weren’t happy. Some were pointing south and gesturing heatedly.
“Heads up, dog-brother and dog-sister! Could be our allies want to re-negotiate!”
The lad Zekias Miclas headed away from the scene of devastation, wading into the long grass, now much beaten down in parts. Behind him, the horse suddenly stopped screaming: someone had put it out of its misery. His toe hit something that clanged and rolled a little in the grass. Stooping down, he groped around through the tough grass stems, and grasped a familiar-feeling steel object, and lofted the helm to study it with a professional eye. A heavy sword had swung at the back of the helm, caving it in. The metal was so buckled and fractured that nothing short of a complete strip-down and re-forge would do. Zekias pictured what must have happened to the head beneath the helm, and winced. He wasn’t so sure he wanted to find the Friar now!