Clip 2 from Earthchild
New Age Dimensions Press
Three horses were hobbled, hidden by the rocky outcropping. The two riders had dismounted, and were examining the single-masted English carrack with a tatty square sail, a high projecting forecastle, and a jacob’s ladder. Though a motley crew of sailors was loading the ship with provisions, it rode high on the water. As they watched, a man dressed as a Scottish soldier led a tall, black-clad woman aboard. She was carrying a wimple.
“There she is,” Llewellyn said. “I wonder who that is with her.”
“I remember her well.” Yancy appraised with his connoisseur’s eye. “She is thinner. We’re lucky to have crossed paths with the abbess’s messenger on the way to Candlekirk.”
“Lucky?” Llewellyn shook his head. “It was a long ride. I’m exhausted. I was looking forward to going home.”
Yancy snorted, on the edge of mirth. “Lovebird.” At Llewellyn’s sharp look, he wisely changed the subject. “How large a crew would you say?”.
“Between ten and twenty,” Llewellyn fired back. “English crew. Hear the accents?” He cleared his throat, and when he spoke again, it was in the tones of the English aristocracy. “Always glad to see a fellow Englishman.”
Yancy shuddered at the all too genuine accent. “Do you think they’ll fight?”
Llewellyn shrugged, raising his tuagh-gatha in one hand, and slipping his dirk into his belt. “They don’t seem dressed for conflict. Nor too well-funded.”
“Close quarters for the battle axe,” Yancy said. “Want a bastardsword?”
“I’ll not deprive you, “ Llewellyn said. “I’ll find something.”
Yancy grimaced at the ship, then looked ashore, and counted a dozen sailors lingering around an open cask of ale on a supply wagon. “I hate ships.”
“I’ll board. Just keep them off the ship.”
“My lord.” Yancy bowed.
Llewellyn swept out and boldly climbed aboard. Yancy followed until he came to the narrow path the sailors had been following, drawing two bastardswords—one in each hand. He turned his back to the ship and crossed his arms over his chest, waiting.
The forecastle was deserted. Tools and supplies littered the deck. Llewellyn stepped over a burlap bag of potatoes, a mallet and a hatchet, and looked around.
“Hey there, who are you!” A young sailor nearly slammed into him. Llewellyn could smell the ale on his breath. He cracked him in the head with his fist. The sailor went down like a brick.
“Sweet dreams, lad,” Llewellyn said, stepping over him. Another young sailor emerged.
“Cap’n!” the mate hollered, stopping dead in his tracks and well away from Llewellyn. Llewellyn hid a smile. Was this crew all boys?
The captain appeared. He too was quite a young man, though a bit better dressed than his crew.
“Who goes there?” the mate hollered.
“Lad, I am not deaf.” Llewellyn commanded, “Captain, silence your crewman.”
“You’re no bloody Scot!” the captain gasped. The influence of that patrician pronunciation prevailed over the visual clues of the barbaric war axe and the Scottish attire.
“What are you doing here, sir?”
“Not sir, Captain. I am the Earl of Sanford.”
The captain suddenly looked even younger. At any minute, he might fall to his knees and kowtow. “Not a sir then, a Lordship. Lord Sanford. You’re not involved in this bloody business here, are you?”
“Do you have a name?”
“Wells, sir. My lord.” Young Captain Wells eyed the highland dress and the battle axe. “It looks like you know how to use that weapon. We don’t want any more trouble. We’ve got enough problems already with that barmy Norman and his goon.”
“I’m looking for the woman aboard.”
“Which one? The frog or the bogtrotter?” the captain asked .
But Llewellyn did not get to pursue that line of questioning. A mammoth of a man came up from below and shoved the captain aside.
“Hold off, Lynch!” Turning red in the face, Wells leapt to his feet.
“I’m not ane of your puny sailor lads.” Lynch laughed. “I have a job ta do.” He turned to face Llewellyn. “You must be the one the Norman was sae worried about.”
Lynch’s meaty bare arms were heavily scarred from prior encounters. There was, in fact, little of him that was not heavily muscular and scarred. He was an intimidating fellow.
“I see the Norman hired a mercenary,” Llewellyn said, his aristocratic tone not wavering. He noticed as more sailors—all young—came up from the bowels of the ship, they kept well away from the conflict. He held the tuagh-gatha very still. Waiting. He would have to be wary of this one, and keep his distance. It was rare for him to look up to a man.
The mercenary laughed. “Aping a Scot, Sassenach?” he said in border accents. “I cut my milk-teeth on the likes of ye.” He drew a sword, brandishing it. “Ye want the woman? Just try and take her.”
Llewellyn noted the fine edge and the etched fleur de lis on the mercenary’s blade. At least the reach of his battle axe gave him a little advantage. “Where did you steal that from?”
“From an Englishman like you.” Lynch laughed.
Llewellyn rolled lightly on the balls of his feet, waiting.
Lynch jabbed his sword at Llewellyn, laughing as Llewellyn jumped back. Llewellyn parried the next jabs easily with the axe in his left hand and the dagger in his right. Lynch jabbed tentatively a few more times, testing Llewellyn’s skills, making him jump out of the way. Each time Llewellyn actually engaged, he parried, angling the axe to knock the blow aside without taking the full brunt of force. The mercenary was quick and agile for his size.
“Had some practice, have ye, Sassenach?”
Then Lynch began fighting in earnest. The way Llewellyn anticipated Lynch’s blows, it was almost like a dance.
Lynch’s blood was up. He fought furiously, advancing across the deck with a relentless rush of blows that were not graceful, but were as powerful as they were lethal. Llewellyn parried few of these strikes, but retreated when he could, hoarding his strength. Even with his careful footwork, there were clashes when there was no avoiding catching the full brunt of a clout on his blade. The sheer force of the blows vibrated him to his bones. The drumbeat of his heart pounded in Llewellyn’s head as they fought, evenly matched. Sweat soaked his saffron shirt, and still he held off Lynch’s onslaught. Sooner or later, the man would tire.
“Coo, gov’ner,” one of the sailors breathed, “din’t know Earls could fight like that.”
Llewellyn looked around, noticing that the deck was lined with young English seamen passionately watching the fighting. He doubted if any of them were over twenty. He felt each eye on him, and every ounce of the weight of his blade. Beads of sweat dripped down into his eyes. Lynch looked like he had been caught in the rain and Llewellyn fared no better.
Lynch paused a moment, the breath whistling between his teeth. He wiped his brow. He smiled with the half of his mouth that was not ruined by a horrific scar.
“Frightened, Sassenach?” Lynch laughed when Llewellyn made no response.
“The Norman woman is not worth dying for,” Llewellyn said.
“Aye, she’s not. Mayhap t’other is.”
Lynch made a sharp, unexpected cut upwards, slicing into Llewellyn’s left arm. The blade was so sharp that Llewellyn scarcely felt the pain. But the sensation of his own hot blood running down his arm goaded him. It was time to end this thing.
Llewellyn parried, turning the point of his axe down so that it was vertical with the hilt at the top. When Lynch’s point just passed Llewellyn’s blade, Llewellyn moved his axe to the outside of his body so that Lynch’s point brushed past his body harmlessly. In that flash of an instant when they were standing so close, with his dirk, Llewellyn made a precise slash parallel to the jugular. He stepped away.
Lynch dropped his sword and swiped at the blood streaming down his neck. He grabbed his sword and staggered to his feet. He lumbered forward, grabbing the hatchet off the deck. The blade fell uselessly off the handle, and with a growl, Lynch slung the handle at Llewellyn, who knocked it away with his forearm. Lynch grabbed the mallet and swung it at the middle of Llewellyn’s chest. Llewellyn twisted backwards, but backed into the mainmast, trapped. The mallet caught him squarely on the left shoulder and took him down. The lowlander staggered, looking down, one hand holding the bloody gash in his neck, the other gripping the mallet. He raised his leg to stomp on Llewellyn’s shoulder, but Llewellyn swept Lynch’s other leg at the knee. Lynch went down like a rock.
Llewellyn heaved to his feet. Lynch did not. He was busy trying to staunch the blood flowing from his neck.
“Damn ye, Sassenach. Ye fight like a Highlander.”
“You fight like a Borderer,” Llewellyn responded in Gaelic. “Do you really want to die for their entertainment?” He picked up the mallet, stuck it in his belt, and turned to the captain.
“Captain Wells. The Norman woman is . . . ?”
Llewellyn started toward the ladder. He flexed his left arm. It hurt. A lot. But he could still move it. His arm was not completely useless, or so he told himself.
“My lord,” Captain Wells said, “the Norman man is in the forward hold. The one who hired him.” He jerked his thumb toward the mercenary, slumped against the fife rail around the mainmast.
“Who is this other woman?” Llewellyn asked slowly, turning from the ladder to the hatch. With the edge of his plaid, he wiped blood from the hilt of the tuagh-gatha.