Merida’s Quest

“Sometimes an image prompt is so fantastic that it draws the writer into a fantasy world. Come with me and lets battle with Merida!”

I wrote this poem in answer to the following prompts:
Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge – Picture Above by Marc Simonetti
Word of the Day — Magnanimous
Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie – Wordle — Gallant, Ear-Marked, Sterility, Fail, Stone, Plotting, Rehearsal, Punctuation, Ambiguity, 100, Back-Turned, Communion
FOWC with Fandango  — Bridge

Merida’s Quest

Merida felt her fur-bound boot disappear into the snow. She cursed the steepness of the valley she was hiking through. Hauling her foot free, she trudged on. The icy biting wind ripped and tore at her ginger hair like an invisible eagle. If not for her bear fur cloak; she knew the merciless eidolons of winter would have slain her with frostbite and hypothermia long before now.

“Merida! I beg you. Stop!”

Stopping she turned to face the black-bearded man ambling towards her. An injury beneath his fleece slacks was slowing him down.

Beyond him, almost obscured in the billowing snow were twenty more men and women. They were the last vestiges in Merida’s gallant legion. Even the sterility of the snow couldn’t hide the blood staining their cloaks and armour.

“Thank you, dear, Merida. I fear King Dai wasn’t plotting our victory against Emperor Thalass.”

“Then, pray-tell, Ionis. What was he plotting?” Merida drew a pig’s bladder from her waist and held it to her lips. It was either empty or the contents were frozen.

“I fear we have all been sent on a fool’s errand. King Dai has ear-marked us for death!”

“Why would our king do such a thing? Why would he send one hundred of his best warriors to their death?” Merida’s emerald eyes flashed with annoyance.

Above her, the ashen clouds of snow parted revealing the twin, grey towers of Drogoth. The entryway to the land of Thalass. Each tower dominated the harsh rocky side of the mountain pass. They reached into the sky like demonic gods stood proud against the backdrop of snow-covered peaks.

The heavy snowfall had been the only reason Merida’s legion had made it past towers this day.

“There is no ambiguity in this. The subterfuge is as clear as a stone is a stone. We number twenty now. The first thirty abandon us before we reached the towers. Those barbaric Thalassian Thralls cut down fifty of us from afar with their arrows,” Ionis sucked in a lungful of frozen air and coughed. Dropping to a knee he dyed the snow red with blood from his lungs. “How the rest of us can still walk is a miracle.”   

“Ionis! What’s wrong?”

“The frostbite attacks my lungs. I fear we’ll all be dead by sunrise.” Ionis staggered to his feet again.

“We must march on to the forests. There we can warm by the fire, regain our strength and march on to victory,” Merida curled her fingers around the hilt of her sword. How she longed to plunge it deep into the abdomen of Emperor Thalass.

“No! I implore you. We must find a way through the mountains and make our retreat while we still breathe. Death will soon claim us all if we press forward.” Ionis flinched as a long arrow slammed into the snow at his feet as if adding punctuation to his mortal words. The shaft, fletching’s and nock were as black as obsidian.  

Merida cursed the evil weapon. She abandoned the bladder and raised a gilt aurochs’ horn. Blowing two blasts she signalled the alarm. “Warriors, run! Split now. We regroup and take cover in the woods two miles ahead! This is no rehearsal — run for your lives!”

The remaining members of the legion increased their pace and forged on for the summit in the deep snow.

Above them, the sky turned black with arrows. The thralls in the towers had found them again.

Merida heard cries of pain as she dug in and hauled herself out of the valley of Drogoth. Below her in the next valley was the expansive pine barrens. The evergreens meant resources, shelter and the only hope of survival.

Ionis cried out and fell behind her.

Merida dropped by his side. Without stopping to check him, she curled her strong arms around his body and hauled him over her shoulders. “I’ve already lost one friend. I’ll not lose another this night!” she vowed as flaming arrows began slamming down around her. Each fizzing as the flames were extinguished by the snow.

For over an hour, Merida trudged on with Ionis over her shoulders until she was deep in the woods. By chance, she came upon a cave and took shelter. She sent up a signal for the other legionnaires and then kindled a fire to recover. The respite was uneasy but any form of rest was good.

Time moved slowly as the afternoon turned into evening. It seemed as if a snail could run circles around the sundial faster than the shadows today.

“It’s past midnight, we’re down to thirteen men and women, now,” Ionis noted. The flickering light of the fire picked up the drying blood around an arrow wound in his calf.

“What course of action do you suggest?” Merida asked from her position leaning against the cave wall. A vantage point where she could see the dark forest well. She hoped against all hope that more members of her legion would emerge from the trees as the night wore on. Although, instinct told her none would.

“We must take communion with the gods. Only, they can save us, now,” said a woman called Gwildr. A fine archer with a braid of rusty hair, she sat sharpening arrows with a carborundum stone.

With her back turned to her companions, Merida hid a scoff of fury. “I feel the gods have made their feelings about us quite clear. They appear more than happy to watch us die in this frozen hell.”

“The gods will always be magnanimous to those who deserve it. For everyone else the fate of desolation,” said a new voice, deep and broken with tones of evil.

Merida took up a fighting stance and drew her mighty thegn sword. “Show yourself and prepare for your journey to the underworld!”

“Ha-ha-ha! Come now, Merida. Surely you don’t think you’re worthy of killing me.” Fifty wraith-like men in black armour and cloaks emerged from the woods. In their midst stood a man who seemed twice as tall as everyone else. His armour shimmered like blackened gold. “Surrender and your head may remain on your shoulders.”

“Emperor Thalass. It seems we have a discourse. You see, I will never surrender to one as vile as you. I bear an alternative proposition.”

Thalass came closer, his soldiers fanning around him with their bows aimed at the cave mouth.  “The forest floor is yours. Make your proposition.”

“The battleground is no place for cowards. I challenge you to a fight to the death. If I win my legion gain safe passage out of your festering country,” Merida stepped forward and drew her sword from its scabbard.

“If you die?”

“My legion is yours,” Merida made a spiralling signal behind her so only Ionis could see. “What say you?”

“Thralls, clear the snow and make a fire in the centre. Do not touch anyone unless I say.” Thalass shed his cloak and drew his demonic kris. The weapon shone along its waving blade. The keen edge curving like the flow of blood it would draw at the slightest touch. “I accept, Merida. I’m going to enjoy this.”

Soon the fire was stoked. Glowing embers mixed with falling snow on the billowing air.

  “I see you have ten men and women left. Now, your proposition for a fight to the death makes perfect sense. We would have cut you all down without breaking a sweat!” Thalass said with a sneer. “We still might!”

“But you are an honourable emperor are you not?” Merida replied as she turned her sword about her with well-practised flexes of her muscles.

The emperor nodded, “And yet, I am impatient for your blood. Now fight!” his kris slashed through cold air as he lunged in a circle around her.

Merida fainted away and rolled beneath the blade. Regaining her feet, she parried a downward thrust.

The two became almost a blur as the cave mouth echoed with the sound of swords in the heat of combat.

“You fight well,” Thalass remarked through a mask of sweat. Drawing a dagger, he began battling with both hands.

Merida nodded as she dodged away. She ran at the tree, kicked off the trunk and slammed her boot into the emperor’s oncoming face. The feeling of the bridge nose fracturing filled her with glee as she rolled back to her feet.

Beyond the flames, Ionis and his chosen assassins struck.

Three of the emperor’s men had hands clamped over their mouths as daggers were thrust deep into their spines.

“Rotten trick!” Thalass roared as he rose to his feet. His bloodied face left him looking demented as he charges at his opponent without noticing his men dropping in the shadows.

Merida rolled with his attack.

The dagger sliced through her leather armour. She held in the scream as it cut a jagged gash across her bicep.

“Mmm, that felt good!” Thalass chuckled.

Behind him, three more men collapsed to the ground.

Merida dropped to a knee holding her arm. She flipped him off and beckoned him to attack again.

Thalass whirled the waving edges of his kris through the air. The sword sang as if baying for more skin to carve.

If it wasn’t his remaining men were growing more bloodthirsty by the second.

With blood oozing through her fingers, Merida focused on the emperor.

He lunged with a furious step.

Merida waited.

“Time to die!” The Kris cut straight toward her neck.

Merida waited.

Thalass braced for impact as the blade turned yellow in the firelight.

Merida snapped into a forward roll. Several ginger hairs leapt from her head as she spun past him with a violent slash of her sword.

The emperor’s dagger landed in the fire along with his hand; amputated at the wrist.

“Argh! You’ll die for that!” Thalass whirled in a storm of blood and blade. The kris’s razor edge crashing into leather.

Merida felt it bite into her chest plate and jumped away. It was then an arrow slammed into her back. She turned in time to see Ionis behead the responsible thrall.

Heavy footsteps betrayed the emperor’s onrushing footsteps.

Merida thrust her thegn sword under her arm and buried it deep into his stomach. The Kris lanced out from her ribs as she fell at the edge of the fire.

“Merida! No!” Ionis screamed as the last of the thralls collapsed into a dead heap. “Merida!”

“M-my battle is over, dear -I —Ionis!” she managed as her tears mixed with the blood pooling around her mouth.

“No! Don’t die!” Ionis grabbed her shaking hand. “Gwidr, come. Help me save her!”

“I’m h-headed — to the under—world, now. I —I set you free. Now, return home — make those mag-nificent wood carvings — you always wanted to, argh!” Merida saw the darkness creeping in at the edges of her vision. Coldness gripped her as her life essence flowed into the ground beneath her broken body.

“I love you, Merida. I’ll see you again on the eternal plains.” Ionis kissed her forehead.

“I love —” Merida saw a flash of light. Overtaken by the sensation of floating in an aura of white light, she knew she had died a hero.”

The End

Thanks for reading my friends.

There’s more in the Poetry CornerPoetry Nook, and the Short Story Collection

Have a great day!

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