The Least of Men, Part 4

Read previous parts here: 1
2
                                                      3

“Stop emptying your stomach. We’re not out of danger yet,” barked the servant of fire.

Badani straightened from his crouch. “How can you stand the smell?”

“I don’t.” The warrior looked away from the battle in the camp to the boy. “Now, walk.”

Badani complied. “Why are we circling the camp?” he asked, his eyes locked on the fighting. Packs of goblins mobbed valiant warriors. The screeches of the vile enemies drowned out most other sounds. Badani couldn’t find his father.

“There’s no way we’d survive the sands without a mount or a pathfinder. We have to hope that my brothers can fight off the goblins.” The servant threw a disgusted look at the prince. “I would be there helping them if it wasn’t for you.”

They continued their march around the camp, about a hundred paces out. The servant growled as one of his fellow warriors fell under a barrage of goblins. Another fell victim to a storm of arrows. The tents continued burning. “I should be there.”

Badani did not answer. He still couldn’t find his father.

“Prince. Where is your saber?”

“I don’t have it,” Badani whispered, then repeated himself as regally as he could. His voice cracked.

The servant frowned. “A man should never be without a weapon.”

“I know.”

They continued walking the hot sands. Goblins and servants of fire continued fighting. Falchions flashed in the desert sun and goblin claws dripped blood. The near-feral beasts cackled and howled as they rejoiced in every small victory. No combatant ever seemed to notice the pair circling the camp. As they rounded another edge of the camp, Badani spotted it. “Ama!” he shouted, leaping forward, sprinting through the heat.

The servant cursed and rushed after him, trying to catch up.

A single tent just outside of the camp burned. Flames devoured its roof. Black smoke poured into the sky, joining the trails from other canvas homes within the encampment.

“Ama!” Badani repeated, blinking to keep tears from clouding his vision as he continued to run. It was so close. He could feel the heat of the flames.

A large hand seized him from behind, throwing him to the ground. The servant of fire held his falchion in a guarded position, ready to strike. “Fool!”

“My mother’s tent!” Badani cried.

“It doesn’t matter. It is your duty to remain safe!” The servant tore his eyes from the camp to glare at his unwanted charge. “Your mother is dead! You cannot help her.”

“My mother’s tent!” Badani could not struggle out any other words.

The screech caused the servant to spin, his falchion raised. A goblin leapt at him from within the burning tent. The servant swung down in a single powerful stroke. The goblin lay dead, its dark blood bubbling out onto white sand.

Badani’s anger kept the smell from him. “It was in Ama’s tent!”

The servant grunted.

Two more goblins poked their heads out of the tent, their twisted gray faces glowering. A third crept from around a corner, its breath rasping.

“Prince, get behind me.”

“They’re defiling –“

“I do not care what they defile. It is my duty to protect you.” The servant’s eyes snapped back and forth between the three enemies. “I can fell a single goblin easily, but when they come in packs, they’re more tricky. Now get behind me.”

One of the goblins in the tent hissed, spraying a repulsive mist at Badani. The prince shook with rage. He didn’t care he was outnumbered. He didn’t care he’d never fought before. He didn’t care he was unarmed. They were in his mother’s tent. They had lit fire to that sacred place. They had waited within to trap any who might come to save the tent.

He screamed and jumped at the two in the doorway of his Ama’s tent, even as the flames crept ever closer to the ground.

The servant wrenched the boy away from waiting claws. He spun, hurling the prince away and into the sand.

The goblins jumped onto the warrior. One struck at his legs, two at his arms. The servant of fire hacked at the goblin that had latched onto a calf with its jaws. The other two drew blood on his chest and back. They crawled all over him, biting and clawing.

Badani struggled to stand, but his legs refused to obey him.

The servant grunted. He groaned. He never screamed.

The goblins hissed and rattled laughter at each other. The guard split one enemy in two, but the others had dug into the his flesh. They would not be dislodged.

The servant turned, locked eyes with Badani, and yelled, “Run!” He spun and rushed into the burning tent. The goblins screeched like owls from within the flames.

Badani panted as he watched his mother’s tent continue to burn. The servant and the goblins did not exit.

Four more goblins topped a nearby dune, cackling laughter. One spotted Badani and pointed. The other three nodded assent, and they started galloping down the hill on all fours.

Badani stood to flee. His knees shook. He had no weapons. No, he could not outrun them.

Fine then. He had wept like a woman when he saw his mother’s tent aflame. He had defied his duty and put himself at risk in a dishonorable way. He would face certain death with dignity. He took his stand, fists at his side, locking eyes at the charging beasts.

He was a man. He was Badani, son of Patriarch Kaden. No one would ever say otherwise.

As the goblins charged, the smell nearly overwhelmed Badani. He could see hate in the small fiends’ eyes. Sweat glistened on their hairless bodies as foreclaws and feet dug into the sand, flinging it behind them as the propelled themselves forward, faster, faster, toward their kill, toward their prey, who waited for them, defiant. Ready for death.

A silk-enshrouded man spun into view wielding two long, curved blades. He pivoted, swinging one blade up, catching the very tip at the edge of the first goblin’s jaw. A line of red followed the tracing of the blade and the beast collapsed.

Even as one blade swung up, the other slid down through the air, cutting across the path of a second enemy. It caught the goblin on the back of the head, slicing through flesh and bone.

The man finished his pivot, facing away from Badani. His two blades spread from his sides as he took a stance that invited attack. The remaining two goblins skidded to a halt, surveying their fallen allies. They sped away.

The man turned to appraise the boy. “Prince Badani, you are in grave danger. You will join me. I am Sword Dancer Arai. I have been sent to protect you. Had my dance not faltered, the horde would have been dead before I ever neared your camp. I beg your forgiveness for my incompetence.”

Badani sputtered.

“No matter. Now that I have found you, you will be safe. After the battle is done, we will reclaim what we can from your mother’s tent. Until then, stay with me. Now that I have found you, you will be safe.”

Badani could only nod.

Read Part 5 here.

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