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26
Shield Man

Written for Day Two of B2MEM 2009. The prompt was either the most tedious duty you'd ever done or the most danger you had ever faced. I chose the latter, for Andrahar.


~~~

He got through my guard! Andrahar thought in astonishment as he stared at the snarling Corsair captain. The affront almost bit more deeply than did the blade, it had been so long since that had happened and the blade had bitten deep, tearing a huge gash down the outside of his thigh. Not the great artery, and quick death, but bad enough. He could already feel the blood soaking his breeches, far too quickly. The captain was too formidable for him to turn his attention away, but the corners of his vision showed him that the men of the Olwen were hard-pressed, the deck of the Corsair ship a seething mass of conflict, with still more Haradrim pouring up from below decks. Imrahil was at his left elbow, fighting like a fiend.

"Die like the dog you are, traitor!" the captain growled in Haradric, certain now of his success. Andrahar grinned wolfishly in response, and said nothing, for truly there was nothing to say when confronting his former countrymen, and it would only have taken breath and energy he needed for the fight.

Sherhaz school, it looks like. Well try this. An ornate circular parry, then suddenly Nightshade was through the captain's guard, the incredible temper of the blade punching straight through his breastplate and into his heart. Relief at the man's defeat warred with fear at how fast his strength was leaving him. First blood is not always last standing, captain, though you may just take me with you yet!

"Stay close, Imri," he muttered aloud as he engaged his next opponent, and somehow in all the cacophony the young Prince heard him.

"Andra! Are you hurt?"

"Yes."

"How bad?"

"Bad enough."

"You were right, Andra, I've bitten off more than I can chew." He could hear the regret and chagrin in Imrahil's voice. Andrahar had counseled against this attack, but had been overruled. "Let me see if I can get you out of here."

They each downed their men, gaining a few precious seconds to survey the situation. It was just enough to see that they were totally cut off from escape. To say "I told you so" seemed a bit pointless, given the look of horrified realization on Imrahil's face.

Instead, Andrahar met his oath-brother's eyes and said mildly, "Well, that simplifies matters. Forward it is." I must kill as many as I can before I go down. Then perhaps Imri may yet have a chance to escape. They rejoined the battle.

He killed three more men before the chill weakness of blood loss began to creep over his body, the haze to cloud his vision. Fear of failure caused him to redouble his efforts, his blood pouring even more swiftly. There are still too many standing! He managed to kill two more. Fortunately there were no other warriors the equal of the captain, whose death demoralized his crew. The Corsairs actually began to fall back before the Dol Amroth warriors. Andrahar's leg dragged, hampering him as he struggled to stay in his place at Imrahil's side. Three more men fell before him, but it was not enough, never enough, and his movements became more and more leaden and slow as his vision began to darken. Finally, he thrust Nightshade into a man's belly with a desperate effort, only to lose his grip upon the blade, his hand gone numb and cold. He felt himself falling, and found himself on his belly upon the deck, cheek laid against blood-soaked wood. So this is how it ends...

"ANDRA!" came the cry from above him. No, not a cry, more the snarl of an enraged beast. A boot came into his dimming field of vision, as Imrahil straddled his body, and blood dripped down upon him from the foes his Prince was dispatching, falling upon him like warm, red flower petals, joining his own that was pooling beneath him. That's my job! the thought came to him, almost funny it seemed. Hard upon its heels came the more sobering one. I have failed you, my lord. They are still coming! The sense of failure and impotence followed him into the darkness.

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