Chapter Five – Ben

After a moments hesitation Ben caught his breath and quickly moved past Orin back up the path. He patted him on the shoulder as he went by and Orin quickly dropped in behind them. They moved with haste, trying to keep low, hoping that they would not be spotted.

There was about two hundred yards left in this part of the path before it switched back to another long stretch of trail heading further up the side of the hill.

Ben led his friend as fast as he dared, focusing on the bend in the trail ahead. When they finally reached it  he stopped and looked around. First below, but he couldn’t make out the party coming up but knew they must still be coming. Checking back above, the savages heading down the path had just rounded the last of the switch backs and were heading toward them at a leisurely pace. Ben noticed that two of them had something strung up on a branch between them, and it was still moving.

Thankful that they had not been spotted Ben headed off the side of the path and into the rocky brambles that made up the side of the hill. Orin followed behind him, silent for a change, his brow furrowed.

They made it about forty yards off the trail when Ben stopped behind a thick clump of sharp brambles. Orin settled in behind him, trying to crawl under the bushes completely out of site. Ben nocked an arrow and peered back through the rocks and undergrowth toward the path. They were in a precarious position, he knew, glancing around. Climbing up or down from here would be slow and difficult at best. The only was back to the trail was the way they came in, so they were effectively trapped.

He could barely make out the party heading down, they would be at the turn in just a couple more minutes. He took a deep, silent breath, thankful that they had not been spotted.

When the wild folk were at the bend they turned and kept heading down the trail. Ben was as close to them as he had every been and could see up close, even in the cold north many of them seemed to wear little clothing. They were very hairy, most had long, unwashed knotted hair, the men seemed to have their hair tied back while the women’s hair flowed around their heads. They all had tattoos over whatever skin Ben could see, including their faces. Ben noticed for the first time that many of them had piercings as well. Bone fragments pierced their ears, noses, eyebrows, lips and one particularly large savage that was carrying their catch had his dimpled cheeks pierced on both sides. He turned in Ben’s direction and Ben slunk back, his breath catching, but the large man continued on. Ben saw that it was a mountain goat they had caught, it was still bleating in terror and Ben shuddered at it’s fate. He had heard that the flesh eaters would keep their prey alive as long as possible as they devoured raw chunks of flesh and drank blood from it.

They moved away and Ben counted slowly to a hundred as his father had taught him. Hopefully now they were far enough away and Orin and he could escape. He looked down at his friend and saw him cowering behind the thick brambles. Ben tried to smile to reassure him but he wasn’t sure if the message came across.

“Come on, should be all clear now,” he said.

Orin got to his feet slowly and they began to carefully and as quietly as possible move back to the path.

A loud shout erupted from further down the path and Orin dropped immediately. Ben quickly dropped to a knee as well as he brought up his horn wood bow and half drew his arrow.

They yelling continued, both male and female. Ben shifted as much as he dared and was just able to make out the fracas that was breaking out on the trail. Both of the parties had met below them and they seemed not to be getting along.

The argument continued, shifting from one savage to another and then exploding into a general war of words. Ben could make out some of what they were saying but did not know the language, although, he thought, some of the expletives sounded very familiar.

Finally a large female and male came together and began to pummel each other. They wrestled each other to the dirt as the rest continued to shout at them at each other. After a moment the large male with the pierced cheeks handed his half of the branch holding the bleating goat to another and approached they fight.

Without a word he picked the female up from on top of the male, lifting her off the ground by her hair and then proceeded to punch her, almost nonchalantly. He punched her once, twice and finally a third time directly in the face, despite her attempt to stop him with kicks and blows.  The third punch finally slumped her and he tossed her down.

Everything became silent and the large male looked around for a minute and then just walked through the rest of the savages who parted before him. A general murmur of conversation began and all of the gathered wild folk followed him down the path, leaving the female crumpled by the side of the path.

Once they were turned and headed away Ben tapped Orin again and they hurried the rest of the way back to the path. As soon as they were out of the brush they moved quickly again, anxious to be away from here. Ben kept looking back and below but there wasn’t any indication that they had been seen.

When they were twenty five yards or so from the final turn that would take them to the top of the ridge a pair of flesh eaters making the turn from above appeared in front of them.

All four people stopped and considered each other in shock. But the moment passed quickly and the two wild folk growled simultaneously and charged.

Ben raised his bow and shot on pure reflex. His heavy, cloth yard arrow took one of the savages high in the chest. She stopped for a moment, falling a couple of steps behind her companion before continuing her charge. Ben drew another arrow from his quiver deliberately, fitted it to his bow, brought it up, pulled, hesitating for a moment and fired as the female savage closed to within ten yards.

The second arrow took her in the chest as well penetrating all the way to the feathers and this time she dropped heavily onto the path.

Orin was not so lucky, he had been unable to act and the other flesh eater was on him, swinging a heavy club savagely. As he closed in his growl got louder and louder and just as he was about to swing Orin was finally able to act and simply dove at his legs, tackling him to dirt.

Ben dropped his bow and drew his long dagger from his boot. The savage had dropped his club but was raining blows down on Orin’s back as he just clung to his legs.

In two steps Ben closed the distance, he paused for just a moment, looking for an opening and when the savage raised his arm to hit Orin again Ben plunged the dagger deep into his lower back. The blade was very sharp and the savage didn’t have any armor on. Ben shuddered as it slid in easily and deeply.

They wild man gasped and turned, looking at Ben with wild, open eyes. He tried to lurch at Ben which caused Ben to step back, pulling out his dagger and the savage screamed and slumped to the path.

“Hurry!” Ben said grabbing is bow without putting away his dripping dagger. Orin gained his feet and looked around. His eye’s were as wide as Ben had ever seen them and his mouth formed a perfect O.

Ben grabbed him and pulled him away. Orin stumbled looking back at the dead woman and writhing male savage.

“They might have heard us,” Ben exclaimed, trying to urge Orin away. “Come on.”

Orin looked at Ben and seemed to regain his composure. He nodded and Ben nodded once in reply and then they both turned and sprinted up the final leg of the trail and out of the valley.

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