Part 5: The Forgotten
From the makeshift shelter, it was difficult to tell if the howling in the mountains was a hungry pack of wolves or just the wind. A dead horse lay half-buried in the snow, its legs twisted at odd angles and its frozen eyes black and lifeless.
Three shivering soldiers sat hunched beneath a hill of snow, which they’d gathered up with calloused, cold fingers. From the Giants’ side, it looked like just another mound of snow on the white landscape. They hoped.
James growled in pain, and tried to conceal it by biting down hard on his leather glove. The soldiers either side of him threw him anxious looks. Despite the howling snowstorm, any human sound could carry and reach the ears of their enemies. Burning pain throbbed in James’ left leg; it had succumbed to frostbite after ice had broken beneath his step, and he was loath to take off his boot and assess the full damage. He imagined raw, blackened skin, perhaps toes missing; it was difficult to tell, for anything below his ankle was completely numb, rendered useless for walking.
“They’re not coming back for us,” the youngest soldier muttered, his teeth chattering so badly he had to push his jaw into his folded arms to stop them.
“They think we’re dead,” James agreed, glad for a chance to speak and ignore the burning agony in his leg. “What’s your name, son?”
The soldier at James’ right side gave an impatient snort. “Great time for introductions,” he muttered. He was clean shaven and shivered under his helmet.
“A man’s last moments should be comfortable, and with friends,” James shot back, wishing they could at least build a fire.
The ground rumbled, sending flurries of snow tumbling around them from the shelter. The soldiers glanced at each other in alarm, but James sighed, almost glad that it would soon be over.
“Your name, boy!” James hissed through clenched teeth at another young soldier.
“Harry,” the bald-faced boy whispered.
A second rumble.
“Well, Harry, Garred,” James IV reached for his bow, trying to steady his trembling, freezing fingers. The younger men watched as the Giant Slayer pulled an arrow from his back. Another rumble shook the ground beneath them – closer, louder. “Are you ready to fight for Atharron one last time?”
Garred gave a quiet sniffle. “We’re going to die.”
“Aye,” James was unable to stop a wild smile stretching from ear to ear, “fighting for our kingdom. There is no finer way to go, gentlemen.”
A roar rumbled above them, and the soldiers trembled. The shadow turned the white snow a dark grey, and the stench of body hair and skin almost made them choke.
“For Atharron!” James IV roared, and aimed his bow upwards. The surrounding soldiers gave brave war cries and bounded from the shelter, wielding frozen swords. The arrow whistled through the air but the angry bellow of the Giant made James’ heart sink. His arrow had missed its target. His vision was becoming blurred, and he was vaguely aware of Garred and Harry bravely fighting in their last moments. James struggled to his feet, and almost collapsed under his useless foot. No! I will not die sitting on my arse.
Arrows at his back and a lion’s roar in his heart, James glanced back through the mountains, where the tiniest of glows on the horizon showed Atharron, his Lady’s kingdom. “For Queen Cassandra!” he bellowed. He barely heard his own war cry above the overwhelming crashing of battle with what was left of the Giants.