Swords clashed, shields broke, bodies fell… and over it all an unholy screech pummeled warriors like a battering ram.
Ulf stumbled as yet another undead thing rose from the mud and clutched his ankle. Ulf’s axe swept downward, lopped through a bony arm and part of the skull, and he leapt away. He knew the thing wasn’t done. Hew off the heads, the bodies fought on; crush the backs, and skeletal fingers crawled through the muck to dig into legs. Only when reduced to splinters and dust did the undead things cease their battle. The Necromancer had chosen to make his stand on ground soaked with blood and filled with bodies from dozens of wars, and now Ulf knew why.
Ulf’s shield knocked aside a musty fiend, but his mind could not block the unholy sorcerous wail that gave semblance of life to these undead. That keening silenced the battle din–no ring of steel, no cries of the wounded could be heard above it. It assaulted the mind, froze the heart and animated the corpses. Ulf caught a glimpse of the Dark General, atop a hill, commanding his monsters. The Necromancer seemed no more alive than his undead host. Only the wail and slowly waving arms proved the sinister being more than a shadow.
The Dornmen fought on, though their banner fell. Ulf hewed left and right, tried to shout to Thior, his commander. “The Necromancer! The wailing! We must silence him!”
Ulf could not hear his own words — not even in his mind. He pressed on. Leather armor failed him — much of it had been ripped away — but courage became his armor. Courage, and knowing he dare not falter. Jienna and the children were at home. Ulf roared and fought, invincible.
Then Garwolf fell, his face splayed open. Ulf avenged his friend in the instant. But even as he struck through the shoulder of the undead thing, Ulf’s thoughts were not of Garwolf. He thought of Jienna, back at the stead, herding the children away, scurrying to flee before the Dornmen force failed at last.
He could not fall. Ulf gathered his waning strength and fought on, invincible.
Ulf pushed forward behind his shield, heedless of the severed skull clamping teeth to his leg. He shoved, drove himself, hacked his way closer and closer to the Necromancer.
He would never reach the sorcerer. New bodies rose from the mud, blocking his path. Even as Ulf drove through them, those behind clawed at his back, ripped his arms, pulled his hair. He would never stare into the sorcerer’s grave-dark eyes and slash keen steel through that damned wailing throat.
Ulf weakened, slipped, and rose on unsteady knees. Just a few more yards, he thought. Just a few.
Ulf’s bright steel tore the jaw from a ghoulish gray face, and his second slash ripped through the neck. He kicked aside the beheaded thing, and saw the Necromancer beyond. Beyond reach. Stinking arms wrapped around Ulf’s legs, teeth plunged into his shoulders, bony hands tried to bring him down.
Ulf flashed teeth, lifted his axe, and cried a battle roar handed down from his fathers. He couldn’t hear it, but his heart felt it. He propelled the weapon, watched it spin in a bright silvery arc, and never let it leave his sight even as the undead things brought him down. He watched it split the Necromancer’s skull, heard the unholy wail die, and felt the teeth and claws fall free from his bleeding body.
All around him, fiends fell in sudden silence.
Ulf, on his knees, watched his lifeblood turn the mud crimson. Dornmen, now unimpeded, rushed forward to carve the Necromancer into bloody bits that would never rise again.
Jienna and the children are safe, Ulf thought. He died a happy man. Invincible.
Steve Goble’s sword and sorcery has appeared in numerous magazines, ezines and anthologies. He also writes horror, science fiction and, once in a great while, poetry.