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Arowin's Return (Flash Fiction The Return Contest) by Bob Lock
SUMMARY: One man defends the last bridge against overwhelming odds. He must surely die, but in doing so creates a legend and the promise of his return.
The rasp of steel on whet-stone was the only sound as twilight fell. All was still. The very earth seemed to be holding its breath as it too realised the last battle was about to be fought.
Arowin had no preconceptions of victory. He knew that it would be just a matter of time before this last enclave of humanity would be over-run, and just as the day was ending, so too would be Man's freedom in Demetaes. However, he took satisfaction in the fact that his stand on the final bridge before Moridunum would buy his wife and people time to reach the caves that would now be their last sanctuary, their last hope for survival. Perhaps from those caves a new dawn for Mankind would rise in some distant future. He would not be there to see it, but perhaps his bloodline would.
He smiled as he tested the sword's edge. Blood from his thumb sprung deep red then flowed down his hand to the floor. It was if a signal had been given. Had they even smelled that drop of blood? For the quiet was disturbed by a sound. It was like the noise of locusts or crickets. The rub of chitin against chitin, magnified a hundred, no—a thousand fold. The Scarabi. They had breached the outer perimeter of humans. They had reached the ultimate bridge before Moridunum. They had found its final defender, Arowin and the old mage's sword. Gruffydd's sword.
With a sigh, he threw the whet-stone into the river, watching it spiral end over end before splashing and disappearing beneath the waters. Waters that would halt the advance of the Scarabi for the only way for them to proceed was through him.
"Let them come," he said softly.
Gruffydd's sword glimmered violet in the dying light as he reached into his pouch for the last potion. It would have to do. There were no others. He pulled the stopper out with his teeth and quaffed it down. It burned the back of his throat and warmed its way into his belly. The cut on his thumb healed up and he felt rejuvenated. The potion would heal him over a short period but not stop a mortal wound. At least it would buy him more time.
Movement out on the plain made him look up. Three men were running towards the bridge. Perhaps running is not the word as their wounds hampered any speed. Behind them the Scarabi appeared. Their vast numbers infested the plains... and the numbers grew. One man stumbled. The two stopped to raise him, and all three paid the penalty. Now they were within bow range and arrows peppered the ground around them.
Arowin sheathed his sword and lifted his longbow. He drew an arrow from its quiver. Raising the bow, he pulled the bowstring to his cheek and sighted on the nearest Scarabi. It was a shot of four hundred paces and the draw was the most the bow could give. His fingers let fly and the arrow sped out over the crouching men's heads and straight into the throat of the leading Scarabi warrior. A cheer went up from the three who were now on their feet again. Arowin let fly another arrow and another Scarabi fell. Four more succumbed to his marksmanship before a spear caught the last man of the three and he fell mortally wounded.