Aglaril Cycle:Chapter 04 Field of Blood by Rich Feitelberg

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SUMMARY: Lan stumbles upon the ritual site of the necromancers and the mage who is preparing it for use.

Lan and his prisoner joined Sir Geoffrey and the rest of the Michaeline knights under his command back where he had left his horse. The few knights who could administer first aid were still tending to the injured by the time Lan arrived.

"Sir Lan," said Geoffrey. "Thank the Maker ya've returned unharmed."

"Yes," said Lan. "And I found the source of the earthquake." He gestured at the stranger with the point of the arrow loaded in the bow. "Bind his hands, gag him, and see to his wounds."

"Aye, sir."

Lan waited until Geoffrey finished tying the prisoner's wrists together and forced a rag into his mouth before he lowered his bow and returned the unspent arrow to his quiver.

"How many were killed?" asked Lan.

"Five swordsmen and two bowmen," said Geoffrey.

"And how many were injured?"

"Another ten swordsmen and seven bowmen."

Lan looked at the necromancer; his eyes narrowed and his jaw tensed, teeth grinding. He forced himself to relax.

"Can the injured men travel?"

"Aye, I think so. They mostly h've cuts and scraps."

"Good, but we'll leave five of the injured behind to guard the mage."

"Aye, sir."

Geoffrey selected five swordsmen with cuts and bruises and ordered them to guard the prisoner. These men took positions surrounding the necromancer. The rest of the knights resumed their formation and continued on the crude road, turning left a yard further down, where the earthquake had caused the wall to collapse.

Once again Lan placed Sir Geoffrey in charge of the swordsmen while he commanded the archers. The new path ran straight for ten yards and was bordered by low walls of natural flat stones stacked one on top of the other. At the end of the path, they came to a wide, flat field, thirty feet long and fifty feet wide. The grass had been stripped away to reveal the soft brown soil. In the dirt at the far end of the field, a large inverted five-pointed star had been carved a half-inch deep and enclosed in a ten-foot wide circle.

Standing in the middle of the earthen etching was a man holding a container, like a wineskin. Out of the skin, a dark red liquid fell into the muddy grooves. His back was towards Lan, and he continued pouring the fluid into grooves as Lan approached.
Odd, Lan thought. This man stiffened his back a little when we drew close so obviously he heard us and knows someone is behind him. And yet he does not turn around to see who it is.

Lan looked at the red liquid; it was blood. The inverted pentangle Lan recognized too; it was a magic symbol for summoning demons. They would eventually have to cleanse the field with holy water. First, however, they needed to deal with this necromancer.

"Surrender or we will be forced to shoot," said Lan.

The last of the liquid fell from the bag. Only then did the man turn and face the twenty-three arrows and the fifteen swords that were ready to strike. A smile slowly spread across the man's lips.

"Surrender?" said the man. "One who serves the Great Lord does not surrender."

He dropped the wineskin and drew a knife from his belt, a similar pentagram etched in the blade.

The swordsmen raised their weapons in response, ready to attack or defend based on the man's next action. But rather then step forward and engage one of the knights, the man pressed the tip against his own stomach and said, "He dies knowing he will be reborn to serve his Great Master."

The etchings on the blade glowed red as the man impaled himself on it. The blood began to ooze and then saturate the soil beneath the man as he toppled over and his life drained away.

"Stand down," said Lan.

The archers eased their bows and the swordsmen lowered their swords.

Well that's one less necromancer to deal with, Lan thought, as he sighed and sheathed his sword. Time to cleanse the field.

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