As Gwythyr and his men reached the battle, a host of warriors rushed from the trees at their back. It seemed Aonghas had kept part of his forces hidden on the other side of the pasture and despite the ineptitude of the guards on the east, the men on the west were itching to take part in the battle. Even as Gwythyr entered the fray with his men, sandwiching the Fomorian force between himself and Arawn’s faithful, his own forces were being crushed in a vise. The battle very quickly descended into chaos with no force having a clear advantage. It became a morass of blood and screaming as people on every side attacked one another. A man could finish killing one foe only to be run through almost negligently by another who had just done with his own opponent. To make matters worse, it was impossible for Gwythyr’s men to tell which of their kinsmen had betrayed their lord and joined with Neirin until the warrior they thought a friend swung a sword in their direction.
Glory popped her sword, defending herself as best she could from warriors who obviously had more experience, if not skill, than she did. There didn’t seem to be much art to swinging and jabbing at one’s opponent, and the battle had obviously been going on for some time. Many of the fighters were covered in blood, sweat, and dirt and too tired to engage their opponents with much more than basic swordsmanship. Which was to Glory’s benefit, seeing as she had neither skill nor experience. What she did have was energy and intuition. There were many instances where some instinct told her to duck or dodge, and she felt the breeze of a sword as it passed through the space she had only just vacated moments before. She already knew her sword would not pass through metal and that she did not have the strength in her arms to withstand blocking a blow from one of these trained fighters, so her battle became a dance as she twisted away and stepped quickly between each swing of her opponents’ swords.
Which is not to say that she did not take anyone down herself. Her fiery sword did no physical damage, but her enemies went down all the same, their eyes often wide in unblinking shock as they fell. There was no blood as she hamstrung one man or sliced through the neck of another. She had her doubts about the permanence of some of the wounds, but they were down and that was what mattered. If they got back up after the fight was done, well Arawn could decide what to do with his prisoners then, though death might be preferable to life in the forest with a future on the table.
Gwythyr disappeared through the gates long before Glory even got close to them. The fighting between the buildings was even worse once she made it into the settlement. The largest of the buildings and one of the smaller ones were still on fire. Several others showed singe marks on the thatch. The Fomorians had probably shot flaming arrows into the settlement and attacked while their enemies attempted to put them out.
Fomorians and Arawn’s men were both using the buildings to stage ambushes, falling upon any enemies who chanced to pass their way with unforgiving fury. Coming round one building, she saw a laughing Fomorian pull one of the boys out from the dog kennel by his foot. She rushed across the space, slamming into the man’s back with her sword even as he raised his own to impale the boy. Belatedly she felt a sharp pain in her own back, literally the first bodily sensation she’d felt in months. With a grunt, she rolled over and narrowly missed the slash of a sword to her face.
She half expected Neirin or Aonghas, but it was a Fomorian warrior she didn’t recognize, and she would have remembered the man if she had seen him before. Needle-sharp teeth peeked from his wide grin, reminding her of a psychotic Cheshire Cat as he swung at her again. His sharp, pointed cat ears did nothing to annul the comparison. She was forced to twist to the side to avoid losing an arm. He tried to stomp on her, perhaps to hold her still and plant a solid blow on her with his sword. Even as she rolled around on the ground, she could feel her back knitting back together, or assumed she could. It was a very odd sensation, and Glory was somewhat out of practice in so far as sensations went. It hurt a lot in a strangely distant way, but it also itched and tingled as if that part of her back had fallen asleep. She felt as though she were rolling around in an ants’ nest.
As her attacker attempted to stomp on her yet again, the man she had stabbed grabbed at her attempting to immobilize her, his own legs seemingly paralyzed from her attack. It made her more of a target, but it also lent her kicks a lot more stability. As she twisted and lashed out with her foot, she catching her attacker in the abdomen. His legs became tangled in her own as he staggered and fell on his rear. Instantly several boys and their dogs rushed from the security of the kennel and fell on him and his incapacitated companion, tearing at them both despite their screams for mercy. The boy she had saved crawled to her side, still shaking from his brush with death. She recognized him as the boy who had warned her about petting the dogs but was too distracted by the screams of the Fomorian warriors to make sense of his words as they helped each other to their feet. Though she assumed he was either thanking her or was concerned for her wound, maybe both.
“All of you get back inside and keep quiet,” she ordered breathlessly as the boys and dogs finished their gruesome work and staggered back towards where she stood. All of them were blood spattered but grinning like maniacs, obviously pleased to have taken part in the battle.
“But lady, you’re hurt,” protested the boy beside her.
“I’m fine. It’s just a scratch. Back inside where it’s safe and don’t come out until it’s quiet.” There were a few grumbles at that from the other boys. Having taken down two Fomorians, they felt empowered and were quite prepared to go look for more trouble. But when Glory gently pushed the first boy towards the door, the others followed and the dogs with them.
The odd sensations from her back had stopped by the time she reached the next building. Coming round the side, she saw several Fomorians standing as if on guard while the sounds of battle raged just beyond them. Glory ducked back behind the building, then looked up at the thatch which hung so low to the ground. There was a huge hole burned into it further up, but it looked as if it still might take her weight. She squelched her sword and pulled herself up, carefully crawling up and around to the opposite side where she’d be hidden from view.
In a ring of Fomorians, Aonghas and Arawn fought as if the struggle to take Annwn would be decided by the winner of this battle. Perhaps it would be. Glory was no expert on Medieval warfare. Arawn was obviously exhausted, but he fought fiercely with sword and dagger, coming close several times to cutting Aonghas with one or the other. Aonghas was younger and looked more rested, but it was clear that Arawn had more experience in battle. For a little while Arawn seemed to hold the advantage, slowly forcing Aonghas to retreat across the circle, but as they reached the far side, Aonghas slowly managed to work his way along the perimeter so that they danced along the outskirts of the circle and neither benefited from their positions. And though he continued to retreat before Arawn’s onslaught, from Glory’s vantage it seemed as though he retreated with purpose.
Aonghas appeared to glance at one of his men as he passed him in his slow retreat. It was unlikely that Arawn noticed as he forced his opponent to flee before his blades. But was Aonghas retreating, or was he really leading Arawn into a trap? Glory’s eyes were drawn to a Fomorian with a wolf’s head who stood near the two combatants. Aonghas stepped back, and Arawn stepped forward, another step and another, and finally Arawn’s back was to the wolf-headed warrior.
“Behind you!” she screamed as the wolf-headed Fomorian stepped forward to plunge a blade into Arawn’s back. After all, a duel of honor was only as honorable as your opponent. Arawn spun instantly, knocking the sword out of his attacker’s hand with his own and lashing out with his dagger to stab the man in the chest. The wolf’s head went flying, but it was after all only a mask.
“No! My son!” Arawn cried as he caught Neirin in his arms, falling to his knees. Neirin didn’t move, and it appeared as though he had died instantly. Aonghas was not one to miss an opportunity however. Laughing in triumph, he plunged his sword into Arawn’s back even as Glory fought to maintain her hold on the thatch. Several of Aonghas’ men had run up when she shouted to Arawn and now poked and prodded at her with spears until she lost her hold and tumbled into the dirt at their feet.
to Book 4, part 2, page 11