flASH fiction: Volume 5: Wounded Animals (5)

Wounded Animals

By

Jason Pere

Others had told Aaron that the power rank carried with it was seductive. He never gave the words much credence as he doubted he would ever amount to much in the Rayward army. He most of all discounted the warnings of his fellow officers as he had seemingly been born without the ambition and power hungry appetite that marked so many of the Rayward blood. Even as a Lance Commander, Aaron Luckworth felt like he was little more than a common footman though he had to admit he noted that his subordinates offered firmer salutes and a much softer edge in their voice when they addressed him. He found himself liking the deferential displays of others and disliking the fact that he liked such things.

He was able to find respite from the lurking threat of arrogance in the pursuit of the fleeing dragoon army. Aaron found it most peculiar that the grueling day and night gallop across the wilds of Argaia should bring him a measure of comfort. Most men in his detachment were warry of the fact that they were chasing after a much more numerous and savage foe, and should they meet up with their quarry then many of them would be bound for return home to Rayward on a dead wagon. Aaron was quite the contrary he rather enjoyed the breakneck pace sprinting towards certain doom as it afforded him precious little time for introspective self-loathing. In the few days since assuming command of the late Lance Commander Whiterun’s regiment Aaron had learned that he would much rather deal with a vicious deadly foe of flesh and blood than the spectral enemy of a questionable conscience.

The lance commander’s mount slowed it’s gate as Aaron pulled back on the reigns. He gave the signal to the rest of his detachment to similarly slow down. On his command, hundreds of bright white Rayward stallions came to a unified halt. Aaron tired his best not to enjoy the feeling of pride that nipped at his heels as the massive formation of fighting men obeyed his orders. He succeeded in quelling the vain beast within, at least for the time being. Aaron turned his focus to the pair of scout riders barreling back to meet him. The two scouts pulled up their horses in from of Aaron and is personal guard and immediately offered up the best salutes they their sweat soaked weary bodies could muster. Aaron kindly returned the formality of a solders greeting and motioned that the men should catch their breath before continuing.

“What did you find up there?” Aaron asked after the scouts had regained their composure and no longer had to gasp for air.

“Sir, the dragoon came the way for certain. It looks like they overran the Evermist Valley troops stationed here,” said the first of the two scout riders.

“The dragoon are gone now?” asked Aaron.

“Yes sir. No sign of them at present. Tracks lead away from the site,” said the other scout as he wiped his dripping brow with a scrap of cloth.

“I want to see. Take me to where it happened,” Aaron said to the scouts. He shifted in his saddle and looked back to the members of his personal guard who had formed a semi-circle around him. “You and you with me. The rest of you hold here with the regiment,” Aaron said pointing to the guards on either end of the semi-circle before addressing the rest.

“Yes sir,” responded the armored soldiers in harmonized unison.

Aaron heeled his mount and followed in the wake of the scouts as they about-faced and headed back up the trail from where they had come. They rode up the travelers path and the lance commander watched over his shoulder as the rest of his regiment faded from sight. He had a few moments on the trek to second guess himself and regret the decision to send five lone men away from the safety of numbers. Aaron realized that a haphazard and totally uncoordinated ambush from the dragoon would have a reasonable chance of successfully ending him in his current exposed position. He battled to quiet the looming fear with reason and rationale. He told himself that the enemy were more concerned with preserving themselves than counteroffensives at this point in time. His mind went back and forth with the questionable decision until he followed the scouts around the final bend in the path and laid his eyes on something that brought him fully out of his conflicted ruminations.

The scouts had vastly understated the scale of the scene that was waiting for the lance commander. Aaron felt like his blood had stopped flowing in his veins for several moments as he drank in the gory aftermath. He removed his helm and wiped the dust from his eyes, hoping that perhaps his vision was not being fully honest with him. To his dismay, cleaning the wear of the road from his face only sharpened the detail of the bloody display in front of him.

“Pathetic,” grunted the guard on Aaron’s left hand side.

The lance commander turned in his saddle and stared down the solider who had spoken. Aaron had daggers for eyes as he regarded the other man. “Excuse me sergeant? Whatever do you mean?” he asked with a frightfully calm inflection that contrasted the simmering fury ignited behind his dark willful gaze.

The guard who had lost control of his mouth nervously flicked his eyes to one side as he impressively managed to keep his face from breaking into any show of remorseful apprehension. “The enemy are less than half strength of their original number. It looks like the Evermist Valley had at least three regiments of infantry and an archery corpse here. The dragoon cut them down like they were nothing. If these had been Rayward soldiers here…” said the man as he tried to mount some courage behind the words while he spoke them. He was abruptly cut off by Aaron right as he found the confidence to speak with his full baritone register.

“If they were Rayward soldiers then there would still be plenty of human dead left on the field. The Evermist Valley may not have soldiers as well trained as us or the means to equip them as Rayward does but they are just as brave as any man willing to fight and die,” Aaron chided.

“I meant no ill disrespect to the fallen, sir. Only that Rayward would have succeeded where they failed,” said the guard with a penitent cadence.

“That is highly presumptuous. There are hardly any dragoon bodies on the field at all. Their number may be far reduced but those who have survived are the strongest among them. It will only get harder to best them and they are only going to become more dangerous, like a wounded animal,” Aaron said making sure to impress his words on each of the other men present as he looked at them in turn.

“Yes sir, understood. Wounded animals is an apt way to describe those…” started the guard but he was yet again spoken over by Aaron.

“That will be enough sergeant. We search for survivors, though I doubt we find any. Then we press on and continue tracking our quarry,” Arron ordered. The four other riders nodded and began to disperse. “Wait a moment,” Aaron said to the scout rider who was nearest to him.

“Yes sir?” responded the scout with a curious air.

“I do not want to bring the full regiment through this way. See if you can find us a round about way that links up with the trail further down,” Aaron said quietly so that only he and the other man heard his words.

“Beg pardon sir, that will take us far out of our way and over uneven ground. The path through here is secure, I promise you we…” said the young man but fell silent when he saw his commanding officer raise a silencing hand.

“It is not that. Are you scared?” asked Aaron.

“Sir?” gasped the scout with a confused hiccup.

“No shame in saying so. When you look at what the dragoon did to these men and women, are you scared?” asked Aaron.

“No, sir?” said the scout.

“That is the answer of a good soldier but you, boy are a poor liar. I am scared to. Only a fool would not be scared with that much blood on the ground. I will not have the regiment demoralized riding them through this slaughter. Find us another way,” Aaron said with kind determination.

“Yes sir, lance commander. I understand, and thank you sir,” said the scout before he spurred his mount to ride off.

Aaron looked at the massacre and closed his eyes for one mournfully reverent moment before he started in on the fool’s errand of looking for anyone that could have lived through the might of the wounded dragoon army on the rampage.