Chapter 27
The Warchief and the Green Ghost

The Sanctuary, The Grey Plains, Pendragon

Ghúl did not much fancy the thought of clambering up one of the flimsy ladders the humans had crafted for getting up over the wall, so he was grateful for when the gate opened for them. Rallying his war-band to him, he was the first one through. Some of the humans defending the gate were strewn about dead and dying. Several of his warriors fell upon them, tearing their flesh with blade, fang and claw.
"Leave them," he said. He pointed off into the distance with his club. "There's fresher meat ahead."
His warriors abandoned their prey with the blood still dripping from their hands and jaws and followed him further inward. There were fires that had been built up, about one every couple hundred paces or so. At first Ghúl wondered what purpose they served, but then he remembered that the humans' eyes were much weaker in the dead of night. Walking in front of the nearest fire were two men with spears, not warriors but common thralls by the look of them. Ghúl's war-band did not try to make their attack a surprise. With the sound of his warriors hooting and screeching, one of the men cried, "The enemy! The enemy is here!"
He took a horn at his side and blew on it, but before he had finished sounding the first blast, he was hit with no fewer than six or seven arrows, His companion suffered a similar fate.
Seeing the humans' huts and fields before them, Ghúl pointed to the fire and shouted, "Take and burn! Kill and plunder!"
His warriors did not need to be told twice. Many of them took sticks from the fire and went to work setting the huts ablaze. Anything that was worth taking would survive the fire. Besides some of the humans' thrall-beasts in their pens, there was not much to be found close at hand for them to kill. Ghúl wondered at this for a moment, but then he realized that the humans were doing what all prey does when threatened. They flee the danger.
He climbed a nearby tree onto the roof of a hut that had not yet been put to the torch so he could get a better view. By the light of the humans' fires, he saw this was but the first of four rings. This first ring had already been abandoned. It was a waste of their time.
He blew on his horn to rally his war-band once more.
"Forward! Forward! More meat and plunder ahead!"
As he was shouting this, there was a cracking sound and his footing shifted. The roof of the hut then gave way. He landed hard on the floor below, bruising his pride but suffering no great hurt otherwise. Angry at having been made to look the fool before his war-band, he swung his club at the wall. The single blow nearly made the wall cave in. Seeing how weak it was, he threw his body into the wall and burst through outside. To play off his mishap, he belted out a loud guffaw and said, "These humans make huts from mud and dry twigs!" This being a byword for the humble wickerwork huts of the poorest thralls. Having turned the joke onto the humans, several of his warriors joined in with his laughter.
When he had his fill, he waved them on ahead.
"Onward! Onward!"
As they approached the second ring, they were met by a small band of thralls, some with spears but most wielding whatever tool they could find to serve as a weapon.
"Not warriors!" Ghúl shouted. "Thralls! Weak! Kill!"
To the thralls' credit, they did not flee, but they did not avail themselves well either. They may have taken one for one at best, but that was not nearly enough to make a difference outnumbered as they were.
While hunting easy prey had its pleasures, Ghúl wondered if there were any warriors to be had. He got his answer when the sound of rushing hoofbeats was followed b some ten or so horses plowing into the war-band from the side, trampling some underfoot and slaying others with sword, spear and hammer. They came back around for another pass while the formation was in disarray, killing several more.
Because Orghim would lose heart quickly against a strong opponent, Ghúl had to act even more quickly.
"They come again!" he shouted. "Spears! Spears!"
So long as he was there to lead them, the Orghim held on to their courage and did as they were told. If there were more riders, such as it was in the great battles with the Dragon-Head, no number of spears would have been enough, but there were not enough of the human warriors here to overpower a formation that could stand its ground. Nearly half of the riders and horses were killed outright when they clashed with the wall of spears and most of the rest were caught in the tangle of bodies as dozens of warriors surrounded them. The screams of man and beast as they were torn apart was beautiful.
With no reinforcements in sight, the war-band dispersed to seek plunder among the huts. Occasionally Ghúl would hear the screams of women and children inside. The women and the children were treats to be prized. Even he had only enjoyed the pleasure of their flesh a few times in all his years of raiding.
As much as he would have liked to simply go around killing, burning and plundering to his heart's content, he had a duty as warchief to keep an eye on the field and rally his warriors if the enemy returned in strength. He walked around observing his warriors work when he caught sight of a small group waylaying what appeared to be a family of four. As he approached, the man had just been stabbed by two spears. The boy child cried out in anger and hit one Org with a stick, only to have another hack into him with an ax. That left the females. The woman was on the ground with an arrow in her shoulder, shielding the girl child with her body. She took a couple more arrows to the back. The girl child screamed.
His warriors noticed him as he walked past him. He did not have to say anything. They ceded the prize to him without question. His was the right, of course.
He pulled the woman away. Even with her fading strength, she stubbornly held on to her child. He wrested the screaming child away and tossed the woman's body aside. What to do? Should he roast her whole on the spit? Chop her body into pieces and stew her with the rest of her family? Or ought he just eat her now, still kicking and screaming to the end? So many choices...
Before he would come to a decision, an arrow pierced his forearm, causing him to drop his prize. The pained yelps of his warriors followed as they were being felled one after another all around him. He looked at the arrow sticking out of his arm. He knew its craftsmanship well. He had pulled enough of them out of his body in his day. It was the one his warriors called the Green Ghost, the merciless hunter of his kind. Many a raiding party had fallen prey to these arrows.
There were those who believed it was a vengeful god of the forest or some other spirit, but Ghúl knew better. If spirits existed at all, they would not need wooden arrows with stone heads. No, this Green Ghost was flesh and blood and Ghúl was going to see that today was the last day it tormented his people.
He turned around to face the Green Ghost, only to catch an arrow in the chest. It did not go in too deeply, though. Not enough to stop him, not even enough to slow him down. Now that he knew where the Green Ghost was, he charged forward. The Green Ghost put four more arrows in him and a fifth glanced off his skull. Its arrows seemingly expended, the Green Ghost rushed to meet Ghúl's charge. As it ran, it snatched up the spear of a fallen Org and thrust at Ghúl as they closed the distance between them, but not before Ghúl swung his club. Though he was rewarded by the sight of the great terror of the forest being swatted away like a fly, he could not roar a warcry of victory because the spear was stuck in his neck.
He looked over to where the Green Ghost was. It was not dead yet. He would have to do something about that. As he lumbered over to the Green Ghost, he could feel his body becoming sluggish. Unable to hold it aloft anymore, he dragged his club behind him, eventually letting go and leaving it in the dirt. He refused to stop, though. He was not done yet.
Yes, the Green Ghost was mortal after all, struggling to get back in its feet after the blow Ghúl landed on it. Ghúl took hold of it by the head and lifted it up. Would it bleed green, he wondered. He squeezed on the sides of its head while burying his thumbs into its eye sockets. It screamed in pain. And it bled red after all.
Before Ghúl could crush its skull, the Green Ghost stabbed him in the wrist, making him drop it. Though blinded, it slashed at his belly, but could not cut through the thick hides wrapped around his waist. It did not let that deter it, though. It sank the blade into Ghúl's ribs and when he was doubled over, it stabbed him in the neck. Unlike the spear, which slowed the bleeding, the knife wound would make short work of him.
As his vision dimmed Ghúl fell to his knees. All his ambitions were for naught. He would never see his people restored, taking their rightful place as the rulers of the forest and a terror to the humans. But the Green Ghost would not survive either. Avenging the blood of so many warriors would surely be enough or his name to be remembered in song around the fires for all generations to come.

* * *

Maria clutched at her mother's dress and cried and cried. Her mother was dead. Her father and her brother, too. What had they done wrong for these demons to come? This was supposed to be holy ground. What did they do to deserve this?
She had always been told that outside the Wall was bad, but so long as they were good, God and the Wall would keep them safe. Were they not good enough? Was that why this was happening?
She thought about the big demon that picked her up. Maybe it would have been better if it had killed her. At least then she would be with her family, wherever they had gone.
A hand took hold of her.
"No!" she screamed.
She thought she was ready to die, but her fear said otherwise.
"Quiet, child," a man's voice said. "Or you will bring more of them."
She turned to see in surprise and horror a man like a walking ghost with tears of blood. He was both beautiful and terrible. She had heard stories of people seeing visions before they died. Was that what this was?
"Am I going to die?" she asked the ghost.
"You must decide," the ghost said. "Live or die." He showed her a slender curved dagger and said, "If you wish to die, I will grant you mercy. You will be free of these horrors and may join your family."
Maria looked to her mother and her father and brother. She thought she wanted to be free of this living Hell, but looking at the dagger, even though it was offered as a mercy, she was filled with fear. As horrible as everything around her was, the dread of the unknown beyond was worse.
"I don't wanna die," she said in a quailing voice.
The ghost offered her his open hand and said, "Then hold fast to me."
She reached out to him and he lifted her up. As she gripped his tunic, she saw that he was bleeding from his side. Were ghosts supposed to bleed?
He carried her though the ravaged grounds of the Sanctuary, amid burning homes and screeching demons dancing over the bodies of the dead. She buried her face in his chest. She did not want to see any more.
Then there was a whooshing sound that made her look up. The demons were loosing arrows at them, but even with the ghost's sightless eyes, he wove around them easily. Three of the demons started to chase after them and as they were getting closer, the ghost set her down, then turned and rushed at them. Spear and ax could not touch him as he moved through their attacks like flowing water. As he dodged each of their attacks, he countered with a stroke of his dagger. It was almost like watching a dance.
With the three demons laid low, the ghost returned to Maria, picked her up and they continued on their way. Before long, the church came into view. There was a ring of fires around the church and both the Templars and common men armed with anything that could pass for a weapon were drawn up to defend it.
There were others fleeing from the demons to find safety in the church. The ghost set her down and rested his hand on her head.
"This is the safest place for you," he said. "I can take you farther. I am sorry I could not do more."
Maria awkwardly kneaded the hem of her smock and said, "Um, thank you. Thank you for saving me."
The ghost smiled weakly and bowed his head. His body started to glow with an unnatural light and when the light faded, he was gone, with nothing but the dagger and empty clothes left behind. Maybe he was no ghost at all but an angel called back to Heaven. All she knew was that he saved her life and for that she was thankful. She had been given a second chance and was not going to let it go to waste.