Chapter 29
The Avenger of Blood

The Sanctuary, The Grey Plains, Pendragon

When Seth saw that the gate to the Wall lay open, he knew that he was right after all. Although the High City was wealthy and populous, lightly defended yet easy to fortify, Cain was the sort of person who would pursue his petty grudge against the harmless Abel rather than make the choice that would give his revolt the best chance to succeed. This was exactly why he was not fit to wear the crown, setting aside his wanton cruelty and greed. For all his many flaws, their father at least had the discernment to see the kingdom he built would not survive long under Cain's misrule.
Drawing Excalibur, he waved his men onward.
"Forward! The Basilica is their last line of defense. If the enemy's still here, that's where they'll be! Forward!"
His knights raised a warcry, sounded their horns and spurred their mounts on ahead. As they were passing, Seth saw that the gate had not been broken into and outside the Wall half-finished siegeworks were left abandoned. Either some of Cain's men managed to get on the other side of the Wall to open the gate or there was treachery from within.
Along they way they saw the blackened ruins of houses and fields and many bodies, some burned, some mangled to the point they could scarcely be recognized as having once been human. More disturbing was what Seth thought to be the corpses of Goblins among the dead. It seemed impossible, but had Cain fallen so far that he would include those beasts in his ranks? Had he learned nothing from all the years they spent fighting to put down that scourge on mankind?
It was not long before the Basilica came into view, ringed by Cain's army of brigands. The Basilica was still intact, which bode well for any survivors who had taken refuge inside. That did not mean Cain's men would not put it to the torch once they were under attack. Cain would expect Seth to devote more energy to saving the people inside than to fighting him and he would be right. The King had to strike first, strike fast and strike hard enough so that Cain's men would not have the opportunity to do anything but fight for their lives.
"Break through their lines!" Seth shouted to his knights. "Form a defensive ring around the church and push them back!"
Cain's forces did not come together quickly enough to meet Seth's charge , so breaking through the lines was all too easy. The bannermen of his knights dismounted and fanned out. They lacked the numbers to form defensible lines, but so long as Cain's men were kept in disarray, harried by arrows and javelins, they could hold their ground.
Because of the speed and violence of the assault, Cain was separated from the bulk of his forces, with only Sir Bruno and about twenty bodyguards to defend him. Seth may well have just charged forward and lopped off the traitor's head then and there, but his attention was drawn to a bloody shape chained to the ground. Were it not for the shredded vestments lying in a heap nearby, he might never have realized that it was Abel.
Springing from his horse, Seth sank Excalibur into the ground, then unhooked his cloak and draped it over his brother to cover his dignity. As he was covering Abel, he knelt down and gently shook him by the shoulders.
"Your Grace?"
He did not respond.
"Abel... Brother..."
He was already gone. Seth did not weep for him, though. If he would feel sorrow, it would come later. Now there was nothing but cool fury simmering in his gut. Standing back up, he pulled his sword from the ground and pointed it right at Cain.
"You bastard! Your own brother! What did he ever do to deserve this!? What did any of these people here ever do to deserve this!? If you wanted the throne, you should've challenged me like a man, you mange-ridden cur!"
"I'll not take that from you, you mongrel wretch!" Cain snapped back. "And you, what the devil are you doing here!?"
Cain's question was directed at the sicarius Umbriel, who was standing behind Seth.
"He's supposed to be dead!" Cain continued. "What do you think I hired you for!?"
"You interrupted the test," Umbriel replied, "so I gave him a new one. I would see how this king makes war. Then I shall decide."
"Damn you!" Cain seethed. "What good are you!?"
"So the sicarius is your creature?" Seth asked. "Did you send him against Father too?"
"If he was my creature, he'd do as I say," Cain replied angrily. "And what of it if I did send him against Father? It didn't get me the throne."
"Because Father knew you weren't worthy."
"Mine was the right! Even in death he spites me by giving my birthright to a halfbreed pup like you."
"Why now? Twenty years you stew in your hatred. Why now?"
"I needed an army. I needed gold. The Norlanders had to be brought to heel. Whoever put me there knew it would tie my hands."
"Not enough it would seem."
Cain seemed to disagree.
"The best years of my life stolen from me," he seethed, "years of my reign. And in the end, the fruit of my labors will go to another. I'm at least going to squeeze every last drop out of this land before that day comes."
Seth had heard enough.
"No, you won't," he said, "because you're going to die here, Cain. By this blade, I swear it."
Cain glared at Seth, then shouted, "The High City to any man who takes this mongrel's head!"
Starting with the bodyguards around Cain, anyone who heard his offer rushed at Seth, prompting his own knights to cry out, "Defend to the King!"
The melee that ensued was not what Seth had intended. Given how badly they were outnumbered, he wanted to stall for time so their reinforcements could arrive, but he wasn't expecting to find Abel brutalized as he was. Even thought the prudent thing would be to try to break off the attack and reform their defensive position, his blood burned for vengeance. If he had to cut through a thousand men to get to Cain, then he would cut through a thousand men. He already had four down and there were plenty more eager to taste Excalibur's edge.

* * *

The clamor outside was not the sound of Cain rallying his brigands to burn down the Basilica, that much Thames could tell, but someone closer to the entrance might know better.
To one of his Templars standing by his side as some sort of bodyguard, he said, "Sir Apollodorus, see if anyone closer to door knows what is going on outside."
"Yes, my lord," Sir Apollodorus said with a bow.
He walked briskly down the nave to the men minding the barricade, conversed with them briefly, then returned with Sir Zacharias.
"Sir Zacharias, what have you heard?" Thames asked.
Sir Zacharias bowed and said, "My lord, it would seem that the King and his knights have come to our aid. We could not see or hear clearly from our vantage, but... it would seem that His Grace is dead..."
The news came as no surprise to Thames, but it was bitter to hear all the same. Though most of the people in the chapel mourned him as dead the moment he stepped out the door, hearing the words from Sir Zacharias' lips prompted no small few of them to start weeping again. However, there was no voice so loud as the one anchorite who called out to the Bishop as he was leaving. The anchorite eventually quieted down, but now he started up again, only this time his wailing devolved into animalistic growling, followed by the sound of something heavy striking the wall. Many gasped in shock, for it felt like the blows of a battering ram. The pounding continued. Slow, deliberate, forceful.
The blows were so strong that it seemed that the very stones would be forced to give way and indeed that was what happened. The wall broke open and this green howling mass came hurtling out. People broke out in screams of fear and panic at the horrific sight, as if it were some terrible beast spat from the pits of Hell. Thames knew that it was no hellbeast, though, and seeing that it was ignoring all others in its rush to the door, he realized it was no threat to them so long as they stayed out of its way.
Straining against his wounds, Thames shouted, "Stand back! Let it pass!"
He was seized by excruciating pain for his efforts, but as he slumped back onto his pallet, he saw that his men were heeding his voice and standing aside while the creature tore his way through the barricade. Benches that took at least four men to carry were tossed aside as if they were no more than dry twigs. If this strength and fury was directed at their enemies, no matter how foul its appearance, it might prove to be a blessing.

* * *

Cain could not understand it. His men had the overwhelming advantage, nearly ten to one, yet Seth and his knights were fighting them to a standstill. For every one of theirs who fell, at least four or five of his own joined them. He would win out eventually at this rate, but not without paying a terrible cost. The First and Third Regiments were still out there, en route to this place for all he knew. When could the order have been given? How long would it take them to arrive? He had wiped out the garrisons of Uwncaster and Emryscaster easily enough, but he had the element of surprise then. Without that advantage, how was he going to emerge triumphant?
There was hope yet. If he could get his men to disengage, they would fall back and take the High City, strengthen their position, and raise more troops to fight against the First and Third Regiments. The men would grumble about their pride, but pride is little comfort to a dead man.
"Have them sound the retreat," he told Bruno.
"Your Highness?"
"Sound the retreat," he said again.
"But, Your Highness, we have the advantage. If we retreat now--"
"I said sound the retreat! We make for the High City."
His words were met with a disturbing cackling. It was not Bruno, of course. Cain turned to see it was Forktongue. In all these years, he did not think he had ever heard the man laugh once, so why now of all times?
"What are you laughing about?" the Prince demanded.
Forktongue responded by laughing out loud. Had he gone mad?
"At last the sacrifice of blood reaches fulfillment! Ha ha! If you must flee, Cain-Uwain, go south, beyond the River. Your destiny awaits!"
Even though there was scarcely a cloud in the sky, a bolt of lightning streaked down to where Forktongue stood. Cain and everyone around him were sent flying when it struck the ground. Only scorched earth remained in its wake.
Dazed, Cain struggled to regain his bearings. Before he could get back to his feet, though, he saw the sicarius standing there, like Death itself waiting to claim him.
"It would seem that you have been meddling in powers beyond your understanding, Uwain, son of Lother," he said. "Your judgment is long overdue."
He sheathed one of his swords and with little more than a flick of his wrist, he threw a knife that plunged into the meat of Cain's leg. The Prince cried out in pain, prompting another knife to go into his hand.
"I do not have the time to make you suffer as you deserve," the sicarius said, "but an eternity of torment for your black soul should suffice."
Before he could throw another knife, Bruno hurled himself bodily at the sicarius. He actually succeeded at knocking the relentless killer out of the way, but the sicarius quickly recovered, drawing his second sword and rushing at the knight. Bruno blocked one blade with his sword and caught the other in his ribs, though the blade could not cut into his hauberk.
"Your loyalty is wasted," the sicarius said. "You chose the wrong master."
"I did not choose," Bruno replied. "I was chosen, and so I serve."
"You choose to be blind, so blind you shall be."
Umbriel took the blade digging into Bruno's side and dragged it upward under his arm, slashing open the tendons. Bruno's arm went slack and one-handed he could not hold back the sicarius' other blade. The sicarius then took him off balance and cut the back of his knee so his leg buckled under him.
Sheathing his offhand blade once more, the sicarius seized Bruno by the head, then brought the edge of his sword to Bruno's face, putting out his eyes in a single, brutal stroke.
Leaving Bruno to scream and writhe in agony, the sicarius turned his attention back to Cain. Without Bruno, there was no one who could stand up to him now.
Holding up his hand in a vain gesture to ward off the sicarius, Cain stammered, "I-if I'm so evil, what does that make you!? You, you could've stopped me whenever you wanted! Don't pretend any of the blood I've been spilled is precious to you!"
"Nothing is precious to me," the sicarius replied coolly. "Justice comes in its own time and vengeance will be paid."
"You hypocrite! At least I'm honest about what I am! I don't dress it up like some child's doll!"
"All will be laid bare before the Judgment Seat. Judgment comes for us all, but this day, it comes for you."
"No! No!"
Before the sicarius could carry out his judgment, there was a terrible beastly roar. The sicarius sprang out of the way as the hulking figure scattered men all about it. In no time it was on him, roaring right in his face, spraying him with spittle and turning his stomach with its foul breath. Only when it stopped roaring did he realize that it was no unfathomable monster but rather an Orc. Horribly misshapen unlike anything he had ever seen before, but nothing more than an Orc.
With its slurring voice, the Orc growled, "You killed my father."
Somehow finding the presence of mind to make an intelligible response, Cain told the creature, "I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't killed any Orc."
The Orc pounded the ground with his fists.
"No Orc! His Grace the Bishop, your own brother!"
What was this? This twisted creature calling Abel father. It was not unthinkable. It would be just like him to take up some malformed Orcish whelp.
It seemed foolish to ask, but he did so anyway.
"What do you want?"
"I want my father."
In his desperation, Cain found something resembling courage.
"Then you can join him," he said as he pulled the knife out of his hand and tried to stab the Orc in the neck.
However, the Orc was much faster than he would have thought, catching his wrist well before the knife could reach it.
"I will settle for justice," it said.
The Orc did not tear off Cain's arm and beat him to death with it. Rather, it slung Cain over its shoulder like a sack of flour and charged ahead, right into the battle lines.
"Help! Anyone!" Cain cried as his body was shaken roughly by the Orc's uneven gait. "A castle! Lordship! Half the kingdom! Anything you ask! Just kill this beast!"
An arrow or two struck the Orc, but these did not even slow it down. Anyone in its way, wittingly or not, was tossed aside as if they were little more than straw dummies.
Despite all of Cain's pleas and offers, no one came to his aid. He was abandoned to whatever the Orc's idea of justice was. Because he was not killed outright, the only thing he was certain of was that this creature's justice would not be quick. Was this truly how his ambitions would come to an end?