The End of Tae
Tae MacLuthrenn held his broadsword before his eyes and lightly ran his finger across one edge feeling every notch and remembering the sword strokes that left them and the men whose blood left the blade crimson. He closed his eyes and remembered the faces of his fallen enemies, they never left his thoughts, and only in battle did the apparitions of the dead shrink to the back of his mind. To live only to take life is a destiny Tae had long since become disgusted with but could not break free from. He would have to die to earn solitude from the ghosts that haunt his consciousness, but to take his own life would be disgraceful and wretched so he will seek his death on the blood stained battle-fields of the earth.
He stood alone on a high mound that overlooked the battle-ground, his red hair blowing in the misty breeze he thrust his sword into the earth and knelt before it head bowed. He prayed. "Morrigu', goddess of war and owner of mine very soul. For all the long years of my life I have served your will, I have slain countless men in your name in many lands under many banners. I ask of you now to release my heart, I no longer want to be your tool, your weapon against mortals. I have become a monster now, a man who feels love for nothing but death. I beg of you to show pity on your servant and allow my ghost passage to Valhalla where I may greet the great hundreds that fell before my sword".
Tae raised his head skyward to see that a raven circled him as if in waiting, the carrion bird was larger than most, jet black with strange white eyes like that of something blind. The raven swooped down to land a few paces in front of him. The warrior stood and wondered at this omen, surely it was a messenger of Morrigu'. It appeared to be staring directly at him and as Tae looked into it's eyes he felt a cold burning in his brain. He felt voices in his mind then. It sounded as if they came from all around, they spoke to him; hundreds of them all at once, some whispered, some spoke at length, some screamed in rage and cursed his life and others just raved and babbled in his ear. He recognized many of them and recognized them as men he had slain in battle. He felt madness take him by the throat as he looked into those alabaster eyes, gripping his head in his hands he fell to his knees unable to break eye contact with the bird. The voices then merged into one definite utterance "Take up your sword, mortal. The dead await you!"
Then there was silence in his mind, the fire gone, the raven also gone like a spirit.
Tae rose to his feet and withdrew his sword from the earth, he returned it to it's sheath on his back. There was a mist behind Tae's eyes as he wondered on his immediate future, he would paint his body like his ancestors of old he decided and meet his end as they did. A soldier approached him at this point and laid his hand on Tae's shoulder, he did not flinch as he heard him coming. "Friend, come, the general is forming lines for attack and has asked for you personally to lead the charge".
"Aye, as I hoped. But I must prepare myself, fetch me woed so that I may apply it to my skin and fight the enemy with pride" Tae replied distantly.
"Will you not don your armour my lord Tae?" the gruff warrior asked, confused at this.
"No, not this day. Now fetch what I asked and be quick about it soldier".
It was some time before the soldier returned carrying a small mortar and pestle containing the blue dye. "As you asked my lord. . . I got it from a dancing girl at camp"
Tae took it from him and stripped down to his waist, he began applying the woed to his body in intricate swirls, he wore only rough leather pants. After this he stared at his sword for long moments mumbling some kind of prayer or death song, the soldier watched this fascinated, he knew Tae was originally from some nameless barbarian tribe but never before had he seen the man revert to any kind of rituals. Tae strapped his sword to his back and marched down to the font of the army, past the archers, lancers, infantry and reserves till he reached the cavalry unit that he was to lead, a man brought his horse but Tae ignored him and continued walking forward towards the distant army. Men called to him but he was deaf to them, his mind was set on one thing alone . . . blood. His march turned into a jog, men who respected him and held him in awe began to follow but were held in check by commands that the order to charge was not made.
The enemy line was directly ahead of him, the ground soft, the sky clear and air hot – Tae drew his broadsword and screamed a guttural roar as he sped up. The enemy knew him through fables and legend, they called him Cursed Red, and the front line waithered, men stepped back and cast nervous glances at their comrades. The general was no fool and sent eight of his favoured warriors to meet the charge of the legend.
Fifty paces from the front line these men formed a semi circle and ran to meet Tae’s singular charge, they all carried longswords except for a bearded giant who carried a large battle axe, Tae recognised him instantly as Crimthann, a man who’s reputation almost rivalled his own. He hit them fast and hard at the centre gutting a soldier with a thrust to the belly, the rest circled round him – two charged him from his front and back. The man to his front stabbed for Tae’s face but the thrust was parried by Tae’s broadsword sending the man off balance, as he stumbled Tae turned to face the other, crossing swords immediately he brought his knee up into the mans groin before slicing him deeply on his chest. The other assailant had regained balance as Tae turned again and sliced at his feet, as graceful as a cat Tae stepped over the blade and sheathed his own in the warrior’s chest. This all happened in a matter of seconds and the other five hesitated before surrounding and advancing upon Tae slowly together. The next few minutes were a flurry of movement as Tae showed these so-called warriors what it meant to be mortal, he was born for this. They attacked all at once making them more clumsy as they avoided their own comrades swords, Tae's broadsword snaked out like a live thing and claimed a head, then an arm before dispatching two more with a thrust to groin and clean slash to chest.
Crimthann remained standing, axe raised, he stood a full head and shoulder over the painted, flame haired warrior. They locked gaze for a moment then began to circle, both men knew that a fight between axe and sword could not last long. Men from both armies could be heard cheering for one or the other. Crimthann struck first sending his axe thundering down forcing Tae to leap to the side. Tae then rolled forward and slashed at Crimthann's legs, the cut was deep to his calves and he fell heavily - without mercy or a second glance Tae dealt the finishing stroke to his fallen enemy. Many more would fall under his blade that day, he had no room in his heart for mercy.
Ignoring the general's commands and shouts the men who were loyal to Tae, some even thought him immortal, charged after him encouraged with his display of skill and bravery. Tae himself had began walking toward the enemy, sword held out to the side.
Thanks to his dramatics all order began to collapse and battle commenced with outright disobedience to the orders bellowed by those in command on both sides. Tae ignored all and took in everything - he had never felt as he did now, there was a strange acceptance which lent him an air of casualty as he cut a bloody path through those who defied his steel. He knocked a man to the earth, a young man with dusty blonde hair who cringed on his belly, beardless and crying he could have been mistaken for a child but Tae ran his sword through his spine nonetheless, barely noticing the crunch and tare as he withdrew his blade from the man and earth below. The pictish swirls painted on his skin now lost their intricacy and clarity as sweat, dirt and clashing bodies smeared the woed, mixing it with blood so he took on the apparel of a dark harbinger of death.
Battle cries mixed in with death screams, it was total chaos and at the centre was Tae, slaying with barely a second thought to guard himself against attack - not that he needed to, men tried hard to keep away but by the time they were close enough in the fray to realise they were face to face with tae they were dead sent to the afterlife to wait.
"Wont have to wait long, boys!"' Tae bellowed aloud, " I'll be joining you soon enough!"
The battle must have lasted no more than 30 minutes but when men's blood is up and the senses are sharper time slows so that it seemed so much longer. Men were fleeing the field now, those who managed to find horses rode others jogged or in some cases swayed. Neither side had victory this day though the opposing army had in fact more men at the time of retreat it was no matter when morale hits so low. “Where are the rest!, where is my death!, my peace!”, Tae roared to the sky, there was no one else for him to kill this day and he had only one or two flesh wounds, nothing mortal, “ You have cheated me Morrigu’!”
He stood amongst a field of corpses, his torso, arms and face a dark red from blood and body paint. He looked down at the earth and sheathed his sword in it with a grunt of bestial rage. “ You wish to have me slay forever till nothing remains”, he says this as no more than a whisper, now his voice grows to that of a boom that surely all gods on all mountain tops heard and trembled, “Then I will start with you ,Morrigu’! . . . Goddess of battle and destruction!, let us see how you fare against my blade!” lastly he withdrew his sword from the ground and in one swift motion swung it above his head screaming his rage to the heavens, such pure hatred and blood-lust in one soul!
Overhead a raven with white eyes circled and at the sound of Tae’s roar those eyes turned to a shocking blue that seemed to steam in the cold air, it squawked back and in that sound could be heard a woman’s laughter touched with amusement.