-The beginning of something new?-
The corpses lay one on top of another in a grisly tower of butchered flesh and twisted limbs. Shadowed echoes of their screams seemed to chill the surrounding air. The topmost man had been decapitated, a deer’s head sewn onto his neck, mouth open in a grotesque imitation of human surprise. Eldris staggered back and fell against the trunk of a tall pine. His bowels loosened in fear and he felt a damp warmth spread down his legs. The fragrant scent of the pine needles which carpeted the clearing wasn’t enough to stifle the sickeningly appetising smell of flesh roasting over a cooking fire. Human flesh, he realised.
He smelled the cannibals before he saw them. The sulfuric odour of their marshland home clung to their skin and hair; it wafted through the dense undergrowth and stung his nostrils. Five of them staggered into the clearing, wild-eyed, drunk on slaughter and blood. Why are they here? he wondered as icy terror coursed through his veins. He scrambled back into a hollow between the pine’s thick roots and squirmed as dark, moist soil stuck to his bare arms and insects scuttled over his shins.
Don’t scream, he told himself. If they find you…
A sour taste burned in his throat and he retched; vomit spattered down his front and soaked through his green cotton shirt. The Myrronins turned towards the hollow beneath the tree, dark eyes piercing the shadows. His stomach churned again with the realisation of what was about to happen to him. The only Myrronin he had seen before had been chained hand and foot, jerking at the end of a hemp rope with a thick noose cutting into its neck; he had never seen them unbound, but Eldris remembered the stories in vivid detail.
The older men were eager to tell a young boy such as him how the beasts came to the high gallows in the market square. They laughed as the grisly details made him whimper in childish terror. The Myrronins carried short bows and bone-tipped arrows to cut off any hope of escape, stone clubs and axes to break his bones and render him helpless, jagged flint knives to strip his skin and part flesh from bone. The tooth and bone necklaces rattled at their necks as they closed in around him. At their centre, a young woman with strands of dirty yellow hair trailing down over her face parted her lips in a hungry grin, showing teeth filed to sharp points.
Their war-chiefs eat their victims raw, he remembered. They chew muscle from the writhing bodies of the living.
Eldris couldn’t cry out. His throat was dry and his body was frozen in fear. He thought of his older brother, wished he was there to kill the savages. Help me, brother, a voice pleaded at the back of his mind. Come save me. I should have listened to you. I know that now. Please help me. But there was no reply, only the dry laughter of the savages as they dragged him into the clearing by his ankles. He kicked and thrashed, wailing incoherent words of terror and pleading for his life.