Cyneric should not have been able to hear the ravens. The soft beats of their wings in red sunset. The rasp of their calls to each other. Not over the stomach-churning cracks of spears against shields, swords against armor, axes against bone.
His horse pranced and turned beneath him. Defeat and death were imminent. Even the seasoned warhorse felt the instinct to retreat. And, from atop the horse, Cyneric could see the stretch of the battle. If they retreated now, their clan would have at least a few of their fathers and brothers and sons to complete the year’s harvest.
He wore the horn. If he put it to his lips, the battle would be done. They would flee through the cover of night. Some would not make it. But some would.
A raven flapped closer. The bird circled and glided. Circled and glided.
Right over Cyneric’s head.
He should have put the horn to his lips. He should be watching the battle; their line would break soon and he would be the first the enemy sought out and killed.
But he couldn’t take his eyes off the ravens. Birds of death, the soldiers called them. And with the way their glistening black feathers contrasted the oranges of the sunset behind them–and the reds of the carnage beneath them–the birds certainly seemed like the bringers of death.
Or the bringers of fate.
Maybe they were one-in-the same, death and a soldier’s fate. But Cyneric only feared one of them.
The realization grabbed hold of Cyneric, like a brisk breath of wind between the joints of his armor. He wasn’t afraid of death. He’d seen it as a child. His two sisters. His eldest brother. His mother. Death was a season you couldn’t escape long.
It was fate that terrified Cyneric. A fate he couldn’t escape. A life planned before him and no matter how he thrashed, he could not escape the sinking pull of fate.
His horse danced beneath him. The ravens flapped and circled. Flapped and circled above him. Around him.
Ravens. The omens of death. The bringers of fate.
Cyneric snatched up his horn. He pressed it to his lips. But the call he breathed into it was not of retreat.
It was a forward advance.
As Cyneric urged his horse into the fray, the sounds of battle returned to his ears. The scrape of sword meeting sword. The splintering of wood. The fracturing of flesh. The cries of anger and anguish and terror.
And, in the midst of the chaos, Cyneric joined his sword to the sound, joined his will to the combat.
The ravens continued to glide and circle over Cyneric. But he chose not to hear them. He chose to pretend away his fate. If only for the few moments before his death found him.
ART CRED: Olga Tereshenko