This story takes place in the small besieged town of Durender, where Nathaniel and Weissland forces try to hold off an undead horde. Chronologically this is among the first battles with the undead for Nathaniel, something important as the undead are the main enemy of Weissland, a country where necromancy is outlawed on pain of death. This is near the beginning of Nathaniel's career as a mage but after his training at the Mystic Tower so he is working without other mages alongside. This story is followed by the next one, called Undeath and Glory, which I will post soon.
Will I Live Forever?
Nathaniel slashed out at the flailing hands and weapons. As he stabbed at a zombie he shouted to the soldiers and militia around him “Push them back, get me some room.”
The soldiers roared and with shield and sword pushed the undead back a few paces. Quickly Nathaniel went into a two handed grip and flung an upwards swing at a zombie, knocking it back into the mass of undead. Reserve soldiers plugged the gap as Nathaniel threw his sword towards the second line of barricades, knelt down and put his arms under the Lord’s armpits. Nathaniel dragged the man back and up to his feet before carrying him to the second barricade. Several soldiers helped him heft the armoured Lord over the barricade so the healers could help him. Nathaniel was just turning back to the combat when a cheer went up. The undead were falling back for the time being. The black-clad mage picked up his sword and gave out some orders “Archers, hold your fire. Get the wounded back. Pile the dead... burn them. Collect what weapons you can, especially arrows; we cannot afford to run out of them. A day, that’s all we have to hold for... a day.”
He climbed over the second barricade and walked to the building where the healers were. There would be some time before the next assault. Entering the building, which was normally the town hall, Nathaniel moved through the rows of cots where the wounded lay. They were being tended to by the few healers present, and some people the healers had requisitioned to aid them. He moved passed them and walked into a small side room. Here the injured Lord Harluck lay, a former military officer who was now mayor and protector of the town. He had done a good job, Nathaniel could not fault him, and nobody could expect more from him in this situation. It was difficult to weather such darkness and Lord Harluck had stood strong. Nathaniel had nothing but respect for the old man. He was cut from the same cloth as Nathaniel’s grandfather Caine Drakkon, and many of his ancestors. These were men of noble birth who stood and fell in battle, when many others of nobility simply hoarded their wealth within the walls of their estates and did not fight for their homeland.
As the healer finished doing what she could to make Lord Harluck comfortable, he motioned with his hand and bade Nathaniel to enter “Nathaniel, come in. Come and sit beside an old man and let us speak for a time.”
Nathaniel walked over and sat on a stool near the bed as the healer left carrying bloody clothes, a bowl of water and other things. There was only one magical healer here, and he was hard taxed elsewhere in the building. Nathaniel said “The undead have fallen back, we can hold the town yet, until help arrives.”
Lord Harluck nodded, his eyes not focussing properly on Nathaniel. He said “Good, good. Although I don’t think I’ll see it, not now anyway.”
Nathaniel knew it was true but said anyway “Don’t speak like that, you could live through this still.”
The Lord, with his armour removed seemed smaller, more fragile. He coughed slightly and said “There’s no need for false hope Nathaniel, it’s never done me any good. I’m dying and there’s no two ways about it.” He took a few laboured breaths then continued “When I was young, I used to think I was impervious, unstoppable. I thought I would live forever.” Thinking for a moment he asked “Will I live forever?”
Nathaniel sighed “No... none of us live forever, everything dies eventually.”
Lord Harluck replied “But that certainty should never stop you striving for what you want in life, that’s how you live forever by being remembered as living every moment to the fullest.”
Nathaniel nodded “That reminds me of a poem... or more a children’s rhyme really, The Laughing Lord.”
Lord Harluck smiled “Then recite it lad, and cheer me up.”
Nathaniel said “Urgh, now how did it go again? Ah, yes, now I remember:
A Lord did sit in a hall of stone,
You find him here upon a mighty throne.
Troubled, he bade the jester to entertain.
For laughter would surely ease his pain.
The jester, he did begin to dance.
And the Lord watched the clown prance.
But then did the jester stumble and slip.
Enraged the Lord reached for his sword’s grip.
The Lord shouted for mirth or death.
Hushed was the court as jester spoke, no other sound or breath.
Years passed as the Lord laughed, his troubles washed away.
And never did he see the sword no longer held at bay.”
The old man spoke “A nice little poem that.”
Nathaniel replied “Aye. Most take it as a trifle, but there is meaning there for those that would see it. A bad Lord is long remembered for their mistakes and failures, even in death, but a good one is never forgotten for all they have done.”
“And which am I Nathaniel?” Harluck asked.
“You will not be forgotten my Lord, of that I am sure.” The young mage replied.
Lord Harluck seemed to be getting tired, he could barely keep his eyes open. Nathaniel was about to tell him to rest when there was some commotion outside. The mage rushed to the door and listened. A soldier outside was shouting “Another attack! To arms, it’s another attack!”
Nathaniel turned back to say he had to leave, to help in the fight, but the words caught in his throat. Lord Harluck was dead, he had passed away. It had only been a few seconds, Nathaniel had only turned away for a moment. But it had been the Lord’s time, Nathaniel thought. Silently, with a look of determination, Nathaniel gripped the hilt of his sword and ran out into the street and towards the fighting. There were two necromancers out there in the darkness and Nathaniel was going to find them. When I do, I’ll pose a question to them, he thought. Will you live forever?