Mannis began to get to his feet as a sword thrust past his father. Lekkel retaliated with a backhanded slash. Before he could face another enemy, a spear pierced him.
“Father!” shouted Mannis.
Shuddering, Lekkel faced the Vindavian and pulled the spear through. In closer proximity, he he brought down his axe on the southman’s collarbone. The sword dropped from nerveless fingers as the southmen fell face forward.
Lekkel smiled feebly and winked at his son, before twisting to the ground.
Mannis dropped to his knees, tears running freely from his eyes as more Vindavian soldiers saw the opportunity for an easy kill.
“Mannis!” shouted Kaliva.
The tanner’s son didn’t acknowledge him. Kaliva took up Lekkel’s fallen weapon and swung wildly with an axe in each hand into the southmen. Although smaller than the southmen, he was easily stronger, hammering their blades aside before delivering blows that would end their days.
As the last of the fighting wedge fell, Kaliva gripped Mannis’ shoulder and roughly pulled him to his feet.
“Keep to the battle or we are all lost,” he barked into his face.
A glint of awareness returned to Mannis’ eyes. Nodding, he turned to face the onslaught, as Kaliva sought out another enemy.
Velhaf knew he only had 41 fighting men to begin with. From what he saw of the battle, his tribesemen could well contain the first wave, barely, but Merikay ordered the rest of his contingent into the fray.
“Now!” he bellowed.
Doors of the houses opened. Children holding lit torches spread to areas of the stick boundary and dabbed the fiery heads. Velhaf fought on a few strokes, then pulled back as flames licked at the fence and overtook the boundary. Southmen screamed and swatted at their clothing as the Nusalleans retreated behind the crackling orange wall.
Merikay ordered his men into formation beyond the flames where they waited, staring intently.
Velhaf laughed, encouraging his tribesmen to do the same. He had won them a reprieve at most.
“Use the time to say your goodbyes,” he said.
They did as he asked, at the same time, drinking from wineskins as they laughed and jeered at the southmen. He expected them to act in this manner. Tribesmen tended not to behave so dourly in such a hopeless situation.
Sodnammoc raised his hands; one holding his tribesman’s axe.
“Let us pray to Yekunga, that he may give us…”
“… Enough, priest!” Kaliva thundered. He glared into Sodnammoc’s face. “Your rantings have never given us solace. So go to the rear of the village. I would kill you now if we did not need another axe. And if you say another word, I still might.”
Velhaf watched the two in silence. He agreed with Kaliva, and was sure the rest of the village felt the same. Sodnammoc tightened, then relaxed the grip on his axe. 20 years earlier no man in the tribe would have dared challenge him with an axe, but his time had passed.
“Go to the other side of the village,” growled Kaliva. “I will not draw my last breath next to the likes of you.”