At Bay 

A lieutenant Markus Reutger Story



Tony Carden


[Note this story is incomplete; there’s only the beginning. You’ll have to decide how it ends for yourself.] 

                ‘Hee-yah,’ Markus yelled, spurring his horse on to greater speed. He glanced behind at his pursuers. He could see they were slowly gaining on him. His horse was tired and it was only a matter of time before the boar riders caught up.

                Turning around to look ahead, he anxiously scanned the ground for somewhere to hole up. The grassland rose gently to the crest of a hill, beyond which he could not see.

‘May Ulric preserve me,’ he mouthed silently as he realised his predicament. Alone, pursued, no refuge. He unconsciously patted the holster that contained his repeater pistol. He would take a few of them with him.

                Another quick glance showed they were closing. He dug his spurs into the flank of his mount. He could feel the beast react to the pain.

                Still ahead of his pursuers, he reached the top of the ridge and could now see the countryside beyond. He immediately spotted the manor, or farm, situated about a quarter of a mile away. May I just reach it, he thought. And aloud, ‘Ulric be praised for giving me this chance.’

He looked to see how close his hunters were. The slope hadn’t slowed the boars and they were now less than a hundred yards behind him.

Without hesitating, he spurred his horse down the slope towards the habitation. The animal seemed to sense that making a last effort to reach the manor would be its salvation and it galloped with renewed vigour.

Desperate to live, Markus kept looking back over his shoulder. He also searched the building for signs he’d been spotted. But nothing indicated he’d been seen. In the meantime, the boar riders were steadily cutting the distance. Markus calculated he wouldn’t be able to outrun them.

Knowing he would have to fight he prepared himself. Hunched down over his horse’s neck, he found it difficult to draw his pistol. But he managed it. Armed, desperate and with nothing to lose, he was ready to sell himself dearly.

The gap was now less than thirty yards. He could hear the ugly shouts of the orcs who thought they had their prey.

‘Stick ‘im. Skewer da humanz,’ they shouted in their vile language.

He abruptly directed his horse to the left and slowed down. This brought him broadside to the startled orc band. At the same time, he raised his pistol and aimed at the nearest riders. Blam, blam. Two shots spat forth, jerking his arm. The nearest orc, fell back and rolled off his boar into the path of the rest.

Immediately, Markus urged his horse back towards the manor.

He glanced back. His sudden aggression had temporarily disorganised the orcs. They milled around the fallen warrior for a few precious seconds before resuming their chase.

But it was enough. Markus was now less than a hundred yards from the manor. The gunshots must have alerted its inhabitants for he could see a number of figures running around.

He kicked the flanks of his horse driving it the last few yards as he rode into the courtyard.

A number of men milled about.

‘Shut the gate,’ Markus shouted as he pulled up. He looked back at his pursuers. Most of the boar riders had stopped when they had seen the men. But a couple of the orcs were right behind him.

More by instinct and training than through any conscious plan, Markus brought up his handgun and, aiming roughly at the mounts, pulled the trigger. The gun jerked as he fired the remaining four shots at the greenskins. He saw one, grasp its side where a bullet had struck. The boar of the other orc was hit too and its front legs collapsed, pitching the rider onto the ground.

Markus quickly slid of his horse and dashed back to help the men close the large doors to the courtyard. They barred them with two heavy timbers.

Exhausted, he leaned against the door and then sank slowly to the ground.

‘Water,’ he croaked.

‘Of course,’ said one and signalled to a young lad to fetch some.

When Markus had either gulped down or splashed over himself most of the small bucket the youth had brought, the man who seemed to be in charge, spoke to him, ‘How did you get here?’

‘I was on patrol. We were ambushed. My men and I got separated. Those green scums have been chasing me for miles. I just ran to escape them.’

‘Do you think there’s more of them out there?’

‘Yeah, they’re not alone. It’s a whole invasion.’

The assembled men, who had been listening, shook their heads and murmured to each other.

At this point, a young woman, a house servant, appeared and spoke quietly to the leader. Markus couldn’t hear what she said. The man turned to him and announced, ‘The lady of the house would like to see yah. Come, we mustn’t keep her waiting.’

Reluctantly Markus got to his feet. His body ached from the long ride.

Moving slowly he followed the pair into the main building. The servant led them along a short corridor and then ushered the two of them into a simply but elegantly furnished drawing room. Sitting in a chair was a middle-aged woman, a blanked over her knees. Standing beside her was a young girl. Her pale skin was framed by long flowing chestnut hair and her dark eyes sparkled. Markus thought her attractive.

‘Freddy, is this the man?’ the elder woman asked.

‘Aye, my lady,’ Freddy answered. ‘This is Lieutenant Markus Reutger, Imperial Engineer Outriders, from Altdorf.’

‘What mean you Reutger, bringing these...’ words momentarily failed her. ‘…these vermin here?’ she asked him in a loud and displeased voice.

                ‘I’m sorry ma’am,’ Markus explained. ‘I found your home by accident. They’d have come here soon enough even if I hadn’t stumbled upon it. They’re rampaging all over the country.’

                ‘What are you going to do about getting them away from here?’ she went on in the same irate tone she had used earlier.

                ‘Do, ma’am? Nothing.’ He paused. ‘I’m extremely grateful to be able to shelter here for a while. Once rested, I thought I’d escape to rejoin my men.’

                ‘And leave us here at the mercy of goodness knows what?’ she retorted. This time her voice carried her anger.

                ‘You’ll be safe here.’

                ‘You brought this disaster upon us. You get them to go away.’

                ‘Auntie,’ the young woman interjected, ‘you’re being unfair on the lieutenant. It’s not his fault.’

                ‘Well, I would think it is, leading them to our home.’

                The young woman moved forward a pace and stood in front of her aunt. ‘You’re welcome to stay here Lieutenant Reutger.’ She addressed Freddy, ‘See to his comforts and find him a bed.’

                ‘Aye my lady,’ he answered.

                ‘Bah humbug,’ said the lady of the house. ‘He’s bad luck, he is.’

                The young woman took Markus’ arm and led him out into the corridor. ‘Don’t listen to my aunt. She’s very worried. Three days ago my uncle, took most of the men to Urlberg to fetch supplies. She’s worried about them.’

‘Aye, tis so,’ added Freddy, who had followed them out and was listening to the conversation. ‘We’re ill equipped to face ‘em orcs. Especially if more come.’

Before Markus could say anything, the woman went on. ‘You’ll stay and help us, won’t you?’

Markus hadn’t considered the need to stay. He stood looking into her hazel eyes. She smiled.

‘I’ll stay,’ he found himself saying without knowing why.

She squeezed his arm. Then she turned back to re-enter the drawing room. Before closing the door she said, ‘We’ll talk later, lieutenant.’

‘Please call me Markus,’ he said as she disappeared.

Freddy led Markus back out to the courtyard. The men were waiting and looked at them as they came out.

Markus asked, ‘What dispositions have you taken?’

‘None,’ Freddy admitted.

‘May I suggest you post lookouts at each corner,’ Markus said. Freddy nodded and shouted instructions to the men.

‘What weapons have you got?’

‘Not many. A few crossbows, some halberds and spears.’

‘I’ll look them over.’