Long blades of grass rustled softly in the breeze as the first rays of morning light appeared on the horizon. Not a single animal stirred, no movement could be detected save for the gentle sway of prairie grasses. Even the dew seemed to hold fast in silent protest against the rising sun that would burn it away before noon. It was a red sunrise, part of a timeless myth that was soon to be proven true.
The grass parted slightly as a pair of sandaled feet crept past. Moments later it was still again, as if nature itself was unaware of the warrior’s passing. His legs had carried him at a crouch for the last mile, yet held firm during the final few hundred yards to the edge of the clearing. After slowing to a stop he lowered himself to his knees, the torn edges of his shorts soaking up the moisture around him. His breathing slowed and he was forced to check on his companions by turning his head, for their approach was silent just as his was. Perhaps the only sound in the entire valley was that of the snoring men they observed through the bushes.
Everyone in the camp was sprawled out, their understanding of logical camp arrangement rivaling that of a rock slide. Bodies and cloaks lie in tangled indiscernible heaps strewn about the rough clearing where they had stopped for the night. A variety of weapons forced their unseen adversaries to take note, though with the ease in which they had dispatched the sleeping watchmen, it seemed unlikely they would encounter much resistance. This horde of barbarians had been traveling and pillaging for some time now, the very utterance of their approach causing villagers to run in fear.
"No longer will you haunt these plains." Thought the warrior, his grip tightening on his spear in anticipation. Leather straps dug into his hand as he pulled the shield he bore on his left arm closer to his body. It was heavy, a solid piece of equipment that saved his life on many occasions. His helmet was stifling, the metal wrapping around his face enclosing the hot air, but it made him focus on the task at hand. A low whistle from his companions echoed through their ranks. No visual cue was needed, it was time to do what they were born and raised for.
As a single unit the warriors rose and rushed into the camp, their footsteps no longer silent or cautious. The first barbarian to notice the ambush didn’t have time to raise the alarm before a spear entered his body and was gone a moment later. He crumpled to the ground as the shadows of the rushing warriors passed over him. Soon a few of the sleeping men awoke, and the camp became astir in a flurry of activity. Some had time to scramble for their weapons, while others barely opened their eyes one last time before they fell shut forever.
The warrior saw an enemy raise a weapon off to his right, and spun just in time to feel several arrows embed themselves firmly into his shield. Completing his turn, the heavy shield found its mark on a passing soldier and flung the fleeing man to the ground. He lifted his long spear and hurled it at his long-range assailant, the staff flying fast and true with enough momentum to knock the man over. Grinning, he pulled out his sword and charged back into the thickest part of the battle.
What the barbarians thought to be a temporary resting ground soon became a permanent one, their safe haven no longer anything more than a graveyard. Not a single warrior joined the fallen group on the dirt, and as they checked each other over only a few minor injuries had been suffered in the fight. As they began to search the camp for survivors, the warrior removed his helmet and shook the sweat out of his hair. The morning sun had risen only to eye-level since their onslaught began, a sure sign that things had gone smoothly. He retrieved his spear and swept it downward across his shield, snapping off the arrows and leaving sharp broken pieces of wood sticking out. He shrugged and considered leaving them there – they could come in handy for close-range combat.
Spoils from the barbarian raids covered the camp, pieces of torn clothing or bits of valuable metal cluttering their sacks. It was up to each raider what he found valuable, be it the sparkle of a jewel or the fading light of a former resident in the towns they attacked. The thought made the warrior clench his jaw and look away – as he did his eye caught the glint of a familiar object buried in the blood-soaked coat of a fallen barbarian. He knelt down and pulled the chain off of the man’s neck, his hand shaking for the first time that day. It was a family crest, one that was unmistakable among the town he came from. His eyes glazed over at the thought, but he couldn’t push it away – those in his village must have fled quickly when the barbarians attacked, for such a crest would not fall idly from the neck of one who bore it.
The warrior raised his spear and drove it through the fallen man, vowing to travel with the others until he knew his friends were safe. He closed his hand tightly around the amulet and stared into the morning sun. They would not remain alone. Wherever they were, he would find them in time.