Part Five of The Necromancer of Bern
Night fell over Bern and Sir Reginald moved quickly through the city. Sentries patrolled the streets. Restless men with large halberds scoured the area for any potential enemies. The people of Bern knew evil dwelt within their city. Something Reginald would be considered if light from their lanterns revealed his presence.
The knight moved at a steady pace and soon enough spotted the Manor residing by the cemetery of Bern. It was a large, ill-omened structure whose occupants no doubt knew of his arrival. Footsteps on the snowy ground alerted Reginald to a patrol. He quickly stepped out of the street and pressed himself into the shadowed arch of a doorway. He held his breath as two militiamen strode by. The yellow light of their swaying lantern swept over him briefly, but they were already past his position.
Reginald exhaled softly. This was going to be difficult enough without having to fight off innocent people getting in his way. Taking one last cautious look around, he made his approach to the Manor. There was not a trace of candlelight in any of its windows. The dark glass portals resembled baleful eyes that stared knowingly at the knight. It was an irrational thought, but one Reginald couldn’t completely dismiss.
He forged ahead, crept closely to the side of the manor until he found a pantry door. He pressed his ear against the cold, wooden surface. Nothing. Not a sound came from within. Wishing he heard some evidence of enemies he knew to be within, Reginald began to pry open the door with his dagger. He winced as the door jam cracked loudly. There was nothing to do but go on.
Reginald sheathed the dagger and stepped through the damaged door. He surveyed his surroundings and spotted a small lantern. Reluctantly he lit its wick, regretted further revealing his presence. But he needed to see. The flickering light illuminated the small, cabinet filled space. Reginald held the light before him guardedly as he stepped out into the kitchen.
“Unbelievers must die!!”
A frail form launched itself towards him from the darkness. There is a knife in its hand. Reginald is caught off guard as the weapon hits his outstretched arm holding the lantern. The blade is turned away by the chain mail. But the startled knight dropped his only light source. Recognition filled him as his assailant stepped into the lantern’s pool of light. Reginald back peddled defensively. This was no member of the living dead, but the mistress of the home.
The woman screamed and pursued him. Reginald could barely identify her gender. Long hair hung over features utterly twisted by madness. She wielded the knife in a complete frenzy and it was all Reginald could do to block her attacks. The knight recovered from his initial shock and grabbed her wrist. He twisted it roughly, tried to force the crazed attacker to drop the weapon. But she wouldn’t. Reginald could hear the bones in her wrist snap and still she wouldn’t drop the blade.
Realizing her weapon couldn’t be brought to bear, the woman tried to pull Reginald in closer. Her mouth opened and she strained forward to tear the knight’s throat out with her teeth. At that point, Reginald had enough. He whipped his head back and slammed the crown of his skull upon the woman’s forehead. She stumbled backward from the head butt. Before she could recover, Reginald’s mailed fist struck her soundly on the jaw. His attacker dropped to the kitchen floor in a heap.
The encounter left Reginald shaken. The woman had been possessed by madness, the sheer viciousness of her attacks was something he’d experienced battling men in the Jerusalem. Unbridled rage was the last thing he expected from a woman who was half his weight. But the knight couldn’t dwell on the matter any further. Creaking floorboards alerted him to the figures moving in the darkness.
Undead warriors raised by the Necromancer stepped into the light. Their hunched and broken forms were in varying states of decomposition. They moaned eerily. Raised their arms or whatever crude weapons they held lurched towards him. Reginald abandoned the light, knowing he was going to need both hands to grip his sword.
The lantern wobbled back and forth. It was inadvertently kicked in different directions by the living dead that massed towards Reginald, an eerie backlight that allowed him to see his enemies. Reginald raised his broadsword high as the first ghoul shambled towards him. He hacked downward. His sword hewed off the living dead’s upraised arm and splintered the ghoul’s skull. It tumbled to the side as two others took its place.
Reginald was not quick enough to dodge a ghoul’s grasp. A rotting hand clutched the knight’s shoulder and its grimy fingers dug into the fabric of his cloak. Reginald managed to twist free as large strips of fabric were torn away. Another downward chop decapitated the off balanced ghoul. Reginald then thrust the sword’s gore covered tip into his next opponent. The undead warrior grunted as steel filled the cavity of its chest. The knight twisted the sword as he pulled it free; he was about to decapitate this enemy as well when something brushed his cheek.
The crossbow bolt sticking out of the wall behind him was evidence of a new threat. Laughter filled the air and Reginald searched through the shifting mass of dead warriors to see a man, harried in his effort, to reload a large crossbow. He was positioned on the stairs leading up to the second floor. The elevated position allowed him clearance over the shambling horde.
“Life everlasting will be ours!” The crazed fanatic bellowed.
Reginald shifted to the right as another crossbow bolt sailed wide. But the evasion of one attack left him open for another. A ghoul slammed a thick wooden club across the top of his collarbone and Reginald stumbled backward in agony. The knight hacked wildly as he covered his retreat, struggled to keep an eye on the madman who took aim once more with the crossbow. Desperation and rage lead to the solution.
Reginald sheathed his sword and grappled the nearest ghoul. He slipped behind the uncoordinated warrior and secured a hold around its emaciated neck. His other hand free, Reginald grasped his dagger and drove it home into the ghoul’s festering guts. The flailing creature could not free itself and the knight now had an undead shield.
Reginald dragged the ghoul along in front of him. Felt the impact of crossbow bolts hitting its chest. Some of the attacks of the undead mob still managed to land. Stinging blows that Reginald endured as he plowed through the undead throng towards the staircase. When another stray bolt hit the floor by his booted foot, the knight made his move.
Reginald released his rear chokehold of the ghoul and roughly shoved it into the crowd.
He then dashed up the steps, dagger still in hand, racing against time as the fanatic frantically worked to ready the crossbow. The deranged looking man brought the weapon up as Reginald’s dagger swept down. The blade severed the drawstring and it snapped back into the face of the would-be shooter, tearing an eye out of its socket.
The man howled. His ruined eye dangled in front of his bloodied face. Reginald wasted no time in plunging his dagger repeatedly into his enemy’s chest before tossing the fiend down the stairs. His limp body struck the ghouls who were already climbing up after Reginald. The knight drew his sword and immediately set upon his enemies.
Reginald took advantage of the staircase, let it funnel the ghouls into a narrow space, making it possible for him to engage them one on one. The knight’s muscles burned with exertion. His sword became heavy as it pierced and hacked through putrid flesh. Coagulated blood splattered onto his surcoat from the impact of his blows. Until, finally, the last ghoul collapsed atop a pile of its twitching, undead brethren.
Battered and blood covered, Reginald panted like a wild animal. His body shuddered as he forced himself to step over his fallen enemies and search the home. The Necromancer hadn’t shown himself during the battle. The knight knew one neither of the fanatics were the dark sorcerer. Reginald walked wearily in the direction where the ghouls had appeared and discovered an open door leading to the cellar.
Torchlight illuminated the cellar. Reginald knew the necromancer waited below. But there was something the knight didn’t know as he marched down the steps. The lantern the ghouls kicked around in their efforts to reach him was broken. And its flame eagerly sought to devour the Manor.