Castaways in Time by Adams Robert
Castaways in Time by Adams Robert
Raibert Armstrong sat his fine, tall, long-legged horse—spoils of this extended reaving—atop a low-browed ridge, just above the sleeping camp of his largish band. Every so often, he would take the slowmatch from out the clamp and whirl it around several times in the air before once more securing it back into the serpentine of his clumsy arquebus, for if that scurvy, ill-natured pig of a Seosaidh Scot who had robbed him of his well-earned sleep and set him to this useless, thankless task should come by and find his match unlit, he surely would set about thrashing Raibert. And Raibert would then have to kill the bully and then, even if he were fortunate enough to escape north to Armstrong lands, he would be forever marked as the man who brought back into being the long, costly, bloody feud betwixt the two clans, and it ended but less than a score of years.
Of a sudden, the horse raised its well-formed head and snorted, dancing in place, its small ears twitching forward. Then, faintly, Raibert heard it too—a deep, but blaring, buglelike sound, seemingly coming from somewhere beyond the slightly higher ridge on the other side of the camp of nearly two thousand sleeping Lowlander Scots.
Raibert gave the beast just enough knee to set it to a distance-eating trot, loath to gallop so marvelous a prize when he could see but dimly the way ahead. He took time to blow upon that slowmatch, but then, as he harbored scant faith in the ability of the ancient, ill-balanced and woefully inaccurate firelock to accomplish anything more of value than a loud noise to alert the camp, he reined up long enough to check by a vagrant beam of moonlight that the priming had not shaken from out the pan of his new wheellock pistol. He also made certain that the falchion was loose in the sheath— the broad, thick, heavy blade was centuries older than the elderly arquebus, but cold steel was at least always dependable, if well-honed and hard-swung.
At the foot of the higher ridge, the Armstrong clansman blew one last time upon the smoldering match, then snapped the metal ring of the shoulder strap to the similar ring in the weapon’s wooden stock so that when its single charge had been fired he could drop it to dangle, leaving both hands free for horse-handling and bladework.
All preparations for alarm and battle complete, he set his prize horse to the heather-thick ridge, a sudden gust of night wind, blowing down cold from off the distant highlands and the icy seas beyond, whipping his breacan-feile about his shoulders and tugging at the flat bonnet he wore over his rusty mail coif.
But at the ridge crest, Raibert Armstrong reined up with such suddenness and force that the horse almost reared. Up the opposite slope, headed directly for him, was a monster, an eldritch demon surely loosed by none other than Auld Clootie, Himself, and straight from a deeper pit of Hell!
No less than six eyes had the demon—four glaring a blinding, soulless white, the lowest-set pair a feral, beastly yellow-amber. Of the rest of the demon, Raibert could descry but little, save a dense, dark mass, low to the ground, wheezing and whining, snorting and bellowing its bloodlust as it eas-sayed the steep slope. The hornlike bellowing was constant, as if the creature had no need to pause and take fresh breath.
Perhaps it did not need to breathe air at all? What man, priest or lay, truly knew aught of the bodily working of a Fiend from Hell? Certainly not Calum Armstrong’s son, Raibert. Nor did he intend to learn more, not at any close proximity.
Moaning with his terror of the Unearthly, he had reined the skittish horse half about when the monster changed its course, bearing off to Raibert’s left Seeking the gentler slope of the ridge, was it? Or was the diabolical Thing seeking rather to flank him, to place its awesomeness twixt him and the camp?
At the new angle, whereat the glaring eyes did not so blind him, Raibert could discern more of this foul Thing—long as a good-sized wain, it was, but far lower. He could see no part of the legs for the high-grown heather, but he suspected it to possess at least a score, to move it so fast across the rising, uneven ground.
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