What Time is Too Late
Short Story (Fantasy/D&D)
Lieutenant Reece's defenders were overrun by the Edrassan invaders. Now Reece must reach his wife before the enemy soldiers pillaging the town get to her.
This story can be read on it's own or as a sequel to my earlier story, Invasion.
The enemy had won the day. Catapults on the Edrassan war galleys hurled fiery missiles into the defenders. Lieutenant Reece had fought them as they came ashore; his brave few, against wave after wave of invaders. He had watched helplessly as one after the other, his men were cut down, finally giving the only order possible, retreat.
He had been separated from the survivors of his unit and found the town swarming with enemy soldiers. Like every victorious army, they were enjoying the spoils of war.
Reece ran through the back streets of Carlin Town. His normally crisp uniform torn and covered in dirt, dark shoulder-length hair matted with blood from a cut on his scalp, calm demeanour swept away with the lives of his men. He must get Gwen to safety before these butchers reached his home. His gut churned at the thought of reaching her too late.
Edrassan soldiers were everywhere; he had to duck into alleys several times to avoid them.
As he approached the back door of his home, he noticed it was already open. "No! Please God, no! Gwen!" He ran inside and came to a dead stop. The parlour was a shambles with overturned, broken furniture. He hurried through to Gwen’s herb shop at the front of the house. "Gwen?" but there was no response.
There was blood on the stairs. Reece ran up the steps, burst into their bedroom and froze. He turned away and vomited. Gwen’s body was spreadeagled on the bed, her sightless eyes staring at the ceiling, her clothes bloodied and torn. Reece fell to his knees. The room blurred from the tears streaming down his face, his head felt like it would explode and his strangled scream became a sob of anguish.
He had no idea how long he sat rocking the lifeless body of his wife. Dead before she could give birth to the child that he would now never hold, or teach to hunt, or celebrate their coming of age. The sound of looters arguing outside penetrated his daze. He gently laid Gwen down and tried to rearrange her clothes to cover her body. But they were ripped and torn, failing to provide the dignity she deserved. He wrapped her in the bed sheets, took her cold hand and rested his forehead on hers.
There was a crash downstairs as the front door was kicked in. With a start, Reece realised that someone was entering his house. Not content to take his wife and unborn child they had returned for more. The bastards! He drew his sword and charged out of the bedroom and down the stairs. He'd make them pay! The first looter came up the stairs, stopped to say something to his friends as Reece’s sword point took him through the chest and he fell backwards. A lit torch dropped from his lifeless fingers into a display of dried herbs in the hallway below. It quickly caught and started to burn fiercely.
Reece’s sword was stuck in the looter’s chest so he leapt over the dead man and drew his dagger in the same motion. He landed between the two looters at the bottom of the stairs. The first jumped back in shock but the other one snarled and swung his club at the side of Reece’s head. Reece swayed back, the club missing by inches. The momentum of the looter's swing exposed his back and Reece buried his dagger into it, aiming for the kidney. The man screamed and fell. The flames had spread rapidly between the displays of dried herbs and made their way up the wooden walls.
The third man glanced at his two fallen comrades and ran for the door, but Reece launched himself at the looter and they both fell to the ground. They rolled on the floor, arms grabbing wildly for each other. Reece ended up on top but the looter tried to gouge Reece’s eyes. Reece turned his head away, bringing his elbow down on the man’s nose. Blood sprayed as the nose broke with a crunch. He pummelled the man with his fists in a blind rage. The looter stopped resisting and then he stopped moving altogether, but Reece continued to pummel the bloody head.
Heat scorched his face, smoke entered his lungs and he started to cough. Gwen! He tried to reach the stairs but they were engulfed by fire. He tried to get through anyway but was forced back by the flames. Staggering out into the street Reece saw his home, and Gwen’s shop, sheathed in flame. He stood staring at the fire, absorbing his absolute failure to protect his family, his home, the lives of his men and his town.
An unknown soldier from Reece’s regiment was shaking him. “Sir, we must get out of here. The town has fallen.”
Reece shrugged him off, “No. There’s no point. Leave me be!”
“Sir, we must go north. Commander Hyte will know how to strike back at these Edrassan scum!”
The soldier’s words rolled around in Reece’s mind. Strike back – make them pay – revenge. Maybe. Reece allowed the soldier to lead him away.