Walking slowly with legs deeply bent, Keven crept to the top of the ridge and peered over.
The far side of the ridge dropped steeply ending in a narrow beach.
Another inlet? Keven thought.
A two masted ship lay half-wrecked just offshore from the beach. The ship had two masts and resembled the form popular in Keven’s grandfather’s day, when Aerioch was just learning to sail the deep seas, well away from land.
Several figures milled before the boat. They walked upright but Keven could see that they were not men. Coarse white hair covered their bodies. They held spears clumsily in misformed hands. Their faces stretched forward as long snouts and horns curved back from just above their eyes.
One of the creatures, one of the kinmar, dashed into the water brandishing his spear. Keven saw movement on the deck of the ship. Someone stood behind a half-collapsed crate and hurled something. Keven could not see what.
The kinmar ducked the missile and backed to the shore.
Another kinmar ran into the water. Another thrown missile, also ducked. This kinmar, however, did not back away. He continued forward until he stood waist deep at the side of the ship, safely shielded from any projectiles from the ship.
Another kinmar sprinted, mimicking the actions of the previous. A moment later two kinmar huddled next to the ship.
The third did not duck in time. His head rocked back as something struck him. He fell, floundering into the water, and lost his grip on his spear. The kinmar scrambled back to shore as more missiles rained around him until he had evidently passed the range to which the person on the ship could throw.
Once on shore the kinmar grabbed a spear from one of the three remaining kinmar, turned and shook the spear as he bleated at the ship. The kinmar then said something that Keven could not hear to the one from whom he had taken the spear and pointed to where the spear he had lost floated in the water.
The second kinmar bleated back only to be struck alongside the snout with the shaft of his own spear. The second kinmar splashed into the water after the spear.
Keven counted more carefully. Six. There were six kinmar.
While Keven had been watching this altercation, another kinmar made it to the side of the ship.
Keven let his gaze rove over the ship. He saw no sign of anyone else, just the one individual hiding behind the crate.
Four kinmar at the side of the ship now with two remaining at the shore.
Keven looked down and notice that his own hands, of their own accord, had drawn an arrow and fitted it to the bowstring. He smiled grimly. His father was probably going to kill him if the kinmar did not do it first. Still, that was an Aeriochi ship and the person on it might well be Aeriochi.
“And we do not leave our own behind.”
With those words, Keven stood as the first of the Kinmar began to climb over the railing of the ship.
He drew, the tension of the string of the unfamiliar design of bow feeling strange beneath his fingers. He sighted and let fly. The arrow flew, almost too fast to track, to bury itself deep in the hull of the ship next to one of the kinmar.
The kinmar climbing the rail scrambled onto the ship while the others turned to face up the slope. The two on the shore began running in Keven’s direction while the ones in the water splashed shoreward. Keven drew and let fly two more times. One arrow missed. The other buried itself deep in the thigh of one of the kinmar.
Keven tossed the bow behind him, swept off the quiver, and drew his sword, giving his body a small twist to pull the last half-hand of scabbard off the tip of the sword.
He did not wait for the kinmar to reach him, instead he charged, sweeping aside the spear point as he closed with the kinmar. He noted in passing that the point of the spear was sharpened bone. With the reverse stroke, the tip of his sword slashed across the kinmar’s throat. Blood gouted.
Keven pushed past the dying kinmar and continued toward the shore. As he passed the arrow-wounded kinmar, he drove a snap-thrust into it’s side, letting his momentum pull the sword free.
Keven charged the three kinmar. There was no coordination in their actions as they charged back at him. By accident, their movement formed a rough echelon, the one to the right leading. Keven shifted to the right. He closed, again sweeping the tip of the kinmar’s spear aside. He brought his sword up and drew in a slicing motion just before his body collided with the kinmar. With the force of their momentum and the draw cut, the sword cut clean through the kinmar’s neck. His head popped free of his shoulders.
Keven dropped under the next kinmar’s thrust. He half pivoted swinging the sword in an arc that would have made his old weapons master frown. The sword bit deep into the kinmar’s back. Keven wrenched the sword free from half-cleaved vertebrae as the kinmar dropped, its lower body lifeless.
Keven lunged upward as the next kinmar neared, Keven’s sword deflecting the kinmar’s spear upward. Keven lifted his left foot and kicked forward with his heel, catching the kinmar in the pit of the stomach. The kinmar fell backward, gasping and trying to breath. Keven did not give him time to recover but instead drove the tip of his sword between the kinmar’s ribs.
On the ship, the kinmar faced someone throwing things. From this closer vantage Keven could see the pots, billets of wood, and culinary implements that rained onto the kinmar.
For his part the kinmar held his arms in front of his face and waded slowly through this hail of missiles, approaching inexorably to the slight figure that dared not back away from his supply of ammunition.
Calling on the twins to grant him fleetness, Keven sprinted. Cursing, he saw that he would not make it before the kinmar reached the other. He urged his feet to drive him still faster.
Keven’s feet just splashed into the water of the shore when the kinmar stabbed forward with the spear. The other leaped backward to avoid the thrust but stumbled and fell.
Keven was knee deep in the water when the kinmar stabbed downward, out of Keven’s sight. Something jerked the spear out of the kinmar’s hands. It pounced, dropping out of Keven’s sight as well.
Keven reached the ship and scrambled over the railing. He dashed up the tilted deck and rounded the crate.
The kinmar and the other lay on the deck in a pool of blood. Keven raised his sword to finish the kinmar then paused. The kinmar lay unmoving. Keven noticed the hilt of a dagger protruding from its side.
A leg, protruding from under the kinmar, kicked.
“Get this thing off me!”
Keven’s mouth fell open as he lowered the sword. That voice had been decidedly…feminine.