The Iron Wolves

By: Andy Remic

A BLOOD, WAR & REQUIEM NOVEL

THE RAGE OF KINGS : BOOK 1

DEDICATION

This one is for my mother, and my mother alone.

Sarah Ann Remic, “Sally” to her friends, 1928-2013.

May you rest in peace, my love.

RETRIBUTION


“I’m sorry, Dek. Real sorry.” The large man grimaced through his thick beard, showing a missing tooth. “I apologise. Truly. From the deepest caverns of my heart.” His silhouette blocked out the roaring flames from the stacked hearth in the Fighting Cocks tavern. Voices hushed to a whisper and everybody turned eyes on Dek. Dek, the Pit Fighter. A pugilist you did not cross.

Dek rose to his feet, swaying under the influence of two large wine flagons. He turned, iron-dark eyes focusing on the newcomer and his fists clenched showing brutal scarred knuckles. He moved fast, and the right uppercut lifted the bearded newcomer clean from his feet, slamming him over the bar in a diagonal spin of smashed tankards, flying limbs and scattered stools. There came a few shouts, and some hushed curses. Somebody called for the landlord.

Weasel grabbed Dek’s arm. “No! He’s your brother!” hissed the little man.

“Well, I reckon I’m going to kill him,” snarled Dek, spittle on his chin, and Weasel saw the light of rage ignite Dek’s eyes and face and fists. He’d seen it many times, deep in the blood-slippery Red Thumb Fighting Pits. He’d witnessed it in tavern brawls and unlicensed fights down at the fish markets. He’d watched Dek’s extreme violence, sometimes with despair, sometimes with horror, sometimes with approval; it depended how much coin he stood to earn.

“Not today,” urged Weasel, grip tightening, even though his fingers couldn’t even encircle Dek’s massive bicep. “Your mother lies cold in her coffin,” he said, voice filled with a great regret. “Remember! You’re here to honour her. You’re here to remember her. You’re here to tell tall tales and drink plentiful wine; to salute her on her journey to the Hall of Heroes! But no fighting, Dek. You said it yourself. You promised her. You made me promise her. No war. Not today. For your mother, Dek. For your old mum.”

Dek turned bloodshot eyes on Weasel, his oldest friend; his best friend. Weasel saw the pain there, like a splintered diamond piercing the core of the large man’s skull. Pity swamped him. Pity, followed by a sudden, necessary horror. For in Dek there lurked a demon. A dark core. Of violence. Of insanity. Of murder.

“He’s your brother,” insisted Weasel.

“And that’s why he’s got to die,” growled Dek, pushing away Weasel’s restraining hand as if a child’s, shouldering two stocky men roughly out of his way, and leaping over the bar which groaned in protest. Dek landed, both boots beside his brother’s head.

“Get up, Ragorek,” said Dek. “Get up now, before I stamp your skull and brains to pulp.”

“No, Dek. It can’t be like this.”

Dek reached down, grabbed the man’s leather jerkin and hauled Ragorek to his battered boots. Ragorek was taller than Dek by nearly a full head, and Dek was big. Rag was a natural athlete, broad, lean, rangy, powerful, ruggedly handsome and sporting a thick beard. He was a man who commanded instant respect, not just because of his size and bearing, but because of some inherent natural nobility; a genetic legacy that had created a born leader.

“I fucking hate you,” growled Dek through saliva, broken teeth and wine fumes.

Ragorek grabbed his brother hard, by both sides of the head. “I know, little brother. I know that. I loved her as well.”

“Well, then, where the fuck were you?” His forehead slammed against Ragorek’s nose, and the large man howled as cartilage splintered. In reflex, fists came up, a right overhand blow slamming into Dek’s skull. Dek staggered, but shook his head as the rage of battle fell upon him like a velvet cloak, dark as eternity. He took a step back, then charged Ragorek, punching him in the throat, kicking him in the knee, then grabbing his head between both hands and thrusting his face close. “Where the fuck were you?” he screamed again, and smashed his forehead into Ragorek’s face: once, twice, three times. Ragorek went down, his clutching hands grabbing Dek’s torn shirt and dragging the younger man down with him.

He pulled Dek close. “You want to die, little brother? I can do that for you. I can make you suffer.” And he bit down on Dek’s ragged ear, ripping free the lobe in a shower of dark crimson. Dek growled, but did not scream. He was a veteran of the Pits. Dek never screamed. He rammed his fist into his brother’s face, three, four, five, six, seven, eight times until the face became a glossy splatter of pig’s blood. Dek’s knuckles were cut by teeth. Dek’s face was a contortion of rage and fear and hate and something else; something primal that transcended hate. A primitive emotion that went so far beyond civilised Man it devolved and spat itself screaming out the other side like a desolate embryo into a flickering half-life tomb-world of oblivion. Some things went beyond emotion. Some things, some murder, just had to be done. And Dek was the perfect killer. He was the widowmaker of the moment.

“Dek my lad. Stay very, very still.” The voice was deep and resonant. “I love you like a son. But by all the gods, if you break up my bar again I’ll put this crossbow quarrel through the back of your skull.”

There came a long pause.

“That’s reasonable, Skellgann. I’ll take it outside,” said Dek, levelly, and jacked himself backwards, standing from the coughing, groaning figure of his brother. Ragorek was helped to his feet and he scowled at Dek, spitting blood and a tooth trailing crimson saliva onto the boards.

“I’m going to break you, you little bastard,” said Ragorek.

“Like you did to our weak and dying mother?” smiled Dek, eyes widening.

Ragorek surged forward, but was held back by many hands.

“Outside! Move it out to the cobbles!” roared Skellgann.

“I’m taking bets,” announced Weasel, eyes glittering.

Both fighters were guided at crossbow-point from the Fighting Cocks, and a large group of men crossed ice-cracking puddles towards Heroes’ Square. Here, weathered and broken statues stood, or leaned, around a cobbled central yard. They were a testament to long forgotten wars; ancient dead men; heroes forgotten.

“That mad bastard King is an amusing fellow,” whined Weasel in his high, nasal voice. “This place is being flattened for a new clerks’ offices. Flattened to the ground. But still. At least I’ll have plenty more customers! Now, we have business to attend.” He counted out five dockets and scribbled furiously with the stub of a pencil. His cracked front tooth made his smile disjointed. And despite his love for Dek, Weasel was a pragmatist when it came to coin. Dek would thank him in the morning. Perhaps.

“Break it down, drag it down,” said Skellgann, his broad face flattened into a frown, his arms nestling the heavy crossbow.

“What?” snapped Weasel, frowning himself, focused as he was on odds and numbers and the clink of silver and copper.

“The statues. Our once-heroes. Soon to be smashed, torn down, broken down, destroyed.”

“They’re not my heroes,” said Weasel, giving him a sideways glance.

“Ha! What little you young pups understand,” said Skellgann, filled with a sudden great sadness.

Dek and Ragorek had moved to the centre of Heroes’ Square. Here, a hundred statues of ancient warriors stared down, and Dek removed his thick wool jerkin and coarse shirt, flexing his broad chest and huge, warrior’s physique. He had run a little to fat over the years, but all that did was give him extra weight. Anybody who dared called him “fat man” was soon punished with broken bones.

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