This is the intro to a story about a suicidal knight. We are once again reaching into the archives–this WIP is from 2019–because I’m still very much entrenched in roughing out my Camp Nanowrimo story.
Warning for discussion of suicidal ideation, death, and some fantastical descriptions of gore.
The strangeness started with the stink of blood. Sable detected it long before he saw the castle on the mountaintop. Sharp and metallic, it cut through the crisp scents of snow and pine that had saturated the air thus far. Rather than being alarmed, as a younger knight might have been, Sable doubled his pace. Where there was blood, there was a battle, and where there was a battle—at least on this mountain—there was a dragon. Sable’s grim smile cracked the frosty filigree on his dark beard.
Old ice and new snowdrifts hindered but never halted his ascent up the narrow path up Rimier’s cliffs. The freedom from plate armor did wonders for Sable’s agility and aching back. Never mind the penetrating cold biting his skin. He had known before he set out that the fine tunic and battered chain mail beneath would not offer much protection from the harsh weather nor the dragon. The sword strapped to his back, his only practical piece of equipment, he carried for display.
Had any of his comrades back home seen Sable outfitted in such a manner, they would have attempted to stop him. If they knew of his intention to meet his end on Rimier, they would sooner lock him up than let him face the dragon.
The iron tang in the air became stronger the closer he got to the peak. Bile rose in Sable’s throat to meet it. Wind carrying the blood-reek hissed a rhythmic warning.
The castle clawed its way up out of the clouds with an especially strong gust. Its stone keep dominated in the far corner, menacing over the curtain walls and towers, rivaled in scope only by the bailey on the opposite side. He looked upon it with a mixture of awe and confusion. How and why had such a large quantity of stone been carried so far up the mountain? A large, elaborate structure did not belong in such an inhospitable area.
And there, below all the castle’s grandeur–the source of the smell. Three feet deep, a veritable pond of blood-drenched slush around the circumference of the outer walls. A gory parody of a moat. Gruesome evidence of battles floated in the red murk: the flutter of arrow fletching, an abandoned sword, what might be part of an arm. Bones, so many bones, pinkish-white in the slush.
Sable stopped. He exhaled a cloudy breath through his mouth, trying to keep a tight rein on the intense, animal dread that rose in him. Old wounds, physical and psychological, were made fresh again. Countless duels fought with human and monster opponents, winning sometimes, suffering grueling defeats others, all at a great cost. Healers and mages alike sewed and burned him back together until his body was a grisly patchwork of scars.
Fresh flakes of snow swept down and needled at his eyes, a twisted mercy that obscured the carnage. He straightened his shoulders and pressed on.
Despite rallying determination, the sight became no easier to look upon once he blinked away the snowflakes. The burn of long-healed wounds ceased, but cold continued to rattle in Sable’s lungs and the chambers of his heart. More distressing than the amount of blood were its bizarre qualities. Threads of steam rise from the murk. Against the laws of nature, the blood still ran hot. It could not have built up over the course of many challengers. Toeing at the blood with a boot revealed thick stickiness, like honey. Or slime.
If a bridge ever spanned the trench, it had rotted away. Sable’s boots sank deeper into the warm, gory slush with every step. He kept his eyes set on his destination and tried not to think about what bumped up against his shins.