The head of the Chosen One was in his sights. It wasn't the first time Harper had seen him, but each and every time he always marvelled at how young and how frightened he looked. "Unsurprising really" he thought to himself. "He was just a shepherd until two weeks ago."
Taking a deep breath he brought the sights back over the hill to the group of orcs. There were only seven of them, but that was enough to take a couple of Fists of humans, more than the number in the Chosen One's party. But then again thats what his Fist was for; to make it as one sided as possible on their behalf.
'Remember, your target is the one with the battle-axe, ' Jarvis whispered to him. 'I want you reloaded as soon as possible and to try to hit the chieftain. I don't think Baker will take him down with just the one bolt. On the count of "Fire"'.
Harper tapped against the crossbow twice in recognition. It was the third time he'd been reminded, but Jarvis always did get anxious before the bolts flew. He went over the checklist in his mind: target, three bolts at the ready, space just behind to sit back and wind back the crossbow, secondary target, the main get away path. He was ready. Taking a couple of deep breaths he relaxed, checked the wind and listened.
'Three... ' Harper slumped even further onto his bow, focusing all his attention on the sights, hoping that the growing darkness wouldn't mess up his aim.
'Two... ' He put his finger on the trigger as the world narrowed to the tunnel of the sights.
'One... ' He started smoothly pulling the trigger.
'Fire.' Almost as an afterthought the bolt flew the hundreds of yards down the hill and into the head of the orc. He waited just long enough to see the blue of the blood before rolling back and flipping the bipod back on top to rewind the bow. Blood rushing to his head, he could only see the string move closer and closer to the correct position as he pedalled his arms furiously. As though in a dream he heard Jarvis say from a long way away 'Three targets hit. Good job. Harper finish off the chieftain, you two fire at will'.
Fumbling wildly for the bolt he finally found it as he rolled back over, changing the hand pedals back into the bipod and slipping in the bolt. Looking through the sights he quickly tracked back and forth before stopping, taking a breath and aiming. Waiting for the orc to get into his squat, banging the floor ready to charge, he readied himself for the perfect shot. As the chieftain lowered his head to bellow Harper steadied his aim and fired. This time he took a couple of seconds to watch the orc spun halfway round and staggered as the knight charged and swung the claymore at his head.
'Excellent job guys. The orcs are wounded enough for them to wipe them up. Looks like they have it in hand now. Get to the next outcrop in time to scout the area.' Bull ordered. With a double tap to his chest with his fist to acknowledge Harper knelt back, picking up the two spare bolts and touching his knives to check them, before scurrying through the ferns as fast and low as he could. Behind him he could hear the others following behind and brushing the ferns around.
At the edge of the ferns Harper paused to check for orcs or goblins. Nothing. He knew that after the fight the main Party would stop to congratulate themselves for a couple of minutes, giving his Fist enough time to check for more enemies. For the hundredth time that day he swatted at the flies and rued the day that the King decided to try and use the Prophecy. With a quick glance at the horizon he realised that dusk would be in little more than half an hour, and that the Party would probably stop to make camp where they were.
Dropping to the ground he wormed himself through the ferns to the end of the vegetation and checked behind him to see where the others were. Satisfied that they could back him up, he looked out across the lay of the land- the last mile or so of the mountain range and its vantage points. Then, little more than two miles before the swampland and his Fist's uselessness. No enemy forces visible, he shuffled laboriously backwards and pulling out his flask to take a drink of water.
Crawling spider-like on all fours he scuttled over to Bull to ask 'Sarge. Whats the plan? Move back a bit and watch over their camp or stay here?'
With a sarcastic smirk Sergeant Buller replied 'What? You think that the prophesised Chosen One will stop and make a comfortable camp and sing songs rather than press on and try to save the world?' With a weary eye roll he snorted and continued 'Yeah, I think you're right. We'll go back at dusk and then set up.' Looking up he barked 'Oi. Ginger. Heat up some water and get a brew going. We have half an hours break before we start babysitting again.'
With a double tap to his chest Ginger started pulling out some ferns to clear a space to work. Staring wide-eyed, still a bit pale and slightly sickly from having killed, the rookie started helping clear away the ferns, starting to pile some up in the centre of the space. With a shake of his head Ginger stopped him: 'No, no, no and no. We don't need any fuel for the fire. Whats more, we don't want any. That'll just make smoke, especially since its wet. Why don't you get out the pot?'
Glancing quickly round to find the nearest tree, Harper moved to lean back against it to watch Ginger hold the pot of water in one hand and conjure up the flame below it, with Baker looking on enviously. Meanwhile Jarvis just rolled up his cape to make a pillow to have a nap and Bull pulled out his ever-present maps to study the area.
Leaning over to one side, to pull out the packet of herbs, Harper called out 'Oi, Baker, catch.' Throwing the packet, he just groaned as the rookie fumbled the catch and dropped it. Wondering to himself once again how they had gotten a complete rookie as a replacement after Carter had his break infected, Harper just closed his eyes and relaxed as the Fist waited until dark.
'You know what I never quite understood? Just how the hell everyone is so sure that this guy is the Chosen One? Aren't they supposed to be six foot tall, with rippling muscles, brilliant with weapons and with women hanging off their arms?'
'Yeah, but Baker, thing you have to understand, everything the backseat wagoners say has two pinches of salt and a bit of chilli already added to it. You have to remove the stuff added on to make it sound better. So, when they say this is an easy mission, just providing a bit of cover for a Squadron of soldiers at the edge of the Kingdom, the fact that its pretty much a cul-de-sac in the back end of nowhere babysitting some minstrels is obvious.' Ginger replied.
Everyone paused a moment at the sound of two of the dwarves in the valley below starting to sing in dwarfish. Loudly. And out of tune.
Ginger continued 'Whats really happening is that everyone is shit scared of the Black Horde, so they've taken the prophecy everyone knows and is trying to fulfil it without even understanding it. So, they've taken one Mikhail of however many there are who sort of fits one of the lines of the prophecy, and trying to get him to fit all the others. Its why we're going via the damn Swamp rather than the short way. And its why they don't send an army.'
Bull chuckled to himself before remarking wryly 'I've got two nephews called Mikhail about the right age. Damn near half the boys born in Heather fiefdom two years either way of the comet are called Mikhail. Damn stupid prophecy. Just means you have a load of arrogant fifteen year olds whose parents told them they're the Chosen One.'
Harper smirked to himself before asking 'Which version of the prophecy? I've heard at least three. Is it the one the King's using the one where he fights a group of orcs with his bare fists or where he has sky blue hair?'
'Stop whinging Harper' Ginger complained. 'You have to agree, as prophecies go its pretty straightforward. No rhyming and mostly makes sense.'
'I know it!' Baker offered excitedly. 'My mum made me learn it by heart! It goes:
"The Chosen One will save the Kingdom.
Only he can make a treaty with the Ancient Ones.
But if not seen will die to goblins.
So see him by the signs.
He will be called Mikhail.
He will be born in heather under the red star.
He will beat orcs without lifting a weapon.
He will fight the ever-living with stones.
He will travel through the mountains to the Ancient Ones place.
He will be the only one who can save the Kingdom.
See him, or the Kingdom will fall to the Black.'
'And they say that they know that he's the chosen one because he managed to outrun the orc war party that came over last month and let the army know about them.'
Smiling at the rookie's enthusiasm, Harper remarked 'True, but he didn't really beat them, did he. It was more get others to beat the orcs. And noone quite sure what the ever-living or the Ancient Ones are. Although that is why we're going to the damn Swamp.'
Looking over, Baker asked curiously 'Just what's so bad about the Swamp? No one will say anything about it.'
'You haven't heard?' Harper looked around conspiratorially before continuing 'Well, first of all, its wet, and you can't drink the water, and you can fall in the swamp and not get out, and there are bugs, and leeches, and crocodiles. Some of the best trackers say that if you go off the main path then the swamp moves around right behind you, so that if you go the wrong way you can't even get back out.'
'Urgh.' groaned Baker.
'And then there's the zombies.'