Commander Zander FoeHamer was covered up to his shoulders in the blood of his enemy. His massive head barely fit inside the dead animal's chest. But finally the horrible hog heart broke free and Zander proudly pulled it from the gaping maw, his muzzle dripping red.
Behind the young captain Princess Kai's eyes were wild with battle lust and praise and pride for her younger brother. "Excellent!" She exclaimed. "She'll be so pleased when you bring her that heart." Kai smiled widely.
Later they would send work crews with huge sleds and wagons to drag the hog carcass back to the Great Hall. But now Zander could only think about this, his first real battle victory over the hogs. He'd been too young to engage the enemy last winter but now...now this was his time. He allowed himself a rare moment of pride when he thought of her praise when he crossed the Great Hall with his prize. There would be feasting and merry making for days.
And maybe.. yes.. maybe this great victory would eclipse his shame of never having killed that foxy vixen who's earlier raids into The Good Land had caused so much damage. What Zander would not allow himself to acknowledge was that his very presence on The Watch had allowed the barnyard the peace and tranquility that lasted for the spring and summer.
But now winter was coming and the battle season would begin in earnest. His was the first victory and his fame would spread throughout the land. Runners would be sent in all directions with the news. This call to battle would bring warriors from all the lands to The Great Hall. Then they would war until the evil pig empire was entirely defeated. Zander thought of the hog heads hanging in the Great Hall - symbols of his valor and bravery - and nodded his satisfaction.
Zander shook off the momentary pride and humbled himself again, as was his way. "Sister! This victory is yours as well. If you had not routed that pig and sent it in my direction I surely would not have had this kill."
Kai's sly eyes dazzled but she caught her sharp wit before it left her mouth and instead she inclined her head, "No, Zander. The day is yours! Come now, lets bring this grand trophy home."
"Do you think she will be surprised?" Asked Zander shaking the blood from his coat.
"Of course!" Kai merrily replied and cuffed her brother good naturedly. The she wiped the blood from her own coat. "We left her at her books, what else could she be doing today? Lets go. If we are lucky we'll be home before sundown...and just in time for the feast fires."
Kai tossed a smile over her shoulder to her kingly brother and then bounded into The Dark Woods. He trotted after her carrying the huge heart still dripping hot blood.
On a high hill overlooking the scene, OFG's mount pawed nervously at the ground. The smell of blood and fresh death making the animal anxious. "Do you think any of that blood was his? He was covered in it." She asked her voice barely quivering but the concern obvious.
"You are worse than an old mother hen." Harrumphed Colonel Ti. "His victory was perfect! And I'll wager not a scratch on him. That young pup has done well."
She nodded. "Yes. He did well, didn't he?" Now that it was over OFG lightened and felt the rising pride for her youngest.
"We need to leave now if we are to get back before their return...you'll want to be there. And remember to act surprised." Col Ti chided as he turned and disappeared into trees. OFG wheeled her mount around and kicked him into a fast pace.
On the other side of the vale a silent rider on an enormous black horse watched them go. At last the big man and his mysterious, dark companion turned and vanished into the Dark Woods.
And thusly the battle season began.
Editor's note: New readers may begin this part of the story here and then here for the second part. The backstory begins here, then Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.