Fog of War - A Short Story


If you are upset by dark themes, crude language, or vivid descriptions of violence and death or blood, I would advise you to give this story a miss. All of this is included with purpose and not gratuitous or glorified, but if those sorts of descript images bother you, this may not be the story for you. That said, enjoy the tale!

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Art by Vadim Sadovski

The light of a blood red sun struggled. It forced its way through the uncommonly solid coat of mist that had settled over the moors of Whiterun. What little light battled its way through the masking fog refracted off the dew-laden grass which covered the rolling hills in a thick, soggy blanket. Everything from the air to the soil felt heavy and morose. 

As the pitifully few rays of sunlight crested the lowest of the Horse Plains’ rolling hills, a group of men on horseback ghosted through the mist. Their horses moved with a steady, weary gait, the clop of their shoed hooves absorbed into nullity by the moist soil they tread upon. The snorts and knickers of the armored beasts were the only sounds in the still morning, and even they had not far to go, for the wall of white haze took up the heaving of their labored breaths with an infinite breath of its own. The men astride the destriers kept the same silent vigil as the dawn, bearing onward in grim silence. 

The men themselves wore armor; one might have guessed it was their finest, for should there have been a ray of sun for their plates to catch, the metal looked as though it might have gleamed brilliantly. Such as it was, however, the gloomy weather dulled even the armor’s magnificence. 

As the men and their horses drew steadily to a halt atop one of the small hills that rolled as far as one might see across the moor, they could begin to make out a second group of men, garbed in a similar fashion. They too rode horses which bore them up from the south. As they slid through the mist, which swirled in response to their advancements, the standard borne by the leading horseman became visible, looming out of the fog like a deathly spectre on its final haunting. From time to time the cloth would be jostled, teasing the fabric for its pathetic attempts at prideful motion. The purple and white checkered colors bore the head and pronged antlers of a stag, whose majesty was dimmed by the heavy creases disrupting the image. 

The dim purple of the southerners’ banner drew closer to the dulled yellow of those who awaited them. The wild stallion that galloped across the nordic knots adorning the yellow banner stared down judicially upon the approachers, seeming to snort in disgust. 

The southerners’ drew upon the zenith of the hill, and the group of destriers trotted to a halt several yards apart from the other armored warriors. There was a brief moment in which all movement halted, but eventually the southerners parted to allow a single man through.

Sporting a leather cuirass of deep brown covered in segmented plates, the man sauntered forward, a smirk playing at his lips. A steel shortsword which hung from his hip and a dagger strapped against his thigh, both partially concealed by a flowing cape of deep purple that was tossed lazily about his shoulders, clinked gently against the plates of his tailored armor as he approached the men below the horse banner. He held a steel helmet in his arm with a domed top and nosepiece. One might have wondered how his young, lush, jet-black hair could possibly have fit inside the helmet, or indeed if he had ever worn it at all. The confident light in his bright green eyes did not compliment his lazy stroll.

The man who approached him stood in stark contrast to the young southerner. This was unmistakably a man of the north. He moved with a steady, powerful gait, the rusty blond color of his hair remarkable only by the full beard that laid over his chin and cheeks, as the hair on his head was covered in a horned steel helmet. Even the helmet itself was a child of the north; the horns and simplistic elegance of the craftsmanship made that unmistakable. The elaborate nordic knots that decorated its crest were marred and scratched, telling as many stories as the pages of a book; perhaps more. He carried in his hands a hefty dual-headed battle axe, its weight seeming insignificant as his calloused hands bore it with a comfortable familiarity. 

The men met each other, each stopping with a six foot distance between them. Though the morning was a mild one, the ice in their gazes chilled each man to the bone. The northerner suppressed a smirk as he caught a flicker of uncertainty in the bored cockiness of the southerner’s gaze as their eyes met. The two men were silent for a time, sizing each other up despite their long standing acquaintance. Finally …

“You received the axehead, Sorrvar.” The statement was blunt, and more so because of the northman’s thick Haafingar brogue. It was clearly meant for the younger southerner before him, but every man on both sides of the hillock hung on to each syllable with baited breath.

The dark-haired man, perhaps more of a boy, inclined his head slightly, his smirk deepening. “Of course, Argoknolf. Your men were most insistent in its delivery.”

The northerner called Argoknolf stared at Sorrvar. Always the insolence. He felt the blood grow hot within his veins at the boy’s mocking grin. He wore the expression like a favored coat; it always accompanied him, though it did him no favors in the summer of an honorable man’s judgement. 

“A shame it is, that it must end this way, cousin,” Sorrvar continued, brushing his hair off his neck and fitting the helmet he clutched in his arms over the glossy locks. “To think how disappointed our dear fathers-”

“You have no right to mention their names!” Argoknolf boomed, the fire in his impassioned voice quelled by the veil of mist that surrounded him. Drips of sweat flowed together now with the condensation from the mist on his arms. He flushed as the fury came over him. Sorrvar had always known which strings to pull, what nerves to tweak … “You’ve betrayed them just as you’ve betrayed me, and the rest of your kin, you worthless fucking milk-drinker.” Silence greeted his words, and the vitrial in them burdened the air more than any amount of fog or rain.

“My my,” Sorrvar chided after a time. “Harsh words, harsh words indeed, for a noble of Whiterun. The Horse Lords were meant to be well mannered. A shame that you have discolored their name.”

Sorrvar ducked. Argoknolf’s hefty metal axehead sliced the thick air above his head as the northerner swung with all the might of his fury. The horses and men behind each of the combatants jumped at the sudden movement. Sorrvar grinned as the dual-bladed axehead whistled over him. The strings had been pulled, and now the puppet was dancing his dance. 

“Well, that was quite an overreaction don’t you think cousin?” The end of his quip was lost in a roar from Argoknolf. He looped the axe about, using the momentum of the weapon to bring it down upon Sorvarr’s head. Sorvarr dodged quickly, then drew his sword from its sheath at his hip, the rasp of the metal on the leather again lost in the wall of Argoknolf’s shouts of rage. As the momentum of the axe cutting down against thin air carried Argoknolf’s body weight forth, Sorvarr stepped in quickly with his leading foot, placing his blade on the shaft of his cousin’s axe to trap it where it fell. With his other arm he drew a small dagger from his thigh, bringing it up to find the space between Argoknolf’s armor where there was only yellow cloth at the bend in his knee in a single motion, making a small but deep incision. 

Argoknolf inhaled sharply as the stinging pain of the cut surprised him. He let go of his axe with one hand, bringing his gauntleted fist about to slam into Sorvarr’s helmet. The young man was carried forward with his step, almost toppling over, but regained his footing and backstepped, bracing in a wide stance as Argoknolf pulled his mud-caked axehead from the softened earth, leaving a deep wound in the hill’s soil. Positioning the axehead low, Argoknolf stepped forward, aiming an upward slice at Sorvarr’s head, his knee bending with his forestep and tearing the ragged yellow cloth around the cut further. The dagger’s slash was angry and red, and bleeding profusely. The sting lingered unpleasantly, fueling Argoknolf’s rage and adding strength to his cut. 

Sorvarr was nimble, however, and slipped under the strike, grasping his sword against his chest to avoid it intersecting the heavy axe and then thrusting it forwarding toward Argoknolf’s midriff as he slid under the heavy-handed swing. Argoknolf noticed the attack and brought his shoulder pauldron down into the thrust, the tip of Sorvarr’s sword deflecting off of its rounded surface. With Sorvarr thrown off balance, Argoknolf dropped low and swept the boy’s legs out from under him. The northerner shouted in startled pain as the sweep stretched the cut on his knee. The stinging was worse now, worse than it had been when the wound was fresh. Sorvarr’s body slapped against the muddy, dewy grass, his breath leaving him. 

Ignoring the pain, Argoknolf drew his axe behind him for a powerful finishing downward blow. The force alone would have caved in Sorvarr’s chest, but as the axe was drawn above Argoknolf’s head, the cut stalled. Argoknolf let out a grunt of surprise as his muscles seized up, tensing and refusing to respond to his commands. Nevertheless, sheer momentum and weight carried the axehead forward and it crashed into Sorvarr, though the edge alignment was poor and the blade of the axe failed to cut. Even so, what little breath he had regained fles Sorvarr in a panicked flurry once more as the weight slammed against his chest, and he felt his brittle ribs crack. After the initial impact, he gasped instinctively, sending pain lancing through his torso from his shattered rib bones. 

The pain in Argoknolf’s gash was unbearable. Why? he asked himself. That cut is nothing more than a scrape. His muscles spasmed again, seizing and tensing beyond his realm of jurisdiction. He dropped to his knees, the gash in his leg instantly becoming caked with mud from the ground.

Sorvarr lunged up suddenly, plunging the dagger deep into Argoknolf’s torso despite the brutal pain in his ribs. Argoknolf gasped and blood began to leak from his mouth as the cruel strike pierced his organs. A gasp and several roars of fury went up from the men of the horse banner. Sorvarr grabbed the larger man’s neck and pulled him close.

“You are the traitor here,” the southerner hissed into his ear. “Treachery is not a sin your Empire can forgive. You and the rest of our kin will suffer for your treason.” The words and their threat cut into Argoknolf deeper than the dagger itself. 

The poison that had paralyzed him now coursed through Argoknolf. He knew he could not beat me, he thought, and he would have laughed had not the paralytic agent prevented him from doing so, so the sound came out as more of a distressed wheeze.

He collapsed suddenly atop Sorvarr, all function leaving his body. Sorvarr groaned under the weight of the paralyzed, dying man, his broken ribs screaming in protest at the sudden mass that they bore. 

Several of the warriors under the stag banner dismounted their horses and hurried to roll the dead man off of Sorvarr.

“Do not dare to lay a hand on him, dogs!” shouted one of the men under the horse banner, his voice thick with agony. The southerners continued forward despite the warning, but Sorvarr weakly waved them off. The man who had shouted came and rolled Argoknolf’s corpse off of the dark-haired victor. He knelt over the body, sobbing. “Brother, why?” he whispered through the racking sobs.

Ignoring the grieving man, Sorvarr sat up slowly, painfully. Grunting, he removed his helmet and let his sweaty, muddy hair fall around him like a dark curtain.

His death was quick. The mace collapsed his throat instantly. The scream of pain from the still-sobbing man conveyed the force behind his sudden blow. The body of Sorvarr collapsed beside the other fallen warrior. Screams went up from either side. The horses charged. Swords clashed and metal rang against metal. Blood soaked the grass, adding to its unpleasant dampness. The earth felt each body collapse against it as the brutality of the morning unfurled. 

Soon the noise of battle shifted to a cadence of pain. Moans and shouts slid from the mouths of wounded warriors as they fell and died for deaths of their kin. A morbid garden of corpses littered the hill as the sun finally stretched its exhausted light beyond the mountains on the horizon. The mist cleared around the bodies, and the morning was tainted no longer by fog, but by death.  

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  • Man, that last paragraph really hit me. Very nice short story. Hoping for a sequel!

    • Really? That's a bloody relief, I wasn't too sure about the end XD thanks for taking the time to give it a read, means a lot

  • Love it Pix. Very emotive and tense. You did super well with the duel between the two warriors there.

    • Thanks man! I can't take full credit for my design of the action beats. Doing this story, I was watching a video by a writing channel called Hello Future Me where the content creator Tim broke down how action scenes work and the best way to communicate the narrative beats along with the action beats. I focused on that a lot in this story and I'm glad that came across!

      Thanks for the feedback m8!

      • I know the dude (not personally), i'm subbed as well. He's from New Zealand too :). He puts out some really helpful content on world building etc.

        • Yeah his videos are great. I watch him and other channels in his circle like Merphy Napier and Daniel Greene to get writing advice and book content. Great stuff for sure.

          Ik Tim put out a world building book that I've been considering buying.

  • Wow, that was...I don't know how to describe it other than intense! 

    • Great to hear bro, thank you ver much. 

  • Wow...that ending caught me off guard.  Love it!

    • So glad you liked it thanks for taking the time to read it bro! As I already said to Delta the end was the part I was least suire of so I'm happy y'all are enjoying.

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