Today is the day that Return of the Sword is released to the eagerly awaiting public. As promised, here's the DVD bonus features. First up is the opening scene that I struggled with, rewrote a few times, and then finally cut.
Rocks withstood the incessant crush of the swollen river, pushing above the roaring water like knuckles of the Earth. About two dozen women and children huddled on the smooth dirt leading up to a low stone bridge. Oth stood, one foot on the bridge and one foot on the dirt, blood caked on him like muddy rivers of his own. He watched the remains of his clan; some drank from or filled waterskins, some comforted babes that had long ago stopped crying, some knelt and stared at the dirt around them. Of the handful of men that remained, none spoke.
Oth saw a figure loping out of the darkness beyond the riverbank, favoring his left leg. He nudged his chieftain, a man who’s beaded sash of office had been converted to a bandage on his upper right arm. “Serle’s back.” Oth’s voice was tired and course. “Wounded.”
The woman closest to them turned her head. Her silver hair was tied back into a braided tail that hung to the small of her back. She wore clothing of rough brown fabric and had several leather pouches hanging from her like pine cones on a gnarled tree. She reached for one as she stepped into the group of men. Her hand closed around the leather and squeezed. She let out a sigh and shook her head. “Empty.”
Oth reached over and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “We’re all empty.”
She raised the back of her hand to her eye and wiped away a tear. “No, no. I… I must have something here.” She absently checked her other pouches as she stifled her sobs. “I must have something.”
The other men murmured assurances to her as Serle limped up to the group. “I’ll be fine. I just twisted my ankle in the dark.”
The woman moved over to him and prodded at the gash on his bare arm. Blood ran heavy through the dirt and sweat until it dripped onto the ground. “I can still tie a bandage.”
The scout looked up at the others while she went to work. “They’re still coming.”
The chieftain asked, “How many?”
“All of them.”
Oth could read the men’s stunned silence in the darkness. They all had the disbelieving look of a drowning man being handed a millstone. One of the men looked up at the black sky. “We’ve been forsaken.”
Some women nearby looked over at the men with renewed fear in their eyes. The chief reached out with his good arm and grabbed a fistful of the other man’s tunic. “Don’t ever say that! When God provides trials, God provides solutions.”
“Solutions?” asked the man. “What solutions do we have except more death?”
The men began to talk at once but Oth stepped apart and stared down at the bridge. Then he cast his gaze across his clan sitting in the cool night air like a collection of dirty tombstones outside a forgotten church. When he spoke, he filled the air with a confident rumbling. “I will stay here and stand in the gap. You will take the clan and flee.”
The men began to argue again. The medicine woman stopped tying the bandage and looked past them all, straight into Oth’s eyes. He ignored the voices around him and met her admonition without blinking. When the chieftain held up his hands for silence she turned away.
“Othren Four-Scars, you are the best warrior in the clan. The best in the Seven Hills. None would doubt your heart or your strength. But even you cannot stand against a hundred Pechti after a day and a night of running. They will rain their spears down on you and charge you again and again until you are stuck like a wild pig in a snare. We will all fight here.” The men murmured their agreement but Oth shook his head.
“Time is slipping away from us and we cannot argue any more. I don’t have to win. I just have to hold them back long enough and this bridge is the place to do it. Take the clan and lose them in the moors. By morning it will be decided here. After that, if they continue to pursue us…” Oth stopped for a moment and looked hard into the chieftain’s eyes. “You will all be needed to defend the clan against whatever tattooed men overrun my dead body.”
The men sputtered disagreement but the chieftain raised a hand to cut them off. “He speaks truth.” With that he turned and began rousing the clan. The stunned group of men looked back and forth between their leader and Oth, who stood like a stone pillar. Within moments, they filed away and the clan trudged out across the bridge.
As the clan moved, the medicine woman stopped at Oth’s side. “If you do this here, your secret can no longer be safe.”
Oth could not meet her gaze. He hefted his clubs in each hand and swung them as if to test their strength. “This morning I was useless. Here is where I can make a difference. Besides,” he added with a smile. “There is so little firewood on the moors, I doubt anyone would burn me as a witch even if they wanted to.” He patted the woman’s arm. “Better that I stay here and give you a chance at life.”
She returned his gesture. “There will be pain. You will grow weary.”
Oth took a deep breath and looked up at the clouds beginning to part. Stars sparkled, glinting points of precious steel in the dark. “I will do my best.”
She left him and one of the last men stopped to clasp forearms with him. “Oth, my friend, we’re frayed to the last twist. Not a single one can get past you.” He left him a tower shield that had been salvaged in the rush to abandon their burning village.