“This is going to be fun, right Gerben?”
“Yes,” he agreed as they both stalked Nándor. They closed the distance with their swords at the ready. “We’ll have a good time flaying him alive.”
“And then we will regale ourselves when we return to camp!”
Nándor said nothing. He waited for their attack.
Gerben, the meatier of the men, made the first strike. He had brutal force behind his blow, but Nándor noticed he was slow to draw back into a defensive a position. It would be a costly mistake.
Bern came to the fore. He struck fast and hard like a viper before a swift retreat. Definitely the better swordsman.
Nandor mouth lifted in a risible grin. “What? You’re going to fight me two on one?”
“Yeah, we are,” Bern said. “Why? Scared?”
“No. I can beat both of you. I was wondering if you were scared of me?”
He was rodomontading, but the taunt did the trick.
Gerben moved into position. “Let me finish him. He’s not so tough.”
“Fine, but make it quick,” Bern said.
The real battle started. Blows were exchanged, testing blows, what they were made of blows. Then, as fast as a predator attacks prey, the game changed.
They exchanged dodges, fakes, swings, block, and thrusts at a furious pace, each searching for that final strike.
With brutal force, Gerben shoved Nándor using his sword blade. Nándor lost his footing on a patch of wet leaves but quickly regained his balance. Only it was too late. His guard had fallen in that split second. Neither his sword nor his sidestep dodged the side slash.
Pain gripped him as hot blood poured from the wound. He had been lucky. He had only caught the end of the swing. If the blow had landed, he would have been dead, his ribs shattered and him half gutted.
Determination burned through him. He changed tactics. He maneuvered the sword position as the next blow came. Instead of hitting the flat of the blade, it skittered on the edge as Nándor closed the distance. They were inches from each other, and Nándor could smell the hot fetid breath from his opponent. He twisted his sword and drove the pommel into soft underside of Gerben’s jaw.
The man’s face turned beet red. His sword trembled in his hand as he stumbled back, grabbing his throat. He lunged at Nandor.
In one swift riposte, Nandor ended Gerben’s life.
Bern’s rushed to his fallen partner, saw that he was dead, and snapped his head to burn Nandor with his gaze. “You will die.”
Nándor knew he would not last long against Bern, not injured as he was. Only he needed to find the strength to finish it.
With a silent prayer, one last deadly dance began.
“You will never get away with this. You will rue this betrayal. Nándor will –”
Garrick’s hand stopped her mouth. “Silence, princess. Enough rigmarole.”
They rode in silence, following a rivulet that ran deep into the woods. The first star peeked through the trees when they reached the riparian camp.
He helped her down, but she yanked herself away. “Do not touch me!”
He made short work of her freedom. With a punishing grip on her wrist, he dragged her toward the awaiting tent. “Stay in there. Don’t come out unless I say. Understand?” He leered at her. “Unless you want to be used. Then, by all means, leave my tent. I’m sure the men would love to entertain you.”
She paled. “You have no ruth for what you have done, have you?”
“None, princess. Just remember that, and we’ll get along just fine.” He gave her one last leisurely look. “I knew you would grace my bed. It was only a matter of time.”
He stood over his enemy, a mixture of triumph and sadness burning him. He killed them both but at too high a cost. Groaning, he pressed his hand to his side. A second cut on his sword arm trickled blood. Black spots popped before his eyes.