Of Blood and Death

“How did you get up here?” Sir Lanker demanded. “Was it with your pagan magic? Answer me!”

Her spell failing, Orla tried in vain to pull her arm free of the man's iron grip. “I come from the forest so I have always been good at climbing,” she answered fearfully, side-stepping his query as tears froze on her cheeks.

Lanker made to hurt her again when an arrow entered the elbow joint of his armour and pierced him through the arm. It was surely an incredible shot given all the wind and flakes of blowing snow that swirled round them. The knight gave a cry of surprised agony and fell from his horse, and in that moment Orla was able to tear herself from his remorseless hold. She yelped as she reeled backwards and roughly fell, too, the air knocked out of her lungs.

"It is very unbecoming of knights to assault a woman who is unarmed and unclothed," a voice called out.

Sir Adder drew his long sword and wheeled towards its source only for his horse next to be struck down, pitching him also to the ground. The seasoned warrior rolled and scrambled on the treacherous powdery footing, still keeping a grip on his sword. “Whoever you are, you will suffer for this!” he shouted, seeing his dead horse and his brother's wounded state.

"The next one is through your eyes," the voice called down again. "What business do knights of the realm have in assaulting a lady?"

“Not that it is any of your business, but we are acting on orders of the prelate to bring a dangerous renegade to justice!” Adder responded with righteous fury. “Who are you to dare impede us in our pursuit of a wanted diabolist and murderess?! Are you one of the witch's heathen accomplices?! Damn you, come and face me, coward! Or can you only hide behind rocks and snipe at your betters?!”

Now who was this? Orla wondered, dazed, hearing the strong, brave voice of the stranger. It was not the Black Witch but instead a man; moreover, a man of chivalry. Could this in fact be the mage she had sensed down in the valley? She fervently hoped so!

She opened her eyes and struggled for breath. In front of her, she watched Lanker grab the shaft of the arrow and slowly and painfully draw it out, muttering imprecations at Jeke. Blood dripped from the punctured arm, sending small puffs of steam into the frigidly cold mountain air. She resisted the rather foolish impulse she had to ease his suffering and magically mend the wound, knowing somehow he would not appreciate the gesture.

There came the sound of heavy boots across the snow and Orla turned to see a big, tall, bearded man with a sword emerging from the flurries. Lanker was startled, having thought their unseen assailant to be lying in the complete opposite direction.

Gritting his teeth, the knight drew his blade and wielded it with his good arm. “So you decided to show yourself, cretin? There are harsh penalties for those who interfere with business of the Church!”

Joseph looked directly into the other man's eyes and spoke cryptically like in a trance. "The cycle of the mortal men shall end by my blade. The rise of a new age is beginning, and the end of the old age is arriving."

“Eh? What are you on about?” Lanker said, bewildered.

Before Orla could process the sibylline words, Joseph's sword empurpled and glowed with magic, and he raised the blade and attacked.

Lanker quickly managed to parry the first and second blows, but then Joseph's sword powerfully sliced through his black armour and into his mid-section, dropping him onto his back in a great spray of blood and viscera. Orla saw her apparent rescuer raise the dark magical weapon in both hands and stab it downward at the fallen knight's throat in order to finish him off. Not someone at all accustomed to witnessing brutal displays of violence, she averted her sight from the awful killing blow, a small hand over her mouth in horror. As she heard the knight's gurgling death rattle, shock took over and she began to sob, shaking convulsively.

A grief-filled roar rent the the cold air. “Nooo!!” Adder turned from addressing Jeke and charged Joseph, confusedly thinking them both the same person. “You filthy heathen! You slew my brother! You slew my baby brother!”

Joseph turned and blocked the oncoming sword, and Adder swung furiously. Their blades clashed, driving each other back and forth. Joseph fought well, if mechanically, like a man possessed, whilst in mournful vengeance, Adder was nothing short of a mad man, striving with all his human strength and knightly skill to slay his sibling's accursed killer.

Breathing in short gasps, Orla frantically stumbled away through the deep snow, fleeing toward the fortress, losing one of her sandals on the way. She was too terrified and cold to think, let alone work any magic, her dress frozen on her, covered with ice. All she could do was shiver and push her benumbed legs to keep moving, and as fast as possible.

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