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“You do not need to be afraid, Zelladine. If we fall in battle, I want you to close these gates and hide behind the fortress walls. They may not come in here if we remain outside to fight.”

“Oh, I am far from afraid,” I said with a hidden smile. Licking my lips, I schooled my face to remain expressionless as a movement caught my eye. Several hundred yards away, a head poked from the top of a hill then ducked down in a hurry.

“A scout,” Regin said, keeping his voice down so only the kingsmen and I could hear him.

Gripir nodded, before calling out, “They will be here soon. Be ready.”

Reaching back, Sigmun grabbed his bow and strung it. The quiver was accessible, hanging just behind his right shoulder. Positioning himself in battle stance, Sigmun silently waited for victory or death.

We did not have to wait long. Over the grassy hills and through the light of the setting sun charged a mixed body of men. Twelve had horses and the rest were on foot. But leading the army was a woman. A woman I recognized, though I wasn’t sure yet if the kingsmen had, for her identity was hidden by her helmet. The only sign of femininity was the long blonde hair that flew from underneath the heavy metal.

Sigmun drew back his shaft, watching those on horseback. As the attacking army—led by the woman on a mighty white steed—drew near, the kingsmen raised a wavering cry and prepared for battle. One of the horsemen came within range. Sigmun smiled as he released the shaft. The arrow sped true, piercing between the slit of the horseman’s visor to send him crashing to the ground. The first casualty signaled that the war had truly commenced.

Troylus pushed me back further into the fortress and said, “I must fight with my men and cannot stay here to protect you. Do not leave these walls no matter what. Even if we all perish, you stay behind these walls where you are safe.” He didn’t wait for me to say a single word. Nor did he notice that I followed him out so that I could watch the battle from afar.

The other horsemen reined back with shock at seeing their fellow men shot one by one from Sigmun’s sharp aim. The rest of the kingsmen had yet to fight due to the aim and precision of Sigmun. It was quite clear few fighters could fire a shaft as Sigmun could. The attacking army had thought themselves safe with their numbers, but slowly those numbers dwindled. Sigmun continued to smile, loosing arrows at random among the advancing foe, most of whom had left their faces completely unprotected thinking four kingsmen would be no match.

The kingsmen dodged some arrows with shields drawn, and Sigmun returned fire, taking out one of the archers.

“They are closing in,” Gripir called to the men.

“Prepare for hand-to-hand!” Troylus called, gripping the hilt of his sword. Regin made quick eye contact with him and nodded, drawing his own sword and holding it easily in one hand.

They both sprang up, followed by the rest of the men, whirling their weapons into the faces of their rivals. Shocked, the leading rank stumbled backward from their attack. With the lust of battle filling them, the kingsmen charged into the center of the fight. Dodging many of the blows aimed at each one of them, the kingsmen fought bravely, releasing everything they had upon the much larger enemy.

I watched Regin face off with one of the armored men who had dismounted. As sword rang against sword, he ducked a blow, leapt another, and spun into a whirlwind of blocks and parries. The man never let up, and I couldn’t take my eyes off such glorious strength and skill.

A movement to the right of Regin caught my eye. Troylus drew one of his smaller and lighter axes from a holder along his spine. Spinning rapidly, he blocked a sword coming from the side. Leaping back, he engaged two foes. Now hard-pressed, he permitted himself to be driven back. Two horses stood behind him, by about ten yards I guessed, and just in front of them were the other two mounted men prepared for kidnapping with a length of dark cloth. As the enemy thrust at him, Troylus dodged, letting a sword glance off the cloak roll on his shoulder. Spinning sideways, he turned and ran for the two remaining mounted men. Quicker than thought, Troylus hurled one of his axes at the man on the right while drawing his sword once again. The thrown axe flew true, striking the slits of the visor and hurling the man dead off his horse. Planting one hand on the horse’s neck, Troylus vaulted up. Drumming up renewed energy, he kicked the other man in the chest. The force of his kick knocked the enemy off the horse as Troylus’ sword found the weak spot at the joint of his armor and helmet.

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