Rylan pulled the door the rest of the way closed. How could she have dropped the thrice cursed door handle? The voices in the common room stopped. She pulled the knife out and held it ready in her right hand as she backed away from the door. She pushed Anaya behind her. The girl was gripping her knife so hard her knuckles had turned white. Rylan turned back to face the door. Nallah yanked it open, her sword in hand. One of the men was behind her.
A wild cry erupted and Erros leapt onto the man behind Nallah. She heard steel meet steel and a man fell into the room, a surprised look on his face and a growing, crimson stain on his chest. She turned to Anaya.
“Stay here.” she said. Erros had pushed into the common room, his blade a silvery blur as he engaged the mercenaries. She saw him parry the attack of one, slice his blade down the leg of another and bring it back up to block the clumsy, overhand blow of a third. His blade flicked out and another man lurched back, clutching his arm where Erros had opened him from elbow to wrist.
Rylan saw Nallah sneaking up behind Erros, blade in hand. She wasn’t paying Rylan any heed. As Nallah passed in front of her Rylan tackled her. She drove the knife forward as hard as she could. The other woman’s surprise was total, and Rylan felt her knife drive deep into Nallah’s back. They both fell and Rylan lost her grip on the knife. Nallah squirmed under her and Rylan hauled back and punched her in the face. The other woman threw an arm up to protect herself but Rylan punched her again and again and again. Nallah went still and Rylan got up, grabbing the knife out from under the woman. Nallah didn’t move further and Rylan paid her no more mind. Erros blocked a blade that was aimed at Rylan’s head. She locked eyes with him and smiled. He winked back and just as quickly was spinning around again, his blade a steel shield against the five opponents in the common room. His blade was barely visible as it wove back and forth, blocking, attacking, blocking again. She knew she was safe behind that barrier.
“Get the Princess. We need to leave!” he yelled. Rylan stopped watching and went back into the room.
“I’m here.” The Princess said. She still clutched the knife in her hand.
“Let’s go.” Rylan said. Another man tried to flank Erros so Rylan jabbed her knife into his side. Erros blocked another cut aimed at her, but took a slice along his ribs for his efforts. Erros was bleeding from dozens of minor wounds. She backed out of the room and onto the porch at the front of the inn.
* * *
Erros was pressed by the four remaining mercenaries. He dodged the blade of one only for his shoulder to meet the incoming mace of another. He staggered to one knee but didn’t drop his guard. Another man came at him from the front, and Erros parried his blade while twisting away from the mace wielder. His blade reached out and found the man’s arm, stabbing through his forearm and forcing him to drop the weapon. Erros lunged and his blade bit deep, felling the man. Erros felt a sharp pain as another man came in and caught his thigh with the point of his blade. He hadn’t dodged in time, and the remaining three were pressing him towards the door. He took several long steps back, inviting them to close with him. The first man did so and was met with the blur of Erros’ blade. A slash across the face sent him stumbling back amongst his fellows and Erros turned and ran out the door.
He bumped into the Princess who was standing behind Rylan on the front porch. Facing them were at least a dozen men, three of whom were on horseback. One of the mounted men, dressed in finer clothing than the mercenaries around him, was talking.
“Please, there is no need for violence. Your Grace, despite our initially harsh methods you will not be harmed.” The man said, staring straight at Anaya.
“Unfortunately, our goals are at cross-purposes to your mother’s. A regrettable circumstance of politics. Lay down your weapons, and no one need be harmed any further.” Erros took an instant dislike to the man’s oily voice, too-well-coiffed hair and eyes that did not match the mild words. Something about him was familiar too.
“I have seen you before.” He told the man, pointing at him with his bloodstained blade. “You were at the Queen’s court. You work for one of the Barons.”
“And you are?” the man asked.
“Erros Mardaak, Swordsman of the Queen, and the man who will kill you all if you try to take the Princess.” He said. He stepped in front of the Princess and Rylan. He grasped Rylan’s hand in his free on and gave it a squeeze.
“They’re behind us too.” Rylan whispered at him.
“I know.” He whispered. “When it is time, go for the horses. Remember who he is when you reach the Queen.”
“Time for what? What are you –“ before she could finish Erros leapt off the porch, blade sinking deep into the man nearest him.
“Run!” he yelled. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Rylan punch her knife into one of the men behind them and drag Anaya off the porch. All the men in front of the inn were focused on him and he was going to keep it that way. They were also going to regret it.
He lashed out around him, his attacks focusing left and right so none could flank him. Every time one of them tried Erros was there, stepping into their attack. He was the shield protecting Rylan and the Princess. He danced across the ground, always between the mercenaries and his charges so they could escape. Two blades came at him at once, one of them he blocked but the strength of its wielder prevented him from sliding it away and the other sword drew a bloody line down his arm. He backed away, his blade finding the owner and ending his ability to fight forever.
Another man tried to get behind him. Erros spun back and away to the right, his sword carving a path across the man’s belly. Another blade snuck in to cut Erros’ leg and he ducked and rolled away from the knot of men that had grown around him. He rose and went on the offensive. He savagely hacked at one man who backed away parrying. Another man, who was his real target, moved into the opening Erros had left. Erros stepped back, parried the incoming blow and shoved his blade into the man’s guts. That one fell but the others kept coming.
Rylan and Anaya had almost reached the horses but two mercenaries were in close pursuit. Erros spun around, taking a blade in the back of the shoulder where his armour was weakest, while another skidded across his cuirass, cutting into the flesh at his waist. He ignored the pain and drove onwards. The two men didn’t see him coming, so intent were they on their prey. His first stroke ended the closest, a slash across the back of the neck felling him. The second turned but it was too late as Erros’ sword slashed across his face then plunged into his torso just under the ribs. He collapsed with a gurgle.
“Go!” he yelled as Rylan turned as if to help him. Another man jammed a knife into Erros from behind. The pain was like fire inside him but he turned and the man lost his hand and life to Erros’ blade. Two more men caught up to him and he blocked both their blows. His riposte sent the tip of his blade down one man’s face. The other lunged in, scoring another line across Erros’ ribs. A third man swept in and Erros managed to block his thrust.
He dared a glance over his shoulder and saw Rylan on one of the horses with Anaya behind her. Rylan looked back at him, mouthed ‘thank you’ and kicked the horse into motion. None of the men were near them. He crashed back into the group before him, the dagger in his back ripping through more muscle. He concentrated on the offense, determined to swiftly kill as many of them as he could so they couldn’t chase Rylan and the Princess. Two fell to him, his blade carving deep, but he took cuts to his arms, legs and even one to his face. Blood was flowing freely down his limbs but he didn’t care. He had to keep them busy, had to keep them from giving chase. Slash, block, cut, parry, riposte, block, lash out again, and again, and again. His vision narrowed to the man in front of him. He cut that man down, barely surviving another round of blows from the others. More of his blood dripped to the ground. Weave, parry, lunge. Another man fell before him; another blade carved a fresh furrow on his body. Someone smashed his head with something heavy. He staggered to one knee, his blade lashing out and cutting his assailant to the bone.
More blades came at him. He blocked, parried, thrust. More were getting through. He heard yelling and screaming, but it was hard to tell over the blood pounding in his ears. He collapsed to his other knee, sword still held before him. He looked around him to see where Rylan was, to make sure she got away. He couldn’t see her. The pain crashed over him and he couldn’t resist any longer. The ground rushed up to meet him and then nothing.