Erros was shadowing the Princess while conversing with the Queen’s maid Rylan. They were riding near the Queen and Captain Mann. He could hear the Captain speaking to the Queen.
“Your Highness, I’m concerned about the road ahead. I believe it’s a perfect spot for an ambush.” The Captain pointed to where the road threaded between two forested hills that hid what lay beyond from view. The hills weren’t especially tall but they made for a natural choke point in the road.
“Captain, I’m glad you’re being diligent but we’ve been here many times before.” The Queen said.
“Highness, I understand that, and I would not normally be so concerned, but have you seen anyone else on the road? When we first left, even in the small village where we stopped for tea, there was always someone on or near the road. I have not seen anyone in the last little while. It makes me suspicious.” He said.
“Indeed. Do as you need to Captain.” The Queen said.
“Haansten! Feld! Move ahead and scout the road!” the Captain yelled. The two men he had named kicked their horses to a trot and advanced. Erros watched the woods ahead of them. The two men approached the gap between hills warily, hands on sword hilts. One of them fell backwards over his horse. Three arrows were sticking out of him.
“Ambush!” Erros and the Captain yelled at the same time.
“Swordsmen, on me!” Captain Mann yelled. Erros moved to take a place near the Captain.
“Erros stay here. Protect the Princess.” The Captain ordered.
“Rylan, stay with them.” The Queen told her. Erros nodded and took position between the Princess and the attackers. He couldn’t see any enemies yet, but the other man was also down, an arrow in his head.
Captain Mann led the closest Swordsmen in an advance towards the woods where the arrows had come from. Their opponents were in the forest on the left hill, using the edge of the woods for cover. Another man fell from his saddle, two shafts embedded in him.
Their opponents emerged from the trees while arrows continued to fly from the woods. Clearly swords-for-hire, they wielded a motley collection of armour and weapons in contrast to the deep blue and black uniforms of the Queen’s Swordsmen. The mercenaries moved forward slowly, wary of engaging the Queen’s men directly. All the men on the Captain’s right flank were suddenly blasted from their saddles.
“They have a Mage with them.” The Queen said. “Erros, guard the Princess and Rylan. Rylan stay with him, he will protect you and the Princess. I’m going to help those men.”
“Your Highness, you cannot go alone.” Erros tried to follow.
“You keep my daughter safe. You have no other mission as of now. I can’t fight a Mage effectively if I’m worried about them.” She said. Her voice was iron, and Erros obeyed. The Queen kicked her horse forward
“I can help her.” The Princess whined.
“Maybe you can, but you will also distract her.” He said, keeping hold of her horse’s reins just in case. The Queen closed with the enemy and two of the attackers burst into flame. Erros had never seen Talent used offensively; he decided he didn’t want to fight someone who could alter reality at will.
The Queen’s men swept into the mercenaries, felling several as their charge hit home. Their foes fought back and another Swordsman went down. The Queen stayed behind her men, using her Talent to move a man here, wave away a sword there, and light several mercenaries on fire. Swordsmen who had been in the rearguard joined the fray, attempting to flank the enemy. The mercenaries gave ground before the Queen’s Swordsmen. Erros’ attention was caught by riders emerging from the forest on the right. They had been flanked. He looked towards the battle, hoping the Queen had seen them too.
“Get her out of here!” the Queen said in his mind, not his ears. He slapped the rump of the Princess’ horse and kicked his own into motion. Rylan did the same. The riders were swiftly bearing down on their small group, ignoring the larger battle. Anaya tried to turn back to the Queen but Erros blocked her. He may not like horses and riding, but he could do it when he had to. He looked over his shoulder. The mercenaries had closed the distance by half.
“Take the princess!” he yelled at Rylan. “Go as fast as you can back the way we came. I will catch up to you.” He turned his horse, drawing his sword. In the few fights he had been in he had not yet fought from horseback. He would learn.
He came at them slowly, letting their speed draw them to him. There were five of them, all mounted. The first one smiled as he wound up his axe to strike. The impact was numbing. Erros blocked it but the force of the blow knocked them both out of their saddles. He hit the ground hard and couldn’t breathe for a moment. His vision narrowed and he saw stars.
Get up! Get up! GET UP! His mind screamed. He lurched to his feet and only instinct saved him from losing the top of his head as he dodged away from a rider. He brought his blade up and parried the next attack, pushing his opponent’s blade out to the side. He pulled back and jabbed quickly, plunging his blade into his opponent’s side. The man fell from his horse as Erros spun to face another rider coming at him. The man used his mount’s height to his advantage, hacking clumsily at Erros.
Big man on a bigger horse, no skill. Erros thought as he parried the man’s blows. Erros’ blade slid around his opponent’s and cut the tendons in the man’s wrist. His foe dropped his sword and Erros thrust his blade into him.
The man who had unhorsed him came charging at him, axe in motion. Strong and skilled, Erros thought, trouble! The man was swift, his axe arcing through the spot Erros had occupied. Erros danced back, his blade at the ready. He didn’t try to parry, the heavy axe would just take his sword from his hands. He ducked inside the next swing, his sword darting out and slicing deep into the man’s calf. His opponent snarled and closed with Erros using the handle of his axe to smash Erros in the face. Erros evaded a broken jaw but took the blow on his chest below the shoulder. He was knocked to the ground, rolling aside as his opponent’s axe smashed into the dirt where Erros’ head had been. Jumping up, he ran past the axeman cutting into his side. Erros spun with his blade leading, carving a bloody stripe across the axeman’s lower back. The axeman howled and turned, but Erros was faster still. He slashed the leg closest to him, hamstringing the axeman who went down heavily. Erros kicked him in the face and jammed the point of his sword into the man’s chest before he could rise.
He looked around, panting. There were four horses and three bodies. He heard no groans nor saw any motion from the three men he had fought. Where were the other two riders?