Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Dirge of the Iskandariel, Part Three of Four

(Part One, Part Two.)

With the fighting stopped, all was quiet for a moment. The archers, surely more of the Baron's minions, kept themselves ready, but did not fire; the footmen held position, both keeping a safe distance from their deadly foes and allowing the archers a clear killing ground. The Iskandariel produced oil cloths and began to wipe down their rainbow-shrouded swords. This eerie calm persisted for several minutes, broken only by the sound of flies buzzing about the corpses of the slain and the nickering of the Duke's horse; then the sound of hoof-beats came from further down the street. They grew louder, then their source became visible as the footmen gave way: it was the Baron himself, horseback amist a crowd of mounted guardsmen.

"So you've finally showed your hand," the Duke said, coughing into a cloth as the speech irritated his wounds. "I should have known I could never trust a Pettyham."

"Oh, come now," the Baron said, sneering. "You must have expected this. Really, I'm disappointed that you brought so small a force against me - have the Orindells become so impoverished as to muster a mere two mercenaries for protection - and women, at that?"

"They seem to have done well enough," the Duke replied. "Perhaps it is the quality of your men you should look to."

The Baron nudged his horse closer, face growing red with anger. "You would say that?" he cried, outraged. "The bodies of your retinue and the blood on your tunic tells a different tale! Had you not called them back, the bodies of your precious mercenaries would lie on the cobbles even now!"

The Duke noticed the Iskandariel of the shorter blade loosening her weapon in her sheath, the action concealed by the Duke's own figure. He deliberately cast his gaze directly at the Baron, ignoring her actions. "Let me tell you a story," he suggested to the Baron. "There once was an archery contest held in the nearby village of Previce. Bards spread the news far and wide before the event itself occured, and many a freeman rose to the challenge. Among the contestants were two men-at-arms, one in the service of Pettyham, another in the service of Orindell."

"They met before the contest began, and made a pair of bets. Firstly: should either of them reach first place in the contest, the other would be forced to pay their drinking tab for a fortnight. Second: Should either fail to pass the first tier of competition, they would be forced to pay the other's feed for the same span of time."

The Duke paused for effect, and then finished his tale. "Let's just say that the Orindell man became very happy and very plump for the next two weeks."

The Baron was utterly livid. "I cannot abide these taunts!" he cried. "I had hoped to keep you alive - you would be very useful as a pawn, testifying to my innocence in this whole sad matter, with your few remaining followers under threat should you act otherwise. But these insults - I will kill you in person, and will deal with the King some other way!"

"Very well," the Duke agreed condescendingly. "I can't think of any other way you can recover what shreds of honor and competence remain to you than dueling with a thrice-injured man." Holding his sword at the ready, and still very carefully keeping his gaze directly on the Baron, he asked, "Shall we?"

The Baron roared, drew his own sword, and spurred his horse forward. His bodyguards watched with dismay. As the Baron neared, the Duke noticed one of the Iskandariel giving him a questioning look. He nodded, as subtly as he could, being certain still to keep his gaze fixed upon the Baron. Seconds later, at the moment of the Baron's closest approach, that same Iskandariel leapt, bore the Baron down from his horse, and buried her sword in his chest with one swift motion.

(The remainder of this series will be syndicated to-morrow.)

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