Monday, November 03, 2008

The Dirge of the Iskandariel, Part Two of Four

(Part One.)

The Duke and 20 of his men rode into Oxdale on the day of the meeting, having spent the night in a roadside inn. Oxdale was a small city, almost more of a walled town; being of slight size, it posessed no ruling noble, which had distinguished it for the purposes of a meeting-place. En route to the town hall, which the Baron and Duke had planned to use for their meeting, the mounted company moved slowly - it was a market day, and the streets were thick with people. The Duke diverted himself by talking to his foremost advisor, a man by the name of Nathan, while the rest of his retinue spoke amongst themselves. The foreign mercenaries remained silent and attentive; perhaps they had less in common with the others, or perhaps they were simply more disciplined. Slim and scarred, they concealed themselves within long cloaks; and they were first to notice the attackers dressed likewise.

Ten of them came from each side, drawing swords and attacking with brutal efficiency. Most of the Duke's retinue died in moments, swords and daggers still in their sheaths. A few were dragged off their horses and abducted - among them the Duke's head advisor, Nathan. The Duke himself might have suffered the same fate, or worse; but just as swiftly as the attackers appeared, the mercenary pair placed themselves at their employer's side, and they would not be overcome so easily.

Hurling themselves acrobatically from their horses, both of the Iskandariel placed themselves beside the Duke, casting off their cloaks in the same gesture. As the hurled cloaks momentarily covered and impaired the movements of the nearest attackers, the Iskandariel each drew their sword. One was slightly shorter than the other, but each possessed a craftsmanship so masterful as to be beautiful. Further, and more uniquely, both swords possessed a subtle, prismatic nimbus about their edges, its source unclear. It is not the swords' tale that is told now, though there is a tale to be told of their origins and deeds accomplished with them; rather, it is of the Iskandariel we speak, and of their swords only as they are used.

And let it be said now: The Iskandariel showed no hesitation in their use.

The Iskandariel began on the offensive. Stabbing and slicing with tremendous skill, they soon had their attackers on the backstep; it took a mere dozen heartbeats for the attackers to slaughter the Duke's retinue, and that time again for half their own number to be felled by the Iskandariel, left bleeding from neck and belly onto the cobblestone-paved street. The Baron's minions - for such the attackers were - were no match for the deadly skill of the Iskandariel, unable to launch any attack that the sword-sisters could not dodge or deflect with ease. Had their numbers remained as they were - merely ten for each of the Iskandariel! - this story would have had a much swifter ending. But reinforcements appeared quickly, pouring out from the alleyways and buildings; the Baron had prepared for stiff resistance, though he had not anticipated the Iskandariel.

To ensure that the Duke was not taken while they rampaged, the Iskandariel allowed themselves to be driven back. Now they were on the defensive; each held their ground against six sword-wielding foes, beating back a storm of blows with a shimmering blur of steel. The Duke himself had managed to draw his sword; still atop his horse, he hurled down blows at any attacker the Iskandariel let pass, driving them back. No incompetent was he, yet neither had he the grace of his defenders; three times he was wounded, each drawing a dreadful gasp of pain and a slow-swelling stain upon his tabard. He weakened steadily.

Should they but hold in place, the Iskandariel would inevitably be defeated; and they knew it. One, she who bore the longer blade, broke from her defensive pattern and launched an attack; not a lethal blow, but enough to send the foe back reeling. She of the longer blade charged forward, beating back two more opponents with powerful strikes; so occupied, the other attackers were able to penetrate her defense and land a handful of hits. They bruised, and provoked hisses of pain, but did not cut; for the Iskandariel had come prepared for treachery, and wore chain-mail beneath their clothes.

By this time the Iskandariel of the shorter blade had also begun a sequence of attacks. They drove their foes back, blades flashing to a half-dozen places at once; the enemy began to die, momentary vulnerabilities exploited to deadly effect. The Baron's men were utterly unable to penetate the Iskandariel's guard with any blow strong enough to pierce their chainmail as well. They filled the street, but could not defeat the two warriors fighting against them; they began to give the Iskandariel more and more room, seeming nearly ready to break and flee.

The Duke had taken advantage of the momentary lapse in the fighting near him to improvise bandages for his wounds. Hearing a noise, he looked up, and at once cried out "Halt!" to his bodyguards. The Iskandariel fell back a step, looked at the Duke their master, and followed his gaze, and at once returned to his side; for they saw upon the rooftops a clutch of archers, readying themselves to shoot.

(The remainder of this series will be syndicated over the next two days.)

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