The Hunt, Part Three
The girl screamed. It was a primal sound that was almost devoid of all humanity. Blood was splattered on her face and across the front of her smock.
The headman fell to the ground at her feet. Admund’s arrows had found their targets, despite the ill-fitting pieces of armor that the slaver wore. One arrow had pierced his throat, the broad arrowhead entering just below his chin and continuing until it erupted out behind the opposite ear. The second arrow, moving too fast for the eye to see, grazed his meaty thigh and struck deep into his groin. As he died, the slaver’s grip on the length of rope tied around the girl’s slender waist tightened. Panicking, the girl tried to pull herself free. Tugging, tugging. Finally, the rope was freed from the slaver’s death grip, but the force with which she had pulled the rope sent her stumbling backwards.
The other slavers noticed their leader go down and started towards the wagon, swords drawn. Admund dropped two with well-placed arrows to the skull. By now, the remaining slavers were cautious, looking into the trees to see if they could locate the faceless assassin who had made them his target.
Abandoning the bow, Admund charged from the trees, drawing his twin long knives. “Get down!” he shouted, hoping that the girl understood his words. “Under the wagon! Now!”
The girl complied, disappearing under the slaver’s wagon just as the first group of dark-skinned miscreants converged on the body of their fallen leader. Admund was on them within moments, the blades of his long knives flashing in the early morning sunlight. He sliced through the throats of two slavers as quickly and cleanly as he would skin a hare. He plunged a blade into the stomach of a third, gutting the man where he stood.
The remaining two slavers spread out, taking care to keep just beyond the reach of their assailant’s knives. They barked at each other in the same unknown language that Admund had heard their leader use. One spoke. Then the other. The first nodded and lunged at Admund, swinging his curved sword wildly.
Admund dropped his knives and drew his own sword, a straight-bladed long sword that had once belonged to his father. He caught the slaver’s blade on his own, deflecting the attack and pushing his foe back several steps. Admund stared into his opponent’s dark, bloodshot eyes and allowed himself a momentary grin. These slavers were large men, to be sure, but their sheer size and bulk were nothing compared to Admund’s sinewy frame. He knew they would tire long before he did.
If they didn’t make a serious mistake before that.
The slaver spat some invective that Admund couldn’t decipher as he came again. He held his sword high, leaving himself exposed. In a single motion, Admund stepped into his attacker’s path and let the darker man’s own momentum drive his blade hilt-deep into the slaver’s own stomach.
He was so intent on pulling his sword free from the corpse of his newly-fallen foe that Admund hadn’t noticed the shadow creeping up behind him. It was the rasping sound of labored breathing that finally drew the hunter’s attention. Admund spun and saw the final slaver looming over him, sword in his hand and murder in his eyes.
The slaver took one step closer. Admund struggled to free his sword.
The slaver took another step.
Unable to pull his sword from the corpse at his feet, Admund was weaponless. He watched as the slaver prepared to strike, a wicked smile on his lips matching the wicked curved sword in his hand, the sword that was surely mere heartbeats away from repaying Admund for what he had done to the slaver’s companions.
The slaver’s eyes flashed with menace as he swung, but his attack unexpectedly missed its mark, grazing Admund’s arm and barely cutting through the sleeve of his buckskin tunic. The slaver staggered, eyes wide. He dropped his sword and started to claw at his back. He coughed once. Twice. Blood began to bubble at the corners of his mouth.
Admund watched as his attacker fell forward, one of his own long knives protruding from the slaver’s back. The knife’s twin was currently in the trembling hand of the blood-spattered girl. She studied Admund with cold, vacant eyes.
They stood like that for several moments, the girl and her rescuer. Eventually, having been satisfied by some unknown or unspoken impulse, she simply nodded and placed Admund’s knife on the ground. Although she spoke little, Admund learned that her name was Rayna and that she was born in a small fishing village on the western shores of Aradorn. The slavers had come from the sea and killed as many of the men in the village as they could, taking her and her three sisters, as well as several of the other girls from the village.
Rayna had watched as the slavers took most of the girls back to their ship. Her and a few others, including her sisters, had been loaded into the wagon and taken east. She didn’t know where they were being taken, but she knew only she had survived.
Admund looked into the wagon and saw the lifeless bodies of several girls, some as young as seven or eight summers. Even though he had hunted and killed most of his life, Admund still felt his gorge rise at the sight of the pale, emaciated girls.
The girl simply nodded.
“If you like, I can build a fire and we can send them to the afterlife in the proper fashion.”
Rayna smiled for the first time since he had seen her pulled from the slaver’s wagon. “Yes. I would like that very much. Thank you.”