Continued from the previous chapter, here.
𝔗wo men, one clad in mail following another clad in green so dark as to be almost black, left the village, heading east along the paths beaten into the ground by itinerant traders and merchants and along roads that had been left by those who had gone before them. Still did the mail-clad man pray and fast as penance for his deeds, although the thought of she with whom he had done them still stood in his mind as a source of wistful joy. Soon, the paths began to lead into a forest, and tall, dark trees began to shroud the road in branches and in hanging moss and shadow, although the men came to them in the full light of midday. The mail-clad man shifted in his saddle and rode ahead of the green-clad, knowing what might lurk in such woods, both beasts fell and feral and people of poor repute, and knowing that his skills were like to be needed against such things.
While the sun shone down through the leaves of the trees, the forest that swallowed the road was quiet. But as the two men pressed on, riding slowly against the threat of branches hanging low, they began to come across where the forest was digesting the road, with roots thrusting up through it and the path beginning to disappear amid the greenery. And the sunlight dimmed as the star of the day sank into the west. As it did, the forest grew louder, as if waking, and the mail-clad man put his hand on his sword, saying to the green-clad man he followed “We must take care now, for if there is to be peril, it will come as day turns to night. For beasts prowl about at dusk, and men who act as beasts not long after.”
There was no answer, and when the mail-clad man looked behind him, he saw no sign of his companion. The absence surprised him, and he said to himself “I knew that he had strange skills, but I had not known that he was so mighty a woodsman as to vanish utterly.” And around him, the sounds of the forest continued to swell. He pressed onward, trusting that his companion would remain with him and be safe.
From away to the knight’s left came the sound of a branch snapping, and he looked that way. In a tree, he saw a man readying a bow, and he threw himself from his horse to the ground, pushing away from the arrow he knew would come and drawing his sword again as he stood and sought cover behind a tree. He did so nimbly enough, for an arrow smote into the ground where he had been but a moment before, and from the forest he heard the shouts of men saying “Surrender, Sir Knight, for there are many of us and but the one of you. We will hold you for ransom if you do, but if you will fight against us, we will show you no mercy.”
The knight called back “Then you will no mercy have of me, for I will not surrender to you, and I have none who will ransom me from you.” And he moved from tree to tree, working his way towards the voices he had heard. Arrows flew from the woods at him as he moved, but he dodged around them, avoiding them lightly such that he seemed to dance amid the trees. But as he approached, he found none to fight; they moved through the woods as well as he and better, and their numbers told in the arrows that flew from branch and bough. Around them all, the light continued to dim as the sun sank behind the horizon and the moon, far from full, rose and offered only little light.
Full darkness fell, and through the trees, the mail-clad man could see the glow of a fire. He approached it cautiously, not knowing who had lit it or who tended it, and as he did, he saw the green-clad man sitting at his ease, eating and drinking. And he saw behind the green-clad man another, arrow held on bowstring and drawing back to loose. Yelling, the mail-clad man charged forward. The archer shifted, drew, and loosed, and the arrow smote the mail-clad man full in the shoulder. All the while, the green-clad man continued to eat, taking no notice of what transpired around him, neither the mail-clad man slamming into the archer with his good shoulder and shoving his sword through his body until it burst out the back, nor the second archer that came up and loosed another arrow into the mail-clad man, one that smote into him head and shaft. Nor yet did he alter what he did that the knight whirled about, taking the knife from the belt of the one archer and flinging it full in the face of the second, such that the blade sank into his eye and he sank to the ground.
The mail-clad man fell to his knees, pierced in the shoulder and deeply in the flank, and he knew as he did that his wounds would be such that he could not recover. But the green-clad man still sat and ate and drank, and no harm had come to him. “At least there is this, that so long as I lived, no blade nor bolt did bite upon him. And I have been in penance. If I am to die, then I die well, and I can hope that my time of purgation will be brief, though I know not if any will pray for me when I am gone.”
The face of the woman who served Lady Maelis returned to him, smiling. “Perhaps she will. Perhaps she already does. But I would not so presume.”
He fell to the ground, and the darkness took him.
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