"An interesting failure is mine" I retorted, "As I have accomplished more in less than two months, than your previous Marshals' feats put together."
"Perhaps you have, but you have grown stagnant in your triumph. That Marshal Twynam showed pity and empathy for the marauders of the forest was not something I had been told when I hired you."
"That the Sheriff of this cursed town was unable to tear himself away from his unwilling whores to do his own job was not something I had been told when the job was offered."
The Sheriff spun back to face me, hand going for his sword, "Allow me to clue you in to your situation Marshall. You have no allies now. Unless," He glanced at Kate, "you think the Hawk and her gang will take you in after all that you've done to them. They killed my last Marshall. I can only wonder as to what they'd do with you as you've 'Accomplished more than my previous Marshals' feats put together.'"
"Besides!" The Sheriff yelled as turned to the gathered crowd, "I have no need for the Marshal any longer! I have the leader of this gang of rebels, and should I find the time to 'tear myself away from my unwilling whores' I believe she will play her part quite nicely."
Turning back to me, the Sheriff spoke quietly, but that didn't block out the self-confidence that he felt.
"I'm sure you've thought about why you're here Marshal and to tell you the truth, I am largely impressed with your work and your service. Now you will serve me one last time. I am well aware that your death will not cause the Hawks to hesitate in the slightest. Quite the opposite in fact. If they hadn't already made up their minds, I am sure that the prospect of getting you killed will more than sway them. And then they fall right into my trap. I thank you Corin. You have done well, but as I said before, I don't need you anymore."
I could only stare back and hope that my hate was somehow strong enough to kill this man where he stood. I was again reminded of my father, someone who, in the heat of the action of the last couple of months, I had forgotten. He allowed me to do all the work, then stepped in at the opportune time and claimed all the credit for himself. I wish I could say that at least my dad had never tried to kill me...
I glanced over at Kate, emotion after countless emotion washing over me. I wanted to tell her something... but even now I wasn't sure what. I felt gratitude, something akin to friendship... and something else entirely that transcended the rest. I started to try and explain everything to her, but then I realized that she wasn't even looking at me. She was staring intently at a small form crouching on the overlooking wall. If I had taken a quick glance I would have said it was a girl, but once I made out the blood spattering her clothes and coloring her mouth... it looked like a child of the devil of himself. But there was thing that kept me from that conclusion.
Demons didn't use slingshots.
There was a faint buzzing followed by a soft thud, and the Sheriff, in the middle of another boastful monologue, fell to the ground.
The courtyard went silent.
The guards only stared, transfixed, at the fallen Sheriff.
Then one of the guards flanking Kate also dropped with a clang.
Scattered whispers broke out among the crowd, some anxious, others frightened, and still others almost expectant. They knew what was about to happen.
All the attention was drawn to a third falling guard, and then the silence was broken by a horrific scream, that hardly seemed human. In fact it seemed more like the call of some demonic bird.
I looked back to the front of the stage and jumped when I found there was now a cloaked figure crouching there. It was the source of the screaming.
The guards drew back in fear for a moment, then realized they outnumbered the beast twenty to one. They charged.
And the courtyard exploded into action.
The best stood and pointed and the leading line of guards dropped in a hail of arrows. I looked back up to the wall to see that the girl had been joined by a larger form who appeared to be wrestling with her. They disappeared from sight and I turned my attention back to the battle that had sprung up.
The guards in the crowd were being harried every step of the way. The villagers had joined the fight, doing whatever they could, pushing, tripping, and grabbing for weapons. More cloaked figures could now be seen moving through the crowd and dispatching the soldiers. I heard the ring of steel to my right and saw the beast draw sword and swing at Kate's noose.
It offered little resistance.
A group of soldiers had approached as the arrows lessened in frequency and attacked Kate and her companion who I now guessed to be another hooded Hawk. Kate sidestepped a jab, folded the attacker's arms underneath him, and tripped him, effectively impaling him on his own sword.
She glanced at me and seemed to hesitate then turned away. Another guard challenged her and Kate slowly backed up until she was almost touching me. The guard launched a sideways swing which Kate ducked underneath.
The swing continued on, severing my rope.
As I struggled to free my neck, a confused guard made a half-hearted jab at me. I grabbed his arm, pulled him into my waiting knee. His grip on his weapon slackened and I took easily from his grasp, then slapped his helmet with the flat of the blade to put him down.
I turned back to Kate to find that her friend repelled the remaining guards and was now charging at me. I shot Kate a helpless glance and then moved to defend. Catching the swing with my blade, I quickly turned my sword over my attacker's, catching the blade in the crosspiece of my weapon. I gave a yank and the Hawk was now weaponless. I raised my weapon to finish the fight and made the worst mistake I could have at that moment.
I met Kate's piercing gaze and froze.
A huge yell shocked me from my passivity and I turned to see a man with a large broadsword about to barrel me over. As if his stature and weapon weren't intimidating enough, he had what looked like a mane of hair.
As our swords clashed I recognized him as the supposed brother from the market.
"It seems you are not mute after all" I grunted, as I parried another blow.
"Perhaps not, but rest assured that my being able to kill you is no act."
I believed it.
More footsteps sounded behind me as the rest of the guard finally arrived, turning the tide back in "our" favor. The "beast" now supporting Kate, touched the man on the shoulder and gestured to her wounded companion. With one final swing, the man backed off and helped carry Kate away as the Hawks made their exit. The crowd began to filter out as well until the only ones left in the courtyard were members of the guard, the Sheriff, and myself.
The sheriff stirred after a minute or two and looked around, confusion becoming disbelief becoming rage.
"What happened here?!" he exploded "Where did they go!?"
"I don't know my lord" I said honestly, turning to leave.
"But it appears as if you'll be needing me after all."