Through the Woods

“There!  There!”

The crash of multiple bodies rushing through the woods, the heavy breaths of exertion silenced all other noises that normally would drift through the Eastern woods.  It was an old forest, positively ancient.  The spreading arms of towering evergreens had long ago choked out all other plant life on the forest floor, covered instead in a blanket of fallen pine needles.  And so, they ran, on a carpet of interlocking needles, kicking up haphazard designs that snaked through the woods; tracing the progress of the chase.

There were six of them.  Five members of the Legion’s Scout Brigade.  Lightly armed and armored in leather and light plate, they chased a sixth, heavily cloaked figure, striving to keep a jauntily bouncing red feather in view.

The figure with the red feather sewn into her wide-brimmed hat cast a quick glance over her left shoulder as she ran.  Mentally she calculated the distance between herself, her lead pursuer and the one trailing furthest behind.  She was starting to get tired, and with that in mind, made the decision that this, was more than far enough.

Francisca Tallaheen, Royal Guardsman, personal bodyguard of Prince Justin, skid to a halt, throwing up a spray of pine needles as her feet found purchase.  Her left arm whipped out and back as her body pivoted, her fingers curled around the handle of the flintlock pistol she had drawn from its holster on her bandolier.  The leading scout stumbled as he recognized the item in his prey’s hand.  Unfortunately, his momentum was too great, the amount of time he had, too little, to do any more than give a shout before his head was snapped back with an accompany crack from the pistol.  Francisca twirled full-circle to the right, nimbly sidestepping the first scout’s corpse as it slid past her.  As she spun, her left hand dropped the discharged pistol and moved towards the clasp of her cloak, her right smoothly drawing her rapier from its sheath, the sharp steel blade shimmering in the dappled sunlight.

Using the momentum from her spin, Francisca easily parried the next scout’s hurried lunge, flowing past him as he bulled past.  With a flourish, she gave the man a sharp smack on the rump as he went by sending him stumbling.  The third scout barely had time to gape as Francisca’s cloak came loose from around her neck and was flung at him, billowing and flapping like a thing alive.  Swinging wildly, the scout batted the heavy fabric aside and froze at a click and roar of another pistol shot.

The cloak settled to the ground and the scout stood in shock, staring at Francisca who brandished a second pistol drawn from her bandolier, its barrel smoking.  A rustling thud behind and slightly to the side drew the scout’s attention and he half-turned to see the crumpled form of the fourth scout, the fifth gingerly side-stepping the body.  There was a rush of movement and the third scout’s attention snapped forward again, his short-sword carving a vicious swath through the air in front of him.

He hit nothing.  Francisca had ducked forward, beneath the arc of his swing and smoothly slipped her rapier through the narrow band just under the scout’s hardened leather breastplate.  As the third scout tottered, Francisca reached across her waist, her left hand closing around the handle of her main gauche.  In the same fluid movement she used to jerk her rapier free, she drew the parrying dagger, stepping back from the scout in front of her.  Francisca stood, balanced on the balls of her feet, arms spread, rapier and dagger pointing at the second and fifth scout respectively.

The two remaining scouts circled her cautiously, slowly drawing nearer like leaves trapped in the pull of a whirlpool.  Francisca pivoted with them, turning her head back and forth, casting her gaze at first one and then the other scout.  One of the scouts hesitated, taking half-a-step out of sync in order to avoid stepping on one of his dead comrades.  Like lightning, Francisca turned on the other scout, closing the small distance between them in the blink of an eye.  Steel rasped against steel as she worked the scout’s defenses, probing for an opening which the scout stubbornly denied, playing for time.

Behind her, Francisca felt the other scout closing in and turned, her dagger crashing against the oncoming scout’s short sword.  For a few terse moments the three danced back and forth blades sparking against each other before Francisca was able to duck out from between the two scouts.  Whirling like a dust devil, her rapier and dagger flashed as she swept by one of the scouts; overextended in a lunge.  Hamstring and neck, and a fourth body hit the floor.

Slowly Francisca stood, facing the last scout, sword and dagger held loosely in her hands.  A single perfectly arched eyebrow mocking the last man standing.  There was a pause as the last scout considered his options and swallowed hard.  With a desperate roar, he charged with his sword raised.

It was over as quickly as it had begun, a slashing strike was parried wide, allowing Francisca to slip her dagger into the scout’s armpit followed a coupe de grace to his throat. 

With all her opponents down, Francisca made a quick check for survivors; of which there was one.  Cleaning her weapons on the fallen, she sheathed both blades before retrieving her two dropped pistols.  She would reload them on the move.  Tossing her cloak back around her shoulders, Francisca, Royal Guardsmen and the Prince’s personal bodyguard hurried towards the agreed meeting place with the Prince.  At best this diversion had waylaid pursuit, there were still many miles to be travelled before there could be any safety.

The End

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