When Rohman entered the royal city of Jonganesh two days later, it was not in the manner which he would have predicted when he first set foot on the road. He did not scale the outer walls under the cover of a cloudy night, he wore no disguise, and his weapons were not concealed. Instead he rode through the South Gate shortly after noon while the royal guards posted there watched him with amused expressions and mocking salutations.

He would have cut the tongues from their mouths for such disrespect, if only his hands were not tied securely behind his back.

The captain’s response to his challenge had taken Rohman by surprise and he was still not certain what to think of it as he glared at the man’s back. With a resigned sigh, he let his head fall to his chest, his eyes inspecting once more the rope that hung loosely between their horses. He tried yet again to spur his mount into a sudden gallop but the beast stubbornly refused to acknowledge the change in pressure of his legs around its belly.

“Damned loyal beast,” he muttered at the back of its head. “At least your former master knew my blade before I was forced upon your back.”

His thoughts returned to the scene on the road two days prior, for easily the hundredth time, and he examined every second of the encounter in minute detail. He was so consumed by the memory of it that he did not hear the gate clang shut behind him, like the bars of the jail cell he was destined for.

* * *

Two days previous

“Thisk?” The captain called, turning his head to the right. “Dismount and deal with this fool.”

“Dismount, sir?” the reply came from the soldier furthest to Rohman’s right.

“I believe it is time that you proved your swordsmanship is as brilliant as your mouth insists it is,” the captain told him dryly. “Do not make me repeat myself.”

Thisk handed the reins of his horse to the man next to him and slid to the ground with a great rattling of chains and clunking of metal. Rohman, dressed only in hardened leather and thin cloth, eyed the man’s swaggering approach in silence. His twin blades, slightly longer than his arm’s length and as thin as a scholar’s note paper, remained motionless at his waist as Thisk brought his heavy broadsword to his forehead in a smirking salute.

Rohman’s eyes darted to the captain and his three men who remained on horseback, needing confirmation that they would merely perform the role of spectators, and Thisk chose that moment to attack.

Rohman sprung backward to avoid the sweeping blow intended for his chest and then darted in while Thisk was still recovering his balance. Before he could bring his sword up to defend himself Rohman had plunged both of his swords into the unprotected flesh of Thisk’s shoulders and yanked them free. He turned to face the captain once more, his face expressionless, as the soldier collapsed to the ground to his right, howling in pain.

“Put him out of his misery,” the captain told Rohman with unblinking eyes. When he hesitated, caught off guard by this command, the captain added, “We’re two days hard riding to the city, he’d never survive the journey. So finish him now and spare him the long road to The Fires.”

Rohman shrugged, sheathed one of his swords and produced a dagger that had been hidden at his belt. To a chorus of rumbling disapproval from Thisk’s brothers in arms, he knelt in the dirt and quickly ran his blade across Thisk’s throat, releasing a flood of life force to spill onto the road. He lingered only to wipe the serrated blade on the young man’s golden cape and then came to stand before the king’s men once more. The knife returned to its hiding place and his sheathed sword came back to the sunlight.

“What are you waiting for?” the captain demanded of his remaining soldiers. “Avenge your brother!”

The three men urged their horses forward with shouts and roars and snapping reins, only one of them thinking quickly enough to circle around behind their prey. Rohman avoided twin blade strokes by performing a forward roll in the dirt, placing the captain at his back and the three men in front of him once more. He could have easily maimed the horses to bring their riders down to his level but he was reluctant to punish the beasts for the sins of their masters.

Instead, when the same two men rushed him again he met their swords with his, spun in place, and brought his blades down between each rider's foot and his mount, severing their saddle straps with only tiny, matching nicks on each horse’s side. When the riders yanked on the reins to bring their horses back around for another charge they were dumped gracelessly on the ground in a great clanking of metal and curses.

“Are you just going to stand around watching,” Rohman challenged the third rider, “or shall you be joining your fellow jesters in the dirt?”

The man’s eyes narrowed with anger but he still held his ground. With a shrug Rohman turned his back on him and approached the fallen soldiers. This time he did not need the captain’s encouragement to finish them off. Two lightning quick parries and a deft sidestep preceded the separation of their heads from their shoulders and then he was facing the motionless rider, blood dripping from his swords like thick gravy from dinner knives.

“If you do not wish to die today,” Rohman told him softly, the captain out of sight behind him, “throw down your sword.”

And that was when the captain had finally made his move.

The End

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