Two months later…
The sails of theHunter’s Resolutionquickly go from empty to bulging as wind fills them on to take the fleet away from the village. Prince William glances back to check on its status before looking back at the sea and his ships. He can also see other longships down the coast, fleeing from his quickly forming fleet.
“Exactly as planed! Perfect! Yeah!” He shouts as they pick up speed, his grin becoming wider and voice more exuberant. “Those raiders fell right into the trap! For one we will be able to force them to go where we want them! No more hit and runs. A pitched battle at last!” He glances at the sun and lets out a huge laugh. “South! Yes! The galley came in at the right moment, and now they must flee away from their safe harbors! The village took very little damage and the fire in under control…” He gives another glance at the village and shakes his head in utter disbelief. “And we even managed to get a couple of their ships trapped on shore! This could be the day!” He raises a fist to the sky in the most holy of gestures, the bump of God.
Roderik climbs up the steps from the small storage cabin with two swords. “And what ofWrathandLove?”He said in reference to their respective flagships, now mostly ash in the bay disappearing behind them.
“We knew we might lose the bait ships. And we had to use those two, after the months we’ve had, there are...were… no other ships as hated by those raiders.”
“I just hope this works.” Rod glances at he shore, which has now changed to a forest. “If they make landfall here, we will lose them…”
William rubs his palms together. “They won’t! Much like you, and almost anyone who live so close to the sea, they hate to part with their ships. They are their lives. To make landfall here would destroy them. They will try to run as long as they can. If I’m right, and I tend to be, they will try and beach their ships about a mile south of here, then make for the forest. That is where we will stop them.” He smiles and takes his sword from Roderik. “Today will be a day to remember!” He turns back to the sun and his victory.
Before too long, he is proved right. A small beach appears in the distance ahead and the raiders ships make for it, their pursuers not too far behind. William rushes top the prow filled with anticipation. Some of that is turned to curses as he watches some of the raiders leap from their ship and start swimming to shore, while the rest use their boats to try and block the chase.
“Dammit! So close! Swimming to shore, and leaving their boats…. That was a brilliant idea! I wish I had thought of it so I could counter it! Dam!” He sighs and turns to his closest fighters. “Like the wise men say, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them!’ Remove you mail if you have it, bind your blades and swim for shore. I think less than thirty jumped off. If we have the god’s speed, we can catch them. What say you men, shall we finish these curs!” His men shout the affirmative and prepare to leap.
By this point, their ships are about where the raiders jumped off. William is the first to leap of his boat. Ten men from each of the six long boats close enough to make it to shore follow him into the fairly icy Atlantic. As they do so their ships turn sharply to engage the raiders who remain afloat.
They all brace themselves and let the thrill of battle overpower the chill of the water. The raiders chose their spot well, and the land comes swiftly beneath their feet. Being strong warriors as well as sailors, they make it to the shore fairly quickly in spite of their unpreparedness. The raiders are almost halfway to the trees.
“After them! Shouts Prince William as he runs off. Drips fly from his clothes. Not to be out done, Roderik does his best to beat him to the enemy. The rest again follow.
As the solders get close, some of the raiders turn about to face them and let their fellows escape. Out of the corner of his eye Will notices one raider forcible toss another up the hill to keep running and not charge the Royal soldiers like the rest of the band. Will does not have enough time to think about this strange happening before he is upon one of the raiders himself and starts to fight him.
William does not slow his run and upon reaching his opponent bashes the sword away from him and uses his momentum to knock his foe over. William kicks him in the head and the man’s eyes roll back into his head. The man’s hand goes limp and drops his sword.
Scarcely without a pause for a breath, has William shouted a battle cry and charged farther up the hill. Learning something from seeing what happened to the man below, the next raider runs down the hill and counter charges William. They meet in a hand jarring clang of metal, neither of them giving ground. Their battle transforms into a sudden and brutal contest of strength, each combatant using all of his might to force other ones blade away from himself and into his opponent.
The raider has the advantage of standing on higher ground and slowly he uses that advantage to push his sword more and more. Will’s face breaks out in a desperate sweat and he snarls. The raider grins and pushes harder.
Suddenly, Neil backs off and moves to the right, taking himself out of the battle. His opponent over balances and starts to topple. To compound the situation, William kicks him in the back of the knee as he passes and the man loses all hope of recovery. William reverses his blade and quickly runs the man through.
Quickly Will searches for his next foe. He finds to his mild surprise that his own advance force has quite overwhelmed the raider’s rear guard, and that the rest of his ships not engaged on the sea are starting to unload the rest of his troops in a more conventional fashion, including his archers. The raider’s fleet has been surrounded by his ships, and most of their fighters are being overcome by his men. He finally takes the chance to breathe and smile at his victory.
As he relaxes, he notices something out of the corner of his eyes. He whirls to see what it is. Some of the raiders have doubled back in the forest and are running to the cliffs around the beach. Grinning, he runs towards them. “Ha! You think you shall escape so easily? We will not be fooled into passing you. YARGH!” He runs faster and shouts another war cry.
By making a straight path where the raiders had to make a larger curve to bypass his troops, William cuts the distance between him and the escaping raiders. Glancing over her shoulder, one of them spots William running after them. She shouts something and the rest quickly glance back before changing from an energy conserving jog back to an all out sprint. Another of their number shouts something different, and turns to face the charging William. Some part of Will’s mind currently being supplanted by the furor of battle realizes that she is the woman he saw being forced away from the fight earlier. Another, even more ignored right now part tells him that she is rather pretty. The former works its way in slowly as it may come in useful, but the latter does not even consider the option.
Will charges her, using the same brute force strategy as the first two times, hoping to make it more effective on the smaller from of this woman. Instead of meeting his charge she sidesteps and tries to stab him in the side.
Having used the same tactic so recently, and so often, William manages to dodge the attack, receiving a long cut on his arm from her blade in the process. He rolls on the ground to shed most of his momentum, and to cut the woman off from the rest of the escaping raiders.
Undeterred by her first strike failing, the woman closes with Will before he can fully regain his feet. Will jumps up and manages to parry her strike and make one of his own, which she then parries. This continues for some time, each one making a masterful stroke and then being stopped in an equally masterful manner. Her style relies more on quick movements, while Will’s relies heavily on powerfully strikes, but overall they are fairly evenly matched. Time passes, and they both start to feel from the extended fight and the intense running beforehand.
The woman makes the first sound that is not swords clashing or the battle ground being trampled. “You….know…the….rest of…” She says in between their blows, “of...my...people are escaping…while…you fight…me?” The same ignored part of William’s mind from earlier takes note of the beauty of her voice.
“Maybe….but…they have...no...nowher...torun.” He takes a breath. “My ships…have this place surrounded and my men…..are combing these woods. They saw… me…run in here…”
“They...will…not...find us….we can…..blend into…your own people….we looks and sound…the same….” She uses a free hand and moment to push a tuft of blond hair from her eyes.
“Even if not…we have...broken your forces….and…we have you….based on…how you were protected…earlier…and your skill with the blade to…rival mine…you are important…”
She bites her lip at his epiphany, and then smiles evilly. “You have…only scratched the…surface of...our forces….there are more of us….and we-“
A shout from one of William’s approaching troops interrupts their battle banter. William grins at what he assumes will be his opponent’s immediate surrender. Instead, she makes a flourishing attack with her sword, and then punches him with her free hand. Will is taken by surprise and barely stops the blows by her fist. She follows this up with a kick in the crotch. Neil does plan for this; and so shifts his hips to take some of the blow. She then amends her plan and tires to kick him in the legs to knock kick down. He brings up his knee to try and kick her over. When all of their blows connect, they both fall to the ground, mostly because they are using their legs more to kick then stand on.
More by luck than anything else, the woman ends up closer to where she was running then William is to a place stop her. She jumps to her feet before Will can, and grabs her sword before running of the way she was before. William takes scarcely a second longer to recover and runs after her.
Being smaller, and lighter on her feet, the woman manages to maintain a lead. She reaches the cliffs next to the beach and jumps off just as William starts to close.
He stands next to the edge panting, eyes widening at the woman’s sudden suicide. “Wha?” He looks out to the sea and sees the splash of the woman landing. Suddenly another longship speeds down the coast, bypassing all of the Royal ships sitting on the beach. The woman resurfaces and grabs a line from the ship as it passes and is taken aboard. As the ship passes out of sight, she mockingly salutes Will. He returns the salute, using the gesture of blasphemers by only using the middle of his fingers. The ship disappears and he sinks to the ground and casts up his arms. Then he starts laughing. Certain parts of his brain download their information into the rest of his brain. Roderick and the rest of the troops find him like this within minutes.
Leery of the chance that the king’s madness may have infected the son, Roderick warily approaches his lord and friend. “Prince William? What is…um…so funny?”
William leans back flat on the ground. “I may have started a war. Or, at least some sort of blood feud. Also, I met a girl. A number of parts of my mind and body feel she may be significant.” He starts laughing again, and salutes the horizon for real.