The Third PathMature

Nothing but the pale eyes of the rider were visible to Luke. He removed all else from his focus and hurtled himself toward him. His trained mind foresaw the most likely possibilities as he prepared for the one chance he would have to drive his blade through his enemy. The time came, almost as a surprise to Luke. He watched as his rival swung early, far too early. The rider's arm came down, his blade swiping past Luke's horse and catching nothing but air. In his mind, Luke knew it was over, he had won. He pushed aside all doubt; locked his blade into position and punched forward in a perfect thrust.

His eyes widened.

He did not feel the jolt.

His sword arm didn't absorb that telltale resistance which indicated he had struck flesh.

No, instead the blade had driven through the riders cloak. Luke had misinterpreted the early swing. He hadn't swung early, he had thrown his arm down to plunge his body over the side of his horse to elude the impending attack.

Luke had never seen this done, he couldn't have possibly predicted this course of action. In his focus, isolating all but his enemy, he had failed to take into account the third path; not the path of victory; nor the path of defeat; but rather the path of evasion. Furthermore, his mind had just become acutely aware of something else he had not noticed during his concentration. The hundreds of arrows that now cast a shadow over the forest's edge where they had been fired from.

From the flank, they broke through the assaulting forces, riding fast and without regard for the nearby pike men who tried without success, to reposition.

Les rode at the fore, beside Rook who had joined them; still glistening with fresh blood from the melee on the egress.

You say he will be there?” Rook asked, yelling over the cacophony of hooves battering the earth beneath them.

Yes.” Les replied. “He went to center field, to rally troops no doubt. He will be there.”

If he is not?”

Then we charge all the same.”

Right into the pike men?”

If need be.”

That's suicide Les.”

He looked over his companion, “Not much different than the situation back there Rook.”

So all in all we're fucked then?”

“Pretty much.” Les said, before whipping his rouncy to push her faster. “We have little time.”

As they began to crest the ridge, a lone rider appeared on the horizon.

Rook spotted him first and whistled. The sound was deafening at close range and permeated the formation like a banshee's wail. In response, the ninety bows they had amongst the horsemen were drawn. Before the rider could turn about, arrows were in flight.


Melchior felt the thrusting blade strike his cloak as he frantically pulled his body to one side of his courser. Just as his leg came over the saddle, he heard the whistle of arrows hiss past him to thud into the dirt. His courser whined and heaved sideways. For a brief moment, Melchior was completely disoriented. His vision was a blurred cycle of sky then grass, then sky and grass again and again until finally, he settled on his chest and slid to a stop. He gasped for air and heard a few more arrows strike the grassy hilltop.

He rose to his feet in a frenzy and raced toward his courser. On the way, he stumbled past the black blade that had somehow been stabbed into the earth erect, it's hilt still swaying as he snatched it up. An arrow slammed in front of him, then another to his right. As he feared, the second volley was already arriving. Melchior's feet could barely keep up; he leaned so far forward that the ground came too soon and he began to trip. The arrows grew greater in number and were falling like a heavy rain; the writhing shadow that was his courser seemed a million miles away. With a lurch, he dove, sliding into the back of his downed steed in time to feel the crescendo of the volley piercing into its flesh.

When finally the arrows subsided, Melchior rolled out from what little cover his horse had given him, thankful for its final act of service. He looked into its eye, dark as the night, and listened to the heavy breathing of its punctured lungs. His sword came up. “You did good.” He said, before his blade crashed down unto the horses skull, cracking it asunder with a jet of blood. His cloak tore the moment he moved away from the horse, its end having been pinned to the earth by several arrows. He looked toward the forest, hatred in his eyes as he saw the Duke's rangers taking cover from Stahll's retaliatory volley. “So that's how you want to play this game Thomias?”

Further down the field, Luke came to. He had been unhorsed and found himself far past the line he had drawn to avoid oncoming enemy. Luckily, the incoming fire had halted their charge and he was not at threat of being overrun just yet. He rose, and soon discovered his armor was pummeled with pock marks and long slashes where the arrows had glanced off. Looking back, he saw the dark rider, staring into the forest. Without delay Luke picked up his sword and ran toward the man, raising his blade in full attack.

Melchior heard the clinking of armor and turned to see the Knight charging him. He wondered how the man had survived the arrows, but couldn't ponder long on this as the need to defend himself pushed all trivial thoughts from his mind. As he came within striking range, Melchior could hear a growling war cry issue forth from the perforated faceplate of the Knight's helmet. He readied himself, and soon felt the weight of his enemy's sword against his own.

Between the clatter of the swords was the crunching and snapping of arrow shafts as the two circled each other; the feathered ends protruding from the grass around them like the quills of a porcupine.

The End

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