« Chapter 1 »
A sharp pain burnt through the Calliston Warriors chest as he gazed down at the arrow piercing his heart, seconds later he slid off his horse and was dead before he even hit the ground.
A second Calliston Warrior dropped out of his saddle to protect an older man who lay injured on the ground. The warrior’s head was on a swivel as he warned, “Sir, we’re surrounded.”
“How many?” the injured man asked.
“Looks to be four or five, sir, hard to tell in the forest.”
“Stand your ground,” the older man ordered. Gazing down at the dagger sticking out of his thigh the older man cursed.
Hidden in the forest were five bandits all with swords and bows drawn at the ready. Each one some twenty feet apart as they surrounded the young warrior and the older man.
Impatient, a bandit snapped, “Damn it let’s kill them and be done with it.”
“Wait!” the leader of the bandits growled. “I give the orders around here not you. We’ll kill them when I say.”
Through the undergrowth, a lone female warrior slowly edged toward the youngest of five bandits. He was on edge, jittery, waiting for action and so did not hear or see her approach.
Like a cat in stealth mode, the female warrior grabbed the man’s chin and swinging him face down into the ferns she struck the back of his head with the hilt of her sword to render him unconscious. She could have killed him, but she did not kill people in cold blood.
Moving through the trees, she edged closer to a second bandit, but at the last minute her assailant spied her approach.
Ducking as the bandit’s sword swung above her head, she rose up and slammed her fist across his jaw. Angry, the bandit staggered backward but as she advanced, he dodged her attack. Stepping aside, he grabbed her around the throat. Using a tree for leverage, the female warrior kicked back with both feet sending him crashing to the forest floor.
Breaking free of the bandits grasp, she rolled then rose back to her feet.
Cursing, the bandit did likewise.
Grinning, she beckoned him forward.
With a low growl, he obliged.
Charging forward, the bandit drew back his arm but before he could land his first blow, the female swung a large branch she was hiding across his face, with a loud crack the man spun in a full circle. Seeing stars, he hit the ground. When he did not move, she circled around the trees toward the three other bandits.
The leader of the bandits stepped into view of the young Calliston Warrior as he protectively shielded an older man on the ground behind him.
The bandit, a large broad shouldered man with a menacing presence, narrowed his eyes. “You’re outnumbered lad, best you throw down that sword of yours and step aside.”
The Calliston’s eyes kept vigilant watch as he spied two bandits flanking him. He glanced down at his dead friend, before warning, “That’s not going to happen.”
“Trust me, we’re not going anywhere until you hand him over to us.”
“Leave or die,” the Calliston threatened.
The leader of the bandits laughed. “I can’t do that I’m afraid. Our friends were killed on his orders so we think it only fair that he now pays with his own life. You cannot win, you’re outnumbered. There are five of us and only two of you, unfavourable odds by anyone’s standards.”
The Calliston Warriors horse whinnied, it was a warning that someone or something was circling behind them. Glancing around, he noticed two of the five bandits were now missing.
“I think you’ll find the odds are getting more in our favour,” the young Calliston shouted.
Confused, the leaders gaze searched the forest. “Damn it, where are Seamus and Klyde?”
His men shook their heads.
The leader cursed. It didn’t matter, he still outnumbered his foe. “I’ll ask you one last time boy, step aside and you can go free.”
The Calliston shook his head. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Then you’ll pay the price,” the leader shouted. “Kill them both. Do it now!”
The two bandits flanking their leader ran through the trees. Cursing, the female warrior circled around the Calliston to intercept the bandit attacking from his right.
Keeping low in the bracken, she rose up when the bandit levelled with her, grabbing his throat she wrestled him to the ground. Shrugging the warrior off, the bandit pulled a dagger from his boot as he scrambled back to his feet. Standing, she kicked the dagger out of his hand but somehow he grabbed her leg. Twisting it hard he sent her face down in the bracken with a hard thud. When the bandit loomed over her, she sideswiped his legs from under him. Knocked sideways, he hit the ground. Scrambling away from each other, they rose back to their feet.
When the bandit drew his sword, the warrior’s eyes glanced up at a low overhanging branch. Running forward, she leapt in the air and as the bandit raised his sword, she grabbed the branch and swung forward knocking him clean off his feet. Releasing the branch, she landed beside him. Dropping to one knee, she slammed her fist hard across his jaw knocking him out cold.
Spinning around, she saw a second bandit aiming an arrow at the injured man. Racing through the trees, she rammed her shoulder into his back knocking him off his feet. His arrow let loose but skimmed past its victims to split bark on a nearby tree. With a swift strike, the man lay unconscious.
Without warning, the young Calliston dropped to his knees, clutching his chest he keeled over dead.
Grinning, the leader of the bandits cast aside his bow.
The female warrior heard the familiar whistle of steel spinning through the air, but the injured man on the ground deflected the blade with the fallen soldier’s sword. Steel struck steel and as the injured man lost his grip, his sword sailed through the air. Before he could retrieve it, the leader of the bandits pressed a sword to his chest.
Distracting the bandit, the female warrior stepped into view, her black mane of hair flying around her shoulders like an avenging banshee. Her violet eyes narrowed, fixed on the bandit with a looked that warned him she was not through with him yet.
The bandit knew one thing for sure; he knew his female attacker was not from Oberon. No Oberon woman carried a sword or fought like a warrior, it was simply not allowed. When she drew a second sword from a harness on her back he realised she was from Palaso. Palaso Warriors, male or female always fought with twin blades.
Knocking the injured man to the ground, the bandit raised his sword, warning, “Come any closer and he dies Palaso.”
The woman smiled but the smile never quite reached her eyes. It was a shame he recognised she was from Palaso, she preferred it when people underestimated her skill as a warrior.
Circling the clearing with her swords drawn, she warned, “I have no wish to kill you but if you do not step away from the man I may have to reconsider.”
The bandit laughed at her arrogance. “I was thinking the same thing about you.”
Palaso Warriors showed no fear and she mused the bandit’s overconfidence would be his undoing. “I won’t warn you again. Leave the forest or die.”
The bandit shook his head. “You’re getting a ahead of yourself, a little too overconfident.”
“I’m confident you will fall to my blade if you do not leave that man alone.”
The bandit jabbed his sword into his injured victim’s leg, right where his friend’s dagger still pierced his flesh. The old man cried out in pain as the bandit growled, “Drop your swords Palaso.”
“Don’t, he’ll kill you anyway.” The man on the ground warned.
“Do it!” the bandit yelled as he jabbed the tip of his sword into the man’s flesh again.
The female warrior admired the injured man’s lack of fear, even though the bandit was seconds away from running him through.
When the bandit’s foot crashed into his ribs, the man winced in pain. “I said throw down your swords!” The bandit bellowed.
The female warrior had made her mind up to save the man no matter what happened. It was her nature to protect, to defend those who could not defend themselves, even if it put her own life in jeopardy.
The woman took a step forward. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” The female warrior was six feet tall, only an inch shorter than the bandit. Palaso Warriors were tall, even the women, and she was no exception.
“I see you have a death wish Palaso,” the bandit mocked.
“You won’t kill me, not today. Men like you hide in forests to ambush people. You are incapable of challenging an enemy face to face. Rather, you skulk in the shadows waiting for a cowards kill. You and your kind are yellow to the core.” The warrior was goading the bandit, hoping that if she could make him angry enough he would attack her instead of the man on the ground.
“You’re tempting fate Palaso. I might just come over there and prove you wrong.”
“You haven’t got the guts to fight a female Palaso Warrior. I’m too much of a challenge for a weak spineless Oberon bandit,” she goaded.
This time the bandit’s eyes narrowed. Good, she thought, one more goad and he would be hers.
“I see I was right, you’re too afraid to take up the challenge or maybe you just aren’t skilled enough to beat me.”
Stepping away from the injured man, he warned, “I will rip out your heart and feed it to my dogs Palaso.”
“Something tells me your dogs will go hungry,” the warrior mocked.
“Are we going to stand here all day trading insults or are you going to muster up the courage to prove me wrong?”
Now visibly irritated by her goads, the bandit growled. Moving away from his victim, he attacked.
Steadying her stance, she smiled as her final goad pushed him into action. Blocking his blade as it swung toward her throat, the warrior twisted her sword around his and forced it down. Raising her foot, she kicked him in the ribs the force of which lifted him off his feet.
The bandit fell backward, angry that she had felled him he got back to his feet.
The warrior grinned. “Not so big now, are you?”
Annoyed by her mockery, he charged forward his blade swinging left and right. The warrior was fast on her feet and her shorter twin blades beckoned him to try again.
The injured man was now crawling toward one of his dead guards. Reaching for the guard’s sword, he grimaced in pain.
The warrior and the bandit were matching each other blow for blow, and it was only when the female warrior tripped over a fallen branch did her defence falter. Taking advantage, the bandit knocked the warrior’s swords out of her hands and with a backhand, he spun her to the ground.
The bandit gave the fallen warrior an evil grin. “I have a good mind to keep you for a while before I kill you Palaso.”
“You’d live to regret that,” Auzara quipped.
“No, you’d live to regret it,” the bandit snarled, but as he motioned to haul her to her feet, there was a dull thud as the bandit’s chest jerked forward. The bandit now had a sword sticking out of his chest and as his knees collapsed, she rolled out of the way. With a heavy thud, he slammed into the forest floor, dead.
The injured man was now standing, but before the warrior could thank him, she spied three bandits charging behind him. Grabbing her fallen swords, she spun them through the air. There was a whoosh of steel as the blades cartwheeled either side of the injured man’s ears, and missing him by a cat’s whisker they knocked two of the three bandits off their feet.
Drawing a dagger from her boot, she yelled “Duck!”
When Nengar ducked, she threw the dagger directly at him. The third bandit was seconds away from bringing his sword down on Nengar, but as the dagger struck him in the forehead, he fell dead to his knees, his sword falling from his grip.
The injured man had cursed on seeing the warrior’s blades cartwheeling past his ears. Glancing behind him, he saw three dead bandits lying on the ground.
Turning, he watched the warrior as she walked toward him with a relaxed smile. Leaning down she retrieved her swords and dagger.
When she stepped closer, Nengar grabbed the hilt of the dagger sticking out of his leg.
Halting him, she cautioned, “I’d leave that where it is until you are home. That wound needs tending to by a healer.”
Nengar released the dagger, but he was surprised to find that a female warrior had saved him from the bandits.
“I think I owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you,” the man said.
“Then we are even. For a second back there that bandit had me at a disadvantage.”
“From what I’ve just seen, it was you who had them at a disadvantage,” the man said with a wry smile.
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