Disclaimers: While this fiction is based on the characters of the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, they and the stories presented on this website are otherwise of my own creation, and thus belong to me. Please do not reproduce this text in any form without my permission. I hope you enjoy this piece, feel free to email me with any questions or comments.
Rating: Devon likes a good fight just as much as Xena, and there is both violence and bloodshed in this fic, as well as some light swearing. PG-13
Uber Reflections: The character of Arkon is based on that of Draco from X:WP.
They arrived at Seward right at noontide, both seated upon Devon's light-colored mare. Tyne's flanks were covered with a frothy layer of sweat and her sides heaved with each intake of breath, but she plodded along gamely enough. The insistence of her mistress was obvious, and the horse desperately wanted to please.
Traffic in and out of the castle walls was at its highest point this time of day, and they passed under the open portcullis easily. Inside the outer bailey, Devon pulled up on Tyne's reins. Dismounting, she glanced briefly down at Talia, who trotted faithfully behind the horse. The dog acknowledged her attention with a faint whine.
She caught sight of Liria gazing around herself in wonder. "There is a lot of trade here," the smaller woman said, amazed. "What do we do now?"
Devon jerked her head toward the guarded curtain wall separating the outer and inner baileys. "We go inside," she answered.
Liria remained in the saddle as they approached the second entryway. Devon yanked the reins over Tyne's head and lead the horse at an easy pace. The guards stiffened slightly as they came closer, an automatic reaction that Devon noted with approval. She didn't recognize the men, but that hardly was surprising, since she'd been gone for nearly two years now.
"You have business inside?" the first man questioned, glancing up at the blonde suspiciously. Liria's cropped and uncovered hair unfortunately marked her as a woman of questionable repute. It was growing out, but would take some time to reach its former length.
In response, Devon reached up toward her neck. The men watched her warily as her hand dipped inside the top of her armor and then emerged bearing the glint of metal. It was small, circular disc threaded with a length of leather twine. The man who'd questioned her leaned forward to glance at it. When he caught a proper glimpse, his jaw slackened as his eyes darted back up to her face, examining it more carefully.
"Milady," he stammered, "I didn't recognize you."
He made a small gesture over one shoulder, signaling the men to open the gate. Before Devon passed him, she paused and gave him a second look. "Do I know you?" she asked.
The man nodded, swallowing nervously before replying, "Nyle, Milady. Son of Aldin."
"Aldin's boy?" Devon marveled. "You're just lad, then. But much changed these two years, I warrant."
Liria smiled cautiously at him as Tyne strolled by, but he'd yet to recover from the shock of seeing Devon. She kept herself still, but could hardly contain her curiosity. Milady! Laric had said Devon wanted to be a knight...a foolish dream for a female, to be sure. But Liria should have known that her very abilities suggested a great deal of education and bearing. Still, who would have assumed that a woman of Devon's temperment had any drop of nobility?
The inner bailey was much quieter, populated only by the castle servants. A boy immediately rushed up to them as soon as they made their way inside. Devon shook her head at him, refusing to relinquish Tyne's reins.
"I'll stable her myself," she told him. Disheartened, he slunk back to his post, picking up a few pebbles to toss on the way.
"Milady," a female voice called out. A large woman hurried across the courtyard, holding the hem of her skirts up and away from the mud as she did. Her wide face was red with exertion under the white kerchief tied around her head. "I'm so glad you've arrived," she panted as she reached them. She gazed up at Liria in mute disbelief before Devon shifted her weight and cleared her throat in an obvious show of irritation.
"He's not long for this world," the woman whispered.
Devon nodded grimly. "I shall be up directly," she replied, turning her horse toward the stables.
Finally, Liria could no longer hold her tongue. "Devon," she began as she leapt down from Tyne's back. They'd passed into the shadows of the stables, an impossibly long building seemingly filled with horseflesh. Liria knew she'd have to examine this marvel more closely at a later time.
"Devon, we've traveled day and night for more than a week. Don't you think it's time to explain the meaning of this to me?"
The taller woman didn't answer, instead turning away from her to pull open the door of an empty stall. Several men around them watched silently, their expressions inscrutable. Liria wanted to stamp her foot in anger, but merely sighed and waited a moment for Devon to lead Tyne inside.
It was just over a week before that a stranger approached them as they dined in a tavern in Surrey. They were on their way back to Madra's home, where Liria planned on learning as much as she could from the older woman's extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs. Devon was still in the mood for some relaxation, and spoke of spending several weeks brushing up on her sword skills and otherwise doing as little as possible.
But as soon as the man came bearing the news that "old Feran" was deathly ill, Devon immediately changed course. They headed southwest, pushing Tyne to the limit with their pace, and not stopping until they reached the coastal city of Seward. During this time the dark haired warrior was strangely silent. While she'd never been one to offer much information about herself, Liria found this quiet to be very disconcerting. She was glad when they reached the castle, thinking she might at last gain some answers to her questions. But Devon didn't seem to be ready to talk just yet.
"I know you probably think this is none of my business," Liria began, "But you did bring me along, after all. Can you just tell me one thing? Who is Feran?"
Devon glanced up from the bridle in her hands. "He's my husband," she answered.
Devon approached Feran's chambers with trepidation, grateful that Liria had finally stilled her questioning and now walked silently behind them. When she reached the doorway of the rooms that once belonged to her, she paused. The serving woman stopped obediently, waiting for direction.
“Get Liria comfortably settled,” Devon said, gesturing toward the darkened chamber. “She's my personal guest. I want her requests treated as though they were my own.”
“Of course, milady,” the woman bobbed.
Devon glanced at Liria once more. “Have a few of my dresses altered to fit her. She can choose which ones she wants.”
Liria's eyes widened in surprise at this. “You don't have to—“ she began, but Devon turned and walked away.
She knew the younger woman would understand her abrupt behavior, but still felt a small twinge of guilt. Primary on her mind were those last few steps she had to take before reaching Feran's closed chamber door. Liria wanted answers, and Devon couldn't stop to supply them until she'd seen him again. She briefly pondered the reaction she'd receive as she entered. His closest advisors and servants would be present, of course. It was doubtful that any of them would appreciate her return, after the humiliation she'd caused.
Devon took a deep breath and pushed the door open. The first person she saw was Silas, the household steward. He took a step forward in response to her entrance. The solar was brightly lit, open windows facing the afternoon sun. She knew Feran's bedchamber, with its narrow, protected windows, would be much darker. The steward's open expression faltered when he recognized her, clearly revealing his annoyance. She responded to his sourness with a wry grin.
“Silas,” she nodded.
He narrowed his eyes, regarding her clothing with a sniff. Devon disregarded him then—he was just as close-minded as ever. She turned toward Michael, their captain of the guard. As usual, he showed little reaction to her return, merely gracing her with a dignified nod.
“Is he awake?” she asked.
“You should head right in,” he responded, stepping aside and holding one arm out toward the inner door.
Sighing, Devon walked past him and into the bedchamber itself. She found her bearings immediately; there was a time when she spent much of each early evening in this room. A roaring fire in the hearth to her left colored the room with an orange hue. The heavy canopied bed was directly before her, its thick curtains drawn to ward off the chill. A plump woman Devon recalled as being named Heloise stood from a stool near the bed when she entered.
“Lady Devon,” she breathed in relief. “We're so glad you've returned.”
“Leave us, Heloise,” a familiar but weakened voice rasped from the enclosed bed.
Devon stepped forward, passing Heloise silently. She approached the right side of the bed, where a portion of the curtain was drawn back opposite the reach of the narrow windows. Her features remained carefully controlled when she saw the wizened figure propped up against a collection of pillows. His hair had turned completely gray during the last two years, she noticed, and sickness had robbed his body of its former robustness. He lay as helpless as a child under several thick blankets, yet gazed up at her with sharp eyes that still missed nothing.
“You look terrible,” Devon finally said. She'd refused to show her pity at his current state, but this bluntness was something they'd always shared.
Feran chuckled lightly, then gestured for her to sit on the edge of the bed. “You, my dear, look as radiant as ever.” He grew serious. “I'm grateful you've come.”
Devon climbed up onto the tall bed, perching carefully on the edge. She swallowed heavily at his words. “I wouldn't leave you alone at a time like this,” she answered.
Feran nodded. “I know. Malick paid me a visit not long ago.”
Ducking her head, Devon hid a smile. “I'm sure he brought you up to speed,” she allowed.
“He was always melodramatic. He'll recover from whatever loss he claims to have suffered. But tell me of your cause. Have you learned much since you last sent word?”
“Rothschild is dead,” Devon scowled. “By my hand. Elisa is…gone.”
Feran patted her hand consolingly. She tried not to cringe at the palsied appendage, so much weaker than she remembered. “I'm sorry, Devon. I know I share in some of the blame for that misfortune…”
Devon's startled gaze flew to him in surprise. “You do not,” she argued. “There are only two men responsible for her death. One of those men is no longer in this world. Our…marriage…may have taken me away from home, but Tolan should have done his duty by his blood.”
His eyes regarded her shrewdly. “Why do you think your father asked you to wed with me?” Feran asked.
Devon was taken somewhat aback. They'd never discussed her promise to her father, merely accepted it as fact. “I assume that he knew you'd care for me. There were few others who would have me by that point.”
Feran smiled. “You are a rare woman, Devon. Your father recognized that. It was more than indulgence, no matter what those at Court had to say about it. He knew that your strengths lay outside the realm of the feminine. It is why he allowed you so much free rein. He asked me to take your hand should anything happen to him. Tolan's first order of business would have been to make a suitable match for you, you realize that. If you had ended up with anyone else, it is certain that you would have been broken. Neither of us could bear to imagine such a thing.”
Surprised by the stroke of a tear down one cheek, Devon reached up and rubbed her face viciously. “It is unfair that I have to lose you as well,” she murmured.
“It will be easier for you to continue on your path, knowing that I no longer wait for your return,” he said kindly. He held up one hand when she began to speak, saying, “But do not argue with me now. I must admit that my illness was not foremost on my mind when I sent word to you.”
Devon frowned. “I have assured you that I'll pose no problems for Garrick after you have gone. He shall have all authority here…” she trailed off when he shook his head, trying to speak. A spasm of coughing burst forth as he did, leaving him gasping for breath.
“Garrick knows your honesty as well as I,” Feran agreed. “It is that same sense of honor that I appeal to now. Have you heard news of Tolan at Lenchester?”
Devon shook her head. “Only what Malick relayed at our last meeting. I did not stay long in the city at my last visit.”
“There is little chance that you received any message from Tolan himself. The castle has been under siege for near a fortnight. It is only because my own couriers saw this with their own eyes that we hear news of it ourselves.”
“Who would do something so foolish?” Devon scoffed. “Lenchester is well protected; it would take months for a proper breach to be accomplished.”
“It is Arkon,” Feran said simply, leaving her stunned yet again. “And do not dismiss him this time as a madman. This move is calculated, and dangerous to us all. You realize why he has chosen Lenchester?”
“It is a perfect position in which to shore up an army,” Devon realized. “Easy access to the sea, a firm defense from encroachers…he wants to start a long term campaign.”
“Good girl,” Feran nodded encouragingly.
“I assume Tolan's attention to standing troops has failed in the past several years,” Devon mused, her tone sour.
“He hasn't had the funds to support a great number of men, that is correct. He relies on the advantages of his location.”
Devon shook her head. “The King will know of this,” she started, but Feran interrupted her.
“The King is distracted by his Campaign of the Cross,” Feran said evenly. “And spends as much time in the lands of the heathens as he does here. It is likely Arkon will count on this distraction to allow him to gain power without opposition.”
“He seeks the Crown,” Devon breathed. “What do you think I can do about all of this?”
“He is still weak,” Feran countered. “This is the beginning of a time that might bring ruin to us all. They need you at Lenchester. They need that great mind. Were I not enfeebled, I might…”
Stubbornly, Devon shook her head once more. “I won't leave you now,” she vowed.
“You won't have to wait long,” he said, causing her to wince. “Then you will do what you can to stop Arkon from succeeding. This is the path your father set you upon.”
Devon remained silent, feeling the torment of memories she'd tried to shed for years. “It will be done,” she promised him.
Liria watched from across the room as Devon harshly yanked the brush through her long, wet hair. The cruel sounds of this procedure made her wince. Finally, she approached her friend, not pausing as the woman stiffened when she came near. Devon didn't like people walking up behind her. Liria gently took the brush from her hand and began a kinder ministration to the dark tendrils falling past the taller woman's shoulders.
"Let me," she said, pleased when Devon allowed it.
The dark-haired woman was seated before the fireplace, wearing only her shirt and hose. Her armor, boots, and accessories lay in a disheveled heap near the bed. Liria knelt behind her friend to brush her hair. Behind them, a large copper tub still held their soapy bathwater. Bathing before Devon returned from her visit with Feran, Liria ate a small supper while Devon took her turn. The tub, while quite larger than any Liria had ever seen, was yet too small for Devon's frame. Her legs hung out of one end while she sat on a small stool under the water and washed herself clean. Soon the servants would return to remove the portable device from the room.
A few minutes after Liria had taken her place behind her, Devon began to speak. Liria bit her lip to keep from interrupting, knowing that her friend needed to get this out on her own. She continued brushing her hair with long, even strokes, silently envying the length she herself would not have again for several years.
"My father was wounded at the Tournaments one year," Devon started, staring forward into the fire. "It was a stupid accident, really. He fell from his horse and cut his leg. But the injury did not heal. A week later he was nearly raving with a fever. He had some moments of lucidity, but..." she paused, glancing down. "He never recovered. Before he died, he asked that I agree to wed the Duke of Seward. Feran and my father had been friends since boyhood. I promised him that I would."
"Your father didn't want you to be alone," Liria murmured.
"At the time I felt betrayed," Devon explained. "I thought his request meant that he wanted me to change my ways, and live like a normal woman at last. But now I know that he chose Feran knowing that he would not force me in any particular direction. It's a rare trait in a man," she nearly laughed. "But Feran has been more of a father to me than a husband. When--when I had to leave for a time, he gave me the finest horse in his stables."
Liria thought a moment, saying, "I don't think the others here are as charitable."
"You're right, in most regards I'm almost hated here. But I had to return. Liria," Devon said, shifting around to face her. Liria placed the brush in her lap and waited. "When Feran...I'll have to go somewhere. But, you can't come with me."
Shocked, Liria could only look at her with a hurt expression. "It's too dangerous," Devon continued. "I know you hate when I say that, but this time I truly mean it. I won't take you down a road that might lead to your death."
Liria swallowed. "That means your life is at risk, too? Where will you go?"
Sighing, Devon replied, "I'm going home."
She watched the men move about their encampment from the cover of the trees nearby, silently counting campfires. She had yet to see Arkon himself, but assumed he'd taken quarters in the largest tent at center. If only his arrogance had already gotten him killed, she mused to herself. The helmet she'd stolen from a supply wagon was stifling, and she longed to remove it. But Devon didn't want to chance being spotted before she managed to reach the castle.
Satisfied that she'd taken proper stock of their holdings, she backed away from the area and turned west, toward the cliffs. Lenchester was flanked on three sides by the sea. From the north, approach was hampered by a sheer vertical drop to the water below, over two hundred feet high. To the east, a small inset allowed ships entrance, but the choppy waters and sharp rocks soon battered any that dared into splinters. The western side of the castle offered limited possibilities to the few who were willing to do some climbing. The ground there was terribly uneven, but had soil enough for trees and brush to grow. Unfortunately, it meant some peril to the unwary traveler, who might easily misstep and go tumbling down into the sea.
Devon knew this area intimately. She'd spent hours of her childhood devising ways to elude her nursemaids and tutors. Her father had also taught her every known entrance into the castle, many of which had long been forgotten by the majority of those who lived there. She easily traversed the treacherous ground until she reached the series of rocks which appeared to form a rough sort of staircase. Hurrying down, it was just a few simple maneuvers on the face of the cliff itself before she found herself on a narrow platform. This part was completely natural...the men who devised these secret passages out of the castle had likely chosen the outcropping purposely. A small cave lead her directly to the half-rotted door far beneath the lowest level of her childhood home.
The passageway was dug into the earth at a gradual incline. In the darkness, Devon had to feel her way along the filthy corridor to the other end. She nearly smashed her face right into the door opposite, and was minutely grateful that she had yet to remove the helm. When she pushed on the wood before her, she was faintly alarmed to find that it would not budge. She wondered if the passage had been discovered and blocked. Irritated, she backed away a few steps, raising her leg and slamming her foot into it. After few hearty bashes with her shoulders, the door finally gave way and she went crashing into the corridor running between the kitchens and the Great Hall.
The sound of her entrance caused a flurry of excitement. A female servant happened to be walking past as Devon came falling through a tapestry hanging from the wall, pieces of wood flying in all directions as she landed. The length of this corridor was lined with oak paneling, and Devon seemed to burst out from the wall itself. The woman, startled into dropping the heavy tray of food she was carrying, threw her hands up and started screaming at the sight of a helmed figure in black breaking into the castle.
Devon found herself on the receiving end of three swords by the time she regained her breath and was able to stand. Reaching up casually, she removed the helmet and stated, “It's me.”
The guards backed away instantly, recognizing her. “Where is Tolan and Blythe?” she asked. They numbly pointed down the corridor toward the tall entryway of the Great Hall.
“Devon, are you a sight for sore eyes!” Tolan called, striding across the room as soon as he spotted her.
She did not bother hiding her unease as her uncle wrapped his long arms around her for a quick embrace. Catching sight of his wife behind him, she nodded, saying curtly, “Stepmother.”
Blythe's face froze instantly at the show of disrespect. But she recovered quickly, plastering a fake smile on her face and answering, “It's been a long time, Devon.”
Growing serious, Tolan gazed down at her. “Feran sent you, didn't he?” He sighed. “He was our only hope at stopping Arkon's army, I don't understand why he hasn't offered more assistance.”
Devon shoved him away from her. The man was one of the few she'd ever met who actually stood demonstrably taller than she. Even her own father had merely matched her height. “Feran is dead,” she snarled. “You have me instead.”
“Oh, Devon, I'm so sorry,” Blythe said, her tone sorrowful. “Was it sudden?”
Shaking her head harshly, Devon answered, “We don't have time for any of this. If Arkon manages to secure Lenchester, he'll only grow stronger. I'm here for my country and my king, not for you.”
Tolan looked as though she'd physically slapped him. “Well,” he said, glancing at his wife. “How did you manage to get inside, anyway?”
Devon jerked her head toward the open doorway she'd just entered. “Passageway on the western side. Father showed it to me years ago.”
“Are there others? What if they're found?” Blythe asked, worried.
“We can block the non-essential ones, for now,” Devon agreed. “Assemble the available men…” she paused, considering. “Better make that everyone. We've got to start on a defensive measure.”
Blythe took her aside as Tolan made the necessary commands of those immediately surrounding them. “You should not behave so,” she suggested. “Do not make your uncle lose face in front of his men by taking control.”
Devon scowled at her. “He has lost face years ago by running this household into the ground and murdering his own kin,” she snapped.
“Please do not,” Blythe begged. “You know Tolan had no idea that Rothschild was anything other than what he claimed to be.”
“I know his greed caused him to make a pact with the devil himself,” Devon replied. “I know that he squandered what was left of Father's wealth. I know that you did not wait for your marriage bed to grow cold before climbing into another.”
Blythe appeared as though she were restraining herself from striking her. “That is unfair,” she said, her voice calm. “I know you have no fondness for me, but that did not arise after your father's death. So let us stay with the subject at hand, as you say.”
Devon arched a brow, turning away from her stepmother and facing the motley crew of castle staff that had begun assembling in the hall. She was disheartened to see a great lack of male presence. Bowing somewhat to Blythe's request, she addressed her questions to Tolan.
“How many trained men among them?”
Tolan hesitated, clearly embarrassed. “No more than two score,” he admitted.
Devon shook her head. “And archers?” She faced the crowd at large. “How many men are comfortable with a bow?” A mere dozen men raised their hands, after first glancing around themselves uncomfortably.
Taking a head count, Devon continued, “We have nearly one hundred within the castle. Now, what about food stores? How many weeks worth do we have?”
A severe-looking man stepped forward. His bald pate gleamed dully in the torchlight, his skin stretching tautly over angular features. “We have enough for two months, if rationed appropriately.”
A flicker of a smile touched her lips. “Hello, Graham.”
The man nodded briefly, then stepped back into place. Her father's steward was just as stiff and unyielding as she remembered. “We'll keep it here,” Devon decided. “As well as whatever medical supplies and weaponry we can collect. This will be the last refuge, if they break through the outer walls. Keep everything as close to hand as possible. The water will have to be protected as well. I want every jar, bladder, and any other available containers filled and stored here. It's unlikely they'll be able to reach the spring, but we don't want to take any chances.”
She glanced at Tolan, allowing him to offer his approval. This wasn't entirely for his benefit. The men likely would not easily take direct orders from her. Without Tolan's consent, her suggestions may be virtually ignored. Her uncle took several long moments to consider what she had said, then nodded gravely.
“Do as she says,” he ordered. He then turned toward her. “You have experience in siege warfare?” he guessed.
Devon smirked. “You know I haven't seen much of war,” she answered. “My understanding of this situation comes from Father's tutelage. The very reason they want this castle is our only opportunity at keeping it. This castle was built under very specific conditions—namely, that only a few able-bodied men would be able to keep a large force at bay. Those men outside have more to worry about keeping themselves fed and supplied.” She stopped, realizing something. “They'll have to keep themselves constantly refreshed. Have you noticed many supply wagons arriving for the troops?”
Tolan nodded. “Every few days or so. What do you plan on doing?”
“I'll need two men. If we can thwart a few of their deliveries, we may damper morale enough to cause real problems for Arkon. Do you think another may be headed here soon?”
Sighing, Tolan said, “I don't think it's a good idea for you to leave once again. If you should be captured—“
“Don't worry about it,” Devon assured him. “Keeping the castle fortified is our first duty here. I want archers posted on the wall, but keep them out of sight for now. Don't waste any arrows on their forces just yet. Now,” she continued, gazing at the men bustling through the hall. “I want that one, and him. We'll leave tonight.”
The night was moonless, which was fine by Devon. She'd told the men not to speak aloud while they were outside...noise had a way of creeping up on a person out there. They could see well enough for rudimentary gestures. Devon took the lead, climbing up to the main ground and walking across the rocky edge at a comfortable pace. She should have taken things easier for those behind her, however. She hadn't taken ten steps when she heard the sound of rock breaking away and the frenzied scrambling of a man trying to keep his balance.
Whipping around, she rushed toward the two men as both teetered precariously. One of them must have taken a bad step while passing a bit of brush. She managed to grab the one closest to her by the collar, pulling him back just hard enough to keep him from pitching forward off the edge. Unfortunately, the second man did not fare as well. They watched in horror as he tumbled from the side, screaming.
Devon hadn't time for regrets. She heard a rush of voices nearby and knew his dying cry had been overheard. Swearing under her breath, she grabbed the first man close and whispered harshly, "Move fast. Take my steps exactly. Understand?"
Panting, he nodded. Devon turned and raced along the edge, not bothering to slow her pace for his sake. When they reached a wider area, she paused, ducking behind a tree. Glancing behind, she saw him to the same, and nodded in satisfaction. Arkon's men had arrived; she could hear them moving about on the opposite side of the brush. She held up one hand to keep her companion still. When the rustling sounds moved past them, she pointed forward and took off once more.
They stopped only when the threat of discovery forced them, and were finally quit of the area several long minutes later. Devon paused, leaning against the trunk of a tree and breathing a sigh of relief. She eyed the man with her through the darkness, impressed. "What is your name, soldier?" she asked.
"Bancroft," came a husky whisper.
"Good to have you along. Let's find this supply shipment, shall we?"
In the early hours of dawn, a creaking line of wagons slowly made its way down the main road from Hartsrow. It was guarded, but not heavily so. The drivers did not appear to be armed in any manner. Devon watched silently from the low boughs of a nearby tree, Bancroft beside her.
"Ten wagons," he whispered. "Only six guards."
"You noticed," she answered, her voice just as hushed. "Arkon is an arrogant bastard, isn't he? Well," she said, "shall we?"
He nodded, quickly sliding down to the ground. Devon remained where she was, waiting for the right moment. When one of the mounted men rode by, she leapt forward to sweep him out of his saddle, a knife in her hand. Landing hard on the dirt road, he was still for a long moment, the wind knocked out of him. It allowed her the opportunity to slit his throat without much incident. Nearby, Bancroft used his sword to slash another man across his back, then skewer him as he fell to the ground.
Three of the men, on the opposite side of the line, jumped from their horses to climb across the wagons and race toward them, their swords drawn. Reaching across her body, Devon unsheathed her own weapon. She parried a few worthwhile maneuvers offered by the first, finally disarming him and running him through. Just as she made a quick turn to find the last of them, she was struck from behind, briefly losing her balance.
The heavy weight of Bancroft's second kill had landed in her direction, throwing her from her feet. She twisted as she landed, moving out from under him, then made sure the man would stay in one place. Only two of the soldiers remained; several of the wagon drivers had already given up and fled. She ducked as one of the men made an unwieldy swing with his sword, hearing it whistle harmlessly over her head. His middle undefended, he was an easy kill.
Turning, she faced Bancroft, similarly bloodied as the battle reached its close. She gestured toward the final man as he made his approach. "Go ahead," she told him.
Devon watched in approval as Bancroft finished the skirmish, noticing a slash on his left arm. As injuries went, it was pretty mild. She'd remember this one when they came to the point of defending a breach. Facing several of the wagoners, she stated, "There's not much reason to hang around here, boys." Gaping at her blood-soaked weapon and determined features, the rest of the men turned tail as their companions before them.
"All right," she said, approaching the first wagon. "We've got grain here. Dump it." She grabbed a heavy burlap bag, tossed it to the ground, and sliced it open with her sword. Bancroft moved forward to do the same.
Devon heard the arrows before she saw them, and tossed another bag up to protect her face. A dull thud told her the projectile had struck home, and she fell to the ground to avoid the others. Inwardly, she was screaming at her own stupidity. She crouched near the wheel of a wagon, waiting for the fire to end.
A high-pitched gargling sound drew her attention to Bancroft, who dropped to the ground, clutching his throat. A flash of red and black feathers wavered above the shaft of the arrow that had pierced his neck. Devon knew he was dead a moment later. Risking a strike to the back, she struggled to her feet to make a run for it herself. But a glint of steel against her neck reinforced yet another stupidity. She hadn't even seen the man's approach.
"I can't really say that I'm surprised," a hearty voice greeted her. "After all, it's why I'm here."
Devon glared into the dark eyes of Arkon. The same ridiculous black feathers adorned the helm he'd fashioned years before, swaying gently in the faint breeze. Its open face allowed his dusky features to show through--the man definitely wanted his prey to see him in their final moments. His snide smile made her tense, her body willfully wanting to attack or at least flee, but he quickly pressed the tip of the sword into her throat. Devon's lip curled up into a sneer of her own, and she silently dared him to finish what he started.
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