A Tail of Sherwood part twelve: The Duel

Fiction By LoriAnn // 1/29/2012

 “Draw your sword, your Grace,” I ordered Chantille. “I will not fight an unarmed squirrel.”

He sat back in his chair, expressionless. “Then I will not draw. If I do not draw, we will not fight, and you will have to find something else—”

 “I said I wouldn’t fight you,” I broke in. “I did not say that I wouldn’t simply skewer you on the spot.”

Marian was still staring at me with an expression of bewilderment and joy on her face. “You’re not dead?”

I rolled my shoulder, wincing a little. “My lord the Duke has not made his living shooting the King’s birds,” I said, raising the point of my sword so that it hovered a few inches in front of his face. “His aim is not as precise as he would like to think.” Tuck had drawn the quarrel and bandaged me up nicely, but the wound still hurt like the dickens.

But I wasn’t about to let the Duke know that.

“On your feet, villain.” I moved back slightly, to allow him to stand. “Draw your blade.”

He was quick for a middle aged squirrel—quicker than I gave him credit for. In an agile leap, the rogue jumped from his chair and under my arm, grabbing Marian and snatching her dagger from her paw.

Holding it against her throat, he backed away a step. “Leave now, outlaw,” he cried, “and I will let her life. One false move and you’ll kill her.”

We stood there, a frozen tableau in the moonlight, for one long, tense moment.

“Let her go,” I said, in a low and slow voice.

The Duke tightened his grip and I saw anger flash in Marian’s eyes. “Leave,” he growled, “And I will.”

I shook my head. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’ll shout for the Sheriff’s guards.”

“What? So you can hide behind their swords instead of cowering behind a woman’s skirts? For shame, Chantille.”

He bristled, and his eyes grew dark with unrestrained rage. With a snarl, he shoved Marian aside and snatched a sword from where it lay on the mantle. He dropped into a fighter’s crouch and raised the sword.

“Get out, Marian,” I said, keeping my eyes on the Duke. “I don’t want to have to watch out for you.”

“Yes, get out, Marian,” the Duke mimicked, as she scrambled to the door. “Get out so you don’t see your outlaw die!”

He lunged, and I had only enough time to raise my own blade in a clumsy defense. “Come now, Chantille,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm and unaffected—though what I wanted to do was gasp at the sudden fire in my shoulder—“Surely even a knave like you can make a fair fight?”

He was past answering rationally. Giving a beastlike roar, the Duke lowered his head and lunged at me, swinging low and attempting to get under my guard. I took a quick step back and met his blow with an underhand swing of my own, catching his blade on mine and swinging it up in a smooth motion. Over our crossed swords, I met Chantille’s bloodshot eyes.

“You’re a ghost,” he rasped. “I killed you once—I can kill you again!” There was an unnatural strength to his arms, and I could feel it shivering through the hilt of my sword. The Duke was mad—whether he had always been, and I was now seeing it in full, or if he only just fallen into madness, it didn’t matter. I knew I had to finish him fast if I were to finish him at all.

Chantille’s back was to the fireplace, and the low glow of the coals outlined his form in a hellish red, while the candle on the table flickered erratically. He pulled back, disengaging our blades, and stood for a moment, his body frozen but his tail twitching like the candle flame. Cautiously, I held my guard.

The instant before he attacked, I saw his eyes flash, and was ready for him. He swung at my knees again, but when I went to block it, he turned the attack into a feint and instead swept his sword toward my head.

Desperate, I managed to get my block up in time, but the jarring force of his blow made me gasp in pain. I felt a warm trickle of blood from my arrow-wound, and gritted my teeth.

The attack on my head had forced me, for a brief second, to leave my stomach and chest unprotected, and Chantille snatched at the chance offered by my distraction, kicking viciously at my stomach. I jerked back, an awkward move that set me off balance, and caught myself against the wall. Blood flowed freely now from my wound, and the weakness I had been hiding began to creep into my limbs.

Chantille laughed, a maniacal cry of fury and triumph in one, and darted forward, sword flashing. I parried his thrusts, but could feel my arm weakening. Silently, I cursed the small size of the room—there was no space to maneuver. The Duke was the stronger swordsman, and because of my wound I wasn’t nearly as fast as usual.

I had to finish him now, before I lost all advantage.

Giving no warning, I leaped forward, swinging my sword in a swift downward slice, and forcing Chantille to go on guard. With the frenzy of a cornered wild creature, I beat him back with a series of lightning blows—thrust, riposte, parry, block, slice and thrust again—until he misjudged the timing of my last swing and blocked too slowly. My sword caught him in his sword-arm, slicing into the muscles and rendering it useless. His sword dropped from his fingers and he staggered back, falling into his abandoned chair with a groan.

“Rob!”

Little John and Scarlet burst into the room, Marian on their heels.

“It’s alright,” I reassured them, panting heavily and keeping my eyes on the Duke, who looked as if he might pass out at any moment. The fellow was old and at least half-mad…a wound like the one on his arm was nearly more than he could handle. “I’m…I’m fine.” I staggered a bit as I said it, belying my words.

Marian reached out a paw to me. “Leave him, Robin,” she said. She looked with scorn at the fallen Duke.

I looked at her, and smiled. Even in the dim light of the single candle, she was so lovely. Without another glance at the Duke, I stepped toward her.

“Rob—look out!”            

Scarlet’s shout spun me around, sword flashing. “Cowardly dog!”

The Duke stood behind me, Marian’s abandoned dagger in his upraised paw—and my sword through his heart. He stumbled backward, a look of shock in his suddenly-dulled eyes. I jerked my sword free and he fell to the ground, the dagger dropping from nerveless paws.

“Miserable offspring of a half-rat!” I cried “You would have stabbed me in the back after I let you live?” I looked down at him, one paw clutching his chest, and my anger faded, replaced by pity. He was an old, mad thing—more akin to a rabid beast to be pitied than a rational being to loathe.

He saw the pity in my face, I think, and snarled, froth gathering at the corners of his mouth. His lips moved, but I couldn’t hear what he said.

“What?” I asked, leaning closer. I heard Marian hiss a warning, and kicked the dagger out of Chantille’s reach.

He choked.

Kneeling beside him, I bent my head close. “Once more,” I said, wondering if perhaps he might repent in his last moments.

Chantille grabbed my jerkin and yanked me down until my ear nearly touched his lips.

He whispered to me.

I jerked out of his grip and leaped to my feet.

“Never!” I shouted down at the dying Duke, all pity gone from my heart. “Never.”

He laughed—a low, choking laugh that was more like the breath of the grave than any sort of sound of merriment.

“Beggar,” he rattled. And he died.

Comments

Well...

Deathbed whispers are almost never good news. Never ever. But granted that he is dead...and there was much rejoicing.

 

Julie | Sun, 01/29/2012

Formerly Kestrel

AHA! He's dead :) I do want

AHA! He's dead :) I do want to know what he said, however......

Erin | Sun, 01/29/2012

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

Yay! Another chapter.

I must say though, it leaves an odd feeling, when a first-person narrorator tells you somebody whispered something to him, tells you how he reacted, yet does not tell you what was whispered to him.

James | Sun, 01/29/2012

<><~~~~~~~~~~~~><>
"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

...

*Shrugs and gives a mysterious/malicious smile*

LoriAnn | Sun, 01/29/2012

Oh gosh! Ditto to James'

Oh gosh! Ditto to James' comment! So not cool. :)

Sarah | Mon, 01/30/2012

"Sometimes even to live is courage."
-Seneca

Blogging away!
busyscribbler.wordpress.com

 BUT

 BUT WHAT DID HE SAY? UNFAIR, I put off school!!

(I just love this a lot okay)

Anna | Mon, 01/30/2012

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

Cool

 Robin Hood is kind of an over-used concept, but you seem like a good writer. I'm gonna go check out the first 11 chapters now.

Leinad K. Romethe (not verified) | Sat, 02/04/2012

...

 My thanks for your approval, Leinad.

LoriAnn | Sat, 02/04/2012