Ecel, Belal and Jazaal waited to ambush the dark riders. The sun was beginning to set and shadows were beginning to form in the forest. Every bush looked like some sort of living creature. Ecel thought he saw movement down the trail. He squinted his eyes but the object would not come into focus. He closed his eyes so that they would become acclimated to the darkness. Then he opened them and looked at the object again. It was only a palm bush.
Then the silence of the evening was broken by the distinctive footsteps of some type of large animal. Ecel crouched down and peered through the leafy cover. It sounded like a horse, only its steps were too erratic and slow. Ecel caught a familiar scent. It was the smell of a big buck. Soon the massive creature was browsing right next to him. It was totally unaware of his presence. A good sign for his ambush.
He continued to watch the majestic creature feed. He was amazed at the massive rack of antlers on top of its head. Ecel could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He wondered how the beasts keen hearing couldn’t detect the sound of his heart beating. Then the buck suddenly stopped feeding and looked down the trail behind them. Ecel knew its stance meant that it had smelled or seen something. Now Ecel and the deer were motionless. Ecel became aware of something warm on his face about the same time the deer staggered and then fell.
Ecel reached up and touched the warm spot on his face. Bringing his fingers into sight, he saw the blood. Then he spotted a massive blood soaked arrow in the tree beyond where the buck had been standing. A dark rider called out.
“The stag is mine!”
Ecel froze as the large horse of the dark rider galloped to his position. It stopped just before trampling him.
“That shall make good meal tonight.” The dark rider called out. “Young one!” The dark rider ordered and a young boy rode up to his position. “Take the deer back to camp and dress it out.” The boy nodded and dismounted his horse to secure the deer.
Ecel was almost between the feet of the dark riders horse. The horse shuffled it’s feet slightly and Ecel tried to avoid touching its legs. Then the dark rider returned to the main trail and lead the band of riders towards the road. Ecel couldn’t move because the young rider was trying to tie the deer to the horse to return to camp. He listened as the parade of riders went by and he knew the trap would soon spring, but he couldn’t get into position without alerting the young rider.
He watched the boy to determine if he would be gone in time, but the boy was fumbling with getting a knot tied to the deer. Finally, Ecel had to make a decision. He jumped up and grabbed the boy from behind. The boy fought, but Ecel knocked him out with his elbow. The boys horse neighed and the lead rider held up his hand to stop the line of riders. Jazaal and Belal could see the line of riders, but they had no idea of what Ecel was doing. They had not seen the rider kill the deer, and they wondered if the lead rider was suspicious of the trail.
The lead rider called out. “Boy!”
Ecel had him unconscious and pinned against the tree away from the riders.
“Are you okay?” The rider called out.
Ecel quickly grabbed his arm from behind and held his arm out from behind the tree and waved it back and forth.
The lead rider waited for a moment then called out again. “Hurry and get that deer back to camp!” Then he motioned with his arm and the rest of the riders began to move. Ecel let the boy down to the ground, tied his hands and gagged his mouth. The boy was wearing a large fur cloak. Ecel thought for a moment. He knew he couldn’t cover the ground on foot that the boy had cost him. The trap would soon spring and he would have to be in place to take care of the last rider.
The lead rider approached the road slowly. Jazaal and Belal sat motionless waiting to spring from their concealed position. Ecel placed the fur cloak over himself and mounted the boys horse. The lead rider looked carefully down both sides of the road then began to walk forward. A small bead of sweat rolled down the bridge of Belal’s nose and landed on a leaf below. Ecel nudged the horse just short of a gallop to catch up to the back of the line of riders.
The lead rider caught Ecel’s movement. “Boy?” The rider turned his horse to face the back of the line. When the horse turned, it’s back legs tripped the wire releasing the log that Ecel had hoisted into the air. Ecel saw the trap spring and he kicked the horse into a full gallop. The lead rider called out. “Boy!” As the word escaped his mouth, the log swung into his side and threw him across the road and into a tree on the other side. He fell motionless to the ground.
“It’s a trap!” The next rider called out. Jazaal and Belal sprung their traps. Jazaal’s rider fell dead. As the last riders horse wheeled backwards from the trap, Ecel ripped the cloak off to free his arms. The rider hit the ground in a daze. Ecel leapt from his horse in full gallop, drew his sword, and plunged it into the rider. They both his the ground and rolled several times.
Now all the dark riders were aware and looking for the attackers. One drew down on Jazaal with a black arrow, but Jazaal twisted as it neared him. Jazaal quickly dropped into the thick underbrush and rolled several feet. He jumped up and intercepted a rider in full gallop. Before the rider could react to his presence, Jazaal plunged his sword into his belly. Ecel jumped up and spotted two riders closing in on Belal.
“Belal get down!” He called out.
Belal dropped into the brush. Ecel drew back his bow and followed the first rider for a second then released the arrow. It quickly found it’s mark, piercing the dark riders head. He fell limp in the saddle and the horse galloped into the forest. The second rider stopped where Belal had dropped down. He pulled back on the horses reigns and circled looking for him. Belal jumped up and plunged his sword into his side. The rider fell, but Belal’s inexperience with a sword and left the rider wounded but still able to fight.
Ecel began running to Belal while Jazaal continued to pick off riders with his bow. Belal and the wounded rider clanged their swords. The rider was stronger than Belal even with his wounds. As Ecel neared the two men he felt the ground beneath his feet rumbling. He dropped to his knees and thrust his sword back over his head just in time to cut down the horse of a dark rider that was attacking from behind. The horse collapsed and rolled over Ecel, throwing the dark rider to the ground. Ecel stood but the horse had knocked the wind out of his lungs.
The fallen rider quickly jumped up and ran towards Ecel. “I’m going to rip your guts out while you watch Evanescian.” The riders voice was deep and angry. Ecel staggered but managed to draw his sword. Without breaking stride, the rider drew his sword and brought it down with all his might on Ecel. Ecel blocked the deadly blow as he tried to catch his breath.
“Ecel!” Belal called out. “Help!” The wounded rider was beginning to get the best of Belal. Jazaal heard the cry for help and started towards him.
The dark rider circled Ecel as he taunted him. “You are going to make a nice addition to our meal tonight.”
Ecel started to fall but used his sword and to keep himself from collapsing. The dark rider saw his opportunity and raised his sword high above his head. “Goodbye filthy Evanescian.” He laughed as his sword came down, but Ecel quickly picked up his sword and swung it full circle through the rider. The riders eyes were wide and he dropped his sword and grasped at his belly. He fell to the ground in disbelief.
Ecel and Jazaal close in on the last rider. The wounded one that was fighting with Belal. Ecel swung his sword to cut the rider down, but it was met in mid air by Jazaal’s sword. Ecel staggered back and Belal called out. “What are you doing!”
“You have to learn to fight.” Jazaal yelled at him.
“Jazaal!” Ecel yelled.
Jazaal held up a hand towards him. “Stay out of this Ecel I know what I’m doing.”
The rider ignored the other two and focused on Belal.
“He’s going to kill me.” Belal’s voice trembled.
“He’s wounded Belal. Now focus! Don’t let your fear control you. You know how to fight!”
Ecel stood and watched uneasily. Jazaal noticed his bouncing sword. “Ecel, let me handle this.” He assured him. “Belal focus. He’s wounded on his right side and he’s weak.”
The rider whipped his head from Jazaal to Belal.
“All you have to do is focus.” Jazaal’s voice was eerily calm.
Belal gripped his sword with both hands and brought a swing from over his head. The dark rider blocked his swing, but Belal quickly spun around and brought his blade from his knees and cut the rider down to finish him off.
As Belal stood over the body, Jazaal turned to walk away, but Belal called after him. “What was that!”
“You needed the experience.” Jazaal answered without turning.
Belal went to confront him but Ecel stopped him. “He’s right.” Belal looked at Ecel. “I don’t like it, but he’s right.”
“Ecel, I thought I said no horses?” Jazaal remarked as he continued walking towards where Ecel had started.
“The riders shot a deer back there and they called a boy that was riding with them to take the deer back to camp. I couldn’t move while the boy was there so I fell behind the line. The horse was the only way I could catch up.”
“Did you kill the boy?” Jazaal asked.
“No, he’s just a young boy. He can be rehabilitated.”
Jazaal kept walking. “Where is he?”
“Tied up behind that tree.” Ecel pointed to the large tree he had used for cover.
The three men came around the corner to see the boy tied up and gagged just as Ecel had left him. When he saw the men, his eyes widened and he tried to fight at them.
“You can’t rehabilitate that.” Jazaal said.
“Well, we’re not killing him.” Ecel answered. “We’ll just let him go.
“And let him warn the hive?” Jazaal said. “I don’t think so Ecel.” Jazaal stepped toward the boy while drawing his sword.
Ecel stepped in front of him. “We’re not killing the boy.” The two looked into each others eyes. Ecel had never looked so deep into Jazaal’s eyes. They were deep and dark, almost black. He had never seen eyes so dark before. Jazaal placed a hand on Ecel’s shoulder breaking his concentration. “You’re fight my friend.”
Ecel stepped toward Belal and heard the unmistakable sound of a sword penetrating flesh. He quickly turned to see Jazaal removing his sword. “We didn’t kill him, I did.”
Ecel and Belal watched the life fade from the boys eyes. They looked at each other speechless.
“Let’s clean up this mess before we run out of time.” Jazaal’s voice was calm and matter of fact.