Sunday, June 15, 2014

Eighty-eighth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers"

       The horse’s head passed inches under the rope at full gallop. The rope caught the knight on top of his arms, then up to his neck where it lodged and swept him free while the horse continued. If he had not been armored, he would have lost his head. Instead, he was knocked off his horse and landed flat on his back, right at Gwilym’s feet.
       Gwilym stepped out from the bush looking for the place to lay his blow. The helmet protected his head and movable plates covered his neck to his breastplate. Similar movable plates covered his hips to the cuisse that covered his thighs. He had chain mail underneath that protected his knees and then his shins were covered by greaves. His shoulders and arms were protected in a similar manner. The armor was enameled with red and green in Arabic designs.
       He reached down to flip up the aventail that protected the neck so he could deal the killing blow. As he did so, the knight shook his head and made to rise. He muttered an Arabic curse that Gwilym remembered being taught as a child. Gwilym stepped behind the knight, hoping that the limited view through the visor had kept him invisible. He looked again for an opening in the armor. If the knight remained still, Gwilym could lift the protections of his neck and slice off his head but he was rolling onto his hands and knees now and preparing to rise.
       Gwilym hesitated for a second more, trying to expose his neck but, with the knight shaking his head to clear it and looking around for his enemy, he realized he needed to strike at some exposed flesh now while he had a chance. He saw that the knight’s buttocks were only covered in leather, the protective chain hauberk folded back and hooked onto his back-plate. He stepped closer and swung his scimitar, slicing through the leather and cloth and cutting deep into both buttocks.
       A piercing scream filled the air, startling the horse as the knight rolled away from Gwilym. Gwilym followed up his advantage and managed two swings at the backs of his knees. One of the blows drew blood. Then the knight rolled to the protection of the trees and, using them to help him rise, he stood up and faced Gwilym.
       “You’ve grown up, old friend,” he said. “But you still don’t recognize your betters. Give the book you stole from us. Father begged us to retrieve it on his deathbed. That is a request we cannot fail to fulfill.”
       “We?” thought Gwilym. Then he had to move as the knight stepped forward, drew his sword and swung at him. Being unarmored and less practiced in armored combat put Gwilym at a disadvantage. He was also wielding the wrong type of weapon to use on an armored knight. Fortunately, the knight was moving awkwardly, due to the deep cuts he had sustained.
       Gwilym stepped back, swinging his ineffectual weapon, staying out of reach of the knight’s sword. They moved off the path and into the trees where the knight’s swings were limited. Gwilym hesitated. He allowed the knight to close in, then turned around and ran into the woods. The knight shouted a curse and loped after him, dripping blood from both wounds. Gwilym jogged, glancing over his shoulder, keeping the heavily armored knight just behind him.
         The knight was infuriated and screamed at Gwilym, not noticing that Gwilym leapt a section of the leaf-strewn path rather than running over it. The knight stepped on the leaves and plunged through the sapling and leaf covered hole, sinking to his armpits in the narrowing pit. Gwilym returned and stomped hard on the knight’s sword arm. The knight grasped Gwilym’s foot with his other hand and strained to move him. His leverage was limited. Gwilym kept his position. Gwilym worked the tip of his scimitar between the bands of plate that covered his gauntlets, then thrust his weight down onto it to almost sever the hand from the body. The knight screamed again, letting go of Gwilym’s foot and his own sword. Gwilym picked up the blood covered sword and stepped away.
       The knight was screaming in pain, anger and frustration. He was trying to staunch the blood flow from one hand with the gauntlets of the other. Gwilym examined the sword. This heavy bladed weapon was perfect for fighting an armored man. He dropped his scimitar and approached the knight. He was wriggling out of the hole using his good hand and his other elbow. He had worked his chest free and was pushing with his feet against the lower walls.
       Gwilym stepped forward and slashed again at his exposed buttocks. This time he enlarged the gash and felt the sword snap bone. The knight slipped back in to the hole. He tried to reach behind him but Gwilym was a full arm and sword-length away. This time Gwilym swung full force at the armor protecting the knight’s neck. The knight was not wearing the gorget that protected many an armored man’s neck. He had, instead, iron bands that hung from the helmet for protection. They didn’t do much to protect from the heavy swing that Gwilym made.
       The iron bands bent and broke as the sword swung through the back half of the knight’s neck, exposing the spine. Gwilym stopped the swing and, reversing his feet, swung back at the neck from the other side. The knight’s head fell forwards. Blood gushed onto him from the slash. Gwilym’s third blow was deeper and the sword severed the throat. The head was held to the body by only the skin on the front of his neck.

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

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