My anabasis was slow in coming.
I had shirked and hidden and ran too long. My past always a furtive, haunting shadow, seeming to always reach my last bed as I buried my face in the next.
But now things were different. They had her.
That's when I decided to stop running, stop hiding. I loathed my decision every heavy step until my old self took over, found its home again, ran its fingers across my dusty, mental bookshelves, perused the manuals, remembered the list full of names.
I wondered once, how many now served their gods on my account, but the days of thinking like that were far behind me. When I was a younger man, I had eaten revenge hot and often, having it leave only a bitter, vile taste for my latter years to chew on.
And so there I was, the sweat soaked leather seeming to spin and slip in my ever-tightening grip. Blood was burning my left eye, making it hard to see both of them at the same time. The effort required to lift my hand and wipe my brow seemed far too immense at the moment, and besides, I did not think it was mine anyway.
They circled and crossed now, miserable crows dressed as hawks with talons real enough. They were rethinking their plan, now that the first two were gone, confident now, but no longer arrogant. I had seen this before.
It would not have mattered anyway, her plight no different than any other war orphan's, except that she had asked me, simply, and with a strange mask of fear and respect. Was that reverence?
Moving now, they never expect the disadvantaged to strike first. I could not make out the one on the left, so I chose him, and he reacted. My blade had his by almost two hands, so it surprised him when I came so close to him, passing on his right, just as his blade went to mine. For a moment, our blades parallel, his coming down, mine reaching up, we were the same.
That is the one thing I know of battle, for all its chaos, everything is in its place.
Turning I stepped away from him, writhing on the ground where he lie, to face his companion. The sobs and whimpering never really got to me any more, and they would slow and stop as the sobber's life kept spilling from his broken thigh underneath his hauberk.
She needed me. In her entire eleven harvests, she had lost everything, and her last gamble was on an old hand, already played, and already lost.
I swing sidelong, watching his face, his smirk when he sees how light the blow is. His buckler takes its place, and I tap it, bouncing my steel off his in an arc to the other side of his face, twisting. His smirk is replaced with the sound of metal crushing metal splitting bone.
There it was, my prize, one wagon, two mules, three soldiers, and four children. Behind it all was the crooked visor of Sir Ried.
The mules stopped, the soldiers turned, the wind picked up, and the pounding stillness drowning out everything in my ears receded. I could hear everything.
"So it's you," the slave knight said, a tone of curiosity just on the edge of his voice.