Editor's Note: If you have not yet read Part I of this story, please go to the Fantasy Archive and read that piece, first. Thank you, TDS.
The short and deadly battle had lasted only a few heartbeats, but now two hearts would beat no more. Close to where the fight had taken place, a few horses, disturbed by the sudden activity and not liking the smell of blood, had started to whiney and stomp about in their stalls. Humphrey began to talk softly, in an attempt to calm them before they became too excited and drew unwanted attention to the stables. The knight had not wanted to kill these men, but the safety of his young princess, Isabelle, was his primary concern and under the circumstances, their deaths could not have been avoided.
As the horses calmed, somewhat, he knelt next to one of the dead guards and wiped his bloodied blades on the man's tunic. He was about to sheath his dagger, when the slight sound of a boot scraping dirt caused him to whirl, his sword held high, his dagger low, prepared for an attack. But he saw only Isabelle, leaning against a stall, a pale and trembling hand held to her mouth.
"My lady," he said, surprised by her presence. He quickly put up his weapons and hurried over to her. Kneeling to block her view of the bodies, he reached out and touched her hand. "Are you well, my lady?" he asked, gently. Her eyes seemed a bit vacant and unfocused, and she did not immediately answer Humphrey's question.
Isabelle had crept forward from her hiding place when she heard Humphrey speaking to the guards in an angry tone, and then watched in horrified fascination as he had quickly dispatched the two men at arms with deadly swiftness. True, she had seen men bloodied before; even killed--at tourney, and especially during the popular and ever dangerous melees--but those often deadly injuries had always been witnessed at a distance. This was the first time she had been close to such a violent death, and it was also the first time she had been witness to Humphrey's unbridled skill in the art of taking another's life. While Isabelle was well aware her knight and mentor had been forced to take many lives in the past, he always acted so gentle when around her, she had managed to forget that this was a man for whom violence tended to be a way of life. Isabelle took a deep, shuddering breath and looked into the face of a man she suddenly realized she did not really know.
Sensing her unexpected anxiety, Humphrey gently took her shoulders in his huge hands. "My lady, are you well?" he repeated, softly. She looked at him, but still did not answer. "We must make haste, Isabelle," the knight said, and by using her name, he was able to connect with her, at last.
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