Editor's Note: If you have not yet read the previous chapters to this story, please go to the Fantasy Archive and read those, first. Thank you, TDS.
Even as Barker called out his warning, Humphrey saw three wolves emerge from the bushes across the clearing from him. Heads lowered and teeth bared, the wolves moved slowly into the open and stopped, waiting. Two more wolves appeared near Barker’s position, and then another exited the bushes in front of Bastion and two more behind the first one.
Bastion snorted and pawed at the stone with one hoof, eager to deal with them, but Humphrey stopped him with a hiss. The wolves did not attack, but either stood still and growled or paced slowly back and forth near the brush, seemingly more concerned with the presence of Bastion than of the men who stood before them with weapons raised. They still waited for something.
Then in the darkness to one side Humphrey saw two glowing eyes appear, and from the brush came yet another wolf, this one huge and black—the leader. The knight moved only his eyes to watch this beast as it came forward into the clearing. The other wolves now began to bark and howl, snapping at the air and occasionally at each other in what seemed to be a frenzy of rage. The lead wolf, however, remained silent with his head lowered, and kept its gaze in only one direction as saliva dripped from its exposed fangs.
Carefully and slowly Humphrey turned his head to follow the wolf’s gaze and discovered what it stared upon. “Bruce,” he shouted above the howls, “they seek the queen!”
Bruce heard the cry and quickly moved away from the frightened horses and took up a position on the rocks in front of and just below Isabelle. He did not even look up at her, instead keeping his eyes on the wolves below them, but felt sure that she smiled as he moved to better protect her.
This movement to block the queen from danger triggered something and the lead wolf suddenly howled—a deep, ragged cry—which caused the others to fall silent. The leader then barked several times, and as one the wolves turned toward the defenders and attacked.
Initially the wolves came at them in pairs; two of them charged each of the three defenders. The wolves’ hackles were raised and they snarled and snapped their jaws as they leaped forward, but it was merely a feint. They charged in furiously and then pulled up, just out of reach of the men’s weapons and Bastion’s hooves. It appeared the wolves were attempting to draw someone off the line to attack them, thus leaving that one defender open to being attacked in turn by a wolf from the side.
Humphrey immediately took in this strategy, but was surprised the pack could work the plan so well together. “Hold yer positions!” he yelled.
“Aye!” Barker roared as he swung his axe in a whistling arc above his head. “Come ahead on, ye flea bitten curs, and taste me steel!”
Bastion could stand it no longer and reared up on his thick hind legs, letting loose a bellow of anger and hatred, his massive forelegs pawing at the air. The unexpected action startled the wolves for a moment, and they all turned in surprise to gaze at the huge war horse. This distraction was all Humphrey needed, as he lunged forward and caught one of the wolves across its side with the tip of Star Born in a slashing cut.
The wolf yelped and jumped back as a bloody gash appeared in its fur. It howled in pain and quickly retreated to the edge of the bushes to lick its wound, but snarled at the dark knight as it went.
By this time Bastion had dropped his feet to the ground once again, and the smell of their comrade’s blood seemed to enrage the wolves to an even greater intensity. Their leaded howled again and now the wolves did attack, and this was no feint.
From where Isabelle stood above Bruce, the closest fighter to her position was Barker, so she nocked an arrow and drew the bowstring back, waiting for an opportunity to strike. Barker was able to fend off the first rush of three wolves by swinging his sword and axe at their faces. The beasts backed up out of his reach and began to try and circle him, snapping their slavering jaws the whole time. As one of the wolves moved to Barker’s left and presented its furry side to her, Isabelle loosed her arrow. Her aim was slightly off, but she saw the wolf leap into the air as a wooden shaft suddenly appeared in its rear haunch.
The force of the arrow blow knocked the animal off its feet and the wolf immediately tried to bite at the arrow shaft, but that only twisted the arrowhead deeper into its muscle. The beast howled in pain, struggled up onto three legs and hobbled back to the brush, too injured to fight any longer.
Barker heard a wolf howl in pain near him, but he had no time to do more than glimpse the wounded animal stagger away from the fight with an arrow shaft protruding from its hip. “Thank you, me lady,” he murmured, even as he took another swipe at one of those attacking him. He fought this day with the axe in his right hand and the sword in his left. His axe had more heft to it than his sword and aside from the wide sharp blade, on the other side of the axe head was a thick square of metal which could serve in battle as a more than adequate heavy hammer.
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