Lets keep going with this. Someone somewhere might want to know how it doesn't end.
Cold, fresh water surged over Grey’s head, the current threatening to pull him down and away from life as he fought his way from the bank and into the central flow of the river’s course. He couldn’t see the others in the dark and the confusion of the rushing water, so he could only hope that they had followed his lead and in the mean time concentrate on reaching the other side safely.
‘T’Dore heard Grey shout but didn’t see him. It was too quick, ‘they cannot cross the water,’ he screamed, and then he was gone and T’Dore was on his own. He turned and shouted Grey’s name but to no avail, as the darkness and the water had immediately stolen him from view, but then he had to turn back quickly because the riders were already bearing down on him and his reason was being crowded out by the thundering hooves and the memories of bloodshed.
Now there was no escape. T’Dore did not want to risk himself to drowning, and the riders would run them down on either side of the river with equal ease were they to turn their backs to their hooves and swords. T’Dore knew that his only option was to stand and fight and to find Grey after he had won. He did not care about Robin, but did not feel right about just allowing her to die either.
The riders were men, full grown, and they were both bigger and stronger than either he or the girl, but they were wearing heavy cloaks and carried large hand-and-a-half swords. They would be hot in this weather and they would have difficulty landing blows from horseback on anyone who wasn’t a fleeing peasant. But they were hard to make out in the night and their faces, what could be seen of them, were masks of relentless fury. T’Dore spurred the steed that he now controlled directly into the teeth of their attack.
There were four riders in total, but they didn’t present a proper team. That, or they were not expecting this to be difficult. Three of them rode at T’Dore, one in front and two behind. The lead rider was controlling his lathering stallion with his knees while he held his sword two-handed above his right shoulder, ready to bring it own across the body of both T’Dore and his horse.
T’Dore thought quickly and then acted. He held his short knife in his left hand and then pushed himself up so that he stood on his horses back and hindquarters. It was a trick that he’d never really mastered before, although it had been a favourite of his cousin T’Shen’s, but T’Shen had died in the stampede and T’Dore only needed a few seconds of balance. This wasn’t about showing off.
T’Dore’s beast startled and bucked away from him as he kicked himself off it’s back, almost sending him flying but thankfully putting itself out of the worst reach of the dark rider’s swing, which opened a thin line on its flank as it descended. T’Dore’s leap took him well over the path of the black steel blade and he landed on the horseman’s chest, bowling him from the saddle and bringing the two of them to the ground with a muddy splash as the two following flashed past at speed. T’Dore’s blade slashed out in the moonlight, tearing across his adversary’s neck and then plunging again and again into the man’s chest until his robes were slick and wet and his struggles had been replaced with a pathetic bubbling gurgle.
Exhausted, T’Dore paused for a second before trying to move again, but this was a mistake. The impact lifted him off the ground and sent him tumbling, winded, into the mud. It was a moment before the kick even registered as a kick, but by then he was looking at the same iron bound boot making ready to crush out his life. He felt like he had an eternity to wait as the boot began its descent, but it was a disappointing eternity filled only with the image of that boot and the horrible certainty of his crushed ribs squeezing out his life.
And then the spell was destroyed, as above him the rider’s neck sprouted a straight blade and T’Dore was showered with a fine mist of arterial blood. The rider toppled sideways dragging the sword with him and T’Dore was very glad for the full hood which allowed, in the darkness, the illusion that everything remained intact up there.
The man’s death and collapse revealed Robin, standing shocked and covered with the grime of the short battle. ‘I was lucky,’ she said. ‘One of them tried to ride me down, but he was too confident. I just stuck out my sword and kind of ducked and I think that I must have got him in the thigh. He got in a kick to my jaw but I don’t think it’s broken. His horse is dead too.’ She wiped at her face without thinking and then put her hand out to T’Dore to help him up. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she said, and then she started to cry, still holding out her hand. ‘They came for me,’ she said. ‘I’m so sorry.’
T’Dore ignored the tears, they were shock more than anything else he was certain, but he took the hand that she held and pulled himself to his feet.
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘You saved my life and I owe you something for that, but I already have a life debt sworn to Grey so there is no use you getting any ideas. Until that debt is repaid my life is not really my own. Do you understand?’
‘I understand,’ Robin said, turning away from him.
T’Dore closed his eyes and felt at his ribs for any damage. The sudden silence and stillness was deafening and he didn’t want to see what they had done. AS his eyelids prickled with tears of his own sounds came abstractly to his attention; the movement and murmur of horses and the rushing of the river that reminded him that he had failed.
‘We have to follow the river,’ T’Dore said. He heard Robin say something beside him, but he couldn’t make out what it was. ‘I don’t think that he will be in any danger, yet, but I don’t want us to be split up for too long, or who knows what might happen. And we don’t know how far downstream he can have got.’
‘I’ll follow you, if you’ll have me,’ Robin said, louder this time. ‘It’s my fault that you were split apart.’
T’Dore opened his eyes. ‘When death comes hunting from afar, it is no-one’s fault,’ he said. ‘We were just in the way.’
They got to work quickly. T’Dore calmed and commandeered one of the horses that had carried their attackers, and brought their own two animals back under control. They found the final rider dead face down in the mud with a broken neck, having been pitched from his panicked steed when T’Dore’s horse had crashed into it. He left that body, and those of the other three to the mud, refusing to try to uncover anything that might be worth holding on to, either as information or that might be useful to them later. He did watch, with a dispassionate interest, as Robin, shuddering, pulled the sword that she had stolen from her father’s inn from the thigh of the first rider that she had killed.
‘I think,’ she said, ‘that I just want to get away from here.’
They rode in silence at first, leaving the corpses unburied. T’Dore led his wounded steed and rode one of the dead men’s instead. They followed the bank of the river and hoped for dawn to finally lighten the way ahead. The rushing of the river was an oppressive, accusing accompaniment to their progress. Robin made a few attempts to speak, but the river worked hard to swallow her words, while T’Dore’s silence de-legitimised anything that she might have said before she even said it. As it was, the things that played in her mind stayed there.
The flow of the river had been much stronger than Gray could have told from its bank, especially with the dark and the panic, and it dragged him quickly away from the site of the battle and from the plight of his companions. The water, that had started out as a snow drift in distant mountains, that had been turned into a deluge by the first touch of the summer sun, caught him up in its joyous rush toward the sea and it didn’t want to let him go. By the time he had regained control of his constant dunking and was able to see where he was being dragged, he was alone.
He cleared his mind of that, and swam. Clawing his way through the water that he was almost surprised to realise hadn’t killed him, kicking against froth and going nowhere, with the sound of his own effort crashing in his ears, Gray knew true calm. It was a calm that radiated out of him, quelling the violent water and stilling the bucking flow. Gray reached out, and he found something reaching back. The root of a tree pushed into the stillness and Gray grabbed hold of it and hauled himself forward and up and out! Pulling up handfuls of grass and leaving the stillness behind, Gray collapsed on the bank, with nothing but the silent power of the lake beside him for company, and only then did he realise quite how lost he was.
He had no idea if his companions had followed him into the water, and no idea if they would have been able to survive the power of its flow if they had. Were they still upstream of him, or would they too have been dumped into the lake, but on its opposite shore? Gray had no idea where he should go to try and find them, or if they would be searching for him, for what did either of them owe him?
He didn’t want to answer that question. The knowledge of it caused a kind of disjointed feeling that was almost physical, a kind of empty pain. He wished his brother Gret was here, to help him make sense of things. He wished that his life had gone the way that it was supposed to have gone and above all, he wished that he could just go to sleep and never wake up.
It was as Gray was lying on the grass, sodden and dejected and at his lowest ebb, that the albino apemen decided to make their attack.