He pulled up on his horse, his breath fogging before him. Very few people were out. And a clear blue sky, no snow – no reason to be indoors. Not even children playing. In truth, Sturgund was only on the outskirts of Ambsdale, yet he expected to see more folk out, more of the streets shoveled. Instead, his horse was squeaking through the fallen snow as she stepped ahead.
Sturgund knew his father had sent a small detachment far ahead of him as well as one to trail him. It was just his way. And possibly why the people here were hiding indoors. Or so he’d prefer to think.
Sturgund really hated when his father was right. For his father was not one to just move forward with a new set of circumstances, no. Father wanted you first to acknowledge that he was right, at least twice, and then he would refer to the incident or dialogue for two, perhaps three days following. And then he would bring it up among company simply to embarrass you and gratify his ego, Sturgund brooded.
But this time – Father was right.
Not to say that Sturgund did not believe that something about this mission was off – for he had. But his entire life, Sturgund had plagued himself with “what if’s…?” As King himself someday… may that be a long, long time from now, he added, as he always did whenever that thought crossed his mind… Sturgund’s rule would introduce more opportunities… more possibilities for the people, new and better ideas, he would break them out of the same old rut they had been slipping and sliding about in. In short, he would rule with more optimism.
And perhaps, Sturgund would finally be the king who broke into Clemongard, for he and his countrymen were tired of stagnating next to Ormon, staring at Romeny…. Clemongard was the real jewel.
But right now – the gut Father didn’t believe he had was nagging him.
It was the Ormon Queen who had contacted them first, via her contacts with Father and Levonroth. She set this entire miserable adventure in folly up. And behind her husband’s back.
Was it so hard to believe, perhaps, then, that he would be stepping into a trap…? Hmm. Sturgund pondered how else her note might be considered as he prodded his horse forward.
“‘Bared the bear, look for cub in the cave beside the spring….”’
Sturgund guessed the cave still meant Ambsdale, given the caves behind its waterfalls. But… what if it was read backward….
Spring upon the bared bear cub when he arrives in Ambsdale?
What if those men were never to arrive in Ambsdale at all? What if this were a trap to lure him to a location where men would kill him? And all a plan of the Ormon bitch….
Sturgund knew then that he was right. He wheeled his horse about in the snow and backtracked her at a sudden gallop.
Immediately, an arrow struck his horse. She screamed and crumpled into the snow. Sturgund had enough time to leap from the saddle.
Where was his attacker? He drew his sword and turned all about him, wide-eyed with shock.
Suddenly a number of men crept out from their positions behind homes and bushes, their gaze all fixed upon him. He counted one, two, three crossbows, a longbow, three swords….
Sturgund couldn’t hope to fight them, and likely he couldn’t out run them. His heart was pounding in his ears.
He would not have it said that a Prince of Ambsellon went down without fighting to his last drop of blood.
“Well, then, have at it! You hid yourselves long enough! Come out and get a bite of me!” Sturgund yelled.
And then they did. They ran straight at him. Sturgund swung as he could. The first man, scruffy and dirty, Sturgund speared in the neck, for he would bleed out quickly and he could pull his sword out with ease. Dark blood gurgled out of the sword wound left behind and the scruffy man fell into the snow, clutching at his neck.
The second man, a mercenary, wore leather armor. Sturgund buried his sword into the merc’s sword arm and watched as the man screamed. The sword flashed in the sunlight as it fell in the snow. Sturgund heard the whoosh! of a nearby arrow just released and immediately hid behind the merc. In a second, Sturgund was glad he had, for the merc was thrust forward upon him. The point of an arrow protruded through the man’s neck. Blood sprayed all over Sturgund – just an idle though passed through his mind that he was glad his mouth was closed. The man continued to spurt blood, but he would serve as shield until he could perhaps find a horse – though Sturgund had a sinking feeling he wouldn’t make it that far. Crossbolts and arrows… against him on foot… the odds were not good….
And then men screamed a battle cry. “For Ambsellon!”
Several men ran forth and stood around Sturgund, fully armored, others running forth to confront his attackers.
Sturgund wiped the blood from his face, then yelled, “For Ambsellon!” and threw the mercenary’s body to the ground. He remembered little beyond that, merely swinging his sword and reveling in the blood that burst forth.
He did recall a glinting axe from far above him, falling, falling… and that he hit the ground, hard….