The infidels struck, screaming their wordless battle cry. Everything around them turned to pain and death. Annan didn’t wait to check for the guards. He clamped one hand round the lady’s arm and lunged forward. The sounds of the slaughter surged after them with an intensity and a speed that bespoke all too well of the attackers’ vigor.
He kept low, not daring to look behind him, knowing the Moslems were much closer than he wanted them to be.
He and the lady crossed the corpse of a guard, and Annan paused long enough to lift the infidel saber from the still-warm hand. It was a masterful stroke that had felled the warrior—silently, deftly, instantly. His nostrils flared in a momentary flash of admiration. Whatever else he was or had been, the Baptist was a man of many skills.
The courser, a muscled gray, snorted through distended nostrils, but he could not veer fast enough to escape Annan’s hand on the tie-line.
At her cry, he spun to see the approach of the horsemen, dark against the ruddy sky. With one stroke of the saber, he severed the tie line and vaulted into the saddle, narrowly clearing the high cantle.
The Moslems swept through the camp, shouting their curses of vengeance, and Mairead turned to look up at Annan, eyes dark with the sudden horror that he was abandoning her already.
He shifted sword and reins all into one hand, fighting to keep the snorting courser from charging away. He reached out with his left hand and caught the countess’s outstretched arm. His wounded shoulder burned, and the tightness of the bandage nearly forestalled the necessary strength to swing her onto the pillion behind him.
She landed with a soft thump and let go of his wrist. Her arms came around his waist, her face against his shoulders. “Go.”
He laid his heels to the gray courser’s sides, and the horse lunged forward, dark mane unfurling against his rein hand. But this was a Western horse, bred for muscle and endurance. He had not the dexterity and fleetness of the Mohammedan war mares.
Behind them, the tattoo of hoofbeats grew louder yet, and Annan dared a look over his shoulder, past Mairead’s blowing hair. Only paces separated them from two infidel pursuers.
He spurred the courser again. The horse was fresh and responded with another lengthening of stride. But Annan knew they would never outpace their followers. He could only be thankful that these infidels were not that brand of Moslem archer famed for their accuracy on horseback, else the countess’s exposed back would already have become an easy target.
Not that it mattered. Once they drew near enough, the infidels would cut them apart at their leisure anyway.
He could not run. So he must fight.
about K. M. Weiland I grew up chasing Billy the Kid and Jesse James on horseback through the sand hills of western Nebraska, where I still live. A lifelong fan of history and the power of the written word, I enjoy sharing both through my many fictional stories and my novels, A Man Called Outlaw and Behold the Dawn (available October 1st). I blog at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors andAuthorCulture and air a weekly podcast as well.