Flight, Chapter Ten

An arrow protruded from the back of the first archer; he managed to reach the King but fell dead at his feet. The second was alive but his wits were addled. “Mist . . . suffocating smoke,” he managed, slack jawed and drooling. “All the men, horses . . . gone . . . screaming.”

Then, he too was dead.

A circle of men formed around the corpses.

“What is going on here?” demanded William the Rash.

“This one,” said Torpaine, nudging the freshest corpse with the toe of his boot, “told us the others, along with their horses vanished into smoke. I’ve been in many battles, but I’ve never heard a story like this. I have no reason to doubt; truth comes from dying lips.”

Torpaine proceeded to the corpse lying sprawled by his horse. He turned the body over and tugged at the arrow protruding from its belly, but the shaft was deep and came out only after a series of rude jerks. The arrow was of white wood, but with the strength of iron. Torpaine tried to break it in his calloused, soldier’s hand.

“This is not magic, but Pentacacus made,” he said finally. “Our sorcerer has enlisted Whitehair aid, the most savage of the clans.”

“I know of this tribe,” William studied the arrow reflectively, though he wasn’t a reflective man. “They speak in strange tongues and dance naked around fires. This is preposterous! My men have been defeated by untrained savages!”

“Aye, but skilled fighters all the same,” replied Torpaine.

“At dawn, I will lead the charge.” William turned on his heel and stalked off to his tent.

The King was as good as his word, and the morning’s light found him saddled and ready. The first skirmish cost him seven calvary men and two fine horses, forcing the soldiers to retreat before they ever entered the forest. William was too incensed to think of another strategy, and so charged again, shortly before noon. The arrow that pierced his throat was in the first volley. He slumped across his mount, but the animal, caught in the retreating chaos, threw him midway across the field. The King’s corpse lay in the open until nightfall when it was gathered with the rest. From that day forward, the patch of ground was known as Blunder Field.

Upon reaching Casoria, William received a splendid funeral as befitted his rank. The process lasted for three days, after which his son, William III, was crowned and hastily dubbed the Warrior King.

He was only seventeen.

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