Sangfroid

(Author’s Note – A bonus word of the day story, because it’s an awesome word.)

She stood facing a hundred men. Behind her was a shallow cave in the cliff face, several rocks piled up to prevent easy access. From behind those rocks torchlight flickered and the cry of a young bairn echoed out into her ears. In front of her, the full view of the grassy plain was obscured by night and the traitors that had struck early in the evening.

No name was attributed to her. Just a title: Aes Helsier. In the old tongue, it meant Iron Sister. Her face was covered with a mask of living steel, fixed in a look of utter sangfroid. There was no fear to be found in the metallic features, and were any of the soldiers foolhardy enough to get close, her red-irised eyes were as hard and unrelenting as her ornate plate armour.

Stood in vigil besides her was a blade almost as tall as she, held aloft by some invisible force. Given how she towered above most men, there was little surprise in the reluctance to attack her. Statue still, she watched as a pair of courtiers approached, carrying a wooden chest between them. They sat it down in front of her and pulled the lid back, revealing the deep coffers of the rebels.

“The gold is yours!” The booming voice of Duke Wenellek called out from his position at the front of his army. “Provided you step aside and leave. We have no quarry with you, just your ward. Will you be reasonable about this?”

Before the courtiers could move, her hand was on her sword’s hilt. She turned and they stood. Then she straightened up. Their heads fell clean away from their necks with bodies falling back to turn the ground sodden with blood. Hefting her sword over head, she brought it down point first into the chest. As blade tip struck gold, the shaft of her sword was engulfed in blood-red fire, reducing wood to ash and gold to an oozing mass.

“I see that you will not be reasonable at all.” The Duke snarled, his voice carried on the wind by way of a simple enchantment as he moved to the rear of his forces.

Her response was to turn, letting her blade lash out behind her. In the soil, a line was drawn. It was a sacred line, and its meaning was known. As long as she drew breath, none would get to the sole child of the royal lineage. The weight of the sword was nothing to her, easily brought up to stand ready against all comers.

“Archers, fire! Fire until you are out of arrows! Infantry line, shields! Wizards, conserve yourselves. The Guardian of the Crown Princess is but one woman, and we are men at a hundred strong!” Wenellek roared the command, and the moon was darkened by the volley of arrows.

She surged forwards, her speed immense despite the armour. As she reached the shield line, arrows landing far behind her, she began to cleave into them. Each flick of her sword tore at their defensive line, spilling crimson on the soft grass beneath. The infantry line began to fold around her, bringing more in reach of her blade. She was a dervish, fighting on instinct and fury as she delivered killing blow after killing blow. The archers came forwards as they drew their swords to reinforce their fellows. A pointless gesture, and one that she welcomed in the same was as the others.

“Wizards, attack!” The Duke screamed, edging his horse away further.

“But my Lord, our men!”

“They’re dead anyway! Attack or I’ll take you down myself!”

Their magefire burned through the air into their fellows, igniting with sickening sounds as the superheated flames burned flesh and armour. On the furthest right of the line of wizards, one cried out in pain as his hands were cleft from his wrists, spell tumbling away as they did so. The Duke was already galloping away as the Iron Sister fell on the wizards, their robes little defense against her honed sword.

Duke Wenellek turned to see them laying prone, and the bonfire of his detachment of men further behind them. He looked forwards to find her there. Her blade slid upwards at a diagonal angle, and as the beheaded horse began to lose momentum, it came down into the Duke. She was walking back to the cave as rider and steed tumbled to the grass, her armour splattered with the blood she had let and shining brightly under the watchful gaze of Mother Moon.

As Father Sun rose in the sky, she was far gone with her ward from the scene of battle. Wrapped up in heavy robes and cowled to hide her mask, the bright eyed baby lay snuggled contently in her arms, swaddled to protect against the cold morning air. With the royal palace overtaken, it would not be long before the rebels had taken over the kingdom.

She would leave its borders as was decreed should such a situation arise. And when her ward had reached the age of majority? Then she would return, to guide the girl she was bound to towards her destiny.

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