Medals

The king’s army cheered in the valley. Swords waved. War dogs growled. Some coughed up blood.  Many were sick. Others put their head in hands and wondered how they were still alive. Gobba scrambled from his hiding place and joined the celebrations. He smeared blood on his face and tore some clothing so he looked the part. Ned walked back to where he had last seen Lord Snookington. He sat in a pool of blood. Ned grabbed his arm and patted the nobleman’s back. A tear ran down Harry’s face as he was led back to his knights. They took Lord Snookington away to be cleaned up.

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One Versus Two

Despite his valour, Lord Snookington’s leg was slashed and the nobleman fell to his knees. An enormous Malaxian warrior stood over him, about to deliver a fatal blow. The warrior looked up and saw Ned. A hint of recognition caused a split second delay. It was Big Nose. His face was creased with age beneath a darkened helmet. Ned focussed on the uniform as everything seemed to slow down. He leapt forward and kicked Big Nose in the chest. Spinning around, Ned cut him down.

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Battle

The order came for the King’s infantry to advance. Rough barks of war dogs pierced the morning air. Soon the battle raged in the valley. Swords clashed and it rained arrows. Ned cut Malaxians down with his sword, ever looking for their elite unit. The savagery struck fear into Gobba so he held back. At the forefront of the fighting, it was ferocious and blood flowed, but neither side yielded so knights on horseback entered the fray. Lord Snookington led his knights thundering downhill and stormed toward the Malaxians. The sound of battle was everywhere. Shouts. Screams. Grunts. Sobs. Thuds. A smell of death burnt nostrils. The former farm and mine workers from the Snook had never before witnessed such butchery.

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Ready

Ned and his fellow soldiers settled down in the camp. A light wind swept over the soldiers as Ned built a small fire using his flint and steel. The flames warmed him and he ate well. Afterwards, he cleaned the short sword and arranged his kit so he would be ready at short notice in the morning. He had a broken sleep, thinking about Kroll. It was time for revenge.

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Saved

Ned stood over the dead soldier and saw his father still fighting off the other warriors. He could taste sick. Stumbling, he tried to move toward the fight, but fell to his knees. Pushing himself up, everything was spinning. He could hear swords clashing, but everything was blurred. With his vision blackening around the edges, he fell face down. Waking to a tugging at his sleeve, he saw Skar trying to pull him back. Ned closed his eyes and woke a brief moment later with the dog licking his face.

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Brave

Reloading, Ned fired two more arrows in quick succession. His aim was pure and true as warriors fell. A Malaxian moved in to attack the lone swordsman. Jorrin defended with his sword and, leaning in low, caught a warrior with a dagger. The soldier collapsed as the swordsman launched a darting attack. Ned stood with his bow pointing directly at Kroll. But, determined to help out, adjusted his aim and the arrow hit the man fighting his father. The warrior sunk to his knees and Jorrin pushed him aside.

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Run

Jorrin and Ned raced away through the clearing and the boy gestured toward an incline. It was a short-cut back to the cabin. Jorrin frowned as Ned grabbed his arm and forced him to move faster. He was surprised at how strong the boy had become. They gained height over the clearing, but Jorrin limped more. He winced in pain. Jorrin stood on a branch and it snapped. Ned held a finger to his mouth and helped his father to the top of the hill.

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Three Down

The Malaxians ran further and found the point where the swordsman entered the forest. Studying his footprints, it was clear he was limping. Kroll saw a spot of blood on a leaf. They followed him through the forest, moving quickly. The disturbed mud and occasional snapped branch meant they could easily follow the injured man’s trail. He stood no chance against this band of bloodthirsty hunters. Kroll grunted in satisfaction. It had taken patience and skill to get this close to the swordsman. Jorrin headed into a dene between two wooded hills. Kroll sent three scouts over to the right, while he led the rest of his men straight ahead in pursuit.

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Injured

From a wooded hill to the rear, warriors moved in silence toward the two men below. Kroll held a fist in the air and his men halted. They were within striking distance of the swordsman for the first time. With a forward arm signal, the Malaxian warriors charged downwards. The heavy thuds made Jorrin swing around. He saw a large detachment of Malaxians storming through the trees. Well-armed, they wore dark leather uniforms. He set the horse off at speed and grabbed onto the saddle horn. The warriors made it to the path only to see the merchant and swordsman making their escape.

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