East of Ypres, France, 1415
The clang of metal against metal rang out in the large clearing as the two swords met, the echoing melody of their clash spreading throughout the surrounding forest.
“Watch out for her parry!” a voice called, joining the reverberating tune as it reflected off the nearby trees. Andre De Bouriez lounged on his side in the thick grass, his objective gaze scrutinizing the combatants as they swung their heavy broadswords. He nodded with satisfaction as his sister, tiny compared with Lucien’s height and broad shoulders, easily deflected a thrust of her brother’s. Andre chuckled low in his throat, his brown eyes twinkling merrily. She was good. She knew the limitations of her sword and her strength well; she was patient and observant. This made her a very dangerous opponent despite her size.
Ryen finished an arc, the impact of the weapons jarring her arm. She stepped back, panting. A trickle of perspiration ran from her hairline down her cheek, sparkling in the sun like a diamond. She brushed a strand of brown hair from her forehead with her free arm.
A perfect smile lit Lucien’s boyish face. “Come, come. You cannot tell me that you tire after so few exchanges!”
A cold grin stretched across her shapely lips. “I tell you no such thing, Brother. Only to guard your blind side.” Ryen lunged and then feinted right.
Lucien caught the blow with some effort and countered with an arc overhead.
Ryen sidestepped the swing and Lucien’s blade crashed into the ground. As he pulled it up, a clump of dirt came with it, impaled on the tip of his blade.
“You know she’s too quick for you, Lucien,” Andre called.
Ryen laughed at the dirt on Lucien’s sword. “Don’t take your anger out on the ground, Lucien. Your opponent stands before you, not below you.”
Lucien came after Ryen with two quick lunges. She easily parried the blows and drove forward with an arc of her own, then retreated and stood staring at Lucien.
“Little sister, you’re growing up,” Lucien commented.
“Don’t goad her, Lucien,” Andre advised, too late.
Ryen suddenly charged her brother, hitting him in the stomach with her shoulder. The impact knocked him onto his back. Breathless, Lucien lay stunned for a moment. Before he could recover, Ryen stepped on the wrist of his sword arm and placed the tip of her weapon to Lucien’s neck. “Yield or die,” she stated.
“I yield to the Angel of Death!” Lucien hollered good-naturedly.
Ryen lifted her foot from his wrist and withdrew her sword. She gently kicked his arm with her booted foot. “I hate it when you call me ‘little sister’.”
Lucien sat up, rubbing his wrist. “I won’t make that mistake again.”
Ryen stepped back, offering her brother a hand. Lucien clasped it and she helped him to his feet.
“That was a good move,” Lucien commented. “But a little reckless.”
“It beat you,” Ryen replied, bending to pick up a cloth from the lush grass.
“If I had raised my sword, you would have run right into it.”
“But you didn’t,” Ryen said, wiping the cloth smoothly over her blade. “Don’t criticize my move just because it landed you on your buttocks. You yielded. I won. There are no ‘ifs’.”
“She has a point,” Andre agreed, stepping up beside Ryen. “She beat you and I’m afraid it grates on your nerves.”
“Nonsense!” Lucien exclaimed, brushing the grass from his yellow tunic. “I simply –”
“Angel!” a tiny voice called from the forest, interrupting Lucien.
Ryen’s head shot up and she saw her page, Gavin, crashing through the bushes in his hurry to reach her. His brown cotton smock caught on a branch, but he quickly yanked it free and continued toward her, gasping, “Angel!”
Ryen placed her hand on his shoulder. “Take a breath, Gavin, and tell me what’s happened.”
“We…” he started, breathlessly.
“A deep breath,” Ryen urged.
Gavin drew in a long breath and blurted out, “We’ve caught an Englishman, m’lady!”
Ryen raised an anxious gaze to Andre before moving to retrace Gavin’s path. She heard the heavy footfalls of her brothers as they followed her into their camp. The scent of venison wafted to her on a light breeze and her stomach rumbled despite her anxiety. She maneuvered through the sporadically placed tents like an expert, dodging a barking dog, stepping around two men who were absorbed in a game of chess.
She slowed upon seeing Jacques Vignon, her advance scout, approaching. “You found him?” she asked.
“Aye, m’lady,” Jacques replied.
It always unnerved Ryen to speak with Jacques, for while he was the best scout she had, looking into his face was like gazing into an emotionless abyss. His eyes were black, so black that she could not discern the pupil from the iris. Jacques had never done anything to earn her suspicion; on the contrary, he was a loyal fighter, as good at swordplay as he was at disappearing into the shadows, but there was something cold about him that set off every warning within Ryen. He avoided the sun, so his skin remained white, almost as white as the porcelain doll her father had once given her sister. His skill at infiltrating the English was what had earned him Ryen’s respect; his command of the English language surpassed even her own. “Where?” she demanded.
“Northwest of here,” he answered. “He said he was separated from his army. Lost.”
Ryen moved past him, eager to see her enemy. As she neared the prisoner tents, she noticed that, suspiciously, more than a few of her men were seated near one tent. Each head was bent over their work, the men diligently sharpening weapons or polishing armor until it sparkled like a gem. Ryen knew they were eagerly awaiting the outcome of the interrogation. It had been almost two weeks since they had seen any battle, and they were eager to confront the English.
“What can I do, Angel?” Gavin wondered.
Ryen stopped and the boy ran up before her. He was panting vigorously and Ryen knew he had run the entire way to keep up with them. She smiled at him and patted his unruly hair before carefully handing her sword to him. “Take this to my tent. Then find Mel to look after it.”
Gavin’s brown eyes widened as he stared at the blade. “Aye, m’lady,” he whispered reverently. He gazed at it a moment longer before heading toward her tent at a slow, careful walk.
Ryen exchanged a grim look with Lucien before continuing.
Two guards stood outside the tent, looking more like stone gargoyles poised on the pillars of a church than like men. They were clothed in chain mail, white tunics washing over the metal links that protected their bodies.
Ryen shoved the tent flap aside and entered. The prisoner was tied to a large, planted stake, bound hand and foot. Small in build, and dressed in a leather jerkin, the Englishman reminded Ryen more of a squire than a foot soldier. His jaw was set with determination, his dark eyes cautious and distrustful. He assessed Lucien and Andre with a swift glance and his lip curled. When his gaze turned to Ryen, his eyes widened in surprise. He was not dirty. His cheeks were not sunken from lack of food, nor were his lips parched from lack of water. “He is not lost,” she muttered. She didn’t think the prisoner would understand her French words but murmured just in case.
“I agree,” Andre stated.
Ryen stepped toward the prisoner.
Lucien followed protectively and stood beside her.
“What lord do you serve?” Ryen asked the man in perfect English.
His brow furrowed in confusion and his gaze slowly traveled over her body appreciatively. She straightened slightly as his insolent, laughing gaze locked with her eyes.
Lucien slapped the man’s impudent face and the blow twisted the man’s head to the side. A silver chain around the prisoner’s neck glinted in the candlelight.
Ryen stepped forward and the man gazed down at her with defiant eyes as she peeled his jerkin aside. There, hanging from the chain, was a medallion of a silver wolf enclosed in a circle. Ryen stared at the pendant for a long moment. Her teeth clenched slightly and her hand trembled with anger as she reached out, encircling the pendant with her fingers. Its cold metal bit into her palm as if it were alive.
“He’s closer than we thought,” Lucien sneered at seeing the crest.
Ryen nodded. “Much closer.” She dropped the medallion to the man’s chest. Her blue eyes lifted slowly to meet his gaze. “Bring me the truth powder, Lucien,” Ryen said. She watched recognition wash over the prisoner’s face, followed closely by fear and disbelief.
“The Angel of Death,” he gasped.
“He will tell us where the English army is camped. I will have the Prince of Darkness before tomorrow’s dawn.”
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