Steady hoofbeats against the forest path, alerting us to his presence. I crouched, clutching my longbow, one hand on the polished yew, fingers of the other nocking the arrow against the string. My men were stationed on both sides of the path, weapons at the ready. We would have to be careful—in very truth, it would be sad irony if one died this day at the hand of a friend.
Another moment, and the horseman was in sight, a proud sight, a helmet of iron crowning his head, the visor back, displaying a haughty, weathered countenance. The visage of a rebel. His face bore the marks of battle, pride chiseled into those features. Walter de Montmorency. Six months since his rebels had been vanquished, his forces scattered to the wind by my Lord the King. The body of the snake had been crushed—now we were tasked with dealing with the head.
It was time. Now! I sprang from my covert, into the horseman’s path, the bow in my hand, the arrow drawn back to my ear, its tip aimed at his breast.
His horse reared backward in fright at the apparition, I could hear him cursing as he fought the steed down. My men streamed out of the trees, surrounding the renegade.
“Surrender!” I cried, the horse’s hooves pawing the air only inches from my chest. “Surrender in the name of the King!”
He calmed his mount with difficulty, stroking its mane with a gauntleted hand. “And for what reason, for what cause, am I accosted in such a fashion—by men more likely to be highwaymen than loyal subjects of the King?”
He leaned forward as he spoke, his bright blue eyes gazing at me, a fierce magnetism in their depths. He seemed unruffled by our appearance, or my demand. His sword buckled to his side, he carried himself in a way that bespoke assurance. Confidence.
“I am Geoffrey of Oxford,” I replied, my arrow still aimed at his chest, “an agent of the King. I was sent to bring you before him to stand trial for treason.”
“Treason, is it?” he retorted, fire dancing in his eyes, a smile flitting across his lips. “Then come and take me.”
He looked over my head as he spoke and I felt a strange misgiving pierce my heart.
I turned. We were not alone. . .