The soldier stepped out onto the path, the autumn leaves strewn about him.

“Well well well. What do we have here?”

Blake stopped, and eyed the man warily. “I’m a traveller, Sir.” He pointed down the path. “I’m on my way to town. Need to stock up for the winter.”

The soldier smirked. “Well, now, that puts me in an awkward position. You see, to go to town, you’ve got to pay the toll.” He turned to his fellow soldiers, standing by a tree further down the path. “Ain’t that right, boys?”

The two men smile and nodded. He turned back to Blake. “The thing is, I wouldn’t want you goin’ hungry. So how about I cut you a little slack. We’ll just take fifteen silver, instead of the thirty we’re owed.”

Blake swallowed. Something didn’t feel right. “I’m sorry, Sir, but all I’ve got is ten.” He nodded to the cart behind him. “I was going to trade for the rest.”

The soldier stepped forward, his hand resting on the hilt of his blade. “Well, we’ll just have to take some of the pretty things from that cart to make up for it.”

Blake stepped back, keeping his eyes fixed on . He felt his breath quicken, and could hear his heartbeat in his ears. “You can’t! I need that for food.”

The soldiers smile vanished, replaced by a scowl. “Look, you say you need it, but I know I need it. I gotta go with my instinct here.” He looked over at his friends, and signalled them forward. The formed up behind him, one on either side.

Blake took another step back, slipping one hand into his coat, and pulling out a small blade.

The soldier looked at the weapon and laughed. “You think that’ll help you?” He drew his own weapon, the steel glinting in the sun falling through the trees. His friends followed suit.

The soldier looked to the one on his left, and nodded.

Blake held tight to the blade as the soldier approached.

The soldier pointed his sword at the man, a smile playing on his lips. “Move out of the way. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Blake stood his ground.

The soldier shook his head. “Have it your way, then.”

He swung the blade in a tight arc.

Blake dodged back at the last second, narrowly avoiding the strike.

The soldier swung again, and this time Blake ducked beneath the swing, darting toward the soldier.

He plunged his own blade forward, the tip finding a weak spot in the soldiers armour.

Blake removed the blade, and the soldier fell into the dust and dirt. Blake picked up the soldier’s dropped weapon, feeling better now he was properly armed.

The other two advanced, a look of wary suspicion on their features. They split up, trying to put Blake between them.

Perfect.

Blake smiled as they found their positions; one in front, and one behind.

He heard the crunch of a crushed leaf behind him. He crouch and spun around, the blade only just missing his head.

He rose from his crouch, bringing the fallen soldier’s weapon up at speed. The blade bit into the soldier’s wrist, and his blade fell to the ground.

Footsteps sounded from behind. Blake turned, throwing his own blade at the soldier.

It went high, missing its target.

Damn!

As his opponent closed the gap, Blake put the other soldier in front of him, holding the sword to his throat. The other soldier stopped.

Blake grinned. “Drop the sword, Sir.

The soldier dropped into a crouch, lowering the blade.

Blake’s eyes never left him.

The soldier looked up, resignation in his eyes.

He shot forward, driving the blade in front of him.

Blake pushed on his hostage, sending the soldier forward whilst propelling himself back. The steel cut straight through the soldier’s leather armour, emerging as a gleaming red spire from his back.

Blake stepped forward and, raising his leg, drove his foot into a flat piece of leather on the soldier’s back.

The two men, trapped together by the steel, fell upon the ground.

The soldier pushed his dead comrade off his chest, and attempted to pull the blade free. Before he could pull it loose, however, Blake pressed his boot into his hand, and heard the bones within cracking under the pressure.

The last of the sunlight was fading through the trees. Blake raised the blade and drove it through the soldier’s armour.

The soldier began gasping for breath, his eyes wide in shock and pain. He clutched at the blade sticking into his chest, the sharpened steel cutting into his palms. The blade held strong.

Blake walked on, past the dying soldier, searching for his lost weapon. Seeing a shimmer of light in the brush ahead, he hurried forward, knelt to the ground, and picked up the blade.

He raised it above his head, examining it for damage.

Satisfied it was in good condition, he replaced it in its hidden sheath within his coat, and wandered back to the soldier.

He knelt by his head, and grabbed his neck. “Look, you sound like you’re dying, and I know I don’t want to help you, so I’m gonna go with my instincts here.”

Leaving the soldier pinned to the ground, he walked back to his cart, grabbed the pull-bars and resumed his journey.

Now for something to eat.

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