They rounded the next bend with no one in sight and slowed to a canter, crossing the last of the sandstone, and into scrubland.
“We have lost them,” said one of the men.
Padaver twisted in the saddle, seeing the first of the Vindavians round the bend.
“By the unknown god, they are still coming,” he said.
“They have an Original tracker with them,” said Nanaleed.
“Our army uses them too,” piped up one of the men.
“I know we do, idiot,” Nanaleed erupted, before calming himself with a sigh. “The point I am making is, we cannot hide from an Original. There is only one choice left to us; we must ride hard and far, hoping that they will give up.”
They picked their way through the trees and into another broader expanse. Their mounts laboured badly for breath.
“Enough!” cried Nanaleed. “At this rate, we will kill the horses.”
He tugged his reins aside, turning his horse back the way he came as the Vindavian posse came into the open field.
“What are you doing?” said Padaver.
“There is seven of them and seven of us,” said Nanaleed, drawing his axe. “And I am sick of running. What about the rest of you?”
Each man in the Nusallean patrol drew their axe in silent support, causing Nanaleed to nod. He set his eyes grimly on the coming Vindavians. A few of his men snapped their reins.
Nanaleed held up his hand. “Do not weary yourselves further. Let them come to us.”
The Vindavians trampled across the saturated field on their taller horses. Thirty paces before they clashed, Nanaleed snapped his reins, encouraging his men to do the same.
Padaver ducked beneath a slash meant for his head. He brought his axe down on a second southman, smashing a wide rift in his mail hauberk. With a curt scream, the Vindavian clutched his chest and rolled sideways from his saddle.
A Vindavian rider rammed into a mounted Nusallean, overturning his horse. Before the northman could rise, two duelling riders accidentally trampled him.
Padaver barely raised his axe in time to block a Vindavian sword. Steel rang against steel several times as screams arose around him. Too engaged in his own duel, he didn’t know whether friend or foe fell. The Vindavian skewed past his guard, stabbing into Padaver’s side. He fell back from the blood dripping blade onto his back. With a smile, the Vindavian raised his sword for the killer blow, then jolted, his expression falling. He fell face forward onto Padaver’s legs, a tribeman’s axe jutting from his back.
Nanaleed, now weaponless stared down from his saddle. Two Vindavian blades plunged into him at once.
Strength fled from Padaver, forcing him to close his eyes. The sounds of battle carried on a few moments somewhere in the black void of semi – consciousness. He opened his eyes, to see the fight ending with two men. Gakin, exchanged stroke for vicious stroke with the final Vindavian. Both men were bloodied from several wounds.
Deflecting the sword high and wide of his head, Gakin seized the opportunity to deliver a lightening riposte. The Vindavian clutched the wound in silence then collapsed.
With the broadest grin, Gakin dropped to his knees, taking in Padaver. All at once, his eyes rolled up as he fell, leaving Padaver alone.