A patrol of twelve Camelot knights made their way across the wide path. Their red cloaks bellowed out behind them as they rode fast through the open fields. In the misty weather they quickly disappeared from sight, but the sound of their horses' hooves could still be heard some time after they were gone. Sadly it was because of this their presence had not gone by unnoticed, but the knights were unaware of it. For now the cover of mist hid the dark sorcerer who followed them as they rode into his territory.
The riders made a sharp turn to head into the Forest of Celliwig and when they found themselves covered by the huge pine trees they slowed their pace a little. Leon breathed a sigh of relief at the welcoming sight. Looking at Sir Deorwine he was met with a nod of quiet agreement. The senior knight did not give out signs of gratitude, but this was one in disguise. Only since this morning it was his job to stay close to Prince Arthur and if trouble should come he was the one to get him to safety�
While it was an honour to get such a job Leon was promised it would be a challenge as well. It was whispered Arthur was not an easy young man to protect. He kept insisting he was a good fighter who could protect himself and to show it he tended to step head first into a fight. Unlike Deorwine though Leon was inclined to admire Arthur's courage and in silence he even agreed with him.
The five years younger man was a very skilled fighter who had more often beat Leon on the trainingfield than he cared to admit to. At times others also commented they found their prince a worthy opponent. Leon had seen how Arthur's sword fighting skills more and more brought even the most experienced knights to their knees. However it was Arthur's young age of only sixteen, which made the older knights like Deorwine wary.
Every knight noticed that King Uther disagreed with his son on the matter of his skills and merit. It always seemed like he wanted Arthur to be a stronger, fitter and better fighter. While this was the fifth quest he sent his son on without his presence Uther still didn't trust him to stand on his own two feet. Instead he ordered others to watch out for him in his absence. Sir Deorwine accepted the order without a word and did as asked, holding Arthur almost on a too tight leash during the quest.
At first Leon thought the senior knight made the right choice, but the longer their journey lasted the more he began to see Deorwine was wrong. Most people believed Arthur was spoiled and arrogant and Leon had often believed so too, but as they rode on all he could see was a young man, and knight, trying to find his way while he hid his insecurities in the only way he knew how to. It seemed his arrogance was partly a front and partly a defence mechanism born of the need to maintain a royal status.
The lack of space Arthur was given by Deorwine clearly frustrated him. Every suggestion was met with wariness and arguments. It was clear the two men would never become friends. Ever since yesterday the prince even went silent. Leon watched with unease as Arthur bit his tongue a few times. It was almost as if he was afraid they would report all of his failures back to the King. The thought made Leon realise he was lucky not to have been born of royal blood. At least his father was openly proud of the son who followed in his footsteps and he didn't endlessly demand more of him.
This morning Leon watched Arthur as he readied himself for the day. He could not help but notice how tense he was in every movement. Wary blue eyes stared at Deorwine with unease and the lack of enthusiasm to ride on stunned Leon. All along their quest the prince had been eager to be out here, ready to show his worth, but the constant let down was too much and it dimmed his enthusiasm. On impulse Leon decided to ride next to Arthur for the day, under the guise of giving Deorwine a break from the arguments.
Never before had Leon felt the pressure of his duty so much and he wondered what he let himself in for, but when after a while Arthur opened up and they began talking he found he was actually enjoying himself. The unexpected, dry sense of humour from the prince amused him, while his opinions on knighthood were refreshing compared to the headstrong men like Deorwine and Uther. Slowly the eager in Arthur to learn and to be valued for his skills as fighter, but also as a future ruler, returned.
Leon noticed how all of his life Arthur followed in his father's footsteps, always eager to please him, but now he felt the prince was on his way to step out into the light. It was a promising thought he could not help but feel thrilled about. What kind of ruler would Arthur be? Would he be as stern and as feared as his father? Leon seriously doubted it�
Arrows coming from somewhere between the pine trees pierced through the air with a near soundless whoosh. The out of nowhere attack was accompanied by the men who fired them from their simple, but crudely effective crossbows. With a loud roar they announced their arrival and attack on the knights. To Arthur's shock the shouted order to seek cover by Deorwine was cut short in his throat. In terror he saw the broad shouldered knight fall of his stallion, two arrows protruding from his back. When there was no further movement from the man as crimson red soaked his cloak it was clear he had fallen.
Dismounting quickly Arthur unsheathed his sword and he found Leon at his side instantly. "Sire, we are outnumbered two to one." The warning was interrupted by the arrival of three more bandits. One near bold man swung his axe at Leon while another approached Arthur, the ill intent to cut him down clear in his eyes.
Out of reflex Arthur blocked the attack with his sword. Once more the sword swung towards him and with a quick turn he moved out of the way. Another parry made their swords clash with a loud clang. The sound mingled with the battle noises of metal on metal and men shouting in pain.
This bandit was fast! Putting some more force into his next blow Arthur managed to cut into a leather clad shoulder. His opponent winced in pain, but he was not deterred. Instead all it did was anger him further and Arthur found himself barely able to block another swing. The resulting clang resonated into his arm.
Another turn and he felt the sword cut into his arm. Shouting out in pain Arthur startled for a moment, but he quickly recovered and found he was just in time to avoid another cut. To his relief an unexpected opening offered him a chance to strike the bandit into his stomach. Stumbling back the man dropped his sword and in the heat of the fight Arthur put him out of his misery.
In the corner of his eyes Arthur saw another bandit approach. Quickly he turned to face him, but sadly he was a fraction too late. The heavy blow of a mace hit the backside of his shoulder with a sickening crunch and it made him fall. The bandit smirked while he aimed to knock him out cold. With a roll Arthur moved out of the way and somehow he managed to grab a hold of his sword at the same time.
Feeling slightly dizzy he blinked once while he stumbled back onto his feet. Out of reflex he struck his sword at the blurred dark shape in front of him. Whether it was just dumb luck or the years of training Arthur didn't care. All he felt was relief at the way his enemy fell dead to the ground. He was safe� for now.
"Arthur", the warning shout of his name to his right made him look up.
"Watch out!" Leon was at his side in time to stop yet another attack.
Arthur though was distracted for a moment, because he realised he could not use his left arm anymore. The blow to his shoulder had left him in serious trouble. He bit away the pain though, knowing he was right handed and he could still fight. This was no time to be weak for they were still under attack.
Holding his injured arm to his chest Arthur fought on with sheer determination. An axe was blocked and before it could swing down again he reacted. One forceful swing of his sword and another man had fallen to his death. At his side Leon faced another man, who was luckily too slow for the tall knight. Arthur was happy to have him in his sights. Leon was remarkably light on his feet for someone of his size and he moved fast too. It was what they needed to survive this relentless attack.
Just when they thought they were getting the upper hand in the fight another man came walking out of the forest. His eyes glowed golden as he hissed, "Leave the Pendragon boy to me." The words had barely fallen off his lips when Arthur felt an invisible force lift him and throw him away as if he were weightless. There was a moment of fear and then nothing as his body collided painfully with the thick stem of one of the many pine trees.
The moment Arthur was thrown through the air by an unseen force and he landed in an unconscious pile on the muddy ground Leon feared for his life. In the eyes of the knights who hadn't fallen and were still fighting off the bandits he saw the same worry reflected. They were all quite aware Arthur was in imminent danger from the newcomer. The sorcerer's outspoken threat and his unyielding demeanour showed he had no fear for the knights of Camelot. In fact he only smirked at them as if they were a nuisance.
None of the knights tough showed their fear for the dark magic, because not one of his threats were to stop them from protecting the son of the king they vowed to fight for. It was their duty and they would not forsake it.
Like one the knights ran towards the man who was out to hurt their prince. In the corner of his eyes Leon saw Wystan delay a little to shout an order to him, "Get the Prince away from here. We will distract the sorcerer and watch your back. Go!"
Leon nodded wordlessly, even though he felt his heart sink. It was very doubtful Wystan and the other knights would walk away from this alive. For a second he wanted to help Wystan, who was like a brother to him, but one look at his determined face told Leon not to. None of them could afford to waste another second. All there was left to do for Leon was to ensure his friend's sacrifice wasn't in vain.
Ignoring the magical mayhem happening around him as well as the continuous attack of the remaining bandits he hurried over to Arthur's side. There was a wince of pain coming from the younger man when he pulled him into a sitting position. While praying he would not make matter worse Leon lifted him on a shoulder and sighing under the heavy weight of chainmail covered man he snuck away from the battle site.
After struggling on for a while beneath the weight he could no longer hear the sounds of battle. Leon was afraid of what it meant, but he kept walking on anyway. He decided he needed to find a place to hide from whoever was bound to come after them. There was no doubt in his mind at least the sorcerer would survive and he would come after them to get to Arthur. The man had seemed ominously arrogant and determined. The dark look coming from deep brown eyes bordered on insane before the all consuming golden glow illuminated his purpose.
A few yards further into the forest Leon spotted dense bushes to his right. Taking a closer look he found a hidden trench underneath. It would be a tight fit for two grown men, but he knew it was the best chance they had at making it out alive. Gently he lowered Arthur from his shoulder and as he slid down into the trench he pulled the still unconscious prince to safety after him.
They were barely hidden beneath the leaves of the bushes when Leon heard the sound of running boots coming their way. Holding his breath he prayed with all of his heart they would not be found.