Read the first part of Pal Hargrane’s story in “Four Without Country.”
Her name was Nine. Pal Hargrane knew by reputation the fighting woman, another countryman who, by decree of Solon Theros, was his enemy. Hargrane had not confronted a Ternesman in the melee. He faced one now in the lists. And this one, if he’d got the story true, once slew a trio of orcs while holding the gate alone at Thornedown Fort before it could be closed. The make of warrior opposing him gave Hargrane no reason to disbelieve the tale.
Death Rides to Mortal Combat
Astride a roan horse, she sat tall in the saddle and handled the lance with ease. Like his, her shield bore gouges from flail spikes.
In the first ride, he broke his lance on the shield. Its point striking the scarred blue field above the middle of three white stars was pressed into his mind’s eye, as though he’d glimpsed the sun, and now a shadow of it obscured his vision.
Hargrane took another lance from a lackey and held it aloft. When the horn sounded, he tucked his heels into the mount’s flanks, and horse and rider launched across the tiltyard. Nine did the same. Pal Hargrane would never remember the moment when the two met in a clash of steel that thundered between the arena’s walls. Both mail-clad riders fell to the ground. While the horses paced out the charge, neither moved.
He wasn’t aware of time passing as a slit of shrouded sky turned in slow circles through the helm’s visor. As the nausea passed, a vague memory of imminent danger crossed his mind. With a grunt he raised himself to an elbow. Wood splinters lay on hard packed dirt. Between him and the south gate, the black-hooded torturer halted, shoulders fallen. A blade-length away, Nine struggled to stand.
Hargrane grabbed his shield and stood, drawing his sword. Nine stood also, but her stance was unsteady. Though a leg was injured, her blade moved at arm’s end in a nimble dance. A thrust slid across Hargrane’s breast plate as he turned to avoid it. She blocked his cut with the shield. His sword added to the scars upon the blue field.
They exchanged more blows in like manner until, lowering his shield, he drew her into another thrust. He stepped aside. On the bad leg, she was slow to recoil, leaving her flank exposed. He saw the opportunity through the imprint in his mind’s eye of three white stars on a blue field. Ternemeer was his country; the Ternes were his countrymen, indeed. It was the only time Pal Hargrane ever hesitated in battle.