The Wolf and the Raven extract

He was a tall man, although he wasn’t powerfully built, being more wiry than massively muscled, but his clothing and bearing clearly marked him as the leader of the soldiers facing the rebels. With his short black hair and stubble, dark eyes and confident, relaxed stance, every one of the rebels felt their gaze drawn to him like iron filings to a dark magnet. Clad all in black, from head to toe, with a boiled leather cuirass moulded to show the shape of his chest, he knew he was an imposing figure and revelled in the sinister power he exuded.

“What do you want?” One of the rebels asked, his voice wavering. He was a broad shouldered young man, obviously an archer, although his bow was nowhere to be seen, probably discarded when he and his comrades fled from Boroughbridge. He hefted a cheap looking sword and tried his best to look menacing. “We’ve done nothing wrong.”

Gisbourne wandered forward and, drawing his dagger with his left hand, cut a small piece of meat from the bottom of the skewered mutton. He lifted it to his lips and blew on the crisp meat gently to cool it, his eyes taking in the men before him, resting eventually on the man who had spoken. The leader, obviously.

“You’ve done nothing wrong, eh?” Gisbourne took the small slice of meat in his mouth and chewed slowly, a smile of pleasure lighting his dark features. “Where did you get this meat then?”

The rebel was ready for the question, stammering his reply almost before the question was asked. “We bought it from the butcher in Wooley, you can ask him.”

Sir Guy finished the mouthful of mutton and placed his dagger back in its sheath in his boot. “You men are rebels. Outlaws,” he stated, ignoring the cries of denial from the men before him as he continued. “And you have stolen this sheep from some local farmer.”

The men again shouted their innocence, the fear plain on their faces. These were no hardy soldiers – they were armed mostly with pitchforks, blunt hatchets and hammers. Not one of them wore even light armour.

Every one of them looked terrified and desperate.

“Please, my lord,” their young leader begged. “We’re just peasants. We were forced to join the Earl of Lancaster’s army!”

“Peasants you may be,” Gisbourne replied disdainfully, “but your king seeks justice for your treason.” He raised his crossbow. “Kill them,” he ordered, as he squeezed the trigger and watched the wicked steel bolt hammer into the young rebel’s chest, throwing the man backwards onto the grass where he lay, gasping and crying pitifully.

His soldiers moved in and engaged the panicked rebels who offered little resistance, the pitchforks proving no match for the sharpened steel Gisbourne’s men wielded so mercilessly.

One of the outlaws flew straight for the black-clad bounty hunter, screaming with rage as he pulled his axe – more suited to chopping wood than cleaving skulls – behind his head, ready to bring it down on Gisbourne’s head. “You shot my brother you bastard!”

Sir Guy dropped his crossbow on the ground and sidestepped the rebel’s wild downward swing, pulling his sword smoothly from its scabbard as the youngster barrelled past. The polished silver steel stood out in stark contrast against Gisbourne’s all black attire as, spinning nearly full circle, arm outstretched, he hammered the razor sharp blade into the axe-man’s neck.

The young man, only just into his teens from the look of his beardless face, was thrown sideways to the ground, the great wound erupting in blood as he fell.

The fight was over within seconds, as Gisbourne’s soldiers ruthlessly cut down the frightened peasants. The victorious soldiers searched the dead men for valuables but found nothing, as their dark leader took out his dagger and cheerfully helped himself to more slices of roast mutton.

“Dig in, lads,” he grinned, gesturing at the dead rebels. “These boys have lost their appetite.”

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