Spirits remained high for most of the ride. The men chanted, cheered, and sang battle songs, all of them led by Vaughan.
“Most of the battle is fought in the mind. Only a small part is managed with the sword,” Vaughan told her as they rode.
In another handful of heartbeats, their horses climbed the hill and came to a stop. As per Vaughan’s demand, she had her hair pinned up under her helmet and wore flat armor that did not give away her gender. That way, in battle, it would be harder for the enemy to identify her.
As Vaughan gave the order for Rignuth and his assistants to set up their station to help the wounded in the woods, Audra dismounted and took in her surroundings. Below, Rhydderch’s men were already taking their battle stations on the ramparts. Cauldrons filled with scalding oil were bubbling over the flames, and archers knelt behind parapets. Yet they did not use longbows like Audra’s men, so Rhydderch’s archers would not have the same reach.
Vaughan appeared at her side. “I can’t tell exactly how many men they have, but they don’t outnumber us by all that much.”
“Not even two-to-one.”
Audra nodded, grabbing the flag of Aber Hael she had tied to her war horse. She jammed the pole into the ground, staking her claim. It was an antagonistic move, claiming this mountain, but she wanted to get started, to make sure fewer of Rhydderch’s warriors had time to get into position.
The moment after the pole sank into the ground, the wooden portcullis raised to knee height, and a young man – boy, really – shaking, made his way up t...
... middle of paper ...
...d her from her horse. She landed on her back, pain shooting from her hips to her neck as she gasped for breath. Audra willed her body to roll out of the way, but the fall had stunned her; she was stuck on the ground like a wounded tortoise in its shell.
And there stood three of Rhydderch’s men, looming and leering, licking their lips as they pounced. Never once in all her training nor preparation had she considered she could be raped.
Behind her, Vaughan’s bellow of fury rang out, and, on foot, he beat back two of the men with his sword, ending the fight by sinking his blade into each of their hearts. The final man, who’d managed to wrestle down Audra’s breeches to her knees, ran off.
The sound of a cold cackle from off to the side garnered her attention. Wearing his pristine, oiled armor, Rydderch stood there, pointing and laughing. “Look at the redheaded whore!”
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