“Antonio,” the stranger hissed.
“General Drake,” Antonio muttered with the same contempt. “For what do I owe the pleasure?”
The assassins had stopped fighting, leaving Lance to rip the blade from the older brother’s grip. The assassins stood straight for the general, their brother’s body lying still on the ground behind them.
“I think you know why,” the stranger answered, his eyes locking on Raina. “Of course, that would go against your honor, wouldn’t it father?”
Raina’s eyes widened at the realization. Everything seemed to come together. Antonio’s refusal to talk about his son and his strict emphasis of honor. Antonio’s son, a former knight of the Alton Order, had betrayed his home to become a general of the Ladon Empire.
“You know you weren’t prepared for what leading men entailed,” reasoned Antonio. “And your actions have only backed my decision.”
Drake unsheathed a rapier, a single raise of the hand alerted his men to fall back. “I was the strongest, the most skilled of all your men!” He roared. “But the past is no matter. The Ladon Empire recognized my strength, and soon you will too.” His grip tightened on his sword.
Antonio stepped forward, unsheathing his own sword. “Raina, take this opportunity and go.”
“Go!” He ordered. Raina didn’t have time to protest as Lance pulled her away.
“Sir should we go after them?” Asked the older assassin, his eyes still showing all signs of being bloodthirsty.
“Ignore them. They won’t get far.”
Drake swiped at the air with the rapier, making a show of force to Antonio as they stood across from each other. He paced back and forth as if he was analyzing Antonio from head to toe, assessing every strength and weakness just from his appearance. Then, he cut an angle from the left side, his sword clanging against Antonio’s before he stepped back again, as if he was just making observations. His eyes brightened as if he had found the solution to his problem, and he shot forward again. He hit left, right, and while Antonio’s sword was still in the air from the block, brought the sword behind his back and struck Antonio across the stomach.
Raina fought against Lance as she saw her guardian get struck, refusing to move. She had to see if he was alright. She had to help him. Lance didn’t argue and watched intently to see the fate of the knight. Antonio was able to maintain a standing position, only stumbling back a few feet. Raina sighed with relief.
“Go! Get out of here!” Antonio yelled in frustration over his shoulder at Raina. “Go goddammit!”
Lance jumped and dragged Raina towards the horse. Antonio knew Raina wanted to fight by his side, and it seemed no matter what he did he couldn’t convince her that strength was a trivial part of combat. Of life. His eyes looked over at the strong, young build of his opponent, and Antonio knew he wasn’t any match for his opponent. He was old, weak, and slow. He had lived a full life, but his biggest regret was staring right in front of him, staring at him with those cold blue eyes. His blue eyes. He just hoped he hadn’t made the same mistake with Raina as he had with his own son. Antonio already was starved of air, sweat dripping down his face even though he had barely exerted any energy. If there was one thing he knew for certain, it was that he didn’t want Raina to see him die.
Drake charged forward again, and Antonio held his own, determined to hold his son off until Raina couldn’t see him any more, until she was safe. He lost his concentration for a second, and Drake took the opportunity to strike his sword-wielding arm before stepping back again, analyzing, observing. Antonio grunted, barely able to lift his sword off the ground. Drake prepared for another series of attacks, but this time Antonio beat him to it, punching him square across the jaw.
Raina and Lance had just disappeared around the bend on their horse, and Antonio breathed a sigh of relief. Drake snapped his fingers, signaling his men to go after them.
“You said you were going to wait until our fight is over!” Antonio growled.
A sick smile spread across Drake’s face. “That’s the great thing about not being a knight. You aren’t held to your word.” He spun his rapier in his hand, amusement in his eyes. “Besides, this fight is over.”
Antonio, enraged, prepared to bring his sword down on Drake, who simply ducked under the attack and turned to stab Antonio in his open side. Antonio gritted his teeth, holding in a scream, and fell to his knees. Drake held his rapier to Antonio’s throat.
“Am I worthy enough now father?” His words reminded Antonio of a burning poison, vengeful and deadly. He looked up at the boy he used to call his son. It wasn’t possible that this was the same boy he walked through these woods, who he had trained with wooden swords and practice targets. This man was an angry stranger, not the loving, caring kid he used to know.
“The biggest dishonor you could ever do me is call me ‘father,’” Antonio sobbed. “But I will always love you, just as I loved your mother.”
Drake’s eyes filled with hatred as he looked down upon the weakness of his father. “What a shame.”
He stabbed his rapier into Antonio’s chest. His father gasped, the fire dissolving from his pale blue eyes as they glossed over. His muscles slumped, his body hitting the wet, dirt floor. And yet, much to Drake’s puzzlement, Antonio was smiling.