06. Piercing Death

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Sir Gregor wasn't very satisfied with the way things were going. They were going smoothly. Too smoothly.

The army had moved up the bare side of the hill behind which lay the boundary of Luntberg and into the forest without any problems. No encounters with the enemy, no sightings of scouts, not even suspicious sounds from the surrounding landscape. Just silence.

And that was what bothered Sir Gregor—because there should have been sounds. Not necessarily suspicious ones, but ordinary ones at least: birds singing in the trees, weasels weasling through the underbrush, anything. But there was nothing. Not even the birds which had accompanied Gregor so far on his lonely journey, eager to snatch up the seeds he liberally distributed, showed so much as the tips of their beaks.

Then, from up above, he heard the single, harsh warning cry of a jay. He looked up to see if he could catch a glimpse of a hawk or eagle, predators whose arrival the cry of the jay usually heralded. But he didn't see a thing.

"That's strange," he muttered.

"What is strange?" Sir Arnegis, another one of the Margrave's vassals who happened to be riding beside Gregor just then, asked. "It is perfectly quiet."

"That's just it. It's... unnatural."

"I find it extremely relaxing," Sir Arnegis said. "The incessant trilling of those infernal birds was getting on my nerves. Finally, I can relax a bit."

He leaned backwards and sighed, contentedly. Then, he slumped a little to the side. And a little more.

Only when he toppled off his horse and crashed to the ground did Gregor notice the arrow sprouting from his back. It was then that he remembered one important thing about jays: their cry didn't just warn against predators of the animal kingdom, but also against other, more dangerous ones.

"Attack!" he roared, raising his shield. "We're under attack from archers! Someone get Arnegis out of the way! The rest, raise your shields. All soldiers to the ground! Minimize the target!"

They took up a defensive formation as best they could on the narrow path, back to back, their shields facing outward towards the line of trees behind which their unseen attackers had to be hiding. With bated breath, Gregor waited for the storm of arrows to rain down upon them.

Nothing came. Not a single arrow.

They waited for a few minutes in utter silence, only disturbed by the distant flutter of birds' wings.

"What?" Sir Blasius was the first to lower his shield. "Was that all?"

"I wouldn't complain so loudly, if I were you," Sir Hartung growled. "They might just hear you and decide to oblige."

Quickly, Sir Blasius raised his shield again. "Yes, but... one arrow?" He shook his head, disgustedly. "What kind of attack is that?"

"A short one, which apparently is already over. Come on." Hartung shouldered his shield and motioned for them to move. Slowly and hesitantly, the men-at-arms got up off the ground and lowered their shields as well. "We can't stand around here all day. We've still got miles of ground to cover before dark."

"You're right. Still... I wonder what the purpose of this was," Sir Gregor muttered, looking around sharply at the shadowy, silent forest.

His question was answered a few minutes later, when an arrow slammed into Sir Thrutilo's chest, taking him backwards off his horse. Not a second later, a cry could be heard from farther behind, and turning, Gregor saw Sir Wracwulf collapse in the saddle, his hands clasped around a shaft jutting out of his belly.

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