Author's Note: Aha! At last, the long-awaited chapter! After all these years (I am not jesting about how long it took to write this single chapter... I had a real dry-spell...) of not updating, I'm back! And hopefully, you guys haven't given me up for rot. I've made plenty of excuses so I'll not bore you guys to death with those.
So, on with the story! I apologize that this chapter may not have been worth the wait... because it is simply too hard to write battle scenes! Read and Review please...
Chapter 22: A Battle for the End
"Don't pride yourself on your efficiency on the field, Malfoy. I'd have slit her throat before you can reach her."
The rules had been set up and laid out; he had no choice but to comply. He looked at his lady whose face was set in grim determination and he almost smiled. Gone was the lady who'd lain with him in all innocence and blessed naiveté. In her place was a woman whom he knew could stand her own ground.
And by God, the last thing he needed in this sort of situation was a wench bawling her eyes out, pleading for him to save her. He prayed that he would get them both out of this alive.
Unfortunately, praying wasn't nearly enough to save both lives. He made a quick count of the surrounding men. Too many for his liking, but he had his men on back up and out of side should anything happen to him. Or to Hermione. He couldn't let anything happen to her. But, he didn't want Durant to know that he had scores of men that were itching for a fight.
"Let her go." Draco said evenly. "You needn't threaten her life just to fight me. A simple challenge would have been good enough."
Gareth laughed bitterly but did not relinquish his grip on Hermione. "And where would the challenge in that be?"
"A man against twenty is a fair challenge?" Draco raised his eyebrow, gesturing to all the men that Gareth had about, surrounding him.
"It's fair enough for me, Malfoy."
Hermione on the other hand was watching the whole exchange in trepidation, although she tried not to show it. Her captor may have averted his attention to Draco, but she didn't want to take any chances. The blade of a knife was pressed so close to her throat that should she swallow, the edge would draw blood. So she kept still, watching the exchange between Draco and... Gareth.
How could I have been so stupid! She thought, mentally berating herself.
Gareth Durant had been Sir William of England (or so he had her believe) all along! In her own words, she had been seriously duped. It was then when she made a vow to herself to never, ever speak to strangers again. Especially not in during these times. At least in the twentieth century, she had an instinct as to who were the bad guys. Here, she didn't have a clue.
A great way to learn the ropes then, she thought sarcastically, fighting the urge to roll her eyes.
It was certainly her current state of ignorance about the evils of these times that allowed Gareth Durant to enter the stronghold of Draco's keep. It could be the last thing that Hermione would ever regret in her life.
No! She told herself firmly. She would not lose faith in Draco's capabilities. Draco's capabilities may have been well-known throughout the country and Hermione didn't doubt for one second that Draco would come out of this alive. But to face twenty men all by himself, one after the other? Surely the Fates had something up their sleeves. Some sort of luck or some big sign that Draco would come out of this alive and hopefully alright.
Hermione could only hope. She snapped out of her thoughts when Gareth suddenly jerked her, tightening his hold on her and leaning more closely to her. Hermione recoiled at the contact but realized that she had no where to go.
"I swear, Malfoy. One more step and your beloved Hermione dies." Gareth threatened, emphasizing on her name and smiled when Draco tightened the grip on his sword. Draco's eyes were full of murderous intent.
"Or," Gareth continued, "I'd have you killed so that she can be mine. Have you, by any chance, taken her yet?"
Draco flinched as if he had been slapped. It took all of his willpower not to retort and give Durant the satisfaction that he was affected by the man's words. Emotions had no purpose on the battlefield. Anyone who showed emotion, even anger, went headfirst into failure and death.
That rule he had to learn the hard way.
"You can most certainly try to kill me." Draco replied coolly. He looked briefly at Hermione who gave him an inconspicuous nod of approval. His confidence grew tenfold. "But I doubt that you could do it."
"Always knew you were an arrogant bastard, Malfoy." Came the reply.
Gareth was on the edge of losing his temper and Draco took note of that.
"I may be arrogant, but I'm certainly not a bastard." Draco smirked. "Aren't you one?"
And it was at this time that Gareth Durant made a crucial mistake. He stopped thinking rationally and started to get angry. Draco took this as a sign to prepare for the inevitable order from Gareth to kill him. Draco made a mental checklist of his armor and weapons.
So far, his armor was nonexistent, as he had not donned mail; and his only weapon was his sword. And he was going to face twenty men who were in full battle gear.
Draco silently cursed his luck just as Gareth bellowed orders for his men to face Draco. One by one.
Hermione tried to close her eyes but found that she couldn't. She was deathly afraid that if she were to close her eyes for a brief period of time, she would hear the sound of steel pushing through flesh and bone. She looked to the sky and prayed a silent prayer that he would be all right. She had things to tell him, they had so many dreams to fulfill...
The first man that came at Draco had been easily dispatched. Draco knew where an opponent's weaknesses were just by their stance or the grip on their sword. He'd spent much time training with his men and watching his men that observing and noting down these minute details about his opponents were almost second-nature to him.
The second came after him. Then the third...
By the seventh man, Draco realized that Gareth had most certainly planned it so that the less-trained men were first. That had to mean that the last men that he would have to face were the best of the lot.
Eight. Draco counted as another man fell to the ground. He was starting to breathe heavily. He only had the chance to take in a few deep breaths before the next man fought with him.
Gareth inwardly winced at the fact that Draco was finishing off his men with little effort. Half of his men were now gone and they were supposed to be mercenaries! By God! He'd trained them every day for this event and they pay him back with their mistakes.
Was he supposed to do everything around here!
Gareth checked his position. Malfoy was still battling it out with one of the soldiers. Hermione was still in his grasp. She was pulled so close to him that he could feel every breath she took; and every breath that she didn't. He shook his head at Hermione's reactions to Draco. Here she was, held against her will by her lover's worst enemy and it seemed like she didn't mind at all.
He hadn't seen anything like her.
Gareth thought wildly as he scanned the premises. All of Draco's guards were in full force. From his vantage point, he could see that Draco's men had sealed off every exit. Their eyes overlooking the scene. Some of the men held crossbows and it seemed that they had him in their sights. Gareth caught the eye of one archer and smiled sinisterly, shaking his head and gesturing ever so slightly to the woman he held in his arms. The archer slowly brought down his crossbow; but his gaze never wavered.
That's all right, Durant. Goyle thought as he lowered his crossbow. I'll gladly give Draco the honor of killing you. One arrow to your neck is simply too easy a shot. Goyle's eyes then went back to where Draco was fighting. Only five men were left at this point. Goyle looked around, scanning the row of men that were around the perimeter of the walkway. He found about ten other archers with their crossbows cocked and ready to fire. He gave them a silent signal, warning them not to take any shot against any of Durant's men. One arrow not directed to Gareth would surely mean death to Hermione.
And then, Draco would finish Gareth off and have every one of their heads. Goyle had the impulse to laugh but the quickly sobered up when the last man's sword went through Draco's left thigh. The scream that Draco emitted was enough to set his hair on end.
Hermione tried to scream, but her scream was muffled by Gareth's hand over her mouth. Goyle too wanted to scream. He felt the pain that Draco went through as if it were his own. Goyle looked at the men and saw that they all seemed to lurch forward, anguish and determination clearly seen on their faces.
Goyle passed a silent order to the men, then quickly left the walkway. He had a plan forming in his head and hoped to the Saints that he would not be foiled.
Draco was thrown slightly off-balance before he fell to his knees. Exhaustion was slowly overcoming him and the pain from his profusely bleeding leg was not helping matters at all. He'd heard Hermione start to scream his name, but was cut off suddenly. Draco looked up to see Hermione squirming in her captor's grasp. He couldn't bear to look at her. He then saw Durant with a triumphant smile on his face. Draco's opponent was still standing. He was breathing heavily but he was still on his feet and it seemed like he wouldn't be going down anytime soon.
Draco tried to catch his breath for a few blessed seconds, trying to come up with a plan. Unfortunately, he was too tired to think of anything but the pain in his leg. It was during these few moments that Draco saw something or rather, someone, out of the corner of his eye.
It was Goyle, stealthily heading somewhere. Draco almost smiled at the sight of his plump friend making a mad dash to somewhere without anyone being the wiser.
"I hope you have something good up your sleeve, Goyle." Draco muttered right before Gareth spoke.
"Finish him." Gareth ordered.
"As you will, my lord." The soldier replied, nodding his head and bringing the tip of his sword directly in front of Draco's face. "Get up. I will not fight you whilst you're on the ground. Get up."
It was then that Draco decided that he was not going to be ordered around like some squire. By the saints, he was past all that! He had his sword, two working arms, one good leg and his wits all about him. He was sure he didn't need anything else. He looked up at the soldier, taking note of the soldier's tired eyes. And Draco smiled. Right before, he brought his sword up in an upward sweeping arc that took the soldier by surprise. And that slit the soldier's body from the right side of his belly to the left side of his neck.
The soldier dropped dead. Draco stood up, looking at Gareth dead in the eye and Gareth started to scream.
"Bastard!" Gareth shouted, shoving Hermione away in his rage and charging towards Draco. Hermione tried to regain her footing after being forcefully pushed away when she collided with a body. She looked up to find to her relief that it was simply Goyle who quickly kissed her forehead and told her to run for the castle. Hermione was about to do so when she was stopped dead in her tracks by the sickening sound of breaking bones.
She turned and saw that the sound had come from Draco's right hand that had been trampled on by Gareth.
"No!" Hermione screamed and tried to run towards him. She was stopped by Goyle who held her in place.
"Ssh..." Goyle said, keeping her close and shielding her. "He'll be alright. He's suffered worse than a few broken bones in the past."
Hermione wanted to believe him, she wanted to believe that Goyle was telling the truth. It was not entirely impossible that Draco had come out the victor wherein a few of his bones were fractured during a fight. It was the fact that his broken bones before might not have been the bones of his right hand – his swordarm – that absolutely terrified her.
But all she could do now was watch helplessly as Gareth howled and taunted at the man she loved.
Gareth was elated. His enemy was on the ground that was easily becoming wet as the blood from Draco's broken hand dripped to the soft earth. He smiled as he drew his sword with a flourish. Draco was on his side, looking up at Gareth and clutching at his right hand.
"It looks to me that the great Draco Malfoy is finally on the ground. A pity..." Gareth taunted, smiling evilly. "It's such an easy task to kill you right here and now, isn't it?"
Draco first said nothing. Instead, he got to his feet as much as he could with all his battle wounds and raised his left arm. His sword was a few inches away from his boot but he didn't make a move to grab it. His right hand was rendered useless and he wasn't used to fighting with his left one. It didn't matter now.
Gareth backed away, his sword at the ready for what Draco had to say.
Draco was smiling.
"You forget, Durant. You've lost your prisoner," Draco said, referring to Hermione currently being held back by Goyle. He turned back to Durant who had just realized his mistake. "You failed to observe the scores of archers I have. And they've all got their arrows trained on you. One wrong move from you and I signal them to fire."
Gareth looked uneasy as he quickly scanned the walkway and found that Draco was right. But then, he turned back to Draco and continued with taunting him.
"You expect me to be scared, Malfoy? You know there is no honor in fighting a man who is certainly overcome." Gareth smiled and proceeded to turn around and take a few steps away from Draco until there was a good fifteen yards separating them and then turned back to Draco. "You're nothing but a coward if you do just that."
Hermione desperately wanted to scream at Gareth that it was not a few minutes ago that Draco had fought twenty men by himself and earned several bruises and two major injuries because of that. But she kept silent. It was not her place to fight him. Instead, she looked at Draco and saw him calmly look at Gareth as if he weren't hurt at all. Hermione's heart soared at the sight.
"Do you propose a duel, then?" Draco asked, his demeanor arrogant and sure. Draco lowered his hand.
"My thoughts exactly." Gareth said gleefully. "And the Lady Hermione as the prize."
Draco stole a glance at Hermione who caught his eye at the same time. She smiled at him and her smile reminded him just who he was: The best swordsman in all of France, swordarm or not. Weapon at hand or not.
"What are you waiting for, then?" Draco asked as he turned back to Gareth, cocking one eyebrow and smirking.
And then, all at once, three things happened:
One, Gareth lost all of his control and charged.
Two, Goyle pushed Hermione out of the way and threw something at Draco.
And three, Draco caught the dagger that Goyle has tossed him with his left hand, and in but a second, threw the dagger at Gareth.
Hermione watched in awe as Gareth found out that he had been struck, with the hilt of the dagger protruding from his chest, and fell down. She then turned her attention to Draco who was cradling his right arm with his left and was breathing heavily.
Gareth was still breathing, but his breathing was ragged and he was having a hard time sucking up the air. Draco looked down at him as Gareth looked up as well.
And before Gareth breathed his last, Draco said something to him, loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Never underestimate a Malfoy. His right hand may be his swordarm, but his left is more than capable of throwing weapons at enemies like you."
Author's Note 2: I hoped you liked that! Woohoo! Stay tuned for the Epilogue! ) Please read and review!