A man screamed in pain startling the mare. Udda’s head jerked up suddenly. Throwing the reins over a peg he ran to the mews to find his son bleeding profusely from a knife wound. On the point of attending to his son’s injury his eyes adjusted to the dim light inside the mews. At the far end of the building the king was being held firmly by two men while a third held a hot iron in one hand. At a glance Udda saw that Aethelstan’s struggles were ineffective against the brute strength of his captors. The birds were screaming on their perches adding to the fearful atmosphere. Udda pulled out his knife and lunged at the nearest man. The blade struck home causing the ruffian to loose his grip. A well aimed kick in the groin completed the man’s submission as he rolled in agony amid the droppings. The gerfalcon clawed at his face, its leather thong stretched to its limit.
Attacked now by the hot iron, it caught Udda on the arm. The pain caused him to drop his weapon which was immediately kicked beyond his grasp. Blows followed rapidly as he bent down, scrabbling in the dirt to retrieve it. Dizzy from their force he heard a voice saying that the iron would have to be reheated to take out the king’s eyes. In the horrified silence which followed Udda struggled to martial his wits. A further attempt to grasp his knife brought an agonising blow to his head so he lay as if stunned waiting for his chance to attack. With a quick lunge he snatched it, rolled onto his back and threw the knife. The blade struck just below the man’s breast bone. He sank to his knees falling across his comrade who had been so savagely ripped by the falcon. He died moaning, face down on the filthy floor, his blood dripping slowly from the mortal wound.
Now unarmed, Udda sprang at the last of the assassins oblivious to any danger to himself. His fury leant him a God-given strength far beyond his normal capacity, a temporary feeling of invincibility. Lashing out angrily, and landing several hard punches, the man fled leaving his companions, dead and alive. Panting with the effort and emotion, Udda un-gagged the king and cut the ropes which held him before sinking to the ground exhausted. Sweat had broken out all over his body despite being a relatively fit man from the physical activities he did during the working day. He wiped his face with the sleeve of his robe, shocked by what had been intended. A feeling of dizziness and nausea forced him to remain on his knees until the sickness passed.
from "The King's Chalice" by Janet K.L. Seal
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