Janus’s eyes flew open when he heard a soft rustle nearby. He sat up and scanned the area, a light dusting of snow falling from his blanket as he tried to determine where the noise had come from. He caught the hint of movement out of the corner of his eye and his body tensed. He squinted in the dim light of the early morning and saw more movement. Three, possibly four, people were moving through the trees toward his camp. He crawled to his left and scooted closer to a nearby tree as he searched for Sely.
Janus cursed softly when he realized his sword was still lying beside his bedroll, six feet away. He scanned the area again then scrambled to his blanket, grabbed his sword and hurried back to his tree. He still didn’t know where Sely was but he couldn’t wait for her. He had to make a fast decision: Stay and try to fight whoever it was sneaking toward the camp, or make a run for it.
He peaked around the tree and saw that there were only three people on the other side of the camp. There could be more moving in from another direction, he realized. If there were, he was in serious trouble. He squeezed his eyes shut and took several deep breaths. If he tried to run and there were more of them out there, they’d catch him and there was a chance he’d be killed before he even knew they were there.
Janus drew his sword and hefted it in his hand as he moved to his right, around the tree. He rose to his feet and ran to another tree closer to his attackers, crouching low in the hopes of remaining hidden. He pressed against the tree and peaked around again, gasping slightly as one of the attackers dropped to the ground, an arrow protruding from his neck.
Janus searched the area again but couldn’t tell where the arrow had come from. The remaining two attackers were hunched down, looking around just as Janus had. Seeing his opportunity, Janus spun around the tree and charged at the men. He jumped over a fallen log and slashed at one of the men as his feet slid in the snow. His feet slipped out from under him and he cursed loudly as he fell to the ground.
Janus rolled to the side and cried out as one of the attackers caught him in the arm with a sword strike. Wincing, Janus climbed to his knees and raised his sword to block an overhand attack. The contact sent pain shooting through his injured arm and he winced as he blocked a second strike. Janus sprang to his feet and spun, narrowly escaping a strike from the second attacker.
Outnumbered and panting for breath, Janus backpedaled, trying to put some distance between himself and his attackers. The men moved with him and Janus scanned the area, desperately looking for options. Branches twitched on his left and he jumped back as an arrow flew over his shoulder and sank into the chest of one of his attackers.
The other attacker hesitated and Janus lunged. The man blocked the stroke but Janus pressed the attack, slashing from various directions, pushing the man back with his ferocity. Slash after slash was parried but the man was being forced back. Janus glanced at the patch of ice he’d slipped on at the beginning of the attack and renewed his efforts, guiding the man toward the spot.
With one last double handed swing from Janus, the man jumped back and slipped on the ice. He cried in surprise, throwing his hands out to brace himself as he fell. Ready for the moment, Janus lunged again, driving his sword to the hilt into the man’s gut. Blood gushed, darkening the surrounding snow. Janus withdrew his sword and dropped to his knees, gasping for breath as he cupped his hand over his injured arm, his sword slipping from his grasp.
An arrow flew past his head and embedded itself in the attacker’s eye. Janus looked up and realized the man had been trying to attack him. Janus’s eyes widened and he scooted back as he understood his mistake. He’d assumed the gut laceration had killed him, rather than merely wounding him.
A branch snapped behind Janus, causing him to grab his sword and spin to face the sound. The sword bobbed in his hand, exhaustion forcing him to strain to hold the weapon aloft in front of him. A bush rustled and he tensed, reading to defend himself. He watched Sely step into view and he exhaled loudly, the sword dropping to the ground as he let himself fall back into the snow, his eyes closed.