There he was, standing in front of him. After all this time by his side, Marlow, like his own mentor had done, was standing against him. He was joined by two more men, similarly dressed. “I shall keep this short, we have plans later on after all, these were my personally trained men, they have been working with Valon the past few months, keeping my up to date with our progress, I never expected you to pull such as stunt like burning down a forest Aaren, just to get to little old me, nevertheless you’re here, but now you must die” Marlow took up his own sword and signaled his men forwards.
Strangely, only one went for Aaren himself, he noticed that Marlow had stayed back, waiting for him, watching him in his movements. Aaren pivoted, striking at the onrushing assassin, sidestepped an overhead cut and dispatched him with a single stroke. “You’re going to have to do better to beat me” he spat at Marlow.
Eamonn parried the other assassin’s first blow, flicked his own sword to be on top and thrust, feeling the blade bite into flesh. “The boy is good, lovely wrist action to get the advantage in the fight, and the finish was exquisite, well in that case, I had better take you myself”. The man walked around to the few stairs to the right, walking down onto the cobbles to join the two men.
Marlow drew his sword, the deep zzzzzing sound resonating throughout the quiet street as he readied himself, looking across at his friend, “So tell me” he began in a conversational tone as he inspected the end of his sword, “how surprised were you to find out that Dallin did not kill Ceira?” Highlighting the girl’s name brought with it pain and fury to Aaren. Marlow darted forward, aiming a thrust at his friend’s left thigh, Aaren’s reactions saved him from the savage attack as he swept his own sword in retaliation, Marlow followed up his advantage with two more strikes, a side and overhand cut, then pirouetted and swept his blade back around his body.
Aaren parried and deflected with desperation, Marlow, he could see, loved every bit of this. “Hah, swordsmanship was never your strength was it? You always had to find a way out” as joked as he heaved another underhand strike, Aaren parried grimly, “Tell me…How did it feel to watch her die in your arms” he was on the attack again, mentally and physically. Marlow was searching for something, he could see the anger in Aaren’s strokes, he waited throwing further verbal assaults waiting for Aaren to leave himself open for the final attack.
“How did you feel, knowing that you betrayed Blane’s trust? Knowing that when you struck down Dallin in that corner alley in Blackden, that after all these years, he had nothing to do with her death, that he had been an innocent man?”
Finally, Marlow managed to break through that protective wall to Aaren’s mind, he’d found the man’s breaking point, and he was anxious to exploit it. Aaren side stepped his next attack, and for the first time managed to put some authority behind the stroke, his sword hit Marlow hard time after time pushing Marlow further and further back.
They were heading towards an outlook tower towards the rear of the town, moving up the steps, but Aaren didn’t notice as Marlow continued to give ground, he dealt blow after blow raining down on Marlow, knocking him back and off balance, he kicked savagely at his tormentor, hoping to cause this man, the man that had inflicted so much agony in his life, some sort of pain to exact his revenge. He swung wildly at Marlow, who easily ducked the blow, jerking his knee into his lower abdomen, winding Aaren.
Marlow recovered his own sword, kicking away Aaren’s a few meters, he was ready to finish the fight, “How indeed does it feel, to know that your best friend killed the only woman who has ever loved you?” He raised the sword now, determined to deliver the killing blow.
There was one question left to be answered before Aaren would settle, “Why?” his voice strainged by the lack of oxygen in his lungs. Aaren was defeated, the answer was the only thing that would allow him to let go.
There was a moment’s hesitation in Marlow, he dropped the sword slowly. “She loved you, I poured my heart and soul into our missions, and after all of our accomplishments, she never even tried to complement me, never paid attention to anyone but you. And I loathed you both for that, because she was something that I could never have.” The mood of the fight suddenly turned gloomy, both were dejected figures, but there was a fire still burning inside of Marlow, he was determined to see out his plans.
“The moment I said to Ceira that I wanted her to join me on my first solo mission, the only thing she asked me was if you could come along too. That was the last straw, I had known all along where we were going, it was all a ruse, Dallin might have been a little known criminal, but I knew if I threw enough money at him he’d be willing to help me out, I’d asked him to give us directions to my ambush sight, but it had all been setup for you.”
Marlow looked longingly at his friend, “The plan was always to get separated, whether by my intentions or not, everything had worked out well, I managed to find a decent spot about two hundred meters away to shoot, and in the days leading up to it, I’d spent countless hours practicing from that range in all conditions ready to finally end you.”
Aaren, slowly tried to edge his way away from Marlow, he’d gone a couple of meters before Marlow looked back at him. “I saw a figure emerge and I shot, I knew Dallin would be the first, which was why I only shot him in the leg, I had given him my knife and borrowed Ceira’s, I knew if I had shot at a specific location, the arrow would penetrate through the body and the blame would be on Dallin, all signs would lead to a knife attack. When I caught up with you, I was shocked, heartbroken to see her, you say that it destroyed you, it killed me.”
“And I’m sure that this, will somehow make up for that” There was another voice. Eamonn walked up the final steps, seemingly forgotten in the midst of the fighting as he overcame the pain in his leg, he’d worked his way to his feet, stretching the tight muscles, begging them to loosen as he’d looked on at the fight, now he was thankful that he’d arrived in time. He looked up and down the deceptive figure before him, from the moment he’d met Marlow back in the capital of Aylesbury, something then hadn’t sat right with him, and now every fiber in his body told him to hate this man.
Eamonn looked across at his beaten mentor, he saw the look of defeat, both mind and body, and knew this was now his fight, he unsheathed his sword, ready to carry on where Aaren left off. “A duel it is then my friend, let’s see what you’ve learned” Marlow snarled. Together, they began the rhythmic motions; stroke and counter stroke, overhand, backhand, side cut, uppercut, thrust, Eamonn was moved with some hesitance as he gradually felt the pain in his leg fade, with hie adrenaline pumping, he was holding firm in this fight, his reactions were sound and his replying attacks were fluent, he side stepped and jumped over a low sweeping attack, grimacing at a shot of pain, just managing to parry the flurry of attacks that followed, Eamonn focused on the eyes, his first lesson after his brief encounter with Dallin was to focus on your enemy’s eyes, but Marlow was awake to that tactic, he pirouetted and feigned a backward thrust, instead aiming for a low side cut.
Eamonn hit the ground, breathing heavily, he grimaced at the new found pain in his leg, his sword clattered to the ground some meters away and out of reach. Marlow had succeeded in opening up a deep gash in his other leg, slicing through the fleshy part of his leg. The older man considered the boy for a moment, skilled for someone so young, he thought. “Brave fight, Eamonn, I’m afraid, it was all in vain, you now have yourself a lovely pair of scars on your legs, I don’t think I’ll leave things there though”. Just as he had moments before, he raised the sword ready to strike, when Aaren came dashing forward and hit Marlow like a battering ram.
Marlow was literally lifted off his feet as Aaren pummeled him ripping the sword from his grasp. Aaren beat at the man who threatened to kill his apprentice, the boy that had come to mean so much to him now, he had been spurred on to at least prevent the loss of one life. But the power in his punches faded as he exhausted himself. Marlow grabbed one clumsy fist, punched Aaren hard in the chin, threw him aside and went to stand up.
It was all a ruse, swiftly Aaren swung out his left leg, tripping Marlow again and he fell across him, hitting him again with a heavy blow across the murderer’s cheek, he pulled up Marlow’s bloodied face, holding him awkwardly above the cobbles. “After everything you’ve done to me, I trusted you for years and this is how you’ve repaid me” Aaren whimpered, deep sobbing racked his body as he forced Marlow down, pushing down hard on the man’s chest.
“We mourned her together…I loved her, but being the cowardly swine you are, you couldn’t tell me, you didn’t have the nerve to talk about it. If you’d have asked, I’d have stepped away from it” he sobbed, drawing his long knife from it scabbard, holding the point on Marlow’s throat, drawing blood as he did so. “You knew what it did to me, you knew what it did to us and between Blane and me, it was you all along and now you’ve thrown your lot in with the corruption of Caledonia.” He said, he took the knife, slashed it high on Marlow’s shoulder, instantly a thin line of blood welled at the surface.
“I haven’t been the same since then and I was a fool for seeking you out for comfort.” he cried. “And you knew what kept me going. You knew what drove me on, it was knowing, that one day, I would catch up with her killer. Getting my revenge on the person who had caused me the most pain I have ever felt in my life.” Aaren was trembling with emotion, he was exhausted, mentally and physically, but Marlow would pay for what he did.
“You told me it was that scum Dallin, in doing so you became the person I never thought you could be.” Slowly, painfully, Aaren pressed the knife into Marlow’s stomach, just enough for the point to pierce the skin.
Eamonn winced as he watched, the grisly scene before him was almost too much for him, he seemed so distant from them, the pain had dulled, the two were barely a blur to him though. He blinked away the shadows of unconsciousness, looking to take hold of him. He could hear the cries of pain being torn from Marlow and he was reminded of his own wound, he grimaced as he felt another wave of pain hit him as he lay watching. Aaren, he realised, had stopped after only a few seconds. He grabbed Marlow by the throat, he looked deep into his eyes, a look a pure hatred evident on his face. “Death is too good for you” he muttered.
Aaren stumbled to his feet, leaving Marlow on his back. He stood, feeling the blood rush to his head and he swayed, only fierce determination kept him upright. When he finally gained balance, he found himself looking back at the creature that laid before him. “Death is too easy, it were time that you suffered, just like I still suffer” with a supreme effort he hauled Marlow to his knees, adding pressure to Marlow’s shoulder as he shifted himself behind him. “She was going to be the greatest of us all. After all these years where you’ve stood at my side and now it’s come to this.” And before Marlow had a chance to turn, Aaren slashed in behind Marlow’s right knee, his leg collapsing underneath him and Marlow fell forwards. He screamed out in pain, instinctively grabbing a hold of the injury, trying his best to stop the bleeding, he was half kneeling in an awkward position, leaving himself exposed.
Once again, Aaren grabbed him, this time by a tuft of Marlow’s hair, dragging the man upright again. Marlow was beginning to lose feeling in his lower leg now. They were facing Eamonn now, the youngster could see the exhaustion in Marlow’s face, and the dark hatred that had completely overcome Aaren. Not once though, the boy noticed, did Aaren look in his direction once. With his knife resheathed, Aaren leaned forward and whispered into Marlow’s ear “Consider us even” and Marlow, thinking it was over, allowed himself to relax.
Aaren instead, keeping hold of a shoulder, jammed his knee directly into the man’s spine with his of his strength. Marlow cried out in terror, Eamonn watched in utter horror, hearing the sound of bones breaking, he shuddered and gagged as he looked away from the disturbing sight, Aaren staggered forwards as he felt Marlow’s body go limp. The man would live, but he’d never fully heal from the wound, and it would be some time before he’d be able to walk again.
Stepping clear of the crumpled form of Marlow, Aaren limped towards Eamonn, staggering slightly from his exertions and helped Eamonn to his feet, took the boy by the shoulder and aided him down the steps, Eamonn moaned, the events of the day finally catching up to him. He looked up at his teacher, saw the tears that stained his cheek and the anger in Aaren’s eye, he limped along with Aaren as his mentor eased their way down the stairway leading back into the heart of the town. Eamonn watched as reinforcements arrived, he saw several members of their team break off from the rest, others were running up the stairs to find the damaged form of Marlow, hearing the constant moans and groaning as they laid Marlow onto a stretcher and followed the pair from the royal guard down.
Two men arrived, taking the him from the arms of Aaren and carried him. He looked up at the sky, the rain he had sensed coming that afternoon started to come down on them, he took the first couple of steps, looking back on the fight behind him, one of the soldiers pulled the cowl of his cloak over his head to keep dry. Throughout his life, Eamonn would continually be reminded of the scene, the sight of his master’s act never truly leaving him.