The swordsmen have been following the scout for hours now. The sun is getting low in the west. Jonny thinks about how it seemed like a great job when he first started. Training with the sword for hours every day. A solid meal and a bed to sleep in. But, this type of work is not what he was expecting. Hours of his bottom chafing on the cow and the need to fight at the end. He thinks about how he might quit after this assignment is over.
Yang's swordsmen are slowly getting closer to the single fighter. He is a dot in the distance, but he hardly drops out of sight as the hours pass. It is curious, almost as if he wants them to keep following him. They should have nothing to fear from one man, there are seven of them. Anyway if there is any reason to fear that one man, Sampson would surely know what to do. They say he used to be a scout. He certainly seems to know how to use a sword. He knows more about fighting with a sword than any of the other recruits.
Jonny thinks it is too bad about the scout up ahead of them. It is too bad he has to die. It will be good when this day is over and he can rest. It would be good to finally fight because that will mean the chase is over and he can get off this cow for a time.
The pursuers are gradually gaining on him. William thinks about the importance of timing for this chase and fight. The followers must catch up with him at exactly the right moment. He must not leave them too far behind, or let them get so close that they might start shouting at him.
William thinks about how easy he could leave them behind. He could move faster and head for terrain where the cows could not follow. But if he does not finish them here on the mesa, they will wonder around being a danger to him or others. And, he might also have to fight them again at the library next week. He continues moving on slowly so they can follow.
Finally, he reaches the hill he has been steering for all day. He moves over the last hill slowly and drops down out of sight. Creeping forward, he looks down to where the bandits had their camp. Fortunately, they are still there. They are lazing around as the light is going down. Their booty is spread on the ground around the camp. Good, they will not want to run away and leave all their property to Yang's men.
William hides in the brush as he waits. A short time later the first cows of Yang's men come over the rise just a few meters away from him. He stands up and starts walking down into the dell where the bandits are. The mounted men spot him and kick the cows into a gallop toward him. William speeds up and heads straight into the camp several meters ahead of him.
The next few events happen very fast. William still has his sword slung on his back. The startled bandits grab for their swords and rise in a disorganized way to their feet. The cows are moving at almost 30 kilometers per hour and give hardly anyone time to react before they are in the camp. William can see the logic of using cows for mounted troops. It is a fearsome thing to see a 1000 kilo animal charging at you that fast.
William runs past the bandits before they think about attacking him. He stops just past the camp and turns around to watch the action. An insane confused skirmish begins in the camp. The bandits, while surprised, apparently have a lifetime of preparing and participating in sword battles. Yang's men, while trained to use swords, do not come to it naturally and are no match for the bandits. Getting off the cows and deploying their swords takes the mounted men valuable time.
The bandits work together as a team and attack each of the mounted men as they try to dismount. Each of Yang's men is put down in just moments. After a brief time of furious fighting, only six men are standing. Two of the bandits face Sampson and two face the last of his men. Sampson aggressively attacks the two facing him, trying to buy a chance for his lone remaining man. In a few strokes, the last of Yang's group drops and only Sampson remains against four bandits.
Sampson intensifies his attack on the two facing him so they will be eliminated before the other two join in. He is able to disable and cripple the two he is matched with very quickly. Then he faces the next two. It takes longer, but as darkness closes in no one in the clearing is standing except Sampson.
William walks forward while unslinging his blade. "Sampson, I will let you live." He says as he approaches Sampson. Sampson is blowing heavily after his supreme effort of dropping four bandits. "All you have to do is abandon your sword and promise to leave the region."
"You are a fool, scout," Sampson says tiredly. "Words mean nothing. I came here to kill you, and now you can't run anymore."
William sadly shakes his head and attacks without more words. Sampson brings up his bloody sword in a guard and William keeps attacking.
"You are going die today," Sampson yells. "How does that make you feel? Your life will end and no one will even know where your body is rotting. I learned what you are about to learn. I learned that we know nothing about the world. There is no reason to struggle for others. No one appreciates what we do. As you die, you will see the pointlessness of life and knowledge."
"I am now going after the one thing that matters. I am looking out for myself and don't care about anyone else." Sampson continues.
"Poor Sampson," William responds. "It is you who have wasted your life. Taking care only for yourself means you miss most of life."
William poses with his right foot slightly in front of his left, the two of them about two shoulder widths apart. His sword moves to forward guard. Sampson cuts toward his middle. William parries and shifts to his right. Sampson feints for his head and then swings low. William blocks and turns into a side cut.
Sampson uses his waning strength attempting to push down William's guard. Now it only takes a few moments of time for William to wear Sampson down so his guard gets slower and slower. Finally, William is able to get a stroke past and a spray of blood signals the end of the fight. Sampson drops to his knees and falls forward into the dirt.
William walks from body to body to add up the results. The smell is overwhelming in the camp. Blood has sprayed everywhere, men's bowls have released and urine and other fluids cover the ground. William starts recovering from his adrenaline high and his senses start returning to normal.
Two of Yang's men are alive and one of the bandits is able to walk. William patches up Yang's wounded men as best he can and instructs them to ride the cows back to their master. As they set off, he turns to the living bandit.
"Well, we meet again." William reminds him.
"I remember you, you're the scout who took the goats." He says weakly. "I am Joseph."
"Joseph, I apologize for misusing you and your friends. But, I needed help, and you were here."
"You can pay us back by gathering their tags for me." He pleads with William. William holds up the tag he got from when Eleanora and he had fought bandits days earlier.
"You mean like this." William shows him in the dim light. "It has the name Juan Ramirez on it."
"Oh, that belongs to Bruno," he looks shocked. "Is he dead?"
"Yes," William says and nods his head.
"Give it to me, and I will see his next of kin gets it."
"I have a better idea." William responds. "I will take all these tags and you can get them back at the big clearing southwest of the regional library. Meet me on Monday at midday, and I will give them back. It is time to bring you bandits back into society. You don't have to be outlaws anymore."
"Why should we trust you?" Joseph looks at him hopefully.
"You don't have to be outlaws anymore. Trust me to do what I can to convince the leadership to welcome you back to society. No more raiding lonely farms. No more hurting defenseless people. You can work again to defend people and help them survive. Bring all your friends, as many as you can."
"OK, I will try to get my people to meet you."
William thanks him and strides off into the west to get back to the library. He thinks about the losses on this trip. Wilcox is dead, before William truly had time to know her. Henrietta's mother is dead, bandits and Yang's fighters are dead. So much death in just a few days. The bright spot is that he has met Eleanora. Perhaps he would see her back at the library. They have only traveled a short time together, but it is enough to show him they share many dreams and hopes.
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