A Chance Encounter

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Durbar gently pulled an arrow from his quiver, notched it and drew back on his bowstring; he exhaled and loosed the arrow. Just as he did, three men came thundering through the forest and into the glade. The buck suddenly bolted from the sound, and Durbar’s arrow nicked his back, but hardly enough to slow the strong animal. Durbar immediately drew another arrow but it was too late. He cursed aloud and strode into the open to see what fool ruined his shot.

    Three men rode into the glade, each with a bow and quiver attached to his horse and a long sword to his hip. One was dressed in a silk shirt of bright blue, lavishly trimmed with animal furs and other expensive fabrics. He also wore a black cape and fine black pants. His two companions wore black jerkins, leather pants, black leather boots and black bracers on their forearms, all very finely crafted. All of them wore blue caps with long, bright feathers fluttering from the back of them giving a somewhat silly appearance. Durbar wondered to himself how they could expect to hunt anything dressed like they were.

They came into the glade and spotted the buck at the other end, then gave chase. The young buck already had quite a head start and easily escaped into the woods. Durbar watched as they rode to the edge of the opening then stopped and turned to scan the field for any other animals to run down. One of them noticed the woodsman and leaned over to tell the others. All three looked at him, and with the colorful one in the lead, they galloped over. The men stopped fifteen feet from Durbar.

    “Hail, my good man, what are you doing in these woods?” the leader questioned in a tone that was not quite friendly but more authoritative.

    Durbar pulled back the hood of his black cloak revealing his face, sharp deep blue eyes and hair which was tied back with a leather string. He quickly studied the three men who were mounted before him. The one who addressed him was the leader, Durbar guessed. The man was tall with broad shoulders but a boyish face, yet intelligent looking. He had sandy hair that fell at his collar. His eyes were wide and his face held an expression of curiosity. The other two had blank faces, eyes hiding a sense of futility and boredom. Square and cold they looked dark to Durbar. He stared into the eyes of the man who spoke to him and answered, “Hunting.”

    “So are we,” beamed the leader with a wide smile.

    Durbar laughed smugly. “One would never know it,” he replied.

    “What is that supposed to mean?” responded the leader his smile turned to a scowl as he leaned forward in his saddle.

    “You make more noise than bears mating on a bed of dried leaves, and you are dressed like performing bards, I imagine, and furthermore, you already scared off the buck that I had marked.”

    The three men sat back in their saddle and stared from one to another wide-eyed. Not finding answers from his friends, one of the darker solemn men reached for his long sword but the leader raised his hand to halt him.

    “Do you know who I am?” asked the leader.

    “I know you are no hunter,” replied Durbar, “and I have been told that people who have to ask others if they are known, are no one of consequence.”

    The leader tensed and glared at Durbar after the insults the young woodsman hurled at him. He moved in his saddle and gripped his sword. His face strained and he scowled at Durbar. “Look here, peasant. I am Prince Rothan, nephew to King Tokab, ruler of the Dirkan kingdom. My father is the Duke of Harmon, and I will not tolerate your insults.”

    “Well, Prince Rotten Ham,” Durbar mocked, making play of the prince’s name. “It is a pleasure to meet you, and now will you kindly take your dogs and leave so that I may track the buck you scared off.”

    With that remark, the man to Rothan’s right had heard enough. He drew his long sword, held it high, and spurred his horse, sending it charging forward. In a move that was lightning quick Durbar dropped to one knee, pulled an arrow from his quiver, and fired it at the head of the charging man. Stunned by the bowman’s quickness, he watched as the arrow flew from the man’s bow and sailed toward his head, unable to process the threat quickly enough to react. The arrow rose, caught the man’s colorful cap, and snatched it from his head. It sailed a few more yards before it fell to the ground still stuck in the cap. The man stopped his horse, looked up at his head expecting to see an arrow in his skull, and then looked back at the bowman. Durbar had already notched another arrow. The other two men looked simultaneously at the capless man, back at his cap that lay behind them, and then back to Durbar.  All of them sat in their saddles, faces blank and mouths hanging open with no words.

    Durbar spoke first. “Charge me again and you won’t lose only your hat.”

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