As the sun rose over the eastern horizon it struck the gold-decorated helm on Neal Osborne’s head, making it shine in the light.  He sat astride his golden stallion in his red and gold armour, cutting a noble figure as he rode towards the front lines.  His troops parted in the ranks to create a path for their leader, and they were applauding and cheering as he paraded through their midst.  Neal waved to either side like a triumphant king, as if he had already won this battle.  In his mind, this was true.  He saw no way for Alex to defeat him.

            It had snowed again overnight, creating a clean field between their camp and the Outlander fortress-city.  All signs of the killings and the mud of the past two days had been covered under a white blanket, as if someone had turned to a fresh blank page in a book.  Well, let them write of today’s brave deeds!  Neal thought to himself, grinning.

            Neal carried a spear with a red banner sailing in the mild wind from just beneath its pointed head.  On his other arm he bore a magnificent shield, as sturdy as it was ornate, decorated with his golden lion.  He reached the front line and rode past it, stopping his horse in view of the broken wall.  Placing the spear in a sheath on his saddle, Neal removed his plumed helm and rested it in the crook of his arm against his hip.

            “I am here, in answer to Alexander’s challenge!  If he is brave enough to do battle, I will face him!”  He called out, and his army cheered behind him.

            He watched in silence as two of the wagons in the gap of the wall were pulled aside.  A figure on horseback emerged, and Neal had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.  Alexander’s horse looked like it had seen better days, and his armour was made of dull, undecorated steel forged by amateurs.  Alex was carrying his helmet as well, to show Neal that no one had taken his place.  He raised his spear and roared a challenge at his cousin, and then put the helm in place.

            Smiling, Neal affixed his own helmet and readied his spear.  Giving spurs to their horses, the two cousins charged towards each other with fury and speed, on a collision course that would decide the outcome of a war.  The Citadel army roared its encouragement, while the Outlander rebels on the walls of the city watched in hopeful, tense silence.  Ethan and Eve stood on one of the carts in the breach, watching the inevitable clash that had been coming since their childhood.

            As they came together, spears struck shields like hammers on anvils.  Both men rocked in their saddles, and as they crashed together there was an explosion of thunder and lightning in the sky.  The heavens opened and hail burst forth, icy pebbles falling on the battlefield.  It seemed as if the conflict on the earth below had brought a violent response from the very clouds.  Soldiers with shields were forced to raise them above their heads like sturdy umbrellas, and those that had no protection either ran for cover or huddled under with their comrades who did have shields. 

            Eve ignored the pellets of ice that occasionally struck her body or bounced off her shoulders.  She intently watched the duel on the field below her, and paid no account to Ethan’s insistence that she find some cover.

            Neal’s spear had broken on Alex’s shield, so he discarded the splintered shaft of wood in his gloved hands to draw his gleaming blade.  Alex rode past him to turn around for another pass with his spear, which was still in one piece.  Instead of charging at his cousin as Alex bore down on him, Neal held his horse steady, waiting.  Alex let loose a battle cry as he approached at full gallop, intent on sending his weapon into Neal’s heart.  Using the reckless speed of Alex’s horse against him, Neal did a swift turn with his stallion, sidestepping the charge to the right.  With impeccable timing he swung his shield with his left arm, clipping Alex and tumbling him from the saddle.

            Genevieve hardly reacted in the eyes of most bystanders, who had expected her to show some concern.  They saw only that she stood like a statue, her eyes concentrating on the fight.  Only Ethan, standing beside her, noticed the tightening of her jaw and the tensing of the muscles in her arms as her fists clenched.

            Alex picked himself up from the ground as quickly as he could, seeing that Neal was headed for him.  He paid no attention to the hail bouncing off his armour, but instead readied his sword, having dropped the spear in his fall.  Alex got his shield up just in time to prevent Neal from cleaving off his head, but the force of the blow caused him to fall backwards in the snow.  He struggled to his feet and waited for Neal’s next pass.

            Neal wheeled his horse about, laughing inwardly.  He had Alexander on the run now.  It was only a matter of time before he handily defeated this upstart.  Neal levelled his blade and pointed at Alex, eliciting a cheer from his men, as they knew he was signalling that he would make the killing blow this pass.  The horse bolted forward and Neal swung for his cousin’s head.

            Instead of using his shield to block the blow, Alexander ducked, powerfully swinging the shield into the legs of Neal’s fine horse.  It screamed, a high pitched sound that grated on the ears, as Alex’s clout hit at the exact right spot with the exact right timing that the shinbone was broken in mid-stride, crumpling as soon as the horse put its hoof down on the snowy ground.  This caused the golden stallion to topple, spilling Neal off his back and onto the ground.

            Alexander was manoeuvring around the fallen horse as quickly as he could in the snow, intent on reaching Neal before he could get to his feet.  He raised his sword for the killing blow, aiming for his cousin’s neck.

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