Genevieve had held completely still throughout the duel, the only sign of her concern for Alex was in the tightness of her gripped fingers and the set of her jaw as she grit her teeth.  She could not tear her eyes away, however.

The crowd on the ramparts of the city cheered for the first time when Alex toppled the horse, and as he prepared to cut off Neal’s head.  When he was kicked to the ground they gasped in concern, and cheered again when he tackled Neal barehanded.  The entire fight was a pattern of fear and excitement, a rhythm of concern and applause.  When Alex drew his knife they were all sure of his victory, and the cheers were raucous.  In the enemy camp it was quite the opposite, as they expressed their dismay.

It was in this moment, when both sides were certain that the outcome was decided, that they were all surprised.

The fight had begun in the centre of the field between the two sides, but had steadily drifted towards the fortress wall.  Alex gained the upper hand only metres from Eve’s vantage point, as he got his chokehold on Neal.  So she and Ethan had an excellent view when a snowdrift exploded outwards just behind Alex.

It was so sudden most people did not know what was happening until it was over.  One instant Alex had the advantage over his opponent and the next he was falling to earth with mortal wounds.  In between those two moments was an attack so sudden and unexpected it took the breath from everyone who witnessed it.

A figure that moved with the quicksilver reflexes of a jungle cat burst from a snowdrift, causing the white snow to plume outwards like a geyser.  Dressed in white with a mask decorated only by twin slashes of black around the eyes, this lightning-fast expert in camouflage used two wickedly curved knives to stab into Alex’s lower back, piercing easily through the chain mail that guarded it.  His breastplate might have been able to defend against these blows, but not his mail.  Alex’s internal organs were struck, and blood flowed.  Utter silence covered the field as both sides were shocked to stillness.  Even the hail stopped falling.

Two things happened next:  Donovan Reza laughed as Alexander Rothrock died while he pulled Neal Osborne to his feet; and Genevieve Pitney screamed as she launched herself over the cart she stood on and ran towards her lover’s killer.

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