The Rogue Knight Page 39

The knight who wielded the battle-ax walked over and pressed his boot on Jace. After leaning close to speak to Phillip, the Rogue Knight returned to Mira and took her arm. Jace squirmed wildly to no avail.

Cole looked up at Joe. “What do we do?”

“We can’t help her if we’re dead,” Joe whispered.

Buzzing with panic, Cole stared as the Rogue Knight led Mira to his big horse. Tears brimmed in his eyes as he watched Jace thrash helplessly. The Rogue Knight obviously knew her identity. Why did he want her? Would she be a hostage? A bargaining chip? Would she be traded so he could get the duel he wanted? Cole had a terrible feeling that if the Rogue Knight rode away with her, he would never see Mira again.

Cole’s eyes went to the Jumping Sword lying unused. Was Jace the only one willing to protect Mira? Would nobody else even try?

Without allowing himself time to reconsider, Cole dropped his bag of ringers and dashed forward. Nobody moved to stop him. He reached the sword and picked it up.

The Rogue Knight had just mounted his horse. Too furious to be terrified, Cole ran at him. The Rogue Knight swung Mira up and sat her in front of him. Only then did she notice Cole coming. “Cole, don’t,” she cried. “There’s nothing you can do.”

Ignoring him, the Rogue Knight turned his horse and flicked the reins. The elite steed started running.

Fueled by desperation, Cole raced with everything he had. At his closest he was five paces away, but that quickly stretched to ten, then twenty. Anger and frustration surged through him. He squeezed the hilt of the Jumping Sword with all his might.

And then Cole felt the hilt vibrating. Brilliant flames blazed along the length of the blade. Though the ghostly fire gave off light, Cole felt no heat. He knew with instinctive certainty that the Jumping Sword had awakened.

With the weapon humming in his hand, Cole pointed it at the fleeing knight and shouted, “Away!”

Feet leaving the ground, Cole rocketed into the air, rushing on a collision course with the fleeing horse. As he zoomed within range, the sword slowed a bit, and Cole thrust it into the Rogue Knight’s back.

The tip did not pierce his armor, but both the knight and Mira pitched forward off the galloping horse. Armor clanging and rattling, the knight cradled his arms protectively around Mira as they madly bounced and rolled, gouging the earth as they went. Cole skidded to a stop as well, but he hurriedly rose to his feet, sword ready.

He heard hoofbeats behind him. Two other knights had mounted up and were coming his way. From her position on the ground, prickers and soil in her hair, Mira looked back at him with wide eyes.

Scuffed, dented, and streaked with dirt, the Rogue Knight’s armor had lost some of its polish as he rose to face Cole. “Who are you?” the knight demanded.

“Get out of here, Cole!” Mira cried.

The Rogue Knight’s riderless mount was curving around back toward them. Cole heard the pounding approach of the two other knights. The sword enabled Cole to jump far. It didn’t make him a master swordsman or enable him to pierce heavy armor. What was he supposed to do now?

“Run, Cole!” Mira yelled.

The oncoming knights were closing in. The Rogue Knight stood protectively in front of Mira. Cole might not be able to defeat the Rogue Knight in a fight, but with the sword, he could probably follow him. But first he had to get away.

With the galloping horses almost upon him, Cole pointed the Jumping Sword at the trees along the edge of the field and called the command. He whooshed through the air, brush skimming by beneath him in a blur. Landing by the trees, he found everyone looking his way. Aiming his sword into the trees, he jumped again, knifing between hefty trunks. He landed far enough into the woods that he could no longer see any knights or the caravan. Crouching down, Cole waited to see who would come after him.

Chapter 16

DIVERGING PATHS

Cole waited tensely for knights on horseback to come crashing through the underbrush. He mapped out plans in his mind for where he could jump next. If he led his pursuers far enough into the woods, maybe he could loop back around and catch up to the Rogue Knight. With the Jumping Sword, he had a real chance of tailing him. If the Rogue Knight slipped away, he could probably follow any of his knights and eventually get back to Mira.

But nobody came.

It took about a minute of crouching behind a log with his heart rate gradually slowing for Cole to realize that nobody was in pursuit. He suddenly felt like he was still playing hide-and-seek after the other kids had gone home.

Staying low, Cole crept back toward the field until he could see beyond the trees. The knights were back to collecting valuables from the caravan. Jace was on his feet again. A couple of the knights were organizing the drivers of the wagons. The Rogue Knight and Mira were no longer in view.

Cole had seen which way they had initially gone. If they had continued in that direction, he could probably catch up and follow them. If he failed to find them, he could always double back and follow some of the other knights. The knights overseeing the wagons would be busy for some time.

Rushing to the edge of the trees, Cole pointed his sword and said, “Away,” keeping his voice low. Nothing happened. “Away!” he repeated, a little more forcefully, but he didn’t even feel a faint tug.

Cole studied the blade. There was no hint of the fire he had seen earlier. Those flames had faded once he’d started jumping. Why had the Jumping Sword stopped working again?

He had been really desperate when he’d run after Mira. Maybe the sword had reacted to his need. Cole pictured the Rogue Knight riding away with his friend. He had to help her! Back in Sambria, flames had never flickered along the blade before. Staring at the sword, Cole willed the flames to return.

No spectral fire appeared. The hilt didn’t hum or vibrate.

Holding his breath, clenching the muscles in his gut, Cole mentally commanded the sword to work. “Come on,” he muttered. “Away! Away!”

Still nothing happened. Cole slapped the hilt the same way he used to hit a faulty remote control. Nothing. Feeling frustrated and confused, Cole pointed the sword out into the field and growled the command with all the emotion he could muster.

Again, there was no sign that the sword was anything more than a length of sharpened metal. Cole began to feel foolish. If he hadn’t helped the sword work, then what had happened? Had it just been a freak accident?

No. He remembered how it had felt when the sword hummed to life in his grasp. Energy or passion or something had flowed from him and into the weapon. But now that feeling was totally gone. Some of the same emotions lingered, but they were not connecting with the Jumping Sword at all.

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