So it is small wonder that as soon as I gripped the noble broadaxe which Helene passed me I felt my own man again.
Then we were silent and listened—and ever again listened and held our breaths. Now I tell you when an enemy is whispering unseen without, rustling like rats in straw, and you wonder at what point they will break in next, thinking all the while of the woman you love (or do not yet love, but may) in the chamber behind—I tell you a castle is something less difficult to hold at such a time than just one’s own breath.
Suddenly I heard a sound in the outer chamber which I knew the meaning of. It was the shifting of horses’ feet as they turn in narrow space to leave their stalls. Our good friends were making free with our steeds. And, if we were not quick about it, we should soon see the last of them, and be compelled to traverse the rest of the road to Plassenburg upon our own proper feet.
“Jorian,” cried I, “do you hear? They are slipping our horses out of the stalls! Shall you and I make a sortie against them, while Boris with that pistol of his keeps the passage from the wicks of the middle door?”
“Good!” answered Jorian. “Give the word when you are ready.”
With axe in my right hand, the handle of the door in my left, I gave the signal.
“When I say ‘Three!’ Jorian!”
“Good!” said Jorian.
Clatter went the horses’ hoofs as they were being led towards the door.
“One! Two! Three!” I counted, softly but clearly.
The door was open, and the next I mind was my axe whirling about my head and Jorian rushing out of the other door a step ahead of me, with his broadsword in his hand. I cannot tell much about the fight. I never could all my days. And I wot well that those who can relate such long particulars of tales of fighting are the folk who stood at a distance and labored manfully at the looking on—not of them that were close in and felt the hot breaths and saw the death-gleam in fierce, desperate eyes, near to their own as the eyes of lovers when they embrace. Ah, Brothers of the Sword, these things cannot be told! Yet, of a surety, there is a heady delight in the fray itself. And so I found. For I struck and warded not, that being scarce necessary. Because an axe is an uncanny weapon to wield, but still harder to stand against when well used. And I drove the rabble before me—the men of them, I mean. I felt my terrible weapon stopped now and then—now softly, now suddenly, according to that which I struck against. And all the while the kitchen of the inn resounded with yells and threatenings, with oaths and cursings.