Rudric crouched on the ground, fingers locked in a death grip around the shattered haft of his hayfork, still-warm horseflesh pressed tight around him, holding him upright. Several of his companions who had been in the second rank were still alive. He was the only survivor from the first rank, the one on which the horses had broken for the critical seconds it took for the Jakes to destroy their riders with their fleschette rifles.
When the foot soldiers realized they were up against two Jakes, they had broken and fled, and a few of them had doubtless escaped. But only a few. The Jakes had pursued them, and wherever the Jakes went, Death followed.
His friends helped him out of the tangle of horseflesh and corpses of men, and helped him pry his fingers from the hayfork shaft. As if releasing his grip had loosened all the tendons in his body, he fell to the ground and the world went dark.
He recovered just as the Jakes returned, and rose slowly to his feet.
One of them rode up to him, and dismounted. The late afternoon sun, tinted almost blood-red by the dust in the air, gleamed off the Jake’s silver armor. Rudric started to kneel, but the Jake gripped him by the arm.
“No,” he said. “You do not kneel to me. I slew your enemies: I sat on a horse on a hill and spat Death at them from a safe distance. But you saved my life, and your village, and you did it with naught in your hand but a stick of wood, facing certain death. You displayed more bravery and honor today than I have ever possessed. You do not kneel to me. I kneel to you.”
The Jake went to one knee before Rudric, removed his shining helm, and bowed his head. The other Jake had rounded up Rudric’s surviving companions from the hayfork line and brought them to stand beside Rudric. Then he, also, knelt beside his fellow Jake, and removed his helm, and bowed his head.
After a moment, the two Jakes replaced their helms on their heads, and mounted their horses.
The village mayor stepped forward, and behind him the rest of the village drew close.
“Won’t you stay and celebrate this great victory with us?” he asked.
The Jake’s expression could not be read beneath his helm, but his voice was gentle and tired.
“This is your victory, bought at a dear cost to you. You should well celebrate, and then mourn your dead. It is not our place to join you. We have merely done our duty, following the rules of our order. Duty now bids us leave. Be mellow.”
“Be mellow,” the people answered, and the Jakes turned and rode away into the shadows of the east as the last rays of the sun gleamed on their armor.