I didn’t say anything to Maradin and walked directly to the barn, whistling for Conqueror. While I waited for my horse everything that had happened in the last few weeks was running frantically through my mind.

Then I heard a sound outside . . . but it wasn’t Conqueror. Someone was running toward me with a lantern. I swung open the barn door, ready for anything, only to find myself holding Maradin. She was crying uncontrollably.

“I am deathly afraid of him,” she sobbed, “He threatened to kill me. But worse than that, I am deeply in love with you and I don’t know what to do. I am so confused.”

Things were spinning out of control. The deep feelings I had for her could not be denied, and to further complicate things it was apparent that her life was in danger because of this maniac fiancé. I didn’t know what to do either, but I had to come up with something.

“Don’t worry,” I said, motioning her toward a hay bale.

Just as she sat down, I heard a “thud.”

I saw Maradin’s face take on a stunned expression, and when I looked down, my heart stopped. The point of a hunting arrow protruded from her chest with bright red blood soaking through her impeccable white blouse.

I carried her out of the barn through the back door and laid her on the grass away from danger, but there was nothing I could do. I had seen enough battlefield wounds to know that she was dying.

She looked up at me, puzzled.

“You’ll be fine, just hold my hand tight,” I said, trying to assure her while I pressed on her chest in a futile attempt to stop the heavy flow of blood.

Her soft eyes calmly gazed at me as a wistful smile briefly crossed her innocent face. She knew she was dying . . . and that her dreams of us being together were forever gone. Then she stared straight ahead, as her life ebbed away.

I gently closed her eyes, the eyes that I loved so much. Her face was serene. All I could hope for was that, perhaps, dying in the arms of a man who loved her unconditionally gave her some confort at the end.

I looked back at the barn. She dropped the lantern when the arrow pierced her back and now the barn, as well as the cottage were engulfed in flames. But those flames were as cool as water compared to the inferno of rage that burned in my heart.

I stayed with her body until first light and then mounted Conqueror to begin tracking the killer. I was not obliged to go very far; the fiancé was waiting for me near our picnic spot.

The moment was frozen in time with the horses facing each other, standing motionless in the still meadow.

“Are you ready to join your lover?” the fiancé yelled across the field.

This murderer had no idea who he was about to confront . . . or how much danger he was in.

With no weapons and riding bareback, I grabbed Conqueror’s mane and shouted “Attack.” Instantly the powerful, battle-hardened horse ran full speed toward the black stallion. The killer drew his longbow, took aim . . . and calmly waited. We were dangerously close to each other before he finally loosed the deadly arrow, but it missed its mark.

His stallion reared up in anticipation of Conquerors charge just as the killer released the bow string. The arrow drove deep into Conqueror’s shoulder instead of hitting me, but the great horse never faltered. He careened broadside into the black horse with such force that both animals and riders went down hard with the brutal impact snapping the black horse’s two front legs and breaking Conqueror’s neck.

I was dazed for a moment, enough time for the fiancé to roll up from the ground, pull a large knife out of his belt and slash at me, missing my neck by inches but inflicting a gaping wound across my chest. As blood poured down my side, I stepped back, looked at the wound with indifference, and then trained my solitary eye on my enemy.

The killer suddenly recognized me. We had met before on the battlefield many years ago when he turned his back and rode away from the fiercest warrior in the land, but he couldn’t ride away now, and he knew it. He had the knife, but even so his hand trembled and his face turned ashen, as I continued to calmly stare at him. All I could think of was the innocent girl dying helplessly in my arms, and how this animal that shot her in the back was now going to pay . . . with his life.