A young farm girl undertakes a fantastic and perilous journey in a Medieval like world.
|Author’s Note: I would like to remind readers that this is a - Fantasy story, written in an ostensibly medieval setting. The precise terminology, though Medieval in basis, may have been changed due to the Fantasy nature of this story. Minor mistakes will be corrected during the editing process. Oldwarrior
The Lone Traveler
March 13, 37,687 AD
It was bitterly cold, and the howling wind kept trying to push its way through the entrance of the narrow cave, sending snow showers deeper and deeper into the interior and threatening to close the entrance completely. She had used most of the dead branches and dry bracken she had gathered on the small fire near the back wall of the cave, and now resorted to using dried dung someone had previously stored in the cave. Although it burned well and provided some small measure of warmth, the stench it produced was irritating to the eyes and nose.
She was dressed in a sturdy close fitting soft doublet above her cotton tunic, and wore a stiff jerkin of boiled leather sewn to sheep’s skin as an outer garment. The short chain mail hauberk that had covered the jerkin lay in a heavy pile next to her saddle and harness. Near the flickering fire a figure lying on a pile of furs and pine boughs squirmed and moaned and fidgeted in his sleep. He was one year above her age, five and ten years, but he was of royal blood, and he suffered from a wound to his shoulder, which had festered causing his sickness.
In a separate corner of the cave lay her other companion, snoring lightly and occasionally twitching a leg or wing, reacting to unknown dreams. He was her companion, her savior, her friend and her protector. He was very large for his kind, bigger than two work horses and much longer in the body and neck, and he possessed a massive thirty foot wing spread. She called him Whiff, not only because he often blew smoke from his snout, but also because he produced an unpleasant sulfuric odor when he belched. He was a great white dragon, one of the few dragons left in the kingdom of Camalund.
Who was she? She was Analia, a young woman of four and ten years, a fugitive, accused of murder, kidnapping, and grand theft. As the heavy smoke and fatigue lulled her into deeper thought, she reflected back on the few short years when it had all began.
Analia was aware that she was exceptionally different than most other girls, stronger, faster, smarter, and to hear the boys tell it, even prettier. When she grew old enough to ask her parents why they had named her Anomalia, her father scoffed. “Tis from the olden language in the Sacred Book of Mysteries, back when men flew the skies and traveled to the moon inside iron birds and lived in castles that reached to the clouds,” he stated. “It comes from the word Anomaly and means something that differs from what is standard, normal, or expected.”
“Legends made up by dreamers, jesters, and scribendi,” her mother harrumphed, folding her arms across her heavy bosom as if to challenge her father’s words.
“I guess I must have been quite different from other children?” Analia had inquired. She much preferred to use her own version of her unusual name and, to her hidden delight, it also irritated her father.
“You were found in a muddy field after the worst storm in centuries, wrapped in a blanket inside a cracked and smoking boulder like an oyster on the half-shell,” he emphasized. “If that doesn’t deviate from the norm, I’m the King’s fool, I am.”
Hers was a poor family, living in a small village of dirt farmers, grubbing from season to season to earn a meager existence, always just one crop failure or war away from starvation. From the time she reached her three year name day, Analia was taller, faster, stronger, and smarter than any child in her village than any other child of that age. When she reached her two and ten year, the villagers had had enough of her rough ways and they were frightened by her unusual origin and superior abilities, so, something had to be done.
“It’s a wandering demon that lives inside her,” the village elder told her father over cups one early evening at a small work table in the yard. “No normal girl of two and ten years can best boys who are four and ten years. No normal girl can recount the entire Book of Mysteries by heart as she can, especially since the Vicari taught her to read in only one evening’s setting. And would you just look at her,” the elder remarked, turning his head to observe Analia as she drew a bucket of water from the nearby well. “At two and ten she is a woman full grown, she is.” Despite his age, the village elder still possessed excellent vision.
Analia was indeed tall for her age, and it was obvious that she would be better than average in height when she was fully mature. A crown of shimmering auburn hair covered her head and gently cascaded down her back. Her eyes were an unusual light violet color, almond shaped, but large and canted upwards giving her a fairy look. Her nose was classical but short and slightly turned up at the end. Her mouth was small, but she possessed generous sensual lips. Her small breasts were yet to fully develop, but her slim torso and shapely hips indicated that she would soon evolve into a strikingly beautiful woman.
“Get on with your question or be on your way.” Her father spat, picking up his cup and taking a generous gulp of what passed for locally grown wine. “You’re here for a reason, you are, elsewise you wouldn’t be avoiding me eyes.”
“The village council believes it would be best if your daughter was elsewhere,” the village elder bluntly answered. “The local Vicari has indicated that the Vicarus at Castle Point is in need of another acolyte and will happily take her under his pious wings. She is, after all, still chaste and would be very well taken care of.”
“And I suppose she will fit in well with his other flock of chaste novates at the Convent?” her father grinned. “Anomalia will undoubtedly beat the demons out of them before the first day has waned and rip the pious fool’s holy cock off by dusk. What will his worship say then?”
The village elder shrugged and sat back heavily on his stool. “This is not a request, Barristan. The Vicarus has heard about your daughter, and he demands, with the king’s blessing of cojurse, that she be brought to Castle Point on the morrow. The Vicari will be here by dawn to escort her. I wash my hands of the matter. You’d best advise her to be on her best behavior and be ready to leave by first light.”
Analia was very surprised to see her father stand and push the village elder’s stool over, spilling him not too gently onto the dirty ground. She was even more alarmed to see him reach for his mule strap and threaten to lay it onto the elder’s back lest he leave the yard posthaste. She knew something was wrong when her mother walked from the house and they embraced each other while glancing somberly in her direction.
After explaining his conversation with the village elder, her father took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “There is another option,” he finally stated, glancing at her mother who stood in silent tears. “Your mother’s brother runs a school in Dragon Hill. She believes he will be willing to take you in until such time as you reach your Maiden Prime. It is a long and dangerous journey, and there will be no one to help you along the way. But, it’s either that or the Convent.”
“I will not go to a place filled with chattering women who thrive on starvation, prayer, and obedience,” Analia flatly stated. “I would rather take my chances on the road.”
The next morning, well before dawn, her long journey and her new life began. It was a short farewell with a slight misting of tears and a splattering of promises. Analia donned the rugged work clothing she normally wore around the farm and placed her single spare tunic and extra under clothes in her kit bag. The clean clothing, a small paring knife, food for three days, and a few personal items sufficed to account for all her all worldly possessions.
Analia also carried her stout quarterstaff made from sacred hawthorn wood. Although self-taught, she had learned to use it to her benefit and would rely on it for protection from bandits and wolves. The trip to Dragon Hill was expected to last three days, if she averaged at least twenty miles per day.
She made the harsh journey without incident and arrived at Dragon Hill late in the afternoon of the third day during a cold driving rain. She had no coin with which to stay at an inn, however, she needed someone to point out where her uncle’s school was located, and there were few people out and about in the bitter weather. Analia spotted a shingle with a goose painted on it hanging over a stout wooden door. The inscription, almost faded out, read, “The Naked Gander.”
As she entered, she was practically overwhelmed by the rancid stench of unwashed bodies, of sour ale, and what smelled like stale urine. Riotous laughter and yelling shook the room. A small bar was set up in one corner; a broad board over three large wooden barrels, and a heavyset man was leaning on the bar casually observing the rowdy patrons.
“Beg your pardon?” Analia boldly asked the man. She suddenly noticed a ripe smell coming from him as she drew closer to the bar. “I am searching for my uncle. His name is Ryykon Thoragild, and he has a school somewhere around here.”
The bartender cast her leering stare, obviously thinking she was much older than her two and ten years. “Ryke!” he boomed. “Everyone knows Ryke me lady. He owns that fancy King’s School on the other side of the river. Just head down to the bridge, cross over, and take the road running along the river to the right. It circles all the way around to his school. Your uncle, you say?”
“Yes,” Analia quickly replied. “Thank you, sur for your kind help.” She hastened from the inn as fast as she could. The gleam in the bartender’s eyes and the lascivious looks on the faces of several of the customers was a look Analia had seen before, and she knew it begin and ended with the word lust.
The bridge over the wide river was made of stone and mortar. The dark river was in flood stage, reaching almost to the bottom of the bridge. The muddy brown waters flowed fast and dangerous, pushing pieces of trees and other objects in its wake, and an overpowering smell of dung and ashes permeated the air. The muddy road on the far bank wound around a low bluff following the curve of the river.
Although dusk was near, she could still see the buildings on the bluff above the road and shortly came to a ten foot brick wall which seemed to go on forever. She eventually came to a large door made of stout black wood ribbed with rusting iron bands. A small watch tower stood on the right side of the door, and a sentry stood hunched over with his cloak covering his head and face. He called down to her before she could clear her throat to speak.
“Wot brings eu out in this awful weather, girl?”
“I am here to see my uncle,” Analia replied. “Is this the school of Ryykon Thoragild?”
“That it be. Your uncle would be working for Master Thoragild, would ‘e?”
“My uncle is Rykkon Thoragild.”
“Well now, let’s be getting eu out of this foul weather and in to see your uncle,” the sentry replied in a suddenly hasty tone of voice. He obviously did not want to take chances just in case the waif was truly the Master’s own kin. Within a few minutes the huge gate opened exposing a stout portcullis behind it. The sentry, or sentries, as there were now two of them, cranked the portcullis up allowing her entry.
“Shanks will escort eu to the Majordomo,” the first sentry stated, pointing at a squat and powerful looking man wearing chain mail and a shining half helm. “Can’t leave me post, ye know.”
She surveyed her surroundings on the way to a huge building made of stone and mortar. It looked like a castle or bastion without the battlements, towers and moat. There were walls everywhere, so she was unable to see much of anything. As they entered through a main door, a man standing just inside took charge of her, dismissing the wet sentry to return to his post. The Majordomo was dressed in a brown knee length tunic over which he wore a stiff doublet of boiled leather. He wore heavy leather boots that came up to mid-calf. The soles were studded with nails; they clanked on the stone flooring as he guided her up a wide set of stairs.
The Majordomo knocked on a large door down the hall on the second floor. She heard the word, come, from the inside, muffled by the heavy door. As she entered the large room, Analia was impressed with the overall tidiness and organization. The walls were decorated with beautiful tapestries depicting what appeared to be major battle scenes, weapons of various types were hung with a keen eye to decor, and full suits of armor stood in corners and places of honor. A very large man sat behind a sturdy table covered with parchment, ink and quills. He was blowing onto a small document to dry the ink. The Majordomo walked over and whispered in his ear, then bid Analia to come forward. He stood as she approached his presence.
“You presume to be my niece, Anomalia?” he asked, his bushy brown eyebrows riding up on his forehead.
“Analia, if it please you lordship,” she replied. “I am not an anomaly as the first name implies. Yes, I am the daughter of your sister, Ingrid and her husband Barristan, and I am two and ten years of age. I am sent here seeking reprieve from the clutches of a lustful and greedy Vicarus.”
“A bold wench,” Ryykon stated, winking at his Majordomo and dismissing him at the same time. “Please sit and apprise me of you plight, Analia. Have you broken your fast this day?”
“Indeed I have not, Ser Thoragild.”
“Hunkle. I insist you refer to me as your Hunkle,” he replied, motioning to his Majordomo before he could leave the room. “Have food and drink brought for my niece,”
Analia quickly discovered that he talked with a minor lisp, thus the hunkle instead of uncle, but she quickly warmed to his gentle tone of voice, his quick humor and kind disposition. As she ate the cold mutton and cheese and dark bread, she told him what had forced her to flee her family and a little about herself.
Her uncle slowly sat back in his chair and let out a soft breath. “What am I to do with you?” It was more a question to himself rather than to her.
“I could join your school and learn,” Analia eagerly suggested. “I am a quick learner, and I am very good at most everything I attempt. I am a very fast runner, I weld a wicked quarterstaff, and I can out wrestle most of the young boys in my village.”
Her uncle raised his left eye brow. “You don’t know what kind of school I run, do you?”
Analia hunched her shoulders in a negative gesture.
“I train Squires, Lord lings, and Dragons,” he replied.
“Dragons,” she whispered.
“Dragons,” Her uncle smiled, amused by her suddenly reverent expression. “And minor Lords and young Squires. I will have Manferd show you to your chambers little lady, and we will talk of this more on the morrow. I have important dispatches I must finish before I retire.” He picked up a bell from his desk and rang it. The Majordomo, or Manferd as he had named him, appeared at the door followed by several young housemaids and one burly one. He had obviously anticipated their need. They quickly ushered her out of the room and down towards the end of the long hall.
For the next few weeks, Analia was lost in a daze of exciting, adventurous and amazing sights, sounds, and events. Within the large compound, squires learned the art of swordplay, quarterstaff, archery, riding and a large number of other weapons of war. Big burly men-at-arms, or housecarls they were called, pushed them steadily until they dropped from exhaustion. After the long hard days of physical exertion, they were taught how to take care of their weapons, equipment, horses, and the ladies and scribendi of the school taught them reading, writing, dancing, heraldry, and social etiquette.
One overcast day she noticed several young men on the exercise ground who were obviously bullying one of their smaller members. They were all at least six and ten years, but he appeared to be much younger. They took turns pushing him from one to the other, tripping him with their quarterstaffs, and laughing when he fell into the mud and slush.
Analia allowed her short temper get the best of her and stomped out onto the field in a huff, carrying her quarterstaff in the enGuarde position. As she approached the boys, they exploded with haughty laughter and derision.
“The little wench wants to clout us,” one of the large boys guffawed. “Her and her little staff,” another added.
“Leave him be!” Analia yelled, quickly calculating the slovenly and casual stance of the five large boys.
“Leave em be, or wot?” demanded a large redheaded boy, raising his own heavy quarterstaff in the enGuarde position.
Analia quickly glanced at the young boy sitting on the muddy ground, wiping blood from his lip with the back of his sleeve. She noted a sign of defiance in him despite his recent beating. He was an attractive young man with a mop of straw blond hair, light blue eyes, with nice soft features, and he was well-built despite his small size. She nodded at him and went on the attack.
At first the boys did not take her seriously, but when she quickly knocked two of them into the mud, the others braced for a tough fight. Out of the corner of one eye, Analia saw the smaller boy jump to his feet and charge one of the miscreants. For several minutes she fought like a banshee against four boys. Two she knocked down again with a fierce uppercut to the chin, and they prudently decided to remain down. The third went down in short order, grabbing his knee where she had struck him with a well-placed numbing blow. The last boy hung on in stubborn defiance and desperation. He appeared to have been the arrogant ringleader of the troublemakers, and he wasn’t giving up without a lengthy duel and getting in a few hits of his own.
“Halt!” a loud order rang throughout the compound, followed by the sizzling snap of a whip in motion.
Analia lowered her guard and glanced around to see her uncle rushing across the practice yard. It was evident that he was very upset. Before she could recover, she felt a hard knock on the side of her head sending her to the muddy ground in a daze.
“I said halt! her uncle yelled again, using the whip to rip the quarterstaff from the hands of the boy who struck her. “Little John Smythwaite that was foully done and a dishonorable move. Your opponent was distracted and responding to an order as you should have been. As for the rest of you reprobates, you will get your punishments at my pleasure. I saw the entire matter from the very beginning through my chamber window. As for you Ana, he had shortened her name to suit himself, what possessed you to take on five squires all by yourself?
“He assisted me,” Analia replied, pointing at the younger boy who had finally bested the tall brute he had been up against.
“Are you injured, Prince?” Her uncle gravely asked the smiling boy.
“Just my pride,” he grinned. “I allowed a girl to rush to my rescue as I could not overcome the mob attacking me. She was magnificent, Ser Thoragild.”
Prince? Did I hear Prince? Analia asked herself.
“Ana, this is Prince Robert Henry George Frederick Traynor, son of his Majesty, King George.”
Analia bowed to the youngster since she had yet to learn to curtsey properly. She was tongue-tied and failed to verbally respond. She had never met royalty before. The squires in training were the sons of lesser lords and knights and would someday inherit their sire’s estates, but this young boy would inherit the entire realm.
“Come along, Ana,” her uncle ordered, aware of her uncomfortable state. “Prince Robert you’d best have the apothicarius look at your cut lip.”
When they were back in the quiet solitude of her uncle’s study, he was less than happy with her actions.
“What possessed you to intervene out on the practice field?” he demanded. “This was something better handled by one of my instructors.”
“Didn’t see one of your instructors around at the time, Hunkle.” Analia smartly replied. “That boy, the Prince, was being bullied and may well have been badly injured.”
“Well, the deed’s done.” Her uncle sighed. “It will take a long time for those boys to get over being bested by a girl of two and ten years. Their pride has taken a harsh blow.”
“Better they learn to use their quarterstaffs in a more efficient manner,” Analia said in a frosty tone. “They are expected to defend the realm, are they not?”
“Despite my anger, I must admit you did a thorough job against those ruffians.” Ser Thoragild chuckled. “Who taught you to put that quarterstaff to such good use?”
“I taught myself, uncle. But I can always use some improvement. That boy, the one you called John, made some good moves I have never seen before.”
Her uncle looked uncomfortable. “Young ladies are not allowed to fight with the young lords and squires. It is not befitting a lady, and by virtue of my knighthood, you are a lady whether you act like one or nay.”
Analia gave him a scathing look. “I will protect myself, uncle. A lady cannot always depend on others to protect her.”
Her uncle drummed his fingers on his writing table for a few moments then stood and beckoned for her to follow him. “There might be another way.” he stated, leading her down the stairs and towards the back of the manor house. They exited a rear door and crossed a large field to a massive stone building. He ordered two guards to unbolt a large door. After entering, they walked down a slanting ramp for a long distance and finally came to another guarded door.
Once they were beyond that door, they entered a massive underground cavern, so large the lit sconces on the far walls were just a flicker in the distance. A smell of rotten eggs filtered through the air, combined with the noise of very large animals. Analia’s eyes grew large as she suddenly spotted the inhabitants of the enormous cavern.
Dragons! There was a score of dragons resting on sturdy ledges, and they were incredibly beautiful to Analia’s eyes. There were green, red, and gold dragons, and a beautiful white dragon perched on a high ledge to her right. Walking among the dragons was a handful of young ladies who halted and waved to her uncle.
“The Rook,” her uncle casually stated, sweeping his arms around in an expansive gesture. “All the known dragons in the realm are kept here. There are no others that we know of. They are the might and power of the Kingdom of Camalund. No enemy dares to invade our realm so long as the dragons work as our protectors.”
“They’re magnificent!” Analia muttered. “Beautiful, majestic…” her voice trailed off.
“We have seven and twenty dragons,” her uncle continued. “However, there are only eight and ten dragon riders. Those whom the dragons will accept are rare to find and all young ladies. The dragons will not allow men to ride them for some reason, but will harken to the gentle commands of females. Would you like to see if they will accept you, Ana?”
Once again, Analia was without words. She shook her head and glanced at her uncle. He pointed to a smaller ramp leading down into the vast cavern, urging her to go down amongst the dragons. As she slowly walked down the ramp, she had no fear and was full of wonder at the beautiful creatures surrounding her.
Suddenly, one of the red dragons hopped down from its perch and waddled over to her. She stood still as it sniffed and snorted, emitting a foul smelly belch followed by a puff of smoke. As she reached out to touch the dragon, the huge white dragon jumped from his high perch and chased the red one away. It curiously approached her and looked directly into her eyes then started moving its enormous head back and forth in a swaying motion.
“He accepts you,” a voice said from behind her. Analia turned to see a young woman, around two and twenty years of age. “He is the lord of the Rook and has refused all who attempted to master him. There must be something special about you because he looks happy and eager for you to accept him.”
Analia glanced up to see a beam of joy on her uncle’s face. She smiled and reached for the dragon. His head was twice that of an average horse, and the skin felt like tough boiled leather. She reached up and massaged the tender spot behind his small ears, a place most horses liked to be touched. He responded with smelly belches and a flap of his massive wings.
For the next two years, Analia lived in pure ecstasy. She spent every waking hour in the Rook tending to her beautiful dragon, and assisting with the others. On her maiden flight from the Rook, by way of a large opening at the top of the cavern, she squealed in delight, and pure joy flooded her senses. She became the lone traveler, flying throughout the realm, displaying the might and glory of her faithful and powerful dragon.
The only friends she was close to, other than her dragon that she had named Whiff, was Prince Robert, two of the young squires and her flight leader, Talina. She and Robert spent much time together, both on the practice field, and after hours. He had grown taller and stronger in the intervening years and learned to best most of the other squires, including four of the yard bullies whom he had eventually befriended. The fifth bully, John Smythwaite, had grown sullen and spiteful and refused to accept their offer of friendship.
One afternoon, while gliding in small controlled circles over the school grounds, she glanced down and spotted Smythwaite sneaking up on Prince Robert from behind with a halberd held menacingly in his hands. She swooped down to draw their attention, but Smythwaite did not respond. As Prince Robert turned and glanced up into the sky, he was stabbed in the shoulder by the mad squire.
Analia landed Whiff on the practice ground and jumped from her mount, pulling her short sword from the scabbard strapped to her saddle. Smythwaite was preparing to plunge the halberd down into Robert’s chest as she rushed up and slapped him from behind with the flat of her blade. He quickly turned and went into the enGuard stance with the deadly halberd.
For what seemed like a very long while, Analia fenced with the squire, unable to get beyond his long reach. He glanced up and spotted movement on the far side of the practice field. “Hurry!” he yelled. “He’s down and we need to finish him. We can blame his death on this nasty little bitch.”
Analia risked a quick glance over her left shoulder. Three burly men were running towards their position. It was obviously a planned plot to kill the Prince. She renewed her efforts to fend off the squire and to give him a debilitating wound. But he was too fast, and too sure of himself, until he forgot that Prince Robert lay behind him bleeding into the soft soil. He tripped over the Prince’s outstretched leg and fell to the ground, giving Analia an opportunity to end the fight. She plunged her sharp blade down, aiming for his forward front leg. At the last moment he lunged forward and the blade sunk deep into his abdomen. He moaned and stared at the hilt of the short blade in shock and fear.
Analia left the blade and moved to Prince Robert. He had suffered a bad shoulder wound and blood flowed freely down his chest from the gaping wound. “You must get up!” she yelled, grabbing him by his other arm. “There are men coming who seek to kill you.”
Together they made it to where Whiff stood. His nostrils were flaring from the smell of fresh blood, and he eyed the man in Analia’s arms with hostility.
“Yield!” Analia yelled. “Yield Whiff.”
The dragon did not like the command, but he cowered down to his mistress. Analia loaded Prince Robert on to the saddle and quickly jumped up behind him. The three men had finally closed the distance and were arrayed in a semicircle facing her and the dragon.
“Don’t try it,” Analia growled at the men. “One command and my dragon will roast you where you stand.”
“You’ll meet the headsman for this!” one of the men yelled as she slowly took flight from the field. “We will find you and you will die. We will all swear to your guilt.”
Analia jumped as her head hit her chest. She had fallen asleep. She was back in the cold damp cave. Prince Robert still squirmed on his pallet near the fire, and Whiff continued to snore in the other corner.
“I must find an apothicarius to treat him,” she mumbled. “I have neither the skills nor the proper medicine. He will surely die without help.”
She went to the entrance to the cave and glanced out at the bitter weather. She shook her fist at the storm.
“You will not stop me!” she yelled. “I will save Prince Robert, I will prove my innocence, and I will prevail.” She rushed back inside to awaken Whiff.
If you would like to read more of Analia's continuing adventures, all chapters have now been posted. Chapter two at