A young farm girl undertakes a fantastic and perilous journey in a Medieval like world.
|The Lone Traveler - Chapter Four
The atmosphere in the school was fragile and tense. Ser Thoragild had been arrested and taken to the capitol a week before and no one had heard any news regarding his present circumstances. Rumors abounded; Master Ryyke was a traitor, Master Ryyke was to become the King’s Protector, Master Ryyke had deserted and joined the Alatarians, Master Ryyke’s niece had abducted the Prince. Naturally, no one dared call him Master Ryyke to his face. Everyone being taught in the school was walking softly and afraid to meet the eyes of the instructors and men-at-arms teaching them. More eyes had seen the event that had played out in the exercise yard than most admitted. All were either too scared to come forth and tell the King’s Inquisitors what they had seen or they had sense enough to maintain obscurity.
Three sat together in a local tavern called The Shrew, a few blocks down from The Naked Gander, at a quiet corner table with a single sconce nearby to provide weak lighting. They were sipping wooden mugs of honeyed ale and whispering back and forth like conspirators. The one sitting near the soot covered stone wall was fair haired, lanky, yet broad of shoulder. He would one day flesh out into a stout and powerful man. His name was Pieter Schermon, son of Ser James Schermon, a landed Knight of renown with his own small castle, productive lands, vassals and peasants. Pieter was third in succession to inherit his father’s estates, after his brothers John and Philip, so he was at the school as a squire to learn to be a Knight and seek his own chances at winning honors and an estate of his own.
The one sitting to the left of Pieter was Sean MacAngis, second son of Queen Niami and King MacAngis of the Khelti. The Kehlti offered their services to other kings and lords in return for coin and goods. They were considered reliable mercenaries by most, but deemed themselves to merely be opportunist. Sean was in the school to learn the ways of feudal warfare. He was as tall as Pieter and possessed an abundance of shocking red hair, bright green eyes, and a splattering of freckles on his invariably jovial face.
The final member of the trio sat with her back to the room. She was Talina Ne Galloise, a wing commander of the King’s dragons. Talina had been Analia’s instructor over the two years she had served in the squadron. She was petite and lissome, sporting curly auburn hair, hazel eyes, and a button nose. Although not beautiful by most standards, she was very cute and her quirky and often playful personality made her a favorite among the squires in training.
Talina had witnessed the affair in the exercise yard when Analia struck down John Smythwaite. She was circling in the sky above and was irritated at Analia for landing her dragon too quickly on to the exercise yard, as it went against all the training she had been given. When she finally noticed what was transpiring, she glided low to see if she could help but the incident was over before she could reach the exercise field.
Sean had been on guard duty on the south wall when the altercation grabbed his attention. Pieter was in the north tower manning the battlements and the closest of the three to the fight. He had even heard some of the angry words spoken. All three knew it was an assassination attempt against young Prince Robert and that Analia had spoiled the plans.
“I still say we should go to the new headmaster and tell him what we witnessed,” Pieter whispered. “If they took such a flagrant chance to kill Prince Robert, they may have the audacity to go after the King himself. We would be remiss in our sworn duties to remain silent.”
“And what do we say when the headmaster asks us why we waited so long to come forth with our story?” Talina asked. “Perhaps we may then be viewed as co-conspirators.”
“She’s right!” Sean blurted. “The King’s Inquisitors don’t give a royal fart who they torture when it comes to a threat to the throne. We’d be ripe for their picking. I have no wish to be skinned alive so they can discover what wee little bit I don’t know.”
“Rumor has it that Analia is now wanted for murder, kidnapping and theft,” Pieter stated, taking a sip of his slightly bitter ale. “Also, Ser Thoragild has been in the king’s dungeons since he was taken from the school. Don’t we owe them something? Wouldn’t you feel guilty if both were executed for a crime that neither committed?”
The other two held their eyes firmly on the ale in their mugs. They had covered the same discussion time after time having never reached a decision. They were not cowards, but they had been raised in a rough society that did not exactly exhibit the ideal pinnacle of justice. Many unlucky and falsely accused had died in agony at the hands of the King’s Inquisitors, their innocence obvious but intentionally ignored.
Sean beckoned to get the attention of one of the roving waitresses. The room was crowded but not full. The clientele were mostly from the school as they were ordered to avoid the patrons at The Naked Gander. Ser Thoragild had placed that tavern off limits several times because too many fights had broken out with the rowdy river men who frequented the establishment. When the fatigued waitress finally arrived, Sean ordered a meat pie and another round of dark ale.
“We just ate half an hour ago,” Talina snidely remarked. “What does it take to fill that bottomless pit you call a stomach?” The Khelti were well known for two things, their trigger tempers and their ability to drink heavily and stuff themselves, but not necessarily in that order.
“Give a man a wee break,” Sean quipped. “I’m just a growing boy, I need me nourishment.” They were all dressed in the standard off duty clothing, forest green trousers, high black boots, and a dark brown woolen shirt covered with a short leather jerkin made from boiled hide. A miniature of the King’s emblem, a black dragon on a field of yellow, was embossed on the upper left side of their jerkins. Each had complemented their fatigues with their own hooded cloak to help keep out the cold.
Just as the meat pie and refills arrived at their back table, the tavern’s stout front door burst open and two large knights from the school walked in. It did not appear as if they were there for the comforts the inn provided as they were dressed for a sustained campaign. One was Ser Bartholemew, the Archery Master, the other Ser Dezmond, the Master of Horse. Both were strict and very harsh disciplinarians.
They waited a few moments for the talking and muttering to subside, then Ser Dezmond bellowed with his parade ground roar. “Everyone back to the school! You have exactly to the count of three to unass your seats and haul your stinking carcasses out that door. The last one to leave will spend a week mucking out the stables.”
Sudden pandemonium spread throughout the smoky tavern. Squires, stable hands, archers, ferriers and others fought to reach the door before their companions. The farthest from the door, the trio was blocked by the sudden rush of humanity. Sean grabbed the meat pie from the waitresses serving platter and threw several small coppers down for payment. Pieter fought to plow his way ahead so that Talina, too small to go against the crowd, could make her way behind him. They all made it through before the countdown, as a stern faced Ser Dezmond knew they would, a few with skinned knees and elbows and battered pride. No one turned to see who the unlucky last person to exit was, but they heard Ser Bartholomew laugh as he grabbed two mugs of ale from the dazed waitress and passed one to his companion.
As they entered the main gate of the school, they encountered an ant’s nest of activity. People were running to and fro, yelling and cursing dominated the scene, mules were braying, the smell of horse and mule manure was bitter in their nostrils, and above that, the sound of the “to arms” bugle played from several different sectors of the school.
“Are we under attack?” Sean asked, quickly wolfing down the final piece of his meat pie. He was almost run over by a battle ready destrier ridden by an angry knight shouting for idiots to get out of his way. The mud and slush of the main entry yard was torn up as if by a farmer’s plow.
They heard a loud bellow from the steps of the main building. “Formation for all squires on the main exercise field. Troop leaders will account for all personnel.” The message was repeated several times.
“I didn’t notice any war birds in the sky or signs of enemy activity along the river,” Pieter finally replied to Sean’s question. Talina waved to them as she sped off in the opposite direction towards the Rook. “I don’ think we’re under attack, but something’s happening, something very serious.”
Fifteen minutes later they lined up in formation on the large exercise field. They were whispering in low voices and nervous energy spread throughout the men like static electricity. A few squires had not had time to grab their cloaks and they stood shivering among the slush and mud. After a few minutes, what seemed like hours to the squires, a man approached and climbed the small tower that was used by the instructors to observe mounted drill.
The man was quickly identified as, Ser Montaghue, the new Headmaster. “All eyes on me!” he yelled, effectively halting all muttering and whispering. “Rather than have your drillmasters inform you of events, I have decided to do so myself. The kingdom of Camalund has declared war on Alataria. The Alatarians have forced this issue by the abduction of His Royal Highness, Prince Robert. Ser Thoragild has been found innocent of all charges and has again been appointed as the King’s Protector. He will command the combined armies of the realm as he has done in the past. In addition, the capitol has been firebombed by Alatarian war birds and many lives have been lost. In accordance with standing procedure, you squires will be taken to the capitol where you will be dispensed back to fight under the banners of your respective lords. You will be prepared to move out two hours before dawn. Formation dismissed!”
“Wow!” Sean blurted as he walked over to join Pieter. “War. I was hoping to see some action. I’m certain that my father will provide a contingent of archers. We do have a standing agreement with King George.”
Pieter smiled at the glow of exhilaration and enthusiasm on his friend’s face. He had been told that the Khelti loved battle more than drinking and the look on Sean’s face seemed to substantiate that fact. As for himself, the thought of engaging an enemy in deadly combat was frightening. He was certain of his ability to hold his own against another squire, but if he was suddenly forced to fight an armored knight with many years of combat experience, he wasn’t sure how it would end. Men like Ser Dezmond were terrifying enough, and he was on his side. There were bound to be many men just as fearsome on the other side.
Over the past span of time he had been improving his archery under the tutelage of Sean. The Khelti were recognized as the best bowmen of any kingdom, and they fought as a unit in support of the knights, mounted troops, and shire levies. The accuracy and penetrating power of their long bows was legendary. Had he a choice, Pieter would love to join his friend among the archers and scouts of the Khelti, but, as the son of a Knight he was obligated to fight as a squire at the side of his father and his two older brothers.
The first thing Pieter did was head for the stables. Ser Dezmond had ingrained into them from day one that their mounts were far more important than they were. “Take care of your horse first,” Ser Dezmond taught them. “If I discover a mount needing care of any kind and find the owner in the barracks on his lazy arse, you will rue the day you ever met me. That is a promise.” A few of the squires and mounted infantry had discovered the hard way that he was true to his word. Two had been dismissed from the school and three had been openly flogged in front of the entire squadron, and only one of the two dismissed had been readmitted to the school, the evil son of Lord Smythwaite. It was known that Ser Dezmond threatened to resign over the affair, but the King had ordered the reinstatement.
Pieter walked down the stable aisle until he came to stall number forty-one. His mount greeted him with a snicker and a toss of his head. Pieter had named him Ogre, because of the small lump of gray hair in the middle of his forehead that resembled a giant carrying a club. Ogre was a full blood perc heron and was medium tall at sixteen hands. Most of the heavy knights rode perc herons of eighteen or more hands in height. Ogre was charcoal black and sported a silky black main and tail. By military rule, his tail had been bobbed to prevent it being snagged. He also had a feisty temper and refused to allow anyone but Pieter to mount him. Pieter spent over an hour preparing Ogre’s equipment. Although he kept everything in perfect order, there was always some piece of equipment that needed additional attention.
Finally satisfied with his preparations, Pieter turned to head for the barracks to organize his personal equipment. As he was walking down the center of the stable, a tall dark haired boy intentionally bumped into him. He quickly recovered to find Squire Aloise Pemberton and two of his shadowy cronies standing a few feet away. Aloise and the two others had been close friends with John Smythwaite and knew of Pieter’s friendship with Analia. He thought they had finally outgrown their puerile ways, but instinct told him to be cautious.
“Excuse me, Lord Schermon,” Aloise mocked. “We didn’t see His Royal High-ass coming.”
Pieter also knew that Pemberton was extremely jealous of his own excellent record at the school. Pieter was first in his class in almost all academic studies and equaled that on the practice field. Pemberton had been reprimanded so often for his poor performance by the instructors and men-at-arms, many were curious as to why he was still in the school. Of course, it didn’t help when the instructors advised him to be more like, Pieter Schermon.
‘”If you’re here to start a fight, I haven’t got the time,” Pieter stated. “You might want to take advantage of what little time we have left to get your own equipment prepared. It’s a long ride to Lorainne.”
“Giving advice, are we?” Aloise returned, stepping forward to within a few feet of Pieter. Pieter also noticed the two other thugs had closed in and they both appeared eager for a fight. He could smell their bad breath which held an aroma of stale ale.
“What’s taking so long, Pieter?” The question came from near the door to the stables. Pieter looked to see his friend Sean slowly walking down the sawdust aisle. He turned back to see the disappointed faces of the three thugs. They were too well aware that Sean was the foremost hand-to-hand fighter in the school. No one had ever come close to defeating him, except Pieter.
Aloise whispered as he passed by Pieter heading from the stable. “I’ll get you one day.” He spat, saliva dripping from his lower lip. As the three went by Sean he gave them the universal sign of two fingers pointing at his eyes, meaning I’m watching you.
“You really shouldn’t be hanging out with the likes of that scum,” Sean scolded. “Some of their filth might rub off on you.” They chuckled as they headed for the barracks to ready their equipment and belongings.
They moved out two hours before dawn, just as Ser Montaghue had ordered. Clouds covered the half-moon providing little light for them to travel by so they were advised to stay on the road lest their mounts break an ankle in some unseen rabbit burrow. It was bitterly cold, definitely not the time of year to mount a major campaign of any kind. Most campaigns were waged in late spring or early fall to take advantage of the gentle spring weather or for easy fall foraging. Pieter figured they would probably spend months in the capitol organizing and start the campaign after the first thaw.
It took almost two full days to reach the Capitol City of Lorainne. They arrived at the forth hour after noon on the second day. As soon as they were released to find their respective families, Sean gave Pieter a parting salute. “I’m heading for the Prefect’s office,” he stated. “They’ll know if there is a contingent of my people in the city. Hope to see you soon. There’s a tavern not far from the castle on the travertine road named, The Gilly Shaft. Most of us hang out there when we’re in the capitol. That’s where you’ll be finding me if you come a looking.”
“I don’t know what the situation is with my family,” Pieter replied with a smile. “As soon as I find out and get an opportunity, I’ll look for you in the tavern.” He saluted and turned Ogre to his right and cantered down the wide street. The city was busy, noisy, and smelly, and crowds of people made his progress difficult. More than once he had to pull back on the reins to keep from running over some idiot who cut in front of him. They had been advised that the army was marshaling on the Oldfield fair grounds several miles to the northeast of the castle proper.
Due to the choked streets, it took him longer than expected to make it to the grounds. He rode slowly through the encampment looking for the banner of his liege lord. His father, a mere knight, was not privileged enough to have his own banner and fought under the colors of a liege lord to whom he paid allegiance, taxes, and provided mounted infantry and men-at-arms in times of battle. The liege lord his family served under was, Ser Martin Alwaythe, who ruled the province of Donedon which connected to the borders of Alataria. His coat of arms was two black lions facing each other on a field of dark red.
After a long search, he finally spotted an encampment with Alwaythe’s banner flying from a tall flagstaff. He made his way over and dismounted near a large tent, obviously a headquarters tent of some size. There were two men at arms standing a lax guard before the tent opening. As Pieter approached the tent, the guards crossed their halberds refusing him entry.
“I’m looking for my father, Ser Schermon,” Pieter stated. “We are bonded to Lord Alwaythe.”
The two guards gave each other a peculiar glance, and then the bigger of the two on the right spoke in a gruff voice. “Ser Schermon is no longer with Lord Alwaythe youngster. Best you be on you way.”
“What do you mean, no longer with Lord Alwaythe?” Pieter demanded in a loud voice. “We have been liege to the Lord’s province for generations.”
The commotion did not go unnoticed. A knight poked his head from the tent entrance and looked around. Spotting Pieter he motioned for the guards to allow him to enter. As Pieter entered the large tent he noticed a dozen knights lounging around in camp chairs while several others leaned over a large table covered with a huge map. The atmosphere smelled of wine and candle wax. Lord Alwaythe was one of those standing over the table. He was richly dressed, of average height, possessing a closely trimmed beard running to grey. His piercing black eyes and bushy eyebrows made him appear evil, but he was known to be a kind and generous lord.
Pieter bowed low. “I was released from the school to assume my duties as required,” he stated. “I would like to find my father’s encampment. I did not mean to impose on His Lordship.”
Lord Alwaythe glanced around the room at the other knights, who suddenly found other objects to attract their interest. He walked around the large table and stood in front of Pieter.
“Amidst the call to arms, I forgot all about you, young Schermon.” His eyes suddenly became very cold. “Your traitor of a father is dead. Remove him from my presence!” he commanded. “Take him to the castle dungeons where he belongs.”
Pieter was shocked. The sudden news was beyond anything he had expected. As the burly guards entered the tent and took hold of his arms, he could do nothing but walk in a daze.”
If you would like to read more of Analia's continuing adventures, all chapters have now been posted. Chapter five at: