A young farm girl undertakes a fantastic and perilous journey in a Medieval like world.
|The Lone Traveler
King George stood in front of the massive wall map and studied the painstaking plans that he and his major Lords had conceived over the past month. He knew that action had to be taken soon or the knights and men-at-arms would create starvation in his capitol. The men and their hosts consumed food at such a prodigious rate his larders were nearly exhausted, and his serfs were growing more and more angrier as they feared their families may not have sufficient food to survive the winter. However, it was still much too soon to move against those noble snits of Alataria. For one thing, the weather had yet to break and it was unusually cold. No army in history had ever undertaken a major campaign in such harsh weather, it was completely unheard of. He turned to his greatest advisor and loyal friend.
“What do you recommend, Ser Thoragild?” He knew that Rykkon had been dead set against the campaign from the beginning, preferring to open negotiations with Alataria, and he respected him for his opinion, but the other lords disagreed with it. There were only six major Lords in the small room, the ones he trusted the most, although he was uncertain of one of them, Lord Smythwaite, but failure to include him in his inner circle would be a major slight against the man’s personal honor. Smythwaite was also his most powerful Lord and could field almost as many knights, housecarls, and men-at-arms as he could.
“It may be a month or more before we can execute our plans,” Ser Thoragild studiously replied. “We have fully defined and polished our campaign plans and each Lord knows what portion of the field he is to take and their objectives and responsibilities have been assigned. It may be more provident if the entire battle host returned to their respective holdings and awaited a message from Your Grace when to advance to those pre designated positions. Our sweet Capitol of Lorainne cannot sustain such a massive host for much longer before food and forage run out and tempers flare up beyond control.”
King George sniggered and turned to the other Lords. “My thoughts exactly. What say you, Ser Smythwaite?”
The short rotund man had reclined back in his chair and was stabbing at a block of cheese with his dagger like it was an enemy of the realm. His balding head was rubbed red from wearing his heavy helmet, which he seldom did until of late. His flabby jowls and triple chin wiggled as he thrust the dagger back and forth, and his small piggy eyes were glued to Ser Thoragild in pure hatred. Innocent or guilty, he would never forgive the man for the death of his first born son. He had other sons, but Little John had been very special to him.
“A fair proposal,” he finally replied. “Might I suggest we declare a day of final festivities before the Lords depart for their holdings and perhaps a bit of jousting among the knights and a minor display of swordsmanship and martial prowess? It will build élan and confidence among the men and make them eager to engage the enemy when the time comes.”
“A splendid idea,” Lord Alwaythe echoed, glancing edgewise at Ser Smythwaite. Unbeknown to the others, they had made a bond to get rid of Ser Thoragild. Alwaythe was positive that he should be the King’s Protector and in command of the combined armies, and Smythwaite would have the opportunity to get rid of the man who, in his unbending mind, precipitated the death of his son. It was a win-win situation for both of them.
“Weather permitting, I will have Lord Noragant plan the festivities and announce the date and setting of the event,” King George stated, picking up a small platter of cheeses and munching on them. “If there is nothing else to discuss, I declare this war council at a close.”
Ser Thoragild watched the Lords closely as they slowly exited the room. Lord Smythwaite stormed out first with an arrogant and pompous expression plastered on his sallow face, followed closely by Lord Alwaythe. He did not trust either man. He knew Lord Smythwaite had eyes on the throne, more than eyes actually. According to his own agents, the man was scheming to remove George from power and replace him, but he was very good at what he did, never leaving any loose ends or engaging sloppy agents. Whatever clandestine actions he instigated, he done so with well selected and far removed proxies, never leaving any breadcrumbs leading back to his door.
Ser Thoragild waited until the others had left before he turned to the King. “There was an emissary from the merchant’s guild and serf’s in to see me today, Your Grace. “They advised me that if the knights and men-at-arms have not left within a fortnight of today, the city will starve the rest of the winter. Also, a considerable number of Lords and Knights have been taking undue advantage of your hospitality, stating that the King’s treasury will pay the massive debts they have accumulated while here in the capitol. There is even a hint of rumor that certain of your highest Lords have been encouraging this behavior, by refusing to pay for their own goods and services.”
“And who might those, certain Lords be?” King George asked, as if he already had a good idea who would be designated.
“Lord Smythwaite and Lord Alwaythe, head the list,” Your Grace, “but there is a goodly number of minor Lords following their names.”
King George looked as if he was in deep thought for a few moments, and then finally replied. “It’s a King’s duty to be generous to his guests. I would expect them to return the courtesy when my royal entourage visits their estates.”
Ser Thoragild pulled a small piece of parchment from inside his doublet and unrolled it. “The merchant’s emissary left a tally sheet with the scribendi in charge of the royal treasury. According to his esteemed estimate, it will require well over half of the royal treasury to make recompense on these unpaid charges and this does not include damages done to public and private property, crops, domestic animals, and establishments.”
King George looked flabbergasted. His complexion quickly turned red, his eyes bulged, and a look of outrage spread across his features. “Find out who owes what and have my royal treasurer post a lien against their estates until their debts are paid in full. I will have Lord Noragant send them a writ under my royal seal. Courtesy is one thing; theft and outright duplicity are another.” He angrily threw the cheese platter onto the map table and stomped out of the room.
Queen Denize watched as the King stormed out of the war room and rapidly walked towards his private chambers. He was cursing in a loud tone of voice for some ungodly reason or other. She just happened to be passing by in that area of the palace, hoping to catch the eye of Lord Alwaythe. She had a minor addition to their plan and wanted to be certain that the little detail was understood and received and she trusted no one but herself to deliver it. She spotted Lord Alwaythe and Lord Smythwaite further down the lengthy corridor. They had suddenly stopped and turned at the angry bellowing of the King as he left in the opposite direction. She motioned for them to join her with a quick hand signal.
For a few moments they simply discussed casual affairs, and then brought up the suggestion of the festival. Queen Denize was delighted for it was, after all, her proposal made earlier before the war conference. During the conversation she cunningly slipped a note to Lord Alwaythe which gave him directions where to find a certain dagger needed for future use and how it would be used if necessary. He smiled and assured her that things were in order. They already knew that the written words on the slip of paper would dissolve within the hour leaving a blank page. It wasn’t magic, just a minor necromancer’s trick with disappearing ink.
As she turned to leave, she almost ran into Ser Thoragild who was just exiting the war room. He looked at her in surprise, and then glanced at the receding backs of Lords Alwaythe and Smythwaite.
“They told me about the upcoming festival,” the Queen stated, noticing the undue concern and perplexity on his face. “Will you be jousting or fighting in the combat challenges? I dare say no one could possibly rival you in the martial arena.”
“My duty is to the King, You’re Highness,” he stoically replied. “I have no time to play games and seek unnecessary laurels.”
“Your duty is also to the Queen, is it not, Ryykon Thoragild?”
Ser Thoragild smiled but avoided the loaded question and the hungry eyes the Queen openly flaunted.
“A well placed word from the Queen on behalf of the Schermon family while I was away may have saved the lives of three loyal men,” he stated. Ser Thoragild knew of the plot to steal their land and estate but he had no means of proving it. “Where are your ladies in waiting, my Queen?” he continued. “I think I spotted them on the croquet court just before the council meeting. Surely they are lost without your guiding hand to shepherd them?
Queen Denize gave him a scornful stare then hoisted up her gown and left with a strained smile plastered on her lovely face.
To conserve rapidly dwindling supplies and get rid of the hungry mouths devouring his larder like starving locusts, the King declared the games and tournament to be conducted in a mere three days after the war council meeting. Although the preparation time was far less than what was needed to host such an elaborate event, he ordered Lord Noragant to make do with what he could arrange. He pointed out that those who would engage in the tournaments and combats were already present, and his royal seer had predicted the day would be bright and clear with perfect weather.
On the day of the festivities, the great lord’s and lesser knight’s campaign tents were moved to a large grassy field near the great freshwater sea that had not been disturbed by all the war preparations. Pavilions were erected along a broad avenue and carriages for the royal family and their retinue was lined up in a great semi-circle. There was no time or material to build the customary stands. Merchants set up booths to sell their ale, roasted game, meat pies, and troubadours walked among the aisles singing songs and reciting poetry. Serfs displayed stalls with pies, fresh and dried fruit, figs, apples, nuts, and pears. Great cauldrons hung over pit fires containing stews, soups, and boiled vegetables and tables heaped with freshly baked breads. The children stood around with wide hopeful eyes at the tables bearing fritters, turnovers, honeyed doughnuts and similar sweet pastries.
Several enterprising blacksmiths set up shop hoping to do a brisk business in horseshoes and mending armor and weapons.
Lord Naragant, with the aid of select scribendi as judges and officials, settled on the bouts that would take place during the single day of festivities. Normally, festivities lasted for three or more days to allow all the jousts, combats, and other activities included. The King insisted on one day, for good reason.
The Joust a plaisance tournament would be limited to running the list one time instead of the traditional three, the losers culled by a selection of judges until the final two left decided the winner. No passage of arms would be allowed and a knight would not give up his charger, armor, and weapons to the winner, as he would need them in the upcoming campaign. The Melee was limited to ten teams, representing the top ten Lords in the realm. After the Melee was completed, a call to single combat would compete the day.
Just as the royal seer had predicted, the event turned out on a beautiful day. The weather had cleared with a crystal blue sky and bright sunshine chasing away the bitter cold. Although it was still chilly, it was perfect weather for men struggling in heavy padded gear and armor. By the time the Royal Family was escorted to the field by the King’s Own Guards, anticipation was at the breaking point.
King George rose from his position in a high carriage and waved a small banner of a black dragon on a field of yellow. “Let the hastiludes begin!” he bellowed, followed by a loud chorus of trumpeters. Then began a long procession of lords and knights passing in front of the King and Queen and the privileged spectators, shouting war cries and showing off their splendid armor with their coat of arms proudly displayed on a staff. Their weapons had all been inspected by referees to insure they were properly blunted. The kingdom could not afford to lose a knight or noble with the close onset of war.
The majority of the knights were dressed in chain mail made from thousands of metal rings, called a hauberk. A padded cloak beneath the hauberk helped them to carry the weight. The lords who had elected to enter the games wore full plate armor, consisting of sabatons, poleyns, cuisses, gauntlets, vembraces, pauldrons, rerebraces, and breastplates. They carried their helmets under their arms.
At a signal from the chief referee, a flag was raised for the first of the jousts to begin and for the next three hours charge after charge was made down the track until one single knight had defeated all the others. The hero of the joust rode his destrier over to the King’s carriage to receive his reward, a laurel crown. The laurel would later be replaced with a gold circlet. As planned, Queen Denize strode out to the gallant knight and handed the victory crown to him, whispering something unheard by the noisy crowd. The knight was named Ser Byron Amadare, the same person she and Lord Alwaythe had hired to kill Ser Schermon, the undefeatable knight many called him. Ser Amadare whispered back to the queen advising her that he fully understood the plan and was eager to accomplish it.
A call for the Melee was sounded next. By that time the leaders and referees had decided on which side each team would fight, which consisted of five teams on each side. The teams lined up in preparation for the charge. A bugle was blown and each side lowered their lances and charged. The knights, who were still on their war horses after the first charge, turned around and charged again, and again, until there were only two knights left facing each other. The winner of that final bout rode to the King’s carriage to receive his laurel crown.
Afterwards, the call to single combat sounded. By then it was late in the day with little over one hour left for the final tournament. Only a few knights elected to enter the contest, many others having been bruised or fatigued from the other tournaments. Ser Amadare was the first to enter the arena followed by a mere half dozen other knights. The fighting was over quickly. Ser Amadare vanquished his opponent in less than a minute then turned to challenge the remaining knights after they won their bouts. None dared challenge him, several even spat on the ground at his feet before walking away. He was not popular among them. Ser Amadare swaggered around the arena with his hands held up and a sneer on his face, signifying that he could not be beaten.
Queen Denize smiled behind her fan at the boastful fool and turned to the King. “That arrogant cretin dared to insult me, My King,” she whispered in his ear. “When I offered the laurel crown to him he bid me join him in his bed, insinuating that I was a mere scullery maid destined for his carnal pleasure.”
King George sprayed the wine he had just sipped in a choking cough, his face turning a beet red and his eyes bulging out. He stood and pointed his shaking finger at Ser Amadare. “You dare to insult your queen!” he yelled. “Guards, seize him!”
Ser Amadare had been promised a Lordship of his own with an attendant estate and a royal pardon from the Queen with safe backing from Lords Smythwaite and Alwaythe if he would kill the king in public combat. The King’s death was on the Queen’s hands, the other two thought only Ser Thoragild would be bated into single combat. Amadare was looking forward to enjoying the fruits of his labor, and perhaps even further delights from the queen. “I demand trial by combat,” he replied. “But I doubt seriously that you are man enough to stand against me.”
“How dare you!” King George bellowed. “I’ll wipe the ground with your arrogant stinking carcass.” He stood to jump from the carriage and was quickly halted by a hand on his chest.
“As the King’s Protector, I demand my rights to be your champion,” Ser Thoragild stated, a disarming but insistent smile on his face.
“You demand?” the King replied. “Since when does anyone demand something from their King? I can defeat this guttersnipe.”
Ser Thoragild retracted his demand, but focused his eyes on the King’s rotund stomach, soft hands and fleshy jowls, silently indicating that he was in no shape to defeat a champion killer. He did not speak a single word afterwards.
“Very well,” King George slowly relented. “I guess that is part of your duties.”
Behind the King’s back, Queen Denize did her utmost to hide her deep seated frustration at the disruption of her careful planning. It did not, however, go unnoticed by Ser Thoragild. Ser Smythwaite and Ser Alwaythe glanced at each other in glee. They were made to believe that part of getting rid of Ser Thoragild was also part of the Queen’s plan, they had no idea it was the King she was after.
Ser Theragild stepped down from the carriage and advanced towards the arrogant young knight. He already knew of the man’s prowess at combat and his ill controlled self-conceit. Perhaps that would work in his favor.
Ser Amadare threw his dull tournament sword to the ground and pulled out his razor sharp dagger. “This is to the death, Ser Thoragild,” he grinned. “I have always wanted to go up against the greatest and most feared knight in the realm. Too bad you’re so old and out of shape. This should not take long.”
Ryykon unsheathed his own dagger. “Whenever you’re ready, pretty boy.” He dropped into the on guard position and watched as Amadare shifted into an open stance using the fencing grip, a technique Ryykon frowned on. It was too easy to knock the knife or dagger loose in such a grip.
Ryykon much preferred the hammer grip. A knife held in this fashion was less likely to be knocked from his grasp, and could also be used in conjunction with a punch or to deliver butt-end knife strikes. Unlike with the fencer's grip, the hammer grip can be used for chopping, slashing, and especially thrusting.
Amadare assumed the basic triangle stance. Also known as the "fencer's" stance, the triangular posture allowed him to move in any direction at a moment's notice. This stance also provided maximum reach because his knife was held in the hand nearest to Ryykon.
Both men fenced back and forth. Ryykon appeared to be serious but the watching knights could tell he was playing for time with Amadare. Ryykon continued to hide behind his knife, keeping the knife between him and his opponent. He alternately attacked, blocking and parrying any thrusts Amadare made. After fifteen minutes of back and forth slashing, Ryykon became frustrated and his frustration was turning into anger, a dangerous sign. He could not get through Amadare’s excellent blocking.
Ryykon held his free hand close to his solar plexus to protect his heart and throat. Should Amadare’s dagger blade get through his defenses, his free hand would absorb the blade rather than one of his vital organs.
Amadare concentrated on distracting Ryykon. He was faking punches, throwing real punches and several times he reached down and threw sand into Ryykon’s face. Ryykon, expected each move and countered them with a grin. Amadare got lucky with one move and sliced deep into Rykkon’s left palm.
After thirty minutes of serious fencing, Amadare became desperate. He had tried every move he knew yet the old man continued to counter them. He knew another technique, which fighters hated to see, was to aim for the opponent's weapon-wielding hand. By disabling the hand that held his weapon, he could neutralize the threat to his safety and gain the advantage.
Ryykon immediately noticed the change in Amadare’s technique. “You’re pretty good.” Ryykon stood back and mopped his forehead with the back of his sleeve. “But you do not know real fighting. There is no such thing as a professional knife fighter, even if you know every move there is.”
“I can see a few drops of blood coming from you,” Amadare grinned. “I don’t see any coming from myself.”
“I’ll give you one last opportunity to live,” Ryykon replied. “As much as I want to kill you, like the butcher you are, I am willing to offer you your life, if you throw down the dagger.”
Amadare felt sure he could eventually take Ryykon, as he was older, a little bit slower, and did not react as fast. “You’re a dead man.” He spat.
Ryykon wiped his knife on his sleeve, wrapped a leather strap around his left hand over the bleeding wound and motioned for Amadare to return to the on guard position. “There are a few things I have learned with age that you are too young and not experienced enough to know,” he smiled at Amadare.
Ryykon suddenly grabbed Amadare’s dagger blade with the hand wrapped in leather. Amadare tried to pull his knife from the grip but Ryykon held on to it so tight he could not pull it loose. His face went blank and his eyes quickly lit up with fear.
“First, use the element of surprise. I see that you are shocked that I grabbed your blade with what you thought was my bare hand. It isn’t bare, the leather strapping I wrapped around it is strong enough to prevent you from pulling your blade free. I might get an added cut or two, but you are now defenseless.”
Rykkon quickly jerked the dagger from Amadare’s grip. The man was now on the edge of panic, he was sweating profusely, blinded by dust and having difficult time breathing. He had never thought that anyone would pull such a trick, he thought he knew it all.
“Second,” Ryykon stated, “When you fight with a knife, you fight to kill. All this fancy falderal gets you nowhere.” Ryykon spat in Amadare’s face and backed up. “However, your eventual fate lies with his Grace, the King, he is the one you insulted.”
King George jumped from his carriage and raced onto the field. As he came up to Ser Thoragild, he grabbed Amadare’s dagger from his hand then faced the frightened and cowering man. “I heard you say, to the death, Ser Knight. He plunged the dagger into Ser Amadare’s throat and sliced to the right cutting the man’s jugular and sending bright gouts of blood flooding onto the dry ground. He then turned, patted Ser Thoragild on the shoulder and walked back towards the royal carriage.
Ser Thoragild was distracted by several faces he had glimpsed earlier in the milling crowd. He would swear that at least two of the squires from his school had been shouting for him to defeat the dead knight. He was certain of it now that he had a good look at them. They suddenly noticed his gaze and quickly lost themselves in the crowd.
At that very moment, a man rushed up behind King George and pushed a small dagger into his unprotected neck. In less than a second, Thoragild grabbed the man and pushed him into the arms of one of the King’s Own who had rushed to the King’s aid. He turned to the gasping King and lowered him to the dusty earth, leaving the dagger in place just in case it was preventing blood loss.
King George was gasping for air. His mouth kept opening and closing but no words came out. He finally whispered, poison, and died with his eyes open. Ser Thoragild felt like weeping. He and George had known each other since they were children, and while he was not a great king, he had always been an honest and reliable friend.
Queen Denize rushed up and sat on the ground beside the dead king and Ser Thoragild. She knew King George was dead, the poison she had chosen to place on the dagger was the deadliest in the known land. It had been her back-up plan in case Ser Amadare failed in his mission.
She pulled the dagger from the King’s neck and held it out. “Poison.” Ser Thoragild whispered.
“I’ve seen this dagger before,” Queen Denize stated, holding it up so she could read the initials on the beautifully carved handle. “This dagger belonged to one of the Schermon boys. The initials on it are P.S.”
“Pieter Schermon,” Ser Thoragild muttered. His brows were tightened as if he found the possibility hard to believe. “The assassin is in the hands of the King’s Own,” he replied. “They will quickly find out who engaged him to do this insidious deed.”
Not likely, Queen Denize thought. In less than an hour the assassin would be a pile of white powder, just like the three men who attempted to assassinate her son. Things had not quite gone as she originally planned, but they had turned out very much to her liking. Now, she had plans of her own to make, for her and her son, King Robert.
If you would like to read more of Analia's continuing adventures, all chapters have now been posted. Chapter eight at: