A young farm girl undertakes a fantastic and perilous journey in a Medieval like world.
|The Lone Traveler
The apothicarius arrived within minutes of Ser Thoragild’s leaving. He was not the Royal Apothicarius, or among the many lounging around waiting on the beck and call of the nobles, but a man that Ryykon personally used and trusted. His name was Phylos and he accompanied Ryykon to the battlefield and when he left on lengthy missions. He probed Analia’s wound and thoroughly cleaned it and applied a healing ointment before carefully bandaging it with a clean white strip of cloth.
“The wound did no serious damage to the muscle and did not strike any major blood vessels,” Phylos stated. “It should quickly heal with minimal pain and discomfort. We are lucky I found no grease or sauce in the wound; it was obviously made with an eating knife. I will return in the morning to change the dressing and apply more healing salve.”
Ser Thoragild smiled and gently patted the man on the back. “Thank you my friend. You are certain there is nothing we need to be concerned about?”
Phylos motioned for Ryykon to follow him over to a distant corner of the room. “Physically, your niece is a very healthy young lady,” he whispered. “However…”
“However what?” Ryykon’s bushy eyebrows rose in concern.
“It is my understanding that she has unintentionally humiliated some very powerful enemies, possibly the Queen herself. She must take after her uncle.” Phylos smiled. “I would recommend that someone taste her food and drink before she consumes either.”
Ryykon grimaced. “Poison?”
Phylos nodded his head. “I would also suggest that everything that touches her wound, especially the soiled bandages and any hair from her brush, be thoroughly burned. An evil necromancer could create powerful spells with such items taken from any human body.” He was referring to the assassin who had killed the King and how the man abruptly turned into white powder before he could be questioned.
Ryykon’s face paled. “I will seek volunteers to taste her food and, with your help, show Nania what needs to be burned which may be useful in black wizardry.” He walked over to Analia.
“Phylos tells me that you will be up and doing back flips before long,” Ryykon smiled. “You must rest now.” He motioned for Nania to follow him. When they were out of hearing from Analia he explained Phylos’ concerns. “I’ll test the food myself,” Nania replied with a grimace that made Ryykon flinch. He wasn’t certain that even a glass full of poison could harm the huge woman.
Rykkon patted her on the shoulder and ambled over to young Pieter. “Rumor has it that you have been offered a position in the Prince’s Guard,” he queried. “Yes Ser,” Pieter quickly responded. “You have another offer if you want it,” Ryykon continued. “I will need a few good squires in the field, would you be willing to accommodate me and provide the names of a number of other brave young men to fill the positions. I want no lickspittles?”
Pieter did not have to think for more than a second. Ser Thoragild was like a father to him and the man he most admired among all the knights in the realm. Plus, he would be where the action was and not posted in some stuffy old building at the beck and call of every Lord who happened to slither by. Most of all, although he and the Prince were old friends from the school, the Queen Regent scared him silly.
“I would like that very much, Ser.” He replied. “Providing I can be released from the previous offer. I would also recommend Sean MacAngis and David Alwaythe as potential squires.”
“I know of the MacAngis boy, he was at the school,” Ryykon mused, “a good choice, but I do not know young David. Is he the one they ran out of the feasting hall?”
“Yes Ser,” Pieter responded. “They ran him out because he is bastard born, but I will vouch that he is a good man and would make a great squire. He has been trained in the squire’s duties.”
Ser Thoragild rubbed his chin in thought then replied. “I have known and fought with many a bastard born who were heads above their lawful born brothers. If you recommend him, your personal endorsement is enough for me. Go collect these two young squires and all three of you meet me in my barracks quarters in one bell.”
Pieter glanced over to where Analia was resting on a soft settee.
“You may say hello to my niece,” Ryykon stated, noting the look of concern in the young squire’s eyes. I am aware that you were friends back at the school and spent many nights sneaking out to the inns and lollygagging about in the forest. Do not worry about her safety, Lord Culloden and his men will take good care of her, and, if by some chance anyone got past either of them, I am certain Nania will cheerfuly decimate them.”
Pieter still hesitated and looked at Ryykon as if he was afraid to ask something.
“Out with it, son!” Ryykon said. “If you’re going to cover my arse in battle I need to know everything there is to know about you, even when you take a piss or scratch your own arse.”
“It’s important to me,” Pieter replied. “When my title and estates were restored to me, everything was returned except my father’s sword. It is made from star metal and has been in our family for many generations. I noticed that Lord Alwaythe had it in his possession just before the festival.”
“A man’s sword is just as important as his honor and estates,” Ryykon grinned. “Your father fought many honorable battles with that beautiful weapon and I know it well. Your family sword will be returned to you. That is not an idle promise that is a fact.”
Analia was lying lengthwise on the settee with several plump cushions behind her to help prop her up. She did not appear to be in much pain; actually, she seemed annoyed by all the fuss and unnecessary attention she was receiving. She flashed a warm smile as Pieter approached her. “I was hoping to spend some time with you at the festivities,” Analia said. “But I couldn’t seem to shake off all those enthusiastic lords and knights.”
“I had the same problem,” Pieter smiled. “I had to relive every battle that some of the knights fought in excruciating detail. I thought one of them was going to stab me with a roasted chicken leg before the feast was over. I felt awful when I saw you assaulted but I was too far away to do anything about it. Ser Thoragild tells me that you will be well soon. His apothicarius is the best in the realm.”
“No need for any absolution, Pieter,” Analia quickly nodded. “Had you been next to me I think none of this could have happened. Thankfully, Lord Culloden and my uncle were able to stop the evil man. I have no idea what possessed him to do such a thing.”
“I do have some good news,” Pieter eagerly replied. “Your uncle has accepted Sean, David and me as his personal squires. I look forward to serving under the greatest warrior in generations.”
Analia chuckled. “You don’t know how demanding Ryykon can be, he was a slave driver at the school and he will likely be much worse in the field where every action is critical. He may be rough and exacting, but he is also fair and just. You should know ‘Unkle’s’ manner by now. I also agree that Sean and David will make excellent squires and I am confident that the three of you will protect him.”
Pieter heard a loud throat clearing harrumph in the background and turned to see Nania giving him the evil eye, he knew his time was up. “You must get your rest now, Analia. We will need you and your Dragon Riders and Valkyri in the days and weeks to come. I promise to return to visit if, when, I get the opportunity.” He smiled and gave her hand a soft gentle squeeze. He thought of placing a kiss on her forehead but considered the act far too bold.
Analia felt a jolt of energy run through her hand and mind as he squeezed. It was as if a piece of her spirit and a piece of his combined, creating a warm titillating sensation of unity and amity as if they somehow shared a great secret hidden deep in the depths of their souls. She was bewildered by the pleasant sensation, but gave it no further thought as Nania boldly strode over to shoo everyone away from her.
The cold winter weather had finally settled into cool days mingled with frosty mornings and cloud ridden skies. Ser Thoragild had talked at length with the three of them late into the night, outlining his expectations concerning their assigned duties and promised that they would have the most difficult time in their young lives when battle was finally joined with the enemy. He reminded them of the rough training they had received at the school, and verbally tested David on his knowledge and depth of training. By the time they left his stark quarters, they were somewhat cowered by Ser Thoragild’s expectations but very eager and anxious to prove themselves.
The next day, Ser Thoragild ordered all Camalund forces to advance to their staging positions previously designated in the original campaign plans drawn up by King George’s war council. He made one small change; he ordered a unit of ten thousand to remain at Camalund Castle as a defending force. Although many believed that Angalund could not possibly break through the combined forces of Camalund and Alataria, Ryykon took no chances. He also dispatched Talina to Vituria to assume the duties of diplomat. Her job was to convince King Charles Lacouture and Queen Sophie to join in the war against Angalund. Talina Ne Galloise was from Vituria and she was also from a noble family. Lord Smythwaite balked at the appointment, however, Sr. Thoragild told him to go do something nasty to himself.
The next thing he did was to request his Adjutant to prepare his squires for the rigors of the campaign. There were four squires in all, Pieter, Sean, David, and Elise. The boys were shocked that Ser Thoragild would choose a girl as one of his squires, but they knew better than to question his judgement. His adjutant, Regi Barbare, he disdained any titles, was not one of the perfumed and lackadaisical type that most of the lords preferred, he was a proven warrior and tough as nails. Some said he broke his fast on nails and shat chain mail as feces. He was shorter than Ser Thoragild and about the same height as the squires. That’s where the small resemblance ended. He was broad of shoulder, with muscles rippling on top of muscles, bald as an egg, and meaner than a badger. He was so ugly, he made Nania appear handsome. He had been given the nickname of Caltrop because he loved to use the nasty little weapons on men who challenged him in pub fights. Caltrop was also a man with a personality disorder. He was extremely antisocial and had a total lack of conscience. His most redeeming trait was that he worshipped the ground that Ser Ryykon walked on.
Over the next week, Caltrop put the squires through their paces. He cared not whether they were noble or serf or bastard born, his only concern was their abilities. He did not call them by their given names, but provided them with a substitute that suited him. Pieter he called Maggot, he called David Pretty Boy, and Sean was named Dumb Arse. It would be inappropriate to note what he called Elise, suffice to say it was not cute. Each time one of them thought they could not possibly do another sword stroke, cast another javelin, run another mile or climb another wall, he would get into their faces and belittle them by yelling a steady stream of disgusting things about their birth, family, personal hygiene, and sex. Words like loathsome, repulsive, odious, nauseating, and repugnant dominated his colorful description of their abilities.
Sean made the unfortunate mistake of talking back to him after one long and particularly tough training session, and discovered just how unprepared he was to take on a brute like Caltrop. Although Sean was the best scrapper the boys knew in the school and in the inns, Caltrop made him look like a novice after a few minutes. As a result, Sean’s respect for the man blossomed. He took everything Caltrop threw at them, and asked for more. He also maneuvered Caltrop into teaching them some of his hidden, though devious, fighting techniques.
To the squire’s amazement, they quickly discovered why Ser Thoragild had chosen Elise as one of his squires. She had been born and raised in the rugged mountains. Her family was wild folk and professed no allegiance to any king or lord, which made them outlaws in the eyes of the realm. However, that did not bother either Ryykon or Elise. She was not a large girl, but short, slim, and sinewy. She kept her dark raven hair trimmed like a squire and possessed very large and sharp eyes. No one would honestly call her beautiful, but behind her stoic features she was very cute. Elise was the fastest and most agile person they had ever met. She could even avoid Caltrop’s lightening moves, and somehow slither herself from his grasp or any person’s hold with the greatest of ease.
Elise was the also the best tracker and scout in the army and had more knowledge of the forest than even the Khelti who often boasted of their forestry skills and stealth. Elise used only one weapon, the dagger, though she was proficient with many. She wore a belt of well-balanced daggers and knew how to use them. During practice she would place a dozen daggers on an equal number of targets, whether they were stationary or moving and she could do so while running, jumping or twisting at awkward angles. They were all shocked one afternoon when Sean mentioned it would be nice to have roast chicken for supper. She then threw a dagger into the eye of a running chicken a good twenty yards away. She was clearly more deadly than the three other squires combined.
One late afternoon when they were all thoroughly exhausted from the daily grind, Aloise Pemberton and a group of boys who had joined Lord Alwaythe’s retinue of pimple faced squires, kept heckling and calling them by their nick-names. Pemberton was the one who had accosted Pieter in the stables. When they were finally released from training, Pemberton stood and openly challenged any one of the three to a fight; however, his eyes were locked securely on Pieter. He was much larger than any one of them, standing a full two meters in height and carrying a weight of at least two hundred pounds.
Sean started towards the would-be bully, but Elise jumped up and beat him to the brute, a sudden smile of delight on her face. “I will not fight a stupid girl!” Aloise shouted. “I take it none of you are man enough to take me on?” Elise however, would not give up. She slapped him hard in the face, once for attention, then again for fun. Aloise roared like an angry bear and charged at her, but he never made contact.
Over the next fifteen minutes, Elise continued to dart in and land hard open hand slaps on his face, she even brought blood when his bulbous nose started spouting. Pemberton continued grasping for her until he was thoroughly exhausted and finally made one last desperate lunge. It was a move he should never have made, because, within seconds he was lying on the muddy ground holding his groin and moaning in severe pain. The squires who had accompanied him started to move towards Elise, but Caltrop coughed and advised them against it. They helped Aloise to his unsteady feet and slowly walked away from the severe humiliation.
None of the boys had had a chance to visit with Analia, but they were told by Ser Thoragild that she was well on the way to a full recovery. Elise spent all her time with Analia and they grew to become great friends. Pieter also discovered that David was madly in love with Analia and was shocked by the unexpected admission. He wasn’t yet sure how he truly felt about her, but he did know they held some type of special bond and he was secretly jealous of David’s incessant talking about how beautiful and wonderful she was and how he intended to make her is bride when the war was over. Pieter had grown to like David almost as much as he liked Sean, but there were limits to his friendship and he was beginning to realize that Analia might be one of them.
After eight days of grueling training and harsh physical conditioning, Caltrop declared them ready to resume their normal duties as squires. By that time, they had not only learned to respect the mean little ogre, they had come to admire and almost love him.
As the four squires rested on the barracks steps prior to heading to the mess for lunch, a royal carriage pulled into the practice yard and headed in the direction of the royal keep. It was followed by a squadron of armored knights and mounted infantry bearing the banner of the royal House of Hielgerton, that of Queen Lizbeta of Alataria.
They watched as the carriage stopped in front of the massive entrance to the royal keep. The coachmen jumped down and opened the small carriage doors, bowing low as a tall, lavishly dressed man exited and walked through the small side door into the royal palace. They continued to wait but there was no sign of the queen. The coachmen finally closed the carriage doors and remounted, signaling for the driver to pull the coach to the stable area. They were followed by the mounted squadron.
David identified the stranger. “That’s Lord Connahe, Queen Lizbeta’s Regent. He must be here on behalf of the queen.” They instantly knew that if Queen Lizbeta’s Regent was here, something serious must have happened in Alataria.
Later that evening during the supper meal, Ser Thoragild entered the large mess with a small retinue of knights following him, including his second in command, Lord Alwaythe. Most of the other leaders had been dispatched a week ago to assume their positions on the upcoming battlefield. He called for silence and stood on one of the heavy tables near the front of the room.
“I have news,” he spoke in a loud voice so all could easily hear. “Queen Lizbeta is dead. According to her Regent, Lord Connahe, she was poisoned along with a number of her ladies-in-waiting during a small private dinner. Due to the untimely death of King Domedes, Lord Connahe has assumed leadership in Alataria pending approval of the royal council until a surviving member of the royal family can be crowned.”
He halted for a short pause so the information could be digested by the assemblage. “The second half of my information has more of a bearing on our situation here in Camalund. Lord Connahe has informed us that the military forces of Alataria have been pushed back to our borders by the Empire of Angalund and that their capitol city of Alation is presently under siege.
Our forces, dispatched a week ago, are nearing the border and will soon join with those of Alataria. We will not be fighting Alataria after all, we have made a truce to fight Angalund. We will leave on the morrow for the front. Be prepared!” As he left the mess, Ser Thoragild signaled for his four squires to join him in his quarters.
“Very convenient of him to bring those messages in person,” David whispered, “when a messenger bird would suffice. Should Alation fall he will be safe and secure here in Camalund.
“Probably hoping that the surviving members of the royal family meet a timely end at the hands of the Angalunders,” Sean spat. “It is said that he is a ruthless and cunning bastard.”
As the four quietly entered Ser Thoragild’s private quarters, he motioned for them to relax on several wooden stools arrange near the stone walls. They were pensive but eager to get their gear and equipment ready for the morning’s march.
Ser Thoragild picked up something from his desk and walked over to Pieter. “Your family sword,” he stated, handing the beautiful weapon to Pieter. “Use it with honor and where possible with mercy.” He walked back to his desk and stood with his hands behind his back. “Caltrop has advised me that you have met his expectations and standards. This is something in which each of you should take extreme pride. I know no better trainer or warrior than Caltrop and I have seen many aspiring squires and knights’ fall short of his approval. Tomorrow we leave for the front and your journey as squires will begin. Prove to me and my trusted knights that you have what it takes and there may be a knighthood waiting for you at the appropriate time. Failure to perform as required may also bring dire consequences. All except Pieter may leave.”
The others gave Pieter sidelong glances as they quietly left the room. Pieter didn’t know what to expect or why he was ordered to remain. His mind furiously raced with thoughts of what he may have failed to do, or had not done properly.
Ser Thoragild could see the concern and worry on his young face and switched from a serious grin to a warm smile. “Your father and I were close friends,” he finally stated. “Not only did we fight in many battles together, we feasted, hunted and caroused together when we were young. He was more of a man than you could possibly understand at your young age. I only ask that you try your best to honor him and do not be reckless in your daring. Your duty is not to die for the realm; it is to live so that your family may have a protector and so that future generations of Schermons may honorably serve the kingdom.”
“I will do my duty, Ser,” Pieter replied. “As I see it, my duty is to make sure the enemy dies for their kingdom, not for me to die for mine.”
“Make certain that you do just that,” Ser Thorgild smiled, releasing him to leave.