Thursday, April 30, 2015

And now, a pause...

I hope everyone enjoyed my short story "A Swordsman's Duty."  It was fun to write, and gives a bit of foreshadowing to Queen's Legacy, which will be done soon.

For the moment, postings will be sparse, as I'm ramping up the studying for my Head of Department board on the 11th of May.  After that, we're moving.  Not far, just from Colwood to Langford, but that takes the remainder of our efforts.

Once that's all done, then there'll be more postings of miniatures, writings and other ravings here.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Swordsman's Duty - The Conclusion

Erros opened his eyes slowly, the bright light making him squint.  He was lying on something soft.  It felt like a mattress but that couldn’t be.  Was this some sort of afterlife?  He had felt the blades pierce him.  The dagger should still be in his back. 
“Relax.  You’re back in Kardaal.”  A voice said.  He knew that voice.  He liked that voice.  It was familiar.  Something blocked some of the light and he could focus better.  It was Rylan, and she had pulled the curtains partially over the window.  He was in a room. The colour of the stone and style of architecture said it was the Queen’s palace in Kardaal, but no chamber he recognized.  His own quarters were much more spartan than the opulent room he saw around him.
“Where am I?” he asked.  His tongue felt three sizes too large, causing it to come out more like “Whuu amah?”
“You’re in Kardaal.  The Queen’s wing of the palace.  After she healed you at the inn we had you carried back to Kardaal where the healers could get to work.  You’ve been sleeping for a while.” She placed a cup of water in his hand and sat on the bed next to him, putting her hand over his.
“Rest.  The Queen will probably be here soon.  I sent for her when you woke.”  Said Rylan. 
“Am I interrupting anything?” the Queen said, knocking on the door while walking through it.  She sat on a chair next to the bed.
“No, your Highness.  Swordsman Mardaak was about to ask me to accompany him to the Solstice Celebration, and I was about to accept.” Rylan said.  She winked at Erros.
“Excellent.  Saves me from ordering him to do it.  Young man, I owe you a debt.  You found my daughter and kept her safe even though it would have cost your own life.  You will always have a place in my Queen’s Swordsmen.  Rylan here tells me you were very impressive, facing all of them by yourself.  She said you accounted for a great many of them before we arrived to chase the remainder off.”
“I was doing my duty your Highness.” Somehow Erros got his tongue to work properly again.
“If more people felt their ‘duty’ was that important then my life would be much easier.” The Queen said.  “You’ll have to attend the Solstice Celebration, as I intend to hand out some medals.  Until then, rest.  I’ll leave you two to catch up.”  The Queen rose and left.  Erros grimaced as he tried to sit up at attention.  Rylan pushed him back down. 

“You will rest.  Your Queen commands it and I’ll hit you if you don’t.” she said.  Erros looked up at her, and realized he had never actually said ‘yes’ to the Solstice Celebration.  Then again, when a pretty woman who has no qualms about stabbing people in the back says you’ve agreed, arguing is a bad idea.
*   *   *
And that concludes A Swordsman's Duty. Hope you enjoyed it. There will be more. Not sure when, but the stories of Erros, Rylan and Queen Gensieve are not yet over.  Leave a note in the comments, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Swordsman's Duty - Part Eight

            Rylan pulled the door the rest of the way closed.  How could she have dropped the thrice cursed door handle?  The voices in the common room stopped.  She pulled the knife out and held it ready in her right hand as she backed away from the door.  She pushed Anaya behind her.  The girl was gripping her knife so hard her knuckles had turned white.  Rylan turned back to face the door. Nallah yanked it open, her sword in hand.  One of the men was behind her.
            A wild cry erupted and Erros leapt onto the man behind Nallah.  She heard steel meet steel and a man fell into the room, a surprised look on his face and a growing, crimson stain on his chest.  She turned to Anaya.
            “Stay here.” she said.  Erros had pushed into the common room, his blade a silvery blur as he engaged the mercenaries.  She saw him parry the attack of one, slice his blade down the leg of another and bring it back up to block the clumsy, overhand blow of a third.  His blade flicked out and another man lurched back, clutching his arm where Erros had opened him from elbow to wrist. 
            Rylan saw Nallah sneaking up behind Erros, blade in hand.  She wasn’t paying Rylan any heed.  As Nallah passed in front of her Rylan tackled her. She drove the knife forward as hard as she could.  The other woman’s surprise was total, and Rylan felt her knife drive deep into Nallah’s back.  They both fell and Rylan lost her grip on the knife.  Nallah squirmed under her and Rylan hauled back and punched her in the face.  The other woman threw an arm up to protect herself but Rylan punched her again and again and again.  Nallah went still and Rylan got up, grabbing the knife out from under the woman.  Nallah didn’t move further and Rylan paid her no more mind.  Erros blocked a blade that was aimed at Rylan’s head.  She locked eyes with him and smiled.  He winked back and just as quickly was spinning around again, his blade a steel shield against the five opponents in the common room.  His blade was barely visible as it wove back and forth, blocking, attacking, blocking again.  She knew she was safe behind that barrier.
            “Get the Princess.  We need to leave!” he yelled.  Rylan stopped watching and went back into the room.
            “I’m here.”  The Princess said.  She still clutched the knife in her hand. 

            “Let’s go.” Rylan said.  Another man tried to flank Erros so Rylan jabbed her knife into his side.  Erros blocked another cut aimed at her, but took a slice along his ribs for his efforts.  Erros was bleeding from dozens of minor wounds.  She backed out of the room and onto the porch at the front of the inn.
*   *   *
            Erros was pressed by the four remaining mercenaries.  He dodged the blade of one only for his shoulder to meet the incoming mace of another.  He staggered to one knee but didn’t drop his guard.  Another man came at him from the front, and Erros parried his blade while twisting away from the mace wielder.  His blade reached out and found the man’s arm, stabbing through his forearm and forcing him to drop the weapon.  Erros lunged and his blade bit deep, felling the man.  Erros felt a sharp pain as another man came in and caught his thigh with the point of his blade.  He hadn’t dodged in time, and the remaining three were pressing him towards the door.  He took several long steps back, inviting them to close with him.  The first man did so and was met with the blur of Erros’ blade.  A slash across the face sent him stumbling back amongst his fellows and Erros turned and ran out the door. 
            He bumped into the Princess who was standing behind Rylan on the front porch.  Facing them were at least a dozen men, three of whom were on horseback.  One of the mounted men, dressed in finer clothing than the mercenaries around him, was talking.
            “Please, there is no need for violence.  Your Grace, despite our initially harsh methods you will not be harmed.” The man said, staring straight at Anaya.
            “Unfortunately, our goals are at cross-purposes to your mother’s.  A regrettable circumstance of politics.  Lay down your weapons, and no one need be harmed any further.”  Erros took an instant dislike to the man’s oily voice, too-well-coiffed hair and eyes that did not match the mild words.  Something about him was familiar too.
            “I have seen you before.” He told the man, pointing at him with his bloodstained blade.  “You were at the Queen’s court.  You work for one of the Barons.” 
            “And you are?” the man asked.
            “Erros Mardaak, Swordsman of the Queen, and the man who will kill you all if you try to take the Princess.” He said.  He stepped in front of the Princess and Rylan.  He grasped Rylan’s hand in his free on and gave it a squeeze.
            “They’re behind us too.” Rylan whispered at him.
            “I know.” He whispered.  “When it is time, go for the horses.  Remember who he is when you reach the Queen.”
            “Time for what?  What are you –“ before she could finish Erros leapt off the porch, blade sinking deep into the man nearest him.
            “Run!” he yelled.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Rylan punch her knife into one of the men behind them and drag Anaya off the porch.  All the men in front of the inn were focused on him and he was going to keep it that way.  They were also going to regret it.
            He lashed out around him, his attacks focusing left and right so none could flank him.  Every time one of them tried Erros was there, stepping into their attack.  He was the shield protecting Rylan and the Princess.  He danced across the ground, always between the mercenaries and his charges so they could escape.  Two blades came at him at once, one of them he blocked but the strength of its wielder prevented him from sliding it away and the other sword drew a bloody line down his arm.  He backed away, his blade finding the owner and ending his ability to fight forever.
            Another man tried to get behind him. Erros spun back and away to the right, his sword carving a path across the man’s belly.  Another blade snuck in to cut Erros’ leg and he ducked and rolled away from the knot of men that had grown around him.  He rose and went on the offensive.  He savagely hacked at one man who backed away parrying.  Another man, who was his real target, moved into the opening Erros had left. Erros stepped back, parried the incoming blow and shoved his blade into the man’s guts.  That one fell but the others kept coming. 
            Rylan and Anaya had almost reached the horses but two mercenaries were in close pursuit.  Erros spun around, taking a blade in the back of the shoulder where his armour was weakest, while another skidded across his cuirass, cutting into the flesh at his waist.  He ignored the pain and drove onwards.  The two men didn’t see him coming, so intent were they on their prey.  His first stroke ended the closest, a slash across the back of the neck felling him.  The second turned but it was too late as Erros’ sword slashed across his face then plunged into his torso just under the ribs.  He collapsed with a gurgle. 
            “Go!” he yelled as Rylan turned as if to help him.  Another man jammed a knife into Erros from behind.  The pain was like fire inside him but he turned and the man lost his hand and life to Erros’ blade.  Two more men caught up to him and he blocked both their blows.  His riposte sent the tip of his blade down one man’s face.  The other lunged in, scoring another line across Erros’ ribs.  A third man swept in and Erros managed to block his thrust. 
He dared a glance over his shoulder and saw Rylan on one of the horses with Anaya behind her.  Rylan looked back at him, mouthed ‘thank you’ and kicked the horse into motion.  None of the men were near them.  He crashed back into the group before him, the dagger in his back ripping through more muscle.  He concentrated on the offense, determined to swiftly kill as many of them as he could so they couldn’t chase Rylan and the Princess.  Two fell to him, his blade carving deep, but he took cuts to his arms, legs and even one to his face.  Blood was flowing freely down his limbs but he didn’t care.  He had to keep them busy, had to keep them from giving chase.  Slash, block, cut, parry, riposte, block, lash out again, and again, and again.  His vision narrowed to the man in front of him.  He cut that man down, barely surviving another round of blows from the others.  More of his blood dripped to the ground.  Weave, parry, lunge.  Another man fell before him; another blade carved a fresh furrow on his body.  Someone smashed his head with something heavy.  He staggered to one knee, his blade lashing out and cutting his assailant to the bone. 
More blades came at him.  He blocked, parried, thrust.  More were getting through.  He heard yelling and screaming, but it was hard to tell over the blood pounding in his ears.  He collapsed to his other knee, sword still held before him.  He looked around him to see where Rylan was, to make sure she got away.  He couldn’t see her.  The pain crashed over him and he couldn’t resist any longer.  The ground rushed up to meet him and then nothing.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Swordsman's Duty - Part Seven

The waypost inn in front of Erros was little different from many similar establishments.  For a place that should have had at least one or two travelers staying, there was disturbingly little activity.  He was crouched behind a small rise crowned with a bush to observe the place.  He had backtracked when the inn came in sight and tethered his horse out of view.
The only motion was two men on the front porch.  They didn’t seem like patrons. They were both armed and clearly keeping watch.  Erros was certain the Princess had been taken here, but was she still inside?  The front door was out of the question.  Even if he could deal with the two guards it would alert anyone inside, and that might mean death for the Princess. 
Erros made his way around the inn, keeping out of sight.  He reached a tree whose branches extended over the roof of the inn.  If he could get up there, then he could try to enter through one of the gabled windows on the second floor.  He grabbed the lowest branch on the tree and hauled himself up.  He slowly climbed higher, taking care to be as silent as he could and keep the bulk of the tree between him and any observers.  The branches over the inn were thick, but they still sagged as he crawled out on them. 
The foliage became thicker as he approached the end of the branch.  He looked down at the roof.  It was made of solid planks, coated with what looked like tar to keep the water off.  There was a gable with a shuttered window just up and to the left of the branch he was on.  He let his legs hang and eased himself as close to the roof as he could, then let go.
He hit hard, misjudging the height and his feet went out from under him.  He slid down the edge of the roof, clawing at the roof planks.  He caught himself before he slid too far and held absolutely still.  He held his breath but heard nothing to indicate that someone had heard him.  He got up on hands and knees and crawled to the window.  The shutter was held by a simple latch, but it was on the inside.  He drew his sword and slid the blade between the shutters.  They were a close fit but the blade slid in between.  He moved the blade up and against the catch.  It didn’t give.
“Sorry.” He whispered to his sword under his breath, and put his muscle behind it.  Master Akarris would have given him a thrashing for using a sword as a crowbar.  The latch gave way with a splintering sound.  He cringed at the noise but swiftly opened the shutter.  At least the hinges were well oiled. 
Inside was a dim room, lit only by the daylight coming in through the open shutter.  No one was inside nor were there signs of occupation.  The door was across the room from the window and he moved to it swiftly.  He listened at the door but heard nothing.  He tried the door handle and it turned smoothly.  He cracked the door open.  No guard waited to pounce on him.  He opened the door enough to poke his head out and look behind it.  No one seemed to be on this floor.
He crept out into the corridor.  A hallway ran the length of the upper floor, with doors to rooms on either side and a window at the end providing the only light.  The wooden floor was bare and Erros moved carefully, afraid of squeaky floorboards.  He heard voices coming from the stairs at the end of the hall opposite the window.  He couldn’t make out what they were saying, but there was no alarm in their voices.  He crept closer to the top of the stairs.  He could make out the words as he reached the landing. 
“When is Ristobel coming?  I’m tired and bored here.  There’s nothing to do.” A man’s voice whined.

“You’ll do as you’re told, unless you don’t want your share.  If you don’t want to stay I’ve got a sharp knife waiting for you, because I don’t trust you to hold your tongue.”  A woman’s voice scolded.  From his place at the top of the stairs Erros couldn’t see into the inn’s common room.  All he could see down the stairs was a door on the ground floor landing.  As he watched, the door handle wiggled.  The mount for the pull ring jiggled and twisted in its mount.  The door cracked open, a hand carefully holding it.  The top of a woman’s head appeared, and the door opened further.  The head turned and looked up the stairs.  It was Rylan.  Erros poked his head out further and put his finger over his lips as if to say ‘shhh.’  Surprise showed on her face, but she smiled and pulled her head back into the room.  She has a beautiful smile, thought Erros.  As she was closing the door, the door handle slipped out of her fingers.  It hit the floorboards with a metallic clunk.  All conversation stopped in the common room.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Swordsman's Duty - Part Six

            Their captors had bound Rylan and Anaya hand and foot and thrown them over their mounts like so much baggage.  Rylan’s back was so stiff she could barely stand up straight when they finally hauled them off the horses.  Anaya was the same. When they put her on her feet she swayed and nearly fell.  She kept quiet, but Rylan could see the tears on her cheeks.  The man and woman who had originally captured them had been joined by two other men.  One of them took his sword and cut the bonds securing Rylan’s feet, then did the same for the Princess.
Away from the battle they had followed a small road to what looked like a waypost inn, which were relatively common near major roads.  This one had no village surrounding it.  The building was two stories high, the lower half being made of stone and the upper floor of wood.  The front of the building had a wooden porch, raised up off the dirt of the courtyard.  Several large trees loomed over the inn and a sign showing a painted picture of a fish and a wineglass creaked in the breeze.  The woman pushed them towards the door.  Anaya tripped on the stair leading up to the porch so the woman grabbed the girl by the collar and bodily hauled her up.  Anaya whimpered as she was dropped on the porch.
“Mind your step.  I’d be happy to get rough with you, but you’re worth more to us alive.”  The woman said.  The man with her gave an ugly grin.  Rylan had the impression he didn’t say much that didn’t involve hurting someone. 
“You can’t truss us up on horses and expect us to walk.  What is wrong with you?” Rylan said.  In response the woman punched Rylan hard in the back of the head.  Rylan staggered but kept her feet.
“Get inside.” The woman snarled.  Rylan’s eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim interior of the inn’s common room.  Inside were half a dozen people, their mismatched armour and sour demeanor suggesting they were companions to their captors.  She didn’t see anyone else, though there was a large, red stain on the floor that looked reasonably fresh.  She hoped some of the innkeeper’s family had escaped.  She and Anaya were brought into the room.  Rylan stumbled against the woman as she was pushed along. 
“Where do we put them?” one of the men asked. 
“Why are there two?  I thought we were just after the girl.” asked another, his leer at Rylan leaving little doubt as to his intent.
“The extra one came with her.” The woman said.  “We got them both, and we can use one to keep the other in line.  I’m sure neither will misbehave if we have the other one to cut on.”  The woman ran one of her daggers along Rylan’s jaw, drawing blood, then down Anaya’s face.  The Princess closed her eyes squeezing tears from beneath the lids.  Rylan looked forward to paying the woman back in kind. 
“Nallah, we can put them in the storeroom.  It locks from this side.”  A third man said, holding a key.
“Just what I had in mind.”  Nallah, said.
“You’ll be sorry for this.” Rylan told her.  Nallah smiled at her.  She pulled on her braid of black hair and spun it around her finger.
“Oh no, whatever shall we do.  The Queen’s maid is promising us doom!  However will we survive?” she laughed, the men in the room cackling with her.  “Shut up bitch.  I’m not getting paid to worry about your skin.  Keep quiet, mind your place and I won’t give you to Horsten over there.”  The man Nallah pointed to with her knife made an obscene gesture with his hips and tongue.  Rylan gave him her most intimidating stare, but he just laughed. 
“Act out, and I’ll give him the Princess there.  We’ve been paid good money to bring her alive.  She doesn’t need to be intact.”  Nallah cackled at her own joke.  Rylan imagined a knife protruding from the centre of the woman’s forehead.  It was a small thing, but it made her feel slightly better.  Nallah leaned into Anaya’s face.
 “If you misbehave, she gets cut.  Since we don’t need her, we can cut deep.  Understand?” Anaya nodded. 
“Good.  Then you shouldn’t be worried.  Well, not you girlie.  Your maid should be, but that’s because she’s not merchandise.”  Nallah smiled at Rylan.  It was the kind of smile twisted people gave the insects they’re pulling the wings off of.
“Put them in the storeroom.” she ordered.  Two men grabbed Rylan’s arms and hauled her to the storeroom, her feet barely doing any of the work.  She heard two more bring Anaya behind her.  Rylan was thrust into the room like a ruffian being thrown out of a taproom.  The storeroom was barely three strides across in any direction.  She kept her footing but Anaya was not so lucky.  Rylan knelt beside her.
“Are you okay?” she asked.  Anaya looked up at her and nodded.  The Princess had a large bruise covering the left side of her face, and her dark hair was a disheveled halo around her head.  She had a black eye as well, but the dim light coming in around the door and through some of the wall planks hid the worst of it.  The storeroom was musty and smelled of old fruit.
“What do we do now?” Anaya asked.
“Now we figure out a way to get out of here.” Rylan said. 
“How do we do that?”
“I don’t know yet, but I’ll figure out something.  With your help, and my little friends.” Rylan opened her hands and showed Anaya the two knives she had slid up her sleeves.  They were long and narrow but had solid, well-kept blades.  She didn’t mention the slice she had inflicted on her arm hiding them there.  She hoped the owners wouldn’t notice the knives were missing for a while yet. 
“Where did you get those?” Anaya asked.
“I borrowed them.  I think we’re in greater need than their owners, don’t you?” said Rylan.  “Come closer so I can cut you free.”
“You mean you picked their pockets?” Anaya said.  Rylan chuckled as she cut the rope holding Anaya’s wrists together. 
“I wasn’t always the Queen’s handmaid.  I’ve had to learn a few things in my lifetime.  I’m out of practice, but they weren’t paying attention.  Take one.  If someone comes after you, put the sharp end into them.  That should give them second thoughts.”  Rylan handed Anaya the smaller of the two knives.  Anaya cut the ropes on Rylan’s wrists.

“Now, let’s see if we can’t loosen something and get that door opened.”  Rylan moved to the door and began feeling for where the hinges or nails might be.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Swordsman's Duty - Part Five

Rylan kept her head down, telling Anaya to do the same.  She glanced behind her at the Princess. There was fear in her eyes, but she wasn’t panicking.  Your mother would be proud, I just have to make sure you see her again, she thought.  There were riders behind them. She hoped they didn’t have bows.
“Faster!  Go ahead of me!” she yelled.  She moved between the Princess and their pursuers.  Rylan looked ahead and just barely saw three new riders charge in from their left.  One collided with her, but the horses kept their feet.  Rylan stayed upright and grabbed the enemy rider and yanked with all her strength.  He didn’t fall, but he had to right himself and Rylan was free of him.
“Keep going!  Don’t stop for anything!” she yelled at Anaya.  Another rider pushed into Rylan, and the woman on the horse leaned over and grabbed Rylan’s shirt in both fists.  Rylan clamped her thighs around the saddle and held on, punching her attacker as much as she could.  She hit the woman a few times, but one of the other mercenaries had come up on the other side.  A blade slid along her ribs eliciting a sharp pain as it cut into her.  She felt that same blade against her throat a moment later.
“Don’t stop, Anaya, don’t stop!” she cried.
“Don’t be a fool girl!” the woman mercenary called after the Princess.  “Come back or we’ll cut your maid’s throat right here!”  Rylan watched as Anaya stopped and slowly turned to face them.  No no no!  Go! Run! She wanted to yell at her.  She couldn’t move without being cut.  She felt a trickle of blood down her neck as she tried to keep her balance above the blade.
“We don’t have all day girlie.  Come back over here and you’ll both live.”  The woman said.  Rylan knew they were lying.  There was no way to get out of this alive if they were taken. 
“Run.” She whispered.  She felt the blade dig deeper into her neck. 
“I’ll stay, but you let her go!” Anaya yelled.  Rylan watched as another man came up behind the Princess on foot and yanked her off her horse.  She yelped and tried to fight him but the man grabbed her by the torso and threw her to the ground.  Anaya hit the dirt and Rylan heard her grunt.  The man pulled Anaya up and wrapped a rope around her, cinching her arms to her body.  Then he smashed his fist across her face.  The Princess collapsed and Rylan nearly leapt off her horse onto the sword in front of her.  Only the woman’s grip of her shirt kept her in place and her throat uncut.  The woman pulled out some rope to bind Rylan’s hands. 
*   *   *
            Erros followed the tracks made by the Princess and her pursuers.  He was no Queen’s Ranger but the trail was easy to follow.  Not far from where he had fought the three men he saw signs of a scuffle on the ground.  The dirt was churned up and hoofprints were all over, facing in all directions.  More than two horses for certain.  At least one person had been thrown to the ground as well.  Had they managed to take the Princess and Rylan?  There was some blood on the ground, but not much.  They had likely been alive at this point.  He looked for the others, but the Queen’s party was out of sight.  He looked back down, then around again.  No one else was near. He was on his own and the only one with any idea of where the Princess and Rylan had gone.
            The trail was not difficult to follow, save that Erros was going as fast as he could without losing it. He also tried to keep aware of his surroundings.  It wouldn't help if some rearguard ambushed him before he reached the Princess.  He backtracked at least once, cursing himself the whole time.  The trail finally ended at a road.  More of a cart track than a proper road, it was one of the small tracks leading away from the Coast Road into the interior of the Barony of the Shore Lands.  Erros dismounted to get a closer look but couldn’t tell on the hard packed dirt and wiry grass which way they had gone.  He stood and looked both ways on the road, but couldn’t see any sign of them.  He felt he was close behind, but if he chose wrong he could lose them completely.
            “If I were kidnapping someone, someone who I wanted to keep away from the Queen, I would not go back to the Coast Road.” He mused to himself.  His horse made a sound.
            “What would you know?” he asked the beast.  He remounted.  Most likely they had gone further away from the main road, and he turned inland. 

“Sweet Ancestors, let me be right.” He said.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

A Swordsman's Duty - Part Four

            Erros was shadowing the Princess while conversing with the Queen’s maid Rylan.  They were riding near the Queen and Captain Mann.  He could hear the Captain speaking to the Queen.
“Your Highness, I’m concerned about the road ahead.  I believe it’s a perfect spot for an ambush.”  The Captain pointed to where the road threaded between two forested hills that hid what lay beyond from view.  The hills weren’t especially tall but they made for a natural choke point in the road.
            “Captain, I’m glad you’re being diligent but we’ve been here many times before.” The Queen said.
            “Highness, I understand that, and I would not normally be so concerned, but have you seen anyone else on the road?  When we first left, even in the small village where we stopped for tea, there was always someone on or near the road.  I have not seen anyone in the last little while.  It makes me suspicious.” He said.
            “Indeed.  Do as you need to Captain.” The Queen said.
            “Haansten!  Feld!  Move ahead and scout the road!” the Captain yelled.  The two men he had named kicked their horses to a trot and advanced.  Erros watched the woods ahead of them.  The two men approached the gap between hills warily, hands on sword hilts.  One of them fell backwards over his horse.  Three arrows were sticking out of him.
            “Ambush!” Erros and the Captain yelled at the same time.
“Swordsmen, on me!” Captain Mann yelled.  Erros moved to take a place near the Captain.
“Erros stay here.  Protect the Princess.” The Captain ordered. 
“Rylan, stay with them.” The Queen told her.  Erros nodded and took position between the Princess and the attackers.  He couldn’t see any enemies yet, but the other man was also down, an arrow in his head.
Captain Mann led the closest Swordsmen in an advance towards the woods where the arrows had come from.  Their opponents were in the forest on the left hill, using the edge of the woods for cover.  Another man fell from his saddle, two shafts embedded in him.
Their opponents emerged from the trees while arrows continued to fly from the woods.  Clearly swords-for-hire, they wielded a motley collection of armour and weapons in contrast to the deep blue and black uniforms of the Queen’s Swordsmen.  The mercenaries moved forward slowly, wary of engaging the Queen’s men directly.  All the men on the Captain’s right flank were suddenly blasted from their saddles. 
            “They have a Mage with them.” The Queen said.  “Erros, guard the Princess and Rylan.  Rylan stay with him, he will protect you and the Princess.  I’m going to help those men.” 
            “Your Highness, you cannot go alone.” Erros tried to follow.
            “You keep my daughter safe.  You have no other mission as of now.  I can’t fight a Mage effectively if I’m worried about them.” She said.  Her voice was iron, and Erros obeyed.  The Queen kicked her horse forward
            “I can help her.” The Princess whined. 
            “Maybe you can, but you will also distract her.”  He said, keeping hold of her horse’s reins just in case.  The Queen closed with the enemy and two of the attackers burst into flame.  Erros had never seen Talent used offensively; he decided he didn’t want to fight someone who could alter reality at will.
            The Queen’s men swept into the mercenaries, felling several as their charge hit home.  Their foes fought back and another Swordsman went down.  The Queen stayed behind her men, using her Talent to move a man here, wave away a sword there, and light several mercenaries on fire.  Swordsmen who had been in the rearguard joined the fray, attempting to flank the enemy.  The mercenaries gave ground before the Queen’s Swordsmen.  Erros’ attention was caught by riders emerging from the forest on the right.  They had been flanked.  He looked towards the battle, hoping the Queen had seen them too.
Get her out of here!” the Queen said in his mind, not his ears.  He slapped the rump of the Princess’ horse and kicked his own into motion.  Rylan did the same.  The riders were swiftly bearing down on their small group, ignoring the larger battle.  Anaya tried to turn back to the Queen but Erros blocked her.  He may not like horses and riding, but he could do it when he had to. He looked over his shoulder.  The mercenaries had closed the distance by half.
“Take the princess!” he yelled at Rylan.  “Go as fast as you can back the way we came.  I will catch up to you.” He turned his horse, drawing his sword.  In the few fights he had been in he had not yet fought from horseback.  He would learn.
He came at them slowly, letting their speed draw them to him.  There were five of them, all mounted.  The first one smiled as he wound up his axe to strike.  The impact was numbing.  Erros blocked it but the force of the blow knocked them both out of their saddles.  He hit the ground hard and couldn’t breathe for a moment.  His vision narrowed and he saw stars. 
Get up! Get up! GET UP! His mind screamed.  He lurched to his feet and only instinct saved him from losing the top of his head as he dodged away from a rider.  He brought his blade up and parried the next attack, pushing his opponent’s blade out to the side.  He pulled back and jabbed quickly, plunging his blade into his opponent’s side.  The man fell from his horse as Erros spun to face another rider coming at him.  The man used his mount’s height to his advantage, hacking clumsily at Erros.
Big man on a bigger horse, no skill. Erros thought as he parried the man’s blows.  Erros’ blade slid around his opponent’s and cut the tendons in the man’s wrist.  His foe dropped his sword and Erros thrust his blade into him. 
The man who had unhorsed him came charging at him, axe in motion.  Strong and skilled, Erros thought, trouble!  The man was swift, his axe arcing through the spot Erros had occupied.  Erros danced back, his blade at the ready.  He didn’t try to parry, the heavy axe would just take his sword from his hands.  He ducked inside the next swing, his sword darting out and slicing deep into the man’s calf.  His opponent snarled and closed with Erros using the handle of his axe to smash Erros in the face.  Erros evaded a broken jaw but took the blow on his chest below the shoulder.  He was knocked to the ground, rolling aside as his opponent’s axe smashed into the dirt where Erros’ head had been.  Jumping up, he ran past the axeman cutting into his side.  Erros spun with his blade leading, carving a bloody stripe across the axeman’s lower back.  The axeman howled and turned, but Erros was faster still.  He slashed the leg closest to him, hamstringing the axeman who went down heavily.  Erros kicked him in the face and jammed the point of his sword into the man’s chest before he could rise.

He looked around, panting.  There were four horses and three bodies.  He heard no groans nor saw any motion from the three men he had fought.  Where were the other two riders?

Monday, April 06, 2015

A Swordsman's Duty - Part Three

            Erros was watching the road ahead, the road behind, the shoreline on his left and the low hills on his right.  The countryside was a mix of woods, meadows, and fields belonging to the villages along the coast.  Ahead the road curved inland as the coastline became more rugged, lined with cliffs rather than beaches.
            He kept pace with the Princess as she rode down the beach.  It was neither easy or pleasant.  Erros had never particularly liked horses or riding them.  It was a means of transport, and a painful one at that.  The other Swordsmen were spread out along the road, watching over the Queen and her party.  He followed the Princess as she sped ahead of the Swordsmen at the front.  He kept to what he thought was a discreet distance.  The Princess surprised him by racing back and coming up alongside him.
            “Hello!  You were talking with my mother when we left.  My name’s Anaya, what’s yours?” she said.
            “I am Swordsman Erros Mardaak, your Grace.” He said. 
            “Well, Swordsman Erros, why don’t you ride with me?” she said, pronouncing his rank and name with the insouciance only the young are capable of.
            “I do not think it would be proper, your Grace.  I am on duty.” He said.
            “Well I think the best way to do your duty would be to catch me!” she yelled as she raced away from him.  There wasn’t much beach left but she was going to use the very last of it.  Or launch herself into the sea.  He was about to call her back but she reined in at the last moment and turned around, smiling at him and laughing.  It was at that moment Erros realized that while he was a Queen’s Swordsman his heart rate unlikely to go down. 
            “Anaya!  Come back!  You can bring your new friend too!” Erros heard the Queen’s voice as if she were right next to him.  It was an odd sensation as she used her Talent to project her voice.
            “Come your Grace, the Queen is calling us.” He said.  Anaya stuck her tongue out at him as she fell in line behind him. 
            “Do you laugh at all?” she asked. 
            “Yes, but right now I am on duty, and that duty is to protect you.” He said.  He didn’t know what else to say that wouldn’t sound improperly familiar.
            “Most of the other Swordsmen will race with me.” She pouted.
            “I do not know what to say, your Grace.  I am here to protect you, the Queen and anyone else in our party.” 
            “You sound like you need to have more fun.” The Princess said.  She made it sound like she had found a new mission.   
            “Are you mistreating the good Swordsman?” the Queen asked her daughter.
            “No.  I’m just trying to get him to have more fun.” She said. 
            “Is she bothering you?” The Queen asked him. 
            “No, your Highness.  She has been perfectly well behaved.” Erros said.
            “Hmm, that would be a first.  Ask Captain Mann if there’s a single one of my personal Swordsmen who haven’t had their share of fun increased.”  The Queen made a shooing motion to the Princess.
            “Go and ride some more.  We adults need time away from noisy, short people.” Anaya stuck her tongue out at the Queen and turned back towards the beach.     “Swordsman Mardaak, tell me where you’re from.”  Asked the Queen. 
            “Your Highness, I’m from a small town in the Southlands Barony.  Denell by name.”  Erros said.  He didn’t add anything.  It wasn’t as if one just carried on a conversation with the Queen.
            “You don’t talk much, do you?” she asked him.
            “Your Highness, I am here to protect you, and I cannot think that you wish to converse with a mere Swordsman in your guard.” She chuckled.

            “Go on then.  Keep us safe.” She smiled at him.  As Erros moved away he heard the Queen say something to her maid “…sure you don’t want to go help…” but that was all he could catch.  He took a deep breath as he moved away, free to make sure there were no threats to the Queen and her entourage bearing down on them.  And not getting trapped in conversations he wasn’t certain he should be having.

Friday, April 03, 2015

A Swordsman's Duty - Part Two

            “Mama look! Eagles!” Anaya yelled.  Gensieve wished her daughter would learn the value of an inside voice.  Anaya was riding next to the water on the small strand of beach.  They were travelling north on the Coast Road.  Gensieve had planned to ride as far north as they could go in a few hours.  She had been too long kept inside the past few days.  Time to get outdoors.  Fortunately, the weather was holding steady.  It was gray, but the kind of bright gray that was still cheerful despite the lack of sun.
            “Anaya, don’t go too far in!” she called to her daughter.  The girl was a mess of laughter and flailing dark hair. 
            “Shall I go collect her?” asked Rylan.  The young maid’s pale hair had been pinned back at one point, but most of it had escaped to blow in her face.
            “No, let her run for a bit.” The Queen said.  “So long as the guards are watchful, she can have her fun.”  Rylan was staring at Anaya as the girl rode her horse along the edge of the water. 
            “She’s fine Rylan.  I think you worry more than I do.  You’ll be a good mother hen to your own.  Whenever you have them.”
            “I haven’t found the right man yet.” Rylan replied.  She tucked her hair back behind her ears.
            “Hmmm, the new Swordsman may be to your liking.  He seems earnest and easy to entrap.” Said Gensieve.  Rylan raised an eyebrow but Gensieve laughed.
            “I jest.  He does seem like a forthright fellow though.  And easy on the eyes.” Gensieve laughed again.  “Don’t look so aghast.  Matchmaking is a Royal prerogative, after all.”  Rylan rolled her eyes at the Queen.

            “I will also Royally ignore that eyerolling.  Most unseemly my dear.” Gensieve couldn’t keep a straight face.  The gray hairs may be fighting the brown, but she could still take her fun when she found it.  She also noticed Rylan taking a peek, though trying not to be obvious.