The Squire – A Tale of Aranor Part 10

It was a near spring when she finally saddled Dogger. Pate was bundling her clothing into a satchel atop of an old gray mare that had seen better days. The weather was warming, but the wind still blew cold through the open stable doors. She smiled. The cold air felt like a long-forgotten embrace. Sir… Lord Henric had been right. Ice ran in her veins.

“Are you leaving us without saying goodbye?” The voice came from the side door and striding through it were the Lady Inara and Lord Henric. She was dressed in a simple woolen gown with golden thread work, her graying hair caught in a net. Lord Henric wore a simple black doublet made of velvet, something new and rich she’d never see him wear, but his woolen pants and boots were the same ones Skyah had always seen him in on the road. That made her want to smile.

“I didn’t wish to disturb you, my lady,” Skyah said and tried a curtsy but the action caused a twinge in her chest, making her catch Dogger’s saddle to not fall.

“You’re not healed yet,” Henric said and crossed his arms. “Stay a while longer, you don’t have to go.”

The offer had been tempting. Shield Port was small and comfortable and Skyah had never even had a room of her own before. It over looked the ocean and she could walk out onto the Widow’s Walk and feel the spray on her face. Peter was there sometimes, a phantom smiling at her, shaking his head. “I wanted to give you a castle,” he’d say. It was part of why she could not stay.

“I do,” she told him and straightened. Her clothes had been thrown away and Lady Inara had new ones tailored for her. They were men’s clothing, but tailored for a woman. She did not hide her bosom as she did before, the lines of her hips were no longer concealed beneath a loose jack. Her doublet was cinched and hugged her sides, her pants loose at the thigh and tucked into sturdy new boots that were more comfortable than anything she’d ever worn in her life. “Thank you for everything, I cannot ever repay you.”

“You saved my life and became my daughter,” Lady Inara said, her voice a whisper. “That is payment enough.” She came closer and put a hand on her arm, and then her cheek. The lady’s eyes were glistening. “I will miss you, but I knew you would soon leave as soon as I touched that sword to your shoulder.”

Henric grunted, shaking his head. “See sense, child! You have a home here. Stay with us.”

Skyah looked from Henric to Inara, and the look in the older woman’s face was one that understood her. She had to go, but she would be missed. Skyah realized she would miss them both too.

“I’m sorry but I have to,” she said.

“Where will you go?” Henric said, his beard quivering.

“North,” she said.

“North?” Inara blinked at her and frowned. “That is a direction, not a destination. What is there in the north?”

“Blood,” Skyah said. “And a mountain.”

“Blood? Mountain?” Henric spread his arms wide. “Think sense girl. You’ve been knighted, not given the world. It’s dangerous out there. I promised your mother… I swore I’d…” His voice failed him then and Skyah felt slightly guilty. She wanted to go to him, to embrace him and tell him that he’d always be the only father she’d ever have. A part of her wanted to stay, to have this growing family that offered her a home, and still another part, a larger part, remembered the Dream.

“Henry, she has a purpose to fulfill,” Lady Inara said, still staring at her. There was a small smile on her lips. She was happy and Skyah thought there was a hint of pride in those eyes. “There is something for her to do, some great deed left for her, can’t you see that?”

Henric didn’t answer, but only looked away, to where Nightsong stamped his hoof and shook his head. For a moment Skyah thought he was going to go to his horse and come with her, but he only sighed.

Skyah looked from him to Pate, who was finishing with his old gray. She’d promised to take the boy with her and he’d had his father’s shield repaired to bring with him. The mountain loomed in her mind, and Peter was falling, falling. She struggled to tighten the strap on Dogger’s saddle.

“There is something I must do,” she said. Inara was nodding, Henric was shaking his head. The lady of Shield Port bid her to wait just a moment and turned, asking her husband to fetch ‘it.’ She didn’t know what she meant until Henric returned with the most beautiful fighting staff she had ever seen. The wood was plain but tempered, oak possibly, and the ends were capped with steel.

“Heavier than that last one, reinforced with steel rods through the center. It won’t break like your old one.” Lord Henric sighed and came close, offering it to her. She took the weapon, holding it like it was made of glass. She had never owned more than a dirty tunic before she’d come to Shield Port and now she had her own forged weapon. She preferred the staff to the sword after all. There was also the silk dress that Pate had carefully packed for her.

There was a snort and dancing of hooves and when Skyah looked up, Henric was leading Nightsong to her. “Take him too. He’ll serve you better than Dogger.” The black destrier looked at her, snuffled her cheek and she stroked his neck. It was hard to see through the tears that sprung into her eyes. “This is too much.”

“You’ve earned it,” Inara said softly. “Let your new squire have your old horse. That one seems about to have its last gallop.” Skyah turned to Pate who had begun to transfer her things from Dogger to Nightsong. He stopped, his good hand cradling a bag under his arm.

“New squire, my lady?”

“Pate, you served me well in that battle as well. Had I a mind I should have raised you too, but I feel you might do better as Sir Skyah’s squire first. What do you say?”

Pate looked from her to Skyah, who laughed away a happy sob. “A proper squire, Lady Inara. I couldn’t think of a better one.” Pate colored, his whole face turning red.

“My honor, Sir, my lady.”

When their things were transferred to their new mounts, Skyah struggled into her saddle with Pate’s help. She looked back at Lady Inara and Lord Henric. They held hands, the other raised to her in fairwell.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Go with our blessing,” Inara said and touched Lord Henric on the arm.

“And remember to visit,” Henric put in, his voice tight.

She smiled to him. “I will. I promise.” She turned Nightsong and made for the open stable doors. Pate followed her on Dogger. Once they were out on the road, he came up alongside her. “What is all this about a mountain and blood, Sir?”

Skyah smiled to herself and didn’t speak until they were through the gates of Shield Port, the entirety of Aranor spreading out before them. “I dreamed of death once and I stopped it. Now there’s a path I have to find, and someone else to save.”

“A path?” Pate asked. “There are paths all over, how will we know the right one?”

“We’ll know it when we see it,” she said. “The Path of Kings is long and full of pain.”

Pate looked up at her, wincing, his claw-like hand touching the shield at his side. A cold wind began to blow and she closed her eyes.

What will be, she thought. Will be.

The End.

The Squire – A Tale of Aranor Part 9

She woke next to the sound of rain tearing across slate rooftops and pounding against shutters. Her eyesight came back more readily this time, the room coming into focus after only a few moments. It was a dim room that held a mix of pungent and spicy scents. Above her, the herbs tied to the ceiling rafters to dry told her why.

The room was small and round and empty aside from her bed and two chairs. It had only one window, its shutters tightly latched with an extra bar set into it. Even so the metal hinges creaked and groaned from the force of the gale outside. Water had soaked the stone around the shutters and more was collecting into a puddle on the stone floor. Flashes of light from the storm flickered through the narrow openings of arrow slits. Outside, thunder cracked and boomed.

The heat had broken. A soft linen sheet covered her along with a woolen blanket for warmth. She closed her eyes again but fought off the urge to fall back asleep. The memories of what happened seemed fuzzy and indistinct, like a story she had heard once long ago. She remembered Peter’s face, how shocked he’d been when he ran her through. The dream she had came back as well, but had it been truly a dream? Or had it been a True dream? She had dreamed of standing on Shield Port Keep with Peter’s arms around her. She’d dreamed of a little girl that was not her own. She’d dreamed of Peter’s sword ending her life. But she was alive, or so it seemed.

Slowly she flexed the fingers of one hand and then the other. They responded slowly but smoothly. With a deep breath, she moved her legs. The left moved as readily as her hands, her knee bending and she could feel the straw pallet beneath her feet. When she moved her body, however, the pain blinded her. It wasn’t the icy, stabbing pain she remembered before, but a throbbing, sharp pain. Biting her lip, she forced herself to try and sit up until she couldn’t take it anymore. When the pain made her dizzy, she fell back, sweating. Continue reading

The Squire – A Tale of Aranor Part 8

And then he came for them. She raised her weapon just in time to deflect a hard blow from the side. It sent her reeling and just caught a second blow with the other half of her weapon. An overhanded swing she caught squarely in the middle, pivoted and struck him in the cheek. He grunted but hardly seemed dazed. They stepped apart again and circled, just a foot apart. It began quickly again, his blows landing so hard that her hands were going numb and her blows not finding enough power to do any damage.

Finally his big hands wrapped around her much smaller ones and he drew her to him. The blow of his forehead crashing into her own made stars explode across her vision and she fell back, dazed. He aimed his sword at her chest and she knew it was over.

Skyah braced herself for it. She did not close her eyes, she would face her own death, stare it in the face. The sword flashed forward and she prepared for the pain, but none came. She instead heard the loud thunk of metal on wood. A large, round shield had put itself between his sword and her chest. When she blinked, she saw the shield had a small boy attached to it. Pate crouched behind the large circle of wood and pushed with all his youthful might pushing the sword away from them.

“Pate?” she said, not understanding. Continue reading

The Squire – A Tale of Aranor Part 7

The mid-day sun was sweltering when she left him. She could hear his sobs as the door to the stable shut and the sound of the shield being thrown against the wall. Her sneezing only got worse the further from the inn she got. Wild flowers grew on the edges of the road and warehouse workers were tossing old hay into the alleys. Her nose was full of snot and she found herself snorting and spitting as much as breathing as she made her way towards the keep. She hoped she wasn’t too late, and had kicked Dogger to a quick trot.

The line of knights was a small one and she found them cresting a hill above the warehouses. There were four of them and all wore the white and yellow of Shield Port. They wore no armor beyond a thin-looking jack with shields strapped to their saddles. Each one carried a longsword, sheathed on the other side of the saddle. There was a woman that rode behind them, small and thin with thick black hair that was streaked with gray that Skyah assumed was the Lady Inara.

Lady Inara wore a silk riding dress, a fashion where the skirts were divided so you could sit astride a horse without it lifting. The dress was white and slashed through with yellow. Skyah could not make out any jewelry at this distance other than the thin, gold band around the Lady’s head.

And then four others came into view that she had not seen. They crested the small hill behind the Lady, two women that looked familiar to her. The ones that caught her eye were Sir Corgan and Peter. Sir Corgan was laughing and waving thick arms at the two women, recounting some story, perhaps. The one woman turned to say something and both of the girls laughed. When she heard that laugh, Skyah’s breath caught. The two women were Lena and Lana, the whores from the Peaks. Peter looked silent as death on his horse, his eyes widening when he saw her. Continue reading

The Squire – A Tale of Aranor Part 6

“You’re going to murder Lady Inara,” she said, not taking her eyes off the keep. “You’re from Canton, aren’t you?”

“What?” Peter sounded shocked and… there was something else besides shock in his voice. It was a dangerous tone.

“Is it true, Peter? Did you come from Canton’s Song?”

She looked at him now, her gray eyes finding his green ones. Even now she wanted to give in, to go with him. If she did, the keep would be hers. If she kept following… The Path of Kings is long and full of pain.

“Yes,” he said warily and frowned. “But I was just a boy, exchanged as good will by Lord Canton to the Lady and her knights. She didn’t care though and hung the messenger who brought me. She didn’t hang me but gave me to Sir Corgan.” He looked at her, wary. “Why do you ask?”

“You don’t have to do this,” she whispered. “Peter, I know… I… I know.” Continue reading

The Squire – A Tale of Aranor Part 5

Sir Henric was bottled fury again when she woke him. She’d waited so long in the stall she nearly fell asleep, but she dared not be found. When she finally crept out of the stable and up to the room, it was near dawn.

“I thought you’d run away.” Sir Henric said, sitting up and pushing her away. She crept back, but her jaw clenched. She would not be afraid. Not now. The bleeding had waned, but she felt it dried and itchy on her thigh and sorely wished a wash and rag. Sir Henric sniffed and threw back the covers. He still wore his clothes from the night before, except for his boots. He’d been ready to ride, to go, but with her? Or without? Him. She told herself. I am a boy and will be made a man.

“You smell like shit and horse. Where were you?”

“The stable,” Sky said. “There were men, men and… I heard…”

“Men?” Sir Henric stood and came closer. His eyes were fury still but also worried. His hands were fists, but then they rested gently on Sky’s shoulders. “Did they… did they hurt you?”

“No!” she said, shaking his head. “No I only listened, they… they…” she lowered her voice, a whisper so low he knew the older knight would have to strain to hear. “They plan to murder Lady Inara, on her Crowning Day!”

The knight said nothing for a long time. He simply stared at her. His hands lifted off Sky’s shoulders after a time and then he turned to pulled on his boots. “Men, assassins. Is that it, boy?”

“Yes, Sir. That’s what they said.”

“Are you truly afraid to fight Peter? Is this some sort of story? Sky I…” Sir Henric shook his head, sighing. “Your mouth has gotten me into situations I can not recall without wanting a strong bit of southern ale.”

He doesn’t believe me, she realized, stunned. She frowned, clenched her hands at her stomach, kneaded them. Her eyes darted to he window, at the dawn that was beginning to break. “It… it was a man with a broken nose and a scar,” she said, drawing her finger across her cheek. “Sir, you have to believe me. I’m not making this up!” Continue reading

The Squire – A Tale of Aranor Part 4

She dreamed she stood on the widow’s walk of a castle that dwarfed any she had ever seen. It spread into a city so large she could not see the end of it. Sunlight kissed her face and warmed her skin. A fresh breeze blew in off the bay, a great expanse of water that stretched to the horizon. The ocean, she thought as it carried with it the scent of salt and spray. She reached behind her and pulled the pin in her hair, letting it tumble around her shoulders, thick and dark. It was warm and she let the shawl fall off her shoulders and rest in the crook of her elbows. Her dress was light, made of silk and soft linen. She wore no shoes and let her feet feel the warming stone pathway. The sun was setting ahead of her, sinking below the endless horizon of the sea.

A great drumming beat out a rhythm that drowned the ocean’s crashes. A dark shadow eclipsed the sun and when she looked up, she saw only a great, dark shape clouding the sky. It was serpentine and yet formless, like a memory just before dawn. It spoke in her mind and she knew this was a True Dream, a Dragon Dream.

“The Path of Kings is long and full of pain,” the shadow said. “This is what is. What could be. What will be.”

And behind her, Peter slid his arms around her waist and hugged her from behind. She leaned back against him, let her eyes close, felt him there against her. This felt safe, just like her mother had always said it would be. Continue reading