If you haven’t yet, read this first. It might make the stuff below more sensible. No promises.
Martin watched Flinch as he arranged Sil’s various armaments. The boy stopped when he looked up at the spear still stuck in the wizard’s window. Martin saw him hesitate briefly, then heard him call out, “Martin, sir.”
“Fret not lad, I have to go upstairs and make some arrangements anyway.” Martin patted the boy’s shoulder once as he walked towards the house, “Help Sil finish up and we’ll be off soon.”
As Martin headed upstairs, he thought of what he would need for a fortnight’s worth of traveling. As he ran through the list in his mind, he asked each item in turn if it wouldn’t mind packing itself in his leather satchel. No not that one, the traveling one.
Once he was packed, Martin picked up a broom and swept the room briefly, then sat down in front of his ledger to finish his log:
Conclusion of event: Roughly two hours, including potato stew. Sil (Knight) confirmed amicable, if short-fused. She
Martin lifted his pen, realized he couldn’t surmise the event in the log’s usual terseness, and skipped a line.
Sil is a good knight, of The Knights Suspended. They are a peculiar order, an outcast band from a motley of baronies, dukedoms, and some lesser fiefs. Each knight has their own reason for ending up in the order, though Sil would not share hers.
The order aims to restore the honor and ranks of their members through acts of gallantry and selflessness, though few have been able to rebuild even a semblance of their former lives. Still, their unity gives them hope, and in turn they do (or try to do) good for the land.
And so I am compelled to help Sil save face when she returns to The Knights, and assure them that her quest for my beheading was not in vain, despite having been, as it were, veinless.
Martin set the pen down, placed a piece of twine as a marker on the page, and closed the ledger. He walked to the door – oh. Spear, would you mind unlodging yourself from my window? Thanks – and headed downstairs.
As they walked towards the main road out of Melrah, Sil spotted the gas station but pointedly looked away. Martin noticed the sharp motion and raised his finger, “Aha! You reminded me.” He veered off the path towards the station and returned a short while later carrying a faint scent of horse and a few cans of beans.
“What are those?” Sil asked once they started walking again.
“Beans,” he answered as he put them in his satchel, “in a metallic container. The folk here are still too afraid to eat them, but they’re fresh enough and I haven’t gotten a spoiled lot yet, so I reckon this must be some special alloy.”
“Oh.” Sil replied, “The road back to D’orcahst is plenty with game,” she motioned at the bow jutting out from the pack on her horse’s back, “I doubt we’ll be short for food.”
“True enough, but we won’t be hunting for a day at least.” Martin kicked a rock and sent it rolling several feet ahead of them.
“And why is that?” Sil asked, kicking the same rock farther down the path.
“I know the animals in these parts, healed some of them.” Kick. “Wouldn’t feel right.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she replied and kicked the rock again, “they’re just animals.”
“Maybe. But if you try shooting anything around here,” he grinned, “I guarantee you’ll miss your mark.” He went to kick the rock again but fell short, then grunted as they kept walking, “Ah stones, that was fun.”
“Go back for it then.” Sil retorted flatly.
“That would defeat the purpose.”
Martin hadn’t walked another four steps when he saw the rock roll in front of him from behind. He kicked it forward instinctively, then looked back to see Flinch quickly lower his gaze.
“Sorry sir,” Flinch rushed, “the rock was just there in the way I was happening, and I thought you might’ve been wanting to keep kicking.”
“Good on you Flinch,” Martin grinned again, “our derrière-garde.”
The rest of the day passed mostly uneventfully. The road was well-kept and wound parallel to the Cauldine Forest, such that getting lost would have required a determined effort.
Martin prompted Sil to tell of her days from before the Knights Suspended, trying to coax the reason for her suspension out of her. Instead he spent a long afternoon listening to stories of day-long duels, clandestine rescue missions to return captured princes, and generally mind-numbing knight tales that he had read in ten dozen children’s books.
He almost asked if she had ever slain a dragon, but realized she would probably plow right through his sarcasm and into another story. Knights, he thought, they find trouble like piss finds the ground, then go on about it like drunk magpies.
They stopped to eat once the Saga of the Odorless Blacksmith was done, and again at dusk to make camp closer to the forest. An evening wind had picked up by then, but they were sheltered by the worst of it when they settled down on the leeward side of a big pine. Still, even the trees couldn’t help but groan against the wind’s fitful battering.
Flinch unloaded the pack from the horse and tied him up to a nearby shrub, then started gathering kindle to make a fire at Martin’s request. Meanwhile, Sil walked around the camp peering through the trees and into the branches.
“Do you like being called Flinch, lad?” Martin asked as Flinch fed the fire.
He shrugged, “Can’t say I mind much either way, sir, name that’s answered’s a good a name as any,” he replied while haphazardly throwing more sticks into the flames. “Why I used’ter call a rose a reddin’ flar cause my da’ ne’r knew what’was called, but it still smelled as pretty when I’d pick’n’whiff it.”
“Hmm,” Martin nodded, “true enough. All the same, what’s your real name lad?”
Martin nodded again. He started showing Rin a more efficient way to feed the fire when Sil clamped her hand over his mouth. “Quiet,” she whispered, “look.” She pointed to the top of a hill behind a few rows of trees. “Giant.”
Martin squinted his eyes but could only see trees. “Wheh?” he tried to ask, muffled by Sil’s hand. A strong wind rushed by and made several branches moan.
“He’s coming for us!” Sil yelled and dashed to her horse, “Flinch, my lance. Martin, stay here.” Sil untied the horse and jumped on its back as Flinch sifted through the pack and fished out the lance.
“Sil stop!” Martin stood up and cried, “There are no giants in these parts – we’re barely a day out of Melrah!”
“Stand back, Martin,” she replied and took the lance from Flinch, “this is no business for wizards.” Sil set her horse to a hard gallop towards the hill, lance forward, and was out of earshot before Martin could do anything else.
“Idiot!” Martin gasped at Sil’s disappearing figure.
“Martin, sir,” Flinch started after a few moments, “shouldn’t we be going to help her, what with the giant and all, she could get a real hurtin’.”
Martin turned to look at the boy, “There’s no giant, Fl- Rin. She’ll see it’s just a tree and come back in a minute.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, sir, and I reckon yer right about there not bein’ giants in these parts, but you see, Lady Sil isn’t so right in her eyes when she gets in ‘er mood, if you ken me.” He spoke quickly as if afraid that Sil might hear him. “Why, she’ll charge straight into a tree, thinkin’ it’s a giant, sir, but I’ve seen ‘er do it.”
“She’s not going to charge into a – ”
Martin and Rin snapped their heads towards the sound and recognized it as the uncommon but unmistakable cacophony of iron-on-timber followed by body-on-ground. Blackened stones, Martin thought, “Come with me” he said, and started running towards Sil.
Martin looked the floored knight over and determined she was fine. “Spread your fingers in front of your eyes.”
“Why?” Sil asked dazed.
“Test of consciousness.” He replied curtly. When she lifted her hand in front of her face, Martin shoved it forward, sending it smacking against her nose.
“Ow! What was that for?”
“Yes, seems like the crash hasn’t displaced anything in there,” Martin replied as he helped her up, “still sharp as grape. In any case,” he brushed his hands against his jeans, “that’s what you get for charging off at a tree like that.”
Sil rubbed her nose and scowled, “It was a giant, black damn you; must’ve gotten away. And grapes aren’t sharp you ninnyhammer.”
They took a while finding Sil’s lance which had rolled a little ways off the hill, but eventually started walking back towards their camp. A camp uncannily well-lit. A camp whose brightness should not have been seen from behind all those trees. A camp that definitely shouldn’t have been orange. A camp on fire.
If you gotta know what happens next, head over here.