The Knight Chapter 4
Julia pulled at the dry meat. Meat! She swiped her cheek as she chewed with singular concentration. The porridge had been forgotten. Only after she swallowed the last bite did she look up.
The giant glowered across the table.
“When was the last meat you had?” His voice a near whisper.
Julia gulped, her throat dry she reached for the bowl that held the drinking water. She considered hiding her desperation. She peeked out from her hair. She didn’t think those shrewd pewter eyes would believe her.
“I ate the last of the horse more than a month ago.”
He continued to glare.
“The crops were taken by the armies. I haven’t anything left. Thank you for your generosity.”
He grimaced. In the light of the day Julia watched him carefully. Her initial perception of a knight of the King’s Army bravely deposited by his steed on her doorstep had withered. Now she saw more than she cared to. Fearing that he would sense her trepidation she kept the conversation going, “And you? I’ve never heard of a pirate riding a horse in a landlocked land. What would you be looking to plunder?”
He waved off the query. “What of your family?”
“It was only me and my da. Ma died some while ago, I guess it’s been years now. Da had to go with the Army. That was Spring.”
Both diners looked out at the pristine blanket of snow that covered the flood plain of the Great River Sain.
“What were you to do if I didn’t feed you today?”
She shrugged. “I guess I would have trapped a rabbit or maybe shot a crow. I can get along.”
She stood, collecting the few remains of their meal and carried them to the pantry area in the corner. After wiping the bowls down she neatly stacked them on the shelf. She could feel him continuing to stare at her.
“I have been wondering about the War, though.” She bravely stated. “You clearly met some soldiers. Do you know who is winning?”
His eyes closed. He hung his head over his fists clasped on the table top. “Lay, lass. There was no winner on that field. It seemed to me that I was the only one breathing at the end of the day. I couldn’t begin to say who the victor was.”
Julia looked again into the blinding day. “Was it far?” She shook, thinking perhaps Da had been close. A sheath of steel slid over her spine. “I will go today.”
The pirate only glared some more. He eventually stated, “I will carry you on Socrates.”
It simply wasn’t a sight that Julia ever imagined could be real. Socrates stood on a rise over the battlefield not a mile from her cabin. The snow softened the shapes on the ground. A shadow swept over the observers. Julia looked up to see a large bird circle over the carnage. It glided down, settling on an awkward shape. Far in the recesses of her mind, Julia thought it might be a leg.
The white snow was broken every few feet by black spots, the blood frozen as it puddled. Horseflesh lie strewn about with the human. It stretched beyond the horizon. Julia shuddered. The countless bodies…she shook her head. The only way to know was to see.
As Socrates picked his slow way down into the stinking field, Julia became aware that their trio were not the only living beings looking through the bodies. Her neighbors moved methodically from man to man. Minutes later Julia gasped.
“What is it?” the pirate asked.
“They don’t have any sons in the army.”
The pirate nodded his understanding. Every man did odd things in odd times. The wealth of past battles lay on the bodies of the slain. “Your neighbors will need the pillage to survive until the next harvest. These men will never miss the gold, now.”
Julia turned her head away for only a moment before accepting the evil truth.
The sun rose high into the sky before she found what she feared she would. The sun set as she wept over the beaten and bloodied body of her Da.
The pirate stood over her, his arms crossed and his brow wrinkled. Whether he liked it or not, Jared was now the protector of a young lass. He sighed.
Julia awoke in the small hours of the dawn, as she always did. The fire burned brightly in the fireplace. The pirate rummaged through her wardrobe, placing warm clothes on the table. His saddle bag on the floor lay open.
“What are you doing?” Julia ran across the room, trying to close the wardrobe.
The pirate merely forced the door open again. “I’m packing the things you’ll need.”
“Why do I need anything? This is my home!” she leaned her entire body against the panel as she reached for her shawl in his hands. “You pirate! You can’t take those.”
He stopped for a moment. “But you can’t stay here.”
Julia blinked. “Why not?”
“You’ve no food, no family and no neighbor will take you in. They’re starving, too.”
Julia thought furiously, trying to come up with something. She merely sputtered.
“You will be coming with me.” His huge hands settled on her shoulders and moved her to the side. “I have enough in my pack to feed us until we make Ritrain. Perhaps you can find a job there.”
“I can’t go with you.” Her denial was final.
She lifted her hands and began counting on her fingers, “One, I don’t know your name. Two, you are a pirate and as such I have no inclination of putting myself under your protection,” the derision in her voice could not be avoided. “Three,” she paused, “Three…”
“Yes?” he asked eagerly.
“I’m thinking!” she crossed her arms.
He continued to empty the wardrobe. “My name is Jared, sometimes known as Jared the Black, depending on the waters I am in. I am a pirate through misadventure, as it was that or die.” He paused his packing and turned back to her. “It seems you have a similar decision before you.”
A mutinous glower was the best she could do.
“Do you want to die, lass?”
She shook her head.
“Then you’re coming with me.”
They closed the door to the cabin at mid-day. Julia sat before Jared on the great horse, Socrates. She thought that though her parents were dead, her life was just getting interesting.
They turned to the south and crossed over the River Sain as the sun dipped below the horizon. The horse continued to plod on tirelessly. Julia fought to remain awake. Desperate for distraction she begged a story, “Where did you get Socrates? Surely a pirate does not keep a horse on his ship?”
Jared merely paused before beginning…