Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Knight's Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Jared stared down at the bloody mass of Harry. His ears rang with the fire of the battle. He didn’t feel the new cuts, bruises and scratches yet. He never did until later; when the roaring calmed and he could feel once again the beating of his own lifeblood in his veins.

The gravel behind him crunched.

“Who goes there!” he demanded as he spun, sword poised to counter an attack.

Socrates blinked in the flickering firelight, nodded his head and issued a soft whuffle.

Jared sighed. The girl was perched upon the horse’s back; her head snuggled against the neck, her hands clasped fiercely to the mane.

Safe! He thought for a moment. Socrates nudged his shoulder, his feed bag dangling at an awkward angle. Jared removed the sack and walked back towards the fire. Socrates followed at his heels. Only then did he see the other attacker.

Mick sat in a huddle, trying to be invisible against the boulders. His shoulder looked decidedly askew. Of course the blood dripping from his just below his left eye did nothing for his appearance.

Jared looked down at his feet. A long, curved dagger gleamed against the trampled snow. He picked it up, studying the well crafted blade paying particular attention to the runes etched in the metal. He eyed the miserable man.

“Not just simple thieves, were you?” he said as he tilted the blade to catch the light of the fire, a knowing glint in his eye. “Nobody carries the blade of The Lady by mistake. Why attack us? I’m no man of the King. Even my mount bears the Dragon’s Eye.”

Socrates sidled so that his blanket was illuminated in the firelight. The fiery red eye of the Dragon’s Hoard was picked out in luminous thread. Most men would steer clear of such a blatant display of piracy.

Mick gritted his teeth, clearly considering what he might tell his captor. Socrates walked closer, his massive body overshadowing the cowering brigand. Mick’s eyes darted about him, searching for possible escape. He shifted his weight carefully, returning his gaze to Jared’s hard stance.

Jared shook his head, “I wouldn’t even try it,” as he tossed the dagger in the air, reflexively catching it in a throwing hold. “All those years at sea, I had plenty of time to practice throwing a dagger. The Lady’s steel would end this night in your skull.”

Mick paled. “I reckon I believe you,” he croaked as he settled back on his heels.

Jared crept closer to the cretin. “Now, hows about some plain talking, my good man,” he stated in a low, calm voice.

The brigand swallowed several times. “It wasn’t you we was coming for.”

Jared smiled a crooked, evil grin. “I guess you’re gonna be telling me it’s me horse you’re wanting.”

“Nay!” the man squeaked as his own blade was put against his throat. “Tis the girl! She’s not what you think! The Lady’s wantin’ her dead.”

Jared did not let the dagger waver as he looked sideways at Julia still passed out on Socrates. He turned back to his captive, “I suggest you try again, mate. She’s nothing but a bit of baggage. A penniless orphan of your Lady’s war.”

Mick attempted to shake his head, only to find the sharp blade nicking his chin. Sucking in a sharp breath of pain, “Even you she’s bewitched! She’s the last remaining member of the Royal family save the King. And his health fails even as we speak.”

“You lie!” Jared growled, pressing harder.

Panic entered the man’s eyes as the blade crushed his throat.

Jared eased off. Truth reflected plainly in Mick’s eyes. At the very least the man believed what he had been told. Jared stood, considering his next move for only moments.

He walked to Socrates, rummaged in the saddle pack and located a bit of rope. As a second thought he also grabbed a handkerchief. In short order, the brigand was bound and gagged and left near the dying embers of the fire. Jared packed up the campsite and mounted behind Julia.

As a farewell he growled at the miserable wretch, “When you free yourself of my bindings, you might want to be burying your friend. He died an honorable death at my sword.” He then kneed Socrates forward into the cold, starless night.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Knight's Chapter 6

The Knight
Chapter 6

The wind sent a chill down Julia’s spine as she huddled in the flickering light of the meager campfire. Jared had declared the spot in the lee of two boulders the best they could do for shelter for the night. Socrates stood on the other side of the fire ring, his bulky body blocking the worst of the breeze. The pirate lounged against one of the boulders as he sharpened his dagger. His sword lay between them in its worn scabbard.

Julia looked into the sky. The silent stars mocked her. For an entire summer she had lived alone in the tiny cabin, praying that the war would not knock on her door. It never had. In fact, nobody had. Just a horse.

And now that she was in the company of another person, she didn’t know what to say. She shivered a bit more. Socrates nickered softly.

“Cold, are ya?” the pirate asked.

Julia nodded. He went to Socrates, rummaged in the saddle pack and pulled out a large woolen blanket. Without a word he walked to Julia, sat down close to her and wrapped the blanket around the two of them.

Julia stopped breathing. The pirate chuckled.

“Not to worry, lass. I haven’t a mind to strip down in the middle of a snowbank. Just sit close, and we’ll keep warm enough.”

Julia’s neck snapped around to glare at the pirate. Only to meet that wicked, black, laughing smile.

“Disappointed, are you?” he teased.

“Not in the least.” She huddled a little deeper into the blanket, her shoulder rubbing against his.

“Should be.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” the question escaping her lips before she thought.

Jared shrugged as he settled himself a little. “I figured with all that pretty blonde hair, the sweetest green eyes and a round little figure, you’d have had plenty of offers.”

Julia gaped for several moments. She struggled to decide if she should be insulted or preening over the obvious complement. Finally a blush settled over her features, “No man has ever asked for my hand. Da rather scared them off.” She swallowed as tears threatened.

“Then the right man didn’t ask.” Jared reached into his surcoat and extracted a bag. He opened the sack and began munching on some nuts. In companionable silence he offered the treat.

Julia accepted.

“What will become of me in the city?” she asked in a quiet voice.

“Durned if I know. The Sisters at the Chapel will know the right of it, I expect. I hear they take in maids without prospects from time to time.”

Julia thought about that. It didn’t seem too bad. The Sisters were known to be charitable and kind to all people throughout the land. Perhaps she would be found a position as a maid in a fine house or as a governess. Maybe in the city she would even be able to find a husband to support her.

The warmth of Jared’s body seeped through the many layers of cloak, shawl and dress. Her eyes drooped. She didn’t hear his low laugh as she toppled into his lap.


Julia’s eyes snapped open as a rough hand covered her mouth.

“Nary a whisper, luv,” an oily voice grated in her ear.

Instinctively striking out, she found her arms held tightly to her sides by the unseen assailant. She stared down at the blanket. The pirate was not asleep. He was nowhere to be seen.

“Not to worry, luv. Your man just went to take a leak. Me friend’s keepin’ him company.” The voice tickled at her ear.

The man was a monster, judging by the bulk that held Julia from behind. Terror cleared her mind quickly. She looked across the fire at Socrates. The horse chewed at his feedbag, blinking idly at Julia. She squirmed and kicked at the shins of her captor.

“None of that, luv!” he commanded as his arms became bands of steel around her chest.

Hysteria began to eat at her thoughts. Her breath came is short gasps. Knowing control was key to her survival, Julia sagged against the man and let her head hang. His hand still kept her silent. Julia felt her cheeks bruising. The pain calmed her fear and fed her anger.

Sounds of a distant fight could be heard. Julia listened closely. Grunts, moans, gasps, the slap of flesh on flesh all echoed over the boulders. Julia blinked when she realized there was no ring of the clash of steel. Keeping her head down she searched the rumpled bed. She could just see the hilt of Jared’s sword under the blanket.

Socrates whuffled as Jared was pushed into the ring of light. The horse’s head slewing to take in his owner’s rumpled state.

His right eye was swelling shut and blood trickled down his cheek where the brigand’s glove connected. Julia did not notice Jared limping.

“What ‘cha got, Harry?” Julia’s captor asked.

“Seems like this here pirate was havin’ hisself a little holiday!” Harry leered as he kicked Jared.

Jared sprawled next to the fire, his hands bound with crude rope. He spared only a moment’s glance at Julia before erupting.

Jared rolled to the left as he grabbed the hilt of his sword with both hands. He brought the weapon up in a wide sweeping arc as he gained his feet. The swing was awkward, but effective. Harry, caught off guard, jumped back even as he pulled a dagger from inside his jerkin. Jared and Harry began circling each other. Socrates backed up to give the combatants more room.

“Now see here, we’s got your woman,” Harry talked as he sized up his opponent. “I could have Mick there cut her throat.”

Jared sneered, “Alive or dead, she’s worth about the same to me.”

Julia sucked in a sharp breath. She was going to die! She bit down on the hand in her mouth.

“Bloody hell!” Mick cried.

Julia danced away from him only to trip over the blanket. Desperate, she rolled away, even as a boot connected with her ribs. She cried out in pain. Jared’s sword sang as it connected with Harry’s dagger. Socrates whinnied.

Pain, panic, and anger filled Julia’s thoughts. Scrabbling at rock, dirt, blanket, cloaks; she searched for a weapon. Her hand found a crust of bread. Then the small knife she used to cut it. A hand wrapped around her ankle and pulled.

“I won’t go!” she growled. Even as she was hauled back towards Mick, she kicked out with the other foot. Mick swore some more. Julia swiped at her attacker with the knife.

A cry of pain rent the air.

“The little bitch cut me!” Mick yelled.

The swordfight continued.

Julia rolled onto her back. Mick loomed over her. His face dripped blood as the firelight cast evil shadows over it. He held a long, curved dagger over her. Julia screamed as she realized her end had come.

In the next instant she blinked. Mick was gone. Then a large nose “whoofed” in her face. Socrates’ large brown eyes blinked.

Julia looked for Mick. He groaned in a semi-conscious state piled against the boulders a good six feet away. He held his hand against his ribs.

Socrates nodded.

Julia grabbed at his bridle and scrambled onto his back.

A man’s mortal scream sounded.

Socrates turned towards the scene of the sword fight. A single man stood over a corpse. Julia gasped, then realizing that it was excruciating to breathe. She tried a deeper breath. The man’s form blurred as he turned towards her. Circles of light argued with black spots.

Julia wilted, hoping it was the right man that won.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

It's a surprise every year.

It's only a hint of green, in the final weeks of March. A small shoot here and there in the yard. And then April comes with softer days and nights that don't curl your toes. It's lighter and brighter. You smile as you drive home from work thinking there just might be enough energy in you to work in the yard a bit. You grab the rake, the gloves and the clippers. You pull back the layer of leaves left from Autumn's final winds and discover...a whole new world waking up.

It amazes me every year how much hides just out of sight until April. The trees are still brown. The grass is still ragged. But look! Really look. The whole world was waiting for this one day, and it can't wait anymore.

As you can see, the crocus are blooming. Daffodils, tulips, sedum, iris, lilies, bleeding hearts, astors, daisies, pennywort, vinca, violets and endless other unnamed wonders were only waiting for me to pull away the dead to let the young and new try their wings.

The other thing that happens as I smile at my forgotten but newfound friends is my mind wanders. I'll try to think of practical things. But that is not what the garden lends itself to. Instead, flights of fancy tug at my brain. My fingers itch to share those whimsical thoughts. And I come back into the house to write.

Such is Spring. A fount of energy and promise. It would be derelict of me to pass by the opportunity.

Happy days!