Wednesday, April 06, 2005
The Knight's 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.
“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.
“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.
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.