The blade missed taking my arm by a hair, which allowed me to close the gap and strike him through the side. My opponent grabbed me by the neck and whispered into my ear, “Now that was art.” I narrowly won the match against Sir Carter. I had beaten him a week prior, but his skill in adapting to my techniques told me I still had much to learn from him. “This is as fitting an end as I could have hoped for, Alexander. I have not had the honor of training someone who has adopted the falchion so skillfully.”
“I am honored, Sir Carter. I would be nothing without the groundwork you laid over the years. I am only saddened that you will soon turn your attention to a new squire.”
“Bah! Do you think I would let you get away so easily?” He grabbed both of my shoulders with prideful glee, “My young friend, I expect you to spar with me every week upon your return! Who knows, I may even let you help train our new squire.”
My heart lifted, knowing that Sir Carter had such faith in me. “It would be my honor.” We continued our conversation as we walked back to our quarters, speculating on what the future would hold with knights such as us serving the realm. Our jovial nature was interrupted by a rather frantic Father Richard pacing in front of our door.
“Ah, gentlemen! Why are you causing me such distress? The ceremony is only two hours away and both of you look as though you were tending the pigs!” We burst into a fit of laughter. Father Richard was always tightly wound, I wondered how he could sit through a confession long enough to provide absolution! “After a night of fasting and prayers, I would not think you’d have the energy to rough-house.”
“Our apologies Father! We shall be the most pristine knights our lord and lady have ever seen in these hallowed halls!” Father Richard threw his hands up in the air, muttering to himself as he walked away.
That afternoon, my formal knighting ceremony was held. It was very emotional, reminding me of the Holy path I set upon when I was but a mere boy. My lord gifted me the most beautiful falchion I had ever seen. Henry, our swordsmith, must have put many hours into crafting it. The grip was oak, Henry said it was from a tree near the home of my birth, with a leather overlay. The guard was a pair of magnificent golden lions, ready to pounce. I grasped Henry’s hand firmly, “I don’t think I could live long enough to give this sword its proper glory, but I assure you I will try”.
The festivities drew long into the night, making me dread the coming morning with each passing hour. My lord had graciously allowed me a fortnight of leave, to visit my family back home, and I wanted to set out early. Normally a tournament would be held with my peers in the following days, but many had not returned yet from various duties and we thought it best to delay until their return.
The next morning, I packed up my horse Gwen, gave a few final farewells, and waved as the gate closed behind me. It was still a bit cold this time of year, but the sweet fragrance of flowers coming into bloom and the morning bird’s song made me regret that my journey would only be three days. The day passed uneventfully and I made camp for the night.
I hadn’t been on the road long the next morning when I heard a woman scream followed by men laughing. I dismounted, grabbed my bow and quiver, and raced through the woods along the side of the road. Some highwaymen had stopped a woman and man, the latter appeared dead in the road. I drew and nocked an arrow, stepped out of the woods, fired at the feet of the man closest to the woman, and quickly nocked another. “Gentlemen!” I shouted as they turned around to engage. “I’m sure you realize that was no miss. I wish you no ill will, but the lady will be coming with me.” I hoped they would agree as the odds were slightly in their favor.
“Oi! Who do you think you are? This isn’t any of your concern. Be off or else!” A bald man of average height and a muscular physique commanded. He wore proper leather armor with chainmail underneath and loosely held a longsword in his hand. His compatriots seemed to be outfitted in a similar manner, yet I could tell their equipment was of lesser quality and lacked the addition of chainmail. I assumed him to be their leader and held my ground with my aim at his chest.
We continued to stare each other down, when I heard the sound of a twig snap behind me. I quickly side stepped and fired an arrow into the chest of the man seeking to flank me. He was too close and certainly not the only one back there. With woods on either side, there was no telling what I had walked into. I headed to the road, circling the men in order to meet the woman on the other side. I didn’t have much time, but I knew they wouldn’t act until their friends were closer. “Is your escort dead?” Through teary eyes, she looked at me and nodded that he was. I whistled for Gwen, “We must be off.” Not waiting for Gwen to come to a stop, I hopped on quickly and re-targeted their leader. The lady grabbed hold, quickly mounted behind me, and we made haste.
“We are not far from my keep. Stay on this road and we should arrive by nightfall!”
It didn’t take long before I heard horses closing in on us. Knowing we could not out pace our pursuers, I steered Gwen into a grove and hopped off with the lady, taking shelter behind the trees. As four of them came into sight, I fired an arrow and took one down. The others quickly stopped and took cover behind their steeds. “My lady, I believe we’ll need to retreat further into the woods. Do you know them well?”
She took a moment to gather her bearings, “Yes… yes, I do!” Through panted breath, she took hold of a stick and began to sketch out a rudimentary map in the dirt. “Here is the road we were on, and we are here. If we bear south-west, we should arrive at my keep by morning.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, I’ve hunted these woods for years.” I nodded my understanding while she peered out to see where the men had gone.
“They’re still behind their steeds, waiting for reinforcements. I’m fairly certain that I can startle their horses and provide cover for our escape.” I pointed to the beehive hanging on the tree above them. “When it hits the ground, run.”
I stepped out and drew my bow. One man stepped out from behind his steed and did the same. I needed a moment to aim and I hoped he needed the same. A loud whistle erupted from my right, drawing his attention long enough for me to let loose my arrow. The beehive smashed down next to them and it took only a moment for chaos to ensue. I grabbed my satchel and falchion from Gwen and we were deep into the forest in a matter of seconds.
We ran for as long as we could, but eventually we needed to stop and catch our breath. I had to admit that the physical and mental agility of my new friend caused my heart to race as much as the bandits did. I unpacked my satchel and began to fix my equipment for quick use.
“Oh my.” I looked to the lady who was eyeing me in a rather odd way. “That is a beautiful falchion, may I see it?” She stepped closer.
“Well, I would be happy to oblige, but I’m not in the habit of handing my sword to those I don’t know.”
“And I’m not in the habit of being in the company of men who do not know how to greet a lady.”
I laughed, she is a spirited one. I removed my hat and bowed, “My lady, my name is Sir Alexander, knight to Duke Edward of York.”
She responded in kind, “And I am Lady Sarah, daughter of Baron William.”
I smiled for a moment before handing her my sword. She traced her fingers along the lions, rubbing gently under their chins as if they were her pets. Her petite hand barely made its way around the grip as she slowly withdrew it from the scabbard. A puzzled look crossed her face, “Certainly this is not only for show? The blade is unscathed.”
“Oh no, I was only knighted two days ago and my lord gifted me this fine weapon. I have not yet had the opportunity to use it for God’s glory.” Satisfied, her face changed to a deep focus as she made several well practiced swings.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Pardon?” She sheathed the sword and approached me slowly.
“You are staring, good sir… and your jaw is agape.” Her hand gently pushed up on my chin. “And now you’re turning a very cute shade of red.”
“I… My apologies Lady Sarah. I’m sure I’m just still a bit winded from our run.”
A coy smile crossed her lips, “You may call me Sarah, unless that leaves you a bit winded?”
“We… should… get back to our journey. We likely have enough of a lead that it should be difficult for them to find us.” I reached out for my sword.
“Why don’t I keep this and you the bow?”
“I’ve no doubt of your ability, but it is my duty to defend all in my Lord’s realm.” I gestured for us to continue walking as I reclaimed my sword and handed her my dagger in return. “Hopefully you won’t need to use this.”
“Very well. My father would thank you for keeping me out of danger, but I rather enjoy the thrill of it.”
“I imagine your betrothed would appreciate it as well?” My breath held tightly in my chest, why did I have to ask that? I didn’t know if her long pause meant to disway my advances or test my resolve.
“My parents say that I am too strong willed and have frightened all of my suitors away.”
“I can understand that.”
“Pardon me?” She giggled as she batted my arm.
“What I mean to say… is that I can see how you could be intimidating to a man who is unsure of himself.”
“We’ve only just met. How could you possibly make this claim?”
“When I first saw you, you were kneeling over your escort, clearly trying to prevent further harm to someone you cared for.” I looked over briefly and saw her wipe a tear away. I continued with my observations, “You whistled to draw the bandit’s attention, putting yourself at risk again. Remembering the lay of your land and drawing an accurate map is no small intellectual feat. You clearly have the physical endurance for long-distance running. And your sword skill shows a lifelong dedication, which requires patience and intense study.”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re rather taken with me.” I felt a heat rise in my cheeks again and I caught a sly smile adorning her face. This fair maiden seemed to know just what to say to cause my body to betray my thoughts.
* * * *
Next part coming October 5th!
Going Home: Part 2/2
“My lady…” she ticked her tongue to scold me, “Apologies. Sarah, may I ask where you were traveling from?” “Well, Sir Alexander…” It was my turn to tick my tongue. “Apologies. Alexander, I was returning from a hunting expedition. My brothers stayed behind as they were certain to be on the trail of the white…