The Dark Rider|
Part I to "The Dark Rider"
Even the packhorse seemed amiably to the bright day in the mid season of spring. Ahead of the gelding, mounted on a horse that is almost the size of a knight's regal mount, a man gently sways in the saddle, a man obviously in the trade of a soldier yet with no device or sign upon his person or equipment. This man gives his sword and the strength and skill that wields it to any who can afford to buy it. He is known only as Anthony. There is no title attached to him other than mercenary and the temporary designation of military rank from time to time. Life for him is one employer at a time. Sometimes its a merchant with valuable goods to protect, other times it is a noble requiring additional swords in the ranks for one venture or another, the list of his employment's are long and varied. One thing is certain, to have such a long list is a testament to his combination of intelligence and skill for which without both this warrior would not be here. Sometimes in his dreams he sees flashes of himself in another life and is even now pondering these dreams, as they once again came to him while he slept the light sleep of a warrior alone in the field and in a strange land last night.
The sun is warm and gentle upon Anthony and the area around him open well out of bowshot, so for this short while allows his guard to relax a bit. "Well Toad, I had the dreams again" he says, looking at the head of the horse. Whether or not horses truly know their names, they do at least know their masters' voice so Toad swings his head to the right just enough to get a better look at his rider, a look that almost says "and?". Anthony chuckles, and even smiles, both of which seem to light up his face in a magical way, hardly the countenance of a battle hardened warrior. "Okay my old friend, I know what am I going to do about it and do you have to listen to me talk about it for hours, again" Anthony says, the smile still playing about the corners of his mouth and eyes. A soft blowing is the only other reply from the horse known as Toad to the rider and a very few others as he swings his head back to stare down the dirt road before him.
"No sense of humor today for you, huh Toad. Well I am going to start talking to myself then and you are not to listen to one word, you hear me. And another thing.." he starts to say but stops and straightens in the saddle, left arm checking for his shield and then the right going to check his sword, he sees dust suddenly in front of him about four bowshots away. Toad's ears prick up and then the din of swords crashing and loud voices just begin to come to his ears.
Here, again, is the dilemma Anthony has been faced with on a number of occasions. A warrior should never rush into battle without some thought or knowledge of what he will face, but the voice of his conscience and soul calls out that the good and right are being preyed upon in a ruthless and unmerciful manner by a wicked evil. Why does this happen, he asks himself, why must he always be swayed to helping others when so many in his business would never place themselves in such an unprofitable and unhealthy position. Why cannot he just ride around the trouble, ignore it... no, the voice within and his heart cannot seem to see reason. Without realizing what he is doing Anthony is spurring his horse towards the melee, hoping that he arrives in time to aid and strike hard against the evil he somehow now is sensing lies before him. A quick prayer for strength and courage is silently spoken and the cross that hangs from his neck is briefly touched through his armor. Buckles and straps are quickly tightened readying for the test of arms that is coming.
No one notices the lone rider quickly approaching as each is trying to stay alive and kill the opponent before them. Only the woman in the center, being protected by the few knights and squires around her, senses... something... her eyes bright with the emotions of the conflict about her look for what she senses. There, a dark rider, he comes to help she knows this and prays quickly that he is in time to help as one of her knights falls with a spear driven deep into an exposed spot in his arm pit. The dark rider nears and sees that a small group of knights and squires are being attacked by what appears to be a large band of simple highwaymen. So many thoughts occur within his mind as he assesses the situation, no bows or crossbows, the highwaymen are holding their own and because of their numbers actually besting their opponents. Is that chainmail under the dirty rags of one of the highwaymen... a Lady in the midst of her protectors.
The Dark Rider is not honor bound as knights are and with little warning plows ruthlessly into back rank of the brigands. No noise or battle cry comes from the dark rider, only death from his long sword hewing about him as if a beserker, but even more fearsome as it is coldly controlled and directed. The scales are now tipped and the highwaymen, unsure and now less several men leave off the fight and scatter in all directions, an excellent retreat indeed as there is no one group for the knights or the lone rider to follow and engage.
Suddenly a crossbow is pulled from the saddle of one, the Dark Rider sees this and is instantly on guard, but the crossbow is not pointed at him. He sees the intended path is not at any of the knights either but at the woman. Without a thought, Anthony rides to place himself in the path of the missile. A small click and the bolt is shot, only to carom harmlessly off of the shield held by the out stretched arm of the Dark Rider. A foul curse is screamed by the shooter, it almost sounds like a woman's voice. The shooter pulls hard on the reins and swings its horse around, viciously spurring the horse away. The only sounds now are the heavy breathing of the knights and the Dark Rider and an occasional moan from the wounded upon the ground. Of a sudden in a loud cry of agony, then gurgling and then finally silence, the fallen highwaymen who were not dead writhe upon the ground only to become still with their life's blood flowing from wounds that have appeared on their necks. Quickly muttered prayers of protection are uttered from several of the knights and all are surprised as no visible weapon was seen committing this merciless act.
All eyes now turn to the Dark Rider and as he sheathes his sword one of the knights, a very large fellow in black gleaming armor and surely the leader of this small party, slowly walks his mount towards Anthony. The knight returns his sword to its carrier as well and offers his right hand up in a salute, "Hail and well met good fellow, the thanks of us all and the Lady are yours" the Gleaming Knight calls out. "I am the First Knight of the Lady Morion" he says, "your timely assistance has served the Lady and us well against this band of brigands".
"Sir Knight, you and the others are welcome as is certainly the Lady" Anthony states nodding in her direction. The Dark Rider dismounts and strides towards the nearest of the dead brigands. Upon nearing the body Anthony draws his sword.
"Do you wish to battle the dead?" one of the other knights cries out, "'Tis most foul and dishonorable to defile the dead." Anthony pauses and turns to look at the knights. Long ago this type of language spoken to Anthony would have meant a fight but time and life's experiences have made him a bit more reluctant to teach other s a lesson for mere words. Looking at the First Knight Anthony remarks, "Perhaps a bit of patience and diplomacy might be taught to your brothers Sir Knight as it may save them or some hapless other the need to correct their behavior". Gasps come from everyone except the First Knight and the Lady. The First Knight's smile wavers a bit and his eyes harden, "It is unkindly of you to speak in such a fashion, my fellow knights may have spoken a bit hastily but your words are not the kind to be spoken thus to belted knights."
"Knights and good fellow, enough I beg you. I have seen enough hurt and pain for one day, I ask that you do not provide more," the Lady states as she slips off of her horse and moves to a wounded squire. "As you wish my Lady, I will endeavor to see that you remain at ease, says Anthony. Looking at the First Knight, Anthony adds "Mayhap I can show the reason you and your fellow knights were having a more difficult time with this rift raft than you should have", and turning his back on the group, Anthony lowers the tip of his sword to the neck of the nearest brigand. Slipping it under the dirty rags that make up the garment slices the rags apart revealing chainmail. Cries of astonishment and anger come from all.
"I would think that instead of a simple robbery, it could be that these brigands were instead an armed party meant to do you and your group harm. This I believe even more as that bolt from the crossbow I caught on my shield was meant for the Lady. It was aimed only at her". Even as the others were voicing their concerns Anthony could see the flash of fear and worry that came and went from the eyes of the First Knight as he realizes the truth in those words. The Lady Morion is obviously a fighter and a real Lady, as she hides her own thoughts and fears that those words describe as a mortal danger to her person. All this Anthony takes in at a glance including the look the First Knight and the Lady exchange, which causes the briefest of smiles to come to his lips. Ah, perhaps there is more hidden here than just chainmaille Anthony thinks to himself as he resheathes his sword. "It is something to be considered my good fellow, and since you did come our aide, may I present the Lady Morion" the First Knight turning and nodding in the direction of the Lady, "as for myself, I am the First Knight and Champion to the Lady".
"Greetings to you Sir Knight", as Anthony bows slightly from the hips with a small nod of his head in the direction of the Lady, "and Lady Morion, it was indeed a pleasure to provide assistance to you against those rogues. I regret not arriving sooner so that your losses might have been less." Anthony turns to look at the dead knight and two wounded squires being attended to. Grief comes to the Lady's face and eyes as she looks at the fallen knight.
"Sir Robert was a valiant and honorable man, his shield will be hung in my hall as a remembrance of his courage while defending me," the Lady states for all to hear, "Will you, my First Knight, see that this is done?" she asks.
"It will be my honor to accomplish this for you and for Sir Robert, further and with your permission, I will see to it that his family is well taken care of and that his son has every opportunity to rise to his father's station."
Her eyes shining with the emotion of the wishes her First Knight has expressed, Lady Morion says, "Oh Sir Knight, I would be in your debt to see that Sir Robert and his family are honored thusly. My deepest thanks" as she walks over to him and places her small gloved hand upon his large gaunleted one. Her men smile at the affection obvious between the two, and even Anthony smiles and is warmed by their feelings. "Were I so lucky a man" he thinks to himself, "to have a woman like the Lady Morion care for me so. Ah well, maybe one day I can stop my wandering for such a one as her." "Lady Morion and Sir Knight, I am known as Anthony and if I may be of further service to you Lady Morion, you need only ask", I said swinging back up into the saddle. "Now if you would be so kind as to point me to the nearest inn, I have been on the road living with only myself and my horses for nearly a fortnight, and I am craving someone else's cooking and a bed other than the ground".
"Nay Anthony", Lady Morion cries out, "for your timely assistance I would ask that you allow yourself to be my guest at my castle if you will accompany us there. We expect to be there by tomorrow eve and it is closer than the nearest inn. It would be my way of thanking you if you would share my table our first night back." Looking at the warmth and earnestness in her eyes and her expression, Anthony cannot bring himself to say no. "My Lady, I would be honored to take part in your hospitality and your kitchen, however your table is not necessary as I am a commoner and a table shared with your men-at-arms is well enough. Perhaps an empty bunk in your soldiers quarters or a clean bit of straw near my horses in your stable would be well enough too." Anthony says, a small smile playing about lips. "Nay, good fellow" the First Knight declares, "your service to my Lady and us warrant more and I ask you accept what Lady Morion does offer, and more, I too would see you treated better as a reward for your good deeds this day." Anthony is about to say more but is interrupted, "...And Goodman Anthony, "adds Lady Morion staring straight into Anthony's eyes, as if looking deep onto his soul and past even that, "I think there is more to you than a commoner, I sense that to be the truth indeed. It will make itself apparent one day, this I know. As my Knight does request, I to would see you rewarded as fits your deed, please accept the offer". "As is you wish my Lady, I accept your offer and thank you deeply for your generosity. I do hope you will in turn accept my sword in your service until you are safely within to your castle. "Asks Anthony.
"Done and gladly Anthony, I thank you," says Lady Morion. "Sir Knight, if all is ready shall we depart, for I am anxious to return to my castle." "As am I My Lady, I would see you safely surrounded by high and secure walls with our trusted men-at-arms nearby to aid", says the First Knight adding the squires have been tended to well enough and Sir Robert has been made secure upon his trusted steed, we are ready to leave on the instant". "I have collected my packhorse and am ready to ride at your wish Lady Morion" says Anthony as he is securing the lead rope from the packhorse to his saddle.
"Then let us go", and even as she says the words Lady Morion is turning her horse upon the rode and urges her faithful mare to a fast walk. "Sir Comain will you take the lead and have your squire trail behind to watch the rear of our party. I am not willing to remain lax in our vigilance until we are safely to the castle", requests the First Knight.
"Of course, Sir Knight," turning in the saddle the knight addressed as Sir Comain calls out to his squire, "Go you Tomas to the rear and remain ready to call or help if any thing is amiss". Spurring his mount forward Sir Comain says to the First Knight "I will take enough of a lead to warn or to aide Sir Knight" and is soon out in front of the small party.
Story by Anthony ©
|The Dark Rider by Anthony|