Ser Chrisfer and Lancyn

Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

First Blood

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There ought to have been more of them. A party of elite knights, not just one with a partly-trained squire. But Ser Chris had assured Lancyn that they were simply there to assess the situation and determine what kind of cleansing attack would be needed. Probably wouldn't get any excitement at all out of this quest.

It was nasty. Ferals, terrorising the area, and local lords who were more interested in defining their own boundaries than in doing something about the lawlessness just beyond. Village magisters who weren't equipped to deal with the ruthlessness of these predators. Villages which paid tribute of food, clothing, ale, money and even the occasional unfamilied young woman, rather than risk the fire.

A nice little set-up for the malefactors, until one magister was brave enough to speak up and send for help.

On the other hand, it seemed that there really weren't that many of the ferals. Chris had sneaked off one night while Lancyn slept (and the row they had had as a result would probably be legendary in the tiny inn for many years), and returned with the news that the ferals' home base seemed to be nothing more than an abandoned hunting lodge, with perhaps no more than a dozen men in residence. But a handful of yelling men on horseback, with torches and crossbows and swords and slings, could certainly terrorise a small village, and it seemed these ferals were well established, and bore a reputation out of all proportion to the actuality. The mere threat, now, seemed to be enough to ensure they got what they wanted.

In a spirit of competition, Lancyn had sneaked off himself a few nights later bearing a tinder-box and a knapsack full of oil-soaked rags. The ferals no longer had a roof, and not much in the way of walls. And the row after that practically shook the foundations of the inn.

Lancyn, unbendingly defiant, trusted that his knight had learned not to go off without attendant squire. Hah.

Three of the ferals had come swaggering into the village a days later, demanding tribute in the form of building materials. Ser Chris, stooping, and cowled in burlap, had declined to pay it. The ferals had sneered and advised him to mend his ways. This was a bad move.

The ferals were buried with minimal ceremony at the edge of the burial grove, and the atmosphere in the village lightened considerably, especially when two more of the marauders arrived on the morrow.

Ser Chris bemoaned his fate. Death reports had to be more detailed than simple incidents. Still, at least he had witnesses. Lancyn spent a great deal of time getting statements from those witnesses, none of whom expressed the smallest qualms about the fate of the deceased.

The knight was more worried when the ferals stopped coming. Obviously they had understood there was now a risk, that this little village of Buggerall ("Beggenhill," Lancyn corrected patiently) was not sending the required tribute, and was therefore almost certainly due for a raid. So they'd recruited several sturdy locals with big sticks, and begun to instruct the villagers in fire-fighting arrangements. Lancyn was in charge of fire prevention, and Ser Chris led the defense team.

The raid came, sooner than they'd hoped but not sooner than Ser Chris had predicted. The sturdy locals with big sticks managed to account for two of the raiders, and nobody's house was burnt down (though there was some damage to three or four). But when the ferals withdrew and everything settled down again, there was no sign of Ser Chrisfer.

* * *

The villagers, and Lancyn cursed them with his whole soul, were not eager to help discover what had become of the knight. Their magister claimed that Beggenhill was now free of the threat of marauders, and pointed out that it was not unusual for elite to give their lives in the course of duty. Besides, the village had a hanging to celebrate, since one of the cudgelled ferals was still alive.

Leaving Brown and Horse in the stabling of the inn, Lancyn went back into the forest. It took him three days to find the ferals' new lair.

* * *

Heart beating so hard, so loud, it would give him away. They'd hear him coming, sneaking through the trees like a thundering drum, and they'd kill Chrisfer. Lancyn paused to breathe, long careful silent inhalation with open mouth, tried to calm his frantic body, told himself he had to be ice cool if this was to succeed. Put the fear to one side and just do what had to be done.

There was the clearing, with its temporary shelter still slung between two far trees. Better check there's nobody in there.

Clear.

Were there guards? Any sensible malefactor would surely have posted a guard, but he couldn't see anyone. Other, that is, than the two figures crouched in the shelter of the ancient oak, and the bound man opposite, kneeling unprotected in the rain, and gagged. The sight of that gag sent a flare of rage through Lancyn. Chrisfer, unable to speak, unable to harangue his abductors and mock them and prophesy all manner of ills from death by lightning to fleas... it might be just as well he was gagged, for they'd probably murder him for his irrepressible mouth, but it was an outrage all the same, that scrap of rag, and the sight of it turned Lancyn's resolve to steel.

But he must get this right. Only one chance, so take your time, kid, take your time. He prowled silently round the clearing, sheltered by the rain and the stupidity of those two ferals. Were these two all that remained? It might be that some had taken fright and left the area, once Beggenhill had fought back. There was no guard. Just the two, then.

He didn't quite trust himself with his left hand. Not certain of his throw, and he had to be certain, so. One at a time, with the right hand. Knife, balance it, concentrate, compensate for the rain, throw hard and there's a knife in the throat of the one on the left.

And there was.

The other feral gasped, cursed, and scrambled for safety—but he wasn't a fool, this one, despite the lack of perimeter guard, for he ran to his prisoner and shielded his miserable self behind Chris.

Keeping his burning rage under strict control, Lancyn stepped into the clearing.

"He's mine," he said.

"Oh no. He's mine. You want him back, you pay. And you give me safe passage, you promise me no pursuit for three days. Or I cut his throat."

"You cut his throat, and you are dead from that moment," Lancyn promised.

"I don't think so. Pretty little boy like you, you think you can kill me?"

"Yes."

The feral laughed, but with an undertone of doubt that was a tribute to the stony certainty in the squire's voice. "I'd kill you now, but then who'd pay me my money?"

"Nobody is going to pay you anything. Elite don't give in to pond scum like you. Ever. We'd rather die."

"No. No, he's valuable. They'll pay, you send a message to Rittenhold, the Tower will pay—"

"The Tower won't pay. Nobody is going to pay, except you, because you are going to die."

The feral stood up. He was—he was wearing Ser Chrisfer's sword. A surge of hot rage swelled in Lancyn's throat; he bit down on it, kept it inside and invisible. Sharp, scraping sound as that sword came out of its scabbard.

"All right, then," the feral said. "Come here, pretty boy."

There was an infuriated protest from behind Chrisfer's gag, and Lancyn looked at him for a moment. The glare from those dark eyes was only to be expected, he supposed. Ideally, Lancyn would have a moment to slide his other knife through the bonds, but the feral was alert to that possibility and it wasn't going to happen. He was on his own.

From the stance he took up, the feral had once been a footsoldier. Obviously trained. A small, logical part of Lancyn's brain pointed out that this would not be an easy victory—Ser Chris had been training him for well over a year, and he'd been in fights before, but he was nowhere near Chris's class as a swordsman. And this feral knew what he was doing.

The rest of Lancyn's brain was consumed with the fiery certainty that he was going to deal with this reptile.

It was a nasty business. The grass slippery, the rain slashing down, and his opponent taunting him with foul epithets. These Lancyn ignored, pleased that his opponent was wasting thought and energy on them. Concentrated on blocking, assessing, watching for an opportunity. Metal scraping on metal, and the shock of the clash, right down his arm. A moment's chance, and his sword flashed through, but the feral stepped back just in time, and suffered only a tiny cut, dark blood dribbling down his neck and seeping into the dirty cloth of his shirt. More oaths, and a determined assault, but Lancyn was sure, now, that he could do this.

He fell back as the feral came on, then stood firm and pressed forward. The feral was breathing hard now, obviously not used to such exertion. Lancyn rejoiced in the constant hours of repetition Ser Chris put him through, every day, because he could go on for hours, if he had to, as long as it took for this creature to drop his guard again and—

—his foot slipped on the wet, uneven ground and Lancyn was down, flat on his back with one leg bent under him. His opponent was for an instant too astonished to react, but only an instant, then he was standing over Lancyn and drawing back his sword arm and—

Lancyn's free foot shot up between his opponent's legs. The feral shrieked, and fell forward onto Lancyn's waiting blade.

Slow
a scream
impalement
a thump, a moan
resistance of soft flesh
clotted bubbles against his neck
sliding through
sigh of breath at his ear
and out.

Blood.

Blood everywhere. Slick hot spill all over Lancyn's sword hand, clutching the hilt that was now digging painfully into his own belly, with the weight of this hot dead thing pressing it down. Blood, coughed from the dead mouth, spattered over Lancyn's face while the dead man lay against his neck like a lover. Bile rising in his own throat, and a whimper.

Still hampered by his trapped leg, Lancyn fought free of the dead man's embrace, crawled a yard and buried his face in the wet grass.

A strange sound made him raise his head, suddenly terrified. No, no more ferals, but his knight was still bound, kneeling there in the rain. Lancyn staggered across the clearing and unsheathed his second throwing knife with a hand that shook. He gritted his teeth and took firm hold, slid the blade through sodden rope to free Ser Chris's wrists and ankles, then the gag.

"Are you all right? Lans, are you all right?" were the first words out of Ser Chrisfer's mouth. He grabbed Lancyn's shoulders and stared into his eyes,

"I'm... not hurt," said Lancyn blankly. He was pulled into a fierce hug, tight against Ser Chris's shoulder, and his tears mingled with the rain running down his cheeks and into Chris's cloak.

"Idiot boy," Chris muttered. "You're supposed to talk your way out of fights, curse it, you're not supposed to take on trained soldiers and give me heart failure, kid, you did well, you did incredibly well, I'm so proud of you, I know it hurts, to take a life like that, it's your first time, you're allowed to cry, let it all out. I'm very proud of you."

It helped. After a while he stopped sobbing and got to his feet. Ser Chris stood, cursing his stiffened limbs, and hobbled over to the lumpen corpse to retrieve his sword. Turned the dead man over and peered dispassionately at his face. "If it's any comfort, he was an utter bastard," he remarked.

Lancyn hiccuped with almost-laughter. "Not really," he said, because it wasn't, much. He'd known the man was slated for death—if he hadn't done it himself, there'd have been a trial and a hanging—but the reality, the memory of his sword going deep into human flesh, it didn't help to know the man had earned it, because it was still death. Irrevocable, bloody and ugly. He hadn't known how it would feel, to kill someone. Kill. Someone. A person. He knelt down next to the corpse, stared at it until he realised he had no idea what he was looking for.

"Of course, this isn't your first," said Ser Chrisfer. "That one over there, that's your first." He waved towards the oak tree.

Lancyn had forgotten the man with a knife in his throat. Through his throat, it turned out, the wretched thing was stuck fast in the tree, and it took a few moments of grisly farce to pull it out. How could he have forgotten this one? But it wasn't the same, dealing death at a distance was so much easier than death with clutching fingers and blood on his cheeks and the blade in his hand going through skin and substance.

Surprised that his hands were quite steady, Lancyn cleaned his weapons carefully.

"You realise what this means, don't you?" said Ser Chrisfer sardonically, as they left the clearing, headed for town. "More reports to write."

A little smile squeezed out onto Lancyn's mouth. Felt good.

 

On to the next story: When Someone Needs You

 

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