Ser Chrisfer and Lancyn

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


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They followed the trail of the charlatan to a small town some thirty miles to the south-east, arriving in Milling as dusk was darkening into actual night. Happily, the streets on the way to the nearest inn (Milling was big enough to have more than one) were quite well lit from uncurtained windows. Lancyn's eyes grew wide when he looked into a few of those bright rooms, but he had been aware of the existence of brothel-houses since he was a boy in the city, and disappointed Ser Chrisfer by failing to blush as the house callers advertised their wares.

Lancyn had just spotted the inn's painted sign, when he spotted something else, something extraordinary. There surely... surely couldn't be a bear walking along the street?

"What—?" he exclaimed involuntarily, and pointed.

Ser Chris stared, then he grinned, then an evil calculation shone in his eyes as he fished in his pommel-bag for an apple. "Watch this." He drew back his arm and hurled the apple directly at the head of... what Lancyn could now see was not a bear at all, but a person in a vast, shaggy brown pelt of a cloak and a fur hat with the flaps sticking up like ears.

An instant before the apple was due to smack directly into the back of the fur-clad head, the bear-person ducked his head to peer at something in his path. The apple sailed on and disappeared into distant snow.

The bear-person, possibly alerted by the flying apple whizzing overhead, turned and caught sight of the two figures just dismounting from their horses. Ser Chris went rapidly forward and seized the bear-person in a hug, actually lifting him and swinging him round, which looked impossible, from the apparent bulk involved. Lancyn rolled his eyes and instructed Viper to stay with Horse and Cropper while he went forward to greet this fresh acquaintance.

"This," said Ser Chris excitedly, "is just the man we need! This is Jesse, Jesse, this is Lans, my squire, we're settling here for the night, come on."

* * *

They settled into an unexpectedly clean and delightfully warm room, dumping bags and cloaks around the edges and setting the snow-damp outer garments carefully close to the fireplace. There was already a distinct odour of damp bear in the atmosphere, and Lancyn supposed it wouldn't be much better when it turned into dried bear. There being nothing to be done about it, he held his tongue on the subject, and turned instead to examine this new acquaintance.

Divested of his furred outer garments, Jesse was revealed as a long, skinny creature wearing, apparently, cast-offs from rich folk with a taste for pastels. Lancyn did not altogether approve of the beads. Or the lace. Still, he supposed, it was not his business to approve.

"Lans, go down to the innkeeper, tell her we want supper for three in our room. And bring up a jug, shall we have ale or wine, Jesse? Oh, no matter, bring both!" Ser Chris's pleasure at this chance meeting was all too plain, and Lancyn had to stifle a moment of ignoble resentment as he descended the stairs.

The ale and wine arrived almost immediately, carried up by a maidservant who looked as though she took her ideas on suitable attire from the less respectable females across the street. The wine was indifferent stuff, to Lancyn's mind, but the ale was good. Supper took a little longer, and he kept himself busied sorting the contents of their bags while his knight told Jesse about their recent adventure in administering justice to the back of beyond.

"When did you last eat? Joel told us he and Cally tried to feed you up, but it looks as though you haven't had a square meal since," Chrisfer remarked as he tore the loaf into three more-or-less equitable portions, and handed the largest to Jesse.

"Oh," Jesse said vaguely, "a day or so."

"And I doubt you've got the price of a night's lodging in your purse."

"Not so much as a quarter-copper," Jesse agreed, with a huge, happy grin spreading across his features. "This is good bread."

Chrisfer looked at his friend in fond exasperation. "You'll stay here with us tonight, of course. Bed looks a reasonable fit for three. Um. Were you planning on staying in Milling?"

Jesse smiled benignly. "I'll be happy to help with your quest, Chris."

Lancyn's eyebrows rose as he caught his knight's eye. Who exactly was this interloper who would 'help' with their quest?

"Good," said Ser Chris. "The malefactor we're after has been pretending to hand over magic purses in exchange for food. Purses that turn copper coins into silver."

Lancyn made a vulgar comment on the gullibility of greedy peasants.

"Jesse's an enchanter, Lans. He knows what magic can do and what it can't."

"Anyone with a brain ought to know that people don't go around giving away purses that turn coppers into silvers," said Lancyn, tartly. But he was impressed, all the same. "So, an enchanter? I'm not sure what that means, exactly."

"He has magic," said Chrisfer.

"Yes, but..? What can you do?" Lancyn inquired.

"Oh, you know. This and that. It depends, really," said Jesse, vaguely. "And it isn't always as useful as you might think."

"You can't turn copper into silver, though," Lancyn suggested, feeling fairly certain of his ground.

Jesse tipped his head sideways, and considered. "Never tried. Might be possible. Not with a purse, though. Something like that, would have to hold the coin. It'd be very hard work."

"Hard work?" Lancyn had never thought of magic as being work. It seemed, rather, to be the opposite. Cheating, even.

"You have to pay."

"Working magic is like working with a sword, Lans," Ser Chrisfer explained. "You can improve your skill by practising, so that it comes easier, but a fight still saps your energy."

"Yes," said Jesse, sounding grateful. "And if you're clumsy, or, or if you don't have a sword, you can't do it."

"So it's a kind of weapon, then, the magic?" Lancyn asked.

"Can be," Jesse said, and clamped his mouth shut. Chrisfer cast him a worried glance, and Jesse gave a tiny smile of reassurance. "It's... some things are easiest done with magic, but most things, there's an ordinary way which is better. If you want a weapon, better find a swordsmith than an enchanter. Easier to fight with a sword than with magic."

Interesting. That actually made Lancyn feel rather reassured. His sword skills were improving, particularly now that he had his own sword, perfectly balanced to his arm. "But, can you make the sword a better sword by putting magic in it? While the swordsmith is making it?"

Jesse considered. "I don't think so. I don't enchant metal, or stones, really. Can't put magic into objects. Can do living things, but best not to."

"Why?" Lancyn was fascinated now, and forgetting his hostility. This exotic, beaded creature was willing to explain about magic, and he wanted to know.

"See, I could... I could bless a brink-nut, and plant it, and tell it to grow well and flourish. Only, it might not be the right ground for a brink-nut tree, and if the tree flourished there, other plants would go hungry, there not being the food in the soil for them all to thrive. Better give the nut to a good garden-tender, have it planted where it would want to grow."

Now that Lancyn considered, it was almost disappointing to learn that the mundane, everyday ways of doing things were better than magic. Yet—perhaps it was just as well. "What do you do, then?"

"Try to keep things straight. The way they ought to be. Sometimes things get twisted."

"I've seen Jesse save a cow in calf, that was struggling to give birth," Chrisfer offered.

It didn't sound very special to Lancyn. Surely cows gave birth all the time? Was it that hard? His thoughts leaped to Brown, who would be producing her foal soon. He half-listened to Jesse's explanation about making a natural process work as it ought. Would Brown need an enchanter to keep her alive? Would there be one at the Tower?

He wrenched his concentration back to the here and now. "So you can't use the magic as a weapon?" he asked bluntly.

Jesse looked stricken. "It—I—"

"Enough, Lancyn! Go and check the horses have been properly bestowed."

Lancyn stared at his knight in dismay. Betrayal and outrage warred on his tongue, but he said nothing, just gritted his teeth and left the room. Ser Chrisfer was always telling him to learn everything he could. Ser Chrisfer always trusted him to make sure the horses were settled before he ever sat down to his own supper. Ser Chrisfer was taking this newcomer's side against him.

He stayed in the perfectly comfortable stable for a long time, brushing each horse from ears to tail. He told Horse, at some length, about Ser Chrisfer's failings. Horse already knew it all, and only looked at him with world-weary disinterest. Viper nodded foolishly and nosed for apples, which Lancyn had not brought. Cropper just looked puzzled but pleased to be brushed at all. Lancyn supposed pack-horses didn't get much love. He felt a surge of empathy, and told himself to stop being so stupid. He'd better get back upstairs. No doubt Ser Chris would have finished the ale-jug by now.

Lancyn made himself stop in the public room to collect another jug before he went back to the room. Paused outside the door to check that his features were in order. It was only to be expected that Chrisfer would have other friends, and Lancyn hadn't minded about Joel, had he?

"There you are, kid, I thought Horse had killed and eaten you!"

"I brought some more ale," Lancyn said prosaically. "Reckoned you would have drunk that one dry by now."

"I, um. Got them to send up another one," Ser Chrisfer admitted, a shade guiltily.

"Oh. Well, I'm thirsty," said Lancyn. "Jesse, would you like some ale? Or some more wine?" The wine jug was not empty.

"I killed a bear."

Lancyn turned to stare. Jesse was hunched by the fire, looking up at him with sheer misery in every shade of his face.

"You—you killed a bear? With magic?"

"Yes. It... I was afraid. It was so close, and it wanted to eat me, and I couldn't run fast enough, and I, I made, I made its heart stop beating. And it fell down in the snow and died." Jesse's eyes, huge and pitiful, filled with tears as he made his confession. Lancyn knelt beside him.

"The bear cloak?" he asked carefully.

"I wear it so that I don't forget. It was a beautiful bear, it was only being what it was, doing what a bear must do. But I didn't want it to eat me, and I, I killed it." Eyelids shuttered down over the beautiful water-bright blue eyes, and Jesse hid his face.

Astonished, and wishing he could offer comfort, Lancyn patted Jesse rather helplessly on the back, and to his alarm then found himself clutching an armful of distressed enchanter. Wide-eyed, he looked to his knight for help.

"What he didn't mention," Ser Chris said, "was that the effort took so much out of him he could barely move for three days. Like he said, you have to pay when you use magic. I found him huddled in the snow next to the corpse, practically had to carry him away, and he wouldn't leave until I promised to go back for the bear. Bears are f— fairly heavy."

"Needed to keep it. Must remember," came a muffled explanation from Lancyn's shoulder. Which was now, he suspected, rather damp. And possibly snotty. Oh well. He hugged the skinny creature until Jesse drew in a deep breath and sat back with an apologetic smile.

He really was rather endearing.

And, Lancyn realised as he gazed at that bony face, those messy brown curls and most of all, the ridiculously appealing blue eyes, quite beautiful.

* * *

An excess of wine rendered Jesse quite boneless and absurdly giggly, like a little girl being tickled, but Lancyn and Chrisfer managed to decant him into the bed, removed his boots and some of the lace and beaded stuff, then got in themselves on either side of him. It was like sleeping with a human furnace, Lancyn thought. Who would have thought such an underfed frame could give off such heat? Perhaps it was the magic. It was nice. Not, admittedly, quite as nice as it would have been to have his knight to himself, but Jesse was... was... hard to define, Lancyn thought, as he drifted off to sleep.

* * *

"Urg. Never staying here again. Ale's bad," Ser Chrisfer muttered, staggering to the water basin and splashing feebly at his face.

Lancyn rolled his eyes. He had no sympathy. He himself was also hungover, but there was no sense complaining. Besides, he was still bearing something of a grudge for being sent down to the stable last night.

"Breakfast?" he suggested.

"Augh. Evil brat." Ser Chris shuddered.

"Breakfast would be good!" Jesse sat up, looking brighter and less drink-ridden than a person who'd been poured into bed last night had any right to look. "Bacon! Mushrooms! Black sausage!"

Ser Chrisfer snarled, then obviously had a thought. "Jesse! My head... it hurts, Jesse. Feels like someone took my brain out to play tossball with it, Jesse. Make it better, nice Jesse, kind Jesse."

Jesse pursed his lips. "Now, now. That would be a shocking misuse of privilege. Besides, have you any idea how much a healing costs?"

Chris whined piteously. Jesse, ignoring him, leaped out of bed and began to don the collection of garments which had been removed from him in the small hours. Lancyn was faintly jealous of the enchanter's ability to consume wine. Was that magical, too?

"You have a sore head, don't you, Lans?" the enchanter murmured.

"It's nothing. Doesn't matter." If you didn't want to feel as though someone had been smiting your skull with an anvil, it was simplest not to drink the better part of two jugs of strong ale. At any rate, he wasn't one to make a fuss. He was, though, rather surprised when Jesse's hands took firm hold of him, and thumbs stroked across his temples.

Not as surprised as he was when he realised the headache was gone.

Jesse winked.

Ser Chris was still muttering evilly as he pulled on his boots, but was silenced when Jesse's hands closed over his long black hair, and breathed in a sigh of bliss as the pain was, evidently, banished.

"Thank you for breakfast, Chrisfer," said Jesse, lightly. "Bacon, mushrooms, black sausage." A rapturous smile. "And eggs. And bread. And honey?"

Chrisfer snorted. "I'd forgotten how much you like to eat. And you without a copper to your name! What would you have done last night if we hadn't come along?"

"Picked up that silver coin I saw in the snow," Jesse answered. "But you did come along."

Ser Chris just gaped, and Lancyn could tell his knight didn't know whether to laugh or scream. "Does something always come along?" he wondered aloud, remembering the way Jesse's head had avoided the hurled apple.

"Oh, yes," said Jesse, blithely.

* * *

They split up, to search through all the streets of Milling where shops and stalls were set. Lancyn trudged round his route without finding any trace of anyone purveying magic purses. But there was a neatly-painted wagon whose owner was doing a fair trade in stores: flour, lentils, preserved fruit and the like. The fellow had a plausible, friendly manner, and Lancyn noted that he seemed to attract a fair measure of attention, though it seemed he was not a regular trader.

Something about the goods... reminded Lancyn of a list he had made not so very long ago, with the steward of Mitteral's keep. He ventured to ask the price of some spiced plums (they had been very good, he remembered), and recognised the pot seals. The goods came, he was told, from a village in the far north whose unexpectedly good summer this year had led to a surplus. Hederik, the vendor, was only too happy to be able to bring such fine comestibles to the discerning residents of Milling, and at such a remarkably good price.


Lancyn bought the spiced plums, calculated the charlatan's profit on the expenditure of one silver coin as he walked back to the inn, and noted that Master Merchant Perel was probably in the wrong business. What a lifetime ago it was, his apprenticeship back in the city, tallying for Master Perel.

Useful, though.

He condescended to share the spiced plums with Jesse and Chrisfer that evening, and they tasted just as good in the inn as they'd tasted at the lord's table.

* * *

Between Chrisfer's natural instinct for finding the shadier parts of town, and Jesse's occasional direction, they discovered the neatly-painted wagon without difficulty by mid-morning. The charlatan had gathered quite a crowd of down-at-heels, servants out purchasing for their masters, clerks with dull errands to do, and the like. Chrisfer wormed his way slowly towards the front of the spectators, while Jesse and Lancyn lurked at the back. Lancyn kept his cowl—the one Beverlyn had gifted him—over his head, not wanting to risk being recognised. A charlatan like this would have quick wits, and would be unhappy to see a customer from a respectable street watching him here, where the houses were dingy and the dirty slush had not been swept from the cobbles.

The charlatan, Hederik, was finishing an enthralling tale of how he had obtained a bolt of cloth from a magical loom... and was holding up a small purse now, ready to demonstrate its powers The mystical qualities of the cloth would work miraculously on the copper, Hederik promised, transmuting it magically into purest silver.

There was a murmur through the crowd: disbelief, Lancyn diagnosed, but a desire to be convinced. Why did everybody insist on getting something for nothing? Did they really believe this nonsensical tale about magic cloth?

"Let me prove the truth," the charlatan was insisting. And he demonstrated, dropping a small dull coin into a purse, pulling the strings tight, then—with the maximum of enthusiastic advertisement—extracting from the purse a gleaming silver coin.

"It's a trick!" someone shouted. Ah, a cynic, thought Lancyn, happily. "He had it up his sleeve!"

The charlatan held up a hand, and displayed reproach and forgiveness in his gentle smile. Offered to let the dissenter try for herself and prove the truth of his—and yes, they were fantastic—claims. The crowd seemed pleased with this suggestion, and after a moment or two, a woman with a pinched face stepped warily up on to Hederik's little platform, and offered a copper coin.

"Put it into the purse yourself, dear madam," he invited. Warily, she dropped the coin into the open purse he was holding for her. He tightened the strings. "So, goodfolk! You all saw your neighbour risk her copper quarter. Now, see how she is rewarded!" He dug his fingers in to open the purse.

Jesse wiggled his fingers, and murmured something.

The woman stuck her hand into the purse, and drew out—a copper coin. Outraged, she glared at Hederik, who flinched but rallied magnificently with the suggestion that perhaps her own disbelief was influencing the magnanimous action of the purse. But, he promised, she should be convinced, and offered her the purse again. Lancyn saw Jesse's fingers wiggle. "Fumble-fingers," Jesse whispered, with mischief in his eyes.

Doubtfully, the pinch-faced woman took hold of the purse, and lowered the copper into it with tentative fingers. Her face changed—she drew out the copper, and a silver coin too. "It was in there already!" she exclaimed, outraged.

"That's not magic!" someone called.

"It's a sham," a very familiar voice insisted, shrilling above the grumble of the crowd. "He's no enchanter. It's a cheat! Magic purse, my eyeballs!"

The charlatan attempted to save his position with a rather poor story about 'unusual munificence' and the purse's attempt to compensate for the initial disappointment, but very soon found that no-one was left to listen, except an angry woman with a pinched face, a smirking bearded man in black, and two figures who were moving rapidly from background to foreground.

"I think," said Ser Chrisfer irresistibly, "that both these coins belong to this goodwife. There, madam, and do try to be more sensible in future. Anyone who wants to make you rich is doing it for his own ends. Stay away from such!"

Or, be first in line, thought Lancyn. It had, after all, worked out rather well for the pinched woman, who had acquired a silver coin for the price of a few moments of public gullibility.

"One moment," he called. "Perhaps we should check the coin is not counterfeit." At this terrible suggestion, Hederik the charlatan paled, and began to protest. No wonder, since passing false coin was a crime of great consequence. Chrisfer tossed the coin to Jesse, who caught it, and returned it almost at once, attesting that it was honest money. Chrisfer handed it back to the woman, who scurried off, clutching her spoils.

"Well, now," said Ser Chris, cheerfully. The charlatan quailed.

* * *

It did not take long to locate his hidden strong-box, what with Lancyn's experience of hiding such (from his days working for Master Perel) and Chrisfer's instinct for finding them. Lancyn counted the coin—a fine sum. The honest citizens of Milling paid handsomely for winter provender.

"Excellent," Ser Chris announced. "Everybody wins. Lord Mitteral can have payment for his stolen goods, and meanwhile his servants improve themselves through fasting. The Tower gets a reasonable tithing, and we'll keep something back for Jesse, so he doesn't starve in the gutter once we're gone. The people of Milling learn to tell the difference between magic and conjury. And you, my friend, you learn to behave yourself. How shall we punish him, friends?"

"But—but you're taking all my money," Hederik the charlatan protested feebly. "What'll I live on? Isn't that punishment enough?"

"I don't think so," Lancyn said mildly. The people of Lord Mitteral's keep would be rightly indignant, he thought, if they learned that the person who'd lured them into thievery had gone virtually unpunished for his wrongdoing. "I think you've a tricksy, lying tongue."

"And while I'm all in favour of tricking ignorant folk," Ser Chrisfer chimed in, "I like to do it for their own good, whereas you," he prodded Hederik in the midriff, "do it for your own profit. Jesse, is there anything to be done with a lying tongue?"

"Hmm," said Jesse. "Open your mouth."

The charlatan backed away, only to collide with his wagon. He looked frantically about, but Lancyn was holding his wagon-horse's rein, and the other two men flanked him. Sweating, he attempted to struggle, but Chrisfer was too strong for him.

Jesse took the end of the charlatan's tongue between thumb and forefinger. "Hmm," he said again. "To the purpose, I think. Yes. Speak true, or not at all."

He let go, and stepped back.

The charlatan sagged against the wagon.

"All done, Jesse?" said Chrisfer.

"I thought—I thought you were going to cut it off," panted the charlatan.

Jesse recoiled in disgust; Chrisfer laughed. "You've been keeping the wrong company!" he observed. "But you'll find it hard to work your cons now. I suppose you're planning to pull this purse trick on the next village down the road?"

"Yes," said Hederik, and stared in dismay.

"Speak true, or not at all," said Jesse, with a crinkling smile. Lancyn stifled a grin. He did so like the punishment to fit the crime.

"Looks like you'll be looking for a new way to make a living," said Ser Chrisfer, satisfied. "Here." He passed the dumbfounded charlatan a handful of coppers. "Don't want you to starve to death while you're looking for a job. Any questions?"


"Jesse, here, he can work real magic. And I'm a benevolent soul, which means I let him do it, instead of cutting your tongue off. Be grateful."

The charlatan looked as though he would rather commit murder, but didn't say so. Chrisfer clapped him on the back and told him to run along. The three elite watched as he climbed warily into his wagon, and set the horse to motion.

"Ah, he'll get used to telling the truth. Eventually. And meanwhile we," announced Chris, "can get drunk again tonight, while we still have our hangover cure! C'mon, Jesse. Did Joel teach you the song about the chastity belt?"

* * *

They parted with Jesse next morning, after arranging conveyance of Lord Mitteral's money via the town courier. Chrisfer pressed coins into Jesse's hand, and he accepted them in faint bewilderment. It seemed quite probable to Lancyn that the skinny dope would forget to use them, or give them away. But, no doubt he would find something to eat and a place to stay, and keep his head unsmitten by flying apples as he wandered through the world.

Lancyn was quite reconciled to Jesse. Especially now they were travelling in opposite directions.

* * *

Chrisfer, happily hangover-free, nattered incessantly about nothing in particular for several miles. Lancyn, mindful of his grievance, responded only with neutral sounds. Eventually, Chrisfer stopped talking, and coughed. "About Jesse," he began.


"When I said—when I sent— He doesn't usually talk about his bear. Which was why I—look, Lans—"

Lancyn turned a clear, guileless countenance to his knight.

"Just—cut it out!" said Chrisfer, who knew Lancyn too well.

Lancyn looked wounded. But he knew an apology when he didn't hear one, and a grin twitched at his mouth.

They sang as they rode south towards Rittenhold.


On to the next story: First Blood


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