DISCLAIMER: None really, a small original story inspired by Liz getting me to think about female knights. ^-^
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Like everything else I've written this story is also available at my own fic site, http://ryufic.blogspot.se/
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To rosmari.karlssonfaltin[at]telia.com
In the Shade by the Road
By Carola "Ryûchan" Eriksson
The hilltop was almost too small to earn the name, but the tree growing upon it offered kind shade as the sun bore down from overhead and a nice view over the well-worn road that for the moment seemed quite abandoned. It provided a nice spot for companionable conversation for the two figures having a rest in its shade while a large dappled warhorse placidly enjoyed the grass nearby.
The smaller figure studied her companion as she worried the plain white scarf tied around her hair. Despite being strangers, having actually met just moments ago, and despite being both old enough and intelligent enough to know the dangers of this wide world for a woman on her own, there was something calming about her new acquaintance... and it was not the knightly colours and travel armour that blinded her sight.
"I did not mean to delay your journey." She mentioned again, even though it was a topic already discussed and she expected no new reply to it. This tall and foreign knight had happened upon her as she sat there, alone and waiting for her companions to collect her on their journey home, and apparently decided to provide protection once she declined the offer to share the knight's horse to the next village.
Her knightly friend waved the notion away with a smile, appearing to be in no hurry to be anywhere else than keeping her company at the moment.
It was those bright blue eyes, she decided silently, they were kind and gentle though for some reason there was sadness in them. Suspicions began to form although she wondered if this knight would answer her truthfully if she asked outright. Perhaps if they got to talking casually she could get to the questions she wanted answered without being too forward about it.
"If it is not too presumptuous to ask, are you from the city?" It was a superfluous question and they both knew it, where else would a new knight of this calibre have come but from the King's capital, even if the journey was a long one. The knight took the question as a request for conversation and answered truthfully.
"Yes, I am... by order of our King I am on my way to serve his lordship the Earl Grimalkin and to take personal control of my family's estate in this shire." The knight smiled kindly as the words were spoken, yet it sounded a strange order to be given indeed. "I am the first to make the journey since my mother made the move to the capital as a small girl... I hope the honourable Earl has not taken offence by my family's absence."
"As you are new to the area you might not know this..." She hesitated, wondering if this would prove a fine way to insult her new acquaintance. "but... the Earl has very few knights and all of them are elderly." She tried to gauge her companion's reaction, worried that she was overstepping her bounds already. "Even the nobles and the title-holders in this shire are farmers, sir Knight. I fear you will not find much of the things you were used to in the capital here... just hard honest work."
The knight just nodded and turned blue eyes on the meanderings of the large horse slightly below them. "I have gathered as much. But fear not, I am not averse to shoulder my fair share of hard work."
The girl wondered suddenly if the ladies and maidens of the capital were fairer than those in the countryside, self-consciously tugging at her shawl once more. She knew she was considered fair enough for the local admirers, but to more worldly eyes she would probably be quite plain, especially in her simple travelling dress and sturdy boots.
"What peaceful and good land this must be," The knight mused, interrupting the girl's bout of self-consciousness. "...to allow for young maidens to wander the roads unescorted without fear of evil and villainy."
The girl laughed softly, earning a more delighted smile from her companion. "My father would not agree with you, sir Knight, if he knew that I had been waiting for my companions alone." She sighed a little but decided not to explain that further for the moment. "Although I think you are right, it is rather peaceful here."
"Tell me, are knights like you common in the capital?" At the questioning expression she was faced with she clarified "Female knights, I mean."
The blonde knight looked very surprised for a moment before finally she chuckled. "I would have thought it not that easy to tell, not this quickly and while I still wore armour." A brief thump against the breastplate which hid any obvious clues to the knight's true gender. Between that, the chainmail and the leather nothing was given away save the impressive height, and at first glance the face above the armour belonged to a beautiful young man. "To answer your question, no, female knights are not common in the capital. To my knowledge I have been the only one in at least a generation."
The girl grinned and was inwardly pleased that she had been able to tell the truth the moment her new acquaintance had stepped down from her horse, though how anyone could mistake the gender of this handsome knight was beyond her.
"Was that the reason you... left there?"
"No. Yes." The melancholy look was back in blue eyes. "It was undoubtedly a part of why I was sent away." Her voice grew quiet, as if what she spoke of was something not intended for other ears. "The King was ever kind to my mother and I, and I had held his favour for some time... but there are... complications, and so that my presence will not cause them both further pain I agreed to this arrangement. My cousin will take over my duties to my King and my mother in my absence."
The girl nodded slightly, it was much as she had suspected. That their King was childless was a well-known fact, and because old men with a touch of drink in them enjoyed their gossip even more than young girls and were less careful with their wording, she had also heard that the King after years of a loveless marriage to their Queen had in secret taken a mistress in a widow from a noble house. If indeed that woman was this knight's mother, and perhaps the knight herself the secret child of the King, then that would be cause of much plotting and intrigue, especially now that the King had named his nephew heir to his throne.
Then again those were rumours, and could just as easily have nothing at all to do with this fair-haired female knight. She certainly did not care whether they did or not, and the capital with its convoluted politics was far away.
A large horse-drawn farmer's carriage became visible where the road wound out of the nearby woods, and the men riding it waved enthusiastically once the hilltop was in sight.
"Your companions, I presume?" The knight asked somewhat unnecessarily as the girl waved back with a bit more decorum. At her nod the knight rose to her feet and offered the girl her arm, a chivalrous gesture to aid her down the tiny slope.
As they moved and the carriage was still some distance away the girl continued her conversation, feeling a certain need to know the important details before having to leave. "Will you be expecting company from the capital once you have claimed your estate?"
The knight smiled. "My mother will make the journey in the spring and stay with me for a while before going back. She is eager to see her childhood home she says, so I must make sure it is all in order before then."
"What of others, did you leave no sweetheart behind as you came here?"
The knight gave a start, and blushed furiously. "N-no... no sweetheart..." She swallowed hard and gave her companion a strange look. "I... t-the ladies of the King's court are not... so inclined as to... find favour with one such as I."
Suddenly feeling very pleased and happy with the world at her knight's reply, she removed the white cloth covering her hair, allowing shining waves of thick chestnut hair to fall free down to her waist. Giving the knight her best smile, vaguely aware that it came across a bit more flirtatious than it otherwise would have but finding it appropriate, she turned towards her more fully.
"City ladies must not have the discerning eye of a countryside woman, then." She gave the tall blonde a wink before wrapping the scarf loosely around her shoulders, fully enjoying the dumbstruck expression she was rewarded with. "How about you look me up when you have gotten settled?"
"B-but I do not know your name!" The knight found her tongue again and protested as the brunette was taking a few steps away.
If possible the smile facing the knight grew even wider. "I think it is time I return the favour and tell you a story."
"There was this Earl who ruled a rather peaceful farming shire. He did not have many knights, and those he had were men too old to be asked to travel much, and everyone in the shire had their work and their duties to perform. This included the Earl's only child, his daughter, although the Earl always tried to dissuade her, and so it was that when she was helping out transporting supplies between villages and her companions had to go ahead without her, she had no-one to escort her to meet them."
"My Lady!" The knight gasped and fell to one knee before the now laughing girl.
"The Earl's daughter was fortunate for a very kind and handsome knight appeared..." The brunette giggled and danced on light feet over to the side of the cart. "Wouldn't you agree?"
Still stunned the knight watched as the smiling woman was helped into place next to the Wagoner and the cart started moving again. Over her shoulder she called one last thing as they moved off. "Do remember to come see me when you get to father's castle, now."
The knight remained unmoving for a long moment before she finally spun around, got her sword and satchel from where she had placed them, and hurried over to her horse.
"I will catch up to you shortly, Milady!" She called after the swaying wagon trudging on ahead. The delighted laughter that was carried back to her on the wind did strange things to the knight's insides and brought a joyful smile to her lips.
Sitting up and urging her charger to catch up to the cart she found that she now felt better about life than she had in a long time.
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