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Listening to: Far Horizons – Jeremy Soule (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)

First: The Knights’ Tale, Part I
Previous: The Knights’ Tale, Part II

Next: The Knights’ Tale, Part IV


After a week’s worth of shows, with little progress in my novel to show for it, I’ve realized that reaching my ultimate goal of 50,000 by the end of the month is essentially a pipe dream. (Well, technically, given my insanely fast typing speed, I could probably do something to the tune of this, but that wouldn’t be fair.)

However, I’m determined to give this story the closure that it deserves, which means that even after NaNoWriMo is over, I’ll continue to work on it until I feel that it’s finished. In the meantime, of course, I will continue to serialize “The Knights’ Tale” (Real Name TBA) here on my blog. I’ve quite liked posting sections of the story, and will probably continue to do so until I run out of story to post. This will actually mark a change in the ordinary schedule: serials will be posted Wednesday, and I’ll return to my regular Sunday content as soon as I’ve finished recovering from a life devoted to the theater.

Now then, without further ado*, the next section of the story!

*Looking back, this is a phrase I use frequently.


Perin awoke just after sunrise to find the camp already in a bustle of activity. Ser Fiona, smiling cheerily, noticed him as he sat up and held out a steaming bowl. “You’re a heavy sleeper today, captain. Even Astelle was up before you.”

Perin scowled at her. “I had a trying evening.”

“So we noticed.” Fiona jabbed a thumb over her shoulder to indicate where Lyon lay, still fast asleep. “The youngster seems to have been even more worn out by it than you were.”

“I’m not sure whether that’s within expectations, because you’ve seen everything and he hasn’t, or if it surprises me because a youngster like him should have more energy to cope with such things than an old man like you,” said Matrech as he passed by, winking at Perin.

“You’re only a year younger than me,” Perin grumbled through a full mouth as he dug into the porridge that Fiona had given him.

“Ah, what a difference a year makes.”

“How is the scout doing?” said Perin after a few moments, his spoon already scraping the bottom of the bowl.

“The mystery woman you brought in last night? She’s still asleep, or I’d have had a look at that wound on her arm,” said Matrech. “She seems to have dressed it fairly well herself, but infections can be a nasty thing, and I doubt she had time to thoroughly wash it when on the road.”

“Unless you count being rained on as washing,” Fiona observed wryly. “In which case she probably got as good of a bath as the rest of us.”

“Not quite as good as yours, though,” said Matrech. Fiona glared at him.

“Keep it up, and I swear…”

“Now, now, that wouldn’t be a very good example to set for the young knights. They look up to us, you know,” said Matrech. “As senior officers, it is our sacred duty to give the younger generation someone to admire and emulate.”

You’re not doing a very good job of it either, if that’s the case,” said Fiona testily.

Perin held up a hand to stop both of them. “That’s quite enough out of the two of you.” He set down his bowl, his expression serious, and motioned for them to sit. “Now then, I haven’t explained the particulars of the situation to you, so listen carefully. Mirianna, the scout over there, was stationed at the capital until very recently. However, a day and a half ago she ran afoul of soldiers from Caldemar.”

The eyes of both knights widened. “You can’t be serious!” said Matrech in a strangled whisper. “Caldemar soldiers already beyond our borders… it’s unthinkable!”

“Glad you know well enough to keep your voice down,” said Perin. He shook his head. “To tell the truth, though, I’ve been thinking about how they would be able to get past the border. The army they have at the river now could well just be a diversion, designed to hold General Janus at the border.”

“It’s certainly large and flashy enough for a distraction,” Fiona muttered. “I admit, your theory makes sense… but if that’s the case, how did they get the troops past the border?”

“Magic, perhaps,” said Perin. “I’ve heard that there’s mage’s blood in the Caldemar royal family, just as there is in ours. However, the rulers of Caldemar have not been particularly… ah, discreet in their family affairs.”

“So what you’re saying is that the bastard on the throne got together an army of bastards to do his dirty work for him?” Matrech ran a hand through his hair.

“Crudely but aptly put,” said Perin, sighing. “There could be any number of offshoots of the Caldemar family tree running around out there. Officially, Prince Amreth is the only child of King Clovis, but there doesn’t seem to be any love lost between any of the members of that family. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Amreth has dozens of half-brothers and sisters, if not hundreds. If word of Clovis’s indiscretions has spread all the way over here…”

Fiona clapped her hands to her knees, pushing herself to her feet. “That’s quite enough talk about that. I feel uncomfortable enough knowing that there are enemy soldiers within our borders, without the possibility that a few dozen of them can make me burst into flames with a thought and a flick of the finger.”

“I have the feeling that working magic is a bit more complicated than that,” said Matrech.

“I’m not concerned with the specifics,” said Fiona. She made eye contact with Perin. “Besides, this changes nothing about what we’re supposed to do, does it, Captain?”

Perin smiled thinly. “Not at all.” He continued speaking in a low voice. “Until we’ve ascertained anything further about the situation, don’t talk to any of the others about what happened. We don’t want to make the youngsters nervous. That goes for Ser Lyon and Mirianna as well. Fetch them for me as soon as they wake up, understand?” At his subordinates’ terse nods, he spoke up in a more regular tone, one that the other knights would be able to hear. “What’s the condition of the road like?”

“Ser Simon and Ser Kinan rode ahead for around a quarter of a mile to scope things out,” said Matrech, getting to his feet as well. “There are a few puddles and pools in the fields, but the road itself is clear. The Empire built things to last.”

“Except their government, apparently,” said Fiona. “For all the talk of an immortal Empire that would last a thousand years, things fell apart pretty quickly once the Emperor died twenty years ago. Not exactly the foundation on which great things are built.”

“That was almost philosophical,” said Matrech. “Have you been reading old Dianic literature again? I don’t understand how you can make heads or tails of it.”

“Well, you certainly couldn’t. What was it that you got confused? “Snoring” and “striking,” wasn’t it?”

“That’s hardly my fault! In Dianic, they’re only one letter apart!” The two walked off, arguing in a good-natured manner and showing none of the distress that they had been experiencing only seconds earlier. Perin breathed a sigh of relief. Well, at least they won’t be worrying the others. Hopefully Mirianna and Lyon will be effective actors as well. With knights this inexperienced, we could have a panic on our hands if they realize what’s going on. He picked up his breastplate from beside him and began cleaning it almost absentmindedly, quickly cleaning the few remaining specks of dirt from its surface so that it was ready to be buckled back on.

Looking up from his work, he saw Ser Lyon, his hair disheveled, heading in his direction. The young knight walked up to him and saluted. “You wanted to speak with me, Captain?”

“Yes,” said Perin. “I wanted to make sure that you don’t talk about what happened last night with anyone other than myself, the scout, and the other two senior knights. I don’t want your comrades to panic if they find out that we are likely walking into enemy territory.”

Lyon nodded. “Of course, Captain. I’ll be discreet.” He glanced over at the scout, still sprawled out on the ground, with his brow furrowed slightly. “Do you think that she’ll be all right, Captain? She doesn’t look like she’s stirred a bit since going to sleep.”

“She’d been awake for a very long time, Ser Lyon,” Perin reminded him. “I wouldn’t expect her to wake up for another few hours, after what she’s been through.”

The blond knight rubbed his forehead. “Ah… yes, of course, you’re right. I should make sure that I’m awake before I start talking, shouldn’t I?”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Perin. “Go get yourself some breakfast, and let the others know that we’ll be delaying our departure somewhat this morning.”

“What about the message?” said Lyon in a low voice.

“Under present circumstances, it would not seem as though the delivery of the message will be necessary,” said Perin. “If there are Caldemar soldiers here, then the King must be aware that they’re already determined to take action against us.”

Ser Lyon looked thoughtful. “As a point of fact, if we do deliver it we may do more harm than good.” At Perin’s glance, he hurried on. “If the King brings his army out of the capital, he’ll be making himself vulnerable. Without fortifications of any kind, his forces will be like a juicy steak swinging in front of a wolfhound’s jaws.”

“That’s only if the Caldemar force present is more than just a scout group,” said Perin.

“That’s just the thing, though,” said Lyon. “I’ve been thinking about what Miri said last night. She said that she and her partner were attacked—not the other way around. The only reason I can think of for attacking scouts rather than lying in hiding and letting them pass by is if they were trying to cover for a larger force.”

“Definitely an idea worth considering,” said Perin, nodding approvingly. “I’m actually pleasantly surprised, Ser Lyon. You’ve a good head on you, and a much better grasp of tactics and strategy than I would have expected.”

Lyon put a hand to the back of his neck, seemingly unsure as to how to accept his captain’s compliment. “Well, I read a lot of books back when I was at the Academy. Anytime I had free time, I read anything I could get my hands on: accounts of the Imperial Conquest of the Five Kingdoms, Scipio’s campaign against the barbarians, the Saren Independence War… I even found a musty old scroll that talked about the legendary campaign against the Grey King, a thousand years ago. Sure, it’s little more than an old tale, but the descriptions of the battles were certainly detailed enough.” He realized that he was going on a bit longer than necessary and hurriedly closed his mouth, saluting again. “I’ll be off, with your permission, Captain.”

Perin hid a smile. “You’re dismissed, Ser Lyon.” Spending his free time reading, huh. Maybe that’s why he has that faraway look all the time. You spend enough time in books, it’s no wonder when you begin to feel detached from the real world. He stood and began putting on his armor. After a moment of hesitation, he raised his voice. “Half armor today. I have word there may be unfriendly activity along the road ahead, and if there is I want us to be ready for it. Understood?”

“Yes, sir!” came the chorus from the knights. This time, they almost managed to say it in unison. They began rummaging through their saddlebags to get out the additional pieces of armor. Perin half-turned away before hearing a loud clang from behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Astelle hopping up and down on one foot, with one of her pauldrons on the ground. Sighing, he shook his head. She dropped it on her foot, did she? Well, this certainly only adds to the feeling that I’ve been given a less-than-exemplary group of soldiers. He sighed. No helping it now, though. I suppose I shouldn’t judge them until I’ve seen them in action. Lyon is competent enough from what I’ve seen of him, and I’m sure that there are plenty of good qualities among the rest. He chuckled quietly to himself. Shaking my head over the minor flaws of my subordinates. Twelve Gods of the North, I truly am getting old.

He headed over to check on his horse. The stallion looked up eagerly as its master approached, moving forward as far as it could with the reins secured to lightly headbutt him in the chest. Perin reached up a hand to stroke its mane, speaking softly into the horse’s ear. “Don’t be impatient, Whitelock, we’ll be on the road soon enough. Enjoy being full of energy while you can.”

The horse whinnied loudly in reply, causing Perin to grin wryly. “Well, perhaps not that exuberantly.” He picked up the saddle from the ground, placing it on the stallion’s back and beginning to do up the straps. “Well, we don’t want to rush our guest, so we may as well scout ahead while we wait.” He raised his voice. “Matrech, you have the command. Relay my orders to the scout if she wakes up, understood?”

Matrech clapped a fist to his shoulder, dislodging his half-buckled breastplate. “You got it, Captain.” He scowled down at the dangling armor and began the process of securing it once again. Perin, with his official duties taken care of, untied his steed’s reins and stepped up into the saddle. With a light shake of the reins, his mount began walking out of the grove.

As soon as they were clear of the camp and the trees, Perin increased the pace to a trot. Though the stallion clearly wanted to go faster, to run free, Perin checked him. “Easy there. We still have a full day of riding ahead of us. You don’t want to be tired out, do you?”

Whitelock snorted as if in scorn, but eased off his pressure on the reins nonetheless. Perin patted his neck. “There’s a good lad.” He nudged the stallion’s flank, directing him into a long arc that would lead them back to the grove. Though they had been riding through farmland the previous day, the land in front of them turned much hillier and uneven. There were few farms or villages between them and the capital. The long road through the hills was a favorite haunt of bandits, however. Preying on those who took the long Imperial road from the border of Sarennith to the capital was quite a lucrative trade, especially with the Legions’ iron discipline out of the way. General Janus did the best he could with the Saren Royal Army, but compared to the tactics and order the Legion had brought he still had a long way to go before public order was fully restored. Twenty years since the Emperor died, twenty years since the war, and we’re still feeling its effects. One thing’s for certain: this probably isn’t much like Ser Lyon’s legends.

Perin took a deep breath. The rain seemed to have purified the air somehow, making each breath seem refreshing and clean. Or maybe that’s just how I like to think about it. With every step Whitelock took, the scent of rich loam wafted up to the knight-captain, filling his nostrils with its earthy aroma. He took another deep breath, and for the first time in a long time allowed himself a soft, genuine smile of contentment. It had been too long since the last time he had felt truly relaxed: he was so determined to carry out his duties that he had often pushed himself too hard. The scent of the earth, and the open plains, took him back to the days before he was a knight, when his only concern was helping his parents with the farming. They had both passed on some years ago, leaving the farm to his older brother, but their memory still filled Perin with a sleepy sort of contentment. Another deep breath, and the knight-captain closed his eyes, smiling.

After a moment he opened them again, slapping the reins lightly against Whitelock’ neck. “All right, lad, enough relaxation for now. Let’s see how quickly you can get us back to the grove, eh?” The horse whinnied in answer; whether in response to his challenge or simply for the joy of it, Perin was never sure. Whether or not Whitelock had understood what he said, though, the signal he had given was clear. The horse burst into a gallop, churning up the ground beneath its feet.

As the grove drew closer, Perin slowed Whitelock to a trot, then to a walk. Though the stallion’s flanks heaved at first, his breathing quickly slowed, and his steps remained proud and jaunty as he moved back into the trees. Perin patted him on the neck, nodding approval. “There’s a good lad. Pity we had nobody to race, or you’d have shown them up, isn’t that right?” Whitelock tossed his head and snorted in reply.

As he rode back into the camp, he saw that Mirianna was finally awake. Her arm had been freshly re-bandaged before being bound up in the sling again, and she looked much better than she had the previous night. As I’d expect. A good night of sleep will do that for you. Ser Vera sat next to her, holding up a bowl of porridge while the scout somewhat clumsily used the wooden spoon in her left hand. Matrech caught his captain’s eye as Perin entered the camp, nodding the affirmative to Perin’s questioning look. He talked to her… good.

Mirianna looked up as Perin dismounted. “Ser Perin, my apologies for delaying you. Will you be continuing along the road to the capital?” The unspoken question was clear to the knight-captain: Will you help me?

“Of course. You’re welcome to accompany us; in your condition, it would be for the best if you didn’t travel alone.”

He could see the relief writ plain on her face as she replied. “Gladly, captain. And thank you.” She handed Ser Vera the spoon back and used her good arm to push herself upright. “I’m ready to leave whenever you are.”

“Very well,” said Perin. “Ser Vera, help her saddle her horse and mount up.”

Vera saluted. “As you say, captain.” The two women moved off towards the horse lines.

As soon as they had left, Matrech approached, his armor now properly secured. He threw a perfunctory salute and promptly got down to business. “I explained the particulars of the situation to our young scout, and although she has reservations about keeping comrades in the dark, she agreed to keep this under wraps for now.”

“I suppose that having the entire unit arm up may have helped her with her reservations,” said Perin, nodding. “If there’s any kind of trouble along the road ahead, at least we’ll be marginally more ready for it than we would be otherwise.”

“Plus the mere sight of the sun glinting off our armor will likely be enough to spook any bandit within ten miles,” said Matrech. “Probably blind them, too, in some cases. Ser Dominic spent the entire time you were gone polishing his breastplate and shield to a bloody mirror finish. Hurts my eyes just to look at it.”

“He clearly takes pride in the maintenance of his equipment,” said Perin mildly. “Perhaps you could learn something from his example.”

“Learn from one of my subordinates?” Matrech exclaimed in mock horror. “Why would you suggest such an utter absurdity?” He winked at his captain, gave another salute, and jogged off toward his horse.

Within another fifteen minutes, their camp had been completely broken, the ashes of the fire spread across the clearing and little trace left that they had been there at all. Perin mounted up, taking his place at the head of the column, and adjusted the strap on which his shield hung across his back to make sure he would be able to unsling it at a moment’s notice. He raised his voice. “Full alert today. We’re riding into a popular area for bandits, and although I doubt that any of them will be eager to take on a full squad of knights, you can never tell how stupid some people will be. Keep your eyes open and your reflexes sharp. Understood?”

“Yes, captain!” came the chorus.

Perin raised his hand. “Border Guard, move out!”

Signing off, until next week!