"Corvin!" Yelled out his quartermaster. A old man with a busted arm held in a sling. He was oft time called the Hermit for carrying a wooden stave in his good hand that he wasn't afraid to use on fresh recruits like himself.
"Yes, Master Welks. I'm here." The young shield bearer lifted a silver shield onto his back as he waved to the old man from within the mass of squires awaiting their names to be called.
"Seems like it's your time, sonny. Tell your Lady that she is up for battle. To prepare and be ready before noon. You head to the Mantle where the Goddess will see to your life and ruin of our enemy." He patted the squire on the back and sent him off like a child messenger.
Butterflies fluttered around in his stomach and he could feel tension in his shoulders. Partly due to the weight of the hefty shield he lugged behind him. Lady Raine will be ecstatic about the call to arms. She had been bored out of her mind waiting for the banner to be raised.
Her tent was not too far off from the camps center. Her family's colors shown brightly against the tanned silk tents that surrounded hers. A dark ocean blue against brandished gold flapped in the wind. At the center of the design was a eagle holding tightly to a salmon. For they were famous for their archery and fisheries.
Raine Duvalle. Daughter of the regent of the Duvalle's. Lord Rowan Duvalle. Her mother, Mistress Everdine of Vence.
"Nate let me through I have an important message for Lady Raine." Her personal guard Nathan held to a spear blocking his entry.
"Can't at this moment, Corvin."
"But it's urgent." He insisted as he made to push through but Nate cast him back with a shove.
"Not right now," He said while nudging his head of too the side where her bed chambers lay. As it dawned on Corvin, Nate gave him a pursed smile and assumed his guarding position with a small smirk at the corner of his lips.
He could here the groaning and moaning from where stood now as he guessed they were in the throes of it. Sighing to himself, the young squire returned to his own tent not too far away.
Lady Raine's page was there sorting maps, gathering journals and writing tools into a neat bundle. She was a pretty lass with spectacles. Sharp tongued, yet oddly gentle. Maribeth was her namesake. But everyone called her Ari.
"You got word too, I assume." Corvin said as he slumped onto his cot.
"Yes that's quite right, Corvin and shouldn't you be preparing saddle and provisions instead of sitting there stating the obvious?" She said with sarcasm dripping with every word. She reminded him of a cobra. Venomous yet soft skinned.
"My apologies, Ari. I didn't mean to upset you."
"It's quite alright, I'm just flustered is all. No forewarning I tell you. Just a up and go now, Ari. No time for trips to the cartographer for proper maps. No time to sort through proper books to bring on her travel there." She got up slapping away at Corvin's hanging boot leg as she passed his cot. "Not to mention all the ink that has just up and disappeared. I tell you Corvin, if it weren't for me, this tent would be an absolute mess."
Corvin just remained silent and nodded. He knew enough not to rile the nest of a cobra.
"Well you may be happy or unhappy to know that you have the time."
"Wait, what do you mean?"
"Lady Rae is currently indisposed." Corvin then made a circle with his finger proceeded to press his other finger through the hole.
"Goddess have mercy, who is it now?"
"I do not know. Nate probably has the answer but I didn't bother to ask him."
Ari let out a sigh.
"I bet it's Lord Caldwell."
"I wouldn't put it past him." Corvin agreed. But then thought better of it. "It has to be Lord Jobe Buckler. The plain old sod. Has everything going for him."
Ari blushed at his name. He was famous among the ladies for his ravishing looks. Long lushes blonde hair, chiseled jaw and statuesque physique. And to top it off, he was an amazing cook.
"No, my coin would be on Caldwell. His silver tongue has gotten him 'neath many a Lady's skirt tails. Jobe has the personality of a sack of potatoes if I ever seen one. And Caldwell has the claims to ownership of lands beyond the Mantle."
"Willing to put coin on your tongue to prove it?" Corvin chided.
"Two silvers on Caldwell, Corvee. And don't make me regret it," she said with a smile as she neatly rolled up a leather binding to seal the pack full of pagery duties. "Now go talk to Nate and see if I spoke truly."
He nodded and returned to Lady Raine's tent after brushing down her horse and saddling the beast. It cantered beside him as he approached the tent once more.
"She will see you now, Corvin." Nate said with a wink.
As the shield bearer passed the guard, he whispered to him.
"Ari's got silvers on Caldwell..."
"Well those are as good as yours Corvin, it was Jobe this morning, perhaps Caldwell tonight." He stifled a chuckle at his own joke.
The shield bearer nodded his thanks and enter the atrium of the tent.
"What news squire?" Lady Raine asked as she was being poured wine by a handmaiden who couldn't have been more than 11.
"The army is on the move, milady. We are to march for Seraph's Mantle. The Cantians await their deaths upon the mole hill they have dug up."
"Well it is about time I have a chance to sate my blade and praise the Goddess with her blessings this will be short and sweet."
"They have requested your presence at noon, along with the other knights in attendance."
"Good, good. Ready my horse, squire."
"It is done."
"Well Corvin ever the ready one are we. Very well hold to this will you." She handed him the glass of wine as she stepped down from her seat. A miniature throne of sorts with steps carpeted in gold. He took the glass from her and made to hold her hand down, but she swatted it away dismissively.
Her servants were quick to action suiting her up in her armour and retrieving her wine glass. Corvin reviewed their work and fastened the straps. He handed her, her sword while kneeling before the Lady. She took it by the hilt and placed it at her side.
The whole camp then turned into a mass of working peons. Bringing down the tent as she exited and sorting all the belongings within as they mounted. At her left was Maribeth and her right Nathan. Bringing up the rear was Corvin bearing her shield with the eagle and the salmon emblazoned across it's center.
The ride to the mountains was uneventful. The day cool with clouds periodically covering the sun that lay down shade upon the moving procession. A thousand strong to face the Cantian forces of a few hundred.
Corvin could just make out the conversation shared between Lady Raine, Ari and Nate.
"You think they are as formidable as legends say they are, milady." The page asked curiously.
"There is no truth to tall tales, my dear." Lady Raine responded as she looked over to Nate. "You have seen more battle than I along these borders, what would you say about the Cantians infamous proficiency in war."
Nate didn't respond for sometime. Before finally speaking.
"I would say that they are like cornered animals. They may appear ferocious for you have driven them back, but when it comes down to it, you'll only be suffering a few scratches and maybe a open cut or two."
Lady Raine nodded in agreement. Before raising her hand and snapping.
Corvin galloped forward and brought her canteen to bear. She drank from it deeply and returned it to her squire who resumed his position behind the pack.
It wasn't long before they reached the frontlines. The high ground was maintained by the army of the faithful. While the heathens, godless warriors, were below scattered and disorganized.
A messenger road up to Corvin who quickly handed the scroll to Lady Raine's page. She read over it once, then twice with a shock look on her face. Then guided her pony to the awaiting knight.
"They've denied your request for vanguard position and instead insist that you hold the grounds to a well at the bottom of the hill."
At first, it seemed like Raine would break edict but she masked her displeasure well. And instead informed Ari to respond with a kind acceptance of their duty.
* * *
The well was a fountain with an ivory statue of a demon holding to a chalice upon his back. Depiction he had never seen before. The servants were drawing water from the well and hauling it up the hill with the aid of asses.
Raine was pacing back and forth in front of the fountain in utter turmoil.
"All the glory would be given to the men while the women watched the well. What a load of utter horseshit." She complained to Nate who shrugged in return.
Ari was busy jotting down the angry letter directed to Master Welks while another was drafted to be sent to General Rodrick for acknowledging how honourable it was to guard this godforsaken well.
It wasn't long before night fell without a single sword raised. A battle had been heard in the distance, but the foliage was heavy in the area and the forest was not keen in giving them insight on what was happening beyond its borders.
"Make ready for camp," Lady Raine announced as she retired to her tent. "Squire you take watch with Ari."
"Yes, my liege." He responded bowing heavily while stepping away appropriately to avoid upsetting her even more.
A makeshift watch tower had been built during the day. It gave them clear view of the entire camp and treeline surrounding it.
"It's insufferably cold, Corvee." Ari complained through misty mouthed breathes. The shield bearer saddled up closer to her and shared his blanket over her own.
"What can you tell me of Seraph's Mantle?" He asked the page. She beamed at the question. It wasn't often that anyone sought her vast knowledge of the world, let alone crucial information such as this.
"It is another word for Angels Cloak for it protects the east from the west. For the sun rises were we live and sets in their lands. The cloak is terrain too difficult to navigate an army through without great forewarning. And it is said that up here in the mountains many miracles have come to pass."
"Could you tell me of one?" He asked through chilled fingers as he blew into them trying to restore some heat.
"Sure.. There is the tale of Barden the Bold who thought he heard of gold in the mountains. He brought a prospect team to the base of the highest peak and proceeded to search for caves. And wouldn't you know it..."
Before she could finish her sentence, Corvin put a hand to her mouth and silenced her. Shocked and confused, she looked around. Corvin's good ears had heard it. But she only caught on now. A rustling in the woods that sounded out of place. Through pleated wooden panels Corvin spotted the sheen of a sword against the moonlight.
Grabbing Ari's hand, he rung the alarm and jump down from the tower racing to Lady Raine's tent. There Nate was at the ready while a groggy Raine was being armoured within.
"How many did you see?" Nate asked.
"Enough, more than we can handle I think." He said out of earshot of anyone else.
Ari came back from her own tent with a bow and short sword. The men at arms screams could be heard in the distance as calls for ambush wailed through the night. Pyres were lit and torches thrown to light the pathways of the camp.
Dressed in all black, were the Cantian soldiers. They waded through the men at arms like a hot knife through butter. It was almost illusory the way they moved so fluidly. Striking in turns, confusing the men at arms as who they were actually fighting at any given time.
An enemy archer in the distance drew his bow and pointed it at Ari.
Corvin flew into action stepping in front of her like a pavis, blocking the arrow's deadly shot. Before taking her hand to get closer to aid Lady Raine.
When he got near to her, Nate lay upon the ground with blood pooling around his leg. His head severed from his body rested a few feet away. While the Lady was fending of an attacker her armour speckled with blood and deep gashes torn into her platemail.
"Get back you two, save yourselves." Raine pleaded as a sword dug into her thigh. She hobbled back parrying an incoming blow. Other men came from behind them stepping out from the treeline.
"Rae!" Ari yelled and drew her bow casting arrows upon the reinforcements.
The situation looked dire, but Corvin wouldn't allow thoughts of doom weigh down upon him. He brought Rae's shield to bear and blocked a finishing blow and shoved the man back. Lady Rae placed a hand upon his shoulder and used him as a cane to get up. Three men surrounded them as a familiar horn was blown.
"That's Welk's horn isn't?" Ari asked. But both Corvin and Raine didn't have the time to look to shadows for hope yet to come.
"Ari stay between Corvee and I," Raine advised. The page did as she was told holding to a short sword. The three men in unison attacked. Corvin drove a sword aside and head butted one soldier, dazing him backwards.
Raine slided her own blade along her attackers sword and pierced his heart drawing him down. Page finished him off. The third was driven back by the shield bearers bash across the jaw. But then six more men came in to replace the two that had fallen.
"Come at me, you bastards!" Corvin yelled at them.
But they were not phased. Rae bleeding out from her leg wound fell to one knee. The next second was a blur as anger had blinded the shieldbearer. The first man to drive his axe down upon the fallen knight was met with a mighty haymaker, laying him flat. Behind him, with sword raised, charged another. Corvin ducked beneath and threw him over his shoulder.
Before he could be made to rise, he dropped the edge of his shield upon his skull, crushing it instantly.
Ari fended off two other attackers wildly swinging her short sword. Rae with her last ounce of strength dropped and skewered a man diving upon her.
"Ari your sword." Corvin beckoned as he ran back to the pair. She tossed it through the air to him and he caught midflight as the two switched places. She, drawing her bow once more, let loose her last few arrows.
And Corvin carved into the three men. Blocking a strike with his shield, driving it aside, while parrying a blow from his right with Ari's sword. He kicked out at the last man to draw him away.
The three remaining backed away. Then one fell to an arrow piercing his throat.
Ari smiled at Corvin who nodded approvingly before dancing with the last two fighters. How he kept pace, the young shield bearer didn't have a clue. He was relying purely on instinct now. Tired, yet some how unscathed, he fought back with gusto.
Blocking a sword thrust and guiding it upward, he used his own sword to sever the man's arm from beneath his shoulder, but just as he did he felt a great pain at his opposite side.
"NoooooO!" He heared Ari's scream as the serrated blade cut away at his insides. As it was removed, he involuntarily moved with it and staggered. Somehow still registering danger he blocked a overhead cut then another, and another. He was on one knee now shield raised weakly.
Looking behind him, Ari was trying to retrieve Rae's sword from beneath the fallen man. Tears were in her eyes. Everything seemed to slow. He only now noticed allies were around him fighting off the remainder of the Cantians forces. The flickering flames of the pyres and torches danced upon bloodied canvas tents. Horses whinnied in the distance.
As if by fortunes own wheel turning, everything came to a halt.
Rae, alive beneath the man she had killed, spoke to him. Yet he could not hear her. But her lips were all he needed to know what she said.
"Get up, you fool."
He turned to the man bashing at his shield. And timing, his strike let his guard fall. He dodged the blade narrowly cutting into his ear as he fell. Rolling from beneath him, he squared off once more.
"You fight well for a dog." Spat the warrior.
"The well is ours and you will not taste a drop." He responded through bloodied lips. Holding to his wound with his sword hand, all the shield bearer had was his shield.
The warrior without any more words, drove at him with a low guard. Trying to open up his wound even more. Corvin danced away but at the last second turned on his heel and let his shield fly.
And to his amazement it connected, and the warrior fell to the ground unconscious.
Falling to his knees, the shieldbearer slouched to one side. And fell.
Around them, the battle had been won.
Welk's forces had arrived, but only moments too late.
Looking up at the sky, he could see all the stars glowing down upon him. Then Rae's face came into his vision on the left and Ari's to his right. Both of them weren't doing a good job of holding back tears.
He smiled up at them and tried to touch one of the stars that shone so brightly between them.
But they were out of his reach.
If only he had the two silver coins Ari owed him.
He could pay the ferry man to bring him home.