This is the second installment on my new series of Friday shorts. I’m trying to make this as interactive as possible, so I’ll try to add links with sounds and music to enhance the experience. Hope you like it.
Charity – Being Generous Towards Others. A willingness, or even desire, to help others and better the world, no matter the cost to your personal self. The path of a graceful and noble spirit.
The morning sun streamed through the window above my bed. I rubbed my chest. Pain lingered. Probably Grizzle had tried to use me as a pillow again.The inn’s room was four bare wooden walls, with a chair, a small desk and a bed on fit more for a dwarf than a human. I did my morning exercises. A few stretches, a swing or two with the sword. Nothing fancy, but it allowed my muscle to wake up. Then came the armor. Shirt, with the gambeson or padded jacket on top. Enough protection for a day spent sparing in the keep’s yard, but not today. Topped by the hauberk, with the belt. The familiar weight on my shoulders was reassuring as was the feel of the leather gloves and boots. Supple, with a woody smell of well worn yet strong hide.
Down stairs, George Platt, the Shady Rest’s proprietor worked on breakfast. “Some bacon and eggs, Sir Jonah?”
“Thank you Master Platt,” I slipped a few silvers under the plate as a thank you for the free room and board. “Remind me to thank the Mistress for an excellent meal.”
“Think nothing of it, Sire. You’re welcome here any time,” he said with a beaming smile full of stained teeth.
“Time for me to go, the fair folk of Fairwind await.”
“Pardon me for saying so, Sir Jonah, I’m sure it’s nothing you could not handle, but I heard some strange goings from that place. Missing children, witches, the whole lot. A dark wind blows from there,” he said.
“I heard as much, which is why I should get going, before it gets any darker. Thank you again for everything Master Platt.”
He cleared the table, “Think nothing of it. Err, Sir Jonah?”
I turned at the inn’s doorway, “Yes?”
“Did you drop these?” he said, showing me a silver prince.
“No, I did not drop them, I left them for you.”
“I can’t take them!” He rushed toward me and pressed the coins into my hand. “Please Sire, I can’t…I won’t charge one of the King’s Paladins for room and board. By the Seven Virtues!” he bowed down before me.
I looked down at the bald spot on Master Platt crown, “I am no noble or prince, so no bowing before me,” I held him up, “Second, are not Charity and Kindness part of the Seven? Shall we all not strive to give something in return to those who show us either of them?”
His lips trembled, “Yes Sire, but….”
“But nothing. Consider it an offering to the local shrine, by way of your kind hands.”
“Thank you Sire.”
Outside, Grizzle, my Wolf-Hound companion, laid with his front paws crossed. Yellow eyes tracked a group of chickens that clucked just out of his reach. “Come on, no chicken for you. Besides, I saw the stable boy feed you triple helpings.”
Grizzle shook great gray head as if to say no. He was no ordinary hound but an animus. Smarter than most of his kind, he understood everything I said. Good thing he couldn’t talk, although he made his feelings plain just the same. He trotted effortlessly as I rode on the road from the Inn to Fairwind. Valiant enjoyed going at full gallop. The power of the war charger at full gallop pounded the dirt beneath his hooves to dust.
Fairwind was a cluster of homes on the bluffs above the bay of the same name. A strong smell of gutted fish mixed with sea salt made Grizzle break out into sneezing fit. The few villagers averted their eyes as we passed and hurried along. The distant surf suppressed the sounds of village life. No children played on the streets. I stopped at fishmonger stall, “Where can I find the blacksmith?”
A grimy finger pointed at the top bluff and retreated under the cover of the stall. I followed the winding road until I reached the place. A man, in his mid twenties opened the door. “Are you Sir Jonah?” asked the man.
“I am. And you must be Master Alexander,”
He gave me a curt bow, “Right this way, it’s my wife, she is ill.”
He lead me to the bedroom. On sweat soaked sheets laid the smith’s wife. Her face, once fair, marred by four long pus filled slashes. I knelt before the stricken woman. My hands hovered over the wounds. The source burst into my ears.
Staggered by the force of the revelation. I turned toward the smith, “Tell me, exactly what happened.”
“I came in, late one night, after haggling with a ship master for load of iron and coal when I found a witch attacking my wife and taking my son,” he said in soft voice tinged with fear.
“Yes, my first wife. Mother of my son. We were happy, once, but then, a year ago, she went mad. Started to babble and scream. I tried to control her, I even traveled to Summersby to buy a cure from the apothecary there, but when I returned…” tears streamed down his cheeks. “The others,” he looked out the window, “had driven her away. I tried finding her. I went to the marsh, but I’m no warrior and I have a son. I never believed it, until…” he took his wife hand. “After a year, I had our marriage annulled and remarried.”
“I see and where is this marsh?”
“Over the hill, to the southwest.”
“Very well, stay here, I’ll see what I can do.” With Grizzle at my side, we hiked to the marsh. “We thank the wisdom of the Twelve for illuminating the path of Virtue.” A wisp of smoke appeared before us. Ira, unbridled hate, left a mark on the World visible to those who studied the teachings of the Twelve. We went deeper into the marsh. Freezing water soaked my boots. The smell of wet dog hair didn’t help either. The trail coalesced in a small shack built between the gnarled roots of an ancient tree.
The door burst open. A ashen face woman, with wild dark hair and long finger nails, spit at me. “YOU! YOU DON’T BELONG HERE! LEAVE ME BE! LEAVE ME BE!”
I drew my weapon and shield, “In the name of Virtue and by the Power of my Sovereign, relinquish the child or face destruction!”
“YOU DON’T BELONG HERE! LEAVE! SHE WILL NEVER HAVE HIM! NEVER!”
I took a step forward. From the shadows darted a small figure that clung to the woman’s waist. “Leave her alone! Stop hurting her!” The child stared defiantly at me. “Leave mommy alone!”
That’s when I noticed a ruby pendant on the witch’s neck. It twitched violently, as if trying to escape the child’s embrace. “Virtue, open my eyes.” The wisps coalesced around the pendant. “Virtue, guide my hand. Grizzle, take the child!” The hound tackled the child away from the witch. I charged her. A single stroke of my sword cut away the pendant from her neck. By Virtue’s grace she fell back, unharmed.
The stone landed in a nearby puddle. The water boiled. From the surrounding mist, streams of miasma wrapped around the stone. A gigantic form appeared before me. It clawed at me. Sparks flew as it struck my shield.
“Foul interloper, your soul will be mine!”
Two arrows pierced the form followed by the sound of ripping linen. I slashed and trusted at the demon, but it merely kept it at bay.
“Aim for the stone!” cried a voice from above.
“By the Twelve, your days on this World are over!” Twelve runes, six on each side of my sword flashed. The power of the Twelve infused me with confidence. A single downward stroke crushed the stone. The apparition dissipated into the mist. Two silver arrows stuck out from the mud. “You can come down now, Elf!”
And come down she did. A svelte figure emerged from the darkness, with golden red hair in a pony tail and radiant golden orbs for eyes. “How did you…oh yeah, the arrows. Kind of a tell, no?” she said with an impish giggle.
“I don’t have time for this,” I said, keeping my eyes at the newcomer.The boy sat by his mother, with Grizzle keeping watch. The boy related the events of the past year. How his stepmother had fed his mother moldy bread which lead her to go insane. “Is this true woman?”
“Yes, it is. After the villagers drove me off, I came here and I found the stone. It whispered to me, about vengeance, until…” she said.
“You attacked the smith’s wife?”
“I sneaked back to the village, to get some food when I saw her, shouting at my Terry. I…I lost it. I wanted to kill her. May the Twelve forgive me!”
The confession was good enough to do what I had to do. But she had been wronged as well. The demon fed from her anger. And there was the matter of the child. He had shown great courage in defending her. It was his love for her that allowed me to see the real culprit here. “You will have to do amends for what you did.”
She knelled before me, her head low. A frail hand whipped her her head away from her neck. “Do what you must,my lord.”
“NO!” said the boy. Grizzle held by the scruff his shirt.
“Rise. I seek penance, not blood. You fell in the sway of dark powers due to the injustice done upon you. The Sisterhood would welcome you in their fold. There remains the question of the child.”
Terry slapped at Grizzle muzzle. The hound yelped in pain but did not retaliate. “I’m not going back! Father is a fool to have married that woman. I won’t go back and you can’t make me!”
“It appears I can not, nor should I. However, the marsh is no place for a boy to live by himself. Perhaps Domwald Keep would be a better place. The King is always looking for men of courage to serve him,” I said.
“Me, a knight?”
“You certainly shown Courage, Love and Wisdom beyond your years. Will you accept my offer, young Master?”
“He will,” said the mother.
“Well, I’m heading to the Capital myself, so if you don’t mind the company?” said the elf.
“And does the Mistress have a name?”
She shrugged, “Of course. Lyandra,” a curtsy, “at your service.”
“Mistress Lyandra,would you be so kind as to escort these two to the roadside while I take care of some final matters?”
I returned the village. With the demon destroyed the smith’s wife regained consciousness, but the scars remained.
“Master Alexander, may I have a word with your wife?”
“Yes of course.” He left the bedroom.
“The child and the witch are gone. You need not worry about them. The scars will heal, but not completely. As for what you did to Master Alexander’s wife, best you reconcile yourself with your actions, less your sins poison your soul. Farewell, Mistress.”
Valiant and I met the others at the side of the road. I offered the horse to the woman and child.
“Where to?” asked Lysandra.
Okay, a bit longer than I expected, but there you go. I hope you like it.