A Squire

Hayle

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The saddle came undone, and he heaved it over his shoulder, carrying it the couple of steps over to the wall of Godot’s pen. Hayle hung it on a sturdy iron peg that had been hammered into the solid wooden beam years ago, and started on the straps for the armour. He slid it over the side of the animal and hauled it over to a pile of blankets where he would leave it until he was done grooming the horse. Procuring a carrot, he sticks it in the horse’s mouth and then grabs a bag of grain, dumping a meals worth into the trough. Godot made quick work of the carrot and moved over dig into the oats while his hooves were inspected for thrown shoes or cracks. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, next came the brushing, Hayle efficiently scratched the brush through the mane and then the tail, getting out any knots, and doing a quick once over of the rest of the fur.

“Oi!” came a voice he recognized. “Make sure you polish that armour boy, then I want you to bathe yourself and put on something nice for tonight’s dinner. We’re celebrating a large victory today and I want you looking like you belong under my care.”

Hayle snapped upright “Yessir, I’ll get it done.” he replied.

Later that evening, he was standing to the back of his knight, shoulders squared and back. He scanned through the hall, it wasn’t his job, but he always felt responsible for the life of his master. Finding no immediate threats, except for a lady who was overly indulging in the complimentary wine, he relaxed a little.

“Squire.” Hayle snapped out of his thoughts and looked Duncan in the eyes, “Go fetch my sword, I’d like to show these cockamammies what a real weapon looks like.”

As he really began to take in his surrounding in a different state of mind, he realized that it was full of nobility. He started walking with a strong stride befitting the squire of such a popular knight and left the dining hall of the keep before making his way toward Duncan’s room.

The door didn’t creak as he opened it, and revealed Rosa inside. It looked like she was replacing the candles.

“Hey! What’s going on in here?” he said with a smile on his face.

She jumped and turned around, a grin came to her face, “Don’t do that! You nearly gave me a death of fright Hayle.”

He crossed the distance and embraced her in a hug, they had been courting for two weeks now, and had had eyes for each other for a much longer time before. A small smear of ink got onto his clothes as she returned the hug. He noticed all of the papers and spent ink pots.

“He sure has been writing a lot recently, I wonder what’s been on his mind?” he mumbled mostly to himself.

“Oh you know him, he’s probably found a way to end the war with Enaris.”

“I hope to see you later, should really get back to the party though, Duncan wants his sword to show off to the nobility and I shouldn’t keep him waiting.”

Picking the sword up from the rack on the wall, they traded one more quick look, and he left.
 

Hayle

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Laughter was threatening to tear the door down, and only grew in magnitude as he returned to the dining hall. He let the door slam behind him, the sound being swallowed whole by the maelstrom of levity. Duncan was the centre of a group of nobility, making grand motions with his arms while eliciting guffaws and raucous mirth from his audience.

“Here you are my knight.” He said, holding the sheathed sword out for him to take.


“Aah, the sword, yes.” he reverently took it in his hands while standing up. The noise seemed to die down from this particular group.


“This piece of steel has seen a hundred battles, it has killed scores of men, and always it has held it’s edge until the fighting was over. I’ve had it since before our king came to power, and I’m sure it will last long after, long may he reign.”


The words “long may he reign” were echoed by the men around him.


“Someday I hope to pass it down to you, after I retire of course. Imagine me, a lord spending his days on land he owns, doing nothing all day but sitting around and hosting parties. I think I would rather die in battle than let that come to pass, heh.”


There was a chuckle from the group.


“For now though, it’s just my piece of steel. Sure as the smithy made it, I know it will last until the end times, perhaps longer.”


He resheathed the sword with a satisfying sound before bellowing out a loud toast to the soldiers, and downing another tankard of ale without pause. For the rest of the night Hayle was allowed to partake and became quite intoxicated himself.
 

Hayle

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Thudding, pounding, all manner of drastic and offensive sounds tore at Hayle’s head. It was as though he was being assaulted with a wooden club, yet he found an arm draped across him. It was a nice arm, feminine, it was Rosa’s arm. Attached to the arm he found the rest of her sleeping next to him.


The sounds were still drilling into his head though, he slapped around the area next to the small bed on the floor for water or something that he could drink to fix his mouth. Finding a tankard he lifted it to his mouth, it was ale, but watered down quite a bit.


“I guess this’ll do it both ways.” he thought, continuing to chug it down.


“Hayle get up now!” shouted some ungodly demon. As he opened his eyes, he found it was Duncan. He looked disheveled but he was wearing his armour.


“Get Godot ready we’re under attack!” with that, he shot bolt upright, his vision going for a moment, and vertigo threatening to overtake him. He powered through the delayed and mismanaged senses, half stumbling out of his room in the stables. Godot’s armour was polished and ready, he had it on in barely a couple of minutes, and quickly fumbled the straps in place. The saddle was barely in place when Duncan burst in, and the straps were barely done up as he got into the pen and mounted up.


“Shit, my sword is still in the dining hall, you need to get it, meet me out front, then we need to try and stop their advance. They’re not far from here, I saw fires on the horizon.”


As he rode out of the stables, Hayle ran to the dining hall and frantically searched for the sword, finding it after a few moments. He ran through the front doors, his knight waiting there with an expectant hand reached out. Within moments the swordbelt was strapped in place and he had mounted one of the horses in the keep to follow his master to battle.
 

Hayle

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The raiders were an unorganized lot, tending toward haphazard attacks that worked well against the peasantry they harassed. When the first slew of arrows rained into the rather small group, they took a few panicked moments to identify the source. Their disarray lost them more men to another ranged strike before they had begun a bull rush toward the source. Immediately upon seeing his plan to draw them in had worked, Duncan shouted his orders.


“Shieldbearers! Forward!”


Metal clanked in the stagnant warm morning air as the men at arms moved forward through the archers. The sound was pronounced as the battle cry of their enemy was only now beginning to smother out the calming sound of rustling grass and the occasional cough from the ranks. The men here were far from calm though, and clenched their weapons tighter as the sound of the shields hitting the earth rang out.


The wave of raider flesh slammed into the rocky shores that were the shieldbearers. Both sides collapsed into themselves as force met force. Spearmen stabbed past the line of shields to thin the enemy numbers while raiders knocked shields aside with savage blows and pushed into the lines. Blood spilled freely from various wounds on both sides and the smell of death rose into the air. The small attack was poorly executed by a gutted band. It ended just as quickly as it had started.


A horn sounded in the distance, from the direction the raiders had come, and everyone’s eyes looked up to the top of the hill to the west. Coming from over the hill, in front charged a mounted figure clad in dull armour. Behind him ran a veritable horde of men who looked more organized than these, not a well trained army, but these ones seemed to be putting in effort.


The first wave had shattered against them, now came the tide.
 

Ridley

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Alban the conqueror surveyed the countryside before him. Men that once thirsted for war and conquest now sat drowning in the pools of their own blood - for what were barbarians to knights? Mere fodder. A way of testing defences and creating wariness.

He looked to the plateau around him. Atop his horse he observed an unequaled view of the forces against him. Some were knights of horse and blade, ready to crush through his ranks like an ocean. It was for that reason that he had arrayed spear in a wedge to crush that push. Shortly after the initial exchange, of course, the clans he had gathered would do as they had done in the past, exchanging in columns, running back, and dashing back in whenever the opportunity struck. Well trained they may not be, but they were smart, and trained, and as wild and mean as the dogs they’d raised.

Alban raised a hand to the sky as the clouds thundered and boomed above the din of war, and the earth itself trembled as a lance of lightning arced through and collapsed the ground. Neither man, horse, nor wild dog seemed to hold without shrinking from the lightning, either among his army or the one he faced. This was, of course, excluding the conqueror himself, the warlord smiling as he stood proud in front of the lightning. Only he was capable of standing above even the power of the sky that pierced the heavens like a mighty spear…

The conqueror’s hands reached to the sky as water fell from above, standing proud amid the play of lightning and darkness like only a ruler could.

“Look, Albaniers! Look to what you stand around! Here you see an omen, a sign from the gods above of the fate of the empire! Whether it be water or shield-arm, the kingdom of Candegron falls down all around us! It is weak and rotten and ready for one good push to send it toppling! We are the chosen ones, the conquerors who will take the empire’s riches for ourselves! To deprive these privileged weaklings of their wealth and make sure it stays firmly in the hands of this land’s true sons, never to leave us again!”


Alban raised his glittering Fuath, an otherworldly shield that was made of metal but shone like polished marble. The sight of his legendary targe was all that was needed to raise an onslaught of battle chants and war-cries that silenced even the storm, and the warlord raised his long spear of Ash in challenge to the thunder above.

“Release the hounds! The hounds will humble their lines like the wolf humbles the elk, and we will crush them like the lightning from on high!” Alban yelled, and his men swarmed forward among the yips and growls of a wave of eager canines ready to feast on the men of Candegron.

Alban looked forward resolutely, untouched by all of it. He would never have revealed the information to his men, but he had already found the trouble he would have to face. Alone among the men of Candegron, two people had stood to face the wrath of the air. One that he knew would standing in defiance was the knight Duncan, and Alban had come here expecting to have to end the knight’s life himself, on the end of his own poison-tipped spear.

And yet, the second pair of eyes worried the experienced raider. Though he wore leather armor and appeared to carry no weapon, he had only ever seen a stare of such unflinching determination within himself. Like Alban, that squire was above the storm, and at such a young age…

Still, he was young. Untested. Alban would have no problem crushing his body before his spirit ever became a problem.
 

Hayle

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The tear of lightning lanced into the earth, kicking up shards of stone and raining earth down around for a few metres. It was as though nature itself was condemning the battle that was about to occur. The wind picked up. The rustle of grass swaying increased to new heights. He took a moment to observer the plains that surrounded them. At one point these hills had been a rich forest but had been clean cut for lumber. It would seem that mankind did not care for the wishes of nature, this battle would coat the earth in blood. he stood unblinking as the lightning struck, his eyes were analytical for a moment. It came as almost an afterthought but it occurred to him that Duncan seemed to be largely unaffected by the lightning either. He followed his gaze and found it pinned on their his opposite, the raider leader. It seemed that every soldier, to a man, had flinched back from the enormous boom and yet three on the field stood firm.

It looked as though the opposing leader was gesturing to his men. Between the ringing in his ears, and the increasing sound resulting from the wind, he could not make out any words.

“Archers! Nock!” Came the bellow from Duncan. Hundreds of arrows came from quivers and were efficiently slid onto their strings.

That was when the first droplets of rain began to grace them.

“Shit, this is going to screw over the archers.” Hayle thought to himself. He could already see the gears turning in his knight’s head, trying to think of the best way to spend his last effective volleys. The rain would make the bowstrings wet and maybe even start ruining the glue holding the fletchings to the arrows.

The horde atop the hill still loomed, and as the rain began to pour faster it seemed as though their shadow grew. It did not take long for them to realize that the shadow was actually hundreds of small dogs coming charging at them. As the last of the dogs left their ranks, the horde began to charge.

“Draw!”

These next moments became tense, there was the creaking sound from hundreds of bows being drawn before the increasing ferocity of the rain returned to the forefront.

“Loose! Nock!”

In one swift motion hundreds of projectiles were launched into the air. They arced in a smooth motion before coming down hard into the dogs, putting down many of them, but leaving more left charging still.

“Draw!” There was another creak.

They were getting closer now, any moment later and- “Loose!”

The second volley was somewhat more effective, removing a larger chunk of the dogs than it had any right to expect. The remaining number began slamming into the wall of tower shields. Most of them were stabbed, but there was little time to react as the charging main force slammed into the wall immediately on their heels.

“Knights! South! Flank!” The commander shouted. “Archers! Loose Until Spent!”

The effectiveness of the bowmen was going to suffer, but getting those arrows out was going to make a difference regardless. Breaches opened up in several places as the dogs were finally put down, having done their job well. Spears stabbed through again, but this time the men at arms were faltering underneath the weight of the attack. Hayle drew his sword, Duncan doing the same.

“Forwaaaard!” He roared.

The enemy commander had pushed in further than anyone else and was coming right toward them. As he charged in, several elite soldiers attempted to stop him and were cut down as he layed about death with his spear.
 

Ridley

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Alban’s horse neither whined nor slowed as it brought it’s master into the thick of the melee with a thunderous charge, trampling across one fallen soldier even as it’s master slew his brother with a spear through the throat.

The savage raider grinned as he stroked his beard, realizing that many of the kingdoms elite soldiers had fallen before him. These men had no heart, no true ferocity or strength to bring to the forefront of their mind. The purity of the battlefield was no place for civilized man, just as he’d thought.

Now, though…

Alban looked up as he saw a grave expression on chiseled features. Raw muscle and armour holding a heavy blade.

Now, this man, Lord Duncan, he was the same as Alban. He contained that wildfire spirit and courage. He was a dangerous foe, and Alban readied his spear for the charge even as his opponent brought two hands to his sword in readiness for the coming conflict.

He was powerful, he was experienced, and he would give Alban the fight of his life. But he was not the conqueror, not the destined ruler of these lands, and the warlord would prove his birthright with Duncan’s corpse!

The two warriors and their mounts charged at one another, the rest of the battle fading away even as the confrontation began. Alban held his spear aloft, looked to the knights side, and aimed true for his right shin as he picked up enough momentum to remove Duncans leg from his body. It was not to be! The knight struck out with his sword, just a moment before he would’ve lost his leg to the fell poison, and Alban the Conqueror’s famous ashen spear was reduced to a splintered stick in the face of Duncan’s fury.

“That’s the last blow your spear smites on a man of Candegron!” The lord roared with fury in his eye, before shifting his grip on his blade and slicing down, not for Alban’s head, but for the head of his horse.

The effect was immediate and Alban had little time to jump from his stirrups before his horse fell.

“Uri…” The self-styled ruler muttered, stunned at the loss of his companion for five years till this time. The chain had done naught against Duncan’s blow.

The sadness of his friend’s loss quickly turned to raw fury as the savage lord Leapt from his horse’s back and onto Duncan’s own horse, and the knight of candegron found himself stuck in a rough wrestle with his opponent. Grasping his leg into the lord’s stirrup, and with an underhanded strike with gauntlet to groin, he managed to shift the man’s weight from his horse and fling him into the mud and filth of the battlefield with him.

Both men stared one another down, and in his honorable fashion Duncan waited for the warlord to draw his side-arm, the targe sitting comfortably next to the broadsword Alban had practiced so long with.

For a few heart beats, both lords simply stared into the other’s eyes with mutual expressions of hatred and determination, as the battle around the two shifted out of focus and the two men could only see their rival standing before them.

“For my horse, I’ll have your whole damned country, Duncan!”

“If a horse was so low a trade to let peace lay in my land, I’d have gladly made it, you bastard! I’ve no mercy for a damned soul who slays my people with joy in his eyes!”

“Raagh!” Alban roared, and like that the melee was met with the sound of swords clashing. Alban ducked in and out like a flash of lightning, striking here and there as he tested just where he could find an opening. His broadsword wasn’t strong enough to pierce steel, and his Brigantiflis was merely a leather jacket filled with metal plates. Unlike Duncan’s suit of armour, it would only protect him from glancing blows.

Still, While Duncan had the strength and unfettered wrath of a bear, Alban was quick and tricky. The Lord of the Clans struck out with broadsword thrice for each strike of Duncan’s, and each blow from the man of Candegron, no matter how well-timed or quickly executed, was met with Fuath, Alban’s precious targe, and the shield was as untouched by the knight of this manor’s furious blows as it was by the grime of the battlefield, shining untouched by the horror of war. Or perhaps, as Alban suspected, it was merely too proud to allow the touch of losers to mar its beauty.

Alban smiled. Duncan struck hard and fast for a Candegronian, and no sooner had he blocked a swing ready to take his head off than was he smacked with a left hook that left him reeling. Still, Alban had taken heavy blows before, many of them in fact, but the strike that left his head bloody let him pretend to be dazed on his feet, sword and shield falling to his side.

“Your raids on my people are over, Alban!” Duncan roared, and his pride required him to take both hands and try to eliminate the warlord in one fell swing when a quicker blow might do better.

The Conqueror of Candegron would push forward in this moment, smashing into the armored opponent with a shoulder-check and throwing him off balance and his blade to the side. The practiced warrior was not fazed or hesitant from surprise, and immediately drew his dagger from holster, but Alban immediately took the advantage and smashed his Fuath into the older man’s helm, immediately knocking him off advantage and exposing his sword arm high as the injured man was knocked back.

Alban knew in that moment that he would lose his life if he failed to take his chance here. The sound of steel piercing leather sang for both of them. Alban’s broadsword pierced through the man’s armpit, and the look of surprise and pain on Duncan’s pain assured him that the blow was indeed mortal, as did the blood that licked around his broadsword.

Duncan, however, had snuck a knife into the warlord’s armor, between the metal plates, and a surprised alban was forced to drop his shield and grab at the knight’s arm.

The knight stared just as resolutely as ever as Alban felt the force of a dragon erupt through his limbs, and his broadsword was dropped as he fumbled for the soldier’s arm. Duncan had been mortally wounded, but he was still resolved to stop his foe. Alban’s wound from the dagger was unlikely to be mortal - stab wounds seldom are - but it would take one curving motion from Duncan’s hand to disembowel the warlord and leave the rightful ruler of the land twitching cold and bereft of intestines on the battlefield.


Alban gripped the man’s hand with all the crushing strength he could muster, holding it in place, and Duncan looked him in the eyes with unyielding steel as he met that force in kind. The terrified fighter looked at him with true terror filling his being for the first time in ten years on the battlefield. It wasn’t that he didn’t fear for his life, Alban realized. It was that his life wasn’t even a consideration compared to defending his kingdom! It was simply something else to use defending his country! He’d figured Duncan to be another ruler, like himself, but he couldn’t have been more incorrect! He was a madman! A patriot! He was a devotee of his nation as one would devote themselves to the gods! For a few moments, Alban felt his life’s end near, and the terror and desperation of the moment broke him into a cold sweat.

But then, finally, Duncan’s strength faltered, and Alban eased the wicked weapon from his stomach as he fell to one knee.

Duncan, likewise, collapsed, and Alban smacked him with one hand. “You dead?”

The answer he got clearly wasn’t meant for Alban.

“I guess that’s… all I had. Finish ‘em off for me… boy.”
 

Hayle

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Duncan lay bleeding into the earth, red pouring outward from him and rippling in the falling rain. Everything sounded still for a moment. The swordplay, creaking of bows, grunts and shouts of men, all faded and all he could hear for that moment was the pattering of rain. Then he heard him say those few words.

“I guess that’s… all I had. Finish ‘em off for me… boy.”

Hayle’s gaze rose from his fallen master. The eyes of Alban met with the determined glare of a squire who knew his duty. It wasn’t like any of the stories, time didn’t slow, he didn’t feel rage, there was no clysm. He simply knew he had this one chance to defeat the man, he was wounded already. He tensed, saw his foe do the same, and drew his shortsword, lunging into the first sword form Duncan had taught him, Flowing Water. Alban was easily ready for him and his first attack was deflected harmlessly away by the targe of the more skilled man. It seemed as though he was slow though, he didn’t capitalize on the successful parry, and the next attack was only blocked. He could tell that the pain of the wound could be overcome if he didn’t immediately press his advantage.

A slash from his opponent’s sword came down, barely missing him only by virtue of unlucky footing. The strike whistled cleanly through the air as the tight arc promised pain had it landed. Before Hayle could recover from his own dodge, the sword had already begun a new arc back toward him. He barely managed to parry it away over his head. Using the moment inside his guard, he punched the open wound to ensure it would remain on the forefront of Alban’s mind. The response he got was a targe in the side of his head, sending him sprawling. He barely managed to roll back to his feet as another wild strike landed bare inches from him. A ferocious kick threatened to send him back down but it didn’t land with enough force. They were standing too far apart for that one moment. A small crop of rock in that one instant granted him the surety he needed and he lunged, driving his shortsword into the warlord’s abdomen. The sword got stuck, somehow caught on the armour. The second of struggle gave Alban a chance to unleash his fury, and kneed Hayle with so much power he was partially launched into the air before hitting the ground.

Towering over the squire, Alban felt it fitting to give a small quip to the would be successor. “You’ll find judgment lenient after this.”

Clearly ready to deliver a decisive blow to the less experienced opponent, he didn’t waste time with any flourishes and simply stepped in range. Now time seemed to slow for Hayle, but only for a moment and it was probably due to the adrenaline. He felt something being pressed into his palm, he saw Alban’s eyes narrow, and he realized the familiar pattern he held was the house sigil of Duncan. Duncan had handed him his sword with the last of his strength. As the tip of Alban’s sword came down to end his life, he slashed in desperation. The pathetic defence almost worked, he only lost the flesh from a couple of his ribs. Seeing his own death come so close allowed him to take advantage of that short moment before the pain began to register. Alban slowly lumbered to a recovery, but it was already too late. The attempted finality of that last attack had overextended him, and his wounds only compounded the issue. He clambered back up and used Reaping Wheat, slashing at the legs and crushing bone. The tyrant tumbled to the ground.

“My knight Duncan, long may he fight.” Hayle canted as he drove the sword through Alban’s eye socket.

The enemy was not routed yet. He pulled the sword from the head of a once proud warrior and assumed the form Boulder in the Wind, raising his sword to be ready to defend against any attack and deliver a swift end to the attacker.
 

Hayle

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Hayle stood stock still for the short moment that the skull piercing crunch reverberated in his ears and the shock of entering the earth behind it ran up his sword. He withdrew Duncan’s blade from the head of his fallen foe, a sucking sound audible only to him came out with the weapon.

The clattering of armour, shrieking of steel, and howling of dying men reasserted itself at the forefront of his attention. As his gaze rose, he saw that the raiders were fleeing. Duncan lay nearby, he limped over to the prone knight.

“Sir, I got him, sir.” he gasped out words in between shuddering breaths.

His eyes were closed.

“Duncan?”

He tried to shake him awake but the body was rigid. He tried to open his eyes but what was behind the eyelids was devoid of life. He began to weep.

Knights chased down what stragglers they could, part of winning a battle was making sure that it had an impact on the next one. They seemed to have lost all morale after the death of their champion. As the enemy fled and their harassers began to lose interest, the heavy gale of rain returned to a light drizzling. As the sky slowly began to clear up and rain stopped falling, a crowd gathered around Hayle. One man walked up and kneeled down next to him.

“We’ll get along lad.” He put his hand on his shoulder. “Come on, let’s live for the living, and get that patched up.” He gestured to Hayle’s open wound.

They walked away from the field of death.
 

Hayle

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Hayle stared blankly at the wall of his room, he was clean and dressed in a white shirt and black trousers. They fit loosely as they were not his, but the black shoes did seem to fit well enough. Motes of dust floated liltingly through the ray of sun that shone in through the window to the large room. Papers were scattered about, none of them being quite intelligible to him as he had not yet received a higher education. The wall that held his eyes was the empty space that used to hold a painting of Duncan.

Today he was to receive a name, and a title.

There came a knock at the door, three small raps. The sudden sound brought him out of his trance.

“Come in.” The door opened before he finished the soft response.

The familiar face of his friend brought a rise in his mood.

“Rosa, is it time?” he asked.

“Not yet, I just wanted to see you first.” she sat down next to him on the edge of the bed. “You really admired him, I’m sorry.” That hung in the air for a long moment before he let out a breath.

“I’m scared.” he said. “What if I can’t live up to his name? My family is depending on this, and I feel as though I cannot talk to anyone. It’s like I’ve been put here as a symbol more than anything, and I don’t know if I can be what they need.”

“I don’t know what to say, I know you’ll do what you can, and I’ll be here for you.”

“I love you.” he said, “I love you too.” she replied, she gave him an awkward hug while they sat there. They stayed like that for a while. “I’ll get going, they’re probably sending someone up soon to get you.” She got up and began to leave.

“Thanks.” he said, trying to prevent a tear from leaking out of his eye as she left.

He got up and started to pace around the room, it wasn’t long before Knight Adam, the man who had led him home from the battle a week ago, showed up.

“Let’s go, it’s time for the final part of your ceremony.” he said.

He had already prayed on his knees from dawn to dusk, swore the oaths, and gotten his accoutrement in order during the last few days. His side still burned in pain when he moved in certain ways, but he was mostly fine. The scar on his forehead gave some character to his face, and he looked dignified in the simple clothing. He grabbed the blue stole hanging next to the door and put it over his shoulders.

“I’m ready.”

They walked to the church in silence. The cobblestones underfoot were clean and when walked across produced satisfying thuds. A bright sun shone down, it was rare to have a day where there were no clouds on the island nation.

The large doors to the church were opened by guards, and inside he could see Lord Hamond and the Vicar.

He crossed the threshold of the doors, he knelt as Squire Hayle, he rose as Knight Duncan Hayle.
 
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