Feldare Tales: A Dark and Stormy Knightbymack_the_knife©
Nadia was the first in the Duchy of Morrovale. No other woman was issued a permit for hunting in the duchy. She had worked most of her life for this right and honor. As the sheriff presented her with her badge of station, she grinned like a fool, as did her only relative, her little brother, Rechan. She was now only twenty three and had carved her place among the huntsmen of the village, earning their grudging respect and friendship.
The path to her current position had not been an easy one, it had taken her months to find a mentor. Her first was Ervan. Her face soured as she remembered what her first mentor had forced her to do to remain in his service, and the memory brought back old feelings of resentment and betrayal. She had been too young for that man's depraved wishes, and had balked one time too many and he had sent her from his camp. Deep in the woods, she had been forced to find her way back to Morrovale alone, sore from the acts she had allowed him to commit and crying for fear of having disappointed her parents' spirits.
Then she had found Relkan. Rather, Tammer had found Relkan. She managed to make it back and as she sat in Tammer's tavern, the Pierced Boar, she had poured out her whole sad tale, figuring she would be drummed out of the hunter's clique anyway, so she let Ervan have it with her whole quiver. She found out weeks later that when he had returned to Morrovale, he had been set upon by a half-dozen huntsmen and beaten almost to death and forced to leave the duchy.
As Relkan introduced himself he had told her that she would be totally safe with him.
"Why will I be safer with you than Ervan?" she had asked.
He leaned toward her slyly and whispered, "Just you and I know this, else I will have to leave the duchy as well, but I like other men as bedmates." The look of shock upon her young face had made him laugh uproarously.
"I've never thought any huntsman could be that way," she said.
He laughed as they walked out of town. "Why not?" he asked. "You did know that some men did so, right?"
She nodded slowly. As a general concept, she knew of homosexual men, but as a practical application, she had never met one, at least, until now.
True to his word, Relkan never touched her inappropriately, even to the point of them bathing together in the pool on his allotted lands. As she grew older, she actually started to resent his lack of interest as her own in men increased. He was a handsome man, and well-built, and well-equipped, she found out after she started dallying with village boys when they were in town. Only a few of the bravest boys would dare approach her, though, for her manner of dress was not very lady-like and her demeanor was even less so. She wore arms most times, unless in church, and she kept her hair cropped sensibly short.
Rumors among the youths of Morrovale were that she preferred girls to boys and that she took the role of a boy when she took a girl as a lover. These persisted even when there could not be found among the village's girls anyone who was her lover. They diminished, finally, when she allowed one rather bold and loudmouthed lad to bed her, and he acted as her own personal emissary to carry forth the word of her preference for males. After a weekend in his company, she wondered herself if she would not prefer a girl as a lover.
Relkan laughed at that idea. "Nadia, you look at my prick too much to be a woman-lover," he said. "Were I desirous of girls I would have allowed you to do what I know you think about when you look at it."
She nodded sadly. "Indeed, Relkan, I find boys to my liking, but I don't like any of the boys I know." She shrugged. "Perhaps I should move when I become a journeyman."
He shrugged. "That may well be your fate," he said, grinning. "You are nearly there, you know, young woman."
He smiled as she hugged him and kissed his cheek. "And I do wish you were attracted to women now, Relkan," she said as she stood up. "I'd bed you yesterday."
He chuckled again and tossed her a slab of meat from their kill that day. "Eat, shut up, and go to bed and dream of boys you can have," he said.
She grinned and chewed on the chunk of cooked deer.
Now she had her own allotment and she was doing well as a hunter, enough so that she managed to get enough money to send her brother to faraway Ghant to university, to learn a skill of the educated men. He was a frail creature, and performed the labors of farming and hunting poorly. She hoped he would find cerebral pursuits more to his suiting.
However, as much as she liked, the village of Morrovale had yet to yield up a lover. She had slept with several youths from there, and even a few more from surrounding villages, but none had that something she sought. Most were too possessive, and let it be know early that her profession would have to be sidelined if they were to wed. This disqualified those close-minded youths right off.
A couple of the others were all for her having her occupation. They wanted to laze about and let her do the work. She discovered their love-making was likewise lazy and quickly discarded them.
So, she was doomed to a life of solitude, except the occasional flings with younger huntsmen who still had the male superiority attitude, but at least tempered it by keeping their mouths shut long enough for her to enjoy a night or two with them.
She was patrolling her territory and had nearly completed her trek outward, and was already anticipating the comforts of home when she returned, having already netted more than her required number of deer and elk to meet her self-imposed quota. The weather had been very cooperative this trip out, raining only at night, and in moderation. However, today looked like it could be a change to that kind pattern. The clouds glowered over her head and seemed pregnant with rain. Even flashes of lightning could be seen among them, lighting the dark clouds from within.
It did not surprise the young woman when they opened up and let the sky fall. The rain was merciless, soaking through her clothes in seconds, then drenching her completely within a minute. She tossed her oilskin cloak overall, but it would only protect so much with the winds that kicked up at the same time, sending the rain in sheets that were almost horizontal at times. Her sandy blonde hair plastered itself to her head and soon began to drip down her skull into her eyes and down the back of her neck.
By noon, the ground had absorbed its fill of the rain and was becoming muddy and hard to walk over. She sought shelter for the night. Finally, she found a small copse of dense young trees with broad, fuzzy leaves, she was not sure of the name for them, but they provided decent shelter from the rain, their leaves shedding it in a circle around them almost like a roof. Only the most determined droplets managed to find their way through the boughs of these young trees.
She grew concerned when lightning began to arc from the low clouds into the forest, worrying about fires, but what could she do about it if one started? Other than, perhaps stay the hell out of its way. A particularly bright and lingering bolt struck nearby, just east of her shelter. She braced herself for the thunder that followed. It rolled over her like a wave of something solid, so powerful was the thunderclap. She grinned at it, the thunder had always impressed her with its fury and power. The lightning that caused the thunder roll was always of secondary import to her, it was the booming and cracking noises of supernatural intensity that drew her attention.
Her bower shook with the intensity of the crackle of energy and her hair stood on end. "That was a good one," she murmured appreciatively, and unslung her pack to begin preparing for the night.
Suddenly, she heard a sound behind her, from the east. Looking that direction, she saw a horse plodding through the mud, it was stumbling, seemingly injured. As she watched the poor beast trying to move through mud almost to its knees, she noted that something was dragging behind it. It was no wild horse, but a mount, and there was a saddle. Hanging from that saddle's right stirrup was a person, or what she thought was a person. The caked on mud and chunks of vegitation stuck to the lump made it rather an unsure judgement.
As it drew nearer her, the horse stumbled again, and collapsed into the mud. It fell away from the lump it was pulling on its stirrup and she heard the distinctive sound of clanking metal as the lump was pulled over and halfway atop the falling horse.
Breaking into a run, she approached the fallen steed. Run is probably too generous a word, but she moved with all possible haste, anyway. She got to the horse, and saw immediately, now that she was closer, that it was dead. The smell of cooked meat emanated from it. She felt bad for the poor beast, but her attention then focused upon the humanoid lump of mud, leaves, and twigs that laid partially atop the animal. She grabbed a double-handful of mud from where she thought the face should be, it was caked on the face completely. As her hands met something solid she pulled them away and threw the mud to her sides.
The shock of the sight of a skull almost caused her to fall into the mud as she tried to backtrack, but then the seam of rivets became more visible as rain knocked more of the mud from the leering countenance of death. It was a helmet's visor, shaped to resemble a skull. She tried to pry it open, and it seemed locked down. It moved a fraction of an inch, lifting away and up from the face, but then it stopped and would not budge. She jammed her fingers under it and yanked with all her might. There was a loud pop and the visor came off in her hand. She looked down into the helmet below her.
It was a young man, possibly in his twentys, she thought as she looked at his beautiful face. She could think of no other way to describe him. He had generous, full lips, that turned slightly up, in the suggestion of a smile, and high cheekbones, that gave him a look almost elven. Had he been a woman, he would have been quite lovely, as a man, he was handsome in a very peculiar way to her. He wore a carefully trimmed goatee on his upper lip and chin. His dark brown hair set off his light-colored skin in quite attractive contrast.
She pressed her fingers to his neck and felt a thready, but present pulse. She decided he had been horse-dragged for a ways and a little farther of her dragging him by his armpits would not likely do more harm. Grabbing him under his armor-plated arms, she dragged him across the intervening space to the small knot of trees and their relative shelter. She then took a good look at the situation. He was bleeding from somewhere on his head, so she tried to get the helmet off. She was not familiar with heavy armor helmets like this one and soon found out it would not come off easily even if she were. The armor was welded to itself.
"One hell of a powerful bolt of lightning," she murmured as she rummaged in her small pack and came out with a small, thick-bladed knife. After about five minutes of prying and grunting, the helmet popped loose, taking part of the ring it locked into with it. She carefully removed it and cradled the man's head as she laid him down gently to the ground. He was a handsome devil, she thought. He had a thick head of dark brown hair, flowing almost to his shoulders as the helmet came loose. Blood ran from one ear. She figured that he had fallen off the horse when the lightning struck and hit his head. She examined the bleeding orifice and realized his ear had a slight, but very obvious point. The lad was a half-elven youth, she realized as she looked at his other ear and then examined the face with a forwarned eye.
The rest of his armor bore similar welded joints and sections. She worked for the better part of two hours to free him of the constricting, damaged metal plates. When she was done, she laid a blanket over him and let him warm in the relative shelter of the copse of trees while she went back to the horse to collect his belongings from the dead steed.
Oddly, all he seemed to have was a long, rather vicious-looking sword and a small leather pouch full of documents. She looked at one of them, and saw that it was written in a tongue she did not recognize. Given his goatee and dark hair, she thought he might be Rojando.
The armor itself was unusable, though perhaps the smith in Morrovale, Gradel, could repair it. She buried it in a shallow pit under the copse so she could come back for it if and when she were able. As she put the pieces into the little grave, she noted that skulls and bones formed the main motif of this armor's decoration. It was all rather sinister, she had to admit.
The storm lightened at nightfall and ended sometime in the night, not that she was awake for that occurrence. She tended to him as best she could, mainly keeping him warm by leaving her blanket over his chilled body.
As the sun poured over the wood by morning, a spike of golden rays struck her face and caused her to awaken. She looked around, eyes bleary and confused for a moment, then she remembered her place and situation. She walked over to the sleeping man, he had kicked off the blanket overnight at some point, and she regarded the heavy felt undergarment he wore. It was scorched in a couple of places, but he appeared to have not been burnt by the lightning that had struck his horse and him.
Kneeling beside him, she placed a palm to his smooth brow, checking for feverishness. He had none, but as she withdrew her long, slim hand, his eyes snapped open and he inhaled deeply. He stuttered something she could not understand, and looked very confused.
The man's eyes focused on her own, his were bright blue, almost white. He said something in what sounded like another language to her, and observed her a moment. Then he said something in still another language. Nadia shook her head and smiled. Finally he said, "Where am I?" In Westron. His accent was a little difficult to place, but was definitely not Ghantian or Windy Islander, both of which she was familiar with.
"You are in the Duchy of Morrovale," she said quietly, sitting back on the ground as she spoke.
He paused a moment. "Morrovale," he pondered. "What happened to me?"
She pointed to the scorch mark on his shoulder. "You were struck by lightning," she said, "and then you apparently fell from your horse and struck your head."
The man grimaced. "That would explain the throbbing head and ringing ears," he murmured, touching his finger and thumb to his temples. He then graced her with a feeble smile. "Thank you for helping me."
"It was the right thing to do," she said. "I am Nadia of Morrovale." She introduced herself.
"Pleased to meet you, Nadia." He then opened his mouth to speak, and his face took on an almost comical expression of confusion. Sealing his lips he focused his mind a moment, then spoke: "I am afraid I cannot tell you my name."
She tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. "It's a secret?" she asked.
A deep chuckle emerged from his chest. "I wish that were the reason," he said, his eyes still showing consternation. "But, truth be told, I don't know."
She smiled at that. "You know not your name?" she asked, following that with a nervous giggle.
"The One as my Witness, I do not," he said, looking at her with intense eyes. "I really do not."
Nadia's face grew very concerned. "Poor dear," she said, leaning forward. "I've heard head injuries can do such things," she mused. "Perhaps it will come back to you with a little time. Meanwhile, perhaps these papers will tell you who you are?" She held out the pouch holding the large stack of parchment.
With a grunt, and obvious discomfort, the man sat up and took the pack. Peering at the documents, he looked blankly at them. "I cannot read these," he said, blinking oddly. "I thought I could read there for a moment, but I suppose I cannot."
His fingers flipped through the documents and he regarded each as the text revealed itself. "No, I cannot read these." With a sharp shake of his head that caused him to wince, he handed the pack back to her. "Did I have anything else upon me?" he asked
She picked up the sword. "You had this," she said, holding it out to him, and understandably moving a bit back after he gripped its hilt. He made no move to draw it from its scabbard, however.
He shook his head again. "No," he whispered, "I do not even recognize this."
"Miss Nadia, if you could point me to the nearest settlement, I will remove myself from worrying you any longer," he said, rising to his feet. "You have done more than enough in helping me at all."
"No, you're not fit to travel far yet," she said. "Morrovale is still four hours from here by foot." She thought a moment. "I have a small cabin about half an hour from here, though. We can go there and let you mend a bit before going to the village."
"A good idea, and I thank you again for offering me the hospitality of your cabin," he said, a stunning smile crossed his face, and she felt her heart leap at the sight of it. Down girl, she thought to herself, he's just being polite.
As they walked the half-hour to the cabin, he belted the sword to his hip and offered to carry the little pack of documents if she wearied of it. She shooed him off of that idea, saying she routinely carried animal carcasses miles, and that this was a paltry burden.
"You are a huntress, then?" he asked, his eyes showing a measurable amount of awe.
"Yes." Her skin blushed slightly at his attention. "I hunt for a living, anyway." She remembered that the ancient Syrisian gods had a figure called the Huntress, a woman who was the master of archery and the bane of anyone who defiled her wood.
The man stood about her own height, which was slightly shorter than most of the youths she had spent time with. She smiled as she regarded him, though, he was slim and well-knit of frame. A errant thought crossed her mind, wondering what he looked like under the felt padding.
He turned his pale blue eyes upon her rich brown ones. "The Huntress has ever been my favored spirit," he said. "She not only inspires me to courage, but I find her incredibly arousing, if I may be so bold. All that subdued power and lethal skill simply causes my mind to grow hazy. To know you are a woman in her image causes me to grow a bit thoughtful of those matters."
Nadia blushed pink at that thought, but her lips curled up in a smile. If she aroused him, she was definitely glad to know it. "Perhaps your mind did take quite a blow, good sir," she giggled. "For few find me arousing in any way."
"Then they are blinded by their stupidity," he said. His voice had an edge of hostility to it that made Nadia a touch nervous. The tone moderated, however, and he said, "You radiate competence. An aphrodisiac without compare."
Their eyes met for a brief moment. "You are a most complimentary traveling companion," she said. "One might think you had a ulterior motive."
Something had changed in the man's demeanor, perhaps his own confidence was returning. His eyes moved down her body, over her fitted shirt and buckskin leggings worn under a short skirt. It all rather hugged her form tightly, as loose clothes tended to get caught on branches when one ran. "Perhaps I do, actually, though I did not realize until you mentioned it." he replied. "If you find my attentions unwelcome, please say so."
"I will," said Nadia as she turned and started walking again.
The man grinned behind her, realizing she did not say to stop. As he followed behind her, he noticed her gait had changed slightly, and that she walked with a bit more, well, wiggle, than before.
True to her word, there was a tiny cabin nestled among a few old oaks. It looked as if it were used only intermittently, which was just the case. She went within and chased out a small flock of finches. "Squatters!" she yelled in mock anger.