Chapter 1 Strange Comings and Goings
She walked lazily through the sunlit pasture, letting the wind comb her hair and toss it wildly about her shoulders. The clouds scuttled across the sky with eerie swiftness, like water gushing down a river, throwing distorted shadows across the grass.
A crimson butterfly brushed past her cheek, and she turned watch it flutter in the sunlight. She watched until it alighted on a patch of forget-me-nots, she smiled and bent to pick a few. They were her father’s favorite flower and he would be pleased to have a few in the cabin after a long day of working in the fields. Suddenly the sound of music reached her ears and she straitened to discern where it was coming from.
Not far from where she was standing she glimpsed a shimmering image of a young man dancing toward her, playing a curious sort of flute. As he drew nearer the girl could make out his features. He was about eighteen and very handsome, with chin length sandy brown hair and laughing green eyes, and he danced with all the beauty and grace of a swan.
When he was no more than a pace or two away, he stopped and drew the flute from his lips, looking at her curiously, “Hello,” he said, giving her a dashing smile, “What are you doing out here? Don’t you know you are needed at home?”
The girl was taken aback, “What do you mean?” she asked, “I don’t even know who you are.”
“Of course you don’t!” the boy replied, as if it was his greatest pleasure to tell her so, “But you will, soon enough. I only wish I had time to play the Song of Bravery for you; you’ll need the extra courage where you’re going. But you must hurry home now or you’ll not arrive in time; already it grows dark.” As if on cue, the sky suddenly grew darker and twilight threatened to become night.
She looked up, alarmed, but when she turned back to question the boy, he was gone. She spun around wildly, casting her eyes about for any movement in the tall grass, but he was nowhere to be seen, so she turned toward home, feeling rather dazed. A terrible horror suddenly swept over her at the sight in the distance. There was black smoke billowing into the air directly over her house. In a sudden, blinding panic, she broke into a run and came stumbling into the yard where her house now lay, burning to ruble.
Her scream of anguish rent the air and echoed repeatedly as if bouncing off invisible barriers. Frantically she looked around for her father and saw him lying in the grass near the wagon. She ran to him and fell to her knees at his side; he didn’t move, but she was afraid to touch him. “Father!” she cried, but there was no answer, “Father, please wake up! Where’s Nath, Father? Where is he?” But still her father made no sound, no movement.
Her knees felt wet; she looked down blindly to see why. She recoiled in revulsion at the tear-blurred vision of crimson rivlets of blood staining the grass. “Father!” she choked, touching his shoulder and rolling him over. Her hand flew to her mouth in horror when she saw the gaping slash across his neck, running from ear to ear like a morbid smile. She was too late; he was dead. “NO!” she screamed, “Father!”
Suddenly she felt cold. “It is too late for him, sister,” said a soft, hollow voice behind her, “But it is not too late for me.”
She spun around and gasped at the shadow of a boy standing there, bound in chains, with his arms stretched toward her as if trying to reach her. His face was ghostly pale and the eyes that stared out at her from dark, hollowed sockets were the icy calm of one who has endured too much horror and could no longer be affected by it, they were no longer her brother’s eyes. “Oh Nath!” she cried, tears streaming unchecked down her cheeks, “What have they done to you?”
“Help me!” came his whispered reply, groping at the air with his chained hands, “Please save me, I need you!”
She cried out in agony, “Forgive me, brother!” she rasped, reaching for him helplessly, “Forgive me! I swear I will find you, I swear it! I shall find you and avenge our father’s death! I will not rest until I wipe the blood of his murderer from my sword!”
But even as she swore this, the boy faded from view, shaking his head sadly at the sister who had failed to protect him.
“NAAAATH!” Mya screamed, sitting up and throwing her blankets from her as if they crawled with evil vermin. She looked around frantically; taking breath in huge raged gasps. But Nath was gone, as were the burning remains of her home; it was only a dream. Mya calmed herself and wiped the tears from her face angrily, a warrior never wept. Her hand grasped at the leather pouch that hung on a thong around her neck. It held a little wood carving of a falcon that her brother had made her three years ago, only a fortnight before he was taken; it was the only thing she had been able to salvage from the ashes of her home. “I will not fail you again, brother,” she whispered, “Be strong… for Father.”
She rose stiffly from her bedroll and donned her light cotton tunic over her shirt, then pulled on her trousers hurriedly. It was a brisk morning in early summer, and the sun had not yet warmed the hilltop at the edge of the forest where she had slept and a light mist still blanketed the land below. But the cool breeze calmed her shaken nerves and gave her fresh hope for the events she would partake in that day.
Mya sucked in a large breath of morning air, letting it out slowly as she gazed out across the fields where she could just make out tiny thatched rooftops in the distance. It had been nearly ten days since she had left the last village, and the next one was less than half a day’s march away. The past days had been long and rainy; she longed for a hot bath and a soft bed to rest her weary body. But she would not get them, she knew, not unless she could earn the money to pay for the overpriced rooms. And, to make it worse, tournament days were overly crowded and she would have to bribe the innkeeper to get decent lodgings.
Sighing, she reached for the sword that lay on the ground next to her pallet, and fastened the belt around her waist. No matter, she thought, I shall win enough money for two rooms and twice the hot water by day’s end. It was lucky she had run into that peddler on the road three days ago, otherwise she might not have known about the tournament at all. And she would not have had a brand new belt either, on which she had spent the last of her money and the leather from her old belt as well.
Her horse stood nearby, grazing lazily in the dew-flecked grass, Mya walked over to him and patted his golden-brown neck. “It is going to be a beautiful day, Hazel, my friend,” she said, smiling wryly, “A beautiful day for deception.” She winked at the horse, who looked at her sternly in return as he continued to munch on bits of grass. “You must make me look regal today, and obey my every touch, or we shall be found out,” she warned him. Hazel snorted and stamped arrogantly at the ground, “Good, good!” Mya laughed, “You are becoming better at this than I!” She turned and began unwrapping a large bundle that lay near the fire pit, bound tightly with leather stays. She had not ridden the ten days from the village for guilt of making Hazel bear such a heavy burden, but now he would have to bear her along with it.
When the last thong was untied, Mya eyed the battered array of armor that lay before her. It had been through many battles, most not even hers, but she never tired of looking at it, the sight bringing back memories that brought a smile to her lips and tears to her eyes at the same time. It was old, dented, and painfully out of fashion, but without it she would have nothing to be proud of, nothing to hide behind.
Reaching out a callused, whether hardened hand, Mya took a shield from the pile. It was heavy and the wood itself was scratched and dented, but the crest was fairly new. She had created it herself, and she was very proud of it. Her fingers traced the figure of a lone wolf, its head raised, as if howling to a moon that was not there. Her crest was not just a picture on a shield to her; it was a part of her. She was that lone wolf howling out her pain and sorrow, the wolf was her past and her present, and it would surely be her future.
She laid the shield aside and lifted another piece from the tangle of armor. The breastplate in her hands felt cold and rough, but it brought back a flood of warm memories from her past. Mya closed her eyes and relived those wonderful days, nearly two winters ago, when she had met a man who had set her on this strange path.
She was scarcely more than a child when she began wondering the country, hopelessly trying to track down her brother and bring him safely home. She was terrified of traveling alone in the strange land, when every shadow seemed like some dark enemy, but she was no coward, and her father had raised no fool.
There were ways of protecting oneself in the wild, she knew a few secrets about the world that not many girls her age were aware of. One of them, probably the most important, was that a young girl never survived long on her own. The world was a cruel one, more so for women than for men, and from that knowledge, Mya made her first transition into the life she was so suddenly thrust into.
For her own protection, she discarded ‘Mya, the Farmer’s daughter’ in the nearest town, and donned boy’s clothing, finding a new name for herself. For nearly a year she traveled thus, surviving on meager rations and trying as well as she could to remain invisible among crowds and to blend into walls. Invisibility, however, was a skill that did not come naturally for a girl raised on a farm. She was caught several times trying to sleal food from the carts in various towns, and the beatings she received were merciful compared to the threat of a life in a prison cell, a fate she managed to escape only by pure dumb luck.
That first year was nothing less that hell in her eyes; she had no skill with her father’s sword, which she carried determinedly through city after city on Hazel’s saddle, her only companion left in the world. And yet she survived, by miracle or fate, or some other force, she survived until the winter, skinny and half dead, until she wandered into the right forest at precisely the right time of day.
It was during a harsh midwinter storm when she wandered, all but frozen, into a the wood on the outskirts of the town she had just fled from, clutching a chunk of bread in one numbed hand, while the other was frozen onto Hazel’s reins as he all but dragged her forward. He led her to a frozen stream where she sunk to her knees, shivering uncontrollably. She knew she was dead as soon as she felt the warmth creeping through her body, but she no longer cared, she sat there and let it take her.
William was out collecting firewood when he found her with her eyes frozen shut and Hazel lying next to her, keeping her warm with what little heat was in his body. The man took her in his arms and carried her back to his master’s house, a small cabin at the center of a clearing, and brought her back to life. Her boy’s disguise only fooled the two men until they thawed and bathed her in warm water, trying to bring her around.
But it made no difference, he and his master were kind to her, treating her as a guest and never asking questions, Dominic offered her his home as long as she wished to stay, and William, who was nearly twice her age, became like a brother to her. She helped him with his chores, and soon became familiar with the household routine. At night the three of them, the only ones occupying the small cabin, sat around the fireplace, and Mya would read to them, or listen to stories the old knight, now retired, would tell them about his younger days.
It always seemed strange to Mya that the old man was the lord of the house and not William, for the young man did not seem the type for servant’s work. He seemed always to hold himself with the dignity of royalty and he made it look as though he did things for Dominic out of pure love, not out of any sense of obligation. He cared for the old man as he would a father, and they shared an intimate relationship that went for beyond the restrictions of servent and master.
It was also odd that a servant would be as skilled with a sword as he was, for Mya stumbled upon him by accident during winter thaw, training in the melting snow by the stream he had discovered her by. She watched him for several days in secret, awe struck by the grace and fluidity of his movements, he was a true master, and she wanted to be just like him.
Finally mustering the courage to approach him, one day at the beginning of spring, she told him for the first time, what had befallen her family and that she wished to avenge her father and rescue her brother. He did not laugh, as she thought he would, instead he brought her to Dominic and she repeated her story. The old man gazed at her gravely for a long moment, then smiled, “She has the same fire within her that you did, Will,” he said fondly, his eyes twinkling as he looked at her, “She will be a fine student for you.”
And so began her training in sword fighting. Spring began early that year, allowing for maximum time for lessons. Mya learned quickly, discovering she had a natural talent for it, and loved every aspect of it, sometimes begging William to extend the lessons until well after dark. By Spring’s end Mya’s skills were nearly equal to her tutor’s, and continued to improve.
But the winter had been hard and Dominic’s health was failing him at last. Lessons were but on hold to allow William to better care for his master. Then, one night, just before he died, Dominic called Mya into his room, where he had spent much of his time of late. When she entered, she saw, first, that William was standing next to his old friend’s bed looking grave and tired. Then her eyes strayed down to the bed where an old suit of armor lay crumpled and disarrayed. She frowned slightly and met the old man’s eyes, “What is all this, sir?” she asked, “I don’t understand.”
Dominic smiled at her and explained, “This suit of armor I once wore proudly,” he said, stroking it fondly, “I was a knight once, a long time ago.” He chuckled, remembering, “Some called me ‘Sir Dominic the Friendly,’ I never knew why they called me that, it just stuck I suppose. But, alas, one must grow old eventually, and my time in this world grows short.” He looked up and saw the girl’s eyes begin to flood, “Do not weep, child,” he said, stroking her face with a gnarled hand, “I go to a better place, and soon I shall have no need of my old armor… so I give it to you.”
Mya did not understand, but when she tried to speak, the man raised a hand to silence her, saying only, “As once you deceived me, you shall deceive the world. Go forth and save your brother, child, and make thy father proud.” With that, he closed his eyes and drifted into a deep sleep, saying nothing more to her, or anyone else, ever again.
He retired peacefully to his better place that next day and Mya helped William to burry him in his favorite spot in the garden. She stayed there with William until midsummer, helping him to close up the cabin, as he continued to give her lessons. When it was finally time to leave the cabin, William lent his support as she painted her crest on her new shield and helped her pack it away. Mya begged him to come with her on her quest, but the man refused, saying he had taught her everything she needed to know and she did not need him anymorer. “Besides,” he said, giving her an encouraging squeeze, “I have buissiness of my own to attend to.” So they bid each other a tearful farewell and went their separate ways.
Mya had looked for him every day since they parted, hoping that their paths would cross again, but she had not seen him since that day. She would look for him, she decided, perhaps when her quest was complete, but until then, his kind face and unquestionable friendship stayed with her always, as did the words he had whispered to her as they embraced for the last time, “Steer your path with love, little sister, and you shall never lose your way.”
Hazel suddenly snorted loudly and pawed the ground impatiently, causing Mya to start violently as she was jarred out of her memories. She looked around and shuddered, though not from cold, for it was actually quite warm. Her cheeks felt wet and she realized tears had been spilling unnoticed from her eyes; she dashed them away angrily, crying was weak. Hurriedly, she sorted out the rest of the armor, barely glancing at it, and struggled to fasten it onto her body. It was rather too large for her, but that was for the better, it made her look bigger than she was. Though the last man who had seen her in it had laughed uproariously at the sight of her when she passed him on the road not eight days past. She allowed a grin to spread across her face, he was not laughing now, and she had added several coins to her purse as a result.
When everything was hooked, strapped and fastened into place, Mya tied up her auburn hair and slipped the helmet over her head. Immediately her vision was limited by the tiny slit in the visor, and she groped around to find Hazel. But when the horse saw her, he whinnied in alarm and tossed his head violently. Mya raised the visor and smiled at him, “Yes, I know,” she said, “I must look a terrible fool, but there is no other way to look, is there, when you are a woman dressed as a man. Ah, well, come on then, let’s be on our way, the day draws on, and we shall be late for registration.”
On her way down the hill, before she met the main road, Mya came across a couple of boys playing with wooden swords in the field. When they saw her, they straitened up smartly and saluted her clumsily with their weapons. She smiled behind the visor and drew her own sword to return the salute. She laughed as they started to run back toward a small farmhouse, stumbling and tripping over one another in their haste to boast about their encounter.
She continued on and soon came to the main road that led to the village. It was not crowded, as she had feared, but nor was it deserted. A few carts trundled by with goods from the local farms, and one or two lone travelers were making their way to town for the yearly tournament. They all greeted her civilly, as she passed them by, with a “Good day, my lord,” and the occasional, “Good luck in the tournament, my lord.” She responded to each with a courteous nod of the head or a small wave, never daring to use her voice, her experience two years ago was still too fresh in her mind.
It had been the first time she had put on the armor, and, foolish as she was, did not think about how her voice sounded to people if she was supposed to be a man. When five or so boys, older than her by two or three years, gathered around her and began asking her all sorts of questions about being a knight, well, she naturally began to answer them. It was the biggest mistake she had ever made. At first the boys were confused by her young, female voice, but then they became angry and violent. They tore off her helmet and laughed and beat her cruelly, she was lucky to escape with her life. Since then she had never again spoken as the Rogue Knight, and she wasn’t about to start now.
Not long after mid-morning, Mya caught sight of the village gates before her, they were swung wide for the tournament visitors and colorful banners hung on either side, blowing in the light breeze. As she entered, she saw that the streets were full of carts selling goods, and people milling about before the games began. She could smell the various foods that were being sold in the streets; fish, bread, fruit, and several kinds of meats and cheeses. The dull roar of voices filled her ears as the villagers conversed around the carts. Chickens could be heard squawking and clucking in their pens, waiting to be sold, dogs were barking, goats were bleating, babes were screaming; it was utter chaos, and no one paid the lone rider any notice. Which was all the better, Mya thought, for she did not wish to be noticed if she could help it? So she and Hazel strolled through the streets with barely a glance, and eventually found their way to the registration booth.
She dismounted clumsily, for the armor was heavy and restricted most of her movement, and approached the men behind the booth. “Good day, sir,” said one man automatically without raising his head, “And what events might you be partaking in this afternoon?” Only when Mya did not answer did the man look up at her, “Well?” he said rather irritably.
Mya still said nothing, but drew her sword and scanned the symbols on the row of signs hanging above his head. Then she lifted the sword and struck the sign with an emblem painted on it of two swords crossed as if in combat. It gave out a metallic ring and hung swinging on the rope. The man gave her a queer look, but said noting. “Very well,” he said at last, “Now I will be needing your name.”
Mya turned to take a sheet of parchment that she had written her name on from a pouch on her saddle bag that she had prepared before entering the village, but before she had the chance, a man suddenly called out behind her. “Ay! It be The Rogue Knight standin’ roit ‘ere in front o’ me eyes!” Startled, she turned to face the man. He was a big, burly merchant, clearly not a native, and was speaking to her excitedly. She could barely grasp his accent. “Oi seed ye before, ho yes Oi ’ave! Yore a mighty fierce fighter ye are, never thought Oi’d lay eyes on the likes of ye again, it be a pleasure, sir!”
At this point the man behind the registration booth interrupted, which was quite a relief to Mya who was quite taken aback by the stranger’s manner. “Now hold on a moment,” he said, turning to the man, “Do you mean to tell me that you have seen this knight before?”
“Ho yes!” he replied, “Oi was visitin’ me ol’ cousin las’ summer, Oi was, and we went to the tournament, y’see. And there was this one knight by a funny name, The Rogue Knight ’e was called, so we watched ’im and ’e was mighty good with the sword and won in that event ’e did! And this be ’im roit ‘ere. But the funny thing was, next mornin’ no one seemed to be able to foind ‘im, he just disappeared durin’ the night. Hur hur, now Oi know where ’e goned.”
The man in the booth turned back to Mya, “Is this true, sir, are you, er, ‘The Rogue Knight‘?” Mya nodded, glad to get it done with, for the merchant was making her quite nervous now, but the man still looked a bit suspicious. “Well, what I would like to know is why you did not just say so in the first place, it would have saved a lot of trouble.”
At this the stranger budded in again, “’E be the quiet type, sir,” he said, “’E never did speak none when Oi seed ‘im, don’ think ‘he can t’ tell ye the truth, never seed ’is face neither, now Oi think about it.”
“Yes, well that is quite enough,” said the other man irritably, “Move along now, your help is no longer needed.” The merchant tipped his hat, smiled, and continued on his way down the crowded street. “Well, Sir Rogue Knight,” continued the man at the booth crisply, “I suppose we shall be seeing you in the ring, good day.” Without another word the man turned back to his work and paid The Rogue Knight no further notice.
Relieved, Mya led Hazel off down a deserted alley, looking for a good place to watch the tournament without being noticed. As she walked, she wondered how many other people would recognize The Rogue Knight from previous tournaments. Surely this one was the first, and hopefully the last, she could not afford to be recognized, that could complicate her plans. “It is nice to get praise every now and then though,” she said aloud, patting her horse’s head, “Eh Hazel?” In response, he tossed his head and snorted, “I knew you’d agree,” she said laughing. And thus went most of the conversations the ‘lone wolf’ ever had, it was accepted among both of them, and neither ever complained.
Suddenly a horn sounded in the distance, loud and demanding. Mya stopped to listen, “Ah, that will be the tournament starting,” she said, “Come on then, Hazel, our event will be starting soon, we need not be tardy.”
She turned down another street and suddenly found it blocked by a large crowd. Climbing up on Hazel’s back, she saw a square ring crowded with onlookers on all sides. In the ring, two armor-clad men were just saluting each other with their swords. “It looks as though we have conveniently stumbled upon our swording event, my friend,” she said, making herself more comfortable, “Shall we watch from here? We have a perfect view!”
As she sat watching the fighters, she criticized their every move; a lunge executed too soon, a parry to slow, a stance set awkwardly, just clumsiness altogether. After a few fights, watching pair after pair of clumsy fighting, she realized that she could defeat these oversized amateurs with little difficulty. Disappointment weighed down her spirits like a wet cloak on her shoulders; she knew from the stories William and Dominic had told her, that knights were becoming scarce in these days of peace, but the lack of challenge here was depressing.
When the next fight ended, with one man being helped out of the ring, the man who had been introducing the knights returned and called out the next challengers. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he called, “Our next fighters are Sir Pierre Nicodeme, and…” the man paused and squinted at the paper in his hand before calling out again with an odd look on his face, “And The Rogue Knight!”
Mya started in alarm, was it her turn already? As she jumped from Hazel’s back she caught a few of the crowd’s murmurings. “The Rogue Knight? What an odd name.” “I wonder what sort of knight he is, I’ve heard things you know…” “Who do you suppose he is, where does he come from? Where is he?”
Mya whispered a few words to give her courage, and began pushing her way through the crowd. At first they paid her no heed, but as she continued to aggressively make her way to the ring someone called out, “Look, there he is!” Instantly people pulled away from her and she found she had a clear path to the ring. Beyond the meager wooden fencing surrounding it, she glimpsed a rather hefty knight standing there looking impatient. When she stepped into the ring, he laughed harshly and deliberately, “You are razer puny for a knight, no?” he said, his speech distorted by his deep accent, “Even a rogue knight such as you. But even wis your fancy name, meester Rogue Knight, you are no match for me!”
Suddenly, in the midst of a hushed crowd, a man cried out angrily, “He’s a Frenchman!” Another cried his agreement, “Aye, what’s he doing here?” There was a short silence, then, “Knock ’is bloody ’ead off mister Rogue Knight, sir!” cried a boy who was leaning on the fence around the ring, “I know you can do it!” His cry was chorused by the on-lookers and soon they were yelling and cheering for the mystery knight as if he were some kind of legendary hero.
Mya looked around, awed, unable to speak; did they hate the Frenchman so much that they had no choice but to cheer for her?
“Zat’s right, boy,” breathed her opponent, “Gawk at zem while zey curse ze Frenchman, it will give me all ze more pleasure to ’umiliate you!”
Mya said not a word as she slowly turned to face the Frenchman. She drew out her sword and saluted him civilly, though in her heart she meant to make him pay for his insults. The other man laughed harshly and spat at her feet as he shifted right into a sparing stance. She did the same, smirking behind her visor.
He lunged, much too slowly, and she parried with an attack of her own. He jumped back in time and wasted not a moment in running at her with reckless speed. Mya dodged his blow, almost laughing at his poor skill, and used his momentum to her advantage. She landed a blow to his lower back with her sword hilt as he charged past and he crashed headlong into the fence. The crowd cheered and Mya thanked William and his dear master, not for the first time, and certainly not the last, for teaching her how to use her opponent’s weight against him.
The robust knight struggled to his feet, seething in anger and breathing hard, his strength already spent. He’s too old to be doing this, Mya thought with a smirk. He came at her again, crying out with rage, again she sidestepped his attack and he went headlong into the dirt. Again and again he tried this move, becoming ever more enraged, and each time Mya countered the move, battering him and exhausting him until he could hardly move. At last he lay, gasping for breath, on the ground, totally spent, but unwilling to admit defeat. He tried to struggle to his feet, but collapsed almost instantly. The Rogue Knight saluted her defeated opponent without acknowledging his defeat, and strode deliberately out of the ring, not looking back even when the Frenchman called after her. “Curse you, Rogue Knight,” he cried, “Curse you and your family forever and a day! No one humiliates Pierre Nicodeme and gets away wis it! Do you ’ear me?” His cries could be heard for a few moments more, until tournament officials were forced to remove him from the ring.
When she was clear of the crowd, she made her way back to Hazel. The horse snorted and shook his head as she approached. Mya stroked his neck and nodded, “Yes,” she agreed, as if it was the most common thing in the world to talk to a horse, “But he was clumsy and stupid, and his pride got the better of him, the others will not be so arrogant.”
She resumed her place atop hazel’s back and watched the remainder of the first round and half of the second before her name was called again. She approached the ring in the same manner as she had the time before and defeated her opponent almost as easily as the last. But this time he did not jeer at her as had the last one, he saluted her civilly and exited the ring with his honor intact. She was grateful for that, she did not like to make enemies.
The third round went much the same as the second, save for an unexpected blow to the head when she was unguarded on one side. But she recovered quickly and exited the ring the victor. The winners from each round were called back again and again until only two remained. Mya met her final opponent in the ring and sized him up.
So far she had managed not to exert herself too much in her previous fights, so she was only slightly weary. But she had been watching this ‘Sir Griffith’ all day and she felt she would need all her strength and skill to defeat him; he was not one to be taken lightly. He was tall and thin, but well muscled, and looked younger than her other opponents by many years. Though it was impossible to tell his exact age behind his armor, his speed and agility told her he had not yet reached middle years.
She looked up to find that the man watching her through the slit in his visor. His eyes were kind and seemed vaguely familiar as they smiled at her with amusement, “You look a bit small for knight, boy,” he said, chuckling kindly, “You’re much too young to be as good as you are.” He shrugged, saluting her elegantly, “Well, at least this will be somewhat of a challenge, unlike those other buffoons, it will be a real shame to defeat you when you have come so far!”
Mya could see the grin in his eyes as she saluted him in return, and she allowed herself a small smile; this was more like it, a real challenge! Her blood surged with excitement as her opponent advanced with great skill. She sidestepped, but he had predicted that she would, and he was there before she realized he had moved, dealing her a blow to her sword arm. She fell back a few steps before recovering, but the knight was already on her like a hawk, taking full advantage of her surprise. He swung hard at her chest, hoping to end the match quickly, but she had a few tricks up her sleeve as well.
Without warning she ducked under his arm just before the blow hit home. She caught a glimpse of his eyes widening in surprise, but it was too late to check himself. Without something to stop his blade as it swooshed over the spot where Mya had just been standing, the knight spun out of control and tottered, trying to regain his balance. But the famed Rogue Knight lost not a moment. As soon as she had avoided the blow, she spun around and swung her sword in a low arch, knocking her opponent’s legs out from under him.
With a thunderous clang and crash of armor, Sir Griffith landed flat on his back staring up the length of Mya’s sword in utter surprise. Mya held her blade to his throat for a moment, letting her victory sink in, then took a step back and saluted her fallen opponent.
The defeated knight struggled to his feet, fighting to suck breath back into his lungs. Mya reached to help him, but he waved her hand away. “You fight well, boy,” he panted, standing as strait as he could manage, “I do not think I have ever met your equal.” He rasped out a short laugh, his eyes twinkling with amusement, “But when I do, I will be sure to send him your way.” He saluted her lavishly, having caught his breath, and added a slight bow for his amusement, “Good day to you, Rogue Knight, I hope we meet again.” With that, he turned on his heel and strode out of the ring before Mya could even nod.
A moment later the man who had been announcing the fighters all day entered the ring and bowed to her before turning to the crowd and declaring her the champion. They cheered and carried on, but Mya hardly heard, she was still gazing after the defeated Sir Griffith as he marched up the crowded street. Something about his easy going manner and kind eyes reminded her of William. She smiled sadly, ‘I hope we do meet again sir knight,’ she thought as she watched him disappear into the crowd, ‘And one day I believe we shall.’
She was suddenly aware of someone speaking to her, “My lord, you can collect your winnings at the registration booth,” the announcer told her quietly, “Congratulations on your victory.” Mya nodded her thanks as the little man bowed slightly and retreated into the crowd.
Mya collected her money immediately, it was not much, as was usually the case in small-town tournaments like these, but it would buy her a decent room at the inn with some left over. She went to find someplace secluded so she could remove her armor.
When she had packed it safely away and fastened it securely to hazel’s saddle, she went in search of the inn.
She handed Hazel over to the stable boy who met her at the inn stables and strolled inside. The innkeeper glared at her over the front desk, “There are no more rooms available, wench,” he growled, “go find lodging elsewhere.”
Out of habit Mya said nothing, but dumped the contents of her belt purse on the counter. The innkeeper brightened instantly, “Oh, heh, did I say no more rooms?” he said, eyeing the coins ravenously, “I just happen to have one left, but it will be expensive….” Mya pushed a handful of coins toward him and quickly scooped the rest into her purse, “Yes, that will do,” said the man, grinning, “Is there anything else you will need, lady?”
Mya looked down her nose at the man, doing her best to seem intimidating, “I will require a hot bath,” she replied airily, “with enough water for two, and I will be taking dinner in my room.”
“Yes of course,” said the man with false courtesy, “Nob!” he barked shrilly, startling the girl. A moment later a boy came stumbling through a door, bowing apologetically to the innkeeper. “Nob, take this lady to the Summer Room upstairs if you please, then go and fetch Marnie to me. Off with you, boy, don’t stand there dawdling!” The boy jumped and scuttled away, Mya following with the practiced air of a noblewoman.
Thus vanished the silent Rogue Knight from the small town, just as quickly as she had come, and no one was the wiser, save for maybe the old merchant. He made a point to look for the knight the next morning. He smiled to himself when his search proved in vain, and never said a word about it one way or the other, not one. Though of course there was talk, lots of it, the next morning and for several mornings after that. Talk of the mysterious knight with the queer name that appeared suddenly out of nowhere and then to disappear just the same. “I allus knew he weren’t quite right,” said one man about the matter, and all who heard nodded their heads sadly, for that was the only possible explanation for the knight’s disappearance, though no one offered another.
But strangely Mya was not the only subject of the gossip that morning, for it seemed she was not the only one to vanish without a trace. There was hushed talk among the peasants and merchants of the kind hearted, though rather odd, Sir Griffith, who no one seemed able to find after the tournament. Nor did anyone remember seeing him leave the village or when they saw him last, for that matter. He, too, was nowhere to be found.
None of this, however, reached the ears of The Rogue Knight, then, or ever, for she was gone long before dawn and never looked back, as was her custom, for she had a long way to go before her road came to an end, and one never stops for long before they come to the end of their road.