Rynn Stant’s flowing golden hair danced as he stood atop the hill, seemingly satisfied. His skin, a pale green that often looked blue at night, seemed to radiate as his dark eyes laughed at his creation. His armor was green and gold, the colors of House Starfront, with a golden six-pointed star crafted into the breastplate, but it had been smeared a sodden red by the blood of the yellow men that lay below them. His sword, too, with its golden six-pointed hilt, was soaked in blood. He held it in his hand as he had apparently lost the scabbard during battle.
To Rynn Stant’s left stood Gerey Nesell. Unlike Rynn, whose skin was bright and hair was fair and curly, Gerey’s skin was a thick dark green and his hair was black and matted. He was of a height with Stant but Stant’s aura made Nesell look the smaller man. Nesell, too, was garbed in Starfront colored armor, but there was no golden six-pointed star decorating his breastplate or shield. His chest bared the smiling green sun of Windmoor.
“Widowmaker needs a wash,” Gerey said to Rynn, eyeing Stant’s bloody sword.
“Supper is not yet over.” Rynn dropped his left hand upon Gerey’s shoulder. “How many men do you suppose we lost?”
“If I had to guess I’d say about a hundred and some. That is, not counting those who fled.”
“We’ll have their heads soon enough.”
“Still, your father will rejoice when he hears that you captured Piss Lord’s son.”
“That he will.” Rynn dragged Widowmaker along the ground and made his way down the hill, Gerey right behind him. From atop the muddy hill, Gerey could see the carnage that he and his friend brought about. It could have been eight hundred or eight thousand dead and it would look no different. Blood was everywhere, along the trunks of trees, on tents, on wagons, on dead horses, on dead men, on living men. There was smoke, too, but Gerey could not tell where it was coming from. The men, some of them green, most of them yellow, sprawled about the wasteland, scattered and discarded like dolls. The yellow men who still lived were being executed behind a giant fallen tree. The green men, who numbered close to a thousand, scattered about the field chattering, tending to the wounded, sharpening their weapons, or finding something to eat. Rynn Stant did not allow plunder. Any man caught with Colter equipment would be executed.
Tyler Colter, young though he was, looked like an old man on the foot of death. He had lost his left ear, Gerey saw, and his face had been beaten until his left eye had finally swollen shut. The thin spikes of fur on his yellow face that would have formed a beard was dampened with blood, perhaps his own. His armor was diced to pieces and the yellow moon of House Colter were smudged beyond recognition. As Rynn and Gerey approached him, he stared at them pleadingly, as if they were to pity him. The two men holding Tyler by his arms bowed as Rynn entered their presence.
“What do you mean to do with me?” Tyler asked weakly.
“We’re heading back to Mewood,” Rynn said, “and when my father hears of your capture then we’ll know what to do with you.”
Tyler summoned the strength for a smile. “If my father doesn’t find out first.”
“You’re a fool,” said Gerey. “Your father’s yellow vermin are still scattered about the forest. Even if word could get to all of them, by time we’re in Mewood half of them will be long dead.”
“Where’s my squire?” Rynn shouted. From a tent erected beside a pile of dead green men, a fat boy rolled out, a giant bag on his back. He hastily ran to Rynn, nearly knocking him over. “How many towns and villages did we pass from Antlertown to where we are now, Brewis?”
“Sixteen, Sir Stant,” the boy said. “Two were sacked by the Colters.”
“Where is the closest one left unmolested?”
“The one to the north and east, Sir. If we head at this instant, we’d be there by nightfall. It is a well traveled place but also guarded and on high alert.”
“We will head out at once. Rouse all my men and tell them we are heading north and east.” Rynn handed Widowmaker to the boy. “My sword has lost its scabbard. Hold it until I need it.”
“Yes, Sir Stant.” The boy hobbled off, shouting commands at the rows and groups of green men lounging about the battlefield.
“A town so small cannot house this many men,” Gerey said.
“Most will sleep outside in tents around the village, as we have for months now. We need not stay for more than a night.”
“No doubt all of them will want to have a go at the brothels if there are any.”
“Then I pray they know how to wait in turns.” Rynn looked at Tyler Colter’s bloody face in disgust. “Clean him up and have him chained,” he said to the two men holding Colter. “Once we get rest at that town, we’re heading straight for Mewood.”
“Aye, my lord.” The men hoisted Tyler up and marched off with him toward a carriage where other men were being tended to.
In about an hour, the army was on the move. The field they caught the Colters in was one of few in the Densebrook. Here, trees grew thick and close to each other, making travel between them nearly impossible. Such made it the perfect home for bandits. That was, until fifty years ago when a genius came up with the idea of cutting down trees and making roads. The bandits remained, but travel was made a bit easier. The band of nearly a thousand men rode close and silent. Scouts had been dispatched on all ends to watch for movements and warn of ambushes, though there was doubt that there were even men left to ambush them.
Rynn Stant rode at the front of the column with Gerey Nesell riding right beside him. Directly behind them Tyler Colter was being pulled in a wagon guarded by four men on foot. While Rynn was chatting with Gerey, Brewis rode up to them on his small donkey and extended a sword and scabbard to Rynn. The scabbard was golden and studded with green gemstones.
“I found your scabbard, my lord.” The boy smiled jovially. “It was dug into some man’s skull. You didn’t draw the sword out with your hand on your first strike.”
“Good lad,” Rynn praised. “Keep this up and you’ll be knighted in no time.”
“My lord, I am but a child. And fat besides.” He looked down sullenly. “I may never be a knight. Serving you will do me fine.”
“I was a boy when Dreward Pycey made me a knight.” Rynn glanced at Brewis’ gut. “There have been knights fatter than you.”
“Thank you, Sir Stant.” Brewis smiled confidently and rode the rest of the way smiling, sometimes to himself but most of the time at Rynn.
They reached the town, which was surrounded on all sides by a giant black spiked gate. It was a weak gate, but Rynn did not mean to storm it. From the bars of the gate he could see the faces of small boys and girls, women and men, and goats walking here and about. At the front of the gate were two green men in shoddy armor. The taller one roared, “We take no part in your war. Please leave.” Gerey unhorsed and told Rynn that he would handle it.
“Good sir,” Gerey said, “we do not wish to disturb your peace. We only wish to camp around this town until sunrise and we will be well on our way.”
“Do you truly mean us no harm?” the shorter one asked. Gerey couldn’t see what his face looked like through the slit in his rusted helmet.
“There are almost a thousand men behind me. If we meant to take this village we would have been bloody well on with it. I’m not sure if you have taken notice yet, but it is Sir Rynn Stant here at your gate, not some brigand.”
The guards exchanged uncertain looks and whispered. After a moment of deliberation, the shorter man turned to Gerey and said, “We will permit your men to camp around our village, but only twenty men will be allowed to enter through this gate. If any of your men misbehave, we hope that you have the honor to discipline them, Sir Stant.”
“You have my word,” Rynn said, riding forward. “If any of the twenty men I choose lays hand on a woman, he will be made a eunuch. If any of my men steal, they will lose both hands. If they fall to murder, their heads will mount this gate.”
Picking twenty men to sleep in the town was a tough task, as all of them wanted a bed to sleep in after two months of resting on grass. Rynn and Gerey agreed that they would both pick ten. Among Rynn’s ten was Sir Ellot Herry, Sir Munder Colke, Sir Gery Tharcey, and a few boys carrying standards. Gerey was less discriminate and chose whoever made the most fuss about it, which included Sir Chamond Selwe and his brother Chasmond, Sir Vyncis Borne, Sir Richye Longmark, and Brewis. The unfortunate rest had to situate themselves in the grass around the gate and erect tents.
The common people stared shamelessly at Rynn and his company as they marched into town in their gold and green armor and shining gold cloaks, bearing the golden star of Starfront and the smiling sun of Windmoor. Gerey knew then why Rynn chose those few boys carrying the standards. Flags with Starfront’s six-pointed star were erected on every house in the small town. Every door in the village was decorated with the golden star. Well loved here, I see, Gerey thought.
“Does all the green and gold sicken you, Colter?” Rynn said to Tyler Colter, who was chained and being led by Selwe brothers. It was determined that he was to be held in a room in the inn, closely guarded so that he may not escape.
“Did the red on your mother sicken your father?” Tyler smiled fiendishly. He knew he had gotten to Rynn. Rynn reached for his sword, but Gerey laid his hand on the hilt before he could draw it.
“Do not let him provoke you,” Gerey said to Rynn and drew his own sword. He could see the terror in Tyler’s face as the sword was raised in the air. The flat end of the sword smacked Tyler’s face and loosened the bandages on his ear. “Next time I’ll take your other ear.”
The Selwe brothers dragged Tyler into the inn with the rest of the party while Rynn and Gerey remained outside. They walked the town, speaking with the people and looking for any sign that the Colters may have passed through. Everywhere they went, people shouted praise at them, though there were a few who just silently stared. The farther the two went east, the quieter it got until they finally reached a row of small stone houses near the eastern end of the gate. Rynn and Gerey spotted a gathering of people surrounding someone in front of a small cobblestone house with broken windows. They exchanged glances and moved toward the commotion.
“Make way for Sir Rynn Stant,” Gerey said to the people. They looked up, frightened, and slowly inched away. In the middle of the circle stood a girl with skin dark and yellow like Tyler Colter’s. Her nose was bloodied, and she was holding her tattered clothes in her hands. She looked no more than a few years younger than Gerey himself. “What is the meaning of this?” The crowd, who Gerey then noticed were mostly young adults and children, remained silent. When Rynn approached, half of them fled.
Rynn removed his golden cloak and put it over the girl’s shoulder. “Walk with us,” he said. She silently acquiesced and Rynn and Gerey led her back west where they came from. “What were they doing to you?”
“Please don’t hang me, Lord Stant.” She was crying, they saw. “Please. I did no wrong.”
Rynn looked at Gerey in confusion, as if he expected him to present some sort of answer. “I… I do not mean to hang you… or anyone. Who told you this falseness?”
“Them,” she said. “They always said to me, ‘Sir Stant is in the woods hunting yellow people. One day he’s going to come here and hang you right in the town square’. When I saw your flags and your men, I knew for sure that it was the end for me, so I ran, but they caught up to me and tried to get me back to the square. Please, Lord Stant, my family did no wrong. Please do not hang us.”
Rynn lifted her sobbing head and smiled at her. “I am not going to hang you, sweetheart.”
“Truly?” She looked relieved but doubtful.
“Truly. It is soldiers I kill, not maidens. Tell me, how did you come about this town? This is a ways far from the east.”
“My mother married a travelling musician in our village near Hanytower last year. He wanted us to move with him back to his home here in Stonetown, and so we traveled with him here. At first it was nice and everyone was so nice and generous, but then the fighting started and people started to turn on us and call us names. A few months back some men tried to charge our gates and failed, but they blamed MY family for it because the men were yellow like me and my mother. That day, they…they…”
“What did they do?” Gerey knelt with the girl as she fell to her knees.
“They beat me and my mother. Beat us sore and bloody. My mother couldn’t to eat solid foods for a time after that. They said we brought the war to them, but we truly did not. Days afterward, my step-father went missing and no one would tell us where he was. We found his harp in a well.”
“What was your stepfather’s name?” asked Rynn.
“He was called Symas the Singer, Lord Stant.”
“Where is your mother?”
“She is home. The one we just passed.”
Gerey could see the fire in Rynn’s eyes. The same fire burned when he was fighting, but this was no battlefield. Still, Gerey was unsure if heads were going to roll. “I will meet with this girl’s mother and stay in her home tonight, Gerey,” Rynn announced. “While I am away, you must take charge.”
“That I will.” Gerey, Rynn, and the girl parted. The streets were empty already. The cobblestone town was silent as death as Gerey tried to maneuver his way back to the western gate. The sun was half set by the time Gerey reached the inn. Richye Longmark sat against a window sharpening his arrows.
“Where is Stant?” Richye asked.
“He will be sleeping elsewhere tonight.”
“Found himself a lady, has he?” Richye smiled that bloody crooked smile he always did. Richye Longmark was the youngest knight among them at seventeen years old. Even so, he was taller than Rynn and Gerey. His dark hair was wild and thick and dirty from months of being neglected. He was the best archer Gerey had ever met. “And he had the gall to warn us? I must say, though, I never thought he’d ever meet a lady he fancied more than his sword.”
“You better love your bow like he loves his sword, else you’ll end up with one ear like our yellow friend.”
The room that Tyler Colter was being held in was barred shut and being guarded by old Munder Colke and mute Vyncis Borne. They were put on alternating shifts with the Selwe brothers. Gerey told them of Rynn staying out and chose a vacant room near Colter’s so that he could be close in case of any stirring. Gerey had taken so much to sleeping in his armor that he forgot to take it off and nearly broke the bed when he sat on it. With the help of Brewis, who was to sleep on the bed next to him, he removed his armor and finally went to rest. Sleep found him easily.