A Falcon's Tale
A Falcon's Tale
A Fine Morning For A Rescue
Erik Greystone cantered along the forest path toward Rysland. The air was fresh and sweet, if a bit cool. It spoke of autumn and the coming harvest celebration. He pulled his cloak a bit tighter about him and noticed that most of the leaves on the trees had turned to yellow and red. It was a fine morning and his dapple-grey horse was feeling it as well – his ears were pricked forward and each time his hooves met the ground he accompanied the beat with a spirited snort.
"Steady there, Southwind. We still have a ways to go yet." Erik patted the horse's neck. The prince looked about as he rode – it was rumored that one of Blackpool's troopers had been seen in a clearing that was just ahead. He slowed Southwind to a steady trot, scanning the trees and path for telltale signs of men or horses passing through. How anyone had managed to slip beyond Caserne Pass was a mystery to him – Baaldorf's and Greystone's soldiers were constantly on the lookout for Dirk’s henchmen. He pulled the reins and stopped his mount, then listened intently, hearing faint sounds ahead. He pulled his sword from its sheath and slowly rode forward, peering through the branches. Once again he wished Marko was with him – he was always good to have around in a scrape.
In the clearing ahead, he could see a woman struggling with a death trooper who was attempting to pull her off her horse. Another had the horse's reins in his hands and was trying to keep the animal still. Two other horses, obviously the troopers' by their trappings, were moving out of sight into the underbrush of the forest to graze since their riders were occupied. The black gelding the woman was on was striking out with his forelegs at both soldiers, though they nimbly avoided the flailing hooves. A hooded hawk on the saddle perch was crying shrilly and flapping its wings. Finally, in spite of the chaos, the larger man got hold of the young woman and pulled her from the saddle. She fell to the ground, her cloak and the divided skirt of her lapis riding dress tangled around her. The trooper hauled her up roughly.
"That'll teach you to run from us, pretty one." The trooper smiled evilly at the girl as his companion let go of the horse's reins and pushed it away. "Prince Blackpool wants you alive, but he didn't say anything about what condition you had to be in when we brought you to him, eh, Noe?" The shorter trooper grunted in reply.
The young woman's eyes went wide and she tried to back away from the man, frantically looking in her skirts for a hidden weapon. Noe, however, moved directly behind her and pinned her arms to her sides. The taller man pushed closer to the girl, grasped her chin and tilted her head up towards him.
"Be a good girl now and don't panic. I wouldn't want to have to hurt you. Much." He grinned at her again and winked. He ran his other hand along her shoulder. The woman glared at him with a mixture of hate and fear.
"I'd personally advise against it. It would be bad for your own well being, soldier. And I hear Blackpool doesn't have a health plan for you boys." Both men turned to look at Erik Greystone who was entering the clearing on Southwind. "Let her go if you know what’s good for you." He stared at them with every ounce of princely bravado he could muster. And that was quite a lot.
"If it isn't the heir of all Camarand," snorted the shorter trooper derisively. "Out for a ride without your vassal? We'll make quick work of you, won't we, Bennet?"
"Yeah," muttered the taller soldier. "Then back to business." He let go of the woman and nodded to his companion, who then threw her down. She stumbled forward, struck her head on the ground and slumped on the forest floor.
"You'll regret that." Erik watched the soldiers warily. "Only cowards harm women. And you two look like you fit the description." He dismounted smoothly, removed his red cloak and stalked toward them.
"Shows what you know," Bennet replied, drawing his own sword. Noe drew a wicked dagger and smiled at the southern prince. Both moved away from the horse and the girl, drawing Erik further into the clearing. Erik pulled out the dagger from the hilt of his sword, holding both weapons at ready. The short trooper circled around Erik as Bennet moved in and connected with Erik’s sword. There was a shower of blue sparks.
"Magic!" spat Bennet. "That's an unfair advantage, prince."
"Look who's talking. You just threatened a helpless woman, you weasel," Erik retorted, blocking another of the trooper's wild swings. He spun around and rapped Noe, who had been sneaking up behind him, harshly on the knuckles with the flat of his blade. The trooper dropped his dagger with a howl. Before he could grab it, Erik kicked the knife out into the tangled brush at the edge of the clearing.
"Come on, Noe. Get him!" Bennet slashed at the prince again. Erik knocked the blow aside and the trooper lost his balance and staggered forward. "Noe!" The shorter trooper looked nervously at the sparring pair.
"Sorry, Bennet, I've got my family to think of. Besides, he who runs away lives to fight another day, that's what I say." Noe sprinted off into the woods and disappeared, leaving his angry companion.
"Nice guy." Erik smirked at the remaining trooper. "Friend of yours?" He quickly slid the dagger back into the hilt of his sword with a click.
"Not anymore," growled Bennet. He slowly circled Erik, then tried to land another slash. Erik blocked it and more blue sparks showered down upon the two men. The trooper frowned and pushed his blade towards the prince, shoving him backwards. Erik recovered and grasped his own sword hilt with both hands, delivering a heavy blow. The trooper recoiled from the shock of it on his blade. Erik landed another hit and the sword dropped from Bennet's numb hands. The trooper backed away carefully.
"You wouldn't kill an unarmed man, I know you wouldn't. You're too valiant for that, blondie," the trooper sneered.
"Oh yeah? Try me." Erik lunged forward, sword first, and watched as Bennet turned and ran out of the clearing. The prince sighed and shook his head, listening to the receding sounds of the trooper crashing through the underbrush. Satisfied that the soldier was gone, he turned toward the woman. He approached her still form and the black gelding moved threateningly towards him.
"It's OK, fella. Come on now. I'm just trying to help her. Settle down." He patted the horse’s shoulder, noting the large patches of sweat on the animal. They must have been trying to outrun the troopers for some distance. The hawk on the perch cried once and fretted against its jesses. Erik noted the worn but clean trappings on the horse. It was obvious that the owner took care of both the gelding and its equipment.
"Let's get you back on your feet, my lady." Erik bent and turned the woman over. She sighed in discomfort and he quickly brushed her hair away from her face. There was a bruise forming on her forehead. Erik frowned and peered at her. "Wake up now. That's it." He shook her shoulders lightly.
The young woman's eyes slowly fluttered open and she looked up at him, bewildered. "What? Who are you? Are they gone?" she questioned in a rush of breath.
Erik stared at her for a moment. She had long, dark auburn hair, fair skin and her eyes were a strange cinnamon color with a pronounced black rim. The bits of leaf that clung to her cheek didn't diminish the fact that she was quite pretty. He blinked.
"My lady? I'm Prince Erik Greystone of Camarand. The soldiers ran off – not surprising with Blackpool’s choice of recruits. Come on - let's get you out of here. It isn't safe, especially if they've gone for reinforcements." He looked encouragingly at the woman and helped her to a sitting position, then brushed her cheek clean.
"My thanks, my lord. I don't even want to think of what they had in mind for me..." She trailed off and shuddered. She accepted Erik's hand and stood with his help, swaying a bit unsteadily. Erik supported her as she got her bearings, noting that she was near as tall as he was.
"Easy there. You're going to have a nasty bruise for awhile, I'm afraid." The prince smiled warmly. "Why were they after you, anyway? Sounded like they were going to take you to Dirk."
The woman swallowed nervously before replying. "The prince is a madman – his troops are everywhere in the north. There was word that he was coming to Grogan. My family holds some of the lands near there for him and it seems the prince wanted me as pledge for the taxes and food tithes to be paid. I was sent off as soon as we heard the rumor. We rode south…"
"We?" Erik questioned.
"My companion…" the woman looked at him in horror. "No! They must have caught up with him by now!" She motioned to the imposing gelding. "He made me mount his horse and flee from the troopers. He said I had a better chance if we split up. He sent me on ahead." The woman was distraught, tears beginning in her eyes. "Please! My lord, we must find him."
Erik pursed his lips and concentrated. "How far back was that, lady?"
"I don't know… it seemed like we rode only a short time. But Aquilo runs quickly." At the mention of his name, the horse whickered and nuzzled the woman. "Please, m'lord." She looked at the prince with pleading eyes.
Erik thought for a moment. If the troopers had gone for help he didn't have much time to get her to the safety of the castle. They didn't have enough time to go look for her companion. And he certainly couldn't leave her alone in the forest until he finished his business with Marko at Caserne Pass. He made his decision. "Lady…"
"I'm sorry, my lord. I've forgotten my manners." She managed a slight bow to the prince. "How rude of me not to introduce myself - I'm Lady Perrin deHaukesworth. Most recently of Grogan near the Forest of Gloom. We were seeking a safe place to hide from the prince and had heard that King Baaldorf was a kind man who might offer us sanctuary." She looked down in an effort to hide her tears.
"He most likely will, Lady Perrin. But we should leave for the castle now. I'm afraid there's no time to go looking for your companion. I'm sorry. I'll take you to Castle Baaldorf myself – you can't ride there alone and unguarded, not with Dirk's men lurking around." Erik took her chin in his hand and made her look at him. "But you'll be OK now that I'm with you, right?" The prince wiped a stray tear on her cheek away with his gauntleted hand. "Right?" He smiled at her brightly.
Perrin nodded her head, sniffling. "Yes, my lord." She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders.
"There you go. It'll be OK, Lady Perrin. And call me Erik. None of that'my lord' stuff with me. Now, lets get you on Aquilo and be off, shall we?" Erik cupped his hands to form a stirrup for Perrin to step into. She obliged then vaulted lightly from them into the saddle, settling her skirts about her. She gathered up the double reins in a smooth movement, arranging them in her gloved fingers properly. Erik noted that she must be used to riding stride. Maybe that was the custom in Grogan. He hadn't been there enough to know.
"You certainly know your way around a horse, Lady Perrin." Erik thought that perhaps he could distract her with some conversation. He hoped it would keep her mind off the fact that they were leaving her companion to whatever fate had befallen him.
"I enjoy riding very much and I've ridden Aquilo before today." She ran her hand along the horse's mane.
"Obviously," Erik smiled. "And is that your hawk?"
Perrin looked at the prince, knowing he was trying to take her mind off her companion. She sighed lightly to herself. "Yes. This is Malin. She's my favorite hawk actually." Perrin brightened a bit. "She's a wonderful hunter."
"Is that right?" Erik fastened his cloak, mounted Southwind and turned the horse toward the path to Castle Baaldorf. "And what do you hunt, Lady Perrin?"
"Oh," Perrin smiled shyly, "All manner of things, my lor… Erik." She turned Aquilo and followed the prince. "Do you enjoy hunting and riding as well?"
"As a matter of fact, Lady Perrin, I do. I don't get much of a chance with Blackpool's men on the move so much, but perhaps we could enjoy them together some time."
Perrin flushed a bit and looked down with a slight smile. "That would be very nice… Erik."
"See – that wasn’t so hard to say, was it?" Erik grinned at her."We'd better be off to the castle, my lady. Ready to run for a bit?"
"Aquilo will beat your horse if we do, Erik. He's very quick."
"So is Southwind." Erik countered. "Come on, let's see who's faster." Erik clapped his heels to his mount's sides and surged away from Perrin. She leaned forward and whispered to Aquilo. The big gelding bolted away as well. They quickly galloped out of sight of the clearing.
Back in the undergrowth of trees, the two troopers watched the pair leave. The air shimmered around them and Dirk Blackpool and the Wizard Vector shook off their magical disguises in a manner much like two hounds shaking water from their hides. In the clearing, the sword and dagger that Erik had disarmed them of disappeared in twin puffs of purple-blue smoke.
"That was well done, don't you think, my lord?" questioned Vector. "I believe that Prince Greystone was quite taken in by Lady Perrin."
"It appears so, Vector. He has no idea he's welcomed a viper to his bosom." The prince smiled to himself. "She played her part well. And she's demonstrated that she's an accomplished liar – which I'll be sure to remember. Vector?"
"Yes, my lord?"
"Nice job on throwing the sound. Very convincing." Dirk nodded to the wizard.
"Thank you, m'lord. Your part of the performance with Lady Perrin was laudable as well. You appeared to be having a bit of 'fun' perhaps?" Vector glanced at the prince slyly.
Dirk looked sideways at his wizard and shrugged. "Perhaps." He looked towards the horses, which both stood near a large silverthorn tree. "Though I do wish I'd had the chance to take Greystone now." He frowned darkly.
"Patience, my lord. Once Lady Perrin's troops are inside the castle we strike. The harvest celebration will be held soon enough."
"Not soon enough to suit me," the scowling prince replied. He strode over to the horses and mounted the large bay. "Come on then, Vector. We've more work to do yet this morning." He turned the horse and began trotting away. The wizard quickly got astride the smaller grey horse and kicked it into a gallop to catch up with the prince. The forest soon enveloped them.
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