The Crying Blade
The Crying Blade
The bitter taste of his blood turned his stomach as he threw off the Greystone guard who had surprised him. His gloved hand dabbed at the split in his lip and the burning pain the lanced through him told him it was a bad split. His attention turned to the foolish guard who'd misjudged Prince Blackpool's abilities. The guard was still picking himself up off the stone-laden ground as Geoffrey closed the short distance. The long blade cut deeply into the guard's swordarm and blood spilled from the injury.
"I've bested your Generals, your best soldiers and you ... you think you can best me?" He hissed as the sword swung over his head and began it's downward arc. A second blade appeared from the moving mass of bodies around them and deflected Geoffrey's blow. Dirk stepped from the mass and looked at Geoffrey disapprovingly.
"Little brother, how many times do I have to tell you? Don't kill the messengers." Dirk tsked. "Capture them and then we question them. Guards!" Dirk stepped aside and let a few of the guards take the wounded Greystone messenger away before grabbing his brother's shoulder and dragging him from the front. Once they were safely tucked away in the command tent, Dirk gave his brother a strange look and sat with a goblet of wine waiting for Geoffrey to tell him what had him so distracted on the battlefield. In truth, Dirk had drug him from the field to protect him. Geoffrey's mind wasn't on the battle and it hadn't been for many weeks.
"I need to leave." Geoffrey finally said as he stood with his back to Dirk as faced the partially open tent flap. Dirk was more than a little taken aback as Geoffrey tended to prefer to lead the army, his desire to be elsewhere was troubling. Dirk noticed his brother's stiff body language. It is only his respect for ... or fear of me that is keeping him here at all. Dirk sipped the warm wine before he spoke, giving him time to think over how to approach this.
"May I know why?"
"No." Dirk was doubly taken aback by that answer. Secrets weren't something Geoffrey usually kept from him. Dirk thought and couldn't think of a single occasion in which Geoffrey kept a secret from him. Very unusual.
"I will offer Greystone a truce so we may leave."
"I don't want or need your company, brother." His tone wasn't rude. He seemed simply to be stating a fact. Dirk stiffened. He rose and walked across the tent to put a hand on Geoffrey's shoulder.
"You have my company in any case." Geoffrey shrugged.
"Whatever." He slipped out of the tent and left Dirk standing there wondering what was wrong with his brother.
The tavern owner wasn't a kind man and she was in no mood for his clumsy attempts to control her, to steal her coins or worse. She took her coins from the performance and gathered her belongings. She paid his wife the coins for her lodging and for Heather's and then left. He growled that she said she'd play for a week when he saw her leaving. She turned and shot him a look of pure contempt.
"And you said that you were a tavern owner, not bully and a thief. I'll not stay another night. I'll not play another song and if I come across any travelers, rest assured I'll steer them clear of your tavern. Good evening." With that said, she climbed into the saddle and rode off into the inky black night. The pace was set by Heather as was their pattern, but even she seemed in a hurry to be away from the tavern on this night. The forest outside of the small town was dangerous, she'd been told. Better than having to lock myself into my room and block the door to keep the fat tavern keeper off of me. She sighed and saw the mist of her breath float away in the chill air.
"It does get cold quickly in Blackpool's lands, eh? Sweet Heather, do you need another blanket?" Her hand rested on the old hare's side and she could feel the slight trembling of the animal. "Poor angel. Stop ... let me see to that blanket." After her brief stop to place another blanket on her old girl, she rode quietly into the dark forest. Heather and she settled down and Deirdre dozed in the saddle.
The campfire glowed between them. He still hadn't told Dirk why he wanted to leave so badly. The haunted dreams of battles he's never seen and people that he's never known plagued his dreams since he met the lovely bard. He'd seen the sorrow in her eyes, felt it in her music and tasted it in her brief kiss. The pain had clung to him when they parted. He wanted to know what had hurt her. He wasn't going to take no for an answer.
"What are you thinking about?" Dirk's irritated voice cut through his thoughts like a sword through fat. Geoffrey jumped a bit and steadied himself before looking up at his brother.
"Ariel?" Dirk sighed in exasperation.
"No. A bard I met."
"A bard? A prince daydreaming about a bard? Well, your silly games never end?"
"I'm not daydreaming about her. I'm plotting. I want to find out about her. She seems ... mysterious ... dangerous ... lonely."
"Bards are supposed to be that way or they are supposed to be happy gay sorts. She was playing the role she is best at. The melancholy waif alone in a strange land who needs protection. It's an old game."
"She isn't playing a role! You weren't there! You didn't speak to her! You don't know and I resent you acting like you do!" Geoffrey bellowed as he rose and stormed off into the trees to be away from his arrogant older brother who thought he knew everything. He slipped far enough away that he was certain Dirk wouldn't come after him before stopping to sat against a tree. You don't know everything. You don't know half of everything. Ever since we were children, I've played the fool for you. It was be a fool or risk being dead. I lead your army and you still think me a fool? How many lands have I won? How many Greystone soldiers lay dead from my sword and plans? Damn it, Dirk! If I could talk to you ... If you would listen, we could be closer. I don't want the throne. I never have. I want to fight. I want to be allowed to be happy. That's all I want. That's all I want.
Taverns high and low throughout Blackpool's kingdom were searched for Geoffrey's mysterious lady bard. A few tavern owners admitted to allowing her to perform in their tavern, but she hadn't been seen since the first snowfall. The last tavern she'd been in was the Skull and Dagger tavern, a Blackpool favorite. The fat owner reported that the girl had played only for a night and then left refusing to stay for the week she'd promised. If he was trying to garner sympathy from the younger of his Princes, he planned poorly. Geoffrey frequently came here and saw his "management" style firsthand on several occasions. His nodded at the fat man seeming to understand and he drew his crossbow and shot his dead. The tavern owner's wife rushed out and looked at Geoffrey silently.
"Bury him and then the tavern, sweet Krystal, is yours. Do be kinder to the serving wenches than he was. Okay?" He put the spent crossbow away. As he prepared to leave with his small number of guards, the new tavern owner stepped in front of him.
"A moment, my lord. Please?"
"The lady bard ... she was heading towards the Death Caverns trail. I sent my boy Raymond after he, but she'd left the path and he returned unable to find her. My lord may want to search there." Geoffrey beamed at the plump woman and tossed her a small bag of coins.
"These are for you. Thank you." He rode off and his guards raced after him. Krystal tossed the bag a few times appreciating the heft of it before tucking it into her well-padded bosom.
"Raymond! Wenches! Come out here!" Her son and the tavern's wenches poured out to find the former tavern owner very dead at his wife's feet. "Help me bury this fat fool. Prince Geoffrey has kindly removed this piece of filth from our tavern and given it to me. Once he's buried, it's official." The collected mass cheered and dragged the man off to be buried. As they rounded the corner, Krystal asked one of the wenches if she knew where her sister, Anna was. The woman nodded and Krystal told her to leave a fetch her. Tonight she'd dance in the tavern.
"We should celebrate!"
The trail was several times snowed over and still rested beneath a blanket of white. Still faint signs of her passage were visible, if you took a moment to search. Geoffrey knelt in the snow in his thick leather boots and pants and dug the snow away from an unusual mound in the road. His fingers, ungloved to be more sensitive during the digging, hit something unyielding beneath the snow. He brushed the snow aside and found one of the bard's canteens. It was empty and had been used to strike something. At least, he believed it had considering the large bent he found in it. He rose holding it in hands growing numb from the cold winter air and fought the urge to scream for her. The mountains above were laden heavily with snow and more fell onto them with each passing day. Such an action would beg to have them free their heavy loads upon his party's heads. Dying was not in Geoffrey's plans today, finding his lost bard was.
The canteen was tied to his horse's pack and he remounted and put his stiff fingers back into his gloves before he nudged his mount, Nemesis forward to search for more clues. Nemesis pawed the snow-covered ground for a second before stepping forward and back to the search. Several hours were spent in this area searching and as night approached Geoffrey finally conceded that today was not the day he'd find her and began searching for shelter for the night. They slept in a shallow cave that evening listening to the howling winter winds and set off early the next morning having rested little and slept not at all. The path grew steer and then leveled out into a small valley between the peaks nearby. The snow was twice as deep here as on the path and the horses could barely stomp their way through it. The trees cleared a bit near noon and a small cottage, half buried beneath snow, came into view. A thick trail of smoke crawled from the stone chimney marking the cottage as being inhabited. The cold of the snow-filled air urged them to stop and warm themselves at the tiny cottage. Geoffrey hopped down from Nemesis' back and waded to the front door. His knock went unanswered for several moments and then an old woman's voice called out a greeting.
"In the name of all of the Gods who were ever worshipped, who travels in weather like this?" The sounds of her thumping her way towards the door were heard over the wind.
"Prince Geoffrey Blackpool."
"A prince? And me too old to make use of it." She cackled as she opened the heavy door and let him in. She yelled at the guards to take the horses to the stable and then come in. Geoffrey nodded and they led Nemesis off to be brushed and fed. The old hag closed the door behind him and brushed the snow off of him with a straw broom. "So ... Prince. Why are you out in this weather? Surely, you knew the skies were preparing to cover this valley and the surrounding lands?"
Geoffrey shook off some of the snow and smiled at the old woman. "I'm searching for a friend. A woman? Very lovely."
"A woman? Lovely in a strange way? She is still here, my prince." The old woman chuckled as Geoffrey's face lit up with happiness. "But she sleeps. She was injured and..."
"Injured? Where is she?" He took a few hesitant steps away from her and deeper into the house.
"If you would listen ... Thank you. She was attacked in the woods by one of the bears. I guess it wasn't fat enough to sleep yet. Seems she bashed it good and slowed it down, but it still got her fairly badly before she killed it. She is fine and is healing. As for the bear ... Well, I have a new blanket for my bed and we have pot full of stew and more meat frozen outside." Her gapped smile was far from beautiful but Geoffrey still adored it. He hurried past the old woman and found his copper-maned muse sleeping beneath a pile of blankets. Her face was a bit pale but she was still lovely. He brushed a few loose strands of hair out of her face and gently bent to kiss her on her pale rosy cheek. Her cheek was soft beneath his kiss and the lavender scent she wore tickled his nose softly. The scent was nearly faded but traces of it clung to her passionately. Her eyes fluttered and opened partially. A faint smile graced her face.
"My hero come to rescue me?" She whispered weakly as her hand slipped from beneath the mountain of blankets to caress his cheek. He nodded and fought the urge to cry in joy.
"Yes, Deirdre. I'm here and when you are strong enough, we'll leave together. I promise."
"I'll bind you to that, my Prince." She sighed softly as sleep reclaimed its reluctant victim. He sat for a long time watching her sleep. His men entered the cottage and he heard them and the old woman talking over bowls of the stew. Finally his stomach won the war with his heart and he left to eat with a whispered promise to return. The sleeping woman smiled faintly as he left. She was safe. She was warm and he had come after her.
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