There are ants in my Lucky Green Boots Circulation: 99,729,623 Issue: 198 | 8th day of Swimming, Y7
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By My Honor: Part Two


by laurelinden

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Tory felt very much like the simple farmboy he was as he stood in a line with all of the other squire hopefuls. Only one of them would be chosen by each new knight to train with him, to do his bidding, and to be tested to see if he had the bravery and determination required to defend the realm someday. The Zafara knew he had the dedication to do anything asked of him – but he had to be selected first.

    He tried his best to look confident as the first knight approached. It was a muscular Moehog, a bulky giant of a creature, with a glint on his armor and in his eye. Scanning the rows of assembled townspeople, the Moehog paused before each one, considering. After most he shook his head – then he came to Tory.

    He stared at the Zafara with his cruel eyes, walking in a slow circle around him, and Tory felt himself shrinking from the beady gaze. The Moehog paused a moment before him, then lashed a pointed hoof at the farmboy, trying to jab him in the chest. Instinctively Tory leaped backward from the unexpected attack, out of the Moehog’s reach, and lost his balance, landing hard on the dirt ground. The Moehog leered down at him, smirking. “For all them muscles ye got, boy, ye ain’t the stoutest lad!”

    The line erupted with laughter. Tory turned scarlet as he got back to his feet, dusting himself off, and wished with all his might that an invisible paintbrush were within grasp. Why had the Moehog bullied him, of all the rest?

    After the Moehog made his choice – a thick-boned, tough-looking Scorchio – several more knights came and went, each choosing a squire to train and coach and who would, in turn, help them. Tory’s heart was sick; after his mother had let him have this single, glorious chance, he was failing. All his life he’d dreamed of being a knight, and now the hope was bitter in his mind. How could he ever have thought he’d have a chance – why would any of these fine knights choose him? He was just a foolish farmboy, and would remain one always. He didn’t even have the reaction to fight back, or take the pain – his instinct was to run.

    Some part of his mind heard the herald announce the last knight, but his greater consciousness was reaching toward home, wondering how he’d tell his mother and his friends on the farm that he hadn’t been chosen. Picturing the disappointment on his mother’s face brought almost a physical pain.

     “Boy?”

    Tory glanced up sharply – and met the eyes of the last knight. It was a tall Uni stallion of such noble bearing that the Zafara had to fight the inclination to fall to his knees in a bow. The Uni’s shining coat had a glistening silvery hue, and his body was draped with fine cloth of blue and red, the mark of the Royal knight. Beneath the fur he could see the rippling of corded muscles, and yet the Uni’s stance seemed fleet and light. “S-sir?” sputtered Tory, standing up straight.

    The Uni’s eyes were kind and wide, a sharp contrast from the Moehog’s slinted sneer. “Daydreaming?” he asked softly. “Most would be frightened at a time like this.”

     “I-I was thinking of home, sir,” replied the Zafara hastily.

    The knight regarded him for a silent moment, then spoke. “I hope becoming a squire wouldn’t make you too homesick?”

     “N-no, sir,” gushed Tory. “Not at all.”

    The Uni reared up suddenly, causing the entire line of townspeople to flinch. Tory jumped back before he could think – before he remembered the reaction of the last knight at his reluctance to face pain.

    The knight, however, only smiled as he came down. “Agile, I see. Good. You will find it’s more important to be quick and accurate than strong. Though most knights value tough numbness of mind and body, a few of us remember the old ways, when knights were creatures of soul and chivalry, not half-minded brute warriors.” He stepped toward Tory, speaking so that only the Zafara could hear him. “Tell me, boy; what is your name?”

     “T-tory, sir,” he replied, and his hopes soared wildly – did he dare guess why the knight had asked his name?

     “I am called Aiad,” returned the Uni, extending a polished hoof in greeting, “and I would be honored to accept you as my squire, should you be willing.”

    Tory struggled a moment against the rise of elation and surprise, forcing his mouth to speak. “I am most willing, sir! Thank you – thank you very much! But – me, of all of us? Are you sure?” He didn’t want to disappoint the knight – if he were unworthy, he would rather be sent back now.

    Aiad nodded his silvery head, gazing fixedly at the Zafara with solemn grey eyes. “I can see your potential, boy,” he said softly. “It is not something that comes from the muscle of your arm, no; but from the look in your eye.”

    * * * * *

    It had begun raining almost as soon as Princess Araril left, as if the sky itself mourned her sacrifice to the land before even her family realized what she’d done. The grey roiling masses of cloud hung low in the sky, weeping rain hard upon the land, drumming its anguish in the beating wet rhythm and in the despondent wail of the wind.

    Her clothes were soaked through; she’d brought nothing to change into, and her hair fell down her face in matted clumps. The bread in her pack absorbed the water, swelling into ruin, and the cheese dripped orange with moisture. Hungry and cold, she plodded through the wet, clinging branches, thinking of only her brother.

    Despair pierced her heart. I don’t even know where to go, she realized as she wandered. He could be anywhere. My brother… Hot tears pressed behind her eyes and leaked out, joining the icy raindrops in trails down her cheek. My brother… Lost… I must find him… There is no one else…

    The energy ebbed from her legs, stolen by the driving, heartless rain and the shadowed night. They trembled beneath her as she forced them to keep walking, on and on. One more step, she promised herself. One more, and another…

    But her mind soon clouded with exhaustion and hunger, and she could no longer control her body. She fell, motionless, into a side pit, oblivious to the chill pricking of millions of needlelike raindrops, numb to sorrow, blank to defeat. In a hazy, half-minded state she lay helpless beneath the swirling elements, only faintly aware that she was no longer walking.

    Araril.

    Her heart froze for an instant in her chest, and her eyes opened wildly, flicking through the tangle of shadows for a sign of who had said her name. Her mouth whispered a reply of its own accord. “Aratisil, is that you?”

    Araril, you will not survive alone in the rain. I need you to get up.

    The words shone through the haze of her mind, cutting through the fog like sunlight. She struggled to her feet, lifting the pack again. Where are you? Are you close?

    Araril, go home. There is nothing you can do for me now. Go tell Father…

    No! Araril’s unspoken thought echoed in her mind with its force. I have come this far, my brother, and I will not go back now. I would sooner lay down in this ditch and die.

    She could sense her brother’s reluctance. They are not honest people, Araril. They might not keep their word.

    But they may yet. It is a chance I will take. We need you, Aratisil, and you know it well.

    She heard her brother sigh. I know I cannot change your mind when you have made it, sister, but they are treacherous. Do not risk yourself for me.

    Araril’s eyes blazed to life, and she felt the earlier exhaustion turn to determination. The greater the risk, Aratisil, the more you need me with you. I will not turn back – not now, not when I am so close. Don’t you understand? I would rather be with you, and help you come back to us, than live alone without having tried my best to free you.

    Her brother was silent for a long time before he finally spoke in her mind. I will tell you, Araril, where I am, but only because I do not believe you will live if you turn back now – the rain has weakened you dangerously. You are now at the edge of a wood. Enter it, and I will lead you to me, where at the very least you will be dry.

    Energy and hope flowed back into Araril’s body at the prospect of seeing her brother again, and she obeyed the directions, edging her way into the thick underbrush of the forest. The pounding of the rain was lessened by the trees, but each gust of wind loosened splashes of water down upon her. She did not take notice, but half-jogged down the thin, winding trails, following the sense of her brother’s presence.

    You are near now, Araril. Just turn the corner—

    Araril screamed as dark figures emerged from either side of her, grabbing her arms with grips of iron. They lifted her from her feet, and carried her wildly struggling form to a fold of trees, where they shoved her down roughly.

    Araril! came her brother’s anguished thought. He had sensed her fear.

    The princess stood, her face a mask of apathy. With her chin held high, she brushed mud and dirt-clumps from her traveling garb, and faced the towering ransomers. “I have come, as you asked,” she told them in a firm voice. “You demanded one representative from the Royal Court, a member of the Royal family, and I am here. How much for the release of my brother?”

    Although their faces were hidden by the night’s shadows, Araril could see the glint of teeth as one of them smiled. “So you are the sister, then?”

    Uneasy, she nodded. “I am. And I will return to my father to collect the demanded sum.”

    Another one chuckled; a deep, rumbling sound. “Will you, now?”

     “I think the Princess is mistaken,” replied the first, cruelly amused.

     “No!” she screamed as they stepped forward, clamping their claws down upon her arms and legs. For the second time they lifted her into the air, and threw her down again a few feet away. Strong cords wrapped around her ankles and feet, and her eyes stared blankly ahead into the twist of forest trees. “No…”

To be continued...

 
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» By My Honor: Part One
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