By My Honor: Part Two
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
“I think the Princess is mistaken,” replied the first,
“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...