The Squire and the Scholar: Part One
Lisha leaned over her book and covered her long ears as Ezekiel tried to play a tune on the old spinet in the back corner of the library. “Sir, I thought you told me that you wanted me to study!”
She looked up to see the old spotted Gelert smile and stroke his beard. “Dear little Lisha, part of being a scholar is learning to think through even the most intense of distractions. Someday your brother will ask you to create a strategy for him amidst the tumult of battle, and you won’t be able to ask everyone to stop fighting while you concentrate, will you?”
Lisha tried to suppress a snort. “It’d be nicer if your example was realistic, sir. Jeran won’t let me any closer to a battle than he can help.”
He got up and set a hand on her head. “You won’t be little Lisha forever, my student. Well, you will never be a giant among men, but you will grow, and your brother will rely on you as an asset. Your mind is so strong and fast that it forgets the rest of your body is still very young in comparison.”
She shook her head and sighed, looking around at the library walls. “Jeran forgets that I’m smart, though. I don’t even think he remembers it all of the time when we’re in here together. He just treats me like all of the other knights treat their sisters and daughters – like we’re maybe a little capable, but not as capable as they are.”
Ezekiel sat down next to her and put his hands on her shoulders – an unusually stern gesture for him. She looked up at him in surprise as he said, “Lisha, I know you. You’re worried about Jeran, escorting the two princesses back from the diplomatic visit to the Darigan Citadel. You miss him because he’s been gone for almost a month. And you’re convincing yourself that he annoys you – which isn’t true in the slightest – in order to stop missing him. The scouts say that he’ll be back by tonight. I don’t want you to have worked yourself into a bad mood for him.”
Lisha sighed – the back of her head knew that Ezekiel had read her like a book. That was when a red Kougra looked in the door. “Lisha – Lisha, come quickly!”
Her heart rose, and then sank. If Roja of Mistborne, her brother’s squire, was here, then Jeran was here – unless the worry on Ro’s face meant that something was wrong. Very wrong. “Ro, what is it? Is Jeran okay?”
He nodded. “Sir Jeran’s fine. But not everyone is.”
Lisha asked, “What’s happened? Stop the dramatics, Ro, and just tell me!”
His face paled as he said, “Princess Halli and Princess Esbel have been kidnapped.”
Lisha looked at him in shock as Ezekiel breathed, “Queen Fyora protect us all.”
Lisha used her wand to help push her way through the crowds of people trying to make their way to the castle gate. “Coming through – Lisha, coming through – Sir Jeran asked for me, let me through!” Well, the last one wasn’t specifically true, but it also worked the best, so she wasn’t too worried about the strict truth. The old Gelert held onto her shoulder as Ro batted people aside with his staff. “Coming through! Out of the way!”
Jeran was standing in front of a battered carriage that was surrounded by other injured and weary knights, with the split remains of his shield at his feet and a few new dents in his armor. She didn’t care that King Skarl and several of his ministers were right there – she ran to him. “Jeran! Are you all right? Ro said you were, but your shield...”
He patted her head. “It’s okay, Lish. My shield looks like that because I currently don’t. You’ll just have to put a protective spell on the next one – I think they work better when you do them.”
King Skarl coughed. “Sir Jeran, will you please talk with your sister after you give your report on what happened to my nieces!”
That was right – King Skarl and King Hagan were the middle children of the family, and Halli and Esbel were the daughters of their younger sister, just as that rather snooty Roberta was the daughter of their eldest sister. I never did like her – she thinks that just because I’m the size of an eight-year-old I have the brains of one...
But Jeran was already talking. She had to pay attention. “Sir, we were set upon north of Meri Acres, at the ford over the river between Fief Kerredon and Fief Stermill. One of the Unis who was in charge of pulling the carriage tripped over a loose stone in the ford, and we had to stop for him. When we did, bandits attacked us – the sort of raiders that normally live closer to the north mountains, your majesty. I don’t know what they were doing there.
“But they went straight for the carriage – they knew who we were. We all tried to fight them off. Several people were wounded – they are recuperating in Lord Stermill’s care. I will personally attest, your majesty, that not a man under my command could have fought harder in defense of the princesses, but... there were too many of the bandits. There were Werelupes, too – twice the size of even the biggest of us. The princesses... they were taken. The whole party headed back north. I am sorry, your majesty. Deeply sorry.” Lisha’s heart hurt for her brother – she didn’t like seeing his normally proud form slumped and utterly defeated. She took his hand, pressing it between both of her own.
Skarl said coldly, “You are dismissed, Sir Jeran. I will call for you when I have a plan to correct your grievous mistake.”
Lisha had never wanted to talk back to her king as badly as she did at that moment. He didn’t do anything wrong! Look at his armor – look at his shield – can’t you see that he fought like anything to try and protect the princesses? She pulled him away. “Come on, Jeran. Get Ro to get your pack and your other weapons – that’s what squires are for.” She heard the Kougra mutter something, but she didn’t really care. “You’re exhausted – come up to our rooms and I’ll make you some tea.”
She half-led her brother through the crowd, hoping that Skarl and his other ministers had heard her emphasis on exhausted.
As he slumped in his chair at their little table, only half freed from his armor, Jeran mumbled to himself, “It was so fast... it was all so fast...”
Lisha set a cup of tea in front of him. “Jeran, I know that you did the best you could. You always do.”
Ro nodded. “Lisha, myself and Sir Gawain had to hold him back to keep him from hunting them single-handed. Sir, you fought like ten – it was base ingratitude for the king to suggest that you should have fought like fifteen instead.”
Jeran looked up sharply. “Mind your tongue, Roja! The king deserves a little more respect than that.”
Ro shrugged. “I’m a Mistborne, sir. If we’re ever more than a hand’s width shy of insubordination, it’s because we want something from you.” Ezekiel chuckled.
Lisha sat down. “Jeran, do you want to hear about what Ezekiel and I are working on, or is this one of those days that you really don’t care?”
Jeran said, closing his eyes, “Please, anything that’s not about Darigani politics, northern Meridell, fords, bandits, or princesses... Ro, what do I have a squire for if you’re not helping me out of this armor?”
Ro commented, “You know, all of those people who gush over you as the hero of Meridell don’t know that you’re really bossy.”
Lisha knew that what her brother needed was a distraction – and as she looked at the weariness in his eyes and limbs, she knew that if it sent him to sleep, so much the better. She started talking about their study into the history of the Meridell armory, and how they had found a record that compared it and its innovations to ones in Maraqua, Brightvale, the desert city-states, Altador, and elsewhere – she left out the bits about the Citadel, as interesting as they were.
Finally, as she was talking about the uses of Maractite as opposed to steel, she realized that Jeran was sleeping. Ezekiel smiled at her. “See, Lisha? All of your angry words earlier – they were merely you giving voice to your own worries. Look at what you did for him – gave him some release from his own guilt.”
Ro shook his head and hit his fist against the table. Lisha scolded, “Quiet, you’ll wake him up!”
The red Kougra hissed, “That... that imbecile Skarl! Acting as if it was Sir Jeran’s fault, when he wasn’t even there! Jeran faced two Werelupes! Two at once! With him being a Lupe too, if they’d bit him it would have been all over! No one would have blamed him for leaving them to the others – but he fought two Werelupes all himself! And the king referred to the whole mess as Sir Jeran’s mistake!”
The old Gelert set a hand on his shoulder. “Peace, Roja. Your devotion to your knight is touching, but this won’t help him.”
Lisha was suddenly struck by a horrible thought as she remembered exactly what Skarl had said. I will call for you when I have a plan to correct your grievous mistake.
She said, “You don’t think he’ll get sent out again, will you? It’ll be so dangerous...”
Ro’s face paled. “He’s Sir Jeran. He’s Meridell’s most famous knight – if anyone gets sent to rescue the princesses, it’ll be him – and, sweet Fyora, I’ll have to go with him!” Lisha was nearly as scared as he was, even though she wasn’t facing danger. Jeran will act all heroic and try to rescue the princesses or die trying... and I’m worried about the die part!
Oh, can’t they send someone who’s a little less heroic and more likely to return home alive?
But in the pit of Lisha’s stomach, she knew that there was no way Jeran could avoid this mission. Skarl would command him to go – and even if it was a united effort between Meridell and Brightvale, it was still likely that he’d be put in charge.
Then there was a knock on the door. “Sir Jeran!”
Jeran awoke, looking up in confusion as he blinked the sleep out of his eyes. “Ah... yes?”
“Milord Skarl wishes to see you in the throne room at once!”
This soon? He’s hardly even out of his armor!
Oh, no, oh, no...
To be continued...
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