Come dance with the Wanderers... Circulation: 142,874,434 Issue: 200 | 22nd day of Swimming, Y7
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By My Honor: Part Four

by laurelinden


"Wake up, you!"

    A painful kick bruised Araril's side, jarring her into wakefulness. Once her eyes were opened, she wished only that she could close them again and return into the fitful sleep. Every muscle in her body felt cramped from sleeping on the hard, uneven ground, and her once-shiny scales were dulled by layers of dirt. She glanced blearily to Aratisil, pale in the weak morning light, and saw that he was even filthier.

    Then she looked to her captors, seeing them for the first time. There were four of them, now; it seemed two new ones had come. All of them wore masks, but she could tell that one was a sturdy Moehog, one a heavy limbed Scorchio, and the other two were bulky Skeiths, one of which had given her the wake-up kick.

     "I will tell my father of you all," she hissed, summoning up her Royal pride. "When I return to my land, you will wish you had never committed this act."

    All four hooted with laughter, and one of the Skeiths stepped forward. "That would require you to return home, first, princess," he reminded her.

     "What do you want of us?" she sobbed. "You had the offer of your money; do you think that having two of us will raise your price? My father will never accept your offer now."

    The Moehog grinned crookedly. His beady, slanted eyes shone with cruelty even through the tiny slits of the mask. "It's not yer price we want," he said. "It's ye."

    Beside her, Aratisil struggled to a sitting position. His eyes blazed with a terrible rage. "I know your voice!" he screamed hoarsely. "You lying, thieving coward!" He twisted mightily in his bonds, trying to tear his hands free and wring them about the Moehog's neck, but they were well tied.

     "Temper, temper," cooed the Moehog, smirking. "It always was a fault with yer house, Draikling."

    Aratisil, who is he? asked Araril, afraid to speak the question.

    Through the red haze of his anger, Aratisil sent her his answer. That is Morgon.

    The princess gasped in shock. Morgon was one of his father's best knights, and had trained her brother in the art of swordplay before he could even read or write. Araril herself had been more interested in archery than fencing, but she had seen the Moehog knight at the royal banquets and events for as long as she could remember.

     "But why?" she whispered.

    The Moehog heard her. "Ye two are almost ripe fer the throne," he spat, grinning maliciously. "The King is old, now, but should somethin' 'accidentally' happen to him, the throne would pass to ye. I have no intention of that, ye see.

     "The Draik family's been rulin' these lands far too long. 'Tis high time fer the Moehog line to come to the crown. If the king's heirs disappear now, he'll have to appoint someone to take the throne when he dies, won't he? Who better to appoint than one o' his loyal knights?"

     "He would never appoint you," cried Aratisil. "You know as well as I that Sir Aiad is the head knight."

    The Moehog's lip curled in a sneer. "He'd be a fool to choose that slave of the Old Ways, caught in his chivalry and his self-righteousness. Besides, somethin' would just have to 'happen' to the king before he made the announcement public, see? A strange accident - and I would be the only one to a' heard his final decision."

     Aratisil's claws balled into fists. "What are you going to do to us?"

    Their captors exchanged knowing looks. "We will not have to dispose of you permanently, if that's what you're wondering," said one of the Skeiths.

     "What will you do, then?" demanded Araril.

     "Ye will be sold to a land far away, at a high price, and there'll be no chance o' escape," the Moehog told them. "Ye'll be well-guarded, trust me. It is not a risk I would most likely take, but killin' ye would bring no monetary profit to me."

    Fighting to control his anger, Aratisil growled, "Who's the buyer?"

     "Some would pay a high price to see Royal blood workin' fer 'em," the Moehog said. "She is a powerful Dark faerie who's resented yer land e'er since yer father forced her domain from it. I have heard her to be - well, unkind to those she doesn't much like."

    We are being sold to an enemy? asked Araril in fear.

    It could be worse, her brother assured her. At least we will be together - nothing can come between us now.

     * * * * *

     "You will have to get on my back," said Aiad as Tory finished gathering together their supplies. "We will travel faster that way than at a walk."

    A bright new sword swung at the squire's hip, and he wore an outfit of a plain but well-made cloth more suited to travel than his ragged farmboy's garb. Though he was nervous for the promise of adventure before them, Tory was excited as well - he'd only been in the service of his knight for a day, and already he was to embark on his first quest.

    The Uni bent down slightly, allowing the Zafara to swing up with ease onto his back. Tory placed his feet snugly before the Uni's great wings, and grabbed hold of the silvery mane with his front paws - the knight wore, of course, neither bridle nor saddle. "Are you on?" asked Aiad.

     "Yes," answered Tory, slightly breathless. Though he'd ridden the old plow-Uni back on the farm, this was entirely different.

     "Hold tightly," the Uni warned, then tossed his head, rearing slightly, and launched into a gallop.

    The first thought that raced through Tory's mind was that the old plow-Uni back at the farm had never done more than a walk. Gripping the rhythmically moving body of the Uni hard between his knees, he leaned forward, holding the silken waves of mane in clenched paws. After a moment he realized that he wasn't going to fall, and relaxed slightly, marveling at the speed of the ground as it rushed below him. The gait of the Uni was smooth; his steps did not shake or jar the riding Zafara at all, but his legs moved at a dizzying speed beneath steady, even shoulders.

    As soon as Tory began to grow accustomed to this new pace, though, the Uni quickened it. His legs moved at an impossible speed beneath him, and the air billowing into the Zafara's face brought tears to his eyes. He blinked the moisture away in time to see the knight's wings unfurl.

    Tory realized that Aiad was about to fly.

    A wave of panicked fear rose within him as he stared at the wings, wide-eyed. The reach of white feathers on either side lifted out in a magnificent display and pumped powerfully down once, twice, three times, beating the air beneath them into a cloud of tiny eddies. Tory's stomach lurched as he felt the ground fall away beneath him, and he peered in amazement over the Uni's shoulder at the shrinking earth, forgetting to be afraid.

    He felt the wind tearing past his face and watched the rushing tiny homes and trees beneath them, staring and staring as if he could never see enough. A Pteri twittered past, riding the same current of air, and the sun and clouds were nearer than he'd ever seen them before - the golden warmth of the mid-morning reached down upon him in almost a physical touch. It seemed as if only he and the knight existed in the world; they were the only life, and all of what lay beneath them was no more than a collection of distant toys.

     "Doing well, Tory?" asked Aiad's voice from in front of him.

     "Yes, Sir," Tory called back, grinning. "I'm doing fine."

     "Good. Keep a sharp eye - look for signs of habitation in the wood. We will see more from this aerial view than we would searching aimlessly through the forest." The Uni swooped lower, so that they skimmed the forest's top.

     "Yes, Sir," replied the squire, and leaned forward to get a better view. The maze of trees beneath them opened in tiny gaps and clusters - they had only to find a sign of habitation: a fire pit, a blanket, a pack - and it might be a valuable clue.

     "We'll only need search the distance one Draikling can travel within a night and morning," said Aiad, after they'd scanned the woods for miles. "And the rain last night will have hindered her. I have a feeling the ransomers would have wanted to meet in the forest - whoa! What's that?"

    Tory peered down, and saw a bit of rope coiled in a thicket. Aiad wove through the tangle of trees in his descent, and landed lightly upon the muddied earth. The Zafara slid from his back and ran to where the rope lay. "It's not old," he said, picking it up in his paws, "it would be rotted through."

    The Uni, though, was looking at the ground. "There was a struggle," he said. "See how the earth is kicked up? And the brush is bent and battered." His eyes shifted to where the rope had been. "Two indentations from bodies," he noticed. "Two creatures slept there last night, bound."

     "And Sir, look at this," said Tory, pointing. Spread out in a winding trail away from the thicket, imprinted neatly in the mud, were the footsteps of at least six.

    Peering up, Aiad met Tory's gaze. "I think we may be on their trail at last, my squire."

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» By My Honor: Part One
» By My Honor: Part Two
» By My Honor: Part Three
» By My Honor: Part Five
» By My Honor: Part Six

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