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he moon lit the road, its light carving a path for the two figures hobbling along. The duo stumbled along, tripping on potholes, slipping in mud, and nursing injuries. As they stumbled across a stray patch of moonlight, the knight’s armour flashed like lightning, the reflected beams pushing back the encroaching darkness. In the reflection of his breastplate, Gaerielle’s thin elven face was exposed; her beautiful features spoiled by a glistening layer of mud and sweat. The tavern brawl had taken its toll, and she stumbled along in a daze, relying on a somewhat sturdy arm lent by Corrin. More than once she slipped, the only thing keeping her face from an intimate relationship with the churned up mud at her feet being the knight’s strength. How can he keep going? Thoughts raced through her head. Who is he…why did he help me? Where are we going? The sheer volume of queries choked her, and she limped along in silence. In her distraction, her foot caught an exposed root, tripping her up and bringing both to their knees. Corrin’s unwavering endurance failed him, and he slumped down, lying back in the dirt. Gaerielle collapsed unceremoniously beside him.

“What…who are you?” finally, her question came out, and Corrin chuckled.

“I would be me?”

Uanui, iaew urug hen! ” The expletives rolled off the elf’s tongue. “I am very serious; are you friend or foe? Animal, vegetable, mineral, or- as you are leading me to believe- dung?”

“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Corrin, third son of the baron of gunnar, lord of the southwestern forest.” he sat up and gave a mocking half-bow, a sarcastic smile teasing his lips. “Technically speaking,” he continued, “By process of elimination, I would be animal, seeing as I am not a vegetable, mineral, and last I checked, I was not dung. Now, in answering your question, it becomes my turn. To quote a ravishingly beautiful elven maid, ‘what, who are you, be you animal, vegetable, mineral, or large heap of dung?’” His pompous expression and know it all mode of speech struck a chord in Gaerielle’s heart. She rolled over, clutching her sides as she burst forth in peals of silvery laughter. Corrin began to chuckle, then he threw back his head and let his deep bass laugh break forth, providing a steady counterpoint to her melody. Their chuckling slowly died away, replaced by the mysterious sounds of the deep woods. Almost instinctively, the pair moved closer together.

“My camp is near here. Why don’t we traverse the far-reaching miles to visit its gay green walls, its spotted black roof and its enormous floor? It even has its own fire pit.” He looked so eager, and so sarcastic; she could tell he wasn’t at all serious. After the brief rest, she felt her strength returning, and she hopped lightly to her feet, Corrin taking a bit more time. “You know miss, you really didn’t answer my question. Who are you?”

“Gaerielle…Gaerielle Malthendol. Pleased to meet you.” The two warriors walked into the brush with Corrin leading, to find the knight’s encampment. After and interminable period, they found the small clearing housing a fire pit, his pack, and a bed of cedar boughs. Corrin stepped out into the middle, spreading his arms to enclose the entire camp.

“Welcome to my pavilion, all this knight can afford to house such a noble lady.” He crouched by the fire, digging around in the ashes until a splash of red appeared. He smiled at the sight of the coal, grabbing the necessary grasses and twigs to form a proper fire.

he glanced about the clearing, somewhat relieved by the natural beauty and simplicity of it all. Her gaze was drawn back to the metallic figure hunched over the fire pit, still attempting to start a fire. Why is he so helpful? What does he really want? After all, he wouldn’t help me for nothing…

“What do you want with me?” She blurted out, her own thoughts bringing about her panic more than anything he did.

“I am merely trying to help a fellow spirit.”

“And you assume I am a ‘fellow spirit’ because?” she asked.

“Why are you here?” he bluntly returned.

“Let’s say I was having problems at home, with overprotection…isolation. I needed to get out.”

“There you are then, I was the same way- though I didn’t have as much choice as you.”

“I don’t quite understand where you are coming from,” she looked at him. “Why don’t you tell me the whole story?” he smiled, giving the fire a few pokes to liven up the flames before beginning. He leaned back, reclining against a log and gazing up at the endless expanse of stars.

“I was born on a rather cold, bleak and thoroughly despicable winter’s morning. I’ve been told that it was slightly past midnight when I finally emerged, kicking and screaming. My mother wasn’t so lucky. She had suffered a severe cold all winter, and giving birth was too much for her frail body. Of course, at the time I didn’t know she was dead, so I just kept struggling and crying. I was put into the care of a middle-aged peasant woman, who was told to raise me. My room was a stone cubicle with only a narrow window for light” Gaerielle looked positively aghast at the notion.

“I could tell you all about how I had to polish armour and sharpen weapons, but that really isn’t an integral part of my story. At the age of eight, as is the custom, I was fostered off. My new father did not live in Krane, but in eastern Chaldea. He was a count on the border of the orc kingdom of Gal’tjeck. I was to serve as his page, then later as a squire to one of his knights.” Corrin reached over, picked up a water skin, and took a long drought.

“where was I? Ah yes, I was to go live with a border count, so on the day after my eighth birthday, I was given a horse, food, and other supplies necessary for my journey. My father actually came to say goodbye, but his sadness was forced; he was glad to see me go. I told him I would return to visit after my fostering was over. He gave a fake smile at this, turned and walked away. I rounded my horse and galloped off, towards the horizon. I was given no escort, of course- that would be a waste of a knight’s time- and my father didn’t care if I was waylaid and murdered. So I went by myself, on a month long journey, across plain and forest. The trip was rather boring; I slept beside the road and ate at inns. I never stole, however, no matter how hungry I was. Even at my young age I still adhered to my principles. My truly exciting life began when a few months after I arrived at the counts residence. Even though I was only a page, the count seemed to take a liking to me. This was an unusual experience for me, seeing as my real father hated me. I was raised to a squire very quickly, probably due to my extraordinary memory and enlightened learning. I practiced my fencing, archery, jousting, and other such knightly pursuits. I also studied languages, history, arithmetic and tactics. I was a fair student- quite gifted- except for languages, which I did and do despise. It was in my twelfth year that the turning point of my life was reached. We had received news at the castle that the orcs were making a raid across the border. Naturally, we mounted up and went hunting. I was to be the squire to the count’s eldest son, a great honour. The count ordered weapons is brought out to arm the host. All manners of weaponry were pulled from the armoury, and my lord and most of his retinue chose long bladed broadswords. The count allowed me to take a weapon, ad every fighting man would be needed when we engaged the orcs. I spread my gaze over the whole range of arms, from swords to maces, halberds to pikes. I saw a glint of silver among them, and removed two swords to find the five-foot battle-axe you see over there.” he pointed to where his gleaming axe rested against a birch.

“I hefted it; the weight was perfect, a little heavy…but I was used to swinging heavy weapons. It wasn’t as heavy as it looked to be or should have been though; it is of dwarven steel, forged in the bowels of the mountains. I hesitantly asked the count if I could use it for the campaign. He gave his approval, and I bowed and thanked him profusely. We all gathered in the courtyard, and horses were brought to us. I was given a fine brown gelding, almost too tall for me to have mounted. When we rode out of the courtyard, the infantry on the walls cheered us and all the women waved their shawls. We waved back, and I was looking at one kitchen maid in particular as we kicked our horses into a trot. Within moments, we had disappeared behind a hill. Our whole party consisted of knights, light cavalry and a few mounted archers. We were not an army, but our armament was formidable. Being a squire, I was armoured as infantry: in a long hauberk of chain mail. My helm was a simple affair, consisting of a conical cap, a heavy nose guard and cheek pieces. It was very ugly, but it would protect my brains. We traveled for days, camping in clearings and eating wild game. Due to the fact that I was the low man on the totem pole, I had to eat squirrel where the other knights and cavalry had venison. It was rather bland, but it could have been worse; I could have had no meat at all. I was amazed by the variety of plant life we found as we approached the border, and it became increasingly darker in colour. Instead of the brilliant green forests of Krane, dark copses rose out of plains, their boughs shadowed. The very air was depressing, and even the brilliance of our armour couldn’t dispel the darkness. I, being used to a lively forest, became more gloomy and sullen as the trees started to die and deform. Though it seemed like an eternity, the trip to the border mountains took only two weeks. We began to see fleeing villagers, deserters and ragged trains of wounded soldiers. The deserters were killed, but the wounded were questioned by several of our senior knights. The orcs seemed to be advancing on a broad front. Several attempts had been made to punch a hole in their ranks, but all had failed. A couple of the soldiers gave conservative estimates of the orcs numbers, the lowest being three thousand. Perhaps the most disturbing was the fact that the front-runners of the host were right behind the refugees. This was a major surprise to the count; he had only thought that there would be a thousand, at most, and coming a lot slower. He called an immediate halt, and set everyone to building fortifications. He was even able to commandeer a large part of the retreating peasants in return for protecting them. We worked feverishly through the night, and by morning had a six-foot tall raised wall and an encircling ditch. Our number had been bolstered by fifty peasant archers, bringing our total to one hundred twenty five. Considering that we were to face almost five hundred orcs, our numbers were minuscule. Luckily, our fort was on top of a hill, so a charge by the knights would be devastating to the enemy. When the first rays of light broke over the horizon, we looked out to see the surrounding plains covered with orcs. Everyone was woken quickly and armed. The infantry took their place on the walls, the cavalry mounted. I was among the defenders of our ‘gate’, which was merely an opening to allow the cavalry to charge out. I was under the charge of an experienced infantryman, who was the captain of the guard for the count. I had my axe clutched in my right hand, and was continually checking the straps of my armour with my left. We had a few peasants armed with scythes and bows, but these only brought our number to twenty-five. Twenty-five men to guard a gate against hundreds of orcs; I had my doubts we would succeed. I remember constantly looking at the sun, hoping to find some reassurance in its glowing mass. It was at about ten of the clock when the orcs made their first attack. We beat them off, grievously injuring a couple dozen of their creatures. Cost to our side was several dead. The orcs began to continually probe our defences. Wave after wave was beaten off with great cost. Most of the infantry were down, as well as the peasants. The count decided that if we were to die, we should at least charge as knights and go out fighting. All remaining men were mounted, regardless of the fact that some were infantry. We lined up in a double column at the gate, ready to charge forth and trample our attackers. The count raised his horn to his lips and blew a clear and sharp note that echoed throughout the hills. The knights raised their lances to the sky, and shouting war cries galloped forth in a monstrous wave. They crashed into the front ranks of orcs with a resounding crash. Our assailants were crushed beneath the steel shod hooves of our mounts; maces and axes were swung into enemy bodies. I was in the last rank, and arrived in the fray just in time to see the counts horse ripped open by an orken sword. I therefore did something typically knightish. Without regard or thought of the consequences, I plunged into battle, my axe whirling, its high-pitched keen pausing only as it passed through the enemy soldiers. My horse was cut down, but I stood my ground, straddling the fallen count as I tried in vain to hold off the enemy.” he paused.

“Am I boring you? I can stop if you like.” Gaerielle was hooked, however.

Awartha! you must tell me what happened to the count!”

“He was lucky, and after a couple of minutes, he was able to regain consciousness and we stood back to back, fending off attackers. Windrows of dead heaped themselves around us, the smell of their blood clogging my nose. My arms were heavy, swinging my axe became an effort; the monotonous chopping taxing away my strength. The knights had clustered into a formation called a last stand, mostly because knights are always killed. Many were on foot, their chargers slain, fending off death as best they could. Salvation came in the form of a horn call, then another, the sound echoing through the hills. Sparing a glance out over the plains, I was overwhelmed. Miles of steel surrounded us, fields of lances and swords. Help had arrived. The king’s army charged, war cries shattering the air, their weapons gleaming as they rode to our assistance. In minutes the romping cavalry had crushed the opposition, destroying every last remnant of the enemy. It was there, on that bloody field, amidst the corpses of orcs, that I was made a knight. The ring of steel upon steel still hung in the air as the count spoke the words, ‘I dub thee knight, sir Corrin.’ We took a trip to the royal court in Sraces, where I was commended for bravery by the king himself. I attracted a lot of attention: there were few knights of my age in the court at that time; most were dead in the battle against the orcs. As a result, I was the focus of a very determined group of young ladies. It was just my luck that the leader of the predatory band was the king’s eldest daughter. I tried my best to keep away from them, but one rainy day when I was wandering the halls of the castle, the princess caught me.” A tear escaped the corner of his eye, but he made no move to brush it away.

“Yy knightly honour deserted me as she stepped close; her smell infused my brain, and before I knew what I was doing, I was kissing her. She kissed me back, which didn’t help matters. I won’t give you the kinky details, but let’s just say we were in a rather awkward position when the king’s second son found us. He called me a traitor, I called him a pompous fool, one thing led to another…and then I was staring at my bloody sword, the naked princess on the bed, and the dead prince at my feet. I was a completely shamed knight, and as soon as the king found out what I had done, he set a price on my head so high, it would have emptied his treasury. I beat a remarkably hasty retreat, to travel to my nearly forgotten father in Krane. I knew he wouldn’t take me back, but the chance I could receive a gift from him was too good to pass up. If anything, he might have given me something to get rid of me forever. He gave me nothing; a half hearted blessing. Thus began my wanderings. I traversed the border kingdoms many times, selling my services to different lords, but I avoided Chaldea like the plague. Years had not dimmed the king’s lust for revenge against me, I that had killed his son and ‘raped’ his daughter. I have even had to dodge bounty hunters sent by various Chaldea noblemen. It was long and hard. Eventually, I grew tired of the endless fighting in the black mountains. I traveled through Orontes, as well as Mardak and I finally ended up here, in Eleusis.” he sighed, wiping off the tears under his eyes.

“There you go, that is my life story. Hopefully it answers most of your questions. It was my knightly honour that drove me to help you back there. The ‘damsel in distress’ motif always calls for knights in shining armour, and I was the only one.” Corrin leaned back, licking his parched lips. Hir, life has been hard on him…but if he raped a princess, can I trust him?

“You are a wanted man. Should I place my trust in you?” she asked. Corrin’s head popped up, and his eyes filled with such a haunted light, she couldn’t help but feel pity for the shamed knight.

“I have nigh well destroyed my honour, and it has hurt me more deeply than you could possibly imagine. I would die before discarding myself like that again. If we travel together, I can promise your safety and well being.” Gaerielle reached over and touched his hand.

“I believe you.” he straightened up, looking exceedingly relieved.

“You don’t know what that means to me. How about you- how did you end up so very far from Saqqara? You’ve heard my story, now I’d like to hear yours.”

“Where to begin?” she sat deep in thought for a minute, and turned to him with a slightly resentful smile.

“It was a bright, sunny summer’s day…”