Chapter 3:

Chapter 2. Running knights.

Requiem for Cinderella: a Dragon story.

“Dear sister,
Once I asked my teacher whether Dragons are truly above everything.
Above animals dying because of humans.
Above humans dying because of animals.
Above the misery brought by our own reign.
I meant it. Sure, they watch over the four Dukes, but then why won’t they help with treating plague, rebellion and malnourishment? Do they only see us as insects?
I still remember the answer: "Dragons can’t be above humans. While vastly superior in might, that doesn't mean they are a superior race. We both have souls our God treats equally. Like we have no reason to fear the Devil, we shouldn't cower in fear before Dragons. About your second question, while it is true that Dragons might help the people in many ways, they cannot intervene too much, because this would feed jealousy from our neighbours and eventually bring war.
Still our only difference is raw power. All living things stand equal before God."Bookmark here

Applied to my situation, I use the same basis for my relationship with Anna.
We freely interacted while being of different social origins. We dared the others to mock us for seeing beyond wealth, position and prestige. We played with tailor kids, potter kids, merchant kids, governor’s kids while our parents too interacted with tailors and potters on equal foot. And when we grew many remained genuine friends and acquaintances. We were the reason the Duke’s son didn’t come back to his mom. No limits, no bias, no misjudgment.Bookmark here

Five days ago Anna found out she wasn’t the Bridges’ “natural” daughter, but the bastard child of the late Archmage Charles. Did that change anything in our friendship? Well, not for me, but a childhood friend now called her “lady”, another one stopped seeing her, a third who previously only fooled around dropped on his knees and proposed. Offer declined.
She seemed unfazed to me, even after a team of jurists came in to collect the inheritance tax and announce that she happened to be the only heir. None of Charles’ sons were eligible and his other relatives were either dead or exiled. The same night our Duke knighted Anna a second time. First baron, now countess. A late dinner followed. Then Tom, Charles’ old butler, informed her of an important matter.
This matter is the reason why I left the city of Desmond to tend to an uncle’s cow, the reason why my chariot transported a week's worth of food supplies, the reason why, just in case, I took most of my savings with me.Bookmark here

I know that this letter will never reach you. That I'll never write it.
I still wish I could explain that cutting all ties with you was the only way to keep your family out of trouble.
If I do not do this, your son Leonard will never live in peace.
Forgive me, dear sister, but I swore to dad.
If he cannot make it, it is up to me to protect you, I’ll do so until my last bre…”Bookmark here

“John Martin!”
Two hooded figures turned sideways in the mist. One responded with a yes.
A tall man came forward. He stood up in front of the duo, at a distance of ten feet.
Judging from the outlines of the stone and the crystalline sound beneath it, he was standing on the way to the bridge. John picked up the noise of more people approaching and felt that they were about to be surrounded .
The frost on the grass made it hard for them to walk silently.
John pulled back his hood as he took one step forward.Bookmark here

“Yves Lenoir.”
The tall figure seemed startled and took a step back.
“Listen, Yves, there can be two reasons why you are here instead of Anna’s messenger. And this time you can’t lie your way out since the messenger stands beside me.
Either you are a last second addition to our side, you still want this marriage, and the only way to get it is to join us and help us on our quest.
Or you had a moment of weakness and used your good memory to figure out a spot where she’s likely to send me a messenger, and gave the location to the inquisition.
This case is bigger than two nobles who might, or might not, contact heretics to challenge the Church and the Duke. It makes no difference on the long run. Vikings will smash any authority if three quarters of the kingdom won’t support it!
I published Charles’ will. Downtown everyone knows about the threat. Don’t pretend you do not.
John stepped closer, to notice that Yves had already drawn out his sword.
John looked him straight into the eyes and spoke further.
- I come without weapons since my quest is noble.
Even on the run, I’m still a knight.
Now let me tell you your future, just this once. I’ll walk past you, my companion will follow, you are free to join, free to stay. Your men will say they lost us in the mist. These eight souls you brought along can’t be from the Inquisition – too dirty of a job.
I wouldn’t think of another option, since all eight know they'll end up victims of an accident by the riverside. Scratches, bruises, maybe broken bones. I’m too meek to target organs and too tired to draw swords. I'm not threatening you, it’s the opposite. At the end of the day we’re travelers. We already paid the toll when we crossed the border. We’re within the boundaries of the law enacted by king William, let it stay that way.Bookmark here

Yves. It’s too dark with too thick of a mist to spot anyone. You can’t possibly have enough men to check on every bridge in the vicinity. And you can’t remember all the bridges Anna talked to you about.”
John was now alongside Yves, the buckle of his belt touching the metal of the broadsword. Both his hand were on his sides, pulled away to show he carried no blade.
The messenger stood close behind, hands put in a similar fashion.
Yves gulped, his face sweating. No one from either side of the bridge could see it. His sword out, he made one step back and then quickly pulled it up it to John’s chin.
The man didn’t move.
Yves slowly inhaled.
“Men! Wrong John. There’s a John and a Martin in every damn village.”
And stepped aside.
John walked with a steady pace, the messenger followed.
On the other side of the river, four figures grouped up in the mist, blades lowered.
Past one hundred steps, John sped up to a stroll. When the duo made it so far that even the river flow sounded low like a whisper, he ran up to a tree and leaned on it.
The messenger reached out to him and asked how he was feeling.
At the moment and for the whole next hour, John’s hands and body were shaking. Bookmark here

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