Chapter 3:

Volume 1 Chapter 3: The Rogue Knight

A Battlefield of Swords and Flowers

When Lady Liena said we would be playing a game of hide and seek, I didn’t at all take her seriously. I thought we were just going to bump into each other while running our own separate errands, because of course, what kind of knight plays hide and seek with a random kid while on an assignment. But after a day passed, it became brutally clear that Lady Liena was dead serious about this game.

The day after our first encounter with the knight, Lia and I went out to look for the wine she had told us about. We checked with three vendors and it was the last one who told us that apparently, Norenth wine was expensive and quite hard to get, and that it would take some time to get a hold of it. I’m sure that a knight makes a good salary, so I placed an order on behalf of Lady Liena under the ruse that it was our mom that wanted it.

But after the relatively simple task was done, Lia and I continued with our mother’s errands, and after that was done, Lia instead spent the rest of the day looking for Lady Liena. I didn't want to, at first, but her incessant pleading got the better of me. So we spent the day until six in the afternoon wandering the town in search of the knight.

Needless to say, we didn’t find her, not to say we didn’t try. We kept our eyes peeled the whole day, Lia more than me. Though I did say I wasn’t one to revere a knight to a high standard, something about her in particular made me want to search for her just so we could keep talking.

For Lia, I’m assuming it was like if she had been entranced by a cute puppy she had found and never wanted to lose sight of it. But now that puppy had run off, Lia was left desperately searching for it.

Who would’ve thought that Lady Liena would be taking this game so seriously. If she was trying this hard, it only made me wonder at the prize she promised me. It must be something good. That only made the game all the more appealing.

It’s going to be a hard task, for sure. Even yesterday, when we asked the Chief if he knew where we could find Lady Liena, he also had no idea. All he told us was that she had gotten up early and left her room. He didn’t even know what she was wearing, so this would be a difficult task. We just have to try harder, I guess.

That aside, like on most days, Lia and me always ran our parents errands at around noon. But like on many days, Lia didn’t finish her chores on time. So when I dropped by her house at noon, her mother met me with a frustrated smile letting me know that I would have to wait a while for her. I just told her that I would wait for her at the old well.

So now I’ve waited around half an hour sitting on top of the worn out, jagged stones that made up the body of the well. It was all dried up now. It hadn’t been used in over a decade and had been left to crumble apart on the outskirts of town.

But unlike the relic I used as my seat, the rest of the field that it stood flourished in the spring. It was one of the most northern villages in the empire, so there weren’t many other towns nearby. As a result, the land to the north of town were vast plains with few trees in sight. There is a grove of trees not far from the town’s northern gate. But apart from that, green fields stretched out until they hit the mountains to the north and west, roughly ten kilometers away.

If you followed the roads leading north in the spring, where people ceased to migrate to, you would eventually come across fields of untamed flowers that spread out like a blanket over the plains. They were the only plants that grew there, other than grass and the occasional tree. Regardless of what grew in the area, the flowers always remained dominant.

And as the backdrop of it all, the snowy peaks of the mountains loomed far ahead. Ten kilometers from where I sat, the towering masses of rock ran from left to right, creating a natural border with the northern nations. And to the west of town, the same situation applied with the mountain range running from north to south. What resulted was basically a stretch of land in the northwest of the empire that was surrounded on three sides by mountains as well as enemies, Like a peninsula in the ocean.

There are only a few paths that link us with the northern nations between the mountains. But only merchants with high yield, lucrative businesses risk travel through the mountains. It’s also a preferred route by many smugglers.

“It’s been almost half an hour. Where is she?” I whispered to myself.

Lia’s mother said she wouldn’t be long but I doubt making her bed and cleaning her room took this long. It had to be pretty messy if that was the case.

Losing my patience, I hopped off from my seat on the ancient well and started back toward town, taking one last look at the scenery behind me.

                                                                              *   *   *

The town was brought to life around this time of day. Always at noon, the market square would fill vendors and buyers, coming to its peak population three hours later. There were always a few new sights to behold. The crowds of people going about their day, mingling and interacting with others. It was pleasant, I would say. It wasn’t like the tumult of the capital (I’ve never been there, I’m just assuming) but it also wasn’t as quiet as a hamlet of less than a hundred residents.

I had decided that I wouldn’t just wait for Lia all day and started walking back toward her home. But maybe I should have stayed put. We both could pass each other in the crowds without noticing each other.

The fastest route to get to Lia’s house required me to cut through the market and its swarms of customers.

Stall vendors called out to everyone who passed by, advertising their meat and produce, and seamstresses tried to draw your attention toward their dresses. These sorts of tactics had no effect on me. Not because I thought of myself as pretentious but because I was just a kid and had little money. So even if the aroma of grilled meat called to me or if a particular shirt caught my attention, I sadly had little buying power.

So I just wandered about and worked my way through the closely packed crowds which was made a lot easier since I was just a kid and I could squeeze through quite easily.

The fastest route was to go though the western end of the market. Here stalls selling various items stood to one side and on the other were the brick and mortar buildings of restaurants and shops that served as the perimeter for the market square.

As I passed, a sharp, metallic clanging sound, as if a sword had accidentally fallen to the ground, came ringing from one of the alleyways that split the market square’s border, and I came to a stop. No one else seemed to hear over the ruckus of the market. You had to to be passing close by like I was. Seconds later, a brief shriek of metal scraping against the cobble pavement could be heard.

It was odd, not only because of the noises themselves but because of where they were emanating from. If it was any other alley I wouldn’t have given it much thought, but this alley was different. Every other alleyway in town connected one road to another and were usually wide enough for two people to pass by without much trouble. But this alley was barely wide enough for one person to pass and didn’t lead to any other road. Instead it led to a dead end, square shaped room. The passage was likely a product of the surrounding building.

But the thing that really intrigued me was something else. It was such a useless alley that the entrance was often blocked by wooden crates. No one ever seemed to care about the alley so it had left people’s mind over the years. I only knew out about it because I liked to explore. But, for those reasons, the fact that the wooden crates had now been moved aside made me suspicious.

Curiosity took over me. How could I just ignore this. No one else seemed to notice the new alley that had now appeared, and I managed to slip in without being noticed.

Even though I was a kid, it wasn't easy to walk through the alley. Both of my shoulders scraped against the brick walls every time I took a step. But eventually, I was able to clearly make out an exit up ahead. And through that opening, I was able to see a shadow pass by. A few seconds passed and the silhouette passed by again and again.

It was definitely a person, no doubt about it, but he or she seemed to be walking in circles. I stopped a few meters from the exit. Only being able to see the shadow of a person while their face was completely hidden was a little unsettling. But curiosity kept nagging at the back of my mind. It kept telling me to keep going, caution thrown to the wind.

So with my curiosity pushing me along, I continued forward until my fingers reached the edge of the entrance. The shadow had ceased to move and was now out of sight. The thought that it might be aware of me did nothing to calm my nerves. But I had to at least see who it was. I had to see who went through the trouble of moving those crates.

Slowly and hesitantly I peered from behind the corner of the brick edifice. In the far corner of the dimly lit, secluded room at the end of the alley sat a man on a wood crate, his face in his palms. He wasn’t someone that could be seen as being strong, but he also didn’t seem like a frail person. For all intents and purposes, he had a normal body type. His hair was a dull black, a common shade in the southeastern regions.

There was a subtle quiver running throughout his body. And his lips moved silently, murmuring words that were too quiet for me to hear. With each passing second he sunk his head deeper and deeper, a great deal of anxiety seemingly pouring over him.

Suddenly, as if all his fear and anxiety had finally boiled over, his fist shot to the side and slammed against the brick wall, before once again resting his head on it. He probably didn’t notice it, but from my vantage point I could see that the wall he hit had been broken, and thin cracks appeared. The sudden display of strength startled me, my footing faltered, kicking a pebble in its wake.

At the sound of the stone rolling across the pavement, the man jerked his head in my direction.

“What are you doing here kid?” he asked once our eyes met.

I was ready to run back the way I came but curiosity once again compelled me to stay. The fact that he showed no malice gave me the nerve to stay. But if he tried to do something, it would be easier for me to traverse the alley compared to him.

“I can ask you the same thing,” I told him, making sure to not to come out from behind cover just in case.

“That isn’t any of your business. Now leave, kid”

“It’s just that this alley has been boarded up for years now and is never used. So I was just curious as to why you were sitting alone in such a decrepit place?”

“Like I said, kid, leave!”

His voice noticeably filled with more irritation and got louder, but I kept inquiring on his motives.

“But from the way jolted up earlier, it seemed as if you didn’t want to be found.” This caught his attention. “Or...maybe you thought you had been found by someone specifically”

“You sure do ask a lot of questions kid.”

“It’s easy when you answer them for me.”

His expression became stern as I ended my sentence and his body ceased to shiver from his nerves.

What started as a fit of curiosity resulted in me gaining some knowledge about the mysterious man. As kids, adults think they know more than us. So whenever you ask them a question they’re uncomfortable answering, they always change the subject or tell us that we’re too young to understand.

Certain kids accept their reluctance and go on living in oblivion. But for those who are pulled along by curiosity, they persevere and seek out answers. We're quite adept and getting our own answers. One of the ways we do so is by asking the right questions.

By taking in the situation and using some common sense, you are able to ask adults questions that will, unbeknownst to them, will give all the information you want. After that, it’s all a matter of piece together the clues they give you. And in the end, they unconsciously answer your question.

This foreign man sat alone in a secluded alley, anxious and wary of anyone who might enter. Asking the right questions was enough to get an indirect answer.

But that man had caught onto my plan because he made me a deal. “Sigh… If I tell you what I’m doing here, will you leave me be?”


“I’m waiting for someone.”

“I know. You implied that earlier. I’m guessing I’m not the one you were expecting. So if you want me to leave, at least tell me why you’re waiting here, of all places?”

“Isn’t that obvious? It’s because I don’t want to be found.”

Tch. Obviously. That was something that anyone could have deduced. You don’t sit alone in an abandoned alley because you want to be accessible to everyone. You do it so that you’re hard to find.

“Hmm? I answered your question, kid. Leave.”

I had made a deal with him and now that it had been fulfilled, I had no reason to keep pestering him. But the thing about kids like me is that we can be annoying. Just because you tell us “no” doesn’t mean they’ll stop pestering you. I’m one of those annoying kids, I should know. But now I had to rephrase my question in a way that would generate a response.

Adults liked to be right. So they most definitely didn’t like to be accused of something.

“If you don’t want anyone to find you, then you must be a criminal of some sorts.” It was part joke, part assumption. After all, this would be the perfect place for a fugitive to hide.

“I’m not a criminal!” He shot up in response to my accusation, a complete one-eighty from the anxious shivering he expressed before. His adamant stare pierced the back of my head, making me take a step back.

“Just because they say you defied an order, just because you decided to do things differently, just because you questioned what was going on, doesn’t make you a criminal.”

He yelled out in pure, untamed frustration at something distant, as if he had kept those feeling quiet for many years, longing for the time to come when he could finally express it all. But no one else could hear his plea coming from the midst of a secluded alleyway.

“W-what did you do?” I finally asked after a moment had passed in order for him to calm himself.

He looked at me with hollow eyes. The eyes of someone on the verge of accepting his fate against something of superior power.

“You might think you understand, kid, but you haven’t lived yet. You’ve lived all your life, closed off from the rest of the world. You probably have never ventured outside of this town. The only life you have ever known is that of a sheltered child far from from everything else. Far from the war that you don’t even pay mind to”

As he spoke, his eyes regained some color, as if he had remembered the reason he argued so vigorously. He was a soldier, I could tell from his speech. But not only that, the scars and bruises, the determination in his eyes, an endless passion to fight on.

That only prompted me to ask again. “Why exactly did you end up here?”

Once again he looked directly into my eyes. From those dim eyes, embers remained from an exhausted fire, glowing and flickering as it struggled to regain its light.

“I said ‘no’ and they all turned on me like animals! They tried to execute me for doing what was right. And now, the only solace I have left is the fact that I believe I made the right choice.”

Like if his speech had drained him, he sat back down on the wooden crates and put his hand to his forehead, pondering on his thought. And before I could comment on his word, his eyes darted toward me.

“And now, kid, I’ve answered your question and I’ve told much more. So now answer some of mine.”

“Sure.” It was equally payment.

“Do you happen to know of a merchant by the name of Vanders?”

I gave it some thought. There were many merchants that made this town their home, but I couldn’t remember any of them going by the name of Vanders. Actually… I had heard that name before. One of the traveling merchants, I think.

“Yes, I remember him, vaguely. He is very involved with trade in the Norenth province.” He was also known as a greedy man, often taking lucrative jobs like smuggling illegal goods. He was one of the few people who crossed the mountains to the north, usually to distribute sanctioned goods. There is no concrete evidence for these dealings, but people still spread those rumors.

“Do you happen to know where he is, then?”

“Two days ago, he heard of some lucrative deal, so he traveled two towns over to check it out.”

“Do you know when he’ll get back?”

“He made it clear to everyone that he wouldn’t be gone for long. So he’ll probably be back today or tomorrow.”


He didn’t say much more. His breathing slowed, and his hand and body stopped shivering. He sighed as if a giant load had fallen off his shoulders. Then he looked back up at me as if he was somehow confused.

“What are you still doing here, kid. We got what we wanted from each other. Now scram.”

He raised his voice a bit, but I wanted to see if I could get even more information out of him.

“Where are you f—“

But before I could even finish, his first slammed onto the wall beside him, forming new cracks next to the previous ones.

“Listen, kid,” he growled as he stood, grabbing something from behind the crates that I hadn’t seen until now. “in my line of work, there isn’t much time for jokes and banter.” He looked me dead in the eyes, the lambent embers there were now igniting into sparks. Once again I heard the same sound of scraping metal that attracted me to the alley in the first place. He fully faced me now, with a shining piece of metal in his right hand.

“So, I’m going to tell you one more time, kid,” he continued. “Leave.”

And now, fully visible in his hand, he held a platinum sword, encased in its complementary white leather sheath. And emanating out from where he gripped the sheath, darkness spread slowly across the sword like that of wood was charring. And from the edges of the darkness, a soft, orange glow flickered, embers jumping out from it.

Now my curiosity had finally drained from me and was replaced with dread and panic. I rushed back though the tight alleyway, scraping my shoulders as I rushed through, until I was back outside and into the tumult of the market square. I looked over my shoulder to check if he had followed me, but I couldn’t make out his silhouette. I guess he thought it was better to stay, at least for now.

My heavy breathing died down at last and I integrated myself into the crowd as if nothing had happened.

“Sam, over here!”

A high pitched voice called out to me and I turned to find Lia waving to me.

“Oh, there you are.”

“No. Don’t talk to me as if you didn’t do anything wrong. I waited for you at the old well like you said, but you never showed up. That’s five minutes of my time wasted.”

“Five minutes? I waited for half an hour! Don’t try to speak to me all high and mighty to cover up for your mistakes. If you had done your chores when you mom asked you, we both wouldn't have wasted our time.”

Lia pouted, knowing full well that I was right.

“That still doesn’t make it right for you to make me wander around town,” she countered, though with poor reasoning.

“Oh, aren’t you a princess. I’m never going to win against you, am I?”

“Nope.” She said it almost as if she was proud of it.

We spent the rest of the day together running our mothers’ errands. Sometimes I wondered if that was the only reason they gave birth to us. But I couldn’t blame Lia’s mom for that. If Lia was my daughter, I’d want her out of the house for as often as possible.

But as we ran our errands, the whole time I found myself getting distracted. My mind kept floating back to that dim alleyway and to the man that I found there. In particular, I still had questions, not of what he was doing there, but of his sword. A platinum blade covered by a white sheath, one that slowly burned in his hands. I’ve never seen a sword like that before. But I was certain of one thing. He was a soldier. And judging by the looks of his masterfully fashioned sword and sheath, it might be possible that he was a knight.