A Battlefield of Swords and Flowers
Being called unpopular was probably an understatement if you ask me. When you’ve been locked in an inn for the past two days, it’s not hard to see how I came to that conclusion. I hadn’t seen a familiar face since Lady Liena’s duel, so the term unpopular was definitely an understatement. The more accurate term here would be prisoner.
Once we got back to town, it wasn't long before a crowd started to form around us. It was interesting to see how they reacted given that Lady Alea was carrying the body of an unconscious knight. And before long, just about every guard in town was surrounding us, and with them was Knight Andor.
Once Lady Liena was placed in a quiet room to rest—Sean’s room, to be specific—the three of us, Lady Alea, Lia, and I were questioned as to why we were carrying an unconscious Lady Liena.
Lia explained that a hooded man gave her a bit of money (she wouldn’t disclose the exact amount) to give Lady Alea a message written on a piece of paper. Lia being Lia, read the message which said that Lady Liena would need help at a very specific place and time. Lia gave the note to Lady Alea and rushed to the specified location using a few alleys as shortcuts, hence why they both showed up to aid the knight. Lady Alea confirmed Lia’s alibi.
As for me, I said that I saw Ernst assault two guards while being chased down by Lady Liena and followed them, which was the reason for me being there. That would’ve gotten off the hook with only minor suspicions, but the fact that I “miss led” them (as they put it) meant that I was under suspicion for conspiring with a fugitive of the state. I would've been sent to the capital for trial that same day if Lady Alea hadn’t talked them out of it. So as a compromise, I was locked in an inn room instead of the jail house.
It could have been worse. I could have been executed on the spot. That’s the feeling Knight Andor gave off.
But as for my time of imprisonment, I had absolutely no idea when I would be set free. Every time a guard would bring me food—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—I would ask them if they knew anything about my jail time, but they never gave a comment. In fact, they never spoke. The only words I’ve heard the past few days were my own.
After the sixth time I asked, I gave up on trying to find out.
My room has an unlocked window. Maybe I could sneak out through there at lunchtime and return before anyone finds out.
As I fantasized a sneaky getaway, a thunderous knock came from the door. I had just gotten my dinner so this was strange. My attention was instantly drawn by the loud noise only to see the door swing open, revealing a man who was much more stout than the guard who usually delivered my food.
It was honestly a surprise for my sleepy eyes to see none other than Knight Andor standing in the doorway.
“Come, boy,” he ordered in a baritone voice. “Someone wishes to see you.”
He said nothing more as he stared me down with dagger-like eyes waiting for me to move. Eventually I jumped from off my bed and was escorted out by the knight and another guard, eventually walking out onto the street.
I already knew the time from the tolling of the church bells. It was roughly ten thirty in the evening, a bit past my bedtime.
With the days only getting longer and longer as they approached summer, one could expect to see crimson rays peeking out from over the horizon. But now so late at night, the sky was completely engulfed in dark indigo, with only the light of countless stars and the flame of a few remaining lanterns left to eliminate the streets.
The only information I had been told up until now was that I was being escorted to the Chief’s home. The inn being located near the market square made the journey a short one and before long we arrived.
The escort guard gave a gentle knock, probably out of consideration for Sena and her mother who were likely to be asleep. Shortly after, the door creaked open revealing a middle aged man holding a candle that barely illuminated its surroundings.
“Oh good, you made it.” The Chief greeted me with mild enthusiasm. I, for one, was still a little confused. With the day being so late, I was also beginning to feel drowsy. “Come in.” He invited us into his home, instructing the guard to stand outside his door. It seemed like a little too much to have a guard there, but I’m sure it wasn’t his decision.
Without much conversation, the Chief led the two of us further into his home, each one of us inclined by the time of day to make as little noise as possible. Inside, burning lanterns did better to light up the house than the measly candle.
“Am I allowed to ask why I’m here?” I whispered as I was guided through the dimly lit hallway.
“You may.” The proud knight was the one to answer, much to my surprise.
“Um, well, why am I here?”
“I said you could ask, but I never said I would answer your question.”
This guy. First he arrests me and then he plays coy with me. This man really was childish. The fact he arrested me out of a grudge with me proved my point. I might have been conspiring with a fugitive, but he had no evidence to prove it so.
We had reached a door that I had once knocked on many months ago. Because of that, I knew that this was Sena’s room, and, more importantly, I knew who lay sleeping on the other side of the door.
“She's waiting,” the Chief informed me as he opened the door.
With light footsteps I made my way inside, the door carefully closing behind me.
The only light illuminating my surroundings was that of a flickering lantern by the bedside, just bright enough so that I wouldn’t stumble around in the dark.
For a girl’s own private room, its decor was surprisingly minimalistic. All that was featured was a wood-framed bed, an elegantly crafted dresser, and a simple desk crowned with a sizable mirror you’d expect from the more wealthy families.
At the far end of the room, in bed covered in a wool blanket, lied Lady Liena, her face barely visible in the darkness of the evening. At the sound of my steps, which echoed in the sizable room, her downcast yet peaceful face turned to me.
“Oh, good,” she said in a weak whisper, “you made it in time. Come closer so I can better see your face. And grab a chair so you have a chance to sit down.”
I did as she asked, not wanting to waste a second of our time together, almost as if in the next moment, I wouldn’t be able to hear her voice again.
I dragged the chair beside the bed, making sure to place it in the lantern’s light. Once I was seated, Lady Liena gently turned to gaze into my eyes, a moment that felt a bit uncomfortable but I didn’t dare look away. She gave a wan smile and looked at the ceiling as if she were looking for something distant and out of her grasp.
Without turning away, she began to speak.
“I don’t have much time left.”
“What?!” I blurted out in complete shock. “I thought Lady Alea had healed you.”
“Yes, but my wound was simply too fatal, and so I’m lying here, waiting. Though, before my fate is sealed, I wanted to ask you something.”
Now, she once again directed her gaze toward me with her ever present smile. I made sure to lean closer so that I could grasp every word she spoke in anticipation of her question.
“Back before my master passed away, she seemed to think that my skills had greatly improved, enough that she suggested that I should take on an apprentice. If I asked you, would you be willing to become my apprentice?”
I must’ve stayed silent for a whole minute at the sound of the immensely unexpected question. I mean, who ever got the opportunity to become an apprentice knight and then hope to be a fully fledged knight. A once in a lifetime opportunity is what it was.
“Yes,” I replied after I got a hold of myself.
Her smile broadened. “Yes, I expected you to answer positively. But I misspoke earlier.” I was visibly confused, but she continued. “Let me rephrase my question, then. If I asked you to come on a journey with me, would you?”
They were similarly worded questions but each held very different meanings. But unlike her first question, my answer came to me much faster.
“Yes,” I said simply.
Ever since I had the chance to walk around town with her, I’ve felt that she was different from her fellow knights. I could see that she was every bit as skilled as them but her mind seemed to think differently. Not only did she seem like someone I could learn from but she also seemed like a fun person to be around. Her vivacious attitude intermingled in her conversation proved as much.
Lady Liena smirked, possibly thinking that my answer was a bit surprising. She pulled her blanket over her head, turned to her side—her back toward me—and curled up her body. A moment later, she started to quiver just a bit under the sheets until an almost inaudible noise emerged from her.
Huh? Tee-hee? What’s that supposed to mean?
“Ah hah hah! I can’t help it any longer.”
She rolled around in the bed, clutching her stomach and flailing her legs about as she fell into a fit of laughter.
What the hell?!
“Ah hah… I’m...I’m sorry, it’s just that...ah hah hah!” She tried to explain herself only for her laughter to get in the way, tears forming around her eyes.
“I’m leaving now.” I stood part way off the chair before Lady Liena clumsily snatched me by the wrist, still clutching her stomach and giggling uncontrollably.
“...Aha… P-please...don’t leave yet. I’ll calm down.”
I considered her request for a bit, only taking her seriously after her laughter started to dissipate. It was only then that I sat back down, but not without glaring her down, showing her that if she didn’t get to the point soon, I would leave for good. Maybe it was because it was late in the day that I felt so grumpy.
Getting the last of her giggles out of her system, she finally calmed herself before sitting up straight, her messy, light brown hair draping over her shoulders. and smirking once again.
“Sorry I teased you. You answered me so quickly and the room felt so tense that I just felt the need to. But...I was being serious, you know.”
“It didn’t seem like it.”
“That’s just my personality. Kids tend to like that sort of thing.”
You trying to pick a fight?
“Anyway,” she continued. “I could say that it’s because I see something in you. And yes, though that may play a small part in my decision, there are other reasons. You can call it being selfish or an ulterior motive, or maybe I just think you’re fun to have around.”
“That’s not a good reason to make someone your apprentice. Much less a knight’s apprentice.”
“But it’s no fun if all I’m going to do is teach you sword skills and combat tactics. Being an apprentice doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to teach you. Most of the time you’ll be observing me and teaching yourself .”
“That just makes you seem lazy. It’s hard to believe that your former teacher thought you were ready to train an apprentice.”
“That was how I was taught. And just so you know, she and I shared similar personalities, I’d say.”
Good. So if I were to accept her offer and join her, I would be taught by a lazy kid. The fate of this nation doesn’t seem good knowing that she’s the one defending it.
“Anyway, I really do mean what I said.” She looked down at her hands and twirled her hair with her finger deep in thought. Her smile had vanished by now. “My teacher, Lady Cynthia, was a very well respected knight. If you had to rank every knight by their skill and intellect, she would probably be second on that list. But, she was very different from the other knights. She was the type of person that did everything in her power to save as many people as she could. Ernst was like that, and I think you might be like that as well.”
For a moment, she smiled.
“Just before I completely blacked out, I saw how you desperately tried to save me even though you knew you were completely helpless in that situation. You’re just like me, in a way. Except...you succeeded.” She stared blankly at her hands, almost as if she were lost. Here, her finger stopped moving. “My teacher believed that there needed to be more knights that didn’t just follow orders but who actively tried to save lives. That there wasn’t just one set role for us. And I feel like I need to carry on that idea. ”
When she caught a glimpse of me, her smile returned, as if she had found something tangible.
“Like I said, it really would be an honor to be your apprentice,” I assured her after a long pause.
“Yes, I’d like that, too. Oh, but you’re a bit too young. How about we wait until you’re thirteen. That’s when I became an apprentice.”
“You were only thirteen?!” I blurted out, shocked.
“Well, it's quite the opportunity, and I guess two years is a small price to pay for such an opportunity.”
Something she said earlier caught my attention.
“Earlier, you said you had an ulterior motive for wanting me as your apprentice.”
“Ah, yes. You were there for the duel between me and Ernst. Don’t you think he’s very accurate with a sword.”
“I don’t know much about sword fighting, but he seemed very skilled.”
Then it hit me. I remember the many things Lady Alea taught me in those few days I spent with her and Lia. Locations of organs, how they functioned, general statistics of the body, and how the body worked.
But the one lesson that came to mind was the one where she taught us where on the body you were likely to get fatally wounded.
Then it hit me.
“Wait...so you getting stabbed was—“
My words were cut off by a gentle finger pressed against my lips.
“Shhhh. See, I knew you were smart. You know too much, so it’s probably better if I keep you in my line of sight.”
She pulled her finger away and sighed.
“It’ll be interesting having an apprentice so early in my career.” And after a short lull, “you should probably head back home. I’ve informed Knight Andor that you're in no way a co-conspirator, so now you have been freed of all suspicions. Andor will escort you home once you leave.”
I stood off my chair after she had explained the news of my freedom, and started for the door.
But before I reached the exit, I had to ask. “Lady Liena, before we meet again in two years, will I see you again after today?”
With an ensuring smile, she told me, “I’ll be leaving in two day, so farewells will be in order then.”
Somehow that bit of knowledge made me feel a lot calmer. The past four days or so hadn’t been the most pleasant. But her smile somehow had the power to make me feel relieved, even though I had known her for a few days.
“Oh, one more thing before you go,” she mentioned as my hand reached for the doorknob. “Lady Liena is a bit too formal and doesn’t really fit me. So from now on, just call me Liena.”
I nodded at her request and she smiled, a yawn of exhaustion later making its way out. If I was going to be her apprentice, it made sense that we lose formalities. Though, at the moment, it honestly felt a bit weird.
As I opened the door, Liena laid herself back on the bed. She might have said her wound was completely fine now, but seeing as how she has been sleeping for the past three days, her wound must have really taken a physical toll on her.
I closed the door gently so as to not make a sound, not wanting to disturb her any longer. She would soon be fast asleep in her bed and I would finally return to my own.
* * *
The market place was as lively as ever. Hordes of people and merchants alike passed though, either looking for something in particular or trying to sell off their products. Others were just passing by on their way to their destinations and the remaining bunch were off enjoying a good meal at a local cafe or restaurant. There was even a minstrel nearby whose quick melody caught the attention and cheer of onlookers.
I was part of the group who were just wandering around and taking in the scenery. It was past midday with the sun shining bright over head, the aroma of the budding flowers of spring floating in the wind.
The somehow comforting feeling of the busy town was almost immediately ripped away by my companion.
Smack. Smack. Smack. Lia repeatedly pounded my back causing me to almost swallow my grilled chicken skewer, wooden stick and all.
At the sight of my instinctive gag reflex, Lia laughed hysterically, almost dropping her own skewer in the process. I felt as if I was about to vomit and stepped off to the side and away from the foot traffic. Lia only proceeded to smack my back again, laughing all the while.
One day, I’m going to punch you.
“Come on, Sam. You need to cheer up. You’re no longer a criminal. You should be out having fun. Instead, you’re acting all mopey.”
The moment Lia heard that I was out of jail, (which was really just a confined room at an inn) she kept insisting that we go out to celebrate. Though, thanks to my anxiety keeping me awake during those nights, I was exhausted. So after I had spelt in yesterday, Lia insisted we go out today.
“How can I not act mopey when you almost made me choke on a wooden stick.”
Lia grinned knowing full well that her actions cause me to lose my patience.
But she was right. A few thoughts continued to linger in my mind. Mainly about the future and how I wouldn’t be able to speak to Liena for a while. Today was the last day she would be in town. When it was time, she would venture to where ever she was needed.
Even though we had only spoken to each other a few times, each time we did, I found myself wanting to listen to her more and more. She seemed to have a different view, a different perspective than everyone else. She prioritized different issues than everyone else and acted differently, speaking her mind and doing as she pleased.
She was an interesting person.
In short, even with our limited interactions, I found myself having fun.
“Mmm, is something wrong?”
“No, I’m fine,” I tried to assure Lia.
It would be sad to see Liena off but I was comforted by the fact that I would get to see her again in two years. If you didn’t think about it, two year would pass by in the blink of an eye.
And as I looked to my side, I found Lia still with a worried face.
That was exactly like her; always concerned for those she cared about and always knowing the right way to cheer them up.
When I look back at our time together, she has always been there to comfort me whenever I was too embarrassed to confide in my mom. She probably knew me the best out of everyone I knew, and she was always capable of putting a smile on my face.
That was what I most liked about her.
“What’s this? Now all of a sudden you’re smiling.”
“O-oh, am I really?” She didn’t even have to do anything to make me smile. It turns out her mere presence is enough to cheer someone up.
“Well, no matter. As long as you’re feeling better.” She smiled and offered me another skewer of meat. I don’t know how she did it but she somehow found out that these were my favorite foods from the market. So whenever I seemed even a little bit down, she would use bits of her allowance to buy me a few.
“Alright, then,” I started, taking the lead on our next activity. “I heard there’s a new pastry stall selling amazing sweetbread. Let’s go check that out next.”
Lia eyes lit up at my suggestion, seemingly about to start bouncing up and down, not being able to hold in her excitement.
I also happened to know her likes and dislikes.
“It’ll be my treat. You can’t expect me not to return the favor after you bought me food.”
“Your charity will be your inevitable downfall. I’ll just let you know now but you’re going to have to buy me a few extras, alright.”
“Yes, yes. I know you have a sweet tooth. But just don’t go overboard. You’re limited to seven pastries.”
“Deal. That will be enough for a few days. But it goes without saying that you’re buying your own.”
“I might buy one. You really filled me up with those skewers. Thanks, by the way.”
“No need to thank me. You’ll be buying me sweets, after all.”
Just accept my gratitude!
Lia, after much deliberation, decided on three sweet tarts—blueberry, strawberry, and raspberry—and the remaining four of the seven I had promised were an assortment of sweet breads. I got myself just a single pastry since I wasn’t really hungry.
I just have one complaint: Lia has expensive taste. I’ll have to get a job because of her.
Lia placed the pastries in her basket, choosing to keep the strawberry tart in her hand so that she could eat it as we walked along.
“Mmmmmm! This tart really was delicious. Who knew you would be the one to discover this place before me.”
Lia seemed pretty pleased with her selection. It made me feel accomplished in a way.
“Don’t underestimate me. No one else knows more about this town than I do. Maybe I really should give tours.” That last part I kept to a mumble. “In fact, if I challenged the Chief on his knowledge of the town—the one with the most knowledge becoming the new Chief—I’m pretty certain I would w—“
As I bragged about my completely useless talent, I centered my gaze toward Lia, completely ignoring the oncoming foot traffic in the process. So it was no surprise that I eventually ran into someone and fell to the ground.
“You really should watch where you’re going or else you’ll end up with another gash on your knee.”
When I looked up to identify the owner of the gentle and caring voice, I found a young woman in a light blue sundress, her face obscured by a large floppy hat.
“Um… Do you know her, Sam?” Lia asked.
“Really?! It’s not as if she’s wearing a mask. How are people not able to tell who she is?”
Liena, who waited patiently while Lia and I spoke, extended her hand toward me and helped me up.
“Thanks. Sorry for bumping into you.”
“It’s alright. I am a knight, after all. There’s no way you’d ever leave a scratch on me,” she teased.
When Lia heard the word “knight” she made a face signaling that the gears in her head started moving. And before long, she had figured out the identity of the woman before her.
“Wait, Miss Liena?” she exclaimed.
Liena crouched down so that she was at eye level with Lia. Then she lifted the brim of her hat and put a finger to her own rosy lips, giving a quiet “Shhh.”
“I don’t want to draw much attention to myself,” she explained, to which Lia promptly hid her excitement. “Would you two walk with me for a bit.”
“Sure,” Lia answered, as did I.
She led us to the south entrance of the market square without much conversation, but once we made it to the street heading toward the southern exit from town, she became more lively.
“It was a bit too crowded back there,” she explained as she continued to walk. Then, looking toward me she said, “Like I told you, Sam, today is my last day here.”
At the sudden revelation, Lia, in a fit of exasperation, started to complain.
“What do you mean you’re leaving today? I still have so many things I want to speak to you about.” Then she turned to me, her eyes seemingly in between the idea of throwing me off a cliff or simple slap on the wrist. “And if you knew about it, why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t think it was that important.”
“Hmm, really?! How could it not be. To think that I even bought you all that food today.”
The money I spent on you today was at least three times more than you spent on me.
Beside us, Liena let out an endearing giggle at the sight of our pointless bickering.
“Settle down, you two. That’s the reason I was searching for you two. I thought it was time for our farewells.”
“Really?! I thought you had forgotten about me?”
“How could I forget about you.” Liena assured her as she patted Lia’s head. “Believe or not, I’ve come to be fond of you both. Both of you seem to be just a bit more clever than the rest of the kids you age. It makes you just a bit more interesting. Plus, you’re just so cute, Lia. I wish I could take you home.”
Lia had no idea how to respond and just stood there, blushing as red as a tomato. Liena, however, took the opportunities to cuddle Lia so tightly that her red blush was slowly starting to disappear in favor of a blue tint.
She was going to kill her at this rate.
Once she was done with her attempt at murder, Liena stretched her arms high in above her head, giving off a few grunts all the while, possibly still feeling unwell from her recent wound. She kept her eyes focused on a point further down the road, as if peering into her future. “It’ll be fun having conversations like this with my future apprentice.”
“Future apprentice? So you decided to finally teach one?” Lia asked.
Lia’s comment came unexpectedly to Liena, her eyes bulging a bit in surprise. Her gaze fell on me without drawing Lia attention. I subtly shook my, also wary of Lia's eyes. Luckily, Liena caught on to what I was trying to convey.
“A-ah, yes. That is, once I find one.” Her voice staggered for a bit but she pulled through without sounding too unconvincing. I didn’t want Lia to know of my apprenticeship. She admired the knights and it would surely make her just a bit jealous when she finds out.
Plus, I felt that it would only make her feel sad if she knew that I would be leaving her in just two years.
I could feel Liena’s judgmental gaze on me without even looking.
Stop it! You're not my mom.
After a few more steps, Liena sighed. “It seems like this is where we must part ways.”
Without even realizing it, we had reached the end of the street and the southern gate was just a few more seconds away. Shops and businesses were sparse here and houses started to grow further and further apart. And near the boundary between the town and the countryside, there was a well kept stable. Here you could house your horse or, what I assumed was the case for Liena, you could hire a coach carriage.
“I assume they’re waiting for you,” I asked in reference to the two-horse drawn coach car waiting near the town gate and it’s coachman.
“Yep, that would be mine.”
“But you’ve only been here a short while. You should stay a bit longer,” Lia argued in hopes that her words might have some effect on her.
“Your town really is beautiful and I’ve had fun speaking with you both, but I’m afraid I’ve already stayed here longer than I had originally planned. I have important business back in the capital and it’s almost a two weeks journey by coach.”
“I really wish you could stay so we could speak just a bit more since we never really had the chance. But you are a knight. It’s your job to protect us and I can’t keep you away from that.” I seemed as if Lia was about to cry but she managed to hold it in.
But even after Lia’s heartfelt words, Liena couldn’t bring herself to smile. Though, I didn’t think it was because Lia’s words made her feel sad that she was leaving. If you asked me, it seemed more like she felt guilty.
“Y-yes, that is my job and I have to fill the role to the best of my ability. But…” her scheming eyes glanced over toward me, quick to change the subject so that she could escape her quandary. “If you want more time to speak with me, you can join Sam when he travels to the capital in two years time. He has some important business there with me.”
Damn her. Did she see through me and realized that I wasn’t going to tell Lia about the apprenticeship until the very last moment? Now Lia would incessantly keep asking me what Liena meant until I explained it to her.
Her little suggestion had its intended effect because Lia's eyes quickly came to stare at me.
“What business?” she questioned accusingly.
But before I was able to give a proper rebuttal, Liena began to pat Lia’s head.
“Well, it’s time for me to go.”
“O-okay,” she acquiesced with a pouting face. “If you really can’t stay then I’ll just have to patiently wait for those two years to pass.”
“As will I. I’ll be counting down the minutes.” Then Liena turned to me to continue her farewell. “I’ll be looking forward to when we meet in the near future.”
“I’m looking forward to it too.” We had spoken a lot two nights before, so most of the things we needed to say had already been said. So I didn’t have much in mind. A simple farewell was good enough for the time being.
With our final goodbyes out of the way, Liena started for her coach, her ever pleasant smile giving us a final farewell.
But before she could make it too far, I called out to her, a frankly trivial question still lingering in my mind.
“I remember you saying that we would play a game of hide and seek, and that if I won, you would give me a reward.”
“Huh,” she thought for a second. “Yes, I do remember. But I recall you finding me out.”
“That might be true, but I always knew where you were.”
“Yep. You were following me around all those days, weren’t you?” I said accusingly.
Every time I stepped outside, I always felt as if someone were watching me.
“Aww. I’m surprised you noticed me. I realized very early on that if I followed a curious creature like you, I would eventually find something interesting. It worked in the end, and I was able to tend to my business here because of it. But you didn’t technically win.”
“Then that means we either both lose and I don't have to pay you back for drinks.”
“We could do that or we could both win. You can buy me a drink in two years and I’ll give you your reward then, since I don’t have it with me at the moment. It's an unexpected end to our game, but I’ll make the exception just for you, future apprentice.”
She gave a quick giggle before turning around and starting for her coach, a smirk just barely visible as she turned.
Hey, is she walking faster now. Is she trying to escape?
When I turned around, a little concerned, my eyes met Lia’s, her mouth was wide open in shock at what I assumed was because of what Liena had conveniently let slip.
Liena was too far away for me to call out to her, not that it would make any difference. Lia had found out my secret which I was deliberating waiting to come out with. But judging by that icy, dagger-like glare of Lia was giving me, I knew that I would hear the end of it from her.
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