Getting out of Myrin itself was actually surprisingly easy, despite the fact that the guard were up in arms and Vera and Annabelle were no doubt tearing the Commons and inner city apart looking for us.
I had asked Boldrin how he knew about this passage and he told me that it was once part of an old smuggling ring that had operated in Myrin back when the city was first established. Shit, back when the Kingdom was first established.
It seemed that this tunnel, along with the one I had used during the wedding, was not made by the gangs but built alongside the very foundations of the city itself. It was only good fortune that had allowed the gangs to find them and utilise these passages for their own use. It was certainly convenient for us at any rate. Though I did get a rather grim impression of the thing's age, considering the smell of dust and the ominous creaking of it's stone roof, supported by hastily erected wooden supports in some areas, which I took great pains to avoid.
We walked for about a mile through that choking black, the only light being the torches that Boldrin and Tessa carried. I held onto Elora's hand as we went, ready to pull her up should she trip on the root and stone strewn floor.
I was once again surprised by how well the Princess was taking everything. Our escape had been a success, yes, but we couldn't ignore the fact that it almost ended with my death. Or at the very least, my being bedridden for a considerable length of time.
Yet when it had happened she had picked me up and almost dragged me to the orphanage to get help, not hesitating even once. She had grown quite a bit since I had first met her. Though that was most likely less to do with me and more to do with the threats she had faced since her wedding. She had been attacked, forced to Bond with a stranger, compelled to fight a Knight who wished her harm and now had to deal with her parents seemingly inescapable fate. She had a lot more riding on her shoulders than I had initially assumed upon my first meeting with her all those years ago. I had thought her a spoiled brat back then, which no doubt coloured my perception of her when meeting again at the wedding. But she had proved me wrong so far and I found myself grateful for having her in my life. If I was going to Bond with anyone, then I'm glad it was her.
“Are you alright?” Elora's voice pulled me from my thoughts and I turned to look at her, straining to see her face in the dark.
“I'm fine,” I replied. “Just trying to figure out what our next move will be.”
“You'll think of something, I know you will.”
I snorted, “That's a lot of faith in a guy you only met a few weeks ago, Princess.”
“You're not just any other guy though, Orin,” Elora smiled. “You're my Knight, I chose you.”
“Under duress and with the fate of your family in the balance. But I guess you did choose me if you look at it from a certain angle.”
“I did,” Elora chuckled.
“Would you two shut up. I'm trying to concentrate,” I faced forwards again and picked out Tessa's annoyed expression. If her eyes were daggers then I'm sure I would be dead ten times over.
“Sorry, Lady Tessa,” Elora called out which caused me laugh a little. I'm sure that's the first time Tessa's ever been called a lady.
Tessa rolled her eyes and walked ahead, hurrying to catch up with Boldrin, who was moving with his earth eating stride. A casual walk to him, a full on sprint to others.
“You'll get used to her,” I said to Elora, “Tessa is kind of hard to get to know, but you couldn't ask for a better blade at your back in battle.”
“I imagine so...” Elora sounded like she was unsure of something.
“Well, it's just Lady Tessa was quite angry when we first got to the orphanage. Not at you, she was angry at me for allowing you to get so hurt. She asked what kind of Smith would allow that to happen.”
“Oh, she was worried? I'll have to bring that up with her later. She'll be furious,” I laughed.
“Please don't, Orin! She was right, the mistake was mine. I'm the one whose supposed to be teaching you to be a Knight, but all I've been doing is reacting to your decisions. I should be taking a more active role.”
I thought about that for a second. “Listen, you can't blame yourself for my dumb decisions. At the time, jumping off the palace wall seemed like the best possible solution. To be honest, any other way and we might not have made it to the orphanage in time.”
“But you got so hurt! I should have come up with a better solution. That's what Smiths do, they guide their Knights through difficult situations.”
“I get that, I really do. But you have to remember that we're both new at this. I know you've been well educated in the theory, but everything is different in practice. I knew how to swing a sword before my first battle and, because of my arrogance, I ended up trying to bite off more than I could chew and had to be saved by other members of the Band. We're going through this together, Elora. It'll take time but now that we have the training wheels, or Vera, taken off. We can actually start learning to fight as one.”
Elora was quiet for some time after that and I didn't interrupt her thoughts, just walking on in the oppressive silence. She was still very green when it came to matters of life and limb. I knew that she wanted to save everyone but you just couldn't sometimes. That's a good way to get yourself killed. I meant what I said. We should start Bonding and practising together as soon as we are out of Vera's soul range. We should work on that Forge as well when circumstances allow.
The tunnel ended just as abruptly as it started, opening up into a part of the forest that lay to the west of the city. A natural ladder had formed in the stone at it's end and we made our way up in deathly silence. Each of us were no doubt worried that we would face some kind of armed reception upon reaching the summit but despite that, I had never felt better. Some part of me wanted a fight, my hand itching to grab the hilt of my sword as I climbed. My goal was reaffirmed as we moved further and further away from my home, watching Elora above me, hesitantly moving from one handhold to another. The excitement I felt at having finally left the city was a bitter sweet emotion. On the one hand it meant I was making the right decision in regards to my future. On the other, I would be leaving my family behind again, not to mention Gertrand, who I promised to always be there for. I had meant it at the time, I just hoped that my new found love of freedom would be something he could accept. I couldn't join the guard now and live a relatively untroubled life inside the confining walls of Myrin, my very soul itself wouldn't allow it.
Boldrin was the first to reach the top of the ladder and he held out a hand, one I could barely see at at all, but I knew that he was signalling for us to wait. I tugged lightly on Elora's dress to make sure she got the message, just now realising that I probably shouldn't look up.
Boldrin clung to the wall, utterly unmoving, his ears pricked for the slightest whisper of danger. Thankfully, there was none, for he waved us forward moments later.
I was the last to rise out of the entrance and Elora grabbed my hand to help me break free from the incredibly dense foliage.
“Well, I guess we can see why no one has found this part of the entrance,” Elora said as I turned to look at the hole we had climbed out of.
She was right. If you didn't know where it was then there was no way to find it, not tucked away and covered in the undergrowth that it was. I could only be thankful to the Spirit for the continued good luck.
“Sun's coming up now. If we move fast then we should be able to make it to camp before long,” Boldrin said, already moving deeper into the wild woodlands. “I had the camp outside the walls moved after the trouble at the wedding, too many eyes about. Mildred was not best pleased, but what can you do?”
Tessa, Elora and I nodded at his back and followed after, still remaining silent despite there being no need to. We were pretty deep into the forest already by my reckoning, the city of Myrin was nowhere in sight, thank the Great Spirit. Still, I was worried about Elora after seeing her in the light. Her dress was utterly ruined from her time in the tunnel and she looked exhausted, more than I had realised. I was feeling fine. After all, I had managed to get in a quick nap while my ribs re-entered my body but she had been on the go since yesterday morning at a guess. Not something that a Princess of the realm was used to.
“Elora, you want to Bond? You need to rest.” I asked as I trailed behind her.
She turned and smiled gratefully at me but shook her head. “Thanks, but we shouldn't. I don't know quite how great Vera's range is. Our own is quite limited but she's been at it for a lot longer than us. Annabelle's range of seeing souls is about twenty feet and that's enhanced tremendously upon Bonding. Mine is only five.”
“So Smiths can see Souls even when they're not Bonded?” I asked to distract her from her own weary body rather than anything else. The Bond was beginning to become concerned and I agreed with it in this case.
“Yes. Though it takes immense focus most of the time. Sometimes it's easy, like with the yellow-eyed Knight. His soul almost looked like it wanted to be seen.”
“I'm not surprised. Craven looked like the sort of guy who enjoyed attention,” I chuckled softly.
“Craven?” Boldrin asked over his shoulder, his stride not faltering even once.
“The guy with the yellow eyes who attacked the Sister and the kids at the wedding. Fucking asshole, hope he burned up in that explosion.” Elora nodded along after I said that.
“I see,” Boldrin replied almost wistfully, “Let's hope so.”
We walked for another hour or so and eventually I just decided to carry Elora on my back. She was flagging quite a bit and I had the strength to spare, even without her inhabiting my soul. She had moaned and complained about it of course, but I wasn't taking no for an answer and just grabbed her. She didn't really put up much of a fight and instead passed out as soon as her head hit my shoulder, my arms supporting her thighs.
I was walking beside Tessa and noticed more than one instance of her staring at the Princess with what I can only call hatred in her eyes. She would look away quickly enough when I glanced back but after the third or fourth time of catching her I had really had enough. I was tired and worn out from being Bonded and escaping from a fucking palace. The last thing I needed was to put up with Tessa's bullshit.
“What?” I hissed at her, turning my head to catch her eyes with my own even as I tried to avoid jostling the Princess.
“What do you mean 'what'?” Tessa quipped.
“Why are you staring at Elora like she's going to try and bite you or something?”
“I don't think that. I don't think your Princess has the stones,” Tessa sneered and tried to take a few steps ahead but I kept up easily enough, even weighed down with Elora.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“What I mean, Orin, is you are quite literally carrying dead weight,”
“Fuck off, Tessa,” I replied sharply, “She's been through a lot today.”
“Yes, but so have you. Actually you've been through quite a bit more, considering it was you who showed up at that orphanage looking like you'd been run over by heavy cavalry.”
“She's not like us, Tessa. She's doing her best with all this. It's new to her.”
“Fucking great time for her to 'do her best'. We're going to attack an army of one hundred thousand to save her mummy and daddy. All because you're a sap.”
I gritted my teeth harshly, “I already told you my reasons for doing this.”
“Yes and it's all bullshit. We're putting you in danger because of what little miss Noble says. Kingdom and family and all that other shit is secondary. You're doing this because she asked you to.”
“So what if I am,” I hissed back, “Isn't that reason enough? She saved my family, helped put food onto the table of my brothers and sisters. I don't need another reason to help her.”
Tessa huffed but didn't reply, continuing to walk on in silence.
I could understand why she was mad. I'd be pretty pissed too if I was forced to do something just because Boldrin said so, and with no pay to boot. But we are family. At least, that's what Tessa said and in her own warped way I know that she meant it. She was just letting off some steam and Elora was an easy target. Wait a minute.
“What do you mean putting me in danger?”
Tessa almost tripped, easily righting herself and avoiding the root before it took her down.
“Cause you will be. I'll be fine, the rest of the Band will be too. After all, we're not the ones who spent the last few weeks in the royal Venosian palace. More than a few of us think you might have lost your edge.” Tessa grinned, though it was anything but friendly. She looked like she wanted to try and cut me up right then and there. They were the eyes of an apex predator, absolutely at peace with her surroundings. Elora may be the Princess of Venos, inside the cities and palaces, but out here Tessa was the one with the advantage. Kill or be killed was a mantra in her eyes. It was only then that I realised just what Tessa meant with Elora.
Tessa hadn't seen Elora's strength like I had. Right now all she saw was a weak and fragile girl sitting on my back. She might as well be prey, throat exposed. A prime target in Tessa's eyes.
I smiled back at her, using a cheery grin that I often employed to annoy her. “I haven't lost my edge, Tessa. You're welcome to try me if you doubt it. The Princess is stronger than you think she is. She'll surprise you. In fact, I have a feeling she'll surprise all of us.”
“You have too much faith in her. It'll get you killed. Get you both killed,” Tessa snapped and powered ahead, her nimbleness making me look like a raging bull even without the Princess.
“We'll see,” I whispered at her back.
We continued for another hour, the sun climbing ever higher into the sky as Elora slept soundly against my shoulders. The rhythmic sound of her breathing helping me keep pace and calming my tumultuous thoughts. Tessa wasn't wrong in her thinking. Elora was strong of mind and I would doubtless be defeated should we ever engage in a battle of wits, but what was coming was anything but. I feared, and not for the first time, what would happen should we become separated. It was a very real possibility, the wedding was enough evidence of that. Lady Annabelle was clearly not the match of Vera in terms of combat ability and that had been to her detriment during the attack. I wonder if it was the same with all Smiths? It was something I would continue to ponder. We needed to be ready when we reached Dunwellen.
“Halt!” A voice erupted from the forest surrounding us, echoing off the trees.
Boldrin raised a hand and we all stopped while he walked forward a bit further. “ Ho there, Alec! Glad you all got here in one piece.”
“Boldrin!” came the cheery reply as a man dropped out of a nearby tree, looking nearly invisible thanks to his multi-coloured cloak of drab browns and greens. He pushed back the hood on his head to reveal the face of Alec, one of the band's many scouts and among their most skilled archers. He shook his blonde hair and focused his blue eyes, one by one, onto each member of our party. “Tessa, lovely to see you,”
“Fuck you, Alec,” Tessa replied tiredly and walked passed him without another word.
Alec merely shrugged and grinned before turning to me and Elora. “If it isn't the young Prince, returning with his Noble Princess.”
“I see you've lost none of your humour, Alec,” I said, feeling Elora wake at all the noise.
“Never, Orin, not even once,” His smile faded slightly, “I'm sorry we couldn't be with you at the square. We didn't get there fast enough.”
“You can let me down, Orin,” Elora whispered into my ear and I complied, gently letting the Princess free, “Thank you for greeting us, sir. Are you a member of Boldrin's Brigade?”
Alec's grin was renewed and he raised his eyebrows at Orin and Boldrin in turn. “Sir, indeed? I've never been called something so lofty, my lady.” He gifted Elora with an exaggerated bow.
“Elora, this is Alec. He is a scout and one of the best archers in the land.” I said by way of introduction, taking Elora's arm to help her the rest of the way to the band's camp, located behind some shrubbery and into the clearing beyond.
Boldrin had a very efficient method of making camp. It all started with defensibility and the ability to perceive threats before they manifested. This particular spot was a classic example of those principles.
The area they had made camp had clearly been much smaller before, the band working overtime to make it large enough to accommodate their numbers. While Boldrin counted around eighty fighting men within his cadre there were half again as many followers. That is to say, families that worked for the Brigade. They cooked, cleaned and did many of the odd jobs around camp. Many members had loved ones accompany them on their adventures. They were always kept safe, of course, but life as a mercenary is a violent one and that applies to the people around them as well. There had been two instances during my time with the band when those violent ways caught up with us and the followers were caught in the crossfire. Both times had ended with lives lost. Still, I had yet to see anyone give up and leave. They loved the life they had and that was something I could understand. The freedom to go everywhere and see everything was more than mere passing fancy to these hardy folk: It was a way of life.
When we walked into the camp we found the usual haphazardly erected tents and half dozen wagons. There was no real rhyme or reason to the formation, though it was an unspoken rule that the followers and any mercenaries who were counted as their family stayed in the centre, while the fighting men and women would be on the outer rim of the camp in case of attack. I myself was no different during my time with them, though it had taken nearly a full year before I was trusted to sit alone on watch. Slow to trust though they were, once you had that trust you would have it for life. Such was the way with life on the road with a sword at your hip.
“It's alright, everyone! Boldrin and Tessa have returned with baby Orin!” Alec shouted loudly as we crossed over into the camp and the silence that had pervaded the band was suddenly replaced by loud cheering and crowding.
We had a signal of coloured cloth that operated as an alarm while camped. Green meant business as usual while red meant ready for battle and complete silence. Usually this was hung from somewhere everyone could see. It was hardly a perfect system but, along with the use of bird-calls, it had worked for us for a very long time. I found myself smiling as I was surrounded by old friends, each shaking my hand and clapping me on the shoulder as they asked for tales of my exploits.
For as much attention as I got, however, Elora had it worse. She was suddenly hemmed in by strangers who were all shouting for her attention, especially the young women. I watched for a moment as she seemingly held five different conversations at once before her pleading gaze forced me to act.
“Sorry, everyone, but the Princess is tired and I am as well,” I said almost bursting into laughter at the disappointment from the growing crowd. “We'll be on the road together for a while, I'm sure you'll be able to talk to her at some point,”
“Of course, sir Knight!” A voice emerged from the back of the band and the whole crowd burst into laughter, even I joined in. It was faintly ridiculous that I now stood with a Princess at my side and counted myself among warriors of legend. What a world we lived in.
It took a bit more cajoling, but eventually everyone returned to what they were doing before we had arrived, finally allowing Elora and I to be alone, with only Boldrin and Alec in tow. Tessa had disappeared once again, no doubt still furious at me because of our earlier conversation.
“How are you feeling?” I asked, worried. It was all fun and games for now, but only a couple of weeks before Elora had tried to kill a women who had touched me for the briefest of moments.
“I'm fine,” Elora said, her hands clenched, “It was a little bit more difficult to control, there were so many people around you. Thankfully, I only had one or two murderous thoughts.”
“Murderous thoughts?” Alec asked from beside us, his gaze flitting between Elora and myself.
“Nothing to worry about, we get a little bit protective of each other at times. It's to do with the Bond we now share,” I replied with a wry smile aimed at my Smith, who returned it in kind.
Alec raised his hands, “Say no more. We can try and limit physical contact if you want but... well, you know them, Orin.”
“Yes, I do,” I grinned. “No need to worry, it might help us get used to it,”
“It might,” Elora agreed, “Did you have any trouble?”
“A little,” I admitted. While I was not nearly as bad as I was during the lunch with Cellus, that many people wanting to touch her had my hackles raised slightly, but I convinced the Bond, or maybe myself, that they meant her no harm. I think it helped that I knew them and I mentioned that to Elora.
“That's possible. I don't know enough about how it all works, really. Like I said, Bonds aren't supposed to be forged likes ours was.”
“Speaking of Forges,” I turned to look at her, “We need to do it soon, you know.”
Elora took a deep breath. “I know. As soon as we're settled in, we'll do it. I promise.”
“Settled in?” Boldrin laughed at the Princess, “We're not settling, Princess. We have to get to Dunwellen inside a week at your own reckoning. We're packing up as we speak.”
“Oh, of course! I'm a fool, Boldrin, forgive me.”
Boldrin chuckled, “No forgiveness needed, Lady. While I know you need Orin for your... Smithing, we could use his help in packing up the camp. If that would be a agreeable?”
“Yes, of course, Lord Boldrin. That is most agreeable.” Elora replied formally, as though I was a horse being rented out to a farmer.
“I have a mind of my own, you know,” I muttered morosely.
“Not any more, boy! The Princess has you now!” Boldrin laughed as he strode further into camp, followers and mercenaries alike scurrying out of the way.
“We can leave the Princess with the wife, Orin,” Alec said with a yawn, already walking and forcing Elora and I to keep up, “She'll put her to work, you know what she's like.”
“W-what is she like?” Elora asked nervously, lifting the hem of her ruined skirt to try and keep up.
“Alec is married to Mildred, the camp head,” I said as I slowed my pace, making sure I was beside her at all times. “She's in charge of everything that happens here. Even Boldrin has to go through her if he wants something.”
“Really?” Elora blinked, “Why is that?”
“Mildred's in charge of all the money that comes into the camp. We each give a small amount from our pay packet for upkeep and for paying the followers who tend to everyday affairs. As a result, Mildred is directly in charge of where you sleep and what you eat. Which is why I chose to marry her. I always get the best of everything,” Alec roared with laughter at his own joke.
“Is that so, husband?” Never had I seen a man freeze so fast as in that moment. Alec's face fell to the grass beneath us and turned in the direction of this new speaker.
Mildred looked as pretty as ever. Everyone had said that she was aiming down when she married Alec and looking at her now, I couldn't help but agree.
She was aiming her furiously large brown eyes at Alec, who withered under the intensity of such a stare. Her black hair was tied haphazardly behind her head and she wore an apron that was covered in dust and soot. Mildred had been one of the great crushes of my youth, if you could even call it that. At fourteen I used to sneak glances of her whenever I could. I had thought that I had kept my attentions well hidden, but not to the canny eyed Alec who, far from being mad, seemed to find it incredibly adorable, calling me baby Orin from there on out.
“Sorry, Mildred, was only playing,” Alec muttered under his breath. I fought to push back the laugh in my throat and tried to play it off as a cough. It seemed to fail because Mildred's intense gaze landed on me next.
“Ah, if it isn't the new Knight of the realm of Venos. You've been on quite the adventure, young Orin. We turn away from you for one second and you bind a Princess to you, save the lives of the Nobility and even escape from a palace to continue on to save the King and Queen. Did I miss anything?”
“No, Mildred,” I replied, now sharing some of Alec's misery. “How do you know about it? Does everyone?”
Mildred's eyes softened. “Of course they know, Orin. We're all behind you, as it should be.”
Alec nudged my shoulder and gave me a grin, showing me his support. I nodded my head to both of them in thanks. I realised that I would need to go around and thank everyone in the band for helping me with this. If they all knew then Boldrin had already told them of my plans and, if that was the case, he must have told them that they wouldn't be getting paid for perhaps the most dangerous job they would ever go on. I suddenly felt slightly sick.
“And this must be the Princess Elora,” Mildred turned to my Smith and smiled at her brightly, “I have heard tales of your beauty, Highness. For once it seems that gossip was correct,”
“Oh, um, thank you,” Elora replied bashfully, fighting to keep the embarrassed smile off her face and failing spectacularly. One thing I had come to learn about Elora was that she loved getting compliments, but rarely knew how to handle the praise.
“I know this isn't what you're used to here but we'll do everything we can to keep you in at least some comfort. Orin is used to sleeping in the mud, so we can throw him anywhere.”
Elora grinned at me. “In the mud?”
I couldn't stop the sigh from escaping my lips as I remembered that horrible time. “When I first joined the band they wouldn't let me use a tent because it was for 'real' warriors. I slept outside and, if I was lucky, would have a tree or some kind of overhang for shelter. If not, I'd sleep in the mud and rain.”
Elora looked shocked, “That's awful!”
“Hush,” Mildred waved a hand dismissively, “We kept an eye on him. He was in no danger of dying. Well, at least, not much danger.”
I laughed at Mildred's tone, swiftly followed by the lady herself and Alec. Elora looked at us like we were deranged.
“Anyway, my love, would you be so kind as to take the Princess while Orin and I help pack up camp? Boldrin wants us on the move as soon as we're able.” Alec said to his wife, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek, a way of apology for his earlier antics at a guess.
“Yes, of course,” Mildred replied with a fond smile towards her husband, “But you will have to work, Princess. I'll have no layabouts in this camp.”
“O-of course, Lady Mildred,” Elora said, looking slightly panicked.
“Go easy on her, Mildred,” I warned the camp head who merely smiled at me patronisingly,
“Anything for the new Lord,” Mildred quipped, indicating for Elora to follow her.
I grinned in response and grabbed Elora's hand, squeezing it gently. “Don't worry, I'll catch up with you later, promise.”
Elora smiled gratefully, “Okay, I'll see you soon,”
It was strange to leave her alone and I had to admit that part of me didn't want to. This time it wasn't the Bond, or at the very least, not totally. I had grown fond of the Princess in the short time that I had known her and, without even knowing it, it seemed that I had developed something of a protective instinct when it came to her safety, one that was independent of the Bond. Something I believed she shared, considering the way she had thrown herself at me when I'd recovered from our short flight over the palace walls.
“Come on, baby Orin, work to be done!” Alec shouted, forcing me to take my eyes off the quickly disappearing form of Elora.
“Aye, I'm coming,” I grumbled, following after the skilled archer.
“She'll be fine, Orin,” Alec said as I fell into step with him, “It takes a certain amount of strength do what you to two have done. She'll fit right in with Mildred and the others,”
“I know it,” I muttered, “Maybe you should tell that to Tessa, she's the one who doubts Elora.”
Alec chuckled at that, “Why am I not surprised? What did she say?”
“That Elora is dead weight and I was marching to my death. She doesn't even know her.”
Alec sighed but said nothing, stopping to help one of the followers, Chell, get some supplies up and onto one of the wagons. I joined alongside him, nodding at Chell who smiled at me with fondness.
“Good to see you back, Orin. That Princess of yours sure is pretty,” The old woman said with a near toothless grin. Chell was one of the oldest members of the band and was the wife of the former second of the Brigade, Lothmire, who fell in battle some years before I joined. Her son, daughter and even two of her grandchildren were now counted among the fighting men and women of the band.
“Thanks, Chell. How have things been since I was away?” I asked politely.
“Oh, all fine here, boy. Though we all missed you something fierce. The boy especially. Expect you'll be challenged soon.” Chell cackled and slapped the side of the old wagon she leaned against.
I winced and scowled. By the boy she could only mean her grandson, Dumas. Though a few years older than me, he saw me as something of a rival in swordplay. We had fought each other several times in the past, with the last ending in his defeat, my first victory in near two years of sparring. To say he had been bitter about it would be an understatement. He even refused to join Boldrin on the journey to Myrin to see me off, choosing to stay at the camp and train himself. One more thing I would have to deal with it seemed.
“I'll speak with him when I find the chance, Chell,” I replied to the old woman who nodded sagely.
“Do that, boy. He speaks harshly at times, but my grandson missed you greatly. When we were told of the trouble you were in, Dumas was the first to volunteer to help.”
I was surprised to hear it. Dumas was a great fighter, one of the best men I had ever seen with a blade in hand, but as a person I would describe him as difficult and arrogant. He liked to taunt those weaker than him and hated losing with a vengeance. I knew I would fight him at some point. He would challenge me soon, as was our way. I would take no small amount of pleasure in having him ask though, as it was the losing party who did so. It would be the first time in a long time that he would be forced to challenge and I found myself becoming excited with the prospect of crossing blades with him once more.
While I hadn't exactly been pushing myself with training or in battle lately, I did have the rare opportunity to watch Vera in battle during the wedding, and had fought a Knight in single combat. Both instances had given me clues as how I could grow better as a swordsman, but it would take real combat to formalize them. Training with a wooden stick was all well and good, but without the threat of injury there was no real way to know I had gotten stronger.
Alec and I finished up our work with Chell and made our way to the next job, and the one after that. I greeted and spoke briefly with other members of the band while we worked, even old Brin, though he was barely sober and it seemed someone had decided to throw his drunk ass into a cart. I couldn't understand all the words that were coming out of his mouth but I assumed that he was welcoming me back.
We managed to bring down the camp itself in only two hours and I enjoyed it more than I remembered. The shouting, the screaming, the laughter, the energy that hung in the air around us was infectious and euphoric. I had missed the camaraderie that permeated life on the road and I found myself smiling more than I had in weeks in the palace.
“About Tessa,” Alec started as we made our way back to Elora and Mildred, “I can see why you're angry about it, I really do. But you have to understand, Orin, that while we love you, while we would walk into fire for you, there are some among us who have doubts about all this.”
“Doubts?” I frowned at the scout.
Alec sighed and looked around to see if anyone was listening, “Boldrin's decision to help wasn't met with complete agreement. There was more than a few naysayers. Tessa, Fendi and a few others were among the most vocal.
“Fendi? That's surprising, he's always keen for a fight.”
“A fight is one thing, Orin. What we're talking about here is one hundred thousand men, trained or not. We are only eighty swords and while we are all skilled and experienced, we are not Knights.”
“I know that and I know it is a lot to ask. But... I can't walk away from this, Alec. I can't leave Elora to deal with this alone.”
Alec chuckled softly and clapped me on the shoulder. “You are a good man, Orin, with a good heart. That girl is lucky to have you. Don't take this as meaning the camp is divided because that is not the case. Some may be unhappy, but they will gladly follow you and Boldrin into battle. It helps that you are a Knight now.”
I smiled back, “Yes, now we are seventy-nine swords and one newly made Knight. We'll have those hundred thousand men shivering in their boots.”
“Don't I know it,” Alec grinned, “I have to go and see Heston about something, go find your Princess, sir Knight.”
Alec gave me a mocking bow before moving off towards the middle of the wagon formation where Heston, our cook, was likely to be.
It didn't take me long to find Elora. She was helping to pack up what was left of the tents with a few of the followers and she looked quite happy, though desperately dirty. Cellus would skin me alive if he saw how I was treating his dear beloved, making her roll around in the muck with the common folk.
I stopped that thought before it went any further. Cellus and I had our differences, there was no denying that, but hearing what he said in the gardens made me feel for him in a way. He acted rashly, impulsively and foolishly but at least he was aware of it. He also seemed to be sorry for the bad blood that had bloomed between us. Though I had to wonder if those feelings were still there when he realised I ran away with his would be wife. Spirit, just when things seemed to be improving, they just got worse.
“Orin!” Elora waved at me as I approached, a smile on her face as she helped one of the other followers place a securely tied bundle of tents into the wagon at the very rear of our formation.
“Princess, having fun?” I asked, her enthusiasm infectious.
Elora nodded earnestly, “I am, in fact, though I didn't believe I would. I don't think I've ever done something like this before. It is quite satisfying when you finish an assigned task.”
“Just you wait, Princess. Before long you'll be cursing Mildred's name,” One of the girls called out from behind her.
“I heard that!” came Mildred's reply, causing laughter to break out from those assembled.
“Are you finished as well?” Elora asked.
“I am, we'd best find a place for you in a wagon. I should see about finding my old horse.” I wasn't particularly attached to the beast as I was never the most competent rider. I preferred being on foot whenever possible.
“We sold your old nag, Orin. She was ancient and half-dead as it was. Boldrin sold her to a farmer in Myrin, only got some copper for her,” Mildred said as she approached. Despite the work she must have done to bring the camp into condition for travel, she barely looked out of breath.
“Ah, alright. I'll ride with Elora, then.” I shrugged in response.
“That's a great idea. We can create our Forge while on the road.” Elora stated, her mouth a thin line of determination.
I looked at her fondly, “As you wish, Princess. Any particular place, Mildred?”
“Anywhere is good, though I would avoid Chell for now. Dumas rides next to her and you know what an ass he can be.”
I frowned, “I do. We'll ride in the supply wagon here, then. There's space in the back.”
“As you wish,” Mildred said with a dismissive wave, already moved on to the next task.
I approached the near fully loaded wagon and helped Elora into the back. It was nearly completely filled but the cargo was all tents, furs and the like so it was quite comfortable, though that may change once we started on the road.
“Do you think we'll make it, Orin? To Dunwellen?” Elora asked as she settled in.
“I do. I know it looks like we're carrying a lot of supplies and we have a fair number of people, but we can move pretty fast when we want to. It'll be close, sure, but we'll make it. Still, I'll have to talk to Boldrin about a plan of attack soon. We'll need to act quickly once we arrive.”
“Yes. We must,” Elora said, leaning her head back against a crate, her blonde hair fanning out behind her, her sunset coloured eyes fixed on me wholly and completely. “You have asked me before if I would mind being bound to you forever. I told you there are worse things to be than your Smith.”
I smiled at the Princess. “I remember.”
“But I never asked you the same question. Would you want to be bound to me forever, Orin? To be my Knight from now until the day we die? It is a lot to ask of anyone, and I never even gave you the chance to answer.”
I stared at Elora long and hard, formulating my response carefully before finally answering. “Elora, I can't say to you that I haven't thought about it. Ever since I woke up after the wedding, it's been nearly all I could think about. Being a Knight was a dream for me as a boy and it was one that I believed would never come true. Yet here we are, on a wagon train headed towards battle and I stand with a Smith at my side. I also know that if you could swap me out for Cellus, then you would do so in a heartbeat,” I raised my hand to stop her from interrupting, “Please, let me finish. I know that is the case and it does not offend me that you think it. We both wish that things were different, but I want to you to know that right here, right now, I am proud to be here with you. I am proud to go into battle with you. It's like you said, Elora: There are worse things in the world than being your Knight.”
Elora looked down at the bed of the wagon, a few strands of her silken hair falling across her face. “You are a fool, Orin of Myrin, but my life would be the poorer without you in it.”
“I bet that's what you tell all your Knights” Elora laughed and I followed suit, her eyes streaming as her hair lifted to finally reveal her clear gaze.
“Then we are Bound, my Knight,” Elora smiled and leaned towards me eagerly, “Let's build a Forge.”