The carriage moved through uneven dirt, its rattling an incessant and ever present noise. A carriage was not made to move in uneven dirt, it was for streets and for royalty to flaunt wealth. Arthur had learned that in his first life, like a great many other things. And if there was something he had not learned in his first life the thousand that followed it had probably filled the gaps knowledge. One did not live a thousand lives or more without learning a thing or two.
It was because of this great experience that he knew that a peasant, once made to travel, would suffer with the long stretches of nothingness that marked any journey. For as highly as the achievements of previous marches were spoken about in legend a journey was made up mostly of a long stretch of nothing, and a shorter stretch of utter terror. In that way it was much like being a footman in a lord's army.
Anise sighed again, her eyes traveling between the rolling green hills outside and the interior decor of the carriage for what might well have been the thousandth time in that hour alone. "How long is it going to take? I can't stand this."
"It'll take what it takes," Arthur said, arms crossed. "Right, father?"
"Much as I loathe to disappoint you he is right," Alduin said. "A journey to the capital from our village is one that takes plenty of weeks, two have already passed, two more will pass again before we arrive."
"And that is that," Arthur said, he let a smile fill his face. The kind of smile that came from a vindicated parent telling their child 'I told you so'. And, much like a child in such a situation, Anise pouted and looked elsewhere. "There'll be plenty for you to do when we reach the capital proper, I think. So just bear with it."
"Since when are you the voice of reason?" She grumbled. A fair question for both the man Arthur had been two weeks before and the man he was now. Some part of him was almost tempted to come out and say it had probably been in his third life.
"When I learned my lesson." In the end he spoke the truth in a more roundabout way. It would be best not tell the lady saint that her childhood friend had been replaced by a man wearing his face, name and body, but who was very much a different person all in all.
It would be best to tell none of the people here those words, it would hurt them all, bar maybe for John. And was that not a sad thing? That he'd killed the most important person in the whole world for half the people in this room? He could not help but wonder, neither for the first nor last time, what he would do in their situation and found himself displeased with any response he came up with. Loss was not his strong suit. Then again, he thought, is it anyone's?
"I'm bored," Anise let out in a muttered breath. An admission of weakness, even if a small one. He was surprised she'd only gone and said it now, already two weeks in. He let out a chuckle.
"That's pretty normal, considering that we've been doing nothing but sitting and thinking all day."
"And ruining my fuckin' sleep," John grumbled in a whispered breath, his eyes closed and covered by a coat he'd borrowed from one of the knights. The word 'borrow' had been his own, Arthur was half sure the thing was stolen and the poor knight was too scared to intervene with the saint's 'friend.'
His foot tapped on the ground as he pondered on Anise's words, what was he supposed to about her boredom? It was hardly his duty to help her fight boredom of all things, but considering that it was his fault she was even here to begin with he felt an obligation to do so regardless.
He hardly had many suggestions to pass the time. Whenever he wasn't busy walking he often spoke to his friends, but that was hardly something so difficult that Anise hadn't tried it yet. Retelling tales of old battles or old lives was also a common thing during the march, but he couldn't exactly go and tell them tall tales about his past lives without revealing the fact that he'd had past lives.
"Dad," He called out, and the man turned to look at him fully. "What did you do back in the army when you had to travel?"
"Back in the army we traveled by foot or by horse, hardly much time to be bored with an officer shouting behind your ear at every turn," Alduin said.
"You said 'much', so there was some time to be bored."
"I suppose there was. Back in the army we had some ways to keep ourselves entertained, but I hardly think they're the kinds of things a young lass like Anise will find entertaining."
"At this point I'm willing to accept anything," She said, voice almost pleading.
"Well, back then...it was lewd jokes we told each other to pass the time."
There was a silence in the carriage broken only by John's chortle. Arthur himself had to contain a small amused smile from building on his lips. Anise sighed. "Never mind that then, apparently I'm not willing to accept anything. I'm still bored though."
Arthur pondered on getting the girl a hobby. He recalled something from long ago, a hobby from a previous saint. He made a mental note to buy himself a book with white paper and some sketching utensils the next time they stopped at a city.
Maybe artistry was in a saint's blood, he'd never bothered to check before.
Another week passed, the capital drawing closer and closer with each passing minute, days blended into eachother. Time seemed to lack meaning in journeys as long as this, the only thing that marked their approach to their destination was the changing of the scenery, rolling hills gave way to a thick forest of green, short trees. One of the specks of ancient forests left on the continent after man's arrival.
The forest did not speak to Arthur, it never did, he wagered it was a deserved silence.
"Arthur?" Anise looked at him with worry on her face, what he done to warrant that?
"Is something wrong?" She asked. He raised an eyebrow. "You had this face...like you were thinking of something you regretted."
She wasn't wrong, he supposed. "I was thinking of my Mother."
"Oh...I'm sorry," She cast her eyes down. The fierceness she always seemed to carry quickly faded. Of course it would, she was just a girl, a child. Still clinging to her mother, even now.
"It's not your fault," And it hardly was. The woman had died millennia before she was ever born, hardly fair to blame someone for something even their great, great,great,great,great grandparents could hardly have stopped. Not to say that he'd hardly known the woman at all, those words were better given to his sister.
It was just as she was about to open her mouth again that it happened. The carriage suddenly stopped. His foot shot out, it found her chest, she let out a pained breath as her back rammed against the seat.
"The-" John began, a moment later an arrow shattered the window into a thousand tiny fragments, before landing on the opposite door with a heavy thunk. It had flown through where Anise's head had been a second before. "The fuck?!"
He lowered his foot. Anise was panting, the breath taken from her chest. She was lucky, a bit stronger and he would have broken a rib. Arthur kicked the door, arrow still stuck in it, open. "Out. Now!"
There was an urgency to his voice that made none of them question the order, even his father. The arrow and the rain of glass, which had cut John and Alduin's arms a fair bit, probably had something to do with it.
He was the first to go, if any assassin wanted to have a shot at him he had a better shot at surviving than anyone else there did. Not that he could survive a volley from a group of archers, not yet.
No arrows came as his feet touched the ground, he sighed in relief and reached a hand out. "Quickly now, Anise first."
She gave a hasty nod and took his hand, he pulled her down with a rough motion. Hardly the way he'd been thought to handle a woman, but she was his charge, not his wife.
John and Alduin followed. The former was scratching at his arms. Some part of Arthur wanted to tell the boy to stop doing that, but his father caught on faster than he had. "Don't do that, Jonathan. If there's still glass there you'll push in deeper."
The boy clicked his tongue, but stopped scratching. For someone so rebellious John was oddly adept at following other people's orders. Maybe he was smarter than Arthur gave him credit for. But that was something to worry about when they weren't in the middle of an assassination attempt.
"M-mister Alduin, what just happened?" Anise asked.
"Well...I believe someone might have just tried to take your life." The words were what everyone already knew, but their confirmation seemed to make Anise's face grow a few shades paler. He put a hand on her shoulder.
"Anise, Anise!" He called out. "Focus, you can worry about that latter. Right now we need to keep ourselves safe...where the hell are those knights?"
"Engaging with some kind of enemy party, I'd guess," Alduin said. Arthur bit his lip. The situation was bad, really bad, he'd go so far as to say that it was, to borrow a word from John's repertoire, shit.
"Can you go fetch them?" Arthur asked. "If they come for her I hardly find three of us will be all that much more useful than two when it comes to protecting her life. And a fully grown adult's pleas are..."
"More likely to be heard, of course," Alduin said. "I'll make my way there, lay low, and don't hesitate to run if you must."
Arthur nodded. He'd learned to run long ago, to cast aside his pride and humiliate himself for something much more important than a prince's pride...life and more important than even life, hope.
His father dashed off, Arthur let himself lean again the carriage, and closed his eyes. The forest had not warned him, his senses had. Had that been a spell faster than the speed of a voice,such that he could not hear it flying through the air before it struck,Anise would be dead. Even now she didn't look good, pale, short of breath, eyes wide. "Anise, did I hurt you?"
"It aches a little, but I'll be alright. Is now really the time to worry about that?" She asked, panting. The panting, then, was from stress rather than any injury to her chest, he was glad.
"Don't ever underestimate an injury of the lungs. They are slow, insidious...and certain killers." One girl dying as she coughed out her lungs in his lap...was more than enough.
Anise nodded, faintly. Maybe she'd seen something in his eyes that made her stop from asking anything, maybe she was too stunned to notice he'd broken character and was speaking as D'Aeon, rather than just Arthur, he didn't care either way. One day he'd have to tell her the secret regardless, but that day was not today, she wasn't ready.
As he leaned his head back to look at the sky he felt a tingle in the back of his neck...shit.
In the moment after that the carriage exploded in flames. The trio of them would have exploded too, had Arthur not grabbed them all in the half second he'd had of warning and dashed fifty meters with the use of his grace.
His legs glowed a faint yellow for just a moment, the color of the light that had imbued them for only half a second. Half a second too long for his body.
"Wah?!" Anise began to question, before her face met the ground along with Arthur's body.
"The fuck are you doing you bastard?" John roared, pushing Arthur's unmoving form off of him. He got up and began to dust away his pants, they were filled with dirt and that was something that seemed to leave him rather angry. Funny, he'd taken him for the kind of man that didn't care for appearances.
"Arthur, Arthur," Anise called out his name, shaking his shoulder all the while. Thankfully his nerves were as shot as his muscles, so he barely felt anything at all.
"Am alive," He barely managed to whisper. Seemed he still had some control over some parts of his body. "Just overdid it...I'll be up in a minute."
"Was....did you do this?" She asked, look between where they were now and the carriage. No man, no normal man, could have done what he just did.
"Doesn't fucking matter either way if he did, he's useless know. Give him here, we're getting the fuck out of dodge," John said, kneeling down and throwing Arthur over his shoulder like he was a sack of potatoes.
"Go fuck yourself." Arthur barely managed a chuckle. His lungs stung. Apparently he could still feel pain.