Soon, Martel had the remaining gold coins from the Captain. He stepped from the large tent to find the King’s servant standing nearby. Upon her arm was a large white falcon. Its golden eyes set upon Martel as he approached. Briefly, the woman looked at him then whispered something to the bird. Spreading its great, majestic wings, the bird soared away. In the darkness, Martel could see a green tunic under the brown leather vest she wore. On her right forearm was a brown leather vambrace while on the left she wore a leather glove that covered the hand and forearm. Her pants were an earthy color that Martel could not make out in the faded light of nightfall. Her boots were those of one who spent much time in the woods, comfortable, coming over the calf with a slight heel. Like her vest and vambraces, they were brown. To Martel, she seemed exotic, beautiful, deadly. At her left hip was a long knife with a bolster instead of a guard, well suited for navigating undergrowth without getting caught on every limb or vine she passed. He wondered if she was a ranger, one of those strange people who spent much time in the woods and could read all manner of signs and communicate with the animals of the forest. Drawing near, he saw several throwing blades in her belt before she turned away and they were out of sight.
“I hope you found your payment satisfactory?” Her voice was rich with an alto ring to it.
“The ‘Capitan’ was reasonable after all.” Martel said, coming up beside the woman. She started off, leading him away from Pennyworth’s tent. He matched her stride.
“I am Merisa, Ranger and servant to King Gendric.” She said. “The king has a business proposition for you.”
“I’m done hiring myself out.” Martel said. “It’s time to retire.”
“Oh, you may retire.” Merisa assured Martel, “after your business is finished with the king. My Lord is not one to be told ‘no.’ He does not react well to it.”
Martel looked hard at Merisa. He did not like being told what to do by her or this king. He did not like the idea of anything more that would delay his return home. Four years was enough. Enough moving. Enough living under the stars. Enough fighting and killing for others. He hated his current life.
“Besides, Martel Ironforger, you may find that your presence on this quest is of utmost importance in the overall picture.” Now Martel was curious. But he felt that Merisa was not one to say more than was necessary. No, she was one to lead on, to hook her target with curiosity. He perceived that he was in the presence of a master huntress.
The two walked out of the camp without any further conversation. Behind them was the noise of drunken celebration. In the valley below lay the slain. Some moans of agony still rose from the sea of bodies. King Gendric denied any relief for those wounded enemies below. The night air was damp. In the sky above, the stars were obscured here and there by wisps of cloud. The grass beneath their feet was moist, spongy, offering a soft path.
Soon they reached the edge of the King’s encampment. The noise of celebration accosted their ears once more. Various tunes played on lutes, lyres and whistles contended with one another to be heard. As the two walked through the camp, they often dodged fighting soldiers, drunks offering a drink from their own bottles, drunks passed out in the street. One particularly drunk and amorous soldier set his eyes upon Merisa only to find himself on his knees in pain. Martel never saw what she did to him.
“He will recover in a few days. But if he remembers nothing else tomorrow, he will know he did something he should regret.” Merisa said as Martel looked down in wonder at the groaning man.
Soon they reached a giant red and blue pavilion. Four royal guards in their red tunics and chainmail hauberks stood with polearms before the door. One of the guards drew back the door flap while another entered and stood stiff.
“My King, the Lady Merisa brings your guest, Master Ironforger.” The guard announced. With a bow at the waste, he turned and took his post outside once more while Merisa curtseyed with a flourish. Martel thought of mocking her gesture, but reason outweighed his mockery. He did not like this king. In fact, he hated him. He chose instead to bow at the waste, respectfully.
Gendric was a stout man. He appeared to be in his forties though Martel knew him to be much older. His robes were of a rich sable material. It shimmered in the light of the braziers that stood near the sides of the pavilion. With a look of delight on his clean-shaven face, he clapped his hands in front of him and walked toward his guests.
“Ah! Thank you Merisa, my love!” His voice was smooth. “Martel Ironforger! It is good to see you again at last! How you have grown! I know so little about you, which is odd, given your parentage.”
“Your Highness, I’ve tried to keep a low profile.” Martel said.
“I’d say you succeeded!” The king replied. “I hate to admit that until a couple of years ago, I had no knowledge of your whereabouts. Why? You could have come to me. You know your father was in my service.” To Merisa, he said, “Old Marcus was a talented interrogator.”
“Yes, his skill served him well when he cracked my mother’s head on the hearth of our home.” It was out of his mouth before Martel realized it. He immediately regretted letting those words slip. Merisa’s brown eyes widened in surprise but she quickly composed herself.
“Really?” Gendric was curious. “What did it sound like?”
Now Martel saw the madman that he knew the king to be. He bent his rage toward Gendric who cocked his head to the side like a curious puppy.
“Oh, no time for that now. And watch yourself there, Berserker. The reason I remain king is because little tricks like yours do not work on me. And I do not tolerate them.”
Martel took a deep breath and slowly let it out.
“That may have been a little insensitive of me,” Gendric said, “My apologies. I am not so interested in death. That is so final. But how one dies, now that fascinates me. Sometimes I can’t help myself, so again, forgive me and let’s move on.”
“Of course, Your Highness. At your leisure.” Martel spoke slowly, deliberately.
“Well, I won’t keep you long. I know you are tired. That was quite a fight today. Quite a victory. Finally, the rebels are crushed. Maybe we can get on with fighting others, expanding the kingdom?” Gendric turned away and paced a few steps before turning to face Martel again. “There is an asset in a village some distance from here that I need you to retrieve for me. Can you do that? It is the Ember.”
“Let me know where to go, and I will leave in the morning, Your Highness.” Martel answered quickly. He was ready to put some distance between himself and this place.
“Merisa knows the details. She will lead you there.” Gendric said with a gesture to his servant.
“Oh, that won’t be necessary, Your Highness. I’m sure I can find my way without her taggin’ along.” Martel said.
“Oh, but it’s quite necessary, young Martel. In fact, I insist that she goes with you. She is your new best friend. As a matter of fact, you will be staying in her tent tonight. I have already sent men to collect your things.”
Martel bit the inside of his lip to keep from saying something that could get him killed. Gendric continued, seemingly oblivious to Martel’s discomfort.
“I’m sure having a tent over your head for a night or two will beat sleeping under the stars as you have for so long now. Tomorrow, I want you to go back to your friends and gather a couple of them up to go with you. Good travelling companions are the best for pulling you out of trouble should it arise. Won’t you agree Master Martel?”
Martel hated the smile that crept across Gendric’s face. He did not want a babysitter keeping her eyes on him every step of the way. He did not like having so little knowledge of his quest.
“Very well, Your Highness. I will go and the Lady Merisa will go with me.”
“Good! Good!” Gendric clapped his hands and smiled broadly. “You two will get along beautifully, I’m sure. Now, Merisa, put him up for the night. You are dismissed.”
After paying proper respects, Merisa and Martel stepped from the King’s tent and into the night outside.
“All right, Princess Pretty Pants, lead the way.” Annoyance was thick in Martel’s voice.
Merisa shot him a nasty look before taking the lead and heading for the edge of camp.
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Interested in finding out more about Martel's 'Talent'
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"All Things Strive" Gd Tak 'Gar
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- Taylor Steiner
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I like insights into your wordcraft, I do this but I didn't realise it was a thing. I just know I never get it the way I want it on the first write.