The Knight and His Squire
Chapter 4

Copyright© 2015 by Spherical Spoon

Rohea and Maes swiftly rode away from Wolle. Although Rohea was officially banished, the word had not spread past Wolle, and the people they passed along the roads did not recognize his face as they traveled further from Wolle. As a precaution, Maes headed into towns and villages to procure supplies, while Rohea remained a safe distance away. This would make it harder to anyone to track their paths.

Through her conversations with the townsfolk when she procured supplies, it seemed that no one outside Wolle was aware of the change of events. Rohea was unsure whether the mages' influence had expanded to the towns, or that the Mage guild was content with controlling Wolle. The town guards certainly did not sport the wrist bands that those in Wolle had.

After a week of sleeping on the hard ground, Rohea decided that it would be safe to enter a town. He felt that he would be unrecognizable without his armor, and the town guards would likely be loyal to the king and not the mages. Thus, he entered the town of Riloo with Maes.

As expected, Rohea and Maes walked past the town gates without a hitch. Riloo was a small town, compared with Wolle, but it had the hustle and bustle of a larger one. They entered close to dusk, and the sun was low on the horizon, casting long shadows along the cobblestone roads. The flags of Wollior flew high in the guard towers, but there were few guards patrolling the streets and walls. Most young capable men and women had been drafted for the war, and its effects were visible in the streets. While people were constantly walking around, the adults were in their late thirties or forties, and there were few children running about the streets.

Rohea and Maes found the local tavern without much trouble, and approached the innkeeper for a room. The innkeeper looked at the two of them and winked at Rohea, before directing them upstairs to their room. When they entered the room, they saw that there was a single large bed in the room, instead of two separate beds that they had expected.

Rohea sighed, and said, "I'll speak to the innkeeper and get a different room."

"It's best not to direct unwanted attention," Maes replied. "Besides, I'm sure you will be honorable at night."

"It is not good for your image as a lady," Rohea said.

"My image?" Maes laughed. "I was a simple peasant with no reputation outside of my village. Now, I'm traveling with an outcast knight. I'm sure my image can take it."

"You don't have to travel with me, you know," Rohea replied. "While I appreciate your loyalty, your life is at risk, and your reputation too."

"All my life I've wanted some purpose," Maes said. "I've found it now, and I'm not giving it up!"

Rohea nodded and clapped her on the shoulder. "I'm glad to hear that, Maes. Come, let's get dinner and retire for the night. I've missed the feel of a soft bed."

The food at the inn was nothing spectacular, but Rohea gobbled it down, anyway. It was the tastiest he had had since Toggir. He chucked to himself as he drank the local ale, recalling the vile brew he had guzzled in Vimml. Rohea and Maes chatted happily in the tavern, and their troubled situation was almost forgotten for once. In the daze of alcohol, they failed to notice a man watching them from the corner of the inn.

The next morning, Rohea and Maes set off from Riloo in high spirits. However, not long after they had ridden off, they were waylaid by a group of men wearing black cloths. Rohea slid off Feisty with practiced ease and drew his sword. Maes, to her credit, was not far behind and was soon standing with her back pressed against Rohea's.

A man with a scarred face stepped forward and addressed them. "Sir Rohea, surrender now and we will let the woman live."

Rohea was surprised that he had been recognized, and his face showed a flicker of emotion.

The scarred man grinned. "Surprised that we recognized you? Word of your exile has spread. We are but simple bounty hunters out for the price on your head," he said as he bowed.

"I very much like my head where it is," Rohea countered. "And you would be wise to leave if you wish to keep yours attached."

The scarred man laughed. He signaled to his partners and two of them stepped forward.

"Honorable combat from bounty hunters?" Rohea commented. "I'm impressed."

"Not as impressed as you will be when you feel your demise," the scarred man said.

Maes looked confused at the exchange, and glanced at Rohea.

"They are challenging us to honorable combat," Rohea said. "Only two of them will attack us at a time, and there will be no thrown weapons."

"What happens after we kill those two?" Maes asked.

"Two more will attack, and so on. But beware, these are bounty hunters and may decide to break their word at any time."

The two bounty hunters approached Rohea and Maes, and bowed when they were a short distance away. Rohea and Maes bowed in return, and all four dropped to their combat stances, facing each other in two parallel lines.

The bounty hunters were well-trained, and they spun their swords with practiced ease. Rohea barked at Maes, who was dazzled by their movements, "Watch their arms, not the swords. They seek to distract you with their swordplay. Remember your lessons well, and we will win this day!"

The two hunters stepped away from each other, and tried to circle around Rohea and Maes. However, Rohea was quick on his feet and charged at one of them. He swung his sword, expecting to be parried. To his surprise, his swing cut through air, and the bounty hunter dodged past, heading towards Maes. They had obviously decided to get rid of Maes before they engaged Rohea.

Muttering a curse, Rohea turned and ran back towards Maes. She was locked in combat with one of the bounty hunters but was losing the advantage. The second bounty hunter was gaining ground and almost behind Maes. Rohea attacked the first bounty hunter, but his swings were parried easily.

"Maes!" Rohea cried out. "Watch your back!"

Maes turned around and parried a blow aimed at her back. She threw off the second bounty hunter's swing, and took a quick step forward, hoping to land a quick thrust. The bounty hunter sidestepped, and whipped his sword up. Maes tried to dodge the sword, but was too slow to react. The sword slashed her left arm, and blood started soaking into her clothes. She cried out in pain and grabbed her left arm.

The scarred bounty hunter, who was observing from a distance, said, "Looks like we drew first blood, Sir Rohea. It is not too late to surrender."

Rohea was silent, and gritted his teeth. He had to quickly end the fight with one of them, or Maes would surely be overrun in a moment. Rohea was a flurry of activity as he swung repeated at the first bounty hunter. The bounty hunter was not as skilled as the other, and he lost the advantage with each strike from Rohea. Soon, the bounty hunter was completely on the defensive, doing his utmost to parry Rohea's strikes, and unable to launch any attacks of his own.

Rohea sensed the right moment and thrusted. The sword struck home, and the bounty hunter was impaled. Rohea grunted, and kicked the bounty hunter to the ground, freeing his sword. Losing little time, he flicked his sword, causing blood to splatter on the ground nearby, and he turned to join Maes.

Maes was not as lucky – besides the slash on her arm, she now had small cuts on her legs and torso, although none was as severe. Rohea stepped to her left, since her left arm was now essentially useless. The remaining bounty hunter eyed his partner, now lying in a pool of blood, and shook his head. It was going to be difficult to engage both Rohea and Maes at once. He took a few steps backwards, and charged at Rohea.

Sensing a trap, Rohea used his right arm and pulled Maes behind him. He swung his sword to deflect the bounty hunter's thrust, and kicked the hunter's knee, causing the hunter to stumble. The bounty hunter swung up, and Rohea quickly jumped back, dodging the blow. The hunter used his left hand to reach behind his belt, and then snapped his left arm back in front. Maes cried out, clutched her chest, and dropped to her knees.

Rohea glanced over, and saw a small dagger's hilt sticking out of Maes' chest. "Don't pull it out!" he cried as he charged at the remaining bounty hunter.

Rohea swung downwards, but the bounty hunter managed to block the blow with his sword. However, the strength of Rohea's swing caused the bounty hunter to stumble on his bad knee, and he fell to the ground.

"Enough!" the scarred man commanded. He gave a signal and the other bounty hunters closed in on Rohea and Maes.

Rohea stepped closer to Maes and raised his sword, prepared for an attack by the remaining bounty hunters. He should not have trusted them to keep their word, and now Maes had paid for their treachery.

To his surprise, the other bounty hunters grabbed the arms of the one who had struck Maes, and pushed him to his knees in front of Rohea.

The scarred man stepped forward and bowed to Rohea and Maes. "I am dreadfully sorry about the acts of this dishonorable snake." He then nodded to his subordinates, and four of them drew their swords. The bounty hunter struggled against the two that were holding him, but they did not budge. The four who surrounded him then swung their swords in unison, and the bounty hunter dropped to the ground, with his arms and legs severed. The two that had held his arms dropped them, and spit on the bounty hunter.

"He shall bleed to death, in his true snake form," the scarred man said, and he spat at the bounty hunter. Turning back to face Rohea, he continued, "We will not battle you further this day." The remaining bounty hunters returned their swords to their sheaths.

Rohea bowed in return and sheathed his sword as well. He then knelt down and looked over Maes. Blood was oozing slowly out of her chest wound, and dripping from her arm. Rohea took off his shirt, tore off a long strip, and tied it around Maes' forearm to staunch the bleeding. Looking at the dagger still buried in Maes, he was unsure of what to do.

The scarred man approached them with his palms facing Rohea, to show that he had no intentions of hurting them further. He knelt down next to Rohea and said, "My men are trained only in basic first aid. There is little that we can do here. However, there is a capable healer in Riloo who may be able to help."

Rohea nodded at the scarred man, and two bounty hunters stepped forward. They carefully lifted Maes, and walked to her horse. They laid her on the saddle, while Rohea mounted his horse and rode next to Maes. The scarred man rode up on the other side of Maes, and together the trio rode off towards Riloo.

"I am Gilmr," the scarred man said. "Don't worry, your identity will remain secret as we ride to Riloo. We will settle our fight after your companion has recovered."

Rohea nodded. "I am surprised that one of your ... profession, has as much honor as you do."

Gilmr laughed. "I wasn't always a bounty hunter. You might even say that our paths are similar."

Rohea frowned and bit his tongue. He did not want to get into an argument, not while Maes' life was hanging in the balance.

Gilmr continued, "I see that you don't agree. I'm sure being compared to a bounty hunter is an insult to one of your status, or former status. Suffice to say that I became a bounty hunter out of desperation, but I still strive to live a life of honor."

They rode in silence the remainder of the way.

When they reached the town gates, the guards were surprised to see Maes slumped over unconscious, with a dagger sticking out of her chest. Gilmr discreetly handed some coins to them, and the guards waved them through without asking any questions. Once inside the town, Gilmr led them to the healer's home, which was located in the outskirts. Rohea nimbly lifted Maes out of the saddle, and carried her in his arms, as Gilmr knocked on the door.

The door opened with a small creak, and an elderly man stepped out. "Hello, Gilmr. What brings you here today?" He then saw Rohea carrying Maes, and ushered them quickly inside.

The elderly man introduced himself as Parym, and got to work on Maes. He gently felt around her chest wound, and went into a room to retrieve some supplies. He returned shortly and instructed Rohea and Gilmr to hold Maes down. He then pulled the dagger out in a swift stroke. Maes jerked up, opened her eyes briefly, and then lost consciousness again. Blood began oozing quickly out of the wound, and Parym rubbed some herbs on it. He then deftly wrapped some bandages around Maes' torso, and glanced up at Gilmr.

Gilmr gave a slight nod, and Parym placed his hands hovering above Maes' wound. He closed his eyes and a soft glow began to emanate from his palms. Parym then laid his palms on top of the wound, and the glow seemed to flow into Maes. After some time, the glow faded, and Parym removed his hands.

"I have done all that I can," Payrm said. "The rest is between her and the gods."

"Thank you," Rohea said sincerely. "True healers are hard to find. We're lucky to have come here in time."

Rohea then carried Maes from the table where she had been placed, to a small bed in a side room of Payrm's. Payrm explained that he had been prosecuted by the mages, as many of his kind had been, but Gilmr had rescued him and brought him here. Rohea suspected that there was more to the story, but did not press further. Payrm said that Maes' wounds would take a few weeks to recover, and she would not be in a condition to ride for at least two weeks.

"So what happens now, bounty hunter?" Rohea asked Gilmr.

"We will put our fight aside until your companion recovers," Gilmr repeated. "You may stay in this town until that time, and I will ensure that no one else tries to lay claim on you."

"That will not work," Rohea said. "I'm afraid that I need to continue traveling."

"Without your companion? She is in no shape to travel."

Rohea sighed. "As much as I hate to, I have to. The fate of our kingdom may depend on it. I trust that Payrm will take care of her in my absence."

Payrm nodded.

"If you leave this town, other bounty hunters will attack you. I cannot allow that to happen," Gilmr said.

"Then we must settle our business now, I'm afraid."

Gilmr was silent for some time, thinking about the alternatives. "I will accompany you on your travels. But only to protect you from others who would claim your bounty. You must give me your word that you will return here when your task is done, and we will settle our fight."

Rohea nodded. "You have shown that you are honorable, and I accept your offer. I give you my word that I will return here."

Rohea and Gilmr then rode back out of Riloo, and joined the other bounty hunters. Gilmr explained the situation to them, and while some of them were clearly unhappy, they accepted Gilmr's decision. In the meantime, the other bounty hunters would continue on other jobs, until Gilmr and Rohea returned.

"We're here," Rohea announced after three days of travel. The two men had not had much conversation during the trip, although Gilmr had proven to be adept at finding and trapping animals for meals.

They stopped before a large manor. The grass outside the manor was recently trimmed, and there were flowers planted in neat rows parallel to the house. Rohea felt that it was a little extravagant, but he knew his master well deserved it, after his many years of service to the kingdom.

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