The Knight and His Squire 3
Copyright© 2015 by Spherical Spoon
Rohea thought that it would be better if they rode off and camped a distance away, since the night was still young, and their current campsite was in an apparently unsafe location. However, since Puccar appeared to be blinded, he decided that it would be better to wait for daylight to see if Puccar's eyesight would return. Even if it did not, travelling in the day light would be easier for Maes and himself.
Rohea and Maes helped Puccar get settled in, and Rohea took first watch. He kept looking over to Puccar, sometimes to check to make sure that Puccar was still alive, and other times wondering how Puccar was still alive.
Suddenly, when Rohea was looking at Puccar, Puccar sat upright. Puccar turned towards one side of their camp and said, "Beware, mages approach!"
Rohea stood up and drew his sword and shield. He walked quickly over to Maes and shook her awake.
"Huh? Wha-" Maes started.
"Mages," Rohea whispered. "Puccar must have heard something."
Maes quickly got up and reached for her short sword and shield. Puccar remained seated and turned towards Rohea and Maes.
"I don't think that I'll be of much use in battle, but I would be grateful if either of you could hand me my sword and shield," Puccar said.
Maes retrieved Puccar's belongings and handed them to him, helping him get the shield securely strapped to his left hand.
"Be careful that you don't strike either of us," Rohea admonished.
The trio prepared for an attack by the supposed mages, but the forest appeared to be quiet, with only the rustling of leaves and scurrying of small animals in the night.
Rohea said, "It may have been nothing. I will go look around while you two stay here."
A loud voice carried over from the distance, "Surrender now, and we will make your deaths swift."
"Who goes there? Show yourself!" Rohea shouted in return.
"We do not answer to you, dark practitioner!" the voice replied.
"Mages! I am Sir Rohea of Wollior. Identify yourselves."
"Sir Rohea, you say?" the voice questioned. "Prove it."
"Come here and you can see for yourself. Surely one of you must have been in court and will recognize me," Rohea challenged.
"Very well," a different, female voice answered. "I will ascertain his identity."
"No," the first voice said. "It could be a trap!"
There was some rustling of the grass nearby, and a robed figured walked towards the campsite. The woman was of medium build, and her robe was gray but elegant. A hood covered her face, but Rohea could tell from her walking gait that she was young, or middle-aged at most.
Rohea turned towards her, so that she could have a good look at his face. The woman approached him but kept a safe distance. Then, she removed her hood. Rohea's first impression was right – the woman was young, barely past her teens. However, although the woman appeared to recognize him, Rohea did not find her a familiar face in court.
"He speaks the truth," the woman called out. "He is Sir Rohea."
More rustlings came from two directions, and two more hooded figures appeared. They too removed their hoods as they approached the campsite. One – the voice that Rohea had previously heard – was a middle-aged man in a brown robe, and the other was a young man in his teens. Rohea supposed that the young man and the woman were the middle-aged man's apprentices.
"Greetings, Sir Rohea," the middle-aged man said. "I am Herav, and these are my students, Jorer," he continued, pointing to the young man, "and Toas," pointing to the woman.
"Greetings," Rohea answered, sheathing his sword. "My companions are Sir Puccar and my squire Maes."
Upon hearing Maes' name, the three mages simultaneously raised their hands up in front of them.
"We were right!" Jorer exclaimed. "We sensed dark magic. The dark practitioner is here!"
Rohea placed his hand back on the hilt of his sword. "Maes is no dark practitioner, you must be mistaken."
"We indeed sense dark magic emanating from this area, Sir Rohea," Herav said carefully. "And your squire Maes is known to be a dark practitioner."
Herav looked around the area quickly. "From the looks of the corpses nearby, they were killed by dark magic, were they not?"
Rohea remained silent, and Puccar stood up facing the mages.
Toas hissed. She pointed and Puccar and said, "Master, look!"
Herav turned to look at Puccar and exclaimed, "What is this sorcery?"
"What do you mean?" Puccar asked, walking briskly towards Rohea. His eyes remained closed but he seemed capable of walking without assistance.
"It's an abomination!" Herav said. "That thing appears alive, but it is not!"
Puccar suddenly opened his eyes and stared right at Herav. Herav gave a muffled cry and fell to the ground, clutching his throat. Jorer and Toas were stunned and did not react. Maes took the opportunity to close the distance, and stuck her sword through Jorer's chest.
She was about to do the same to Toas when Rohea called out, "Maes, stop!"
Maes stopped her sword just before plunging it into Toas, and instead brought the blade up to Toas' neck. Maes said, "No sudden movements, mage, or this sword will put an end to you."
Rohea asked Maes, "What did you do to Herav?"
Maes looked shocked. "Me? I didn't do anything. Puccar must have done it."
They turned to Puccar, who had walked to Jorer's body. Jorer was barely alive, his blood spurting out of his chest and forming a large puddle. Puccar placed his hands over Jorer's body, and Jorer screamed. Rohea watched in shock as Jorer suddenly shriveled up, as if his life force was rapidly being depleted. It looked radically different from the many deaths that Rohea had seen in his years.
Rohea looked at Puccar, suspecting something was amiss. There was a smile on Puccar's face, but it was no ordinary smile. Puccar looked delighted at killing Jorer. Indeed, to Rohea it looked as if Puccar was somehow absorbing Jorer's life force.
"Sir Puccar!" Rohea called. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing these mages don't deserve," Puccar replied in a cool voice. "Once I'm through with this one, we can deal with the woman. Pity the old one is already dead."
Rohea drew his sword. "Stop this madness, Sir Puccar. This isn't you!"
Puccar stood up and faced Rohea. He placed his hands by his sides, palms facing Rohea. "Indeed, I am better than Puccar ever was."
Upon hearing that, Rohea charged at Puccar. Puccar was surprisingly agile and dodged Rohea's attack with ease. He jumped up high and landed behind Rohea. Before Rohea could react, Puccar placed his hands on Rohea's shoulders.
"Arrgh," Rohea shouted. Rohea struggled, but appeared to be quickly depleting in strength. He dropped to his knees, and his head started to slump forward.
"No!" Maes cried. She rushed towards Puccar and knocked him aside.
"Mistress," Puccar said. "This one deserves to die. He has learned of my identity."
"Who are you?" Maes asked.
Puccar gasped. "Mistress does not know? But Mistress summoned me to this plane."
Maes was shocked and put her hand over her mouth. "I was trying to revive Sir Puccar."
"What is dead cannot return," Puccar said. "Instead, you provided me an empty vessel. It appears that you did not summon me on purpose. In that case, I am not beholden to you. However, I will not kill you this night, or any of you here, as gratitude for your spell. Pursue me, and I will not be as kind again."
With that, Puccar took a leap backwards and disappeared into the trees in the distance.
Maes ran over to Rohea, and shook him gently. "Sir Rohea, are you alright?"
Rohea mumbled softly, "Yes, Maes, I am. Stop Sir Puccar!"
Maes shook her head. "He has gone too far too quickly."
Toas, broken out of her shock, collapsed to a sitting position. She cradled her head in her hands and muttered softly, "That cannot be, that cannot be."