Written for james's prompt at fic_promptly: "Vorkosigan Saga, any, fairy tales for children." Thanks to avanti_90 for beta-reading.
This is a true story, that happened to an ancestor of our lord Count a long, long time ago. The Count was riding through the woods with his armsmen when he was ambushed by his enemies, who lay in wait to kill him. The armsmen drew their swords and fought bravely, but they were taken by surprise and the foe were too many. They did what they could; they wheeled their horses and made a wall between their lord and the enemy, so he could escape. An armsman by the name of Mandryka, who had served the Count and the Count's father for twenty years, was given a deadly wound and fell from his horse. The Count almost turned back then, but Mandryka called fiercely, "Ride, my lord, ride!" And little though the Count wanted to, he had to flee and leave his sworn man behind.
It was a rough and unsettled time then, and the Count could not return right away. But when a year and a day had passed, he came with his lady and all his armsmen, and they gathered up the bones and buried Armsman Mandryka with much honor. And the Count drew his dagger that he had from his father and cut a lock of hair from his head to burn as an offering. But no sooner had he lit the flame, than the ghost of Armsman Mandryka rose from the ground, looking just as he was when he was alive. The Countess gasped, and the armsmen turned pale, brave as they were, and they drew their swords, but the Count motioned them to stand down. "This is my loyal man," he said. "Alive or dead, I'll be sworn on my name's word that he means no harm." And the Count stepped forward to speak with the ghost.
"Armsman Mandryka," said the Count, "is there any oath I swore to you that went unfulfilled? Is there some man living who has done you wrong? Or do you grieve for the manner of your death?"
Then the ghost spoke and answered him, and his voice was hollow and deep like the tolling of a great bell. "It is not this and it is not that, and it is not why I have come from my grave."
"Your family is well cared for," the Count said then. "I have seen to it that they suffer no want. And the walls of my keep, which you defended, are standing stout and strong."
And the ghost said, in his hollow voice, "It is not this and it is not that, and it is not why I have come from my grave."
"Then speak," the Count said. "I charge you by your oath to tell me why you have come from your grave and cannot rest."
And the ghost answered him with questions, saying: "Shall I still ride behind you, my lord, through storm and fire and snow? Shall I carry my two swords in your service and defend you from your foe?"
And the Countess said, "Think you, my lord. It is ill to have a ghost following behind you, and he may do harm to the living."
But the Count paid her no mind, and he said, "Armsman, you are released from my service by death, and I cannot ask anything more of you. But if you wish it, you may ride behind me through storm and fire and snow, and you may carry your two swords to defend me from my foe."
And the armsman's ghost was satisfied, and he sank back down into his grave. They burned the offerings for him, and nothing else strange happened that day.
It so happened that a year later, the Count's keep was attacked by the army of a neighbor Count. As I have said, it was an unsettled time. The battle was fiercely fought, but our lord's men had the worst of it, and gradually they fell back. Just when it seemed most desperate, the ghost of Armsman Mandryka appeared, riding a ghostly horse, and behind him the ghosts of all the armsmen who had died in the service of the Count and his ancestors. And the ghost said, "I am here, my lord, to ride behind you, through storm and fire and snow. And I am here to draw my two swords in your service and defend you from your foe."
And the armsman's ghost rode into the thick of the battle, and all the other ghosts with him. They passed through the enemy ranks spreading terror wherever they went, and the enemy Count's soldiers lost heart and ran. And so the keep was saved. Once the enemy's army was in full retreat, the ghost of Armsman Mandryka came before the Count where he stood on the wall and raised his swords in salute. And then he disappeared, and all the ghosts with him. And the armsman's ghost has never been seen again, from that day to this.