"Keladry! What in the world could take that girl so long?" Sir Raoul bellowed good naturally as he easily swung up onto Amberfire and turned the beautiful mare in a circle. His tall frame made it easy for him to see if any one of the King's Own was missing. Today they were heading out, settling disputes between centaurs and commoners. As he rode briskly down the column of young noblemen, making sure that everyone was ready, he still couldn't make out his own squire. His amused eyes were sparkling, not only because he was happy to get away from the palace but also because he was worried. He had taken in Keladry of Mindelan just mere days ago to be his squire and he was aching to see her in action.
"Milord," a girl's voice caught the Commander of guard. Halting his mare, he whipped around to see his squire ride beside one of his sergeants. The girl's face was calm, perhaps slightly flushed but her eyes sparkled with laughter and eagerness. Her hair had grown longer over the summer, hanging now below her shoulders in light brown locks. To keep it out of her eyes, Kel had tied it back with a sting of leather but still some pieces escaped. Her own frame was tall for a girl yet even in the saddle she was shorter than Raoul. Wearing the colors of his house, green and gold, Kel looked older. She's a late bloomer, Raoul thought as he shook his head, but when she blooms, she will be the most beautiful flower of all.
"Come on squire! We have wasted enough time!" Raoul gave her a light pat on the shoulder. "Normally our remounts go in a string at the rear—the servingmen lead them with the supply train. We'll make an exception for Peachblossom. You ride a neck length behind back on my left, and keep him with you. Behave," The knight commander turned to the red roan gelding that Kel was leading behind her mare. The small charger slightly turned his large head to the side and practically raised one of his eyebrows. "Or I'll muzzle you like a dog!"
The gelding shook his head and pranced in the spot. Raoul smiled as did most of the warriors who saw the exchange between the "testy pony" and their commander. Turning his long legged bay around, Raoul rode back to the font, Kel following him without as much as a word. Getting back before the gates, Raoul looked right. Lerant of Eldorne, the tall lanky youth, was in position, the flag in his hand flapping slightly in the wind. To the right of the standard-bearer, surrounded by six pure bread wolf hounds sat Captain Flyndan Whiteford, grimacing at the rising sun.
Smiling to himself, Raoul looked to his left and was pleased to see Kel gazing at the Third Company with large brown eyes, sparrows sitting on Peachblossom's mane and Jump curled in the basket attached to Hoshi's saddle. Giving a small lecture about the proper attention needed in this raid, Raoul gave the sign and nudged Amber into an easy trot. The company took off, all the knights dressed in blue, silver and white while all riding beautifully bred steeds. At the back of the two grand columns, rode the servingmen dressed in white and blue, leading most of the spare mounts and the supply train.
"At least we will eat well enough," Kel mused talking to her animals and no one in particular. Raoul smiled and winked to Flyn, who still in grim good humour just rolled his eyes.
"We do try to eat," The King's Own Commander called back to the girl. "I go all faint if I don't get fed regularly. Only think of the disgrace to the King's Own if I fell from the saddle."
"But there was that time in Fanwood," Flyn mussed loudly right on cue. Raoul turned sharply to him and nodded slightly in thanks. Flyndan smirked, pleased with himself.
"The wedding in Tameran," added someone further down the line.
"Don't forget when what's-his-name, with the army, retired!" yelled a third voice, belonging to Gildes of Veldine.
"Silence, insubordinate curs!" cried Sir Raoul in mock anger. "Do not sully my new squire's ears with your profane tales!" He was happy to see the amused, open smile on Kel's face as she regarded the Own laugh at him at his own expense.
"Even if they are true?" Domitan of Masbolle's voice sounded loud and clear. Kel blushed at the comment and raised he eyes up to Raoul's laughing green one's.
"Especially if they are true!" Raoul laughed, kicking Amber into a light gallop, forcing the laughing men to follow his lead. As they rode on towards the rising sun, Kel kept smiling at the coming four years.
"Okay, we'll stop here for breakfast!" Raoul called, raising his hand. The company slowed to an easy walk, Kel a beat behind. Shaking her head, she easily dismounted the calm mare and grabbing the reins of both Hoshi and Peachblossom, headed to Raoul. Tacking Amberfire's reins, Kel gave her master a triumphal smile and turned around. After a few steps she turned back to face him.
"Sir, you must teach me the signs sometime," Kel smiled at the man and turning again, led the three horses to the river. The Commander ran a hand through his thick black hair. The girl was a hard worker. Smiling to himself, Raoul headed to where the rest of the men were getting the morning feast ready. Choosing to sit beside Flyndan, he closed his eyes, sighed contently and put his hands behind his head.
"Well Raoul, you look as happy as a stuffed lion," the captain remarked as he continued to skin a rabbit that one of his dogs brought him. The animals were sniffing around, eagerly pocking their noses in bushes and chasing small creatures. The trees around their temporary camp were filled with singing birds.
"Flyn, I told you that gal is a dream. She doesn't even need instructions. Strong-willed, calm, sensitive..." Raoul opened one eye to see that his friend was laughing to his heart's content. "What's so funny?"
"Well, now that you ask," Flyn was still grinning yet his eyes became serious once more. "You are talking about her like she is a new horse that you acquired, perfectly trained and tempered. You have to remember that she is a squire. Maybe not a true squire in my mind, but a squire never less. Please talk about her that way and not as if you want to marry her. There will be rumours enough."
"Sorry Flyn," Raoul waved away the comment with good humour. "I got carried away. I just forgot what it's like to have a squire nearby. The last one I took in ended up being killed by the girl who he slept with. Scary story!" Both men became quiet. Slow time passed before Flyndan putting down the skinned rabbit looked around.
"Damn it! Where is she?" he asked looking in the direction of the stream. Three horses stood grazing, the reins dangling on the ground.
"What do you mean?" Raoul was up in a flash, looking where Hoshi, Peachblossom and Amberfire were all nibbling on grass. There was no sign of the girl, neither in the water nor the surroundings. Raoul swore. "God damn that girl!"
Kel fell. She didn't even know how it happened. One moment she was standing in on the bank of the small stream, letting the three steeds drink to their content when the next some unknown force pushed her. It was so unexpected that Kel wasn't even sure it happened until she was slowly falling deeper and deeper into what appeared a shallow creek. Kel didn't feel fear or anger. She just thought about her short life and how she would never truly be a knight. That was what hurt the most.
The water made her loath for breath, but now she was too far away from the surface to even bother trying. All around her was dark, cold water. It felt different now to Kel though she didn't know why. Her thoughts travelled to all the happy moments she experienced in life. The gifts she got. Her numb fingers reached for the hilt of her sword. The wonderful sword from the Raven's armoury from her unknown benefactor. She also thought about Jump and Peachblossom, the two faithful animals who believed in her and helped her. She remembered the sparrows, her loyal little messengers and helpers.
Kel's heart slowed, her eyes closed and the vivid memories became faster, shaper. She thought of her friends; the tall red haired Cleon, the young bold Merric, the always battle ready Owen, the quiet Prosper, the easygoing Seaver, the thoughtful Roald. Finally, Kel's mind stopped on Neal. The tall, brown haired, green eye Neal. The one who was always trying to prove something with debates. The one that no matter what always got into trouble because of his long tongue. The one whom Kel secretly loved and admired. How many times has he helped her? Believed in her? How many laughs and happy times had they shared? Kel didn't want to think. She and Neal had bonded in no way she would be able to with anyone else. They were the odd ones out. They were different.
Slowly, the lack of air and oxygen caused her to stop thinking. Her eyes started to close; her mouth parted slightly letting the oxygen slowly escape her lungs. Her long hair was tangled and escaping the leather cord with which she tied it back. With the last intake of strength, Kel looked up and was surprised to see that the water wasn't that deep. Swimming up to the surface with the last of her strength, breaking the water with her palms, Kel inhaled a big breath and exhaled. The current was strong. Half swimming, half letting the water take her, the young girl made it to solid ground. Gabbing to a low hanging branch, Kel sighed and pulled herself up so she was hanging there without the possibility to fall back into the water. Closing her eyes, she fell out cold.
"Sir Boromir! Look there!" a solider came riding up to the two young brothers who were now arguing. Breaking their momentary disagreement, the older one turned to look at the man at arms. Dressed in a plain blue tunic, a leather vest and only his dark cape, it was hard to know that this young man was one of the best fighters Middle Earth has ever seen.
"What is it?" Boromir turned slightly annoyed to the man. His younger brother Faramir followed suit. The two brothers have taken the opportunity of temporary peace to go hunting yet so far their luck has been slim. They were unable to catch a single animal.
"Milord, there is a young maiden in the Girlain. She seems dead or at least out cold," the man made a sign against evil. Faramir gasped. Being a young lad of thirteen he was not used to rescues of ladies. Boromir was five years older but he was also out of luck. Just having proved himself as a great leader in both the war and the overall run of the city, Boromir never had been interested in ladies and he never had the fortune to rescue one. Gulping and exchanging looks with Faramir, he faced the solider.
"Can you show me where you saw her?" the man at arms nodded and turned his chestnut mare back the way he came. Taking a deep breath, both lads got their chargers to respond.
"Nice going Boromir," Faramir mussed, laughing nervously. His brother shot him a dark look. "I mean, why are we going to bother rescuing some silly girl who we don't even know just because our man servant tells us he saw her unconscious?"
"Sometimes Faramir, I wonder if you have a mind at all," Boromir snapped at the young lad but quickly regained his temper. He was just nervous. "If the army comes looking for me to rescue someone, I must do so. It is an unwritten code of leadership and knights. You know 'protect the weak and small'. That's what we do whenever we go fight. We leave behind women, elders and children so we can protect them."
"So just because a solider tells you that you have to save a girl, you take off?" Faramir shook his head, his blond wavy locks following the motion. His grey blue eyes sparkled with animation and slight confusion. Boromir had to smile slightly as he watched his younger but with a throb of his head, he once again focussed on the task at hand. The solider had dismounted his mare and was waiting for the two young lords with a worried expression.
"Someday you will understand Faramir," Boromir promised and hitting his bay on the sides with a twig, raced the last couple yards to the end of the river, pulling the animal short before he could fall of the bank. Swinging easily off the stallion, the young commander handed the man his reins and looked out to the river. Faramir was just arriving, deciding to ponder on his brother's words, so Boromir had time to fully take in the situation. Out in the middle of the Girlain River, hanging limp on a branch was a young girl. Her fairly short brown hair was limp, covering most of her face from view. She wore a green tunic with golden breaches and leather boots. On her belt hanged a sword of good quality, which surprised Boromir to no end. He heard of the young Lady Eowyn, the White lady of Rohan who was skilled with a sword but he never thought that was true.
"Sir?" the man walked over after tying both horses to a nearby branch. "What will be your plan of action?" Surprised and slightly embarrassed from being caught starring at a strange maiden, Boromir forced himself to move his gaze back to the task at hand.
"Um, could you give me a minute?" he asked as he backed away from the river and sat down beside a tree. He didn't have much time he knew, but he wasn't in a hurry to jump into the strong flowing waters of the river. Taking out his boot knife, the young leader started twirling it in his hand. He needed to come up with a plan fast; the river's fast currents were already moving the branch upon which the girl was hanging. Looking back to his steed, he noticed the cord of rope that was hanging from his saddle. Suddenly he figured everything out. "Faramir, get over here!" Boromir cried jumping up and racing to his bay.
"What? The mighty leader has a plan?" the youngster joked but obediently followed his older brother.
"Can you shoot so that the arrow hits that tree exactly?" Boromir asked, tying the rope to an arrow. Faramir raised an eyebrow but solemnly shook his head in silent agreement. Taking the arrow from Boromir, the young lad took aim from his bow, a beautifully crafted weapon. The arrow shot into the air and after a slight hesitation, hit the branch dead on. Faramir smiled contently and looked at his brother. The young commander was already fastening the last knot of the rope around the tree. Turning to Faramir, Boromir handed him his cape and leather vest along with his sword and dagger.
"What are you planning to do?" worry was slightly sounding in the youngster's voice. He might mock his brother, might laugh at him or argue with him but Faramir couldn't watch him get hurt over a silly unknown girl.
"Relax and watch," Boromir smirked as he jumped up onto the rope. Taking a deep breath, the young knight took a step, lost his balance and had to rush a few smaller steps to regain it. Boromir breathed out, sweat gathering at the palms of his hands. Looking down, he confirmed that he was already above the rushing river. That didn't help calm the tall, brave youth. He would have rather preferred to ride into battle. Taking another breath, slightly bending his knees, Boromir took another step then waited until he felt balanced again. Another step and then some more waiting. This way he progressed slowly towards the limp form of the girl. Five steps left...then four...Boromir was about to place his foot of the rope but at that moment the rope lured and losing his footing Boromir nearly tumbled into Girlain. Before he completely fell, somehow he managed to grab hold onto the rope.
"Boromir!" Faramir's voice was full of concern and as he lunged for the rope, the only thing holding him back was the solider.
"Lad, calm down! If you get onto that rope, ya'll topple down into the water and what good will that do your brother. It's a miracle he is still alive. Just stay 'ere!" Boromir grimaced as he hung there, nearly to the branch yet not far enough to jump onto it. The fact that his brother was now yelling things to him didn't help him concentrate. Getting a better grip on the rope, Boromir took the hand that was further back and grabbed the rope close to the branch. He repeated the action again but this time with his other hand. Straining with the effort, sweat dripping off him into the water hastening below, Boromir finally reached the branch. Sighing with relief, Boromir lightly placed one of his feet onto the wet wood. When he didn't slip, he placed the other one and let go of the rope. He swayed, gained his balance and smirked.
"See little brother, its easy!" he laughed and walking confidently, reached the girl who now appeared to be sleeping. Crouching, he moved away her hair with a gentle hand. She had long eyelashes, the ones that some people would call "a daydreamer's". Her nose was straight and there were some freckles on it. Her full lips were turning slightly blue. Shaking his head, Boromir reached out and picked up the girl. She was heavy, as the young warrior remarked turning back the way he came. There was no way he would be able to get across the way he came. Sighing, he took the knife that hung from the girl's belt and cut the rope from the arrow.
"What are you doing?" Faramir yelled. Boromir rolled his eyes and shook his head. Grabbing the now limp rope, he placed the knife into his boot.
"Pull us back!" Boromir cried as he jumped. Just before he and his charge hit the bubbling water, the rope stretched out and the commander was pulled up. Closing his grey eyes, Boromir silently counted to ten. On the last number, the two young people were pulled back where the hunting party was waiting. Strong arms lifted the girl from Boromir and draped his warm cape over his shoulders. The young man was breathing heavily, sweating and barely listening to anything that Faramir was saying to him. In his eyes he had witnessed his life and death from the waters which he loved so much. His heart raced in his chest, blood pounded in his head as he looked at the angry waters that swept the branch finally from view. Closing his eyes, Boromir swore that he would never again laugh at the knights who rescued ladies. Little did he know that this was just the beginning.