"Are you knights?" Judas looked at the child.
"Knights?" Kimbel nodded.
"Knights," he repeated. "You look like you should be. But I don't see any swords or lances. Is that because you can use magic?" Judas exchanged a glance with Luca. He'd forgotten that the child had seen them banish the demon with their powers.
"You could call us knights," he responded carefully. "We only don't have our weapons with us because of the nature of our travels." Kimbel's face lit up and he turned his head around to survey Judas excitedly.
"Pilgrimage?" he guessed. "I've heard you're not allowed to take weapons with you for that."
"No, we are not on any pilgrimage," Judas responded. "We dislike carrying weapons with us when we do not need them." Kimbel blinked.
"How do you figure out when you need them?" he asked. Judas smiled softly to himself. This child's curiosity was somehow very uplifting.
"When someone whom we love is in danger," he said. "When we need to protect someone."
"So, you don't work for any king or lord?" Judas' own curiosity was piqued.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you said that you only use weapons when you want to protect someone. You didn't say anything about who you served under, and that's always the answer I get. 'I use weapons when my lord demands it of me' and such. You're different." Kimbel turned to look hard at Judas and the angel got a distinct and unpleasant feeling of recognition, as though he had seen those dark eyes somewhere before, though he knew he hadn't. Perhaps it was simply the nature in which those eyes looked at him that was disconcerting.
"I don't mean to be," he said. Kimbel shrugged and turned his head back to the dark path.
"It's not a bad thing," he explained. "I'm just saying. It's like there are two groups of knights now; them and you. It makes me think more than I want to." Judas laughed and shook his head, choosing not to respond.
"Agh. Well, anyway, it's going to take a few more hours until we get to Anglia," Kimbel said. "Any of you need to stop, or do we keep going?" The Saints exchanged looks and Luca said to the child, "I think we should keep going." The others nodded in ascent and Kimbel shrugged.
"Up to you." With that, he slowed his walk slightly and began to hum a tuneless song. The angels he led slowed as well and formed a small circle.
"Everyone's still alive, right?" Gai said with a grin. "That was some woman!" Gou shook his head.
"How did we not know it was a demon?" he asked no one in particular. Luca looked at him.
"Probably because it was inhabiting a human body," he hypothesized. "And we only sensed the humanness of the body."
"Which brings up a disquieting possibility," Judas interjected. Gai looked at him with a furrowed brow.
"What's that?" he inquired. Rey glanced quickly back at the glade that still housed the covered cart and marked the woman's eternal resting place.
"That demons can possess humans," he answered solemnly. Judas nodded.
"If all demons can possess humans, then not only are the humans and animals of Earth in more danger than we thought, but it will also be harder for us to spot that danger."
"Perhaps there is some reason, then, for the Anglian humans' irrational and violent behavior towards one another. Their neighbors might actually be possessed," Shin exclaimed.
"Or demons could be possessing them and forcing them to attack their innocent neighbors," Gou added. Gai shivered.
"I don't want to meet another possessed human!" he whined. "Especially not a whole city of them!" Gou smiled and clapped a hand on top of Gai's head, enjoying the indignant yell he got for his actions.
"I'm sure the whole city isn't going to be possessed by demons, Gai," he said, and Gai relaxed under his hand. "Maybe just half of it." Gai tensed again and turned to glare at Gou.
"That's not funny, Gou!" he shouted, shaking his fists like a child. Rey smiled.
"Well, it is a little funny," he teased. Gai turned to Rey and shook his fists in the violet-haired angel's direction.
"You can just be quiet, Mr. Spirit!" he growled. "How come you only ever open your mouth to make fun of me!" Rey turned red and glared petulantly at the little angel.
"I do not only speak to make fun of you!" he shot. "There are plenty of other things that I say that don't have anything to do with you!"
"Oh yeah? Name—"
"Okay, that's enough," Gou stated firmly. "We've got enough to handle without you two going at each other all the time." Rey and Gai spent one last moment to glare at each other and then turned away. Luca chuckled.
"Actually, I was wondering about that," he said. Rey turned to him and tilted his head.
"Wondering about what?" he asked. Luca breathed deeply in and out before he answered.
"Why that woman called you a spirit. It was obvious she heard you but I don't think she could see you."
"My grandmother could sense a man's power," Kimbel chirped from ahead of them. "She's always been blind as a bat for as long as I've known her. She always said that the spirits gave her the power to see clearer when in the presence of a powerful force. She could obviously see all of you, which means you must be powerful! She could hear alright, though." The latter bit was tacked on almost as an afterthought, and Rey noticed how he was carefully eliminated from the equation and blushed, looking down at his feet. Luca watched him silently.
…Except she couldn't see me… Rey thought to dejectedly. He shook his head. His own petty feelings were unimportant. He was needed for this mission.
"What do you mean, the spirits?" Gou asked quickly, brushing away the tension before it had a chance to infect them all. Kimbel shrugged.
"I dunno," he replied. "Never been a spirit summoner myself, that's always been just my grandmother." His voice seemed to fall heavily from his lips as he spoke. Another tense silence loomed ominously over them all and Rey hastened to drive it away.
"It seemed as though the demon could see me, though," he observed. "Could it just not see me while possessing her body?" Luca looked thoughtful.
"Fair question," he mused. "I honestly have no idea. If it could just see you when it was in its true form—"
"I'm inclined to think that was the case," Judas interjected. "I honestly don't believe he could see Rey until he left the woman's body." Turning to Shin, he asked, "Shin, do you know anything about demons possessing humans? Have you read any books on the subject?" Shin nodded and bit his lip, thinking hard to remember any books he'd read that would help them.
"I remember having read something about this," he admitted. "But I can't quite remember if there was a section on demons possessing humans." He looked sheepishly at Judas, who waved it away easily.
"We'll just have to keep our eyes open when we arrive at the city," he said seriously. The other Saint Beasts nodded in agreement and fell into a heavy silence that reigned for the rest of their journey.
"Well, here it is!" Kimbel suddenly stopped and pointed ahead of him. The Saint Beasts looked ahead and saw a large sprawling before them. "That's Anglia."
"It," Shin paused to clear his throat. "It certainly is… vast." Rising from the city were the unmistakable sound of human voices yelling, speaking, laughing, and everything in between it seemed. Rey felt apprehension take hold of him as he looked at the city.
"And very lively," he added softly. Judas nodded.
"Shall we go?" he urged. Kimbel began to walk towards the city and the Saint Beasts followed, some excited, some a little frightened, some determined, all at least slightly nervous.
There was a large wooden gate surrounding the city with a door right in the center. As they approached the door, Kimbel reached up as high as he could and knocked hard on the wood with his little fist. A small window in the door opened and an elderly man looked out. His eyes stopped on the Saint Beasts and his face, for a minute, showed surprise. A moment later, it hardened and he glared at them.
"What business is it that brings you to Anglia after dark?" he demanded. Judas was about to answer when he noticed Kimbel jumping up and down and waving his arms.
"Come on, Nick, y'old coot, it's me! Go on, let us in!" he shouted. The man jumped and looked down at Kimbel. He had to strain a little bit to see him from the small window, but once he caught sight of him, his old face lifted into a smile. The door opened suddenly and the man's arms shot out to pull Kimbel into a tight but brittle embrace.
"Kimbel, you little rascal, is it really you?" he marveled, placing the child on the ground and looking him over. Kimbel blushed and gave him a lopsided smile.
"'Course it is, who'd you think it was?" he said. The man shook his head and lifted a hand to wipe his eyes.
"G'on through, then, boy," he said. "That upstart Ramsey'll be wanting to know your safe." Kimbel nodded and hugged the man once more. He whispered something into the old man's cloak which brought the man to tears and earned him another crushing hug. "Alright, that's enough of that! Go on, then, boy, and be sure to keep these knights with you, you hear?" Kimbel nodded and grabbed the reins of the mare once again. He smiled at the old man and waved exuberantly before heading into town, the confused Saint Beasts on his heels.
"You know that man?" Shin asked Kimbel quietly as they navigated their way through mostly empty streets and tried to ignore the loud sounds from the inns and taverns they passed. Kimbel nodded and dragged a hand across his face.
"Yeah," he said with a wet voice, sounding very close to tears. "He's my brother's father by marriage. My brother married a lowly woman even though my parents didn't want him to. They yelled at him but they couldn't get rid of him for it. They needed money from him and I could tell they still loved him." He was rambling again and Shin hurried forward to walk beside him.
"It's alright, you don't have to talk about it," he said for the second time. Kimbel looked at him with wide red-rimmed eyes and nodded. Shin smiled at him and straightened, placing a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder. Kimbel blushed and quickly averted his eyes, taking an almost subconscious step closer to Shin. Judas smiled to himself. Shin would have been a remarkable father to this boy, had he been born human.
They continued walking and Rey was struck by how different this place was from Heaven. First of all, practically everyone was awake. Normally, at an hour this late, all the angels would be asleep.
"Out o'th' way!" A man with a large cart nearly barreled over poor Gai, who barely had time to yelp and scurry to the side of the road. Had Gou not been there he might not have made it. The brunette angel watched the cart roll past with a look of angry distaste.
"Would anyone be offended if I said right off that I don't like this place?" he grumbled, pulling a growling Gai to his feet. Kimbel chuckled at Shin's side.
"Not a city boy, eh?" he smiled. "You knights country mice like me?" Gou scoffed and shook his head.
"I suppose so." Kimbel nodded and laughed lightly.
"Well, it's not so bad once you get used to it," he said truthfully. Judas almost laughed himself at that little voice. It was as if Kimbel was attempting to sound older than he was; as though he were trying to be a parent.
"So, where is it you're taking us?" he asked. Kimbel, before he could answer, yelped as the mare he led was suddenly spooked by a loud group of men crossing on the other side of the street.
"Hey!" he commanded, a little spooked himself. "Calm down, you great – urgh! Come on, girl, it's alright!" One of the men looked over to the commotion and whistled loudly.
"Oi, you fellas new here, are ya?" he called. "You'll be wantin' to head to the tavern, it'll be a helluva welcome fer ya…" His voice trailed off and he tipped his head back to pour down what must have been some sort of ale. Quite a bit of it missed his mouth. His companions cheered and shouted their agreement. Rey made a face and turned away.
"Charming," he muttered as the men went on their way. Shin shuddered and nodded.
"What manners," he mumbled in response.
"There it is!" Kimbel suddenly shouted, pointing to a large building a ways ahead of them. The Saints stopped.
"What's that?" Gai asked, voicing everyone's thoughts. Kimbel chuckled and pulled the mare along.
"That there is the most famous tavern in all of Anglia," he said proudly. "My friend, Ramsey, runs it. He's like family, you knights can trust him." He picked up his pace and the Saint Beasts followed, only slightly dismayed at the fact that this tavern was where most of the noise was emanating from.
As they approached the building, Kimbel suddenly veered off to the left and began to circle around it.
"There's a stable at the back," he explained. "My brother used to keep his horse back there all the time. I wonder if he's still there." He shrugged and clicked his tongue when the mare tried to stop, giving a disgruntled snort. The Saints followed the child into a large stable where they saw numerous horses in individual stalls, as well as a few young boys a little older than Kimbel tending to the horses. One of the boys, the oldest one it looked like, with large freckles and a shock of bright ginger hair, let out a yell when he saw the group entering the stable, and he ran over to them, a lopsided grin on his boyish freckled face.
"Kimbel!" he shouted, waving to get the boy's attention. Kimbel smiled and dropped the mare's rope to run to the ginger-haired boy.
"Danny!" Kimbel shouted. He jumped up at the boy, who caught him in his arms and swung him around, grabbing him securely before jamming a fist onto his head and rubbing roughly. Kimbel giggled and flailed playfully in the boy's arms.
"Jeez, Kimbel, we thought you was dead!" the boy exclaimed, putting Kimbel down and ruffling his hair once more. "Once we heard 'bout South, and… well, you didn't show up… we thought you—" He broke off and rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously. "Ah, never mind what we thought! You gotta get yourself in there, kid, I dun' think nobody else knows yer still alive." He suddenly noticed Kimbel's companions and gave them a two-fingered salute.
"Evenin' fellas," he said. "Can I help you with your horse? You can pay at the tavern or you can give me the money." The Saints noticed the hope on the boy's face as he said this and they felt a twinge of guilt, not having any money to pay for anything. Judas was about to speak up when Kimbel grabbed a bag that had been tied around the mare's neck.
"Oi, Danny, here!" he said excitedly. "I got money, look! I can pay you!" He was suddenly acting like a child, eager to please his older peers and brimming with energy. Danny laughed and took the bag into his hands, tossed it from one to the other.
"Well, lookit here," he marveled. "You got yourself a right pot of gold, Kim. I'll only be needing one piece, though." He took a gold piece from the bag before handing the sack back to Kimbel, who took it with a smile.
"Well, there you go," he said. "Should that be enough for you?" Danny grinned and winked.
"Yep," he responded, pretending to think it over. "That'll do just fine, kid." He took the rope and led the mare to one of the empty stalls. He went back up to the Saint Beasts and said seriously, "You fellas watch him for us? He'll be safe with you, won't he?" The Saints looked at each other and nodded.
"I promise you, no harm will come to him," Shin said, stepping forward and placing a hand on the boy's shoulder. Danny looked up at him cautiously, but Shin's eyes, the sincerity lapping in their depths, put his worries at ease. His friend would be safe with these knights, whoever they were.
"Alright, thanks," Danny mumbled gruffly, looking down with a blush on his face. Shin smiled and turned back to the others. He fought back a blush when he saw that Judas' eyes had been on him. They were sparkling now and the stupid angel was grinning, though at what, Shin did not know.
"Well, shall we go?" he asked. Gai nodded, suddenly excited.
"Yeah, come on!" He urged. "I wanna go check out that tav-ern!" He was marching out of the stable before anyone could stop him.
"Hey, Gai! Don't get ahead of yourself!" Gou shouted, hurrying after him. The four remaining chuckled to themselves and followed in the path of the exuberant angel and his exasperated friend, albeit at a much slower pace. Shin smiled at Kimbel and held out a hand, which Kimbel took without hesitation.
"G'bye, Danny!" he shouted. The freckled boy laughed and waved.
"You stay with those knights, kid, y'hear? Don't want no more trouble like they had in South!" he called back. Kimbel nodded solemnly and then skipped out of the stable, dragging Shin behind him. Rey couldn't fight the smile from his face as he heard his friend's laugh float through the air around him. He loved it when Shin laughed like that: unabashed and completely heartfelt. It was rare when that happened. Gai laughed like that all the time and he was loved for it. But Shin was quieter, always smiling and offering gentle comfort, never really partaking in the merriment of laughter. And for that reason, his laugh was special to Rey.
"I've never seen him like that." Luca's voice spoke his thoughts, as it always seemed to. Rey nodded.
"I wish he would laugh more often," he said wistfully. "His laugh is so beautiful." Luca nodded.
"Oi, Rey!" Gai suddenly appeared at his right shoulder with his hands behind his head. "What's taking so long? Come on, Gou and I have already been inside!" He broke out into one of his childish grins and grabbed Rey's arm. "Come on, Rey you gotta see it! It's so neat!" Rey yelped and managed to fire a glare Luca's way as he heard the taller angel laugh at his predicament.
"Ow, Gai, not so fast! Slow down! Gai!"
Gai only laughed.
And suddenly, Rey found himself inside the apparently locally famous tavern of Anglia. He looked around with wide eyes. It seemed so large in terms of the architecture, but then again, there were so many people inside, it seemed all the smaller! Rey saw men drinking and laughing together at tables, he saw them arguing at tables, he even saw a few small scale brawls going on! Rey swallowed nervously and reached a hand out to his left, expecting to feel Gai's small sharp shoulder, but instead his hand bumped a large muscular arm. Rey jumped and only barely bit back a yelp.
"Hey!" A rather large and intimidating man turned and glared at Rey. His beard was stained with his spit and the froth from his drink. He surveyed Rey critically, though drunkenly, through small beady eyes. He seemed to forget his anger immediately in favor of curiosity. "You a boy?" Rey blushed and indignation gave him voice.
"Yes, I am," he replied with a slight edge to his voice. The man squinted at him and the corner of his long mouth lifted upward. His hand flashed out and gripped Rey's chin, turning it to the left and then the right.
"Don' look much like one," he slurred. "Can' be more'n… say… couple o'years… Barely grown into yerslf." He paused to belch loudly. Rey winced. "You a squire, boy?" Rey suddenly wished he'd paid a little more attention to Shin's long rants about the odd human role of "knights" and their servants. He remembered hearing about squires, but he didn't know much about what they did. Still, this man was very drunk, and he was only looking for a yes or no answer.
"Yes," Rey replied, trying to pull himself away from the large drunk man who was quite smelly.
"Where's your knight?" the man asked. Rey blinked. His knight? Did that mean… Oh! Understanding suddenly hit Rey. The squire was the one who followed the knight around, and was considered a knight-in-training or something like that. Now he understood.
"Over there," Rey said impatiently, indicating to Luca, who had just entered behind Judas and was looking around with a veiled curiosity. The man looked over to the two new additions to the tavern's population and cocked his head.
"The fairer one?" Rey rolled his eyes, getting a little annoyed with this man's persistent questions, and opened his mouth to answer, rather shortly he might add, when a new voice interjected.
"Alright, I think that's well over enough, Berny." Rey turned and saw a tall well-built human standing in front of the both of them, hands on his hips, amused look on his face as he surveyed the scene. The large man immediately released Rey and clapped his hand on the arrival's shoulder.
"Well, if it ain't my old buddy!" he roared, taking another long swig from his tankard. The man chuckled and gave Berny a sharp jab to the stomach. The brute choked a little on his drink and massaged the area but seemed to know it was only play.
"Oh, g'on, then fella! I's only talkin' to th'guy!" he complained in his drunken slur. "Ay, 'ja know he's a squire? Haven't seen one o'them in a long time! Ay!" He took another long drink, clapped his friend on the shoulder one last time, and then staggered off to find some other soul to connect with. The tall man watched him go with a grin and chuckled again before he turned back to Rey.
"Still in one piece, are you?" he said with a grin. Rey noted that this man was slightly different from the other humans he'd seen so far. He was taller for one thing, taller than Rey even. And that was hard to achieve, as Rey was tall for his build and age, even amongst angels. His face was fair but masculine, sharp and angular but not square or flat. His hair was mussed but it seemed almost purposeful, as though he was aware it looked the way it did and wanted to keep it that way. His tall well-built body was streamlined and Rey guessed he probably had excellent reflexes. Overall, the man was very handsome by human standards and perhaps even by angel standards.
Rey jumped as the man snapped his fingers in front of his face.
"What-?" he began lamely. The man laughed.
"Not used to this, squire?" he smiled, waving a perfect hand carelessly towards all the chaos and noise of the tavern. Rey winced as he saw a man vomit behind a table and shook his head.
"Not – not really," he said with a swallow. The man laughed and turned to stand at Rey's side while surveying the tavern with him.
"It is a bit… wild in here, isn't it?" he mused lightly. "I never noticed it myself." He laughed again. "Well, I suppose I could give you the grand tour, if you'd like." Rey looked at him, a little perplexed.
"I… suppose," he conceded, unsure as to the proper response to inquiries like this. The man laughed and shook his head.
"You know, you are something else, squire," he said with a grin. His eyes sparkled as he looked at Rey and the angel suddenly had to look away, fighting back a blush. Who was this human?
As if sensing his question, the man swept him a mock bow and indicated to himself.
"I'm Noll," he said. "May I have the honor of your name, squire?" Rey was so taken aback, he didn't think twice.
"R-Rey," he answered. Noll nodded and seemed to turn the word over in his mind.
"Rey," he repeated in his smooth voice. Rey shivered, feeling as though he should be careful around this man for some reason. Noll smiled and offered Rey his arm.
"Shall we go?" he asked. Rey looked at his arm for a moment, hesitant to do anything. Before he could voice his hesitation, however, he found himself on Noll's arm, being led through the tavern.
"Well, now you know old Bernie," was the first thing that Noll said. Rey nodded, avoiding eye contact and Noll continued, unaware. "He can seem a bit much, but he's really the gentlest giant you'll ever meet. He'd never hurt so much as a fly, I can promise you that.
"And I think there's a lesson here that you'd do well to learn." Here, Noll paused and turned to Rey, catching his gaze despite Rey's attempts to prevent it. "Not everyone in here is a drunk trying to pick a fight. You go around with that attitude and you'll actually be more of a target for one. They'll think you're looking down on 'em. So, best advice you could get? Be friendly." With a small tug, he pulled Rey along.
He seemed ready to speak again when Rey suddenly felt a brush from behind. Despite Noll's earlier assurance, Rey was still wary and whipped around with a small yelp. The sight of an amused and underdressed woman met his eyes and Noll followed his gaze quickly. The woman grinned a toothy grin, showing slightly yellowed teeth, and fingered a string at the low-hanging dress she wore.
"Having fun, are we, squire?" she purred in a lilted drawl. "Perhaps, for a price, you might 'ave some more?" Rey flushed from head to toe as the woman slowly advanced on him, but Noll thankfully stepped in.
"Off with you, harlot," he said firmly, interposing himself between her and Rey. She stepped back and gave him a look of mock hurt and he leaned in close to her with sparkling eyes. "Although, your offer is none too repugnant to me. I may very well take you up on it." He swept his eyes down and up her body once before he smirked and turned back to Rey as she sauntered smugly away.
"Friendliest people in a tavern, squire," he began, "are the whores. There're lots of men who'll pay a hefty price to have their appetites satisfied, and you look like one still growing into his appetites. A seasoned whore can take advantage of that and cheat you out of far too much money for her services. Just something to be wary of." Rey swallowed thickly and nodded, following Noll perplexedly onward.
"Oh, would you look at that!" Noll's suddenly loud and excited voice startled Rey, and he turned to face his temporary and very odd companion in confusion.
"What?" he asked. Noll turned a mischievous grin onto him and indicated with his head to a young man sitting at one of the tables, an odd-looking instrument Shin was sure to know the name of strapped to his back.
"We haven't had a troubadour in these parts in years," Noll explained, looking upon the animated young man with eager eyes. "He'll be asked to play sometime soon, he looks like he's been here for a while." Again, that mischievous and very characteristic smirk was turned on Rey, who listened in confused silence. "And you oughta know, squire; there's no better way to end a good night of drinking and fornicating than with music." Before he could respond – and before he could ask what "fornicating" was – Noll's arm had grabbed him roughly and was dragging him towards the young man.
The spritely troubadour barely looked up when they approached him; he was far too engrossed in the epic tale he was spinning for his listeners, and by now much of the tavern was listening. Across from him, Rey spotted Gai and Gou, busy looking curiously at an unattended tankard of what must have been that crude stuff these people called a drink. If he didn't know better, Rey would say that Gai was eyeing it a bit too curiously. Shin was approaching them, and he had no idea where Luca or Judas was. None of them had spotted him yet.
Before he could call out to them, there was a loud shout by the audience of eager tavern listeners before raucous laughter filled the building. Rey looked first at the troubadour, whose face was shining with his laughter, then to Noll, whose eyes were crinkling at the edges from his wide grin.
"And thus was the nobleman, greatest Hero of his land, sent on his humble way by Nancy the Tavern Wench!" the troubadour finished, taking a swig of his drink and slamming it back down to the table to end the tale. Laughter and cheers rang throughout the room and several of the men clapped and drank to the comical troubadour, who laughed and clapped along with them.
"Aye, give us a song!"
"Play!" The listeners called and shouted demands to the jovial young man, who ignored them at first until they became far too numerous for him to ignore. Smiling, he unstrapped the instrument hanging from his back and set it up against his left thigh, resting its neck against his shoulder. He reached down to his feet, by which sat a burlap bag, and pulled into his hand a thick wooden bow stringed with a tight sinewy material. Shin would know about that as well, Rey hypothesized.
Suddenly, the troubadour looked right at him, and Rey froze as that young face broke out into a roguish grin. He pointed the bow at Rey and soon all eyes were on him.
"Aye, I'll sing for you," he addressed the crowd. "And if I can't make yon squire piss himself from laughing so hard, I shall be hung by my toes and stoned till I sing before the Highest King o'them all!" A merry cry of agreement met his challenge and Rey's face flamed. Personally, he thought that Noll might have been the better person to try to make laugh, as he was already well on his way. Rey took an annoyed step away from him as he clutched his stomach, in the throes of delight.
"Once a rich king lived, with his daughter lived he well,"
The room grew quickly quiet as the troubadour began to sing, deftly plucking the strings of his instrument, bow still in hand.
"But of power, of riches this story does not tell,"
"It tells us of a man who wanted for a wife,"
"It tells us of a man who would live wifeless all his life."
The listeners chuckled and grinned at each other before the next verse began.
"In the castle, the princess lived, she was known across the land,"
"Suitors from everywhere would plead her father for her hand,"
"For upon her head the golden locks, the Golden Locks of the Sun,"
"Had earned her the epithet the Fair Golden Lock-éd One."
There was a loud whoop of appreciation at this, and Rey found himself becoming annoyed at the man who'd made the noise, for he had actually been quite enjoying the song. Though he would never admit it to anyone, Rey sincerely hoped the "wifeless man" really wouldn't remain "wifeless" and that maybe the Fair Golden Locked lady would become his wife.
"We turn to the man who could not find a wife for himself,"
"He also was a kingly sort, but alas he was a whelp,"
Laughter filled the tavern again at the purposefully poor rhyme and Rey sighed quietly. It looked as though this was going to shape up to be a very crude song indeed. The troubadour grinned and stomped his foot once to accentuate the humorous line. Rey could now see Gai, Gou, and Shin watching with the rest of the crowd, and of them only Gai seemed truly amused. Rey rolled his eyes. He probably didn't even know what a "whelp" was.
"An ass' ass was brighter than ever his face could be,"
"He had no son, and many questioned his fertility."
Men began to laugh in earnest now, slamming their fists down upon the table in a show of masculine good humor, and tankards were quickly emptied, as though the obviously mocking last line was a sign to start drinking. Rey didn't quite understand the joke, as he normally believed the word "fertile" to apply to soil for farming or other such situations.
The troubadour paused in his singing and began to slide the bow along the strings of his instrument, playing a lively vibrant tune, to which many men started clapping their hands.
"Of the princess, this king had heard, and wished they to be wed,"
"And he simply could not wait to take the Fair One to his bed,"
"He found his best knight and he sent him on his way,"
"To go and bring the Fair One to him in three days."
The troubadour's eyes caught Rey's and Rey blushed, somehow knowing that he was being scrutinized. He felt someone nudge his elbow and turned to see Noll sending him a covert amused glance. He feigned ignorance which earned him a chuckle.
"When the knight returned with his prize, the king came out to see,"
"How much justice the rumors paid to his bride to be,"
"The golden locks enamored him, a happy joy filled his heart,"
"He dragged his bride away, so his will he could impart."
For some reason, Rey had the feeling he was trying to imply something with that phrase. His suspicions were confirmed when the crowd crowed again and shared another quick round of drinks before the troubadour continued.
"In his chambers they spent the night, but from that no child came,"
"Over this the dull king puzzled with ass-facéd shame,"
"That no heir would come of this, he once asked me why?"
"I said, 'cause of that which dangles 'twixt those Fair Golden Lock-éd thighs."
This Rey understood completely. His mouth dropped at the reference but the tavern, which seemed to be waiting for that particular moment, exploded in laughter. Beside him, Rey could hear Noll all but collapsing in laughter. Across from him, Rey could see Shin turning red, and for some reason the sight of it amused him. Perhaps the general high spirits of these men (to put it lightly) were infectious and had somehow affected him, but Rey soon found himself chuckling at the sight of Shin embarrassed because of the reference.
And the troubadour took that moment to glance over at Rey, his face splitting into a wide grin at the sight of the chuckling angel. His eyes danced and he pointed his bow at Rey again. Rey feared he would speak, but all he did was continue to smile, watching Rey as everyone around him succumbed to merriment. Rey wasn't quite sure what to do, so he smiled back tentatively. The troubadour laughed and shook his head, turning back to his adoring crowd. Most of the men had yet to contain themselves.
Rey cast a covert glance towards Noll, saw that he was still laughing a bit uncontrollably, and quietly slipped across the tavern to where Shin stood with Gou and Gai. Gai was laughing hysterically, and Rey had no idea if that was because he actually understood the song or if it was simply because everyone around him was laughing.
He moved to stand beside Shin and smiled at his red face, aware that his own must have looked about the same only moments ago.
"Apparently, this troubadour tradition is a very popular one," he said. Shin nodded and cleared his throat, still red.
"Yes, it is," was all he could bring himself to say. He turned his head downward and let his bangs shield his face, and Rey smiled at him sympathetically.
"Well, I'm glad to see no one got lost." Rey looked around at Judas' voice. Luca was not with him.
"Where's Luca?" he asked. Judas indicated towards the direction from which he had just come.
"He's with Kimbel," he replied. "Being introduced to that Ramsey figure his friend mentioned. Apparently, he's the owner of this tavern and was a very close friend of the child's family." Rey nodded and turned to look at Shin, who hadn't looked up once since Judas arrived. Judas cast him a curious glance.
"Something wrong, Shin?" he asked, lips twitching. Shin shook his head and Rey could just picture the little vein right beside his forehead that was the only signal of his discomfort.
"Well, Rey, you didn't tell me you had companions," a familiar voice chimed from behind them. "Had I known I wouldn't have been so rude as to steal you away from them." Rey tried not to visibly deflate as Noll walked over to them with smooth long strides. The five Saints turned to face him and he grinned.
"An honor," he said to all of them. "I'm Noll, a recent acquaintance of your friend's. Might I beg the pleasure of your names?" For some reason, Rey got the impression that he wasn't entirely sincere.
Goh and Gai exchanged a glance and then looked at Judas, whose eyes had yet to leave Noll.
"Judas," he said, his caution well concealed. "And we are Rey's companions." Noll seemed suddenly more alert and his eyebrow lifted as he surveyed Judas. Suddenly he seemed less confrontational and a bit defensive.
"I suppose these are all the introductions I'm going to get," He said with a smirk, his confidence apparently still intact. Rey looked between Judas and Noll, aware of Shin doing the same. "Well, that's alright. If I may ask, are you simply passing through, or have you some purpose here?" Definitely defensive. Rey got the distinct impression that Noll did not particularly like Judas.
Judas as well seemed very cautious about speaking to this man.
"We are here for answers," he said after a moment. Noll looked at him with eyes every bit as sharp as his.
"Answers," he parroted. "What kind of answers, to what kind of questions?" He looked from Judas to Shin to Gou to Gai and, finally, to Rey. "You know something of this, don't you? These are your companions." Somehow, this sounded more like an accusation than an observation. Rey looked to his fellow Saints briefly and turned nervously back to Noll. He opened his mouth to speak, but his voice froze in his throat. Noll continued to watch him, something slowly changing in his eyes as Rey struggled for words.
"I…" Rey began but fell short when he saw the look in Noll's eyes. Noll took in a deep breath and the pulled a smile onto his face, turning back to the group.
"We are here for the tales of the demons," Shin suddenly spoke up. Everyone looked at him and Noll blinked as though seeing Shin for the first time.
"Demons?" he asked, his voice turning abruptly cold and icy. "What demons?" Shin stepped forward and allowed his golden eyes to pierce into Noll's brown ones.
"We have heard stories of a destructive evil from Hell wreaking havoc on the people here," he explained. "We have also heard of the massacre in South Anglia." Noll flinched as though Shin's words physically pained him.
"There are few who haven't," he spat, glaring at Shin with surprising malice and loathing. "And that's why you're here? To laugh at the death of our neighbors and flaunt your strength? Knights have no compassion if they're foreign."
"That is not why we have come—"
"No? Were you not here to offer your services and protection?" Noll sneered. Shin stepped back and swallowed nervously, his attempt at gaining information having gone terribly wrong.
"Hey, we're not laughing at you!" Gai piped up, stepping towards Noll aggressively. "We just want to help, what's wrong with that!" Gou stepped forward and placed a restraining hand upon Gai's shoulder before turning to Noll.
"I don't see why you should be offended by our actions," he pointed out calmly. "If our intention is to help—"
"Is it truly?" Noll's voice was sharp and unyielding. Rey was beginning to get frustrated.
"Yes, it is!" he said loudly, unable to stop himself. Noll turned to him with challenging eyes, daring him to convince him that what they claimed was the truth. "We came because we heard that there might be demons here, and we truly do wish to help." Noll was silent, scrutinizing him carefully. Rey tried not to look away, though the temptation to fold beneath that hard stare was very great.
Noll finally drew breath to speak but was interrupted.
"What's going on here?" A flood of relief washed through Rey as Luca approached them and looked curiously from one to the next. Rey's heart fluttered uncomfortably when Luca's eyes lingered on him before moving on.
"It's nothing, Luca, we just—" he started.
"Noll!" Startled by the high and excited shriek, the Saint Beasts turned to see Kimbel rush towards Noll with a burst of energy. Luca alone seemed not to be surprised. He watched with a small smile as the child pelted at Noll.
"Kimbel!" Noll's disbelieving gasp caused Rey to turn and look at him in confusion. This was not the tone Noll was using when speaking with him or any of the other Saints. He seemed frozen for a moment but when Kimbel was within arm's reach, he knelt down, reached out, and pulled the boy into his arms for a tight embrace.
"Kimbel!" he exclaimed as he stood to his feet, the child still within his grasp. "Good God, Kimbel, I can't believe it!" He spun the child around and Kimbel giggled wildly, clinging to him as though he were a lifeline.
"I was lucky," Kimbel said sheepishly, the excitement still palpable in his voice. "These knights saved me!" Noll seemed to suddenly remember the presence of Judas and the others. Turning to them stiffly, he voiced his confusion.
"You aided him?" Judas nodded.
"We found him with his possessed grandmother," he said honestly. "We took him from her and he led us here." Noll's grip on Kimbel tightened and the boy squirmed in his grasp but made no move to escape the circle of his arms. He took a step towards Judas and looked at him hard.
"…So you can protect innocents," he said in a quiet voice. Judas nodded. "I suppose that will have to do. I have no power to remove you from this town. But I will tell you, I feel no safer with you here." He turned around with a thoroughly confused Kimbel still in his arms and began to walk away. His eyes passed over Rey for a brief moment and Rey could have sworn he saw them soften if only for that moment.
Suddenly, Rey was very confused.
Hey, this is not dead! Yay! Okay, so first off, the song I put in there was just for kicks and giggles, cuz I wanted to show a little bit of medieval humor in the context of the story. I wrote the lyrics based off of a story I know (a fairytale) called "The Fair One with Golden Locks". I kinda butchered it for the sake of humor... I guess the scene also shows just how little Rey - and by extension, angels in general - knows about sex. My headcanon for the angels in Saint Beast is that they are really sheltered by Zeus and don't even know about the concept of sex because it has no practical use for them.
By the way, for those who didn't catch this, the human world at the time this story takes place is going through the middle ages. The timing during all of Saint Beast is a little iffy to me cuz in the 13 episode anime, it seems like middle ages/transition to Renaissance, but then we get to the OVA/OAV and it goes to modern times. So it's really confusing, but the middle ages seemed more romantic to me, so I set the human world in that time. It also makes sense because the people of that time often did believe in demons as physical entities who had the power to kill humans, drag them to hell, give them illnesses, etc. Any questions?
And if anyone's confused about Noll's hostility towards Judas, I imagined that to be because after the destruction of South Anglia, knights from all over came to Anglia as though defeating the evil that felled South Anglia was a test of their skill. He's been dealing with insincere knights who only want glory and don't care for the people of Anglia themselves, and he thinks Judas and the other Saints are just more of the same. He thinks Rey's innocence is just endearing, though, so he's fine bantering with him.
Okay, so I hope this clears up at least SOME of the issues from the previous chapter... Yes, I know there are still a few things that raise more questions about where this is all headed, but that's the beauty of plot twists! Hopefully, they keep at least some of you interested! And if anyone has any questions that they just need to have answered, or if something is just way too confusing, shoot me a PM or ask in a review. :D