A Queen's Champion
The village of Authon was a quiet little place with about a hundred residents, most of them farmers. There was a moderately-sized inn at the town square where the group stayed for the night, and there was a little bit of a commotion as news of the queen's presence quickly spread. Practically everyone in the village gathered at the central square, trying to catch a glimpse of their monarch.
Disembarking from her carriage, Henrietta made sure to wave at the crowd and smile, receiving a cheer from the townspeople for her efforts.
Once safely inside the confines of the inn, Agnes went to talk to the innkeeper, leaving Henrietta, Tryndamere, and the other musketeers in the lobby.
"They love you," Tryndamere remarked.
"And I love them," replied the young queen honestly.
Agnes returned to them. "Alright. I've secured an entire floor for us and there are enough rooms for everyone. We'll have dinner in ten minutes. Follow me."
They went up and Agnes escorted the queen to her own room at the end of the hall before assigning everyone else to their rooms. Tryndamere got the room by the stairs. A simple straw bed, a creaky wooden dresser, and a nightstand on the side of the bed that was towards the outer wall of the inn, two windows opening out into the night and overlooking the still-crowded square. It would do.
He lay down on the somewhat uncomfortable bed and after a while decided to go downstairs and get dinner since he was hungry. Stepping out of his room, he noted that there was a musketeer stationed right outside Henrietta's door, with another right by his own room guarding the stairs. The musketeer by his door glanced at him and he nodded at her as he walked past, descending the stairs.
On the first floor, next to the lobby area was a small restaurant with a bar. There, the rest of the musketeers were already gathered along with Agnes. At first glance he thought that only some of them were women, but now he realized the entire squad of musketeers was female. An empty seat was left next to the captain, which Tryndamere assumed was for him. Taking a seat, he noted the musketeers' talks grew quieter.
A young man came over quickly and gave him a menu, and he simply found the dish with the most meat in it and ordered that.
"Where you come from," Agnes suddenly said as she continued to eat, "Is there a lot of fighting?"
Tryndamere let out a snort, looking at the - at least to him - small warrior. "Yes. There is more than enough fighting. Some say too much. I would say not enough. Why do you ask?"
"Your armor is nearly ruined, and not from age. But from battle. Many battles, from the looks of it."
The warrior smiled. "I was in the middle of a great battle when I was... called." He realized with amusement that he had been summoned while battling in the Summoner's Rift arena. They must all be wondering what on Runeterra happened to him. His food finally arrived then and he nodded in thanks to the young man who brought it as the server set down a mug of ale by him as well.
"And you said that you were some kind of... prime warrior?" Agnes asked.
"Is it truly wise to speak of this here?" He eyed the musketeers around them, who appeared to him to be very much interested in their conversation. Although he did enjoy the fact that the captain seemed to be relaxing a little and warming towards him, speaking openly about such things in front of her soldiers was certainly not a good idea in his mind.
Agnes shrugged, "They know that you're a mercenary from a far away land and hired by the queen." She looked around at her fellow musketeers, many of them stealing glances at the big warrior at the end of the table. The stolen glances did not escape the man's notice.
Tryndamere raised an eyebrow at her statement. "The queen approved of telling them this?"
"No. Not exactly. It was my decision to tell them that you are a mercenary," she replied evenly, then in a low voice so only he could hear, "It's close to the truth, after all. These are my most trusted soldiers too, so even if they knew the full truth they would not tell a soul."
In his experience though, with enough pain applied in the right places, anyone would talk. Sometimes without even knowing that they had said anything at all. But he left that unsaid and simply nodded. "Yes, as First Warrior I am the greatest fighter of all the northern tribes of Valoran, in the cold tundra of the Freljord. Or, I guess was before I came here." He was not in Valoran anymore and he had a different path now.
"Impressive. Though I already knew you were skilled from your display earlier." She looked to him, her plate clean and her cup of water empty. "I've never seen someone wield two blades with such grace and strength before. In fact I rarely see anyone wield two blades around here."
"I trained in many arts of fighting and spent many years honing my skills," he said as he bit into a deliciously thick chicken leg. "But to be honest, I'm more comfortable with a heavy two-handed blade."
"Don't you have one then?"
He frowned. "I do have one, but it was not with me when I awoke here and I don't know where it is."
"Well, I'm sure the queen will gladly have one made for you," the captain said as she drank some wine. "We do have excellent blacksmiths back in Tristain."
"Perhaps. Although my blade is special to me, and I hope to be reunited with it somehow." There was no way the blade did not come along with him to this strange land for it was bound to him by more than just blood and sweat, but he still didn't know why the blade wasn't near him when he was summoned by the queen. Where could it possibly have gone?
Some of the musketeers got up then, done with their meals and wanting to get some rest. Only two remained with their captain and Tryndamere, and they sat opposite the mercenary and the captain.
"Tryndamere, these are my top lieutenants," she gestured towards a redhead with curly shoulder-length hair and green eyes, "This is Rachelle." Tryndamere exchanged nods with her. "And this is Gretchen." She had long straight black hair tied back into a ponytail and dark brown eyes that looked at him with guarded interest. Unlike Rachelle, who was quite pale, Gretchen's skin was tanned.
"Now, I think it's my turn to ask some questions," Tryndamere said as he finished up his food, downing it all with ale, which he found lacking in strength compared to the ale he was used to back in Valoran, as he tipped the mug dry. "Does this land have many battles too?"
Agnes looked to her lieutenants a little uneasily. "Not really. Sometimes there are rogue groups, bandits and the like who have to be dealt with but usually nothing major. However, it was only a few months ago that we ended the latest great war that Halkeginia has endured."
He sensed the unease, realizing that the war must have been harsh. He decided to find out more about this conflict at a later date, for now thinking that it would be best not to pursue the matter. "So there is peace now?"
The blonde captain nodded, "Yes. Thankfully. And we go now to Cholet to meet with King Albert III of Germania, a neighboring kingdom to the east, in order to sign an official peace treaty that will help maintain that peace."
"I see." He was curious to know how strong the military of Germania was. And any other kingdoms in Halkeginia for that matter. Tristain, he knew from the queen's own admission, was not very strong militarily and since he served its leader he thought it prudent to know more about the lay of the land. So he asked.
"Germania is the biggest kingdom in Halkeginia, and it has the biggest and strongest military," replied the captain, stifling a yawn.
Rachelle nodded in agreement. "If there was war with Germania... as much as I love Tristain, we would not stand much of a chance. They are too strong and outnumber us ten to one, at minimum."
"Every citizen of Germania is required to serve in the military for a minimum of two years. That, along with the fact that they expend much of their wealth into their military, has helped magnify their military power," added Agnes, "This is why we need to make sure there is a lasting peace between our kingdoms."
Tryndamere looked to Gretchen, expecting her to add her own two cents, but she remained silent. "Is their leader respectable? Will he sign and honor this treaty?"
Again the musketeers exchanged looks.
"Well, King Albert the Third is a good friend of the queen," Agnes replied slowly.
"She was betrothed to him once before," Rachelle added, receiving a slight glare from Agnes that the redhead didn't see, "An arranged marriage actually."
The big warrior listened keenly, intrigued. "Oh?"
"Rachelle," Agnes growled.
"Sorry, captain," the woman apologized, putting a hand to her mouth, "And sorry, sir Tern... Tyrn..."
"Tryndamere," he said helpfully.
"Tryndamere," she looked apologetically at him, "But I've already said too much. If you want to know more, perhaps you should ask the queen herself."
He nodded. He would think about potetnially bringing it up with the young monarch when there was an opportunity to ask about it, though it didn't really concern him. The queen's love life was not a priority for him to know about.
Agnes yawned again and this time got to her feet. "Well, it's been an enlightening evening but I need to get some rest. You should all do the same. We have a long day of riding ahead of us." With that she left, her white cloak swaying with each confident step she took.
Gretchen stood and left, following her captain out with only a silent nod to bid them farewell. Rachelle and Tryndamere stayed, the latter ordering another ale while the former seemed to be thinking about something.
"What do you think of Henr- what do you think of the queen?" Tryndamere suddenly asked, catching himself being too informal again.
Rachelle was taken aback by the question, giving him a questioning look. "Well, I am loyal to her, if that's what you're asking. I am sworn to serve her until death."
"That's not what I meant," responded Tryndamere, taking a long swig from the fresh mug of ale. "What do you think of her as a person?"
"I... uh... I think she's very kind and loving. She cares about her people and she works hard to do her duties well. She is selfless and honorable. Her highness is... a wonderful person, an ideal leader."
Tryndamere chuckled, "Well said. It sounds almost like you were specifically taught to say those things about her."
"But I wasn't!" Rachelle said with dismay at his insinuation. "What I said is the truth and they are my own words. I swear."
Again he chuckled. "Be calm. It was a jest."
Rachelle relaxed, laughing a little at her overreaction. "Oh. I see."
"So what's your story anyway? You've heard mine already, at least part of it," said the big warrior.
The musketeer frowned, "I don't actually know much about you beyond the fact that you are the queen's familiar and what you've disclosed earlier."
"That's more than most people around here know."
"That's true enough. I'd rather not say much more beyond... well, I had a difficult and troubled childhood and joining the musketeers has given me a chance to redeem myself for my past." She had a sad look in her eye that Tryndamere did not fail to notice, and he decided not to pursue the topic anymore.
He looked down at the mug in his right hand, swishing the last of the ale around the bottom as he moved the mug slightly before finishing it. "I believe we should get to rest as well. As your captain said, we do have a long journey ahead of us tomorrow. It was good speaking with you, Rachelle." Tryndamere rose to his feet.
Standing, she replied, "And it was good to talk with you even for a little, Tryndamere."
A while later, as he lay on the straw mattress of his bed, Tryndamere could not help but think of how much more at peace he seemed to feel here. A strange feeling, to be sure. It was almost as if leaving Valoran so far away, with no possibility of return had dampened the burning anger that had always blazed within him. Oh, it was still there, he could still feel the fire of his rage deep within his soul, but it was subdued. Quieted. And, so far, it was unneeded. But how long would that last?
Dawn came soon enough, with the contingent ready to head out not too long after the sun had risen over the horizon.
Queen Henrietta yawned as she moved up onto the step that led into the carriage. There was another crowd, smaller than the one last night, gathered to see her off and from the step she waved farewell to them too, flashing a bright smile to her subjects. Apparently there were some people who thought starting work on time was more important than watching the queen continue on her journey, and she was happy for that. A part of her felt guilty for drawing so much attention away from their work after all, although she knew that such distractions were welcome out here in the countryside.
She glanced towards the rear of her contingent, spotting the muscle-bound figure of her familiar sitting comfortably upon his horse. She saw his eyes meet her gaze and she smiled at him and he bowed his head in greeting.
"Ready, your highness?" Agnes' voice called from her perch atop the front of the carriage.
"Oh! Yes, Agnes. I am ready. Let's go," she said a little flustered as she finally entered the carriage and a musketeer shut the door behind her.
They traveled for hours along the main road, the sun high in the sky by the time they stopped for a break amongst a copse of pines, grateful for the shade they provided from the heat of the noonday sun. Henrietta stepped out of her carriage and thankfully accepted a sandwich from Agnes. A blanket was brought out as well as some cushions from the storage compartment of the carriage and was laid out on a well-shaded grassy area, where the queen sat and ate her lunch. The musketeers ate their own sandwiches in silence, setting up a perimeter around the area.
Tryndamere gobbled his own sandwich in three massive bites, and Agnes actually gave him another one, which he took gladly and ate up much the same way as the first.
Henrietta marveled at his appetite. It was hard not to see why he needed all that food though, given his physique.
"Do you feel it, Agnes? There are eyes watching us from afar," remarked the poorly-armored warrior as he looked about with squinting eyes.
Agnes frowned, a hand touching the hilt of her sword and her eyes suddenly scanning around. "I felt it a few times this trip, but I thought I was simply being paranoid," she admitted. Her musketeers had set up a proper perimeter, but that was still no guarantee of safety.
Worriedly, Henrietta looked around as well but unlike the other two she felt nothing. "Are we safe?" she asked, clutching her wand tightly in her right hand.
"They haven't done anything so far," replied the captain of the Musketeer Squadron. "Have you actually seen anyone, Tryndamere?"
The warrior shook his head. "Not a soul. But I know they are out there, watching. My gut tells me so, and I am rarely ever wrong with this kind of feeling."
"Then we can't do much but continue on and simply be more on our guard," replied the captain. "If they try anything-"
"If they try anything, I will make sure their deaths are quick," Tryndamere said darkly. His hands twitched over the crimson blades that hung from either side of his waist.
As gruesome a thought as that was, Henrietta did feel better by his words. She only hoped he wouldn't need to do any killing, because that would mean they would be attacked.
"Well, if you could, at least spare one of them," Agnes said in a neutral tone as she glanced his way, "We'd need someone to interrogate after all."
Tryndamere grunted. "No promises." In truth, the reason he reacted so was because he could feel a growing desire for combat within him, a desire borne out of the simple fact that he was used to being in battles, though as he noted the previous night the normal burning hot rage was only a slight simmer within him.
They continued traveling until sunset, at which point they moved off the road and set up camp on a field by a small river. Agnes made sure that they had a secure perimeter and arranged the watch schedule, informing her musketeers of the possibility that there might be a hostile force watching them, waiting to strike.
The road ahead led to a bridge that would allow them to cross said river, though the river was short enough across and shallow enough that if they really wanted to, and didn't mind getting a little wet, they could get across on their horses. Not that they would seriously consider that since doing so would defeat the purpose of having a bridge there in the first place.
They moved again at first light the next morning, a thick fog having rolled in overnight and giving the surroundings an eerie, grayish look. The musketeers had one hand on their weapons and another on the reins of their steeds, eyes ever searching, trying to pierce through the veils of fog that covered the area as they moved along.
"This would be a perfect time for an ambush," Tryndamere noted loudly as he brought his horse closer to the carriage, and closer to Henrietta, than he had been so far.
Agnes gave a tense nod. "I agree. Be ready."
He wanted to ask when was he ever not but then realized that they still hardly knew each other so she really wouldn't know.
"Cholet is only four hours ride from here. We're almost there," the captain informed everyone, though Tryndamere had a feeling it was more directed to him since he was the one not from around here.
The fog continued to follow them, or at least it spread as far as they were traveling so far, and so their progress was much slower than they would have liked. It was almost as if the fog had been called just for the very purpose of slowing them down. Tryndamere wondered if it was likely that a magician could have crafted this fog, but he didn't say anything about it to his companions, who were already on edge about the situation.
Going on five hours, the heavy fog still encircled them, dampening even the noonday sun as they finally crested a hill that Agnes recognized.
"Cholet is on the other side of this hill. We should be able to see it from the top, were it not so foggy," she said.
"I have a strange feeling this fog isn't natural," remarked the warrior from Valoran, finally voicing his suspicions. The feeling of being watched had intensified, and he actually thought he saw some shapes moving through the fog, though he could not say for certain if his mind was simply playing tricks on him or if there really were things moving out there.
As they crested the hill, one of the musketeers up front stopped and turned with alarm towards the rest of the group. "Do you smell that?" she asked, wondering if it was perhaps simply her who smelled it.
Tryndamere inhaled and on that first breath did not smell anything, but in the next breath he could smell it and he turned to Agnes, who had a look of dread on her features.
"Smoke..." she whispered. Then her expression hardened and so did her voice as she spoke loudly. "First squad, go ahead and check on Cholet. Second squad and I will remain here and await your return. Do NOT enter the village no matter the situation, just do a quick observation and return."
"Is it wise to split our forces in this fog?" Tryndamere asked seriously, but the captain only glared at him as the forward group of musketeers galloped ahead and disappeared into the grey blankets that covered the air.
Barely a minute had passed when gunshots sounded, prompting Agnes to scowl. "We must turn back!" she cried as she started to guide the horses to turn the carriage around. "Second squad, ready weapons!"
A strong gust of wind buffeted them all, the horses whinnying in protest, and just like that the fog was lifted.
Tryndamere sighed. In that moment, he hated being right. He had thought there was trouble and he did not want to split their forces needlessly. Down below at the base of the hill, the town of Cholet was engulfed in flames, and from the looks of things, the fires had been burning for hours. None of the musketeers who went ahead returned, and the sounds of gunfire suddenly stopped.
"Let's go!" Agnes repeated as they all snapped out of their shock.
"But captain! Rachelle... First squad..." said Gretchen, who was leader of the second squad, with worry.
"They'll be fine. Our priority is to secure the queen!" The way Agnes spoke made it seem as if she really wanted to believe her own words.
"What's going on?" asked a worried Henrietta as she looked out the window at Tryndamere.
He was about to reply as he turned his horse around when a ball of fire came crashing down nearby, blasting into the ground with such force that it knocked him and three of the remaining five musketeers off their horses. Not even the carriage escaped harm as it was pushed over onto its side, wheels spinning.
Tryndamere got to his knees, a hand pressing into the dirt road as he steadied himself. He glanced towards the carriage and hoped that Henrietta and Agnes were okay.
He needed to deal with the assailants first before he would check on them. The attack had come from above, the only place that it could have come from without them being aware of it. Sure enough, glancing up he saw what looked to be small dragons barely bigger than a horse, with riders in full armor on their backs. They could have killed him with that surprise strike, or at least seriously hurt him, and failing to do either was their gravest mistake. Phantom Dancer blades were already out in his hands, the crimson steel shining in the sun and begging for blood to bathe in as he grinned up at his flying opponents.