Hero of Twilight (pre-order)
As Bathmal led the knight and con-squire to the village—all were now on foot, the latter two leading their horses—he wracked his mind for questions to ask; but now that he had a true living, breathing story before him, his mind was vacant.
Sir Odon broke the silence. “You never told me what you were doing out here all alone, boy.”
Bathmal thought for a moment before answering. He didn’t want to say that he’d been running around, pretending he was a hero slaying snow beasts that didn’t exist. Instead he said, “There isn’t much to do around the village during winter, so I come out here to walk sometimes.”
“That’s a good thing,” Sir Odon said. “Everyone needs a place to go to get away from life’s tedium.”
Bathmal couldn’t agree more.
The knight’s question finally inspired him to ask one of his own. “What are you doing way out here, sir? I thought the Vorcikian Knights were all up in the capital. Are you on a quest?”
Bathmal looked back when Sir Odon remained quiet, and noticed the knight’s brows furrowed. For a moment Bathmal thought he’d offended, but when the knight spoke, his tone was almost jovial. “I suppose you can say that I am on a quest, boy. Sort of a final quest, if you will. I’m returning home.”
“In the middle of winter?” Bathmal blurted.
“Sure, boy!” Sir Odon smiled. “When a man wants to return home, nothing can stop him; not weather, armies, or pleading women. It’s long since I’ve been home and my old bones wish to once again rest in the house my family built.”
“Where’s your home?” Bathmal asked. “Millstand’s the last village before The Sothurian Mountains.”
“My home lies beyond the mountains, in a coastal town called Torcrest, overlooking The Aper Ocean; a beautiful place in any season.”
“Wouldn’t it have been easier to go by ship, sir?”
“Easier, yes,” Sir Odon said, stopping to pat his mount’s neck, copper gauntlet ringing off copper barding. “But old Mondock doesn’t like the water and, truth to tell, neither do I.”
Bathmal nodded, still trying to think of more questions to ask.
The village came into view. Smoke rose from chimneys, and windows burned with warm inner light, keeping the approaching darkness at bay. Not very many people were out and about; most families were tucked safe within their homes, telling each other of the day’s events while eating warm meals over blazing fire-pits.
Bathmal’s mother would be in the communal house on the other side of the village, scrounging up what she could to eat and huddling with the others to keep warm. Wood and coal for fires were expensive, and food had to be eaten in order for dung to be made, therefore fire was a rare commodity in the communal house.
Bathmal led Sir Odon and Nojo into the village proper where they immediately caught the interest of a group of children returning home from errands. They came running in an excited heap, quickly surrounding the knight, con-squire, and Bathmal. Their voices squealed excitedly as they asked dozens of questions while enthusiastically jumping up and down.
“Is it true that you’re a knight, sir?”
“Where are you from?”
“Will there be a war?”
“Will others come too?”
“Can you tell us a story?”
“Yes! A story! Oh! Please, Sir?”
Bathmal was struck by a pang of jealousy over the other children’s attentions to the knight; he scowled at them like a feral animal guarding a rare treasure but did nothing else.
He knew his place.
“Children! Children!” Sir Odon bellowed, smiling through his beard. “I must rest first! However, tomorrow, I promise! Tomorrow there will be a story! Now run along home! Until tomorrow!”
The children dispersed like leaves in the wind, still chattering excitedly amongst themselves over the new visitors.
Bathmal peered up at the knight to see if he’d meant for him to leave too, but the old knight nodded his head and motioned for him to lead on.
The inn stood in the exact center of the village, directly across from The Elder’s House. It was nameless and made from drab stone, a single hide-covered doorway built into one side. The inn’s sole unique feature was its single window made of genuine glass. No other building in the village had a glass window, not even The Elder’s House.
As they approached the inn, the hide-covered door was pushed aside to emit Mistress Belladon. Her eyes went first to Bathmal, then to the knight and Nojo, then back to Bathmal, her mouth slightly twisting.
“Can I help you, Sir?” Mistress Belladon asked Sir Odon, eyes locked on Bathmal.
“A room for me and a place for my horses and con-squire,” Sir Odon said. “A meal would also be most appreciated.”
“It will be ten coppers all together. That includes two meals, feed for the horses, and a place to keep them. They can stay in the corral; it’s outside, but they’ll stay good enough. Everything else will be extra.”
“Fair enough, ma’am,” Sir Odon said following Mistress Belladon back into the inn as Nojo led the horses around to the corral.
Bathmal made to follow but Mistress Belladon stopped him with a hand on his chest. “Get you gone, boy! No reason for you to hang around here! None!”
“Run home,” Sir Odon said, tossing Bathmal a coin. “That’s for your good services. Tomorrow, there will be a story. I hope to see you there.”
The knight then ducked into the inn behind Mistress Belladon.
Bathmal opened his hand and looked down at the coin. It was a Kingdom Copper, three times more than Bathmal would ever make in a year, even during a good season.
Stuffing the coin in a coat pocket, he raced for the communal house, eager for the next day to come.