The Breton boy rose to his feet, hot tears sprouting unbidden from his eyes as his weary body protested the sudden movement for all it was worth. How dare he! How could he, a son of Guerre and Bretonnia fall asleep like some child while at his prayers? To dishonor his name was one thing, but to spurn his sacred duty to the lady because he was tired? A tidal wave of shame washed over Guy de le Guerre as he angrily rubbed at his face, his fingers brushing briefly over the thin layer of dark stubble on his cheek. The product of a fortnight’s growth he guessed. To any passerby he must have looked the part of an unkempt urchin, stinking of horse and the road. The knees on his woolen breeches were stained by the grass, his once fine doublet was fraying at the hem, and his hair was a wild mess of raven curls, long overdue for a good trimming. A far cry from the noble picture he’d cut departing from his castle home in the lands of the Duchy of Bastonne. Guy dropped to his knees, sharp pangs forcing him to grit his teeth as he curled his thin fingers around the hilt of his sword, head bowing in humble reverence.
He prayed again, begging forgiveness for his transgression, requesting strength and guidance through this hostile foreign land, and pleading for some sign to show that he was on the right path. Whether the Lady heard his cries so far from their homeland he did not know, but he prayed nevertheless as his father had taught him, pouring his heart out into his last source of hope. How long he remained there, silent he could not say, it was only when the first droplets of rain struck his neck that he was jolted back into the land of the living.
How long have I slept? He wondered, looking to what he’d remembered being the morning sky, now shrouded by dark clouds heralding nasty weather. This road looks to be well traveled; how many could have passed me by as I snored away valuable daylight hours? Surely, I would have been seen and heard easily, I am only a few paces into the trees. I am a fortunate fool to not have lost my sword, my horse, and my purse while I rested in sacrilegious slumber!
Guy rose unsteadily, his legs tingling as the blood returned. How he would have loved to sink back down beneath the cover of the trees and rest his eyes for a little longer. The grass looked comfortable and welcoming in his current physicality, and his heavy cloak would keep him warm. Clenching his jaw Guy banished such traitorous thoughts. Had he not spent the better part of the hour asking for the strength to go on? Besides, distant rolls of thunder and heavy clouds promised a deluge before nightfall, and Guy did not fancy another sleepless night beneath the elements. He whipped his sword up with an irate twist from the earth where’d it’d sunk near half its length beneath the weight of his bowed head. Drawing the honed battle edge across his doublet he wiped it clean of loam before sheathing it safely at his hip. The familiar weight was comforting at least, like having a reliable friend at his side. His only friend now, Guy reminded himself as he gazed upon unfamiliar woodland.
The rain began to fall in earnest by the time Guy remounted and retook the road, forcing him to draw up his hood and clasp his cloak tight around his shoulders. Nevertheless, he shivered as fierce northern winds snaked through the trees biting deep through the fabric’s folds. Struggling to keep his exhausted steed centered Guy took the time to double check his baggage, ensuring the leather bags containing his maille and shield were sealed tight against the downpour. He was about to continue along his way when he felt the dun mare beneath him shrink, ever so slightly, ears twitching with wary attentiveness. A crack of a breaking branch alerted Guy to what had startled his horse and he laid a hand upon his sword hilt.
“…Bonjour?” He began, then remembering where he was, he started again. “Hello, who approaches?” Guy felt a tightening in his gut as the guttural heavily accented Reikspiel rolled off his tongue. He’d been warned many times by the locals that the Reikwald held many dangers for those traveling alone, bandits being the least of them. The last thing I desire right now is a fight, I nor the horse are capable. Plague and pestilence my eyes feel as heavy as lead weights and my fingers are cold, and clumsier than a newborn foal. Guy was jolted from his thoughts when a dark skinny shape leapt from the tree line taking too shaky steps onto the muddy road before collapsing in an expended heap. The mare and knight jumped together, the horse shying away from the offending form and Guy drawing his sword in one swift swish, cold and tiredness forgotten in a surge of adrenalin. For the space of a few tense heartbeats they sat in silent caution, ready for the shape to rise and attack.
Then Guy began to laugh. A weak, frightened laugh but a spate of nervous humor, nonetheless. “Naught but a child, girl.” He soothed the horse in High Bretonnian, clicking his tongue until he felt the mare ease beneath him. “A muddy, skinny little boy lost from his home no doubt. Not the terrifying monster we imagined hm?” Flicking the reins Guy made to ride around the prostrate body when the boy shifted, a gleam of blood on his lips, his gaunt haunted eyes rooting Guy to the spot.
“P-please.” He whimpered, barely audible over the driving rain.
Please, but please what? Guy frowned, glaring down at the boy. In truth he could not have been much younger than the knight, three or four years at the most, but he was nothing but skin stretched taunt over bone. “I have nothing for you.” Guy said at last wondering why he couldn’t bring himself to just ignore the peasant and ride on. Starving commoners was nothing new, yet something in those sad grey eyes kept him stationary. “…I have no food or coin to spare, and little time to waste before this rain kills us both of cold.”
“Schartenfeld!” The boy rasped chattering the word to such a degree that the Breton could not understand.
“…Town… w-warn.” He pointed shakily down the road, in the direction Guy had been traveling.
“Boy, make yourself understood!” Guy snapped, growing annoyed at the pitiful statements. “I do not speak this tongue well, and the rain builds up such a racket. You must be clear.” No response came from the thin form to such a degree that Guy began to wonder if he had perished there on the road. But no, looking closer he could see the bloated stomach move ever so slightly with each pained breath.
Passed out then, and all the better for him, his passing may be gentler. May whatever god you worship accept your soul you poor child… But what were you trying to say? Warn… Town? I know those words, but where have I heard Schartenfeld before? A name perhaps, his name? Or maybe the name of this town, yes, I think I heard mention of this place, a village here in the Reikwald. Then he is a messenger, on a mission to warn Schartenfeld! But warn them of what? I cannot relay news of a threat of which I know nothing about… At long last Guy released a frustrated groan rolling his eyes skyward.
“For the Lady I do the most unpleasurable things." Guy groused aloud. "But of all the things, this? I will become known as Guy the Peasant Portage, he who lends his horse to whoever ask. Perhaps I should even charge a few penny fee? Bah, this warning better be serious.” Slipping down from the saddle Guy bent over the body, scooping the child up with shocking ease. Lice and fire this child must be at least twelve, but he weighs next to nothing, and all I feel are bones. Securing him in front of the saddle took little effort despite Guy’s own weariness, and soon they were off once again at a steady lope. Keeping one hand wrapped securely around the boy’s waist, and the other resting on his pommel he guided the mare with his knees, peering through the thickening sheets for any sign of habitation in the distance, while glancing regularly over his shoulder, mindful that whatever the boy had been running from might not be far behind. It was an hour before he saw lights, the watchman’s lantern bobbing along as the unlucky bastard given watch in the foul weather made his rounds.
He wasn’t a very good guard Guy discovered as he rode nearly over the top of the unsuspecting man, who was keeping his hood tight and his head bowed. “Open the gate!” He snapped when he wasn’t hailed, the man jumped fumbling with his lantern.
“Err, say who’re you old chap?”
“I am a knight.” Guy replied in haughty self-assuredness, stating his rank rather than his name. His noble blood alone should lend him swift entrance, and he wasn’t wrong. Upon seeing the soaked crimson raven embroidered upon the young man’s chest the watchmen made quick his duties of opening the gate just enough that Guy and his mare could slip inside, saluting their passing in the Imperial fashion.
“Point me towards the nearest, cheap establishment.” Guy ordered once they were inside and the gate was barred against the wind. He wanted out of the rain, and he did not have time to bandy words. “One with a fire and something hot to drink.”
“Is that kid alright? Er I mean, The Ogres’ Maw fits the bill sir.” The Watchman frowned lowering his hand, recalling the Breton’s rank. “But it doesn’t suit one of your stature sir, perhaps th’ Blu-”
“It will suffice” Guy kicked at his mare’s flanks leading her towards the building that’d been pointed out too him. In truth he possessed little coin. His foray into the Empire had been a long one, and while he had never dared live the life of luxury, Guy appreciated a bed and a warm meal, and his coinage reflected that. Sigmarites had an annoying habit of expecting payment for their services, whereas a noble son in the fair lands of Bretonnia need not even bring currency on his journeying. Every peasant was expected to provide when a knight came calling. Guy had been prepared of course, but his purse was lighter than ever, and he did not wish to waste it on unnecessary expenses.
Leaving the mare for the time being Guy scooped the boy up with awkward uncertainty, cradling him as he pushed through the heavy door, kicking it shut behind him. Not sparing a single glance to the other patrons making their confusion and concern known he made a beeline for the fireplace, shooing away the pair of dogs near it and settling the child upon the warm earthen floor…