Hugo rose that morning from his light slumber and immediately found a suitably dry position to begin his morning prayer. The gentle man did not seem to sleep easy, nor well, but he complained none and stirred little when it was not his turn to keep watch. His longsword was never far from hand- but then again neither were the wide array of daggers on his person. His words were quiet, quick- but not rushed- and he seemed focused on concluding the prayer before engaging in any other activity.
His silent process of preparing himself seemed mostly focused on his mount, a considerable warhorse which carried the bulk of his equipment. He cared for the creature gingerly, making sure everything from its hooves to its saddle blanket and strappings were in order, before ever mounting it. Finally the man was prepared- likely holding the rest of the party up with his slow, determined, pacing- and permitted the company to advance along their path.
"...Glora ad Deus...Thanks you for the pleasant weather." Hugo said softly as he cast his eyes heavenward when they began to travel. He felt as if his prayer the previous night had been answered, and did not want the Lord to think he hadn't noticed.
Concordia stared down at the various belts and buckles that made up her mount's saddle. She saw the others removing their's from the horses they rode, but she had no idea how to even begin, so she instead just did what she could and loosened it a little. Tightening it up, it would be apparent to a trained eye that she had made it far too loose.
As she climbed up, the saddle would give slightly and shift to the side, though the young girl seemed to be oblivious to this. Riding with both legs kept on one side, the striking shortness of her dress would be on display as her ankles, part of her calves, and the stockings that covered them would be visible to any.
After pulling her hood up, the blonde girl got her horse moving to meet up with the rest. For a time, her thoughts resided upon their leader and his troubled status with their journey's beginning. Then, as she heard Hugo's soft words from behind, the girl slowed her horse's pace so that she could ride alongside the holy man.
Speaking in a gentle tone, Concordia tried to keep her voice low to avoid giving her intentions away to the others, "Excuse me...I think you are just the one for me to speak with. I am worried about our leader, but I know not what one should do to raise the spirits of men-at-arms."
Hugo's eyes shifted before the rest of his face. His eyes cut at her and her words, and perhaps something she unused to happened: Hugo's eyes did not wander, nor appraise. Men's eyes typically travelled someone's body- studied them, appraised the, judged them. But not Hugo's. He met her gaze and didn't so much as glance at her queer clothing or risque presentation.
"...I am no typical man at arms, my upbringing and vows have brought me away from much that such people would enjoy."
the rest of his face turned now, giving her a proper and respectful amount of attention. Not his full attention, but a respectful amount. He still had it split with focusing on his surroundings and their travelling path, but someone speaking to him deserved to at least be presented with his face for discussion.
"However, if I had to hazard a guess my lady, I'm sure more of your music would do wonders for his state of mind. Or perhaps even just speaking with him- it is to my understanding that ordinary knights are quite fond of young courtiers of the fairer sex."
That last statement was presented with a modicum of apprehension, as if the idea was one Hugo didn't like.
The girl watched her senior as intently as she did during her lessons in the comfort of her home. She seemed focused almost entirely on him, and found a similar focus in return. Used to holding attention for much different reasons, she found his apparent genuine interest in her question to be extraordinarily refreshing.
"I suppose conversation could work, but I know little of sword or strategy. Perhaps..."
A warm smile formed that seemed to light up Concordia's youthful expression as inspiration struck her. With a nod, she brushed some of her long, blonde hair out of her face as she spoke with an excited energy about her.
"We can talk about our homelands! I would love to tell him all about Naples! I bet a few tales would warm him up! I appreciate the inspiration you have given!"
As the shifted a bit in her excitement, her saddle would slide a bit along with her, though she would remain on.
"Your saddle is improperly secured." Hugo said simply, his words slicing through her excitement as if he wasn't particularly aware of it. "It'd be regrettable if you fell and injured yourself. That'd delay the quest. shall I fix it for you?" He asked as his attention returned briefly to focusing on the road ahead of them.
"We could stop for a moment then catch back up with the others once we fjord the river." he offered.
Her words about naples sat in his mind but didn't warrant much interest in himself, the De Anjou's were the current lords of those lands- which included Avignon, the seat of the papacy in Prevence- but beyond that his interest didn't extend further.
Concordia's excitement was instantly tempered by his words as she responded, "Oh...Yeah. Please do. It's difficult to get it just right. I'm get worried that I'll do it too tightly and hurt her."
With that, she brought the horse to a stop before holding on to the horse and carefully climbing down. Stepping aside for Hugo, she let the experienced soldier take over with properly securing the saddle.
Hugo dismounted his war horse and waved the party onward as he did so, letting them know that everything was alright and they'd catch up shortly as he moved to Concordia's horse and began to adjust the straps swiftly. He tightened them, ran his hand over the horse's hide, and once they were properly secured he pat the horse on its mane and stroked it a few times.
"Do not be afraid of harming the beast. It will let you know if the tightness is too much." He then took ahold of the reigns and gestured for Concordia to re-mount the creature.
The blonde girl watched closely as Hugo tightened the saddle, trying to learn from the quick adjustments he made. Responding to his advise with a nod, she'd climb back onto the horse and settle into the side-saddle position that she was used to.
"You would think that they'd teach you these things when learning to ride. But...Well...Someone else always took care of it. The men did not find it fit for ladies to trouble themselves with such things."
"It is not fit for ladies to trouble themselves with such things." Hugo said easily, moving back to his own horse as he spoke. He mounted the warhorse in easy fashion, settling back into his saddle and giving his horse the slightest of urgings to move forward.
"A woman's place is not on the campaign trail, and she should not ride unaccompanied. It is no wonder you have not learned these skills yourself." Hugo said wiith the mildest of shrugs. "But for a quest such as this you should not be made to hinder the rest of us. Watch me closely as I prepare my horse in the future and learn to do it yourself."
"I will learn, I promise you that. All I require is instruction, and my ambitions will see me through."
The young girl's words seemed to be genuine. Her serious tone and firm assurance that simply deflected the comments of what her station should be.
Looking ahead once more, she gripped the reigns and spurred her horse on, intent on trying to catch back up with the others.
And so the two rode along, Hugo guiding Concordia along in a swift manner. They made up the lost ground on the rest of the party quite readily, recapturing their position at the rear of the party around the same time as the fjording of the river. Hugo, once more, took the time to ensure his mount's proper care upon reaching the far side, then dutifully showed Concordia the same steps he took so that she might be able to check her horse after such crossings in the future.
And then the party was on its way once again.
As they encroached upon the forest, Hugo slowed his horse and weighed the wood with a heavy gaze. He seemed uncomfortable, visibly, but even he could not place the cause of his discomfort. He disregarded it after a few moments, and urged his horse back into place in the party marching order.
"Concordia, move ahead of me. Wood such as this can house dangers, and with you ahead of me I may better defend us should harm befall us."
Paying very close attention to Hugo's guidance, Concordia nodded as she committed the steps shown to memory by running herself through the process several times while travelling. As her temporary mentor seemed to slow, she would do the same to try and keep a solid pace with him. After all, he was the closest one with sharp weapons and experience.
Glancing over towards him, the girl would pick up on the discomfort he was feeling and begin to look around. Apparently oblivious to the danger her companion was picking up on, she was deeply confused by the command he issued.
Regardless, though, she would oblige and push ahead some as she began to ask, "What's wro-" before cutting herself off as she looked back ahead.
She could feel her throat tense up, choking her as she put forth a single question.
"...Where are the others?"
Hugo's eyes widened just a moment, before he shut them and let out a slow exhale.
"This wood is bewitched. Foul magic is at play, though I am not able to discern its nature. Stay within sight of me."
He opened his eyes and brandished the lance he carried, lifting it up and resting it into a proper 'locked' position on his arm as he shifted his other hand to grip the reigns in a single handed grip. He maintained a silence for several moments before a sudden shift seemed to come over him- in his mind, the chants of a saxon warband were echoing through the wood and reaching his ears.
"...Impossible, they couldn't be here..." He said calmly, the shock fading from his features. "...My lady, the men who come will enslave you if they catch you. I will protect you."
Concordia gripped the reigns of her horse tightly, shifting her gaze left and right as she tried to look for the people Hugo spoke of. The darkness of this place put her on edge, and she found only slight comfort in having the Templar with her. Though in the company of one such as him, she could not shake the apprehension that gripped her heart.
What if he failed? What if there were too many? What would she do? She couldn't fight, she hadn't even held a sword before in her entire life. This was not like the courts she knew, where she could command power and control a situation. She felt helpless, only able to place faith in the strength of her guardian.
Speaking calmly, masking her own doubts, the youthful blonde responded, "...I understand. I have faith that your strength and skill shall see us through this."
Hugo nodded to the woman and spurred his horse forward into a trot, passing her as he cut a new path through the wood. those damnable chants, their thick tongues, those words he recognized deep within himself, understood as his native tongue- the horrendous things they meant for the woman he was with...all of these things bit down into Hugo's mind, where his steel-like faith and resolve was tested against it. In short order, his faith won out and the irrational fear he began to feel died.
He set his lance and launched into a gallop as two saxon warriors entered the path in front of him, where he drove his lance down into one's chest and released it to avoid breaking the weapon. He then pulled his horse to a halt and gave it a shrill whistle, which caused it to launch a devastating kick against the secondary warrior.
To Hugo's surprise, the second warrior rose back up a few seconds after the kick and Hugo rapidly dismounted, a dagger finding its way into his hand, as he launched himself at the figure and drove the blade into his chest, under his arm, then into the side of his knee in rapid succession in a brutal barrage to bring the soldier down.
Hugo's assault would normally have brought a man to death or incapacitation, but Hugo was suddenly struck by the saxon soldier and sent reeling into a nearby tree, where he rose up onto all fours upon hitting the gorund and lifted his eyes to gaze at the soldier who struck him with such might.
"...Deus vult." he spat, rising to his feet as the soldier approached, dagger still in hand.
Concordia spurred her horse onwards as Hugo charged up ahead, trying to remain close to her protector. However, her horse was not bred for war and quickly started falling behind. She could do little more than watch her guiding light slip away into the darkness.
The best thing you could hope to rule is some mayor's household.
You're nothing, and you know it. That's why you dress like that. Fashion. Hah! You just want attention, because you know you have nothing more.
Yes. Run back to the arms of your teacher. You're so proud, but you always run back to those willing to waste their time on you.
Concordia gripped the reigns of her horse tightly and forced it to accelerate, pushing the beast's limits. Distant figures began to form through the treelines as she rushed straight ahead.
"Bite your tongue and choke!"
The girl's words loudly rung out as her normally pleasant expression was twisted into malice and frustration. Desire overtook all reason, and a need to release her fury weighed heavier than safety. As she rode by the warriors, the blonde girl kicked with what might she could muster, sending her heel straight to the saxon's head.
Hell hath no fury.
The soldier reeled from the blow, granting Hugo the time he needed to reach to his hip and draw the longsword he carried. As the blade emerged from its sheathe, a light shone from its blade that seemed to chase a darkness that, perhaps, the two hadn't fully realized was there away. The blade was drawn, Hugo's hand high on the hilt to accomodate him opting to carry a dagger in his offhand, and a sunlight most assuredly emanated from the blade. The 'Saxon' Concordia had kicked shimmered- and soon shadows were blasted away from its body, revealing its disgusting true self: A troll.
"..." Hugo's eyes weighed the troll, severe as he realized the bewitchment. In a blur of movement the Templar whirled the longsword forward and slashed it viciously across the beast's body, and when he whirled and struck with his dagger this time he struck it home into the creature's knee and toppled it to the ground.
Standing over it he unceremoniously drove the blazing longsword straight into its neck and looked up at Concordia.
"Many thanks, my lady. It seems this wood had clouded my mind. Forgive me my lapse in judgement. Let's see if we can't find our companions, yes?"
Looking back after passing the two in her furious assault, Concordia witnessed the true nature of what her shoe had just struck be revealed. Seeing Hugo quickly dispatch of it with his righteous blade, she promptly reached down and dusted off the foot she used to kick the troll, feeling disgusted that she had even touched such a beast.
Hearing Hugo speak, however, brought her attention back into focus and she gave an affirming nod.
"Fortunately, it was only those two. Anything more and I might have to become the leader here. Ah, regardless, he sooner we can rejoin them, the better."
Hugo nodded to her and sheathed his sword. He moved to retrieve his lance and remount his warhorse. Once mounted, he reached to his hip and cleared the scabbard of his longsword, allowing the blazing light of the blade to shine around him and keep the bewitchment from tainting him again. He nudged his horse and set it to a trot.
"I agree. Let's see if we can't find them. I have concerns over the other's ability to...discern that spell."