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The Knight and the Princess

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Once again he has found himself in the forest. Outcast from yet another city – just because he sold some of the weapons he had rightfully found to the local riff-raff. But apparently the aristocrats didn’t like it when the likes of him were armed. Cowards.
Mercurio spit on the forest floor when he thought about the upper class and the guards who chased him out of the walls. Bastards, the lot of them.
He wandered along the forest trail, always ready to disappear into the groves just in case someone has send the guards after him. He had to make great haste if he wanted to cross the thickest part of the forest, before the sun set – it was already close to the horizon – and while he still had weapons on him Mercurio was not looking forward to fight against a wild boar or some wolfs. Both of which would likely end with his death.

Just as the light was dangerously fading and Mercurio started to look for a tree he to spent the night on, he saw a distant light.
It could be fire. Could be faeries, ghosts or witches. Could be a bunch of bandits who would take the last bit he got and his life.
But one thing the light surely wasn’t: a bundle of teeth and tusks.
Mercurio sighted heavy over the mistake he was about to make and started jogging towards the light. Maybe he could hide just in the area of the light to be safe.

When he came closer, he smelled a mixture of burning wood and the scent of horses. There were a couple of voices – all men. So it was bandits or travelers. Could he maybe just introduce himself? Ask for a safe place for the night?
But the coins he made in the last city could be to much of a temptation for the men. Mercurio knew that he would be tempted by a traveler with a purse.
Carefully Mercurio sneaked closer, one hand pressed on his purse to stop the coins from clashing, the other hand on the hilt of his sword.

Two men were standing next to the fire, a knight and his squire. The young man was busy opening up the armor of his lord and even if Mercurio would have stomped straight towards the fire, they wouldn’t have noticed him. Mercurio lowered his hands and sighed in relive. Not only weren’t they robber-knights - the armor alone looked like it was more worth than Mercurio had ever made in his life - the men also were so distracted, he could have defeated them here and now on his own.

“Stop pulling, boy! Do you want to tear me apart?”, the knight said with a hiss. Obediently his servant stopped and instead tried to wiggle the chest plate from his lord’s body. This tactic was little successful.
Amused Mercurio watched the two from the shadows. The knight was aging, in his fifties maybe, and clearly well fed. His armor never had been in a fight and while he maybe had fought before, he didn’t look like he could comfortable swing a sword two times.
The squire was still young. He probably was still new, given his clumsiness while helping the knight out of his armor. Mercurio would be surprised if he was twenty. He had dark hair, a round face and was just as well dressed as his lord. They both wouldn’t be a problem for Mercurio.
He looked around for the horses. He could smell them, but not see them in the dark, which hopefully meant they were opposite of the fire.

Finally the servant held the chest plate in his hands, but the knight still had no kind words for him:
“I hope tomorrow you will not embarrass me like this, boy! I want to make a good impression in front of the princess!”
Surprised Mercurio turned his full attention to the knight. Princess?
“It is an honor for my family to serve the princess in this dire times and I will not let my name be besmirched by some fool from a lower house.”
Mercurio almost let out a disgusted grunt. Sir knight was quite the charmer, wasn’t he? His squire was close to tears.
“I will get better, I promise!”
“Can’t be soon enough!”
Angrily the knight stomped to the fire.
“Get us the food, boy!”

The mention of food reminded Mercurio that he himself was wandering for a time on an empty stomach. The rations the knight and his servant were having were meager – dry meat and bread – but they were enough to make his guts grumble. If he had had more time when he was fleeing the city …
But it was senseless to think about that now. He could probably steal some of the meat when they were sleeping. So he waited patiently but not without pain till the knight was finished and got ready to sleep on the ground. His last words was for the servant to stand guard. Typical. Soon enough Sir knight was snoring and the squire looked anxiously through the forest. It wouldn’t be long till he would make out Mercurio between the treed.

Mercurio had made his decision. The knight needs to go. The squire… he would see. He drew his sword and sneaked around the boy in the shadows of the trees.
He reached the sleeping knight who lay on the forest floor, unprotected by his expensive armor which lay just a few feet away.
It would be quick.
Mercurio rammed the sword into the throat of the knight. His eyes flashed open and he let out a faint gurgle, blood streaming from the wound like a small, gruesome fountain until he fell silent and lay still.

The squire heard him of course and jumped up from the floor with a horrified look on his face, watching his lord die. His face lost all color and he drew a tiny dagger from his belt. Tiny, beautiful and sharp. Mercurio lifted his sword. The lower half of it was red from blood and the fire was still light enough to so the boy could see it.
“Do you really want to do that?”, Mercurio asked in a low voice.
Tears streamed down the squire’s face and he started shaking, he almost lost his dagger.
Mercurio tried to tame his pity for him. The boy was weak and afraid, but he still could be dangerous if he decided to attack. Even if Mercurio killed him, a stabbing wound could mean his own death either way.
“Face it, he was an asshole. You really wanted to serve him the rest of your life?”
“I..I… my family gave me to him.”
“And do you want that?” Mercurio asked, not taking his eyes of the dagger.
“No.” The boy let his shoulder sack down and slowly lowered his weapon.
“Kill me if you want.”
“Well, I don’t want to.”
For a moment they looked each other in the eyes. The boy’s eyes were read from crying, the face looked even rounder up close and Mercurio corrected the estimation of his age further down.
“There is a town, not even half a days march through the forest in this direction”, he suggested, as gently as he could. “Go there and ask for work on the farms.”
He pointed with his sword to the body in front of him.
“No one needs to know that you let your lord die.”
He looked at Mercurio with round big eyes, slowly processing what Mercurio had just said. He was so afraid, he would not hopefully not blabber, at least not in the next day. That would be all he needed.
“Take your horse.”
Without saying another word, the boy ran in an impressive circle around him. Mercurio heard a neighing and not a minute later the boy on a brown horse galloped passed the light.

After he was sure that the boy really was gone, Mercurio first greedily ate from the rations the knight and his servant had left until he finally was full.
Then he packed the armor as tightly together as he could – no sense in trying putting it on alone – searched through the rest of the belongings and packed all he assumed would fit on one horse. Unfortunately, murdering the knight would mean he couldn’t sleep here in case the boy just alarmed the guards in the city he just left.
Carefully he walked towards the remaining horse. It was pure white, as if the knight had needed another proof for his snootiness.
“Calm boy...”, Mercurio whispered soothingly. “All is well… all is well.” The horse was clearly upset from the sudden departure of his friend, but it listened to Mercurio’s words. Slowly he reached for the neck of the horse and when he was sure it wouldn’t bite, he started petting it.
“You are a good boy…. Yes…”
Once the horse was calm, Mercurio started loading his new treasures. He was ready to saddle when he suddenly noticed a bleach piece of parchment in the saddle bag.
His curiosity was bigger than his sense of danger, so Mercurio took the parchment out of the bag and read it in the dying light of the fire.

“Ser Stronzo,

we humbly request your aid for the protection of Your Majesty The Princess Of Staricca.
These dire times of political mistrust have led us to believe that the life of the Princess might be in danger and only a cunning and loyal knight like you can protect her. Please meet us in the castle of Your Majesty immediately.

We hope that you will answer this request,

In Best Hopes,

Ser Canzo”

 

Mercurio slowly put the letter down. The Princess? She was really rich as he had heard. He looked at the armor and the horse. An idea started forming, an idea so stupid and bold and stupid and tempting.

He pushed the letter back in the saddle bag and mounted the horse. What Ser Stronzo can do, he, Mercurio, can do better.