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broken crown

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He hefted the bleeding boy up against a stone wall. His hair matted against his sweaty face: his squire looked closer to death than many he had seen on the battlefield.

It was not this that broke Sir Ren.

It was the child-like cry that came from his squire’s mouth when that arrow pierced him.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” the boy murmured between clenched teeth. Death’s bosom was so much like a mother’s that they were all children against it, but the young age of his squire still made him ache inside.

His voice hadn’t even dropped yet: a joke amongst all in the encampment.

Soldiering through it, Ren’s shaking hands went to the fasteners at the boy’s armor.

“You will serve me another day, Squire Reymond,” he hissed through his teeth. The boy was at his heels as loyal as a dog since he had been assigned. It was a Godless act to have him stricken down.

Ren staked his sword deep in the earth, upright at their sides. He was not focused on the battle around them.

“I promise you will die a man of honor. But not today.”

“I will not, Sir Ren.”

He thought this child a fool many times. This one, the most tragic of all, with all of his worrying statements about truly being a Knight as though he would fail all of the tests to his character in the way. None of the other boys of his class of Pages took their vows as seriously as he did. He did not stray his eyes to fair maidens, or take up gloating competitions with the other students, and there were no reports made to Sir Ren of any of the trouble that all boys get into in the dormitories. Reymond was quiet and focused and obedient with this maddening trace of obstinance in all of his questions that Sir Ren had grown affectionate towards.

He lifted his helmet off of his head to better hear the limp words falling from Reymond’s lips.

“There are...healing baths, in Holywell. I will bring you there myself if I must.”

“No, sir,” the boys lips were white, his face swooned and bloodless. His eyes rolled back.

“The wound in my shoulder, child, that you stitched? Needs a good soak. We’ll go there together.”

“We can’t, Sir.”

Reymond’s eyes were roaming the sky as though tracking a hawk’s flight circling them. About the swoop for the kill.

Death, leave this child.

“Sir--” his squire choked anxiously, his body flinching at Ren’s hands working open the armor. With a knife, he split the arrow protruding from the young one’s chest so he could work the undershirt open. “I have made vows to you, Sir, sacred vows, and I would not like you to see them broken.”

The boy was in the midst of fainting from blood loss.

“What are you on about, Squire?” Ren hissed through his teeth, “you just need a good medicinal soak. We leave for Holywell just as once I get this arrow out. Hold still.”

He struggled: and no one was that valiant to just be left for dead.

The Squire frantically resisted him for as long as his consciousness allowed. His feet kicking uselessly in the dirt and Sir Ren crouched over him. 

Dying under my watch is not what he deserves. Not after how nobly he served. This child deserves the title of Knight so truly that I would give my own name--

“Lie still,” he shouted, but Squire Reymond was already unconscious.

The chest was tightly bound with bandages already, but he had spent weeks on this campaign with the boy, he’d know if he bore a wound terrible enough to-

A pale pink breast fell from parted wraps.

Sir Ren only fell back on his heels for a moment. The two of them, though one unconscious, breathing raggedly in the midst of battle. The clash and collision of swords and the obscene shouts of men meeting early graves fell on deaf ears.

All he could hear was the blood pumping from his stunned heart.

He once, as a Squire himself, near death as this one now was, had sardonically prayed for a sight of a lady’s breast before dying in combat.

This one is slumped against the stone wall that Ren had placed her, moments before when she was Reymond to him, his Squire and nothing else.

A Squire who had saved him from the blow of an arrow. To him, all but an hour ago: a youth, a boy, a future Knight just like himself.

But now none of these things were true.

Blood poured from the wound beneath the dainty breast. Swallowing, he tore from his own clothing something to stop the bleeding. His hand hesitated before pressing down between her ribs with the ragged offering.

He looked at the hands of his Squire, limp and upturned palms like a saint of absolution. They were the hands that should be delicately handing him a cloth, an offering of her favor to carry at his breast into battle. Hands paused over weaving, waiting for him to come home. He would debase himself to kiss these fine hands.

All the same: he had seen what these hands had done.

These were the hands that had done up his armor, tended his wounds, carried his sword as they traveled this Kingdom together. They killed with him, for him, an attack from bandits in the forest wounding his shoulder as she bravely took up his sword to fight for him in his stead. These were hands he was tied to with vows more sacred than words could name.

And she had upheld them, and would, to her last breath.

Which was looking closer and closer to moments away.

No wonder Reymond protested to them bathing together in Holywell. It was forbidden. They couldn't. 

His heart fluttered in his large chest. 

They would, or he'd die trying. 

Why had she chosen this for herself? Who was this woman, disguised as a boy, and what convinced her to be a Knight?

“Please,” he said softly, but he did not know of which name to beseech.

Sir Ren’s heart was in his throat. How could his Squire be both so changed and unchanged in his eyes?

Reymond, in that moment, did die.

She was left in his place.

A woman, mature enough to bloom breasts, and someone who’s deception would be discovered any moment. Every step closer to becoming a Knight was one step closer to this discovery being made.

Still, his head swam with impossible hopes he had not known of being dashed before his very eyes by his own hand. For the both of them.

One of them bearing a secret too terrible to ever speak aloud. One of them someone he trusted, while having not known them at all.