As Avarron approached the lone inn in the woods, a man came outside with a welcoming smile. “Welcome traveller, to the East Road Inn. I still have a few rooms left, so you better pick one before that group down the road arrives,” The innkeeper said with a short laugh.
Avarron looked over his shoulder, a hand shielding his eyes from the setting sun’s rays. “I suppose some of them will have to sleep outside?” he asked.
“Afraid so, good sir. There’s only so much room inside. If trade keeps blooming like it does, I’ll have to expand the inn. Not that that’s a bad thing, eh?”
“It’s certainly not.” Avarron replied kindly. “So tell me, how many rooms do you have left?”
“Just three. Two’s the cheap ones, for just one silver piece. But you look like a knight, all right. Perhaps you prefer a bit more luxury? A very nice room, for just five silver.”
Even the cheap ones were expensive by his standards, but for now, none of that mattered. “Excellent. I’ll have all three,” Avarron said smiling, leaving the innkeeper befuddled. “And I’ll make it ten silver in total if that luxury room is fit for a princess by the time she gets here.”
Suddenly it dawned in the man and he quickly bowed. “Yes, yes, of course. I’ll send two maids up right away.” he quickly headed back inside, but at the door he turned around and added: oh, and give your horse to the stablehand. He’ll take care of him all right.”
There was a yell inside and a boy came running outside. He made a quick bow and said: “Boss told me to take your horse from you, my lord.”
Avarron handed him the reins and said: “Take good care of him, will you? Oh, and there’s five more coming.”
“Of course, Sir.” the boy quickly took the horse around the back of the inn.
Avarron sat down on the steps leading to the door, awaiting the arrival of the rest of his company. Once they did, Behr was the first to ask: “So, what’d you get us?”
Avarron spread his arm out over the grass beside the inn. “The softest grass in a square mile. Maybe two.”
“The inn was full already?” Lannvaire asked concerned.
Avarron got up and bowed. “Just three rooms. I reserved one for you, one for your maids and one for Sir Dace.”
“But what about you?” she asked, genuinely concerned as she stepped out of the carriage.
Avarron heard Dann and a few others snicker at that question. “As I said, the grass is soft here.”
“That’s terrible. Surely there must be a spare bed somewhere.”
“I’m sure there is, princess. But not twenty. I’ll stay outside with the men. After all, who knows what kind of mischief they’ll be up to if there’s no supervision?” he quickly pulled Rogan in and rubbed him over his head. “Isn’t that right, squire?”
“It’s not mischief if everyone laughs. Then it’s… entertainment?” Rogan offered.
“Right, so why’s there two girls in one room, but none of us present to… entertain them?” Ferdiag asked with a wide grin on his face.
That was the point where Dace felt that he had to intervene: “I’ll take the princess and her maids to their rooms. Avarron, get your barbarians under control.” He quickly guided the women indoors.
“The man got no sense of humour at all, does he?” Ferdiag asked with a sigh.
“Maybe he’s got something… you know,” Neval said as he pointed at his crotch. The two brothers laughed.
“Well, someone certainly ought to remove that stick up his ass, if that’s what you were referring to,” Rogan added. The whole group agreed with that. Even a few of the Royal Guards, standing a bit further, nodded agreeing.
“Let’s drink to that. The stick up in Sir Dace’s ass.” Behr cheered. “They may not have rooms, but surely they have ale.”
“No,” Avarron stated firmly. The men looked at him puzzled. “We are on a very important mission. I can’t have you drunk tonight or hungover tomorrow morning.” They were clearly disappointed, but didn’t argue. Avarron was sorry to spoil their fun, but this was no simple bandit hunt. He continued: “We’re sleeping outside, so we’ll have watches. Two men, four hours, as usual.” Suddenly turning to the Royal Guards, he added: “And in case Sir Dace forgets, in the soft bed for which he didn’t thank me, that counts for you as well.” Luckily, none of them protested.
“And that brings me to the following. I think it would please his ears very much if he hears I found a fitting punishment for your outburst, Ferdiag,” Avarron said with a twinkle in his eyes.
The large warrior’s mouth dropped open. “You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, but I am.” Avarron said teasing. “I was thinking of four laps around the inn. Two for each of the two girls you wanted to have tonight.”
They all looked at the inn. It was not a large building. The ‘punishment’ probably would not take the tall man more than a few minutes.
“Four whole laps… I feel so sorry for you, man. Devil take him, this boss is cruel,” Behr said, his voice overflowing with sarcasm.
“You should make it fourty, given the time it generally takes him with a girl.” Neval teased, nudging his younger brother.
“Hey!” Ferdiag protested, shoving his brother.
Avarron ignored the rest of the conversation, as Rogan was trying to get his attention. He also didn’t care whether Ferdiag made the laps or not. “What is it?” he asked the boy.
“I’m bored. I mean, I’m tired from walking all day, but it’s still light for a little while.”
Avarron had to admit he didn’t really think about that. Dann was busy making a fire and the men sat around it, telling tales and jokes. Asratorix, the bard, might tell a legend if he was asked. Occasionally, if the mood was right, he wouldn’t wait for a request and find a fitting tale to tell. This was the first time Avarron was outside the city with a squire at his side though, and he simply didn’t know what he was supposed to do.
In Altroam, his efforts had been focused on simply trying to get the boy to behave properly, but often, he secretly enjoyed Rogan’s antics. As long as the bout didn’t bother people too much for them to come complaining.
Out on the road, none of that applied anymore. In the city, a knight was a nobleman. Outside the walls, a warrior. He wasn’t the only one with that train of thought, it seemed.
Asratorix commented: “The idea of a squire is that you train him into a proper knight, isn’t it?’
Avarron nodded, waiting for the old bard to elaborate.
“I doubt you brought many books with you, and there’s little etiquette to practice here, but have you taught him some swordsmanship yet?”
“I suppose not,” Avarron admitted. “I mean, I gave him a chain shirt for protection, but…”
“Then is this not an excellent opportunity?” Asratorix asked.
Avarron looked at Rogan, whose eyes shone with excitement. “Behr!” he yelled at the campfire. “Can I borrow your blades for a while?”
“What’s the matter, Sir?” Behr asked as he approached, pulling the two short swords from his back.
“Rogan here should learn how to wield a sword. Given his size, he should start with a smaller one. The other one would be for me. I need a similar weapon if I am to train him.”
Behr turned the blades around in his hands so the pommels pointed forwards and handed them to Rogan and Avarron. “Should be fun to watch,” he said as he stepped back.
At that time, the others at the campfire became aware. “Sparring? Great idea!” Ferdiag roared. “How ’bout you and me, Behr?”
Before Behr could complain about being unarmed, Cullean stepped in. “He accepts. He also appoints me as his champion.”
“Hey, that’s not fair!” Ferdiag complained.
“About as fair as you challenging an unarmed man,” Cullean retorted. “This is your reward for such fairness.” He let his spear spin through his nimble fingers.
“What’s up with the old man?” Rogan whispered at Avarron.
“Watch and see,” Avarron replied smiling.
Ferdiag had picked up his axe, while Cullean’s spear had stopped spinning. It now lay perfectly horizontal in his hands.
“I have to be strong enough to beat you some day,” Ferdiag muttered. He swung the axe over his head at Cullean, who sidestepped the attack and thrust his spear forward. Ferdiag was forced to leap back. Cullean used the moment to close the distance, placing his spear between Ferdiag’s spread legs as he was regaining his balance. The warrior immediately brought the haft of his axe down on the spear, preventing any foot-sweeping. Cullean pulled the spear back and brought the other end down, softly landing with the flat on Ferdiag’s head, who was forced to admit defeat. “It’s not strength you’re lacking. It’s cunning. You always seek to fell your foe with one strong blow, never thinking about a second or third.”
“He’s simply always three steps ahead of you,” Neval summarized the fight.
“I still have a few things to learn,” Ferdiag admitted humbled. “But would you fare any better, brother?”
“I think I’ll last a few seconds longer,” Neval laughed as he picked up his mace and shield. He raised the shield in front of him and carefully approaching Cullean. The mace suddenly shot forward. Cullean dodged, but before he could counter-attack, Neval was back in his defensive position. “Watch your brother, Ferdiag. He knows how to defend himself,” Cullean said. “But I have the advantage of reach. Neval will have to come within the reach of my spear if he is to hit me.
“And allow you to execute one of your famous counter-attacks?” Neval asked.
“The mace is your weapon of choice, not mine.”
“It has it’s merits,” Neval whispered. He jumped forwards and the mace suddenly shot forward at Cullean’s chest. He deflected it with the middle of his spear. One of the spikes at the mace’s top locked around the shaft of Cullean’s spear. Neval pulled the weapon back, dragging Cullean’s spear along. The old warrior let the spear slip out of one hand, and let it slide through the other, until he reached the end of the shaft. He then placed his loose hand on the middle of the spear again, and spun it around, using the middle as turning point. He easily pushed the mace aside. He then quickly thrust the other end between Neval’s legs and swiped one leg up. Simultaneously, he brought the other end down behind his other leg and then pulled that up as well. With both legs in the air, Neval had no choice but to fall on his back.
“A good attack. It would have worked if I was not prepared for it,” Cullean said as he helped Neval back up. He then turned to Rogan: “In a real combat situation, time is critical. So why wouldn’t I go straight for the kill after disarming him?”
Rogan looked at Neval, expecting to find an answer there. It took him a few moments, but then he realized: “He still had his shield raised, but his legs were vulnerable.”
“You’ll make a smart knight,” Cullean said smiling.