Picture it and write: The Escort

by joetwo

Hi everybody! This is my offering for this weeks picture it and write by ermilia’s blog here. Once again, the picture is not mine, I only use it for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy

The Escort

Sir Edric stood to attention in the great court-yard, deep within the castle at the heart of the kingdom of Byre, foreign territory. His men were arrayed behind them in full battle dress, standards flying in the breeze. As the wind changed he was glad that he had convinced them to bathe the night before. They had to look, and smell their best that day, they had an important job to do.

The massive doors of the keep creaked open and a retinue of guards marched out. They were followed by other notables of the court, all in their robes of state, jesters, lords, scribes, mages, physicians, and ambassadors from the other kingdoms. Finally there was Cyrus, the ambassador from Edric’s home, Tullywood, walking right beside the grand vizier,  the position of honour.

As the assembled nobles, functionaries and assorted hangers-on milled around, vying for a good place, Edric looked over them with an appraising eye. They looked very different from court back in Tullywood. For one thing none of the nobles carried weapons. He doubted very much that they even duelled in court like in home. And even if they did, it looked like it would be a staid affair, they didn’t have very much heft on them.

Edric’s train of thought was broken by the peal of trumpets from the towers above. A herald in gold shouted over the hushed crowd “His majesty the king!”

From behind the ranks of guards and attendants emerged a man in late middle age with the bearing of a man who used to wield a sword. Edric had served as a squire with the grand coalition so he remembered the king in his prime. It was unlikely he remembered him. The king started to speak “My friends, people of Byre. Today is a good day, a day for celebration. Fifteen years ago we entered into an alliance with the gallant people of Tullywood to defeat our common enemies to the north. As a sign of our friendship, it was decreed that there would be a marriage between our two nations. To that end my daughter Princess Annabeth was betrothed  to the eldest son of King Samos. She has now come of age and is to travel this day to Tullywood to start her new life there.” The king then gestured in the direction of Edric’s men. “As a preview of the honours that she will be subject to in her new home. I present her escort to Tullywood. The men of the horse guard, some of the bravest men in King Samos’ service” He could hear the clinking of armour expanding with inflated chests. “Myself and all the people of Byre would like to wish my daughter,my little Annie, a happy and prosperous future as wife and queen.”

The platitudes and general speechifying took several more hours until the retinue and their escort left Castle Byre. In the lead was Edric and his horsemen, twenty strong followed by an additional fifty infantry and bowmen. The princess travelled in her own carriage accompanied by ambassador Cyrus followed by an additional four wagons of the princess’ luggage, assorted maids and attendants and general supplies for the whole caravan. Edric made a habit of regularly riding up and down the train checking up on everything and barking orders at anyone out of step. Cyrus, who was nominally in charge, did try to object once but one look from the horse commander was enough to silence the old diplomat. With all the heavy baggage and people on foot they were going to proceed quite slowly. Edric reckoned that it would take three days to make the border to Tullywood, provided nothing happened.

That first evening the caravan camped in a clearing alongside the road. The wagons were kept in the centre with the soldiers camped in a circle around them. Edric usually made it a point to eat and sleep with his men but that night Cyrus came to invite him to dine in the princess’ carriage. “It is their custom. It would be disrespectful to refuse.” So after washing his face and changing clothes Edric walked into the central carriage.

So far, Edric had only seen Princess Annabeth from a distance or behind screens. She was beautiful, everything a princess should be. Her body was light and frail, her skin light and delicate, everything about her screamed innocence. Very different from the women Edric was usually familiar with. In the late spring warmth she wore a light dress. The only major ornament that she had on was the golden headdress tradition dictated she wear before her wedding.

Edric sat roughly down on the cushions around the small table and began clumsily to try and use the fine cutlery that a maid servant had handed him. It was then that the princess spoke, a light airy voice “Horse commander. If you find the fork too difficult, feel free to use your hands. I will not be offended.” Edric mumbled a thank you but continued to try using the small knife and fork, no dainty device had beaten him yet.

There was several minutes of frustrated eating before the princess spoke again. “Horse commander. I have been informed that you are a close friend and colleague of Prince Rumos. Is that true?” Edric gave up on the cutlery and took some pieces of meat in his hand “Yes your highness!” he replied “I have known him for many years” And he had. First as the older soldier helping a young squire get on his feet, then as comrades in arms fighting side by side and running riot through the less reputable parts of every city in the land. “He’s a good man the young prince and a better friend I have never found”

“I have no doubt about that horse commander” the princess said back “How does he feel about what is about to happen? About me?” Edric took the time to slurp down more of the broth that had been provided and said “He is very much looking forward to the day he marries you highness. He is intrigued by the stories of your beauty.” The princess seemed pleased by that. Taking the time to finish the dainty meal placed in front of her. Edric, on the other hand, beckoned the servant to fill his bowl with more meat, his appetite unperturbed by the lie he just told.

“You know she’s just going to be a skinny waif!” Prince Rumos blurted out, his train of voice disturbed by what the young woman was doing inside his trousers “More a boy than a woman! No character! How can I fall in love with someone so boring when there is so many better things in my life?” On the last word he slapped the woman’s buttocks who then gave a little yelp, giggled, and continued right on doing what she was doing. Edric, the prince and half the guard had just finished three months winter’s posting up the north and were going wild in the castle brothels and taverns. Edric, a flask of beer in one hand and other around the waist of the madam, one of his favourites, didn’t have much time to speak, so his reply was brief. “You don’t have to love her; just marry her.”

Prince Rumos wasn’t having any of this. “You mean, you old rogue, that I can be married and still find love elsewhere?” Edric looked the madam in the eye, “In essence yes, young prince! You marry this dove when she comes in summer, let her look pretty beside you, lay with her one night in ten to keep her happy, and the rest of the time you spend with me and the rest of our merry band!” That last bit was said as a shout and got roars of assent from the men not already unconscious around them. “Besides” he continued “With luck she will give you a few strong sons that I will be able to corrupt as well as I have you.” Edric then laughed and the prince joined him “Aye and you did as well. If I was half as skilful with a blade as I am with a woman, no army would be able to resist me! This little princess will be in for some shock on our wedding night!”  “Aye and indeed she will!” Agreed Edric. He stood up “To the princess Annabeth! May she never walk the same again!” With that the entire company shouted assent and started howling in laughter. It was a pretty good night for all.

The memories of that night and many others sifted through Edric’s mind as he finished his meal with the princess and returned to his tent. Talking like that when she was distant, an abstract, meant nothing. Now that he had met the princess he felt a little uneasy about the whole process, as if it was wrong to hand her over to a man’s man like Rumos. Edric thought about it again and realised that he was probably not drinking enough. More wine and thoughts like that usually went away.

The next morning arrived and the caravan started back on their journey along the road. This was bandit country and Edric told his riders to keep on their toes. As they entered more open terrain, the lead riders noticed two figures in the distance. Edric, who was back at the rear wagons, did not need a spy-glass to know that they were North men, down in a raiding party. Before he could say anything Edric’s second in command bellowed “Behind me! Let’s get the bastards!” and stampeded across the plain. Edric rode after them, shouting at the top of his voice for his men to turn around and stay with the wagons. It was only a shout from behind that told him it was too late.

From the tree-line behind and around them twenty riders on horseback had poured on top of the caravan. The infantry barely had time to form up and had their work cut out for them. Looking out over the plain, Edric saw the cavalry starting to spread out, some turning back to the caravan, and others following their leader after the diversion. Edric turned his horse and raced to the defence of the wagons.

The horsemen were effective against infantry but no match for fully equipped heavy horse, Edric sliced through two of the bandits who opposed him before he reached the wagons and started throwing the raiders down for the infantry to finish off. They were concentrating on the supply wagons, trying to grab as much as they could before the defenders could react. It was only by chance that Edric turned his head to see the lone rider dismount onto the princess’ carriage, push Cyrus off, open the screen and enter.

The thirty seconds or so it took for Edric to fight his way to the princess’ carriage seemed so much longer by his reckoning. He threw himself onto the carriage and beat the screen open, broadsword at the ready, prepared if not to rescue, than to revenge.

It took Edric’s eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness inside. On the low couch where the princess was supposed to be was the raider. His trousers were down by his ankles and he lay down in a funny position. He wasn’t moving either and it took several seconds for Edric to notice the pool of blood growing at the raider’s feet. Beside the couch, still in the light dress and headdress from the night before was the princess. In her hand she held a long curving knife, definitely not a raider’s knife. It was covered in blood that also stained the cuff of her arm. She reached down and carefully wiped the blade in the light sheet covering the couch. She then offered it to him for inspection. It was an exquisite weapon, perfect balance and weight. Into the hard steel of the blade had been carved a name, Annie.

Edric was too stunned to say anything, his paralysis only abated by the shout of his second in command shouting “Come on you fuckers! Lets show you how a real man fights!” marking the belated return of the rest of the cavalry.

The princess looked around the carriage and back to Edric “If it is all the same with you horse commander; I would to discuss changing our security arrangements. I can think of several things that went wrong here”

The old soldier was still somewhat struggling to speak so was only able to come out with a “Yes your highness; of course. I’ll bring in somebody to deal with the body.” He then turned and exited the carriage. The scene was already returning back to normal. All of the raiders had been dispatched or fled and surprisingly few of their people had been injured seriously. He grabbed two men who looked lost and sent them into the princess’ carriage to dispose of the corpse.

It took Edric only a short while to reorganise the caravan and get it moving again. All through that time and for the rest of the journey back to Tullywood, one thought occupied his mind. The poor prince. So convinced and upset that he was going to end up with someone ‘boring’, pining for someone ‘interesting’. Well it seems that he ends up with someone very, very interesting indeed. Will he be able to handle it? Edric wasn’t too sure.