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The Knight's Blade

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He hardly noticed his foot moving as it rose and fell, slowly moving him along the sodden trail through the hills. So long had he been walking that he had long since lost all feeling in his legs. He didn’t complain though. It was his turn to lead the caravan. It wasn’t really a caravan, just three dirty, run down carts drawn by old, grey horses.

Suddenly a voice rand out;

“Ben!” It called. His shift was over. His pace slowed until the lead cart caught up with him. A face appeared out of the back of the cart. It was a girl. She held her hand out to him. He took it and climbed in. There were three others in the cart. All were kids. There were two girls and one other boy. They all wore simple clothing; tattered shirts and pants that had long since lost all color. The girls wore simple dresses. All of their clothes were threadbare.

Inside the cart was nothing to look at. A small pile of blankets that were torn and dirty covered the floor. The thin canvas that covered the cart kept off most of the wind but there was still a chill. The other carts all looked the same. Each of them held at least 3 other kids. There were no adults. They were all gone. Gone to the fighting. Gone because of the war.
They were refugees, running wherever they could go. His feet were covered in mud but they could spare no water to wash them. He looked toward the girl who had helped him in. Her feet were muddy to. She must have been watching the back of the caravan. The remaining two slipped out of the cart. It was their shift. He watched them depart. The girl had, thankfully thought Ben, walked ahead of the caravan. Watching either side was dangerous. They were meant to give warning of potential threats, but the long hours made them weary. Sometimes, one would collapse, and if they were in the front of the caravan, odds were they would be picked up, if they were in the back, no one would find them. The girl currently in front was strong, but young and had been known to faint at a sign of danger. The other boy, he was 16, strong, and quiet. There was almost no doubt he would be okay.
The girl still sitting with him pulled out a scrap of bread. He took it gingerly. Even though he was starving he ate slowly.

“Thanks.” He said. The girl nodded, sending her wavy brown hair down in a rippling cascade. Her dark brown eyes looked at him for a moment, trying to figure out what he was thinking. Alyssa. That was her name. They had met when Ben first came to the caravan.

She had been watching the back of the caravan, and had passed out due to fatigue. He found her lying in the road. He couldn’t leave her, of course, so he did the only thing he could; he stayed with her. Time slowly ticked by. Slowly she began to wake up. He felt a knot tighten in his stomach as she rose. Then her eyes opened. It was the first time he had gazed into her eyes, and certainly not the last. Her eyes stared back at him and he could feel his heart pounding in his chest. What had thrown him ff was how calm she seemed. Here was a girl he found lying on a dusty road half dead from fatigue and she seemed as if she had fallen asleep there on purpose. For a moment they said nothing. Then, she began talking. As if knowing exactly what he was wondering she told him her story, starting with where she was from. She, along with the rest of the caravan were from Xedia, a city to the north. The city had been caught in the grip of an approaching war. The adults stayed to fight, the kids were sent away. They didn’t know where to go, so they just kept going forward. She explained that there were only 14 kids in the caravan; the rest had separated a while ago. She told that of the 14 kids, 4 were bullies and jerks, the rest were all too young to do anything, or were her and the quiet boy with whom they now shared a cart with. The watch system was supposed to give warning of trouble, but what chance did they stand anyway? None of them were fighters.

After the story Ben helped her catch the caravan. She never asked about his past, and he wouldn’t have shared it if she did. During that brief time they became close, like siblings, so when they reached the caravan, Ben stayed. That was how he got mixed up in this mess. He might not have if he didn’t know they were headed straight for a large city. They were headed for Dramon, the capital.

Suddenly the cart stopped. Alyssa looked outside. The other carts had stopped as well.
“It’s break time.” She said. It was a time for the horses to rest but it was also a time for the bullies to come out and pick on the younger kids. Alyssa slipped outside without another word. Ben didn’t question her. He had no idea what she was doing, but it gave him time alone. A while ago he had discovered that he could pry apart some of the floorboards. Inside, there was a grey cloth tied with a thin cord of twine. The cloth wrapped an object that was hard, thin, and slightly longer than Ben’s arm. He pulled it out and carefully unwrapped it. His heart skipped a beat as the cloth came away. It was a sword. No, not a sword, his sword. His father had given it to him when he was younger. It had never left his side since. He had once trained with it daily, but since he joined the caravan he feared someone would take it. Alyssa was the only one who knew he had it. The hilt was of simple iron with a strip of leather wrapped around it as a grip. Another piece of iron served as a cross guard. The blade was of pure steel. Its edges shown even in the depleted light of the late afternoon. He couldn’t swing the blade without tearing the canvas over the cart so he could only practice a few lunges and jabs.

A cry sounded from outside. He wrapped up his sword and put it away. Then he leapt out of the cart. He noticed that everyone was gathered and looking out to the hills. He shielded his eyes from the fast setting sun and followed their gazes. Horses. Men riding horses were galloping toward them, He thought to go and retrieve his sword, but rejected the idea as he noticed the flag waving from a pole held by one of the riders. A silver hawk. The symbol of the King of Lanthina, the kingdom which they called home. As they got closer it became obvious they were knights. A knot formed in Ben’s stomach, knights weren’t known to patrol so for from the city, something wasn’t right. The knights finally reached the caravans. The fully armored knights were a fearsome sight. Their dark blue armor glinted in the sun and clanked every time they moved. One moved forward.
“Who is your leader?” He asked. His voice was deep and rough. It seemed a strange question to ask a bunch of kids. After a moment, no one stepped forward. Ben was suddenly aware that Alyssa was standing next to him. He suddenly felt and urge in his chest. He wanted to step forward. He wanted to claim leadership, not for power, but so he could get the other kids to the city safely. He looked around one last time. Even the 4 oldest kids, the ones who would pick on those younger than them to assert dominance, had shrunk back in the group. Ben stepped forward.
“I lead them.” He said. All eyes turned to him. No one moved, no one argued, no one did anything. The captain knight looked at him. His face was hard and battle scarred. He seemed to emanate authority.
“We are here to bring you into the city.” He said/ Ben’s heart jumped, but one uncertainty still nagged at him.
“Why?” he asked. Some murmuring pervaded through the kids, Ben ignored it though. The captain stared at him. Ben met his gaze.
“You’re a warrior aren’t you?” His question caught Ben off guard, but he didn’t show it.
“What if I am?” he asked. This sent another ripple of whispering through the kids. He caught Alyssa out of the corner of his eye. She looked confused and worried.
“I can see it in you, boy. We could use some fresh talent in the army. It’s been a long war.” He paused for a moment, “If you need to know these hills are no longer safe.”
“Why? What’s put there?” Ben asked. He did want to know. His answer came a moment later. One of the knights fell from his horse, an arrow lodged in his helmet. Chaos erupted as war cries founded from all sides.
“Raiders!” The captain yelled. All of the kids screamed and ran for cover. The knight formed a circle around the carts. Then came the raiders. Ben guessed there were about 2 dozen raiders. They poured out of the hills on all sides. The 10 remaining knights leveled their lances in anticipation of the charge.
Ben’s mind was in overdrive. He knew the knights were highly trained and disciplined, but they were outnumbered and covered in heavy armor. There was no way they could keep up with the lightly armored raiders. Ben ran to his cart. He jumped inside and found half a dozen faces staring at him. One of them was Alyssa. He pushed his way over to the spot where his sword lay hidden. He tore at the boards.
“Ben!” came Alyssa’s voice, “What are you doing?”
“They’re going to need all the help they can get.” He said. Finally the boards came off. He moved them aside and pulled out his sword. The small crowd gasped.
“You are a warrior.” One of them said. Ben nodded and jumped out of the cart. Just as he landed all hell broke loose. A couple of arrows flew from the hills and killed another knight. The raiders immediately took advantage of the opening. They poured into the circle, killing another knight as they went. On the other side of the ring the raiders clashed with the knights. 2 of the raiders were killed by the knight’s lances. The others worked their way inwards. Swords flashed as knights abandoned their lances. Another raider fell but more took its place.
One of the raiders that had broken through charged at Ben. His sword was long and curved. He swung it in an arch aimed at Ben’s head. Ben ducked and slashed at the horse. His sword cut through the straps holding the saddle on. The horse bucked and the raider fell to the ground. He immediately recovered and, with a roar, charged at Ben. His swing was clumsy and Ben easily blocked the blow. The raider backed up and charged again. This time Ben ducked and slashed. He felt his sword score a hit. The raider stumbled by and Ben wasted no time finishing him.
He looked up to see another knight fall to more arrows. He looked past the fallen knight. He saw only a flash of movement as two shadows disappeared behind a hill. More raiders were falling but if the rain of arrows continued the fight would be over soon. After a moment, the archers pooped up again. Their arrows flew through the air. To his horror he noticed that the arrows were on fire. The arrows struck a cart. The canvas caught fire and suddenly 4 screaming kids ran from the blaze. A couple of raiders broke through the ring. They made a dash for the panicking kids. Ben slashed at one who fell from his horse with a dull thud. The others were quickly killed.
More arrows. Another knight fell. Ben knew what he had to do. He grabbed the horse of a fallen knight, mounted it, and pointer it toward the archers. He raced through a group of battling raiders and knights. He swung his sword and scored a hit on one of them who was quickly finished off. Now he was free of the fighting.
He saw a couple of flaming arrows go off. He headed toward where they were launched. New screams rand out. It pained his heart to ignore them but he knew he had to continue if they had any chance of surviving.
There they were. Two dark figures armed with a couple of heavy crossbows. They were mounted on horses and struggling to reload. He caught them by surprise. His sword flashed and the first archer fell lifelessly from his horse. The other was stunned for a moment. Ben arched his sword high and brought it down. The archer lifted his crossbow to block it. His sword cut through the string and smashed one of the arms. The archer threw his crossbow aside and galloped off. Ben was tempted to follow, but he decided to go back to the fight.
As he crested the hill he saw that the battle was ending. The remaining raiders had noticed that the arrows had stopped falling and fled. Five knights remained. Two of the carts had burned and he saw some of the kids walking around. He rode back to the caravan. The captain came up to him.
“You will make a great knight.” He said, “Will you join us?” Ben said nothing for a moment. Finally he said;
“I will.” The captain smiled, “I’m sorry you lost so many men” Ben added.
“In order to gain something new, something else must be lost. “ The captain said. Ben looked around.
“Where are the others?” he asked. He could hardly keep the panic out of his voice
“Others?” the captain asked, “Everyone seems to be here…” Ben wasn’t listening though. He frantically searched the survivors, preying he was wrong. Thirteen kids were left, including himself. He tried to tell himself it wasn’t true, that he was somehow wrong, but it was too obvious. The captain’s words echoed through his mind. He had become a knight, and Alyssa was gone.





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