DargonZine 17, Issue 1

Knight of Castigale Part 2: A Knight’s Duty

Yule 29, 1018


This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Knight of Castigale

Sir Maligard DuVania knelt over the body of his fallen squire. No tear stained his eyes, but his mind was a chaotic swirl of anger and anguish. Taela had been his squire for more than four years and through the whole Beinison War. More than just a squire though, she was also his friend, a trusted ally in whom he could confide when he couldn’t voice his opinions before the rest of his troops or his liege lord, Baron Kelleman Castigale.

 

But he had failed in his duties to her. It was he who had made the decision to chase a band of marauders across Castigale Barony despite the facts that his patrol was outnumbered and that he had been given specific orders to return to Castigale Keep. He’d then led the charge to attack the marauders when he and his troops had found them in the act of sacking the village of Aerberry. He’d even seen Taela in the midst of the battle fighting two men at the same time, but he had done nothing to help her. His pride had made him believe she could handle herself, and now she was dead.

 

The most horrible shame of her death was that it occurred just one day after she had told him that she would bid to become knight herself later that year. She’d had a bright future ahead of her; she would have been a great knight and leader of armies. But at the time he had been angry at her decision to leave, and their conversation had turned into an argument ending with him shouting at her and storming away.

 

Unable to stand such thoughts any longer, DuVania heaved to his feet. Around him, many of the houses of Aerberry still burned where the marauders had tossed torches on the thatch roofs. The village elder had managed to get most of the surviving villagers to form a line from the nearby brook to bring buckets of water, but they were disorganized and confused. DuVania stumbled among the panicked people, looking for a way to help, trying to do anything to keep himself active and not thinking about Taela. Above the din of shouting, he heard a piercing scream from somewhere across the village. Without a conscious decision, the knight angled himself toward that sound.

 

The building that the screams were coming from was set slightly apart from the rest of the village. He approached the partially open door and looked in. Supported by wooden beams, the thatch roof burned like a pyre. On the dirt floor within, a child was trying to drag an unconscious woman toward the doorway. She pulled at the woman’s feet, screaming as she swatted at burning embers that fell from above.

 

DuVania shoved the door open all the way and ran in. The wave of heat and smoke surprised him, however, and on his first breath he choked and his vision watered and blurred. He stepped forward, trying to regain control of his lungs, and grabbed the girl, lifting her under his arm. Still fighting his hacking cough and the squirming girl, the knight tried to get a hold of the woman’s foot but he couldn’t reach her.

 

Cursing between his coughs, DuVania dropped the girl roughly on the ground just as a loud crack from above brought a hail of fiery embers upon them. The girl fell so hard that she lost her grip on the foot, and the knight quickly scooped up the woman and lifted her over his shoulder. Then he grabbed the stunned girl by her arm and threw her towards the door. He lumbered after her, still coughing painfully, until he fell to his knees in the open air a mere stride from the burning structure. A moment later, a tremendous crack signaled the collapse of the roof.

 

DuVania lowered the body from his shoulder as gently as he could and struggled to expel the ash from his lungs. Coughing and spitting, he was surprised when a hand slapped him ineffectively on the back and helped him to stand. “Thank you, Taela,” he managed to croak out without thinking.

 

He spit again and turned, but his squire was nowhere in sight. With a groan, he squeezed his eyes shut as he realized what he had said. Opening them again, he saw that it was the young girl who had helped him. She looked up at him, her face absolutely emotionless.

 

She looked to be about twelve years old, with short brown hair and large brown eyes. Her face was covered in dirt and ash, as were her homespun tunic and breeches and her bare feet. She did not speak, just stared at the knight as if she were a soldier waiting for orders. DuVania stared back, surprised by how calm the child was after her ordeal.

 

“Is this your mother, lass?” he asked. His voice was rough and speaking caused waves of burning pain in his throat, but he tried to keep his tone soft. She nodded once. He crouched down to examine the body, but even at a glance he could tell that the girl’s mother was no longer alive. She looked as if she’d been hit in the head with something blunt: a club or perhaps a mace. The blood around the injury had already begun congealing into a black scab, and he could see where the skull had collapsed beneath the skin. The knight grimaced and glanced up at the girl.

 

“Lass,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll be able to save your mum.” He tried to make his voice gentle but he did not believe in lying, even to a young girl, about misfortune. Everyone grows up sometime.

 

She did not cry, though a look of pain crossed her features. She looked mournfully down at her mother’s body. DuVania thought that she did not seem in shock; she seemed to merely accept the tragedy. “I need to bring her to be buried,” she said, looking back up at him. Her voice was even and clear if a little tight, as if she were trying not to say too much.

 

The knight swallowed what condolences he had been prepared to give. Her look told him that there was nothing more to say. Never before had he met a child so composed after tragedy. He had often chided young soldiers for acting like children, but here was a child who acted like he would prefer any soldier to act. She had put aside her feelings to do what needed to be done. With a solemn nod to her, he stooped down and lifted the body in his arms, then headed back to the village square.

 

Most of the fires had either been put out or had burned themselves down as DuVania reached the center of the village. The villagers had turned from the frantic activity of fighting the fires to the more mournful activity of preparing dead relatives, friends, and neighbors for burial. Most of the dead had been young men and women who had put up a resistance against the marauders and had paid with their lives. One old woman hovered over the body of her son or grandson and wept as she washed his chest in preparation for burial.

 

DuVania felt his stomach turn cold as he spotted his lieutenant, Sern, and his surviving troops helping the villagers. Before discovering Taela’s body amongst the fallen after the battle, DuVania had ordered Sern and the rest of his troops to catch the leader of the marauders as he fled with two of his men into the nearby woods. Burning with the need to see the leader pay for his crimes, the knight gently laid the body he was carrying down, and headed towards Sern. The coldness in his stomach slowly turned into a numb rage throughout his body.

 

By the time he reached his lieutenant, he could feel his legs shaking and his jaw grinding as he fought to mask his emotions. He had learned long ago that soldiers would not respect a knight who could not keep his head in all situations. He thought of the child he had saved and that there were too many things that needed to be done for him to let emotions rule him.

 

Sern saw him coming and hesitated for a moment before saluting. DuVania wondered if his emotions were too clear on his face. “Sir,” the lieutenant began and then he paused. His voice was characteristically gravelly, but he spoke softly, almost as if he was worried about frightening away a wild animal. “I’m sorry about Taela –”

 

DuVania cut him off: “Well, where are they? Did you bring back any prisoners?”

 

Sern’s wrinkled face reddened below his shaggy gray eyebrows and he scratched his head self-consciously. “They were right tricky, sir,” he said. He looked directly at DuVania but flinched slightly as if preparing to defend himself. “T’was like they’d planned it. They fled on a well-traveled path so we couldn’t tell their prints from anyone else’s. The path was too steep for the horses so we had to dismount, and then we came to a three-way fork. I didn’t have enough men left to send some up each fork so we went up the middle one a ways, but the path ended at a shack and there were no fresh footprints around it.”

 

The knight ground his teeth and his eyes opened wider. “You let them escape?” he asked. His voice sounded strangely calm to his own ears, but his shaking continued. He felt his eyes twitch and his fists clench.

 

Sern stuttered in answer. “Th– Well, sir, they aren’t much of a threat anymore, seeing as only three of their twenty escaped. And we couldn’t predict where they went –”

 

“Back to Gribbane,” DuVania said. He put a hand up to his face to cover his eyes. “If I had gone with you I would have known which fork to take. They went back to Gribbane.”

 

“Back, sir?” Sern asked.

 

“Last night I saw them.” DuVania’s rage had boiled off, leaving only sorrow in its wake. “I saw a group of twenty men all clothed in black while I was watching on Aspegad Tor. They crossed from Gribbane Barony into Castigale through the pass below me.”

 

His guilt returned as he realized all he could have prevented. If only he had ordered the men to challenge the interlopers then, so many lives would have been spared. The hamlet of Dalper’s Dell would not have been burnt to the ground by the marauders, all of its inhabitants killed. The villagers of Aerberry would have been spared the deaths of many of their kin. His squire would still be alive, on her way to become a great knight.

 

A year ago, if he had seen so many men traveling from Gribbane to Castigale, he would have immediately challenged them. Gribbane had been the most hated neighbor of Castigale for as long as DuVania could remember. But a truce had been announced between the two long-feuding baronies nearly four months ago, as Baron Kelleman Castigale’s daughter, Evelain, was to be married to a nephew of Baroness Veronie Gribbane. However, even with the truce, he should have known when the message came from Baron Kelleman announcing Evelain’s mysterious death that the peace would be shattered. He should have done something …

 

“A horse!” he shouted abruptly. “Bring me a horse! Sern, saddle the men. We give chase now. We’ll catch them as they make for North Pass.”

 

He began searching for a horse but Sern remained where he was. “Sir, it will be dark in less than a bell,” he said. DuVania turned to him, his eyes wide, furious at having his order questioned. Sern went on nonetheless, “And we’ve already gone against Baron Castigale’s direct order to return to the keep, and lost four of his soldiers at it, as well as Taela …” His voice trailed off as he saw the look on DuVania’s face.

 

DuVania took two long steps toward Sern until he was barely a pace away and said, “I will not ride contentedly back to my lord baron to tell him I let fiends from Gribbane ride in and kill –” he was about to say “and kill Taela”, but stopped himself, “… and kill his subjects and soldiers and then I let them get away when I *knew* where they were going.” He turned from his lieutenant and shouted so loudly that his voice broke, “A horse! I need a horse now!”

 

His remaining four soldiers had clustered around, but none of them moved to get him a horse. He could see in their faces that they were tired, nearly exhausted. He had driven them hard all day to catch the marauders, and now they had lost half of the original eight that had left Parsain’s Peak with him, as well as Taela, because he had ordered them to charge at a force with more than twice their number. But there was something else, as well: they could see how angry he was. He had broken his own rule of keeping his emotions from his soldiers. Coldly, he turned back to Sern.

 

“Straight, then. You lead the rest of the men back to Castigale Keep. I’ll chase the marauders and catch up with you by the time you reach the capital.” He glared at Sern as if daring him to contradict his decision.

 

Sern swallowed hard, then said, “Sir, after all we’ve done, if you don’t return to Castigale Keep with us as Baron Castigale ordered, it will be nothing less than treason against your lord.”

 

DuVania felt his fist moving before he could stop it. He managed enough control to change his closed hand to an open one and his attack turned into a rough shove. Though Sern was not a small man, he nevertheless toppled under the knight’s strength like an old tower in a gale. He fell hard on his backside, sprawled in a sitting position, and gazed up at DuVania with open astonishment.

 

Heaving his breath in and out, trying to regain control, DuVania turned to see that not just his soldiers, but also many of the villagers were looking at him with expressions similar to Sern’s. They didn’t see a knight, a noble defender of the people and upholder of righteous law; they saw a brutal barbarian who had no scruples, no honor, no civility.

 

Through the crowd, DuVania saw the girl he had rescued. She was also looking at him, but, unlike everyone else, her eyes held neither pity nor alarm. For an instant, the knight felt a strange sort of kinship for the peasant girl. They had both lost someone dear and both mourned deeply. At least she wasn’t letting her emotions rule her. He felt himself gain strength in that and finally calmed himself enough to focus on what he needed to do.

 

Among the people around him was the village elder. He had told the old man to get the villagers together to put out the fires after the battle. Ignoring the stares and quiet muttering around him, DuVania asked him, “Who is your lord?”

 

“Lord Amon Bilgrade,” the elder said, his voice quavering. “His manor is a few leagues northeast of here. But he has been summoned to Castigale Keep.”

 

DuVania nodded and turned to Sern who had picked himself off the ground. “I know Bilgrade’s brother and his eldest son. They will give us shelter for tonight and we’ll make our way to Castigale Keep tomorrow.

 

“Have the men separate the bodies of the marauders from those of the villagers and … and those of our company. We’ll bury our own; strip and burn all of those who attacked here.”

 

Sern looked as if he would say something, but instead saluted and the troops and villagers around him seemed to silently sigh in relief. Their knight was himself again. They quickly resumed their activities. DuVania took one more deep breath. He felt as if he had imploded, as if there were nothing left inside to hold him up. Still, he forced his steps to be steady and sure as he began walking. It didn’t matter to him where he went, but he had to move, he couldn’t stay where he was any longer and he couldn’t compose himself enough to help.

 

“My lord, if I may?” DuVania turned to see the elder again, approaching cautiously, keeping an arm’s length away.

 

“This is the second funeral I’ve attended for good people today,” the knight said sternly, uninterested in whatever the elder wanted. “I’m tired. I’ll mention what happened to Bilgrade’s brother for you, but you should take your concerns to him yourself.”

 

“I just want to understand what’s happening,” the man said. “You just said that those men came from Gribbane, but we’ve all heard that there’s to be an alliance. What’s changed? Are we at war?”

 

The knight closed his eyes. “I do not know, myself,” he said. He was silent for a moment during which the elder waited patiently.

 

“That girl,” the knight said finally, opening his eyes and gesturing towards the girl he had saved. She still stood over her mother’s body. No one had come to comfort her, though many of the villagers were now attending to their dead, several of them crying and moaning for lost relatives. “Who will take care of her now? Where are her kin?”

 

The elder squinted towards her and frowned. “That’s little Sandia. She hasn’t any kin here, sir, that’s a’sure.” He leaned in closer to the knight and lowered his voice conspiratorially. “Her mum came here a few years back. Alone, no man with her, and her child already a toddler. She offered no word for where she hailed from, and though she brought some coin with her, she spent far more in her years living here and earned far less.”

 

“A debtor?”

 

“That’s right, sir. Nearly two dozen Round, by my count. And she was straight unfriendly with most others in the village, thankless for what we gave her to help raise her child. Now we’ll have to feed that child with no hope of redeeming her mum’s debts.”

 

DuVania looked past the elder at where the girl had taken a rag from one of the old women and was washing her mother’s chest. Still, not a single tear had left her, and though DuVania knew that she mourned, she did not let that mourning incapacitate her.

 

“I am Sir Maligard DuVania. My wife is Lady Friana DuVania, niece to the duchess of Asbridge. In a few days I will send a man with coin enough to cover the woman’s debts.”

 

The man’s eyes widened so much that they seemed like they might pop out of his wrinkled head. “I know of the DuVania family,” he said, leaning closer again. “But then you must have taken your wife’s last name when you married, not the other way around?”

 

The knight ignored the question. “When we leave here today, I will take the girl with me as my ward.” He walked away, leaving the old man fumbling with his questions.

 

***

 

The ride back to Castigale Keep was a somber one. The tension between Sern and DuVania had not completely abated, and the soldiers still mourned their fallen comrades.

 

The girl, Sandia, had at first protested leaving her home village. She shouted that she would not go despite anything DuVania or her own people said. The knight finally forced her into his saddle and held her there until the village was out of sight. When departing from Bilgrade’s manor the next morning, she was quiet and reserved, riding on a separate horse that DuVania tied to his own. She didn’t complain or even ask for a break the whole day of traveling, though she couldn’t have been used to horseback riding.

 

DuVania wondered a few times why he bothered with the peasant child, but he remembered her look when he had told her that her mother could not be saved and he knew that there was something special about her. There was little chance his wife and daughter would understand that, but he could not leave her to the villagers.

 

Once DuVania’s group left the hills their pace increased. The flatter land south of Castigale Keep was crowded with villages and farms. The people publicly mourned the death of the baron’s daughter, Evelain Castigale, but the few that DuVania stopped to talk to knew only rumor and speculation about it.

 

By the time the company rode to the gates of Castigale Keep, the sun had set and they were all tired and hungry. They had ridden for four bells straight since the last time they had stopped, and though Sern had suggested they stay the night in one of the outlying villages before reaching the keep in the morning, DuVania would not hear of it.

 

Finally, on the third bell of night, the group passed through the massive front gates into the courtyard of Castigale Keep. There were no lights waiting for them, so after sending the soldiers off to the barracks, DuVania, Sern, and Sandia stood alone in the dark until a tired old butler emerged from the main building with a lantern. He looked slightly annoyed at DuVania’s request to report to Captain Dagny Ludoran immediately, but he did not protest. Instead, he turned and quietly led the way.

 

The butler led them down a flight of stone steps into the lower level of the keep and to a heavy wooden door. He opened it and held it for them to enter, but did not follow them in. DuVania heard it bang shut behind them.

 

The room was dim and smelled of mold. Lit only by a small iron candelabrum, it contained only one gigantic round table about which were set a number of chairs. All of the windowless walls were covered by heavy tapestries, some depicting fierce battles and others glorious victories. The table itself was littered with papers, many of them maps of the region and surrounding baronies. Poring over one of the maps was the room’s only occupant, Captain Dagny Ludoran, the half-sister of Baron Kelleman Castigale.

 

The woman was of small stature. Her face was angular, her hazel eyes serious, and her auburn hair tightly braided behind her head. She wore a standard red and gray guard’s uniform but with blue velveteen edging.

 

DuVania and Sern quickly saluted when Dagny looked up at them. She returned the salute and said, “I’m glad you made it after all, Sir Maligard DuVania. You are the last knight to arrive. Tomorrow we’ll assemble here and I’ll explain the situation.”

 

DuVania nodded. “Thank you, captain. We ran into some trouble on our way back. A hamlet near the foot of Mount Parsain is razed.”

 

Dagny did not look upset, but one of her eyebrows arched. “What happened?”

 

“A group of men attacked Dalper’s Dell. We found only the destruction, but we tracked the marauders to Aerberry and confronted them there, where we routed them. However, three, including their leader, escaped. We lost three men; another was injured and was left in the care of Sir Amon Bilgrade’s family until he can return.” The knight paused, then finished in a lower voice, “And my squire, Taela, was killed as well.”

 

Dagny’s eyes narrowed as she seemed to chew over the information DuVania gave her. “You know, your order to return immediately was very specific, DuVania,” she said.

 

“Yes, but there’s more,” DuVania said. “I saw these men enter Castigale from Gribbane the night before. They must have made right for the hamlet and attacked it that night, as if they had planned it. There was no profit to be had in attacking a little hamlet; they did it just to destroy.” Dagny’s brow steadily lowered as DuVania spoke. “These brigands who attacked Dalper’s Dell behaved like trained soldiers. An old hermit who saw them said they marched in two columns. They fought with steel weapons and all wore the same black uniform. Lieutenant Sern, who led the charge to overtake them, reported that their retreat through the forest was orchestrated and disciplined.” Sern nodded beside him but kept silent. “I believe they were Gribbane sold iers sent to terrorize our people.”

 

There was a long silence in the room. Dagny’s expression had gone from angry to calculating, her eyes darting over the map before her as if tracing the movements of the group. DuVania waited patiently until she finally looked up. “Did anyone else see these marauders and note this as you did?”

 

“All of those surviving in Aerberry did, and perhaps any survivors from the hamlet, though it is impossible to say.”

 

Dagny nodded and her eyes flickered over Sandia, who was standing by the door. “And who is this?”

 

“This is Sandia of Aerberry,” DuVania said. “She –”

 

“I’m an orphan,” Sandia said. Her sudden outburst was simple, but defiant, and so surprised everyone in the room that there was sudden silence. Dagny’s thin eyebrows shot up.

 

“Her mother died during the battle and she has no kin left in the village,” DuVania said. “I plan to leave her in the care of my wife until I return.”

 

“Return?” Dagny asked.

 

“I would ask that I might hunt down the brigands that attacked our lands.”

 

Dagny sighed loudly. “Sern, take Sandia to the kitchen and get her something to eat. Find yourself a plate as well.” Sern nodded and turned to leave. Sandia stood rebelliously for a moment before she turned to follow the lieutenant.

 

When the door had closed behind them, Dagny said, “DuVania, we can’t spare you or any soldiers to go chasing bandits through the woods.” The knight began to protest but she held up her hand. “I’m going to tell you now what I would have told you tomorrow at the meeting. Few lords and knights of the realm know this, but Evelain was assassinated.

 

“To many who were at the party just five days ago, her death seemed to be a tragic accident. Evelain was leading a tour through her new home when a stone column collapsed, burying her in rock. However, I have found evidence that the accident may have been set as a trap. What’s more, clues point to Lord Sagrie Gribbane, her husband-to-be, as the perpetrator. He never arrived at the party and even now we don’t know where he is.”

 

Dagny paused a moment before continuing. “Baron Kelleman has declared war on Gribbane, though it has not been made public yet and we would keep such from his subjects’ ears for the moment.”

 

DuVania absorbed this information without surprise. “Then we are to march on Gribbane Barony?”

 

“Not yet. We don’t have the troops available to conduct a meaningful campaign before winter sets in. We need you and all other lords to spend the winter building an army and training troops. In the spring we will set upon Gribbane. If we are quick, we will unseat Baroness Veronie Gribbane before the dukes can interfere.”

 

DuVania said, “But in past conflicts like this, the dukes have been so angry with the barons involved that they have unseated both of them. What if they decide to remove Kelleman from his position as well?”

 

“That is a risk that my brother is willing to take,” Dagny answered. Her tone was neutral, but DuVania saw a flash of something in her eyes. It might have been worry, but it looked almost like hope to him. He frowned darkly as Dagny continued, “Baron Kelleman loved his daughter, and the Gribbane family has harassed ours for years. This malicious assassination of my niece must be addressed. Kelleman will settle for nothing less than Veronie’s head.”

 

DuVania took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I see. But you don’t need me for this. I have no land besides my home here in the town. I have no peasants to recruit for soldiers. Let me serve Castigale by chasing these marauders.”

 

“You can train,” Dagny said stubbornly.

 

“You have enough knights to do that,” DuVania said.

 

Dagny thought a moment, and then said, “We have enough knights, but I can’t spare a single soldier. Besides, the marauders may have run to Gribbane Barony by now. I can’t have a body of soldiers cross the border to look for them; it will attract too much of Veronie’s attention to what we’re doing.”

 

“Then I will go alone,” DuVania said.

 

Dagny’s frown only deepened. “You’re insane,” she said. “There’s no honor in throwing your life away for this.”

 

“No less honor than risking a title to avenge a daughter’s death,” DuVania said. “I only ask you grant me leave to do what Baron Kelleman is doing. He lost Evelain; I lost Taela.” Dagny grit her teeth slightly, but the tension around her eyes seemed to soften. “At least I could follow the brigands and confirm if they are some plot of Veronie’s or not. They came from her land; I can confirm if she actually commissioned them.”

 

“A knight turned spy,” Dagny said and emitted a sharp bark of a laugh. “You have two months.” She pointed at him with emphasis. “Four fortnights and I want you back in this room, Sir Maligard DuVania. And don’t be in a rush to attack a camp full of outlaws alone. Just find out who they are and return.”

 

DuVania saluted and smiled ruefully. “I’ll leave in the morning.”

 

“One thing, DuVania. If Gribbane soldiers catch you, Kelleman Castigale will claim you are an outlaw. Don’t just stay alive, stay hidden. Veronie is always quick to hang outlaws from Castigale.”

 

***

 

DuVania found Sern and Sandia in the back kitchen of Castigale Keep. They were chatting with two of the kitchen hands. When DuVania entered the room the conversation ceased. The two servants, looking at each other nervously, excused themselves and left.

 

Sern climbed wearily to his feet from where he had been sitting at a plain table, but Sandia stayed seated, only glancing at the knight. She had a chunk of bread and a wedge of cheese so large that DuVania could scarcely believe a girl her size could eat it. Sern asked, “What did Dagny say?”

 

“I cannot lead troops to find the brigands,” DuVania said. Sern seemed to relax a bit at that. “We have a busy couple of months ahead of us, so don’t feel completely at ease. Still, there is no reason for you to prepare to ride tomorrow.”

 

“What about me?” Sandia asked.

 

“You either.”

 

The answer seemed to satisfy her, though she looked for another moment at the knight as if waiting for more information. When he did not continue, she shrugged and turned back to munching on the cheese.

 

DuVania sighed and turned back to Sern. “Sern, I want to apologize for pushing you yesterday and to say that it was good serving with you. If I don’t see you again, please know that you were an excellent lieutenant and a fine soldier.”

 

“I don’t understand, sir. Are you going somewhere?”

 

“For at least a while I will be busy away from Castigale Keep. From my understanding, you are to stay here.” Sern scratched his head and looked about to say something, but DuVania raised his hand. “I can’t tell you more than that. I’ll just be doing a knight’s duty.

 

“Now, it’s been a long enough day and night, so I suggest we retire.” The knight saluted to signal the end of the conversation. After a moment’s hesitation Sern matched his stance. Then, nodding, the lieutenant spared a quick smile for Sandia and strode out of the room.

 

“Well, Sandia,” DuVania said. “I want to introduce you to my family and get you a room at my house in town. As I said, I’ll be leaving for a few months. When I return, I’ll see about getting you installed as a page at the keep.”

 

“You still haven’t asked me,” Sandia said, looking up from her food. Her eyes were narrowed but she didn’t look scared. She met the knight’s stare evenly.

 

“Asked you what?”

 

“Whether I want to be a page or not.”

 

The statement caught DuVania completely off guard. He blinked several times before frowning. He opened his mouth to explain to her exactly how much choice an orphaned peasant girl had in this world, then closed it without uttering a sound. Such forthright speech from a child should earn a sharp rebuke, but the knight could not deny that his actions had brought her here, not her own. Again, he was reminded that his actions had also brought about the death of his squire, and he held back his anger. The two stared at each other for a long moment. Finally, DuVania drew a deep breath and said, “Do you want to be a page?”

 

“No,” she said, finally breaking her stare to return to her food. “But I’ve naught else I can do, and I can’t find my way back to my home at the moment.” She shrugged, then, with her mouth full of cheese, she said, “So I guess I’ll be a page after all.”

 

“You know,” DuVania said. “One of the first things they teach a page is humility.” Sandia shrugged again without looking up and DuVania sighed.

 

“Come, it’s late and I have much to explain to my wife. Let’s go.”

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