A Long Day

By K'Arthur

Author's Note: This was written as a contest piece for an empire competition on "Harmonia Online." The story had to contain the line 'sand is overrated.' Since that was quite limiting, this is the result. It's certainly not my best work, but Louis fans might enjoy.

I wanted to pretend this wasn’t happening. I wanted to ignore the solid, clanking thud I just heard. I wanted to close my eyes and open them only to find My Lady astride her horse rather than lying on the ground. Those thoughts were so immature of me! Children make wishes, adults act, she had told me once. Now it was my turn to grow up. Lady Chris was depending upon me.

I knelt down beside My Lady and gave her a gentle shake. Perhaps she had fallen asleep in the saddle? No. Surely the fall would have woken her if that was the case. I whispered her name, but she still didn’t respond. I tried to listen for her breathing through her helmet, but it was futile. I needed to remove it! What if she had a wound on her head?

I pushed her into a sitting position and tugged at the heavy armored helmet from behind. I had to twist it a little, but finally it came off. There was no visible blood, and for that I was thankful. Gingerly, I laid her back down onto the sand of the path, content to see that she was still alive and not hurt, save a small scratch I left when pulling off the helmet. I hope she will forgive me for that.

I would be lying if I was to say I wasn’t scared, but I knew that I needed to get Lady Chris some help, but how? I could not leave her here in the road. Even a knight, dressed in armor, was still a target for robbery—or worse. I couldn’t lift her back into the saddle, not with her armor on at least. I could remove the armor, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing so. I knew that I needed to stay with her, and keep her safe until help arrived. Where would help come from? The Zexen Forest is sometimes well traveled, but even if someone did come by would they offer assistance?

I found the answer in my heart and offered a prayer to Loa that it would work. My Lady’s horse was treating herself to some leaves. I grabbed the reins and stripped off saddle. There were some provisions in the packs we could use if our message was not immediately received, and Lady Chris could rest her head upon the saddle itself.

Calling for help was the next part of my plan. My Lady’s horse arriving home without her would certainly gather some attention and spur people into action. I glanced around on the ground and saw a long stick. I picked it up and then threw the reins over the mare’s head. I pointed her in the direction of Brass Castle, and gave her a firm swat on the hindquarters with the makeshift whip.

The high spirited horse all but took to the air like a pegasus as she galloped in the direction of Brass Castle. I prayed she wouldn’t stop until she made it there. Turning back to My Lady, I pulled her sword from its sheath—just in case. I may only be a knight in training, but if I had to, I would fight to the death for Lady Chris.

I flipped the saddle upside down and pushed it under her head, and then sat next to her on the ground. I pushed my fingers down into the sand, and then let it fall from my grasp. I decided that sand is overrated. Zexen should line its forest paths with something softer, something that doesn’t scratch.

I brushed Lady Chris’s hair out of her face, and told her what I had done. Maybe she heard me, maybe she didn’t, but I felt better hearing myself rationalize it aloud. Then I just started talking, finding that the sound of my voice was making the forest seem less lonely. I told her some stories and reminded her the good times I’d had since she agreed to let met train under her. And we waited.

Just as I was running out of things I could think to talk about, I heard my name being shouted in the woods. I knew the voice. It was Percival.

“Over here! We’re over here! Please hurry!” I called back as I jumped to my feet.

Percival appeared then, mounted on Lady Chris’s horse. He had ridden the distance without a saddle, and from the lather on the animal, I know he didn’t waste any time. He dismounted and handed me the reins. “Walk her, Louis, and tell me what happened.”

I did what he said, and watched as he kneeled down next to Chris to check her for injury. I really hoped I hadn’t missed something.

“She’s all right,” he said as my nerves were finally calming. “She just needs rest.”

The horse I was walking suddenly started to prance, probably at some sound we couldn’t hear. I looked at Percival, and he drew his sword. I heard the sound then, and it grew louder and he grabbed the reins from me. Just as he was about to hand me his weapon and leap onto the animal’s back, the source of the ruckus came into view.

A whole group of our knights rode towards us, with Lord Borus at the front. He was known amongst the knights for his swordsmanship, his temper, and for doting on Lady Chris. Jumping down from his mount, he approached us. “What the hell happened, Louis?” It was more of a demand than a question, and I struggled to explain.

Fortunately, Percival spoke up for me, his composed demeanor countering Borus’s intensity. “It’s not his fault, Borus. She just collapsed—probably from the heat or exhaustion.”

“Let’s get her back,” Borus said, his glare slicing through my skin.

“She’ll be more comfortable if we remove her armor.”

Borus’s hand gripped the hilt of his sword. I knew he wouldn’t draw on another knight, but the motion itself was threatening enough and his tone cut each word from his lips. “We will not dishonor her with such an action.”

“How will that dishonor her? It will only make her cooler and easier to carry.”

“I said we won’t touch her, Percival!”

I looked between the two of them, and I honestly felt sorry for Borus. Sometimes he would get so wrapped up in his emotions that he wouldn’t think rationally, and sometimes even Percival couldn’t calm him down.

The other knight relented; probably knowing that the more time he argued with his comrade the longer Lady Chris would suffer. “Fine. Mount up and I’ll hand her to you. Louis and I will follow. Her horse needs a good walk anyway.”

Borus nodded and climbed back onto his horse, and I did my best to help Percival lift Lady Chris to him. When she was finally settled in front of the knight, he called to his men and they rode away as fast as they could.

I picked up My Lady’s saddle and went to put it on her horse, but Percival took it from me. He finished the task and told me to get Lady Chris’s helmet, and the other provisions. I did as he asked and then he mounted up. I was about to take my place next to the horse on the ground, but he called me over.

He kicked his left foot from the stirrup and grinned at me as he offered me his hand. “Come on, get on. You’ve had a long day.”

I stared at him for a moment. While I could ride, I never would dream of riding Lady Chris’s horse. She was too high strung for me, and besides, it wasn’t my place.

“Louis? What are you waiting for?” He asked, as the horse that should be exhausted danced in anticipation. “Get up behind me.”

I decided as long as Percival was controlling the horse, I’d ride behind him. I envied his ability with riding, but at the moment I was too tired to argue.

Once I sat behind the saddle, he glanced over his shoulder at me and said, “You did the right thing, Louis. I’m proud of you, and I’m glad to see you’re growing up. I’m sure Chris will be thankful as well.”

I smiled, he turned back around, and then dug his heels into the mare’s flanks. I was surprised that she still had enough energy to move in an easy canter, but I was grateful. As Percival said, I’d had a long day and I wanted nothing more than to get home as fast as possible.

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