Tuesday Tales: Guest Series, Part III

Servant of the Liege
[contributed by Jake T.]

A humid summer night slowed the town of Noralia to a crawl. The gentle stirring of coastal breezes lacked the determination to blow this far inland of Gavell, save for during the fiercest storms of the season. Lady Knight Esdeline Chernock broke the stillness with her destrier, racing up the single dirt path that ran through town. Pale and sad green eyes glanced only once out at the abandoned quarters, her attention snapping back to her riding posture. Long dirty blonde strands of sweat-streaked hair clung to her cheeks, matted with the blood of a monster she had ridden down during her nonstop dispatch here.

The buildings thinned out near the top of the incline, and it was the personal holdings of Count Thomas Strader that showed the only obvious signs of habitat. She eased her mare down into a trot, the shouts of soldiers posted to the watch warning of her arrival. Halting her destrier it took less than a moment to swing down out of her saddle. Four silhouettes spread out into two separate pairs from the gateway barring the estate, and though their weapons were not yet drawn, they were taking great care to approach her from an advantageous position. Puffing her chest out she approached the nearest one, who visibly flinched at her first step towards him, then again at her booming voice.

“Hail! Lady Knight Esdeline Chernock, servant and sword of our King Shayne.” There was a silent flash of menace in her eyes to show how literally she meant those words to be taken before she continued, raising her voice to bellow into the gated courtyard. “It is under direct orders from King Shayne that I stand here to–should he be willing–peacefully escort Count Strader back to the capital for trial!”

Three of the soldiers surrounding her looked away towards the fourth–a veteran with graying hair and a spear nestled into the crook of his arm while she spoke. He coughed shortly into a clenched fist to find his voice, hoarse but careful in his reply.

“We know why you’re here, milady. Not even a blind man could ignore what he been doin’ not only behind closed doors, but draggin’ in the townspeople as well.” He took a moment to spit in the dirt at his feet, going on more cautiously now as he eyed Esdeline. “I can’t disobey me Count–an’ he done made clear what oughta happen to people that came a-knockin’, but these are too good of soldiers to have to bear the burden of his disgrace. On the other hand, if we took up arms with you it could bring trouble down the road for us; nothin’ personal, milady, you understand. And ah–ya might want to hurry, he was plannin’ to ride out at the first sign of real trouble, I heard.”

Her only reply was the shortest nod before she took off at a full sprint through the gate. Even with her armor she showed no signs of slowing down, the estate blurring around her as she desperately searched. The first door was kicked open, the second knocked clean off the hinges, and the third she simply ran through, finding it opened out into the courtyard. The yard was spacious under the starry sky and she scanned the outskirts, trying to guess where he could be, when the flash of a flamboyant Gavellese feathered hat appeared and the chase was on. Every breath she tried to take of the heavy air seemed to slow her down, and he had considerable distance even with her speed. He was only a few paces away from reaching his stables, where a servant stood holding the reins of a well-groomed courser. Dropping her sword, she clutched at a magic component tucked into her belt as she struggled on in a final burst of endurance.

“As Shayne wills it, so it shall be–unstoppable bind!” A spell shimmered into existence and continued the chase while she stumbled and fell, clawing at damp soil to regain solid footing. She could not help but to smile at her prey while she approached now at a walk–Thomas Strader cursing her from where he was locked to the ground mid-stride.

It was two weeks before a letter came back from Esos to decide what was in store for a now-hopeful Noralia. Esdeline Chernock had left quite the impression on the soldiers stationed there; one and all seemed enamored with the boldness and beauty that the Lady Knight wielded with such ferocity. They crowded around one of the literate guards at the largest table in the barracks, hanging onto every word she read:

“Thomas Strader stands convicted of his crimes against his people; King Shayne will see to it that neither his name nor his dishonor will never again stain Noralia. While the primary candidate to replace Strader cannot be reached at this moment, I know after my night at your gates that he will take well to such hearty and able men. Know that you carry my respect, and treasure it–a soldier’s life is already too short for carelessness. Servant of our liege, and forever your champion, Lady Knight Esdeline Chernock.”