Apart from the caravan, my trip was uneventful, and since passing through the Mhoarid, the scenery was much the same. The city of Dete Plych brought me some comfort as it broke up the monotony that the day previous had brought. However, my rural sympathies did not find as much joy in the city as it did on the open road. I missed the days when life was slow and a break in the monotony was brought on by that of more importance than which tavern to visit next.
The streets of Dete Plych were bursting at the seams with people of all shapes and sizes, as any city should be. It was not my preference to be amidst such a great company, but my time in Glanderxe had softened the discomfort some.
My goal of the days previous had been reached, but I was now at a loss for how to proceed. My zeal for loyalty was greater than that for sanity. I knew nothing of what to expect, nor how to proceed. Perhaps the queen should have chosen someone more travelled and fit for the job. Such thoughts would not aid me as I swam among the people on the streets of Dete Plych.
Finding my way to the local tavern I thought it might be best to rest a while and grab a pint. Taverns were all the same from one city to the next: bearable during the day, but as the moon rises minds are filled with more froth than intelligence. Luckily for me the sun was still high above, thus increasing the likelihood of some manner of sanity in this lowly establishment. Ordering myself a drink I found a seat in the most remote corner of the room. I had never been much for small talk, and even by day the chatter in such places would be none greater. Unfortunately, as I sat there, it became apparent that my choice of seating couldn’t have been poorer. Across the way there was a maiden dressed in travellers clothes and two men, enjoying their own form of entertainment. Laughter was in the air while the volume of their conversation was greater than a cordial talk between friends. They were carrying on about the features of the young lass, clearly loud enough for her to hear and then proceeded to call out to her.
“Why such drab clothing, my lady! Be courteous to a man and show some skin!”
The other chimed in, “You’re dressed like a man! Why show such cruel offence to your features? Beauty is to be seen, not covered in cloth.”
This carried on for some time until I had quite enough. Why did all men in the city find the necessity to act like bastards? Being a man of the law, I used such status to my advantage as I walked over to them and kindly instructed them to leave the lady alone. Their reply was less courteous than I would have hoped.
“Does the queen command it?” They laughed together. “You have no jurisdiction here, noble knight of Glanderxe.” The words came off his tongue with disgust. “Go back to your ‘grand city’ and play guard there.”
I was shocked and offended that someone would talk to a knight of Glanderxe their words laced with cruelty. “I have done nothing to offend. Your show of disrespect is unnecessary and unfounded.”
“What of it? Are you going to return to your Lady Calwen and her tell of such offence, or draw steel like the man you might become someday, if the gods smile on you.” They laughed together again.
“There is no reason for violence. Apologise to this lady and you will be free to carry on with your day, excused from your offence to the crown.”
“Why how gracious of you! Now, run along and tell mommy that you have done your good deed of the day. I won’t tell if you don’t.”
“I certainly will tell! Your disgraceful attitude will not be forgotten. May the whole realm of Glanderxe Coessarde see you as the fowl swine which you are!” My anger was beginning to get the better of me. They had no right to treat this poor lady or myself with such disrespect.
“Don’t you understand. You are not in the great city any more. You words hold no power here. Keep them sheathed as you do your steel.”
The sound of steel on steel cut the air as I drew my sword to defend the honour of Lady Calwen and the women of the realm. “Match your words with the might of your arm!” Their words hang over me like a net, trapping me in my own hatred for disloyalty. My mind was clouded, and the lawful response to such offence evaded me as I stood there, sword in hand.
The two men, not willing or able to match their words, fled the scene without another. Though they never apologized for the offence, at least they were gone. My attention now rested on the lady who remained seated, seemingly completely unaware of what had just transpired. As I took a seat at the table with her, she took no notice visually but her words addressed me. “I had no need of your aid. As is plain to you now, those men were not cut out for trouble.” Her words disappeared into the cup of mead which she held to her lips.
Taken aback by her words, I didn’t know what to say. Was she ungrateful for my assistance. “My aim was to defend your honour.”
“And what knowledge have you of my honour? Suppose I be a tavern wench? What of my honour then…? You’re a piece of work.”
“I beg your pardon.” I had never met a woman who talked to me as she did.
“You wear loyalty like a coat, covering your inner boy yet clothe yourself as a knight.” Taking another drink she continued. “What do you seek by helping me? Money, companionship, or simply the warm fuzzies that one might get from helping someone.”
I let her question linger in the air for a moment. “I meant no offence, and require no reward.”
“Warm fuzzies then… figures.” Realizing that her cup was dry she stood up and prepared to leave. “I don’t suppose we will ever meet again, and I can’t say that it has been pleasant, so I will bid you farewell, for whatever that is worth.” Not waiting for a response, she proceeded out the front door of the tavern leaving me dumbfounded and altogether appalled that a lady would act the way she did. My time in this establishment had been anything but pleasant, and I left more unnerved than I had been previously. Before retiring, however, I, being a respectable man, met with the barkeep to pay for my drink. It was then that I noticed my coin purse was missing. The only one I had come close enough to for such an exchange to occur was the most unappreciative individual who had just left. An inexplicable rage returned to me once again. First she cares not for my help, and now she relieves me of my riches? She was no better than the men who I had chased off.
Quickly begging the apologies of the barmaid, I rushed out the door to see about spotting her amidst the crowded streets. Luck smiled on me as I scanned the crowd. She clearly had no knowledge of discretion as the sight before me unravelled. The shouts of the city guard rose above the noise of the crowd as she mounted a horse, clearly in another act of thievery, this one not as subtle as the first. I knew nothing of villainy, but it seemed that she lacked the tact desirous in such a career. Luckily for me she was poor at her craft, and instead of remaining in the shadows, made a show of her skill for all to see.
Without hesitation I mounted my horse and gave chase. Whatever would motivate a woman to engage in such activity was beyond my comprehension. I aimed not only to catch her for the purpose of regaining my riches, but also to question her uncomely behaviour. Catching her, however, proved challenging until we reached the edge of town. Horses were not the token animal of agility, but value was found in the might of their limbs as they carried men and women alike at greater speeds than could be matched by others. The open plains which stretched before me as I reached the city gates gave me liberty of such speed. As a young man I would often go for long rides in the fields surrounding Coere Ghante for a reprise in the stresses of the day, giving me time for myself to think and dream. Such practise came in handy now as it soon became apparent that my ability to handle a horse was far superior to that of the thief. She could very likely outwit me on foot and was clearly able in sleight of hand, but horse-driven locomotion was not her speciality.
Approaching her mount I shouted, “Cease your flight this instant!”
“Why would I stop now! I’m just starting to have fun!” She spurred on her horse, hoping to gain an edge on me. She was not so fortunate as I leapt from my mount and caught her in the air. The force at which I threw myself at her flung her off the horse and we landed in the tall grass which lined the great route heading west from the city.
I had been correct in my assessment of her agility as I struggled to gain control on the situation while she squirmed and fought my grip at every turn. Finally I caught hold of her, pinning her to the ground. The weight of my body aided in the capture of my prey as her slender figure had no chance of escape crushed underneath mine. After a brief moment to catch her breath she said, “No need to be polite with me, Mert. If it was companionship you desired in return for your services at the tavern, I would have obliged without the need of such chase.”
Her comment led me to assess the situation, at which point I realised that in my efforts to subdue her I had placed one of my hands firmly on her breast. Embarrassed, I moved my grasp to a more culturally appropriate position. “No. I just came to retrieve my money purse.”
“Ah, so it is gold that you desire! I do say, Mert, out of the three options of gold, companionship and warm fuzzies, your initial choice seemed poor and certainly now it shows that either of the other two choices were your true desire and preference.” Her mouth cracked into a smile of sly pleasure at the exchange we were having.
My voice rose, powered by adrenaline and anger at her cruel suggestions against my loyal and respectful nature. “You are a thief! This is not about payment, but retrieving what is mine!”
“I’m sorry, but love does not work that way. I’ve stolen your heart and now you want it back. Love is the true thief in this game that we play.”
“Love is nothing of the sort! It is respectable, honest and courteous, unlike yourself. Now give me back my coin purse!” Her suggestions that love was a thief caused me to despise her all the more. What could she know of love? She had probably never loved anyone so dear and true as compared to my feelings for Farah Bailey.
“I assure you that I have no coin purse. If thievery be my crime, gold is not the victim.”
“I have not the time or patience for your games. Give me the gold and I will grant you your liberty.”
“You, a mighty knight of the great city Glanderxe, keeper of the law, would release me, a thief, for an exchange of coin! Sounds like bribery to me.” She clearly enjoyed making fun of those qualities which I held in high value. I was too disgusted by her words to merit them with a response. She would simply turn them against me in some sly scheme to accuse me of being indecent and lacking honour. I began to search among her garments for where she might have hidden my coin. “Don’t enjoy yourself too much. My offer was either gold or companionship, not both.”
“I have heard quite enough from you! I am a loyal knight of Glanderxe, chosen by queen Calwen herself to be a protector of the Coessarde and its people, in service to her majesty. I know not why a lady like yourself should chose to act the way you do, dealing in criminality and disrespect, and I care not for your foul words of suggestion. I have no desire to spend any more time with you than is necessary for the retrievement of my gold so that I can carry on my way in peace, free from your vile utterings and wicked occupation.” These were no words that any respectable gentleman should be saying to a lady, but the being before me was no such lady, though her features might suggest otherwise.
“Poor little boy playing at knighthood. It has been quite a while since I have witnessed a tantrum like that, and by one so respected as yourself, Mert, it comes as quite a surprise.”
Though it had come from her lips a number of times before, the impact of that word had never been known: Mert. She knew my name? What type of cruel trickery is this? “How might it be that you come to address me as such?”
“Why it is simple really. You act like a little boy, thus calling you one is nothing but simple deduction.”
“Do you find joy in exploiting the words of others to twist them in your favour? How do you know my name: Mert?”
“Exploitation is an art mastered by few, though you provide little challenge. You seem to talk yourself into a corner with every word, Mert.”
Ignoring her accusation of my lack of eloquence I repeated my question. “How might it be that you come to know my name.”
“My apologies. Was it to be hidden like the facts of history in the great libraries to the west? Mert Whatley, if that be your desire it should not be for you to practise introduction with such frequency.”
“I never gave you the luxury of such an introduction. Never did I tell you of my name nor ask for yours in return.”
“Didn’t you? Well how, pray tell, would it come to be that I know you as Mert and not merely as the loyal knight of Glanderxe which you call yourself with even greater frequency.”
“I am not privy to such knowledge, thus being the basis for my initial question concerning your knowledge of my name.”
“I see that we are at an impasse. I know your name yet you claim to never have given it, yet I know no other manner of acquiring said name than by the courtly introduction appropriate of a loyal knight of Glanderxe.”
It mattered little to me how she had acquired the knowledge of my name. I wished no longer to remain in such frivolous discourse. “It also seems that we are at an impasse of another variety. My coin purse is gone, you being the last person I met before its disappearance, and yet you claim to know nothing of its whereabouts.”
“Indeed. What do you say to a deal of sorts. If you cease your accusations of thievery then I will, in return, stop calling you a little boy but address you properly as Mert Whatley, the loyal knight of Glanderxe.”
“I counter your offer with one of better quality. If you cease mocking me and hand over my money then I will forget we ever met, not that I have any desire to remember this encounter. If you do not, I will be forced to apprehend you as a thief and escort you to the nearest town with competent authorities and allow them to decide your fate.”
“Clap me in irons! It wouldn’t be the first time. Some men find pleasure from a companion in bondage.”
“Irons will not be needed. You already know that I am faster than you atop a horse, so any desire to run on your part should be quickly eradicated.” I finally felt like I had the upper hand in the situation. There was nothing I wanted less than to have her come along with me, but I couldn’t let her get away with thievery, and she clearly had no desire to own up to her crimes.
“I will come with you under one condition.” Her response seemed odd.
“I don’t believe that you are in a position to make demands of me, but I will entertain you.”
“Stop with the loyal knight of Glanderxe nonsense. Your attire should be plain evidence enough, and such proclamation only exposes the little boy you hide under your garments.”