“It isn’t fair,” Mericc proclaimed sulkily as Rufius’s sword passed over his head. He parried the next blow then tried to thrust inside, a move that the more experienced warrior easily countered. The training barracks echoed with the sound of their blunted weapons clanking off of each other in rhythmic repetition, sweat pouring down their brows. “I should have been out there fighting with you and everyone else,” Mericc complained.
“I’m sure Merigal had his reasons Mericc,” Rufius responded rather crossly. With a quick movement he forced Mericc back with his sword and his smaller opponent barely managed to stop himself falling to the ground. Rufius was strangely out of sorts for the evenings training, a fact that was not lost on Mericc as he sported a few more bruises than he normally would after sparring with the large warrior.
Normally after a battle or adventure, the red-haired Deputy Protector would be in high spirits, drunk with the exhilaration of victory and more than a few pints of ale. But tonight, especially after meeting with Merigal before his father’s nightly patrol, he was in a particularly sour mood. Mericc was undaunted though, and as they fought back and forth, he resumed his entreaties.
“But how am I ever suppose to become a great adventurer like my father if I never see any action?” Mericc said between labored breaths. “What adventures can one have stuck behind doors protecting the women and children?”
Not that he had minded having Aniwen pressed up against him, his face pressed into her hair as he held her tight as the battle raged on below. When the fighting was over he stayed for a while at her house and comforted her, speaking soft words as the dead and dying were attended to and carted out of the streets. And when the day began to wane, they said their good-byes and Mericc promised to come see her again the next chance he could. Outside he looked up just in time to see her blow him a kiss from her window and he walked to the garrison fortress, his heart a little lighter.
A hard elbow to the chest woke Mericc suddenly from his daydream and he went sprawling back, barely parrying a vicious blow from Rufius. The large warrior really was in a bad mood this evening and Mericc once again wondered why. Another flurry was intercepted more confidently by Merigal’s son and he even managed to force Rufius back a ways with a counter attack. The two went at it fiercely, Rufius countering Mericc’s greater youth and speed with a lifetime’s worth of experience and guile.
“I want to have adventures of my own Rufius,” Mericc continued as they sparred back and forth. “Travel the Dale-lands or maybe even Rohan. Fight ruthless bandits like Jaxton One-Eye, The Dragon’s Maw or Endhorg the Fierce.” Jaxton One-Eye in particular was a bandit that had captured Mericc’s imagination. He had been a constant thorn in the side of the Dale-lands for years now and was one of Merigal’s more persistent adversaries in his younger days. He was as crafty as he was ruthless and was one of the few people who had ever crossed paths with Mericc’s father and lived to tell about it.
Rufius laughed loudly for the first time that evening, his face regaining the jolly grin that Mericc was so used to. With a subtle feint and a less than subtle trip, he brought Mericc down to the ground, kicking the youth’s sword away before he could recover. Mericc sucked in his breath as he felt the blunted tip against his chest, forgetting for a moment that it was just a training sword.
“Getting ahead of yourself aren’t you boy?” Rufius laughed. “Especially from one who can’t beat an aging fat man yet.” Sheathing his sword Rufius helped Mericc up and patted him on the back. “Best take it one challenge at a time lad. Getting ahead of yourself is a good way to lose one’s head.” They both had a laugh at that and Mericc was glad once again that his fathers long-time companion seemed back to his old self.
They put away the training equipment and Rufius spent the next twenty minutes going over the spar with Mericc, telling him what he had done wrong and what to work on. While he was less skilled than Merigal, Mericc enjoyed his training sessions with Rufius a little more because the big man would show him all the dirty tricks and underhanded fighting tactics he had built up over the years. Merigal looked down on such shortcuts as beneath a true fighter and would berate Mericc harshly whenever he would try them out in their sparring sessions.
‘A man who uses short cuts like that, falls into the habit of using them in lieu of proper training and discipline’ Merigal would say. ‘And when the day comes that he’s faced with a situation where none of his shortcuts work, he finds he’s forgotten the long way and that usually means his end.’
Rufius finished his lecture with a good humored pat on the back, telling Mericc that he was becoming quite the swordsman despite the Deputies’ teasing. Mericc was just about to broach the subject of what had been bothering the big soldier when they heard a woman’s scream pierce the night. Both men, young and old, equipped themselves quickly and raced for the door. Mericc especially for the voice he had heard sounded very much like Aniwen’s.
A crisp night time breeze was blowing outside that went unheeded by Mericc as he looked for the cause of the scream. Down the road he could see a ring of people surrounding what looked like two bodies on the road, one covering the other. He started moving as fast as he could towards the ring, the older Deputy Protector lagging behind though his presence barely registered in Mericc’s mind. His only thought, repeating over and over ‘Please let Aniwen be ok, please let Aniwen be ok…’ His hand gripped the hilt of his sword, more to mask his hand’s shaking than as a precaution against any danger.
“Please let Aniwen be ok,” Mericc whispered to himself again as the night’s shadows pulled back and showed the crowd in greater clarity. The panic and hushed talk of the mob charged the air and Mericc felt the approach of some impending doom with each quickened step. He saw that the figure on top was holding the second in their arms, head hanging low as if in mourning. A sigh of relief escaped Mericc’s lips as he caught a glimmer of yellow and gold from the figure holding the collapsed form on the ground. Aniwen was ok. He raced to her side, wishing to take her away from this ghastly scene. Let Rufius take care of the body on the ground.
It was then, as the victim came into focus that Mericc’s world came crashing down.
There, laying in the road of the town he had protected for twenty years, was Merigal Quickblade. A crossbow bolt stuck out of his back, his life essence dripping down, staining the pavement. Aniwen lay crouched at his side, holding his head in her hands, tears flowing down her face in torrents. She noticed Mericc and he saw a look of profound and terrible sadness that was as much for him as it was for the man at her feet. The young boy felt his legs lose all strength and he would have collapsed if Rufius had not steadied him at his side. Mericc’s legs drove him on towards the scene, though he felt them not and the world lost it’s sense of reality. He dimly heard through muted senses Rufius roaring for a healer and the shuffling of many uncertain iron boots.
Finally he pushed his way through the shocked crowd and fell down at his father’s side. The color had drained from Mericc’s face though it was nothing to how the man before him looked now. In his youth and in his folly Mericc had thought his father invincible, a giant colossus walking in a land of lesser men and morals. Merigal had won a hundred battles and bested countless foes and nothing seemed to counter the idea in his son’s mind that he would live forever. Now he lay in a heap, his face as white as his flowing mustache, feeble coughs signaling that his time was coming to an end. He took his father’s head from Aniwen’s hands and that beautiful young lady wrapped them around him, sharing his pain.
It was then that Merigal’s eyes opened weakly and he stared up at his son. Beckoning weakly and unsurely the dying warrior pulled his son’s head down so that he could hear his final words. Mericc nearly broke as his fathers authoritarian deep voice descended into a wheezing cough riddled shell of it’s self.
“I’m sorry…Mericc,” he managed. “That I kept you…from what you wanted.” A further series of coughs cut off the rest and it took a minute for the once proud man to continue. “I only wished…for you to…” But Mericc never heard the rest for there on the High Street of Riverwatch, Merigal Quickblade, famed adventurer and swordsman, died. Darkness descended, deeper than the night for Mericc and this time he could not stop the tears from falling. The rest of the crowd, even Rufius just stood there dumbfounded, not knowing what to do or say.
From the distance of his despair Mericc heard someone shout as if through a pane of glass, “The assassin was spotted, the assassin was spotted riding with great speed out the east gate.” Something welled up in his heart replacing the hurt, driving it aside. Outrage and anger at such a grievous injustice crashed over him like a tidal wave and before anyone could react Mericc rushed at the nearest horse and leaped into the saddle.
“NO Mericc!” Rufius shouted. “Don’t,” But Mericc heard little else, his whole being focused on only one thing and that was to bring his father’s killer to justice. He rode hard for the gate, his heart pounding in his chest as chaos erupted behind him.
Rufius wheeled quickly on one of Riverwatch’s captains, “Gather all the men and go after him NOW!” The experienced Rufius had recovered from his shock quicker than the others and was determined to keep control. The captain looked at him uncertainly and Rufius felt his temperature rise.
“Do you think that is wise Sir? Emptying the garrison at a time like this.” The captain said unsurely. Rufius grabbed the man violently by the collar.
“Would you have the slayer of our Lord Protector go unanswered or his only son slain mercilessly in his reckless haste?” Rufius growled. “Gather ALL the men I said and get after that cowardly assassin and for the God’s sake, protect that boy or it will be your head.” With that the captain rushed to gather Riverwatch’s forces for pursuit as Rufius struggled to maintain order as the town’s new Protector.
And somewhere in the dark, Mericc the boy pursued his father’s killer as the pleasant night’s air turned a deadly chill.