I love creating characters, and some—the special ones— take on lives of their own outside the events of any given story. The knight Camwynn is one of these. Dedicated to Eloss the Defender—goddess of warriors—Camwynn first appeared in A Soul for Tsing, then again in the Scimitar Seas series, and is also mentioned in other works set in my world. Her origin story—First Command—was a perfect fit for the Women in Practical Armor anthology.
This free fiction appears here as part of The Infinite Bard, a project of the International Association of Tie-in Writers. Click on the titles below to read stories from my cohorts. More stories will be available in the coming weeks, so come back and check them out.
Blind Spot by Donald Bingle ≈ Diamond of the Sky by Azure Avians ≈ Author of Murder by Jean Rabe
All Kinds of Ghosts by Reid Alan ≈ A Warm Tale for a Cold Night by Debbie Mumford ≈ Moongarden by Sarah Stegall
The Raven by Barbara G. Tarn ≈ All That Matters is What You Believe by Phil Giunta ≈ Doppelganger by Michael Kingswood
The Princess and the Assassin by Tony Jones ≈ Sensing the Storm by Kari Kilgore ≈ So Much to See by Frazer Lee ≈ To Ashes by Leigh Dragoon
Murder and the Little Old Lady by Lorraine J. Anderson ≈ Full Voice by Jason M. Hardy ≈ Purple Hills by Rigel Ailur ≈ Ice House by Debbie Mumford
Hide and Seek by Kris Katzen ≈ Mistletoe and Murder by Lauryn Christopher ≈ Tinsel by Frazer Lee ≈ Ninja Angel by Jess Barry
Before She’s Gone Forever by Phil Giunta ≈ Passed Over by Michael Kingswood
by Chris A. Jackson
Charging pikes. Not my favorite thing. You stand a solid chance of losing your horse, and I’ve always liked horses. Granted, the one I was riding would sooner bite your nose off and kick your spleen out as look at you—he’d earned the moniker Ill-Tempered Beast—but he probably thought the same about me. I could almost hear his thoughts as our phalanx broke into a canter and topped the rise.
Heavy, tin-plated bitch, just as soon run you into a wall of pikes as put a saddle on your back.
The thought brought a smile, but still, I didn’t wish Ill-Tempered Beast any harm. All we were both trying to do was stay alive and break the Morrgrey line. My lord’s lance dipped, and mine followed with his other squires’. The phalanx kicked into a gallop with a hundred yards to go. Something clanged against my helm, a stone or arrow. My ears rang, but I held steady. I watched an arrow fix in my mount’s shoulder near my knee. It had punched right through the barding and probably hurt like hell, but he didn’t even lose his stride. It wasn’t enough to kill him, and anything that didn’t kill this one-ton mountain of war-trained insanity generally just pissed him off.
That was fine. I needed him pissed off.
Fifty yards and I made sure my shield was seated against my saddle. Surviving a charge against pikes is a lot more about your shield than anything else. This wasn’t some silly joust. A good steady pikeman could put the tip of his weapon exactly where he wanted it to go. An inexperienced one might put it into your mount’s eye or heart. If they did, they wouldn’t see another cavalry charge. If a pikeman killed Ill-Tempered Beast, I’d kill him in the next instant, then try to unseat my dead horse before he crushed me. The better strategy is to go for the rider.
Pikes are longer than lances, so if a pikeman kills you before you kill them, they might survive. But that meant getting past your shield, or getting really lucky and putting the tip of their pike through the slit in your visor. Pikemen were trained to aim just over the horse’s shoulder at the inside rim of the shield. If the tip of the pike struck true, the lancer’s shield would deflect the blow just far enough to strike the right side of the breastplate. If it didn’t shatter, the head of the pike would run the knight through and pluck him or her right out of the saddle. The horse might trample through the line, but that was better than being skewered by a knight’s lance.
I could count the number of times I’d charged pikes in combat on one hand, but Lord Fornish—Knight Commander of the First Army of Tsing—had trained me well. I was his second squire, and I intended to make knight someday. That meant staying alive today.
Arrows whistled over our heads at the enemy, our longbowmen softening up the line. The pikes wavered, and we lunged forward over the last twenty yards.
Shield firm, lance braced, pick your target…steady.
Something hit my visor, and pain lanced across my skull. Blood blinded my left eye.
Steady…you heavy, tin-plated bitch.
Ill-Tempered Beast grunted with every lunging stride now, foam flecking his muzzle, platter-sized hooves trampling the sod with a vengeance.
Pick your mark…
I lowered my lance at the chest of a dark-faced Morrgrey. The tip of his pike wavered and aimed to my right, toward my lord. I jinked, nudging Fornish’s white-coated charger over to ruin the dead-man’s aim.
The pike hit the outer edge of my lord’s shield and another hit mine squarely. A blinding moment of impact, Lord Fornish’s shield flung aside as another pike I had not seen struck him, the instant of death unstoppable. His mount was half a stride ahead, and I saw the pike head dent the back plate of his armor from the inside before the shaft shattered.
My lance spitted the Morrgrey, and I let it go, even as my lord sagged in his saddle. I was screaming. There was a sword in my hand. My sword. There was blood on it. Ill-Tempered Beast bit through a man’s shoulder as I kicked him into a turn, his rear hooves lashing out like scythes. My lord’s horse staggered with a pike through its body, trying to stay up, but without any signals from its rider. I charged back as it fell, Fornish toppling like a metal ragdoll. A Morrgrey footman raised an axe above my fallen lord, looking up at me an instant before I rode him down, Ill-Tempered Beast’s hooves churning through flesh like soft sod. I reined in hard and kicked into another turn. Beast crow-hopped and thrashed, but complied.
“To me!” I snatched my dagger and cut my saddle straps. “Squires, lancers, defend your lord!”
Never dismount in a battle; your odds of survival plummet. I wasn’t thinking about survival. I was thinking of the man I loved like a father bleeding out on the turf. I landed hard on a Morrgrey corpse and fought to my feet, blinking away blood and laying wildly about my fallen master with sword and shield. My throat raw, blood and steel were all my eyes beheld.
Heartbreak would come later.
I blinked and realized that my blade had creased a shield bearing my own coat of arms. I turned, looking for black hair, dark eyes, ringmail, Morrgrey green and black, but saw only Fornish’s scarlet and gold or the blue and white of Tsing. The field of battle was ours. The enemy was in full retreat, our lancers and the arrows of our longbowmen chasing them into the wood.
I dropped my sword and tore at my shield straps, staggering back to my fallen lord. “Milord!” I knelt beside Tamrey, my friend and Forbish’s third squire, junior to me and Utar, our senior. I flipped up my visor and wiped blood from my eyes. “Milord!”
“Tam…” The voice came out reedy, but alive. “Cam…” An arm moved, reaching up. “I can’t…see.”
“Here, milord. Let me.” Tamrey cut the chin strap and eased off Fornish’s helm.
His salt-and-pepper hair and beard streaked with blood and sweat, Fornish drew a ragged breath and coughed blood, blinking up at us. I wrenched off my helm and shared a glance with Tamrey. The pikestaff was broken off at our lord’s breastplate, left of center. It must have missed his heart, but only just. A lung had certainly been pierced, and from the amount of frothy pink blood oozing from beneath his gorget, there was nothing we could do. I looked around desperately.
“Healer!” I searched for one of the white robes, anyone who could help, but none had yet ventured forth. It was too dangerous for them. I saw our standard, Utar commanding a phalanx against the Morrgrey flanking maneuver. I held my lord’s head and looked down into his dark eyes. “Easy, milord. The field is ours. We must wait for aid to move you.”
“Don’t…lie to me…Camwynn.” Blood flecked his teeth, a grimace or a smile, I couldn’t tell. “I told…you. Shield. Mine got knocked, and I paid for it.”
My gut tightened as I remembered my jostle and I wondered if I’d killed him. “I’m sorry, milord. I nudged your horse to deflect a pike.”
“Never…apologize for rendering aid, Cam…” He blinked and looked to Tamrey, at the tears rolling down the young man’s beardless cheeks. “Follow her orders, Tam. She’s…in—” His lips pulled back in a rictus of pain, and he coughed blood.
I wiped his mouth and held him, more father than my own, the guiding hand that centered my life. “Be still, milord. Help will come.”
“No.” The muscles of his jaw clenched, and he swallowed. His hand gripped mine, for a moment as strong as ever. “Listen! You, Cam…must take command. Not Utar. Do…you hear?”
“I…” I stared at him and glanced at Tamrey. “Milord, I cannot! I’m second.”
“Don’t disobey my final…order, Camwynn.” He smiled then, and the strength slipped away from his grip. “Promise…me.”
“I promise on my oath to you, milord!” I could do nothing else. He was my lord. “I’ll take command.”
“Good.” His eyes fluttered closed. “Now…let…me…”
I watched the last breath leave him, felt the last beat of his heart in his grasp.
I eased my lord’s head down to the turf and lurched up to my feet. The ground around us was a mire of blood and churned earth. Astonishingly, Ill-Tempered Beast stood only yards away, stomping and pawing, his muzzle bloody, the arrow still sticking out of his shoulder. He was breathing hard, but looked hale. Dazed, numb, I went to him, and damned if he didn’t stand perfectly still as I cut the barbed arrowhead free. From my saddlebag I recovered a pot of ointment, a water skin, and my cloak. The former I applied to Beast’s wound and the cut over my eye. The latter I draped over my lord’s corpse.
“Camwynn!” Tamrey stood there gripping the hilt of his sword. “What will you do?”
I drank deeply from my skin and handed it to Tam. “Mourn, eat something, drink a skin of wine, tend this ill-tempered beast…” I patted my horse’s massive shoulder, and he gnashed his teeth at me, but only half-heartedly. “…and follow my lord’s last order.”
“Utar won’t like it.” Tamrey waved to the approaching foot soldiers and the rest of the scattered lancers. “He’ll pitch a fit like he always does.”
“Probably.” I thought about Utar. Yes, he would throw a fit. “I don’t care. You heard Lord Fornish’s order. I’m to take command.”
“I heard it, and I’ll back you, but it’s not going to go smoothly.” Tamrey wiped his sword and sheathed it. “There’ll be all nine shades of the hells to pay.”
“Then I’ll pay it.”
The stretcher bearers arrived, staring down in shock at my fallen lord.
“See to the wounded first! The dead can wait. We’ll take Sir Fornish back. Help me, Tam.”
Tamrey and I lifted our fallen liege to the back of my horse and walked back to camp. We’d won the battle, but at a horrible cost, and there was a war yet to be fought, but not the one I was thinking of.
“I’ll not stand aside and let you steal this from me, Camwynn!” Utar clenched his massive hand on the hilt of his broadsword and glared at me. “I’m Fornish’s senior squire! Command of the First Army is mine by default!”
“No, command is mine by our lord’s final order.” I girded my temper and kept my thumbs hooked in my belt. I wasn’t afraid of Utar. He wouldn’t strike without warning. Such a cowardly act was beneath a squire of Tsing. “Tamrey witnessed it with me. Lord Fornish ordered me to take command, and I won’t disobey.”
“The troops won’t follow a half-trained squire!” Captain Dask pounded his fist on the map table in emphasis. He was regular army, experienced and hard as a twenty-penny nail, but he was also wrong.
“You suggest we cede the field of battle because my lord fell, Captain?” I glared at him, willing him to hear my thoughts. Don’t go there, you idiot. You’ll lose.
“I suggest nothing of the kind! Utar should take command as is his right.”
“If eight years means half-trained, most of your officers have less, and Utar is as half-trained as I am, Captain!” He only had a couple of months seniority on me, and if you counted fighting through a dozen other squire applicants and street fights before that, I had more training than Utar. “Fortunately, Lord Fornish saw to our training in arms and in tactics. We are both quite capable.”
“But you’re a…” His eyes flicked down to the undeniable bulge of breasts beneath my tabard, then back up to my face.
My temper flared and I ripped my gloves from my belt. “If the next word out of your mouth is ‘woman’ I will call you out this instant, sir!”
Female soldiers were rare in Tsing, perhaps one in twenty, but about one in ten squires were women. Contrary to the filthy scuttlebutt among common soldiers, we aren’t recruited to warm our lords’ beds. I’m a trained soldier, master-at-arms, military tactician, and strategist, and I’ve rarely had to beat those facts into anyone. I hoped that I wouldn’t have to do so with Dask; he was a valuable officer and the troops respected him. My beating him might earn me their enmity.
“It wasn’t.” The lie only shone in his eyes, and I was grateful for it. “You’re young, that’s all.”
“My age is irrelevant. Lord Fornish was your commander,” I looked back to Utar, “and it was his last order that I take command.”
“I will not relinquish it!” Utar glared. He didn’t hate me, but he also wouldn’t back down. I could see it in his eyes.
“It’s not yours to relinquish, Utar.” I squared my shoulders. “I was ordered by your lord to take command.”
“So you say.”
“I was there, too, Utar!” Tamrey stepped forward, his smooth jaw writhing with his clenching teeth. “You call me a liar?”
“I call you a teat-suckling whelp, boy!”
Tamrey lunged, regardless of propriety or that Utar out-weighted him by half. I caught his arm and hauled him back. My gloves were already in my other hand, which made it easy. The stout leather slapped across Utar’s bearded cheek. He didn’t flinch, but just grinned at me.
“Ahorse or afoot, Camwynn?”
“We don’t have time or resources for this nonsense!” Dask scowled. “We’re at war, for the love of the gods.”
I didn’t take my eyes off Utar. “The Morrgrey are reforming on the other side of the wood, Captain. We have a day, perhaps two, to reposition. Our business will be concluded at first light on the morrow. I’ll give you my orders for deployment then.”
“Arrogant bitch!” Utar’s lips curled back from his teeth.
“You’re half right, Utar.” I grinned back at him. If he was trying to goad me as he had Tamrey, he’d have to do better. “But it’s confidence, not arrogance.”
“Ahorse or afoot?”
I had a better chance of winning astride Ill-Tempered Beast, but the army could ill afford losing mounts on a squires’ challenge. Utar knew that. What he didn’t know was that I had much more interest in following my lord’s final orders than I had in taking command. I would fight my best and win if I could, but I would follow Utar’s commands or die with honor if I lost.
“Dawn.” I turned to Tamrey. “Be my second, Tamrey.”
“It would be my honor.” He nodded, still glaring at Utar. “And if you don’t kill this fat bastard, I will!”
Utar just laughed at Tamrey’s threat and walked out of the command tent. Tamrey stormed out, swearing like a sailor on shore leave.
“Do me a favor, Squire Camwynn.” Dask leveled his flint grey eyes at me.
“If it’s in my power, I will, Captain.”
“Don’t kill him, and don’t get killed yourself.” He tapped the map table as if to remind me of the greater issue. “We’re still at war, and Tsing needs you both.”
“I’ll do my best on both counts, Captain.” I nodded respectfully and left the tent.
I made good on my claim to Tam: I tended Ill-Tempered Beast—his halter had been tied to a deep stake, so he couldn’t bite me, but he did try to kick me, so I knew he was hale—ate a meal, and finished half a skin of wine, but my thoughts on how I would fight Utar wouldn’t congeal. I’d also spent two hours paying my respects to my lord, trying to reconcile the loss. I couldn’t; my heart ached too much. I needed to think, and to sleep, and the wine wasn’t helping. After pacing my tent for another hour, I decided to go for a walk.
Utar would be a problem. Heavier and stronger than I, though not any more skilled at arms and certainly no quicker, we were a close match. Beating him without killing him would be the true challenge. I doubted that he had any similar compunction. Utar didn’t generally see the bigger picture. Nothing beyond the tip of his lance, Fornish used to say. I wondered if that was why my lord had ordered me to take command. I did see the bigger picture, long-term goals, how to achieve them at least cost, sparing the most lives, burning the least forest or cropland.
I wondered if our differences were due to our sexes and dismissed the notion. Not all men are short sighted hot-heads. My lord had been a brilliant tactician, disciplined but not unkind, hard when he needed to be, and jovial when it served him better. Could I be that?
Yes. You’re just doubting yourself.
I knew my conscience was right, but I didn’t know how to calm my tumultuous thoughts. Grief, worry, anxiety, and determination all swam in my head in a maelstrom, and I was a boat caught on that torrent. I needed to sleep, and I didn’t know how I was going to achieve it.
Yes, you do.
I blinked and realized I was in the section of the camp reserved for the camp followers. I heard laughter and music, the jingling of hand cymbals and strum of a lute. I espied a circle of firelight, a woman dancing with gold in her hands, moving like a serpent. Men and women clapped and sang to the music. My feet turned to join them.
Dark eyes flicked toward me as I entered the light. A man stood, his white teeth flashing against olive skin, beautiful dark eyes, and hair made to clench in my trembling hands. I blinked and saw the startled gaze of the Morrgrey I’d killed that morning. I wondered if this beauty was a distant relative, and suddenly felt like apologizing.
“May we be of service, lady?” He bowed fluidly, waving a hand at the firelight, the dancing, the smiles, and camaraderie.
“Are you Morrgrey?” I didn’t know why I needed to ask.
“No, Lady. We are Jesti. Travelers, singers, dancers…and tellers of tales.” He bowed again. “You are troubled. Join us if you will.”
I wondered how he knew, and realized that it didn’t take a fortune teller to know I was upset. My emotions were writ large on my face, no doubt, and the news of Fornish’s death had reached all corners of the camp. I wore his livery. The man was observant as well as beautiful.
“Would you like a cup of wine?” I asked him.
“We have wine, lady.”
“I’m not a lady.” Technically true; a squire isn’t a noble. “Would you like a cup of my wine?”
One dark eyebrow arched, and those clean white teeth flashed again. “I would be honored to share your wine, Sir Camwynn.”
That he knew my name surprised me, but the premature title more so. “I’m not a knight.”
“In time.” That smile again.
“Come with me.” I turned and gestured back to the camp and my tent. He fell into step beside me. “I need to know your name.”
“Veshka Li Predaluru Kepatushka.”
His fingers found my hand, a light caress. “Please, call me Vesh. My friends all do.”
“Vesh.” I liked the sound his name made in my mouth. I entwined my fingers in his. “Thank you.”
“Thank me on the morrow, lady.” He chuckled, and my thoughts moved away from the maelstrom into the sweet bliss of this beautiful man.
Sometimes my conscience is truly brilliant.
I woke to the light of my lamp burned low. Some noise—the clank of a pot, the crow of a rooster—had snapped me out of my blissful sleep. I knew without looking outside that it was time to rise. Vesh stirred beside me, his tousled black hair a dream, the smell of him…a memory…oh glory of the gods, what a memory.
My mind was clear, my thoughts orderly, the day’s tasks lying before me like a pile of wood needing to be chopped. Simple.
I slipped out of the nest of furs and blankets and knelt mother naked before my tiny alter to Eloss the Defender. A quick prayer, a splash of icy water, clothes, boots, padded gambeson, bread and cheese, and a swallow of the wine we’d never touched the night before. I reached for my sword belt, then looked back to my nest of furs and Vesh. Kneeling, I brushed his shoulder with my callused fingers. He stirred and rolled to look up at me, blinking.
“I have to go.” I smiled and ran the backs of my fingers over his wonderful lips. He kissed them. “Wish me luck.”
“You need no luck, beautiful Camwynn.” He smiled with those lovely teeth and I shivered, wondering if I’d ever see him again.
“Here.” I fished a pouch from my things and handed it to him. “Buy your sisters something pretty.”
“I will.” He took the pouch and sat up, knotting his fist in my short hair to pull me into one more lingering kiss. “And I will sing your song tonight.”
“Thank you.” I stood and left him, strapping on my sword on the way out. Dawn was coming.
Outside the tent I found Tamrey pacing in front of our arms rack. The junior squires had seen to my things, bless them, and everything gleamed in the wan light.
“Sleep well?” Tamrey grinned at me, and I wondered if he knew how I’d spent the night.
Probably so. Tents offer little privacy, and his was right next to mine.
“I did.” I surveyed my things, and my strategy congealed. “Mail and breastplate only this morning.”
“I thought so.” He lifted my mail and helped me into it, fastening the clips, then my chest armor, cinching the straps tight. “Full face or visorless?”
“Visorless.” He picked my open helm from the stand and I put it on me, adjusting the straps as he fitted greaves to my legs. Twisting to check the fit, the weight, and the straps, I surveyed my weaponry.
“You know he’ll be in full plate.”
“He better be. I’m counting on it.” I hefted a flanged mace, a better weapon against plate armor than a sword, especially if you were interested in keeping your opponent alive. I wore sword and dagger as well, just in case I lost my primary weapon.
“Do me a favor, Cam.” Tamrey cinched my shield straps tight and glanced up at me.
“If I can.”
“Kick his fat ass.” He grinned and punched me in the chest as hard as he could.
I laughed at his antics, hoping he hadn’t hurt his hand. “Am I getting odds from the wagerers?” I waved toward the practice field, and he fell in beside me.
“Even money.” He shrugged. “Not many people betting.”
“Well, the rank and file probably don’t care who wins. One squire commander is as bad as another in their eyes.”
“You’re wrong.” Tamrey pointed to the grounds as we rounded the mess tent. “They care, and there’s quite a disparity of opinion, but nobody’s fool enough to bet when they don’t have a clue who’s going to win.”
It looked like about half the camp had turned out, and more were on the way. “Great.”
The crowd of soldiers parted, and a few cheers went up. Inside a chalk circle Utar stood ready, Balric, another of our lord’s junior squires, standing as his second. As I’d hoped, my opponent wore full plate armor, helm, visor, and shield. I’d hoped he’d wield his broadsword, the better to weigh him down and wear him out, but he held a hooked axe in his hand. That could be a problem. The spike on the back of the axe would pierce my mail if he got a stroke in.
Tactics shifted in my mind like water flowing around rocks in a stream. I took my position, and Captain Dask stepped between us.
“This is a bout of honor between allies.” His gray eyes fixed us both in turn. “Do either of you cede prior to trial of arms?”
“Do you name me commander as is my right as senior squire?” Utar’s voice was muffled from behind his helm’s ventail, but clear enough.
“I do not. Do you name me commander as our lord ordered, and offer apology for insult?”
“I do not.”
“Very well!” Dask glared at us both again. “This bout will proceed until one contestant cannot continue or yields to the other. Mercy is to be given if asked. Striking a senseless or defenseless opponent is prohibited. Do you both agree to these terms?”
“I do,” we both said.
“Then let’s get this done before the gods-be-damned Morrgrey attack!” Dask raised an arm and dropped it. “Commence!”
Fights generally last only seconds. This one didn’t.
Utar and I had sparred thousands of times over the years, and knew each other’s tricks, strengths, and weaknesses. He was stronger. I was quicker. His left shoulder had been broken once, and he tended to lower his shield when he was tired. I had suffered a spear through my right knee and couldn’t lunge to full extension. Consequently, the contest dragged on, each of us feinting, striking and dodging, deflecting and trying for a lucky trip. My shield arm grew numb from the force of his axe blows, and he limped from where I’d struck his right knee solidly, but neither of us was hurt badly.
Utar’s breaths came hard, and his shield began to drop between clashes. I hoped I had enough left to exploit it.
Now! the voice inside my head insisted as the pattern of his movements clicked into place.
I deflected an axe blow and feinted low. Utar’s shield dropped to guard his injured knee. Spinning, I lashed out at his head. My mace struck squarely, ripping the ventail off his helm in a spatter of blood and broken teeth. How he stayed on his feet, I don’t know, but he spun with the blow and lashed out with his axe. I raised my shield to take the blow.
I hadn’t anticipated Utar shifting his grip to lead with the pick instead of the blade. Four inches of steel pierced my shield and my forearm. Numb already, there was no pain, but a bone might be broken, and I couldn’t rely on that arm any longer.
And his weapon was stuck.
I brought my mace down at Utar’s head, but he shifted and took the impact on his pauldron. The plate buckled, and I knew his collarbone was broken; that would weaken his shield arm, at least. Utar wrenched hard on his axe, jerking me forward. Even as the spike of his axe pulled free, the crest of his helm sent stars exploding through my eyes as it met with my nose guard. My back hit the ground before my senses returned. Utar stomped on my shield and swung his axe down toward my face.
I raised my weapon and caught the haft of his axe, deflecting the spike an inch before it pierced my eyes.
By the gods, the bastard’s actually trying to kill you! Sometimes my conscience feels the need to state the obvious.
Flat on my back, my arm likely broken, head spinning, and ears ringing, Utar’s next stroke would probably finish me. I will not yield. I could not betray my lord’s memory that way. I had only one tactic left. I kicked Utar as hard as I could right in his injured knee.
The joint folded with a screech of metal as the poleyn hinge snapped. Utar fell forward, his axe burying haft-deep in the turf beside my head. I dropped my mace and drew my dagger, rolling on top of him and placing the point under his chin.
“Yield, or I’ll pith you like a toad!”
“I yield!” At least his answer came right away. I’d have hated to kill him.
Tamrey was there before I could even cut my shield free, pounding me on the back hard enough to send more stars exploding behind my eyes and hauling me to my feet. There were faces all around, cheering and laughing as if we’d not nearly murdered one another. They rolled Utar onto a stretcher, and four men-at-arms lifted him. His knee was still bent the wrong way.
“Wait!” I stumbled over. They’d removed his helm and washed some of the blood off his face. “Sorry about the leg, but I thought you were trying to kill me.”
Utar blinked, and his swollen lips peeled back from broken teeth. “Thorry about the arm. And I wath trying to kill you…thir.” He saluted me…my first.
The healers were there, insisting they see to his leg immediately.
“Get him on his feet! I need his fat ass in the saddle by tomorrow!” That earned me another round of cheers from the soldiery.
A healer examined my arm, but the spike of Utar’s axe had miraculously passed between the two bones without breaking either. Dumb luck.
Maybe Vesh had wished it on me when I wasn’t looking.
“Orders, Squire Commander?” Dask saluted me, his face grim. “Your nose is broken, sir.”
“Is it now?” Tamrey helped me off with my helm, and I felt the lump of smashed meat on my face. “Well, I’ll have to fix that, I suppose, but I need to speak to you about deployment.”
“Yes sir.” Dask waved toward the command tent…my tent.
I sat astride Ill-Tempered Beast and kicked him into a canter. “Forward!” He snorted and capered, complaining as always. Heavy tin-plated bitch. I smiled behind the concealment of my helm’s ventail as the phalanx around me matched my pace—Utar to my right, Tamrey to my left. We lowered our lances, a wall of steel on three tons of pissed-off horse.
We were charging pikes again. Never my favorite.