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Three Leagues to Holdfast

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The following morning dawned bright and fair. When Corryn awoke there was movement in the wagon above him - and he saw Limosa's legs appear as she jumped down from the wagon. Then he saw the dress he had given her settle on the ground - it was clear she was obeying his instructions - even as she headed towards the campfire to break her fast.

Corryn smiled happily to himself, glad that she wasn't totally ignoring him. He did note the distinct lack of shoes, but that was to be expected. She was his daughter and that simply was how it was going to be. He secretly wondered what other little battles she would wage over time.

He crawled out and stretched, feeling his back pop in several places. With a wolfish yelp, he rubbed the knot of pain that only came with age. "Bollocks and damnation," he muttered through the brief bout of calisthenics. He'd need to wear his mail today and no sense being crippled by nightfall.

But before he indulged in knightly pain, he followed her to the fires. He nodded to the men, giving the respectful wave, nod and grunt here and there. He sat down beside her to see what was being cooked. "Boys," he said to those gathered. "Ready to show off today?"

Once breakfast was finished, Limosa retired to the seat of the wagon to watch as the men struck camp and made preparations for their final march on Holdfast. It seemed to fascinate her.

Corryn busied himself preparing his mount with the appropriate livery and equipment. Afterwards, Felix helped him on with his mail, and then covered that with a polished breastplate. He returned the assistance in kind, as was customary within their loose ranks. Titles wouldn't turn a sword blade or an arrow head, but an eye for detail, be it solider, squire, or knight, could save a life. Although they didn't expect trouble, he'd always been a cautious man. A few miles of discomfort meant little in the grand scheme of things. And it would leave a better impression with the Hardys than showing up in casual clothes.

All the while he kept an eye on his daughter. A soft smile formed as he studied her keen interest in the military preparations. Perhaps she would be willing to study the art of war, and that made him happy somehow. She would make for an excellent Lady, one not easily cowed in the world of Men. Considering her nimbleness, she'd make for a wicked duelist. He'd trained Syndra, so why not his own child? Corryn made a mental note to start her training once they returned to Leaning Stone.

When Corryn looked up at her, he saw that the delicate slippers had been placed by her side on the bench. Limosa, it seemed, would wear them - but only when she absolutely had to.

Corryn patted her knee and smiled up at her. "You look like a true princess, my dear," he said. "I'm going to have Kolin drive the wagon and keep you company. I need to ride at the head of the column, but you'll be perfectly safe." He rapped his knuckles on the sea lion helm under his arm. "Just look for this helm and you'll know where I am."

He took her hand and kissed it. "If you need anything at all, Kolin can call for me. He's very protective of you. We all are. You're now a Laughing Knife after all."

She smiled down at him with shy pride - and then smiled again at Kolin as he swung into place beside her, wearing a ridiculous look of pride on his young face that he had been entrusted with this great honour.

Corryn chuckled faintly to himself at Kolin's big grin. The young man was growing on him and came from a good family. Where he had felt jealousy and mistrust yesterday, he now possessed a calmness and certainty. Limosa would be just fine.

He bowed to her and headed to his horse.

They were ready to move forward ...

Corryn trotted to the front of the column and looked back over the Laughing Knives. They were more eager than he'd seen them in years. Perhaps it was the beauty of the morning; perhaps it was the sense that their journey was nearing its end. But he knew better. The reason was sitting on the wagon, smiling back at him. That singular smile could sustain his soul for an entire lifetime. He waved back to her and then turned to Phalan at his side.

"Let us be on our way then," he said. "If they want to sing, let them. Better the Hardys know we're on their doorstep."

Phalan tugged his beard and chuckled, "Aye, old salt. You just want that pretty lass at the Gander to know yer on yer way."

"Odette?" Corryn said, raising an eyebrow. It had been two years since he saw his plump goddess. "Lords, man. She'll likely string me up by my sack if she sees me. I didn't exactly leave her in the best of circumstances. On second thought, maybe we should sneak by the…"

Before he could finish, Phalan turned his head back over his shoulder and yelled, "Get on with it, you bastards!"

The men, brimming with excitement, began to cheer and sing. Corryn sighed as his voice was drowned out beneath their raucousness. He glowered at Phalan, who was smirking far too broadly at that moment.

"By Blade and fire!
By Spear and salt!
The Knives have come,
To take your lives
And drink your malt."

"Your balls on a spike,
Your heads on heap,
Better you run,
Lock up your liquor,
And hide your sheep."
Corryn grimaced at the bawdy tune, eyes wide with horror. "Bloody hell, man!"

Phalan snorted, "What? That girl might not speak, but she probably curses with the best of them, eh? Now shut it and listen."

Corryn's jaw hung open, bouncing with the rise and fall of his horse's feet. But listen he did, now more curious than mortified. The men's voices grew and rose, as if pride were swelling their chests.

"The Knives we are,
Our words no lie,
For Lord Corryn,
We'll fight,
And for his daughter,
We'll die."

Corryn felt his heart clench at the words, sung with brutal honesty. He glowered over at Phalan, who was looking decidedly smug. "If you think I'll shed a tear for you sorry lot, you're gravely mistaken," he said without conviction.

"Good," Phalan snorted, "Hate for you to get all sentimental and such, old salt."


"And rightly so," Phalan chuckled, reaching over to rap Corryn's shoulder. The pair began to laugh as one, even as the Laughing Knives took up their song again.

It was good to sing as they marched through the forest, for the way could be long and lonely, and the trees seemed oppressive. Limosa seemed to feel it, for she looked around with some apprehension.

Through the pale early morning they followed the narrow track between the dense trees. Holdfast was said to be easily defensible - an army must march down a track little wider than a wagon width. And overhead, stretching high, that oppressive dark green canopy of the trees.

It was well past dawn before Geirsson, riding as look-out, gave a shout. The tallest turrets of Holdfast could be seen above the trees.

"And none too soon," Corryn muttered, the morning's mugginess having crept under his armor. He wondered if there would be rain later in the day and was thankful they would be under a solid roof if and when it came. And by now, he was more than ready to put the unnerving thickets and shadows behind him.

He turned in his saddle and called Bodb, the lance's musician, over to him. "Time to wake them up, my friend. Give them a few blasts on the trumpet to announce our presence, if you would."

The man nodded and was about to do so, when Corryn added, "And this time, can you make it a touch more presentable and a little less like Phalan after some bad beef?"

Bobd laughed, "Aye, ser. No sweeter sound will ever been uttered." He raised the bronze instrument to his lips and gave out a low groaning sound that reverberated through the trees. Several crows lighted from their perches, streaking the air with black wings. They swirled angrily over the procession, squawking their disapproval.

Dark wings, dark words, Corryn thought. Let us hope it will not be so.

"Ser Phalan?" he called.

"Aye ser?" Phalan said bringing his horse along side.

"Raise the colors. Stark and Manderly. Let's be done with this, shall we?"

Corryn turned to his friend and smiled faintly. "You and Kolin know what to do if things turn rotten, aye?"

Phalan nodded, determined and proud. "Not even the Stranger could touch her while we're at her side, ser. She reminds me of my Jenni. I'll protect her like me own."

"Thank you, old friend," Corryn said and gave his horse some speed. Best he be in front when they reach the doors of Holdfast.

And so he was as they approached the gates.

The gates were open, but there was still time to draw up in good order, even as the gate guards gawped at the array.

And then the battle horn sounded out.

Bodb held the tone for a moment, comfortable with the weight of the long carnyx; its polished sea lion's head catching the morning light. The horn's distinctive growl identified the Laughing Knives as readily as their colorful banner. It had been their 'voice' since their inception. It might have been a little overly dramatic, but then again they wanted to make an impression. From the way the man on the wall began to scramble to, it appeared they'd succeeded. Satisfied, Bodb slung the carnyx behind him. He fell in beside Corryn on the left, while Phalan flanked him on the right.

Corryn smiled to himself and touched the sides of his horse to put it into a ceremonial trot. "I think they're awake, lads," he called. "Look lively."

As the trio approached the gate, Corryn raised his hand in welcome and hailed the guards.

"Good morning, gentlemen," he said. "I am Ser Corryn Manderly. I come seeking Ser Godfrey Hardy. Would you kindly direct us to him?"

"He comes," said the gate guard a little nervously, looking over his shoulder. "Pass within, friend, and five of your men while we ready ourselves to receive the rest."

A precaution, it seemed, lest Ser Corryn's intent prove less than friendly.

In the end, it was clear that Ser Corryn would enter with four men only; the expression on Limosa's face told him that she had determined that the fifth should be a woman. Wearing, if she must, shoes.

Page last modified on May 16, 2006, at 07:57 PM