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The Epic Tales of Sir Tāche le Morceau

 
 

To Sleep Without Dreams

By Alex White.

   The knight, clothed in black, reigned in his charger and removed his helm. His sweat soaked hair shone in the light of the late afternoon. So weary, so weary, the knight urged his horse on a few paces to a large tree. He squinted along the road, using his hand to shield his eyes from the rays of the sun. In the warm light the scars covering his left cheek were obvious, almost highlighted. Someone was coming towards him down the graceful forest road. Some half a mile away the figure was on horseback and riding slowly, almost aimlessly.
   The Black Knight raised and eyebrow and reached down to his saddlebag for his leather canteen. After drinking deeply, the knight dismounted, stealing a glance at the on coming rider.
   Bright though it was, the large tree that the knight was under filtered the light so as to lessen the severity of the sun. With a careful action, the knight unbuckled his sword belt and placed it gently on the ground. Looking again at the rider the knight started to unsaddle his warhorse, rubbing it down with the saddle blanket. By this time the rider was clearly visible. It was a man, dressed in a red travelling cloak and hood. The horse walked with exhausted steps and both rider and horse looked very tired.
   Attaching his horse's nosebag, the Black Knight stepped on to the path and waited. The rider looked up, but with the sun disappearing beneath the horizon none of his features were clear. However, the hand that gripped the broadsword was, and the Black Knight frowned.
   The forest around the knight was quiet, except for the occasional birdsong and movement of leaves in the cool autumn breeze. As the rider came closer, the knight raised his hand in a gesture of greeting.
   "Well met traveller. What brings you to this place?"
   "Well met yourself, Knight. I am Alon of Herthyn. Who might you be?" The traveller's hand was still wrapped around the hilt of his sword, but his voice was civil and polite.
   The knight bowed slightly, "I am Sir Tâche." He gestured to his saddlebags that lay, with his saddle on the ground, by the large tree's roots. "Care, join me a while, for it is getting late. It has been many days since I have had company."
   There was a nod from Alon, who dismounted and led his weary horse next to the tree. As the sun set low over the treetops, Tâche removed a small lamp from his pack. Pressing a small lever on the side, the lamp made a grinding noise and sprouted a bright flame. Alon sat opposite the knight, who placed the lamp between them and then leaned against the tree.
   "I hear there is a war going on in Radigund. Were you there?", Tâche asked the traveller.
   A flash of pain, or grief crossed the traveller's face, but was quickly replaced by a hooded and guarded expression.
   "Yes, I was there. It is mainly in Cador. The Antorians have crushed everything in their path. They wiped out the army of King Argan and put to death every man on the field. Nothing stopped them, not even Artegall, the Imperial Warlord." The traveller continued to tell the knight of how the invaders from across the Emerald Ocean had captured three of the seven major cities of Cador, the realm from which Alon had come.
   "When they rode into Cath Palu, the most southern of the Great Temple Cities, not one hand was raised to stop them. Yet still they had every fifth person killed and sacrificed to their god.  Biausados is this god's name.
   "I am the messenger of Kehydius, Patriarch of Cath Palu. I am to seek help from the lord of Momur."
   "Hmm, it would seem that the Antorians are a mighty foe indeed."
   "Tell me Sir Tâche, what brings you to travel to Cador at a time like this? Surely you must see that it is suicide?"
   Tâche shook his head slowly. Then after a moment's pause, he said, "I am on a pilgrimage." The traveller accepted this, although he still eyed the knight warily.
   He had, Tâche thought, the look of a highly trained man, but with little experience. Tâche guessed that Alon was not more than twenty years old, if that. His beard was thin and was made to look even thinner because of his red hair. Green eyes looked over the flame of the lamp at the knight, who scratched his own beard thoughtfully. Alon's eyes kept glancing at the knight's deep scaring on his left cheek.

   It was many years since they were inflicted, yet Tâche remembered the moment vividly. He had stopped in the Border town of Nabur to deliver a message to an influential merchant. A pestilent little town, it was made prosperous only by the trade brought in by the nomadic tribesmen who inhabited the Southern Plains. He had still been a follower of the One God, when he had been wounded. Walking back from the Merchant House, he was set upon by a group of thugs who worked for the ruler of the town.  Barely able to react, Tâche had been managed defend himself as he withdrew back to the Hostel he'd been staying at. As he had neared the door when the leader of the thugs stepped forward and swung a large spiked ball at Tâche's head. Avoiding most of the damage of the swing, he was unable to avoid the spikes which carved long, wicked scratches into his face.

   "I have heard many tales of those who rest in these forests."
   The traveller's sudden outburst broke through Tâche's thoughts.
   "Many people have gone missing, or return with strange tales. If I were you sir, I would not stay here but travel through the night. Whatever you do, do not sleep under the trees." Alon made the sign to ward off evil, quickly and swiftly with his gloved hand.
   With a grunt, the traveller got to his feet and looked down at Tâche, "I must leave you now, Sir Tâche. I have many leagues to travel before I may rest."
   Slowly, the Black Knight stood while Alon started to prepare his horse. His voice spoke in the lowest of tones, "I fear my friend, that you have come to your last resting place."
   "What?"
   "I cannot allow your message to reach the lord of Momur, therefore you must die here."
   As the knight spoke the toneless words, it seemed as if by magic, his sword left its sheath and appeared in his hands. The long metallic blade shone blue in the light of the lamp, and with a hurried motion Alon withdrew his weapon from its scabbard.
   With naked swords flashing in the last dying remnants of the sunset and the harsh light of the knight's lamp, Tâche leapt forward. His sword swept up and around with inhuman speed, Alon's blade knocking it off course at the last moment. The Black Knight's sword cut shallowly into the side of Alon's stomach, letting loose a stream of blood, that when absorbed the fabric of his tunic, appeared to be a rose budding and blooming.
   Tâche smiled as the traveller cried out with pain, his eyes fixed on the other's chest. Most swordsmen, Tâche knew, fought with signals, the movement of their chest muscles giving their move away. Alon was no exception and the knight easily parried the counter attack, replying with one of his own.
   "Why! Why are you trying to kill me?" Alon cried out in desperation as the Black Knight's blade sliced past his arm.
   There was no answer from the knight as he forced the attack, pushing Alon back against the tree. With a quick riposte, Tâche's blade inscribed a figure eight against the traveller's weakening attempts to defend himself. There was a shower of sparks as metal met metal, and a loud clang as Alon's sword snapped in two. There was not even enough time too react as the knight's blade slashed across in two brief blurs.
   A bloody 'X' formed on Alon's chest as he sank to his knees; the hot blood pouring like a fountain on to the leaf littered floor of the forest. The blood became pink, then black and with a gurgled gasp, Alon fell to the earth.

   Tâche looked down at the traveller, his eyes blank. Good, yet inexperienced. Alon had been taught well. Tâche moved to his warhorse, which was skittish at the smell of blood. Hurriedly saddling the beast the knight gathered up the reins of Alon's riding horse and urged them both on to the path.
   As he rode away, Tâche whispered under his breath, "Because I must. I have no choice." At this distance it seemed to Tâche, the traveller was only sleeping, his face calm and serene. Only the blood staining the earth and flecking his lips marred the other wise peaceful image.

   As the Black Knight faded into the darkness that was the forest, Alon's body started to burn.
 
 

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