This is my unofficial NaNo story for this year. It’s a traditional fantasy tale with a M/M romance between a healer student and a squire. Unlike my Aekhartain stories, this takes place in a different world, and although it’s knights and magic, in time period terms it’s about 18th-19th century.
I’ve been writing this in bits and pieces for a few years, but I want to finally get it finished. So, if you are reading this and you want more, leave me a comment to show that you want me to continue. I love these characters, so I have no perspective on them. It doesn’t have to be a long comment or a detailed critique, just a word or two will do. As I say, I’ve been writing this for a few years, so I need to know if it’s actually worth finishing or not.
Good Company is a temporary title, which might change before I finish this. Mostly I know it as Tobi+Ry, but I need to stop thinking of it like that.
And with that out of the way, have the first part in which a squire and a healer mage meet up once more…
“Have you seen him yet?” Ian laughed as Tobias pushed into the squires’ tent at supper time. “All gangly and gawky, like a baby stork. He was clasping a book when Sir Dorian introduced us, eyes all wide with horror. Mage Jesslyn sure knows how to pick ‘em.”
The loud squire continued on a similar theme, but Tobias was no longer listening. Instead he collected his share of the evening meal and picked his way across sprawled limbs and abandoned pieces of weaponry to the quiet corner where Rasco, his closest friend amongst the King’s Company squires, was sitting.
“Jessie’s got a new student then?” he asked as he settled cross-legged on the ground.
Rasco grunted in agreement.
Used to his eloquence, Tobias picked at his venison and asked, “Don’t suppose you caught a name?” He’d been out hunting with Sir Kennett’s squad all day, looking for outlaws mostly, but the deer they were currently eating had been a welcome surprise.
Rasco finished his mouthful and thought about it. “Faron,” he finally answered. “Rylan Faron.”
Tobias thanked him with a nod and let his friend finish his meal in silence. Inwardly, however, he was anything but quiet. Mountains, he couldn’t help thinking, over and over again, what the blazes is he doing here?
“Mountains, what in the world am I doing here?” Faron groaned, pressing his hands against the small of his back and stretching out his spine. Rock and bone, he hated horses. Riding was rough, dirty, uncomfortable and just plain painful. He ached in places he’d never known he had – and had been much happier not knowing about.
Some people were born to travel, to face adversity and chase adventure, reaching for the never-ending horizon. Rylan Faron was not one of them.
A hand slapped the canvas that closed off his private corner from the rest of the healing tent, and a curly-haired head poked through the gap. “Evening, Faron. How are you settling in?”
Healer Mage Lois Jesslyn of King’s Company – better known as Jessie – was a cheerful soul, much like her hair. She was bouncy, exuberant and full of both body and life. Her dark eyes sparkled with as much intelligence as mischief, and the equally dark-eyed rook on her shoulder was every bit as playful. As Faron had discovered on the torturous journey here.
Mountains, but Royas Bay seemed a long way away. Six hard days ride south, and that wasn’t even allowing for rain. Life, what had possessed him to leave the comfort of his libraries and the hushed bustle of the Healer’s Hall? This was his second year out of mage school and he’d been perfectly happy without a mage-sponsor thus far. What had changed?
“Your books survived, I see.” Smiling, Jessie stepped into his cramped quarters and ran her hand over the spines of the five beautiful books he’d insisted on bringing. In truth he could have loaded two packhorses without even thinking, but Jessie had put her foot down. Those who rode with King’s Company had to be ready to move at a moment’s notice.
What was he doing here?
“Well, since you’re almost done unpacking, I thought I’d put you to work. You don’t mind, do you?” she asked, though since she was already pushing back through the curtain it was clear she wasn’t interested in any negative answers. “Life as a Company mage never really stops, so I thought it’d be good to get you into the habit straight off. Let me know if you’re not up to it.”
He definitely wasn’t up to it, Faron thought, dropping his half-unpacked bag onto the rumpled blankets of his cot bed and trailing after her. He raised his arm at the last moment for his barn owl mage-beast to land on. Ira hopped onto his shoulder with a mild hiss; she was an even less happy traveller than he.
Stroking the back of his hand over her beautifully soft feathers, he sighed. It wasn’t the healing he was worried about, as much as the travelling and the prospect of working at any moment. Yes, he’d dealt with emergencies back at the Healer’s Hall, but always in solid, familiar surroundings. He knew what he was doing there, knew who would be on hand to help, knew where everything was. Here he knew nothing.
He wasn’t entirely sure where here was either. Ravers Ford, Jessie had said when they rode into the temporary tent-town a little after noon. It might as well have been the Tyllattan ice sheet for all the difference it made to him. Faron was a city boy. Even as a child he’d been raised in his family townhouse, surrounded at all times by buildings and bustle. This mud and stick-strewn field a few scant paces off a scrubby track meant nothing to him. Even the name was misleading, since he’d yet to clap eyes on a river. Whoever Raver was, he must have been barking.
“Come on, Faron,” Jessie called as she stepped out of the healing tent, taking on a stride more familiar to horses. Faron actually had to trot to keep up; an unusual occurrence for him, thanks to his gangling height.
“It’s the squires again,” she told him, once he drew level. “It usually is. They’re always scrapping and bickering amongst themselves. As is to be expected from a double handful of young men out in the world for the first time, and far too eager to prove themselves.” She paused and looked him sternly over from head to toe, her rook glaring at Ira to doubly make their point. “They’ll make an easy target out of you, my boy. Don’t let them.” She prodded him firmly on the last three words, then strode off again.
Rubbing a hand across his chest, Faron grimaced at Ira and jogged to catch up. Squires. Well, that was one of the reasons he was here. Or rather one squire in particular. He couldn’t help wondering if he remembered him.
“That’s a beauty you’ve got there,” Sir Kennett chuckled, peeling away the damp cloth to look at Tobias’ swollen eye and slapping him on the shoulder. Around the supper tent the other knight-masters were dealing with their own squires. “Caught a stray elbow, did you?”
Pressing the cloth back into place, Tobias mumbled, “Must have, sir.”
“Never mind, lad,” his knight-master consoled cheerfully. “Happens to the best of us. Tell me about it, Rasco.”
Being wiry and small where Tobias was big and bulky, Rasco had wisely kept back when the fight broke out, using his quick wits and surprisingly strong arms to haul stragglers out of the mess, while Tobias waded into the midst of the fray. As such his wise friend was sporting nothing worse than some bruised knuckles.
Scrubbing a hand over his short black hair, the squire shrugged. “I wasn’t paying attention, sir, so I don’t know how it started or who said what. I was minding my own business and eating my dinner, when Tobi started swearing, jumped up and went wading in to break things up.”
“Interfering young giant,” Sir Kennett snorted, buffeting Tobias gently on the head. “You’ll learn better one day, no doubt. So this one wades in, then what?”
Rasco glanced at his friend and Tobias grimaced; there was little point hiding the truth. “Ian seemed to take his attempts to settle everyone down personally.”
“Foolish hothead. Sir Dorian’s got his work cut out there.” Sir Kennett would get no argument from Rasco or Tobias about that. “I think I can guess what happened next. Was it Ian who did this?” He waved at Tobias’ eye, then seemed to notice the scratches and bruises around his squire’s neck, not to mention his torn shirt. “All of this?”
When Tobias seemed reluctant to answer, Rasco shrugged. “Most of it, I think. He jumped on Tobi’s back. Well, he tried.” The squires traded grins with their knight-master. Ian might have been a hot-head, but he lack the height to back it up. It was probably why he was so fractious all the time, and paid particular attention to tall, broad Tobias. “It was like watching a squirrel trying to scale a greased pine.”
Tobias snorted. “Thanks.” It may not have been the most complimentary comparison, but it was surprisingly apt.
“Ah, the healers are here.” Gesturing for his squires to stay put, Sir Kennett headed off towards the new arrivals to find out what the damage was.
Tobias pressed the cloth harder against his eye and patted the worst of his scratches with a wince.
“Why didn’t you tell Kennett the truth?” Rasco asked, glancing across the tent at where Ian was refusing to let the newest healer touch him. “It’s not like Ian deserves to be protected.”
Tobias took the cloth off his eye and pressed it to the scratches on his neck. “He might not, Rass, but I’m no squealer. I won’t carry tales.”
“Even when you’ve got ten witnesses?”
Tobias shrugged. “Let them witness. I’ll not speak up.”
“You’re an idiot, you know that?” Rasco said disgustedly. “I bet the whole thing was a set up in the first place. Everyone knows you can’t help wading in and trying to sort things out.”
Rasco had a point, though Tobias knew better than to say so. The fight had melted away surprisingly quickly once Ian jumped on his back. Until the other squires started taking sides and piling in. For all their training and supposed discipline, there were days when the squires loved nothing more than a good scrap.
“Well now, if it isn’t my favourite young giant.”
Tobias looked up, squinting through his bad eye, and smiled at Mage Jessie. Shaking her head, she looked him over and tutted.
“It’s a crime to muss up that pretty face.” Coming closer, she bent down and slipped her fingers beneath his chin. “Lift.”
Trained from a young age to always obey the healer, Tobias found himself staring at the canvas roof.
Mage Jessie clicked her tongue again. “Would you look at those bruises. Scratches too. Looks like you fought off a snake and a squirrel all at once.”
Bemused by that image, Tobias pulled free and wondered why she hadn’t started healing him yet. His eye throbbed mercilessly and some of those scratches really stung.
He found himself staring into the calm dark eyes of the new mage instead. Tall and slender, with a barn owl on his shoulder, Rylan Faron had a fairly forgettable face, but it was his unshakable air of calm that people remembered. Even when he was muddy and more than a little flustered.
Glancing between the pair of them, Jessie nodded at the younger mage. “I know breaks and muscle damage are your strengths, Far, but let’s ease you in gently with some scratches and bruises. Best deal with that eye first, it looks sore.”
When Faron simply stood there, Jessie frowned at Tobias. “Are you all right to let him work on you? He’s been at the Healer’s Hall for -”
“I know,” Tobias interrupted softly, finally tearing his eyes away from Faron, the last healer he’d ever expected to see here. “He’s patched me up before.”
Jessie raised her eyebrows. “Really?” she said slowly, eying her new student with a grin. “I’ll leave you to it then. Plenty more healing to do around here, but luckily no need to call for extra support.” Each of King’s Company’s twenty companies had four mage healers, and a few non-magical ones. Right now they had a couple of ordinaries and Jessie dealing with this mess. To call in more might leave the company vulnerable, should trouble arise without warning.
“If you could just stop my eye from throbbing,” Tobias said into the awkward silence after the senior mage left, “that’ll be enough. I’ll ask one of the ordinaries for salve to cover the rest.”
Rolling his eyes in disgust, Rasco shook his head and left, muttering darkly about, “Fools and noble chivalric idiots.”
Watching him go, Faron put his mage-beast on the back of a nearby chair and turned to Tobias, mouth twitching. “Thinks highly of you, doesn’t he?”
Tobias’ grunt turned into a hiss as the young healer put his hands on his face, mint green light flaring from his fingertips.
“Sorry,” Faron muttered. “I’ll try to make this quick.”
“It’s all right,” Tobias said, unwilling to admit that it hadn’t been pain that made him flinch. It wasn’t that he’d forgotten what had happened the last time Faron healed him, but he’d been trying not to think about it. And failing.
Raising his eyes, he met a gaze of melted chocolate and knew he hadn’t been alone in remembering.
Faron gave him a soft smile, trailing his glowing fingers down Tobias’ cheeks to cup his jaw and stroke his throat. Heat and shivers followed his every move and only half of that was due to the tingles of magic.
“Hello, Tobi,” the mage murmured, brushing gently over the rough scratches. Fingertip kisses to take away the bruises.
Tobias closed his eyes as the cool magic collided with the heat of sensation. Warm breath brushed against his lips, before those healing fingers slipped away.
A soft chuckle had him opening his eyes, but he was alone. When he looked around in surprise, Faron was halfway across the tent, getting fresh orders from his mage-sponsor.
Only the chocolate-eyed barn owl on the junior mage’s shoulder saw him looking. She ruffled her feathers, winked and swivelled her head forwards again.
Leaving Tobias rubbing at the goose bumps on his arms, though he was far from cold.