In which Hawk is very tired and a little tetchy. (Eh. I know the feeling.)
(And if you want to know what the adults were arguing about, the bonus scene is on my Patreon.)
THERE WAS AN argument, of course. Hawk hadn’t expected anything less. It came as no surprise when he sat down to breakfast the next morning with Sidony, Arien, Sir Gedrey, his squire and the four guards to hear raised voices drifting in through the open window.
Irissa was not happy.
What did surprise him, however, was that after a rather sudden silence the three combatants traipsed inside to join them. Faron was smiling as he collected his mage-beast from where she’d been waiting in the corner, Irissa seemed embarrassed and Sir Tobias looked irritated. Just what had been said outside?
“Nearly finished, everyone?” Mage Faron asked, rubbing his hands together. “If not, make it quick. We’ve a lengthy ride ahead and I’m not certain how much longer this rain will hold off. Saddles feel nicer when they’re dry, I’ve always thought.” Sitting down, he piled his plate high with whatever was left and tucked in.
Ever the knight, Sir Tobias didn’t hesitate to begin his own enormous repast, leaving Irissa standing awkwardly in the doorway. The four guardsmen looked at her, awaiting her orders. Retrieving her cloak of cool reserve, the witch sat beside Sidony and reached for the toast.
“If you’re finished,” she said to the men, “ready the horses. We’ll travel with the knights.”
Though obviously confused by her sudden shift from the raging denials she’d been spouting all morning to this grumpy compliance, the guards shrugged and finished eating. It wasn’t long before they trudged out of the room, muttering amongst themselves.
Having finished his own breakfast and knowing the curiosity would kill him if he stayed any longer, Hawk set down his cutlery, drained his glass and stood up.
Sir Tobias sent him an approving nod. “A good knight always attends to his own horse.”
At the other end of the table Sir Gedrey elbowed Philippe. “Or gets his squire to do it.”
Rolling his eyes, the squire slid off the bench and executed a courtly bow before Sidony. “May I be of assistance to you this fine morning, my lady?”
“Yes, you can turn around.” When the perplexed squire did so, she stepped onto the bench and jumped on his back. “To the stables! Tally-ho!”
Laughing, the squire settled her weight more firmly and cantered out of the room. Eyebrows raised, everyone looked at Hawk for an explanation.
Surprisingly he had one. “He knows her brother. Squire Simeon Roscoe.”
“Ta-loo, ta-loo!” Squire and girl romped past the window. “Pa-pa-pa-paaaa!”
Shaking their heads, the adults returned to their breakfast.
* * *
ALTHOUGH THE REST of the journey proved mercifully uneventful Hawk couldn’t remember when he’d ever felt so low. Failure pierced him with every hoof fall, along with sadness and a bone deep weariness he hoped never to feel again. After the arrival of Mage Faron and the knights Hawk had been stripped of his responsibilities and, with nothing else to distract him, he had far too much time to think. Even Sidony didn’t need him now. Squire Philippe was delighted to entertain her and the guardsmen.
All he had were his thoughts and they were far from happy company. Eight good men had died in that forest. Eight men under his command. They had died protecting him and he’d been helpless to save them. Even the four that remained had been rescued by others. This was not the heroism he’d dreamt of when he decided to train as a mage-page.
The company he was keeping made him feel worse. As the rain returned and they drew closer to Royas Bay, he found himself riding most often between Irissa and Arien. Irissa had lost the love of her life and killed to save Sidony and Hawk, while Arien had been captured, tortured and forced to kill to save them all. When compared to them Hawk had very little to worry about. Not that it made him feel any better.
On the second night out from Harble, he sat down to write to his father, struggling to find the words to explain his terrible failure. Consumed by his thoughts, he stared into the flickering campfire until a pair of well-made boots stopped in front of him, dragging his attention upwards.
“Walk with me,” Mage Faron commanded.
Sighing, Hawk saw no point in refusing so rolled to his feet and followed his mage-tutor out of the dilapidated barn they were sheltering in. As they walked into the drizzling darkness, Sir Tobias fell into step with them.
“It’s not your fault. You realise that, don’t you, Hawk?” Faron said, his voice gentle.
Hawk’s shoulders hunched. “I did nothing to save them.”
“You are fourteen years old,” Sir Tobias told him, a hint of steel in his tone. “What were you supposed to do, outnumbered, against slave-takers?”
Hawk shrugged. “Something. Anything.”
“Getting yourself killed into the bargain, and all for nothing,” the knight said bluntly. “Just like your squad-leader. Ren, wasn’t it?” He waited for a sullen nod. “What he did was very brave, there’s no denying that, but foolish. Very foolish, and he paid a high price.”
When Hawk turned on Tobias, full of fire, Faron rested a calming hand on his shoulder. “Peace, mage-page. He may be stunningly lacking in tact, but Sir Tobias is right. You know it too, that’s why it upsets you.”
“He didn’t have to die,” Hawk agreed, voice cracking under the emotion he’d been trying to hold back. “He could have waited. Irissa would always have rescued him, even if she’d left the rest of us to die. Of all of us, he was the one with the most hope. Why didn’t he just wait? Why did he have to die? I should have saved him, I should have saved them all. They were my father’s men. He placed them under my command.”
Staring fiercely at the ground, he gritted his teeth and refused to cry. He would not cry. Knights did not cry, so squires and pages didn’t either. He was stronger than this. He could cope.
“Ah, Hawk.” Sighing, Tobias gripped his shoulder in a reassuring squeeze, hard enough to bruise. Then gave him a shake. “You can’t control everything. Even as a knight. Men have minds of their own and what they choose to do is not always what you’d ask of them. You couldn’t save him, just as you couldn’t have known the slavers were there in the first place. It’s not your fault.”
Hawk dragged an angry hand across his face, denying there was anything other than rain on his cheeks. “Then whose fault is it?” he demanded. “Ren’s dead. He paid his price, I won’t have him take the blame too.”
“No,” Faron said firmly. “It’s no one’s fault, except the slave-takers. They hunted you down in the middle of Wrystan, where you should have been safe. They caught you by surprise. They killed instead of subdued. They’re the ones to blame, not you.”
Gathering the shreds of his dignity, Hawk raised his chin and stared the knight in the eye. “A convenient lie.”
He heard Mage Faron suck in a shocked breath but ignored it. Faron was a healer-mage who’d spent almost all his time in Royas Bay. He was kind, yes, but he was cosseted too. He didn’t understand. He’d never had men die under his command. There had never been preventable deaths on his conscience. True, as a healer he might have lost people he’d tried to save, but Hawk doubted it felt the same. Faron might have felt to blame, but he hadn’t been responsible. This was different.
More next week.
Thanks for reading.