After near a fortnight the red rain that fell over Blackcloud let up enough to allow Father Mazeon, Sir Liam and the children to leave the city. The Councilman wanted to get out before another prolonged storm trapped him within the unforgiving walls and rampant pollution yet again. It had taken the last of Father Mazeon’s spare coin but the man was able to procure a wagon and enough provisions to last the ride back to the Grand Abbey. The Councilman only hoped that his promises were enough to keep Sir Liam’s loyalty until they returned and could see the man properly paid for his pledge to protect Tinaca.
The skies were temperate enough and the wind was not too cutting but it was still going to be a daunting trip back the Grand Abbey even if things remained uneventful. The addition of a wagon meant that the party would be slower in retuning than it was in the initial trip to Blackcloud. As much as Father Mazeon wanted to push the pace hard and fast he knew it was unwise to do so. The group had managed to make respectable progress by the end of the first day so the Councilman rewarded everyone with a call to break from travel and sleep thru the night. One saving grace of the wagon was the fact that it offered enough shelter so that the four travelers were spared the necessity of finding an inn or welcoming farmhouse when it was time to bed down for the night.
Father Mazeon and Pratt had both drifted off into slumber almost the moment that their heads had touched their bedrolls. Sir Liam Broadcliff was not able to find sleep as easily as his companions. The hulking man was beset by a number of factors that kept his eyes from closing. His wounds were healing at a remarkable pace but they still offered a sizable amount of discomfort. The Helm Breaker had yet to find a position he could lay in that did not inflame one of the stitched cuts on his body. More than his wounds Sir Liam had his thoughts and memories that refused to let him sleep. Old battles and the final words of fallen brothers-in-arms played over in his mind without pause. Most of all the Rayward man was parted from dreaming by an untamable craving for strong drink. Sir Liam had not been able to partake of any beverage other than water since departing from Blackcloud. The Councilman purchased no spirits for the trip and Sir Liam’s own wineskin was long empty. The Helm Breakers entire being shook and trembled with the aches that came when it had been too long since he imbibed alcohol. He licked his lips over and over trying to wipe away the cracked and parched feeling that mere water was unable to quench.
Sir Liam rolled onto his side and faced the dwindling fire circle. His vision fixed on the slight form of Tinaca. She looked to be unable to sleep as well and now stood silently watching The Helm Breaker with her dark and troubled eyes. The Rayward man remained still for several moments and hoped that the child would go off to sleep, vanish or otherwise cease to trouble him with her unrelenting gaze. Tinaca did not accommodate The Helm Breaker’s hope and only continued to stand unmoving and unspeaking in the low light of the fading campfire.
“Go to sleep,” Sir Liam said hoarsely after he could no longer take the silent exchange with the girl.
“I can not sleep,” Tinaca responded with a vulnerability that conflicted with the hard edge found in her stare.
“Fine then, do not sleep just stop looking at me,” Liam retorted indignantly.
Tinaca said nothing at all but remained with her eyes fixed upon the gigantic veteran warrior knight.
Sir Liam scoffed and turned on his other side. After the pain of moving faded he shut his eyes. He tried to find sleep for some time but amid everything else he could feel Tinica’s gaze stabbing him in the back all the while. “Are you still there?” Liam asked.
“Yes,” came the soft voice of the orphaned girl.
The Helm Breaker groaned and rolled back to face her. “Why can you not sleep?” asked the man with an exhausted and irritated inflection.
“I just can not,” Tinaca said as she clasped her left wrist with her right hand in an embarrassed gesture.
“Are you scared?”
“Goodness, child it has to be something!” Liam said with much ire in his words. “Do you always have so much trouble going to bed?”
Sir Liam finally sat up and rubbed his weary eyes with his blistered and cracked hands. He had little expertise when it came to children and his limited quantity of patience was wearing dangerously thin. “When you have not been able to sleep before what did your mother do for you?” asked The Helm Breaker.
“She told me stories.”
“Stories! I am being paid to protect you not be your nursemaid.”
“You asked what she did. She told me stories.”
“I do not have any stories that are good for little girls to hear.”
“I liked the story you told me back in Blackcloud. You could tell me that one again.”
Sir Liam nearly glared murder at the girl. Tinaca was the strangest child that he had ever encountered. Most of the little ones he came across wanted to play with toys and eat sweets. This one, however, seemed to be fascinated with tales of war and bloodshed. The truth of the matter was that even if Tinaca wanted to hear the story of how Sir Liam had crushed a man’s helm and skull beneath with his bare hands, Sir Liam did not want to relive that moment again. He figured that there was no arguing with the girl at this point. If he wanted to claim sleep he was going to have to come up with some tale to tell her. The Rayward knight thought deepA and hard in the humid darkness. Something pushed its way to the front of his mind. It was a memory that was as sweet as it was sad.
“If I tell you a story, will you promise me that you will leave me alone and go to bed?” Sir Liam said with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes,” Tinaca responded gently as she sat down and awaited Sir Liam’s oratory concoction.
The Helm Breaker cracked his worn and scarred knuckles as he cleared his throat. “I’ll tell you about my best friend. I met her in the final years of my service to Raywayd. You remember I used to be the Master of Arms in my home of Rayward?”
Tinaca nodded he head affirmatively with enthusiasm.
“I was not a very good Knight in those days towards the end. I was as much a warrior as I ever was but I could had been better at tending my duties that did not lie on the battlefield. I spent more time drinking and carrying on than I had any business doing. My bothers-in-arms began to distance themselves from me. It was like they were afraid the disgrace that I was bringing upon myself would somehow infect them. Soon, despite being one of the highest ranking Knights in all of Rayward, I was totally alone,” Sir Liam said with a heavy echo of shame and regret in his words. Now it was his turn to be the bearer of eyes that were dark and troubled.
“What about your friend?” Tinaca asked innocently.
“Ah, it was after a small skirmish with some brigands who were stealing from merchant caravans on the travelers road outside of Rayward. There was a large shipment of fine cloth that we knew the men would want to seize. My men routed the thieves after we set an ambush. Once it had all settled down I heard something small, a tiny pitiful sounding whimper. One of the cloth merchants had a pedigreed hound dog with him and it had just given birth to a litter of pups. One of the little things was yet unclaimed. The man was insistent that I take the pup as thanks. I tried to resist his offer but it only insulted him. The merchant would not be talked out of it. That is when I came to meet Amurai. She was the most loyal thing you could imagine, refused to leave my side the stubborn girl. She went where I went even, into combat. I feared that she would not last but wouldn’t you know Amurai was as hard to kill as I am. She was a sweet dog but when we took to the field, Amurai became something else, something more. She was savage and strong. I once saw her topple a mounted lancer in full plate armor. I remember because he would have skewered me clear thru were it not for Amurai,” Sir Liam said with a heavy sigh and a great measure of lamentation.
“She sounds like a good friend,” said Tinaca with a degree of reverence in her words.
“The best, she came into my life as a helpless whining little pup but grew to be a fierce warrior, a protector and, most of all someone who never let me feel like I was alone. Even on the worst days after my time as Master of Arms she followed me. Amurai was the one good thing I could count on during that time,” Liam said with heartbreak as he recalled his departed friend.
“Can I meet her?” asked Tinaca innocently.
“Amurai, poor girl, died shortly before you and I met.”
“I’m sorry. I liked the story about her.”
“It is a good one…” Sir Liam said with a wistful tone. “Are you ready for bed now?” he continued but knew full well the answer.
“No. I’m still not tired…” Tinaca trailed off as her stomach grumbled. He tiny hands went to her belly. “I am a little hungry though.”
Sir Liam scratched the stubbly sides of his face and stood up on aged knees. “Ah, I am a bit famished myself. Hard to sleep on an empty belly. I think I can manage a solution,” Sir Liam said before lumbering over to the wagon. He carefully stepped around the sleeping Councilman and Pratt on the way. Sir Liam scoffed in jealousy at the deeply slumbering pair. The Helm Breaker rummaged through the satchels on the wagon, examining the food stores and provisions. Sir Liam smiled widely and chuckled to himself when he came across the hidden gem tucked next to some cheese. “Ha, I’ll show you something I learned up in Lighthouse Bay. Have you ever had something called hot chocolate?” Liam asked the young girl stood beside the smoldering fire circle.