Sir Liam continued to replay the passing meeting with Sir Eric Greyhand over and over in his mind’s eye. The Helm Breaker knew that someone would have had to succeed him as Master of Arms in Raywayd but he never would have expected it to have been that man. Sir Liam could readily recall at least a score of knights who would have been a better selection for the position. The Rayward man did not want to admit it to himself but seeing Sir Eric adoring the crest that that had once been his filled him with envy. At first Sir Liam attributed the feeling to nothing more than nostalgia but as the envy stayed with him it became a growing concern, like a small cut that had gone unattended long enough to threaten gangrene. Jealousy was eating away at The Helm Breaker on the road to Rayward’s Gate. The affront to Sir Liam was doubly so, first for the Rayward King’s decision to succeed The Helm Breaker with a man who was less than, and second the wound to Sir Liam was deepened by his inability to let the matter of pride pass for the trivial thing that it was. The Rayward man was beginning to become furious at himself for discovering the hidden stock of vanity within his core that had now been tapped.
“Are we going to eat soon? I am hungry,” said Tinaca as she rooted through one of the empty sacks in the wagon’s bed.
Sir Liam was grateful for the girl’s interruption of his brooding. Something to get his mind off the miserable images of Sir Eric’s smug face and pompous voice that were running away with his imagination was most welcome. The Helm Breaker looked at the food stores secured in the back of the wagon and made some fast mental allotments. “Open that bag,” he said while nodding at a sack of fruit.
Tinaca scrambled into the rear of the wagon and delved into the burlap bag. She came out with a ripe green apple in her hand. “Are these all we have to eat?” she asked before biting into the tart flesh of the produce.
“Aye, we will have to make do with them until we can stop and next supply the wagon. It should not be more than a day before we see the nearest town,” Sir Liam said in his gruff commanding voice.
Tinaca noisily chomped away on the apple. The fruit was in its prime but the girl wore a sour look on her face. Sir Liam could tell that it was not the taste of the girl’s meal that put her off so much as the scarcity of any accompanying fair.
“Not good enough for you is it?” The Helm Breaker said to the child as he flicked his bushy bearded chin towards the apple in her hands.
Tinaca shrugged her slight shoulders. “It is fine,” sighed the girl.
“Then I guess you will not care if I have this,” Sir Liam said with a crafty grin as he pulled as piece of salted dried meat from a leather pouch on his waist. Tinaca’s eyes were drawn to the savory morsel and The Helm Breaker could have sworn that her heard the girls belly grumble with ravenous desire. Sir Liam held the dried meat for Tinaca to see and only allowed the teasing to last a moment more. “Go on then,” Sir Liam said to the girl at his side as he offered the delectable snack to her.
“Thank you,” Tinaca said as she snatched the dried meat from the Rayward man’s grasp and began to feast with enhanced gusto.
The Helm Breaker gave a paternal smile that he was able to conceal behind his bushy whiskers. After some rumbling in his belly, brought on by she sounds of Tinaca decimating mouthful after mouthful of food beside him, Sir Liam reached back into the fruit bag and procured an apple for himself. The Rayward man began chewing away at the modest fair. “When we stop to resupply, is there something that you have a taste for?” he asked Tinaca while whipping some of the apple’s juices from his beard.
“Some more of this,” Tinca said while shaking the last bite of the dried meat at Sir Liam. She held out the little scrap for a moment, offering it back to her protector. Sir Liam shook his head and indicated that the meat was hers to finish.
“You are a girl after my own way. That is fine eating. Better than these in any case,” Sir Liam said while motioning at the piece of fruit in his bearlike hand.
“It tastes really good,” Tinaca said excitedly. “I never got to have meat much before,” she continued before scarfing down the reminder of her meal.
“That is a shame. I will see that you get some real food once we get you settled into Rayward. A diet of good meat will help get some proper size on you,” Sir Liam said in a voice that was gritty yet endearing.
Despite the meager rations Tinaca and Sir Liam continued on the road towards Rayward in good spirits. The conversation with his companion had been precisely what The Helm Breaker needed to get his mind off the image of Sir Eric Greyhand wearing the Rayward Master of Arms crest. The disgraced knight allowed the warmth of the sun overhead to rain down on his bare upper arms. He allowed his ears to become entranced by the whistle of the wind across open ground. Sir Liam was surprised to find himself actually enjoying something for a change, what was more, enjoying something without the aid of strong drink. It was a pleasant thing to find stillness and calm in the simplicity of the travelers path.
After a great length of time spent leisurely making their way down the road Sir Liam was pulled back to his complete wits by the sound of horses approaching the wagon. He did not see the riders but he could tell that they were coming from one of his blind spots. The Helm Breaker craned his neck around the side of the covered wagon and was able to make out the shape of four men quickly closing in on the wagon.
“Are there more knights coming, like before?” Tinaca asked with a soft innocent tone in her voice.
Sir Liam narrowed his eyes enough to see that the men nearing the wagon were armed but lacked any sort of formal uniform or armor. “I do not think that these men are with the regiment,” Sir Liam said with trepidation. His mind was a quick flash of strategy. He stopped the wagon in the middle of the road as he heard the riders coming up on his flanks. Sir Liam turned to Tinaca and grabbed the haft of his great maul as he gave the child an urgent command. “All will be well. I just need to talk to these men for a moment. I want you to get in the back of the wagon, stay out of sight, close your eyes and cover your ears,” said The Helm Breaker with a sort of calm that only a resolute veteran of the battlefield could muster.
“Is something wrong? Are we in danger?” Tinaca asked with a glimmer of alarm in her dark button eyes.
“No, there is no danger at for you at all. Now do as I bid you,” Sir Liam said with unshakable clarity.
Tinaca crawled into the rear of the wagon and vanished within a pile of cloth bags and sacks. As soon as the girl had hidden away within the supplies Sir Liam saw the quartet of riders sweep around to the front of the wagon and halt their mounts. The Helm Breaker cautiously stepped down from the driver’s seat and planted his feet firmly of the ground in a wide stable stance. He tightly gripped his great maul in his hands and presented himself to the four men with the most stone cold and intimidating visage that he had within his repertoire. The Rayward warrior looked over the group of men and confirmed his that they bore the mark of no nation or military force. The group was, likely a small autonomous band.
“You are a brave one, traveling by yourself in these days,” said the rider in the group who owned the most teeth and sported the least dirt on his face. The man’s voice reeked of insincerity and bravado as much as the rest of his group stunk of sweat and dung.
“Brave or cowardly, I still need to get to where I am going. So I chose to be brave,” Sir Liam said to the four men with a soft edge in his words. He scanned the riders again and took stock of their weapons. The all sported a mismatched assortment of ill-fitting, dented and battered armor pieces. Each of the men frequently tugged and pulled at the patches of metal covering their bodies, showing their joined inexperience with donning armor. They all wore what looked to be long swords on their hips. Sir Liam could tell that two of the four had blades of Rayward make, most likely stolen or scavenged.
“Ha, I like that answer. Where are you going,” said the leader of the group before scratching at a large pimple on the side of his nose.
“I do not see how my destination is any of your concern,” Sir Liam shot back.
“Well if it is far to go, you would be a fool to take all that you have in the wagon of yours without an escort. There is much danger to be had on the path. What with the chimera on the lose and men of questionable honor around every turn,” said the lead man. He overtly placed his hand on the pommel of his sword in a threatening way as he spoke of danger.
“And I suppose you would want me to hire you as my escort?” Sir Liam queried with sour inflection.
“You are a fast one. That is a fine idea. I were just about to say it myself in fact,” chuckled the man leading the riders.
“You will have better fortune elsewhere. I have pitiful little in my position,” Sir Liam said bluntly.
“I do not believe that, no not at all. Even if you have little it is more than we got,” bumbled the portliest man among the four riders.
“Men who call me a liar do not live long,” Sir Liam said with a killer calm grace.
“Enough games, give us what you have in there and we will let you be on your way,” said the first rider as he pointed at the wagon.
“No,” Sir Liam said with strength.
“There are four of us and we have horse. Are you not afraid?” asked the lead man with a quizzical tilt of his head.
“At first I was a bit warry but then I saw how poor a band of highway men you lot are. Not a proper bow between the lot of you. That means you need to get close,” Said The Helm Breaker with grit and fire.
The lead rider looked as though he was about to say something in retort to Sir Liam’s remark but the fat man dirty man at his side yelled and heeled his horse to charge before anymore words could be spoken. The rotund man drew his sword while barreling down on Sir Liam. The Helm Breaker flexed his muscular shoulders and the moment the man was in range he swung his great maul and cracked it into the head of the fat man’s horse. The creature fell and the greasy round man was left in a tumbled heap at Sir Liam’s feet. The fat man’s eyes went wide and his pupils became the size of pinheads as Sir Liam’s wide boot crashed down twice on his face. After a couple fearsome stomps the dirty rotund man was no longer recognizable nor was he alive.
A stunned moment passed over the remaining three riders and then they charged in unison. Sir Liam exhibited some impressive speed of foot and maneuvered to the flank of the charging group. He arced his great maul and unhorsed the rider closest to him as sent the man flailing though the air with collapsed ribs and two punctured lungs. A quick step and another swing of The Helm Breaker’s weapon killed the third rider in his saddle. As the dead man fell from his horse he took the lead rider from his own saddle to the ground as well.
The man who had lead the group of would be thieves got up disoriented and screamed in terror as he saw Sir Liam close in on him with a murderer’s resolve marking his face. The man tried to run but tripped over his own feet and landed flat on his back. The man begged and pleaded with a sting of incomprehensible gibberish that turned into wet sputtering gasps after Sir Liam landed the head of his great maul in his chest.
Sir Liam let out a bloody battle cry as he fell his weapon at least three more times into the lifeless body of the man who tried to rob him. The red mist of anger faded and Sir Liam was returned to the world once more. Normally, the haze brought on by excessive drink stopped him from entering such a barbaric killer’s frenzy on the battlefield but many days sober had seen the return of Sir Liam’s latent inner monster.
The Helm Breaker looked at the bits of blood and gore that covered him and then scanned the four horribly maimed corpse that he had just created. Sir Liam felt like a hot dagger pierced his hart when his eyes came to rest upon the pure and innocent face of Tinaca staring at him from the driver’s seat of the wagon. He was lost in the silent accusations and judgment that the child’s dark and troubled eyes cast upon him.
“Stop looking at me like that,” Sir Liam said with words clad in shame.