Crack! The two armies rushed like the tides into the valley. From the rim, archers shot anyone who wore a color not their own. A roar rose from the mass as the melee was met. Warriors belted out their battle cries. The battle was quick-paced, and both sides fought hard for dominance. Even with archers on either side, it took several minutes for the first dead to fall.
Steel clashed freely against more steel, and shouts of pain and rage replaced the battle cries. The cacophony threatened to drive the mounted watcher to join. Her gloved fingers clenched the reins, and she stared down. Her mail was pristine– each link agonizingly scoured hours ago. The tabard over top was pristine, with neither device nor border. She took a deep breath through chapped lips, then drove her horse to a run as she spotted a shift in the flow of battle. She rode not toward the melee, but instead to a baggage train.
Her horse stopped as she tugged lightly on the reins. The followers in the train looked up. “Move back!” she ordered. “Move back! The battle’s tides lead here!”
For a few long moments, nothing happened. The woman looked toward the battle. “They come!” She looked around, then reached for a woman’s baby. If this did not lead to a chase, she had no idea what would. She cradled the baby in one arm and walked her horse away. Several people followed. It would be good enough. She set her horse to a faster pace, and as the train arrived at somewhere safer, she returned the child and turned her horse, intent on riding away once more. Pressure on her leg stopped her, and she looked back.
The armored woman stared in surprise as a non-threatening young woman shoved a child into her hands. The child was perhaps two years of age, and very trusting. “What are you doing?”
“A vision.” was the only explanation before the young woman who so willingly handed over her trusting child delivered a sound slap to the rear of the armored woman’s horse.
It took several long moments of running before the horse was under control again. The white-clad woman stared down at the clinging toddler. She began to turn around, only to spot a few sneaking soldiers about to attack the baggage train. With a child in arm, she had no way to turn back and help. She growled and shook her head. “We flee, young one.” She grumbled before she spurred her horse to a run.
The white-clad woman stopped at a walled fortress. Her horse was lathered with sweat, and she dismounted and walked the beast in a circle to cool it while she waited for someone to acknowledge her presence at the gate.
“Who goes?” came the call from above.
“Saraleigh of the Bare Tabard. I seek sanctuary for myself and a foundling child!” Her voice rang out clear, and she waited several tense moments.
“Saraleigh of the Bare Tabard, you may enter for only so long as the battle at the vale continues!” The massive door slowly opened, and she slipped in with horse and child.
It took only a few days for Saraleigh to finish preparations for travel with a child. The two days after were filled with spit, thrown vegetables, and scorn. She vowed silently that next time she needed supplies, she would instead starve.
The time came for her to leave, and they left before most of the townspeople could wake. They rode out quickly, the gate open to let them get out as quickly as possible. Sounds of battle still echoed from the now-distant field, but any longer within those walls would surely have driven her out of her mind. She set her steed to a trot and spoke little as they rode away, despite the child’s incessant babble.
Woman and child rode two days before they arrived at an abandoned tower. The walls were half-crumbled with age, but some semblance of a roof remained. Saraleigh dismounted, but the child tried to reach for the saddle.
“Child, we must rest.”
“No!” The toddler wriggled free and clung to the saddle. Her thin form held tight with surprising strength, and her curls bounced as she struggled to pull herself onto the saddle.
“Yes.” Saraleigh reached for the child’s wrists and began to pry her from the saddle. “My horse needs rest, also.”
“No here!” The child began to kick and struggle. Her kicking feet did little to hurt the child’s protector, soft and bare as they were.
“Yes, here.” The woman yanked the child down. “We need to rest.”
Screams stabbed Saraleigh’s ears as the child began to throw a fit. The child’s arms flailed and legs kicked, and a sound of rustling emerged from the tower. The screams deafened the woman with the bare tabard, and she did not hear them. Finally, Saraleigh forced the screaming child under one arm and began to approach the tower.
Her head ached. Suddenly, she paused. The child was right to fear the tower. She began to walk backward, away from the tower. The toddler’s screams died down slowly, but the damage was done. Several armed men charged from the tower and stood in a line. Several ran between Saraleigh and her horse, until woman and child were cornered. One man stepped forward.
“Well! What a happy present, brothers mine!” His vocabulary and gaudy apparel labeled him quickly as nobility. “A knight of the barren tabard, forever shamed til death!” He waved an arm out in an exaggerated gesture. “We should offer up prayers and thanks to the lords above, and make full use of their kind gift to their ever-humble servants!”
Saraleigh used her free hand to yank her sword from its sheath, only to grunt in pain and surprise as it fell from her hand, a dagger through her wrist.
“Such bad manners, to reach for a weapon!” The leader scolded in his ringmaster voice. “Surely, you will be more kind. You are, after all, all that stands between my poor bandits and that lovely child you hold.”
The threat quickly gelded the woman’s plans to resist, and as she was escorted to the tower, the child began to quietly cry.
As morning dawned, the tower was abandoned by the band of men, as was the lady knight and her charge.
Saraleigh wheezed as she struggled to rise onto ankles with sliced tendons while the tired toddler continued to sleep.