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A Knight’s Vow

fantasy by Shawna Reppert

The horse the girl stole from the sheriff stood in her back pasture, a hanging offense on hooves. Sir Arnaud smiled.

His own horse, standing behind him, sighed, longing to be gone. He could sympathize. The recent rain only made the pervasive odor of sheep a little more pungent.

The girl tried to act like nothing was amiss, but she was talking too fast. Her glance slipped again back to where the big chestnut stallion grazed, half-hidden behind the lean-to shelter that kept the farmstead’s firewood dry.

He let her continue to babble, nodding somberly, choking down his amusement. It was unkind, to find humor in her predicament, but he couldn’t help it. She was so earnest, hopeful and panicked all at once. Only this morning that he though he would never have cause to smile again.

“The planting may be a disappointment this spring,” she said.

I wonder if she realizes she’s talking nonsense?

“But of course, we’ll still get together our taxes, somehow. Our duty to the King, and we’re loyal to His Majesty and his holy cause.”

I’m sure you are. Especially as his holy cause involves draining you peasants dry so he can play soldier in a more pleasant climate.

Arnaud shifted his stance. “I see. And would you care to explain why such a loyal subject has the sheriff’s missing horse grazing with their milk cow?”

The girl turned white. She looked full at the horse, and then at him.

He crossed his arms over his chest. “So you don’t deny stealing the sheriff’s horse.”

“I–there was no choice. I had. . .there was. . .”

“I know exactly what you were doing. Be glad the Church does not, or you would face burning, not just hanging.”

She had not anticipated that. She should have. Her cousin would not have made such a mistake.

“There was nothing wrong in what I did!”

“Leaving aside the theft of the horse. . .for now. Midwifery? Herbcraft? You must be aware that women have gone to the stake for less.”

She looked faint. Almost, he regretted taking this line with her.

But she had to take the situation seriously. She had to take him seriously.

“Fortunately for you, the Church has not heard of your activities. Yet.”

“I see. And what do you want–“ Her voice trembled, and she took a breath to steady it. “For your silence?”

“Not what you think,” Arnaud said.

Her blue eyes were cold with mistrust. Good. She could stand to learn more caution.

“I want you to be more careful, to start with. That child you delivered this morning, the one you stole the horse to get to in time, the one who would likely have died in his mother’s belly had you not been there to turn him? That was my son. The peasant woman whose life you likewise saved? My love, though we cannot be married.”

She stared at him in astonishment. Good; he had her attention, at least. And she had given over her preconceived notions of who he was and what he was about.

“I would very much like it if you could avoid in the future putting me in a situation where I have to arrest the girl who saved my son’s life, and my lover’s.”

“I’ll try,” she said. “I make no promises.”

She had spirit, yes. “You have no idea what you risk.”

She laughed at him, mocking. “I have no idea? When I have seen my own aunt burned for a witch? Have you ever seen a woman who has bled to death in childbirth, her babe suffocated and dead within her? All because her family did not call me until it was too late, for fear of your priests?”

Memories of last night hit like a blow to the gut, last night and the despair and helplessness when he heard that his Bess labored half a day in agony and still the child was not coming.

Even then, he could not go to her, for appearance’ sake, though every fiber of his being screamed for her. Instead, he had gone to the chapel and done a lot of praying, and a lot of bargaining.

“Do you think I don’t know the stakes?” the girl pressed. “Do you think that we peasants that you spit on don’t know far more about death and laws and penalties than you will ever know?”

Her actions were not reckless disregard for risks, but rather willful acceptance of those risks in service of her people. This little slip of a girl had more courage in her then any ten knights he knew.

He knew he should say as much, but couldn’t quite manage it. Maybe someday, but not now. He had already gone on too far a journey in less than a day.

It was a road he first set foot on when he stopped at a crossroads to ask for directions of a pretty red-haired peasant girl. She had smiled up at him with green eyes both guileless and full of promise, and he had smiled back at her. His world had changed that day, though it had taken him this long to know it.

“It’s safest if I take the horse back with me,” he said. “I’ll say I found it wandering in the woods.”

“Take it. I’ve no need for the bloody beast.”

Humor under the fire of her tone. Spirit, indeed. So like his sweet Bess, whom God had spared this day through the intervention of this peasant girl with mud on her skirts.

With the horse caught and haltered, he started to leave, but paused at the ramshackle garden gate.

“One more thing. I understand your cousin plans high treason.” He turned to look at her over the back of the horse she had stolen. “Tell him I want in on it.”

He would keep the bargains he had made in the chapel last night. Perhaps, as the girl said, the planting this spring would be a disappointment. His love, and his child–and their people, now his, too–would not go hungry if he could help it.

Copyright 2010 by Shawna Reppert

Shawna Reppert is a Pennsylvania native, but she has lived in the Pacific Northwest for over a decade, first in Portland and now in the wine country of Yamhill County. She admits that each has colored her writing in different ways. A Knight’s Vow is her first published story.

[Return to the April 2010 stories]

6 Responses

  1. […] A Knight’s Vow […]

  2. A interesting tale. I would enjoy seeing this done as a full length story and see were Ms. Reppert could go with this line. It could be quite fun!

  3. Well done, Shawna. Congratulations on your first publication.

  4. I like it Shawna – as that previous commentor noted, I also wouold like to see where else this goes. What happened before? Why did she take the horse? What happens after? Hooray for your first!

    • @ Ann: The reason she took the horse is in the text:

      . . .That child you delivered this morning, the one you stole the horse to get to in time. . .

      @ everyone: Thanks for the support. And yes, there is definitely more to tell about Sir Arnaud, his love, the healer and her cousin. Maybe someday I’ll get to tell it. . .the novel is my preferred form, after all. In the meantime, the novel I’m currently polishing has a similar setting and somewhat similar themes.

  5. Short and sweet story with all the pain and love and unjust taxation of your best.

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