Far Horizons: Tales of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. Issue #13 April 2015 - Page 167

He asked, “Milady, does something ail thee?” as he urged his horse back towards the tree. His proper speech and curtesye were quite befitting a chivalric knight. She wondered how far she could get behind this wall of courtliness and what she would find there. As a small child standing next to her parents in the castle courtyard, Rhiannon had been awed by the sight of the knights in their full armor standing in ranks to pledge their fealty to her father. When she had first seen Sir Gwydion striding up to her father, his helmet under his arm and the emblem of the lord’s champion over his blue and gold surcoat, a whirlwind of adoration filled her. He was, to her, the perfect knight. The little girl tore her gaze away to find her mother, whose hand she was holding, staring down at her, a peculiar knowing look on her face, as if her mother sensed something through their clasped hands. “We must take this path, sir knight,” she answered, and pointed to the right. He took the helmet off again along with one gauntlet so he could run his hand through his flattened hair. “Milady, it was my intent to take you to my father’s castle. You will be quite safe there, and my mother and her handmaidens will be able to attend to your needs. You will be comfortable.” He smiled at her then, and she was dazzled, as when she was a child. “My mother will be happy to see you. You would be wonderful company for her as well. She was quite heartbroken to lose your mother, her very good friend, all those years ago. She will be delighted to see that you have grown into a lady yourself.” He bowed his head respectfully towards her. “That would be lovely, sir. However,” Rhiannon interjected quickly, as he had begun to turn his horse away, “I am afraid I must visit at another time. It is imperative that we take this path.” “And why is that?” he asked, with genuine curiosity. Rhiannon was pleased that he was neither condescending nor sarcastic in response to her questioning his judgment. “It is not just my safety that is at stake, but the safe-keeping of that which I carry.” PAGE 166 “Your book?” His eyes moved to the pack fastened to the saddle of her horse. He barked a short laugh. “How could a book be more important than your own self?” He shook his grizzled head. “Listen to reason, child…” Rhiannon spoke sharply. “I am not a child anymore, Sir Gwydion.” That gave him pause. His own intensely green eyes stared into the blue ones she inherited from her father, and he considered the regal set of her jaw, the tilt of her head, her arching eyebrows and the plait of hair that encircled her head like a crown. She played at being a great lady no longer. “Indeed,” he said slowly, “you are not.” He took a deep breath, holding her gaze. “Lady Rhiannon, I beg you to reconsider. I have pledged to your father to do all I can to ensure your safety. In my best judgment you will be safest at my family’s stronghold. Maelogan will have his attention focused here. It will not behoove him to take the added time to double back to my home to seek you. We cannot stay on your father’s lands.” “I appreciate your explanation, sir,” she said, dipping her head in acknowledgement of the gentilesse in which he treated her, “but I have a sacred charge and duty to fulfill, and I must travel in this direction to do so, with or without your protection. So, what say you?” Rhiannon inwardly held her breath, aware of the slight imperial edge to her tone and wondering how he would react. He could force her to his will, or abandon her, and all would be for naught. But the respectful way in which he had just spoken to her gave her hope. Gwydion stared at her for some time. The drooping branches of the willow brushed against her cloak, and the sun coming out from a cloud set her bound hair ablaze. A sense of calm and rightness stole over him as he looked into the blue depths of the lady’s eyes. “What is in that direction?” he finally asked. “The Ruins of DragonsGate.” ~3~