The folk belief was that a sharpened piece of ash through the heart would kill my kind. Well, if you could manage it, most anything driven through someone’s heart would kill them, right?
We learned that a pair of village kids had followed us when we went out to face the beast on the hilltop it had chosen for its resting site. Too paralyzed with fright to run away once it began, they had witnessed the entire battle. And after that battle…
“That girl was sucking blood from the healer girl!” One of them declared, pointing at me.
“Vampire,” the rest began muttering, staring at me in fear.
Out here in the boondocks, the concept of a law-abiding vampire citizen was not commonly understood. Vampires, at the end of the day, were monsters, after all, and the first impulse of the ignorant was to kill monsters without a thought.
The ash poles were restless. Unfortunately for them, the reality was that ash had no special power against me, and any kind of wooden weapon was unlikely to even penetrate my non-human skin.
Never mind that it would never get through my armor.
Ryuu squared his jaw, looking like he wanted to respond to them, but he didn’t say anything. I wanted to tell him, Idiot, if you don’t speak up, they will just keep getting more agitated!
But he was a foreigner, after all. Did he understand that an unprovoked attack on a royal knight was an act of rebellion against the crown, and I had a duty to suppress it? With himself, Brigitte and Graham potentially deciding to side with the villagers, there was no way for that to end well.
Fortunately, there was a cooler head present. Uncle Arken spoke up instead. “People! Please remain peaceful!”
“How can we stay peaceful with a monster in the middle of our village?!”
“We are departing this morning anyhow, so you only have to wait for us to leave.”
“What if she flies back here? She can fly, right?”
“Lady Tiana is a Royal Knight, a loyal servant of His Majesty and a law-abiding noblewoman of the realm…” Arken answered. He went on, eventually talking the crowd into staying calm long enough for us to pack and equip our gear.
The dragon had been a fearsome opponent, but ultimately just a hindrance that appeared during our mission to gather intelligence on the Demon Lord’s forces. At this time, we still didn’t know where they were based, or why they seemed to be able to attack and retreat without anyone seeing them coming. So, we had to get moving anyway.
Did that mean the crisis was over for the Hero’s Party? Nope.
We walked the path through the village fields until we reached the market road, where Ryuu brought us to a stop. After glancing toward Graham and Brigitte, who each nodded back to him, he turned to me.
“I can’t have you in the party anymore,” he told me. “I need the support of the people along the way. Head the other direction and stay away from me.”
“His Majesty…” Uncle Arken began, but the Hero cut him off.
“His Majesty can send a different knight to be his watchdog,” Ryuu retorted. “Tell him that Tiana is no longer acceptable.”
Arken glowered at him. “Even if you’re the Hero and a foreigner, in this kingdom, she is ‘Lady Tiana’.”
I was surprised at the tone Uncle Arken had taken. Ryuu’s chronic failures to treat nobles and royals with due respect had always annoyed him, but he usually hid that annoyance better.
“Whatever,” Ryuu answered, and turned away. Brigitte and Graham both joined him as he walked. He had headed the direction that led to the lands beyond the village. The other direction led back to the provincial capital.
Melione looked from them to me, unsure what to do.
“Go with them,” I told the girl. “That idiot gets himself beaten up too often. He needs a healer.”
Melione gave me a jerky nod, then turned and ran to catch up.
“Well,” I told Arken, “safe travels, I guess.”
He scowled, then looked over his shoulder to call out, “Wait for a minute! I need to send a message to His Majesty about this.”
Looking back to me, he asked, “Given how My Lady’s mother is likely to react to this, do you wish me to protect them if she chases them down?”
I rubbed my temple as the woman’s past bouts of fury came to me from the original Tiana’s memory. With a nod, I answered, “If you can do it without getting injured, then please do so. And make sure she knows Melione was on my side.”
He chuckled. “My Lady is asking quite a lot.”
I clasped my hands together and gave him the upturned puppy-dog-eyes look that Tiana had apparently often employed on him as a child, and he chuckled.
The elve had a method of folding elven paper into a crossbreed of origami and paper airplane that could fly itself to the recipient. As the rest of them waited, he held up a sheet, then snapped his fingers, causing a written message to appear. He quickly folded it, held it up and watched it spread its ‘wings’ and fly off in the direction of the capital.
I stared at the process and the departing ‘bird’, mesmerized. Healing magic had been one thing, but this was a more obvious show of Magic. For the first time I had confronted the definite fact that people in this world could use Magic.
He bowed to me. “Safe roads and fair weather, young knight.”
“Thank you and likewise,” I answered, with the curtsey of a proper Orestanian girl, and turned to take the road my comrades were not taking. My former comrades…
To my amazement, I felt tears forming.
# # #
I had wings, but I also had an expensive suit of armor that didn’t allow me to use them. Without a horse, traveling meant walking, out in the hinterlands where scheduled coaches didn’t run.
Orestania uses a distance measure they call the ‘mile’, but it isn’t the same distance. It’s a thousand paces, where a ‘pace’ is the distance a human moves in two steps. Take a step with your right foot, then your left, and you’ve gone one pace. Six ‘spans’ is a pace, ten inches is a span. Tiana is six spans, seven inches tall.
I think a pace is less than five feet, so the mile in Orestania is less than the mile in the US.
No matter what a mile was, though, I was working largely on rough estimates. Orestania is more an empire than a kingdom, and the greatest distance across it is nearly two thousand miles north to south. Atius, the capital, is close to center, and we were near the northernwestern border, so it was probably eight hundred miles home. Leaving time to hunt or otherwise secure food, I would be able to travel an absolute maximum of forty miles in a day, so I was looking at three and a half to four weeks if I walked the whole way.
I would eventually be able to buy a coach ticket, but I had to cross hundreds of miles of barely inhabited land known as the Habrian plains first. Nothing but a scattered population of roaming beef herders and horse breeders in this part of the world. By the time I reached country developed enough for coaches, I would be halfway home.
Four months of traveling on foot with the Hero’s Party had acclimated me to this kind of travel already, so it wasn’t too bad. I carried a crossbow on my back for hunting, so I made sure to shoot a nice rabbit that first day before the light got bad. I realized with a little bitter satisfaction as I gutted it that Brigitte had to feed the whole party now: her bow was the only decent hunting weapon they had left.
We had not come to the village directly from the capital, so I had to leave the road and head cross-country to make a course for Atius. The likelihood of coming across a village was low. That first night camping in the open was downright spooky.
Walking also became more of a problem, too. My sabatons were the only footwear I had, and the only thing that makes them ‘sabatons’ is the material, fairy steel. If they were leather, they would be a pair of high-heels. Three inch heels, in fact. The things would be absolutely unusable for traveling or as a component of my armor without the enchantments that keep them comfortable and give them traction. The enchantments did help with walking across soil as well, but a pair of normal boots would have been much better.
Why the heck would anyone make armor with high-heeled sabatons? I’ll explain, eventually, but for now, let’s just say that fairy armorers have different priorities than human armorers.
Living out of my traveling bag by myself had proven more troublesome than I had expected. I even ate nothing but a fistful of jerky, one day, because I couldn’t find anything to hunt. I should have studied how to find edible wild greens.
On the sixth day, I was ecstatic when I ran across a tiny trading post in the middle of the grasslands. I bought a sack big enough to carry my armor and my traveling bag, materialized my wings and took to the air.
My journey was a total of one week… consisting of six days struggling on the ground, and one morning of hard labor in the air. Flying weather was good, and the air part would have been a glorious treat had I not been lugging an enormous sack through the air like a stork with a baby.
Close to noon on that last day, thirty or so miles north of the Royal Capital, I saw my first flying creatures larger than birds. They were ‘flight beasts’, tamed flying creatures large enough to carry riders. A group of mounted hippogryphs and a group of mounted wyverns seemed to be playing tag.
… or not. As I flew closer, I realized it was an aerial battle, and the hippogryphs were Royal Air Lancers. Tiana’s well-trained eyes helped me also recognize that the RAL were badly outnumbered, and losing.