It was the rope that pulled Pete back and forced him to the floor again, telling him that he had instinctively run forward to the knight's aid. The pain was worse, his wrists were tired of the punishment, but he didn't really care. However, his gasp of pain must have been loud enough because he saw movement from the crumpled armoured form near the dying dragon. “Are you alright?” he called through his teeth.
“Intelleges English ne?” came the weak response, incredulous, then a short groan and the figure wobbled to full height again, a hand reaching up to nurse the battered helm. “Nunc hierde wordes fá en lange fráge.” This second part seemed mostly to herself.
Pete was unable to see anything now, he could barely lift up his head to look in the knight’s direction and his legs were too stretched out to pull them back easily across the ground. The rope refused to pay out any further, leaving him precariously balanced, and all that ran through his head was that a female knight had just slayed a dragon to save his life. And that intelleges meant ‘you understand’ in Latin. The rest of the gibberish remained, well, gibberish. He gave up trying to puzzle everything out and, instead, focussed on trying to stand once more, or at least get to a kneeling position. It was a wonder he heard anything over his scuffles to move but he was nevertheless aware of the knight walking slowly toward him after a while, just as he managed to stand but before he could move his hair from his face to see again.
“Speak you of the English tongue,” she announced by way of introduction, “Is long time since heard I such words as yours.” Her voice was strong but Pete thought he detected an undercurrent of uncertainty in it, as though she was fearing a trick.
Without really being able to look the knight in the face Pete did his best to address himself in the general direction of the knight, “Yes. And so do you.” The urge to flick his head again was barely contained, the weight of the hair meant that it made no difference and hurt his neck. “You saved my life, thank you.” Avoiding contractions and complicated phrasing seemed to be the best way to go. “And you’re a woman.” He added, uselessly.
A gauntlet-covered hand took his hair tenderly and removed it from his face, looping it over each of his ears in turn carefully and without malice. From his stooped position he found himself having to look up to her face, though she was taller than him by a few inches, and she seemed crowned by the high winter sun. Around them the crackling of burning wood continued and smoke was rising, behind her Pete could make out the dragon’s prone form, dark blood oozing from the large wounds and staining the ground. There was no movement now, it was definitely dead. Something pulled his eyes back to the knight’s helm, which was now removed carefully, a large dent making the operation potentially dangerous.
When it was revealed, the knight’s smiling face was, in the circumstances, possibly the most beautiful thing that Pete had ever seen. “A woman am I, truth. A knight I remain, so it behoves you to address me properly,” her apparent humour belied an altogether unforgiving steel, an edge to her words to match that on her sword, still buried in the dragon’s head, “But you, I see, are not. High born might you be but neither knight nor Lady.”
So she knew, there was no point in suggesting otherwise or in trying to work out precisely how she knew, “No,” Pete agreed, unprepared for the relief that his admission brought. “You are correct, ah… My Lady?”
As reward for his hesitant address there was a further burst of sun from her expression, matching the sudden brightness of the day and the warmth of the air around them. “That will serve,” she paused a moment and looked around. “If Lady you are not and knight you cannot be, then what am I to do met you? As knight-errant honour-bound am I genere pulcher virgo, ac… pul- fair maiden you art not. Fair perhaps, ac nunc vir- maiden.” A frown, like a sudden darkening of the sky and Pete was surprised by the pulse of fear that spasmed through him. “Resolve I should to leave you here for the birds. Came I too late to your rescue, mayhap?”
Swallowing was hard with a dry mouth, but Pete attempted it anyway and coughed for his trouble. “My Lady, begging your favour, mistress; but your honour may be under threat.” He winced at the sudden hardening of her glare, “Behind you, my Lady, some of the townsfolk…” Beyond the trees and flames Pete had seen movement and, now he had had time to look properly, he could make out some of the men of the village in the distance through the branches. They were too far away to hear the exchange but close enough to work out that there were two people, both very much alive. “Lady knight, I implore you, these people have seen your deeds, and they have seen us… conversing?”
She turned her head to look, then turned back and nodded curtly. “Know they must not of my status, and know they not of yours,” her softer expression with these words calmed him, “Your rescue means honour-bound am I by chivalry to… ah… return you to master, be he husband or father, as chattel. Wish you this? Wounds sustained… ah… you might still die, ne?”
With widening eyes Pete responded quickly. “No. Thank you. No. I prefer to live. And, uh, my Lady Knight, I have no father nor husband to be, uh, chattel to… for? Uh. If it pleases you, my Lady, I’d very much like to live. Whole. No wounds. Uh…” The perspiration that now beaded his brow was not down to the fire or the warmth of the sun.
“Then glad am I that not fair maiden you are,” a dagger was brandished in her left hand as if from nowhere, “Mark that wish I not for what must follow, your life-debt binds you with my will. Intellege ne?” With a blur the blade of the dagger sliced the rope near his wrists and was then returned to the hidden place whence it sprang.
“Intellego! Uh, my Lady.” Freed from the bough, Pete clumsily tried to bow but found it impossible with his wrists still bound and so he attempted a curtsey, which also failed. However, there was now amusement playing about his saviour’s lips and so he assumed he had at least bought some time. “I… uh, thank you for saving me. I didn’t- That is, well, uh… Dragons exist?”
With a grim set of her jaw, the knight looked back towards the villagers that were now trying to get closer, having convinced themselves that it was now safe and that their tormentor was dead. Pulling on a cloth head-cover, padded and carefully sewn, from inside her helm, she turned back to him. “Time is lacking. By what you are called?”
It was surprising just how much of her features were obscured by the simple head protection and how much that successfully hid the fact that she was female, even the hips in the armour could have been explained away to people who did not understand how armour worked. Knowing what he knew, however, Pete still found it beautiful. “Uh… well, ‘Peter’ seems a little strange, in the circumstances.” Stockholm Syndrome? He had been bound and kept hostage for an evening and a night and had just been face to face with his own death at the hands, mouth, of an impossible creature before being saved. Being star-struck was perhaps understandable but even that rational and logical realisation failed to dim his view of her.
“Speak not unless permission be given from me, and then shortly.” She gathered the rope from the tree and pulled him by his wrists with her as she moved to collect her sword. “Better you speak not. My valet will be along. I call you Wynflaeth, minne Swete.” Sword sheathed, a rasping of metal on leather, she checked the progress of the villagers, they were nearly in earshot. “Trust you not, seek you to challenge mine ownership, Swete, silentium!” With this she looped the extra rope round Pete’s neck, tied a non-slip knot and then took the end.
“Cume!” She pulled the rope and Pete followed with a quick stumble, there wasn’t really another option. “Page!” she called, suddenly loud amidst the woods and showing how quietly they had been speaking, “Page! Villein, grétan móste: bringe fréän! Parley met him ic sceal! Ego, deleo wyrm, parley met fréän!”
Sorry, it's a shorter entry this time - it finishes up the whole opening chapter. Not sure whether to take this further in the medieval direction, which I'm keen to do but the dialogue is getting rather too dense, or head further in the sci-fi direction. I also think I'm missing a third flash-back sequence in this section. May add that later. Enough for now, I think. At least I got to the images! Shame there aren't more.