Ayled of Ravenscliffe
Picture - #12
UBER DISCLAIMER: Story mine, Characters' looks not.
Ayled of Ravenscliffe cursed as she rode her mare up the narrow track towards the crest of the hill, her warhorse with her packs following. Twilight was close on the day of the Winter Solstice and she was still trying to find the fief of Red Mountain. The weather had been unusually dry recently and little snow lay on the ground, for which she was grateful, as it looked as though she would be spending yet another night beneath the trees.
The land of Mathom had been in turmoil for the last three years as claimants to the throne and their noble supporters struggled for control. One result was banditry rife in the more remote regions, as the strongholds and their knights that once held lawlessness in check fell victim to battles between the rival factions. Now Angharad of Marlscove had succeeded in quashing her opponent and peace was imminent, but many fiefs had too few defenders left to hold them. Ayled was headed toward one of the fiefs whose knights were rumored to have fallen, looking for a place to establish herself.
Despite the threat of bandits she was not afraid to ride alone, as she knew she was more dangerous than anyone she was likely to meet. She had trained as a knight, receiving her spurs at the age of 18. Her icy blue eyes alone could dissuade many from challenging her and her intimidating 6 feet of muscle made the remainder think twice.
She was a younger daughter and as such decided to take her small daughter's-portion and seek her fortunes elsewhere. Ravenscliffe was known for its horse breeding and she chose a mare and a gelding warhorse as part of her share, and spent most of the purse of gold crowns that made up the rest on fine weaponry and armor. Her sword was on her belt and she wore mail, helm and breastplate as she rode, shield slung on a strap which kept it covering her back. It was uncomfortable to ride long distances thus attired but she knew it was only prudent.
For the first two years after she left Ravenscliffe she traveled as a knight errant, looking for something she was not sure of. Several fiefholders had intimated she would be an acceptable match for one of their younger daughters, hoping to add her to the fief's roster of sworn knights. Though she enjoyed flirting with the young women, none seemed the match who would make her pray to the Great Goddess for the blessing of children from the union, and so she always moved on.
Then, war broke out and for the last three years she had fought on Angharad's side in battle after battle, leaving her little time to think about what else she wanted in life. Now she had returned to the mountain country south of her ancestral fief hoping to find a new home.
As she crested the hill she saw the sun close to setting behind a range of hills beyond a wide valley. She looked down at the valley and smiled for the first time that day. She could see the stubble of fields, and a small castle sitting to the north end of the valley. Small figures dotted the ground in front of it, likely workers returning to the keep as evening approached. The rock of the mountain to the east caught the rays of the setting sun and gave back a rose glow, leaving her sure she had finally found the fief of Red Mountain.
She headed down the track towards the valley, hoping a hot bath, food and a Solstice celebration lay in her immediate future. As she reached the valley floor, however, she saw a mounted force fall upon the people headed to the keep. They began to fight against the invading force, with surprising effectiveness.
Ayled urged the mare to a gallop and rode to give aid to them, surmising from the appearance of the attackers that they were a bandit group attempting to take the keep.
She saw the doors to the keep swing wide enough to let out a small group of soldiers who ran to the people's aid, led by a slight youth in outsized mail and helm, wielding a spear with rudimentary but practiced skill. The attacking force outnumbered the defenders at least two to one and the horses gave them an additional advantage. The defending force looked in danger of being overwhelmed.
She swung her shield forward and drew her sword, yelling "for the Queen's order!" as she bore down on the fight. Her arrival decisively turned the tide of the battle, as her warhorse was able to inflict devastating damage on her foes even without her directing him. Her mare, though lighter, was still an excellent weapon and she herself outmatched any of the attackers as a fighter. At last all the attackers lay dead or had fled and the defenders could move into the torchlit courtyard behind the keep's doors, Ayled with them.
She swung down from her horse and removed her helm, showing short dark hair. She realized that the keep's chief defender was a young woman of 20 or so, rather than the boy she'd thought, as she too removed her helm, revealing shoulder length blond hair. Even in the flickering torchlight she could see warm green eyes studying her and felt an instant connection.
"I am Catelin of Red Mountain," the woman said. "We thank you for your assistance, good knight. Since my father and older brothers were killed we have been without knights here, and have sorely missed such strength at arms."
"And I am Ayled, formerly of Ravenscliffe," she replied, as a slow grin grew, "looking for a place in need of a knight such as I. Mayhap I have found it?"
"Join me, and let us talk of it over the Solstice feast," Catelin suggested, as she too smiled.
Story by: MERETSEGER
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