The horsemen and the footmen had formed a blockade in front of us. I couldn't tell what the knights' faces looked like what with the helmets and stuff, but the foot soldiers... their eyes went wide, and jaws dropped as we trotted towards them closer and closer; close enough for them to realize it was a girl riding on the black horse, basking in the ray of sunshine that traveled across the muddy field with her.
The four knights trotted forward, one leading the other three, and came to a stop some ten yards from us. We, too, stopped. The leader of the group removed his helmet, revealing a bearded man, no older than in his mid-forties; his face stern yet neutral, but the eyes twinkled with curiosity.
"Good afternoon, milady. Sieur Henry of Tyroux at your service." He bowed slightly in greeting and waited expectantly for Anna's reply.
Anna bowed slightly, raised her head, and nervously smiled a little. She turned towards me and made a series of signs.
I got off from Slinky and bowed deeply.
"Good Sieur, the Lady Anna of La Rose greets you and wishes you good health."
The Sieur threw me a quick puzzled glance before proceeding with a question.
"Thank you, milady. Would Your Ladyship mind if I asked what business brought a La Rose to this desolate land? As you can see," He gestured towards the corpses strewn across the field. "This ground is not kind. Especially not to maidens."
Anna, again, turned to me and made a flurry of hand gestures. Keeping my head low, I spoke on her behalf.
"Lady Anna wishes to enter Fort Montclam and-"
"What is this? A jest?" A knight behind Sieur Henry removed his helmet and barked. He had the face of a venomous snake and a matching voice. I cowered and lowered my head even lower.
"Does the Lady not speak for herself? Or does Her Ladyship regard us so low she does not even bother to address us?"
"Good Sieur, milady does not-"
"Silence!" The snake-faced man snapped. "I'm addressing the Lady. Know your place and do not-"
He stopped as Anna sighed. She bowed a little apologetically and made some more hand gestures. Glancing up, I could see the look of realization dawning on Henry's face. However, the snake-faced man still did not seem to get it. I cowered some more.
"Good Sieurs, milady does not speak."
There was a collective gasp. The footmen behind the knights murmured among themselves, shaking heads. Some even spat on the ground with a vile look in their eyes.
"A mute?" The snake-face turned red. "The Lady disgraces the sacred battlefield with her unholy defect? A mute! This is sacrilegious!" His hand reached for the sword as he spoke.
"Enough, Sieur Guido!" Henry got in the way. He turned and faced his fellow knights and the footmen.
"Chevaliers. Men. Her Ladyship may be a mute, but she is still a La Rose. I will not tolerate any disrespect towards the descendants of one of the founding families of the kingdom." His eyes glared, his right hand tapping on the hilt of his sword. "Have I made myself clear?"
That cooled off the rage among his men somewhat. Reluctantly they grumbled yes. 'What a gentleman,' I thought. The snake-faced man named Guido spat and put his helmet back on, refusing to directly face the impurity standing on his sacred battleground. Henry gave him a stern look then turned to face us again.
"Would the young Lady kindly accept my apology for my fellow Sieur Guido's rudeness?" He bowed apologetically. Anna nodded with a generous smile in appreciation, and Henry smiled back.
"May I inquire about the reason you wish to enter Fort Montclam? Surely you have noticed it's currently under siege."
Anna gave me a nod, a sign of 'You handle the talking.'
"Sieur Henry, the Lady wishes to-"
"Lad, raise your head! Stand up straight!" Henry barked at me. "You are speaking on behalf of your Lady. Carry her dignity fittingly."
I was taken aback a little. My respect towards the good Sieur Henry grew exponentially at this very moment. I would have gladly thrown myself at his feet and begged to be allowed to serve him if it wasn't for the fact that the moment I ditched Anna, she would be erased out of existence. Sure, I wasn't pleased with what she and the bitches had done to me, but it wasn't like I hated her THAT much.
So I stood straight, head raised, and looking directly into his eyes. There I explained what we were doing. Anna, and thereby the entire La Rose's Barony, had decided to pledge allegiance to The Royal Prince Louis, the rightful heir to the throne. We had heard the Seigneur, the lord of the manor, presiding over the Montclam area was vocally supporting Prince Louis. Anna and I had set out to join him in his endeavor and offer 'her' service. However, when we came to the area after many days of travel, we found the manor was burning, and the villages plundered. A kid dying in my arms squeezed out what little strength he had left to tell us everyone was heading to the Fort. And voila. Here we were.
Sieur Henry grimaced.
"Dear Lady Anna. I beg you to please reconsider." He once again moved his hand to point out the mangled corpses in the mud. "Battles are not meant for maidens. Besides," He pointed at the Fort. "Fort Montclam will fall. It is not long before Prince Louis and his followers will be no more. Your Ladyship wishes to join the losing side!" He clutched his chest. "I beg you, Lady Anna. For your sake. And for the sake of what remains of the great La Rose. Please return home."
Anna raised her chin and looked down on the good-hearted sir knight. The sunbeam, shining on her, intensified two folds. She raised her arm and pointed at Fort Montclam.
"May I suggest... Your Ladyship would be wiser to join the winning side and serve His Royal Highness Prince Charles, THE rightful heir to the throne." Sieur Henry was desperate to sway Anna's path from entering the Fort and joining Prince Louis' faction. Once again, Anna pointed at the Fort. This time more adamantly with a firm expression on her face.
Henry shut his eyes in inner pain and whispered prayers. His distressed face was that of a man watching a kid barreling down the path of inevitable self-destruction. Basically, my expression every day. After what felt like an eternity, he opened his eyes again.
"It pains me, but if the Lady insists, I shall humbly oblige. Lady Anna and her servant may pass."
"Thank you, my good Sieur Henry." I glanced at Anna. She made some gestures in appreciation. "Her Ladyship wishes she does not cross her sword with the good Sieur in the coming days."
"I do not wish to be the one to slay a La Rose, but alas, my duty to my commanders comes first."
'But until then,' Anna was saying with her hands, 'I wish you, the most gentleman of the gentlemen, good health.'
We exchanged bows and trotted towards the Fort. The foot soldiers and the knights let us through. The slimy Guido, however, had to make a vile comment.
"Let Comte d'Armas have them and taint his ranks with a defect." He raised his visor and spat in my direction. "Be grateful we are in mourning now. Tomorrow, once the battle resumes, I shall have the pleasure of spilling your guts. And as for The blasphemous Lady," His eyes narrowed. "The Lady may not speak a word. But she shall moan like a cheap whore she is."
We reached the thick wooden gate of Fort Montclam. I looked up along the fence wall and met the eyes of the men looking down from the platform with curious expressions. It was clear to me that they, too, were taken aback by the fact Anna was a girl. I cleared my throat and announced as loudly as I could.
"The Lady Anna, the daughter of and the sole heiress to the La Rose and the Barony of the Roseland, pledges her allegiance to His Royal Highness Prince Louis." I raised the banner high in full display. "To that effect, The Lady Anna wishes to join the force at Fort Montclam immediately. Open the gate!"
In the meantime, Anna sat upright on her pitch-black mare, staring straight ahead, her eyes boring into the shut gate.
A thin man with bowl-cut dark hair, dressed in an equally dark robe, leaned over the fence.
"And who says you are not Baron Hugo's dogs tricking us into opening up the gate?"
I looked up in anger and met his doubting eyes.
"And who are you, milord?"
"I'm Vicomte Victor, proudly serving Comte d'Armas. And as for you…" He waved his hand in the general direction of the La Rose banner. "As far as I know, the La Rose family is dying out. I've never heard the Baron had an offspring."
There was a general murmur of agreement from the platform and behind the wooden fence. I grimaced. The La Rose family had been out of touch with the rest of the kingdom for too long. I gritted my teeth and raised the banner pole as high as I could.
"With all due respect, milord Vicomte, did you not see Her Ladyship dispatching Baron Hugo's man with a single arrow? Do you not see the bloodstain on this honored banner?"
Suddenly a gray-haired head appeared next to the Vicomte. It was an older man, with a wrinkled yet wise face. The old lips tightened as he squinted his eyes and studied our banner from the platform. Within a second or two, the old man gasped and slapped the back of the Vicomte's head.
"You fool! That's the bloodstain of traitor Dumas! Two hundred years ago, the Marquis of the Roseland beat Dumas to death with the flagpole!"
"But Comte!-" Victor tried to protest, but the old man shut him up.
"No one," the old man pointed down at us from the platform. "No one except a genuine La Rose carries that banner which embodies utter loyalty to the kingdom!"
The old man's head disappeared from the view. Victor remained there, giving us an apologetic look. I nodded in the manner that said, 'It's alright, milord,' and he seemed to be relieved.
There were bangs and clangs and clicks as the gate opened, just enough for Anna and I to pass through one by one.
Once inside, I surveyed the fort. There was that old man with a huge smile. I realized he was fully armored from the neck down, soot-black plate armor stained with blood and small pieces of meats. Behind him, about a dozen knights in armors, all displaying the signs of fierce battles. Then fifty or so footsoldiers and archers in the court cramped with campfires and pots and tents and carts. I ran my eyes along the fence; on the raised platform, there were some dozen archers and soldiers. And that was it. The entirety of Fort Montclam. Under siege against two hundred enemies outside. The all-male cast locked their eyes on the objectively-beautiful girl.
The old man stepped forward as Anna dismounted from Lilly. The maiden of the Roseland did her courtesy thing, and the old man bowed slightly.
"Welcome, young Lady Anna. I am Comte Marco of Armas," he grinned boyishly and continued, "I'm dying to hear what brought a young lady such as you to Montclam."
Anna quickly flashed a nervous smile and nudged me in the ribs with her elbow. The Comte was watching, curious yet patient. I bit and chewed my lips. Oh, where do I begin? Do I start with my previous life? About the goddesses, the bitches up there? About who Anna really was? Where do I begin?