Previously: Part 1
I wake to the sound of panic. A high pitched voice, crying out forlornly.
I raise my head and look around. The dark has descended, and the moon is full. It may be well past midnight. Tonight is one for creatures, one for foul beasts. The palace grounds are mostly deserted, excepting a little girl with deep brown eyes and pink clothes. She is weeping, most heart-breakingly, near a tree. I glance around for her caretakers, but their are none. I watch and wait for help to come, my wrinkled hand on the hilt of my blade. I have already steeled myself to keep all predators away from the little flame. I mutter a quick protective appeal: “Yuneeseff protect her.”
Unfortunately, the moon is large and pallid, and the darkness is drawn to snuff out all flames. I spot the foul visage of Leto, skulking in towards her. Leto the wolf, consumer of children. He wears the costume of the palace guard, but he is one in name only. Last year a young boy disappeared with him to his cell only to return in tears, with ripped clothing and fresh bruises. I failed that day. I vowed not to fail again. Knights of the pheonix are practiced at stealth, and i am not devoid of that training. Thus I make a friend of the shadows, and close in on the scum. As i get closer, keeping to tree trunk and bush, i hear his sickly voice:
“Hello there pretty girl. Pretty, pretty girl.” He is stroking her hair. I am so close i can see her back. She is holding a pink discus in both hands. She is armed! Ah i hope she does not intend to do battle with Leto. After all, for her he is a giant. I am old, and Leto is strong and carries a baton. Perhaps i can buy the girl some time though. I grip my hilt, and prepare myself.
“GO AWAY! YOU’RE NOT NICE!” She wails, suddenly. Good instincts girl! Her inner eye is open! She now repeats, over and over, “BACK GO BACK!” And Leto begins to tremble. She uses magic! Her spell of repulsion seems effective, nearly so, and i can tell Leto is going to falter till he doesn’t, till he cuts off her magic-voice, clamping a profane hand down on the little one’s mouth.
Not on my watch.
I step into the light, holding in one hand the sacred fire, and the other my blade. “BACK DEMON SPAWN! The sacred light compels you! BACK LEST I SMITE YOU!” Leto let’s go of the little one, and steps back.
“Quick child! Run! I shall keep this one busy.” And with that i charge. In my long life i have made many mistakes. I have been cursed by the shadows, that live in my heart. But those shadows trained me, to fight, to hope. I have always been a pauper amongst princes. But my hardship bought me strength. And though i am old, i am not yet done.
“FOR THE LIGHT!” I drive my blade towards Leto. The coward turns and flees. I cannot pursue with these old legs, and i am ashamed to say that Leto will yet prowl these moon filled nights. I stop and catch my breath, which wheezes forth from my labored lungs. That is all i can hear for awhile, and i lean on my sword in order to not collapse. Then i feel a tug on my sleeve, and i turn to see the little flame.
“Want some water?” She says, offering me a sip-bottle, embossed with tiny mermaids.
“I always feel better after drinking from my water bottle.” She says. She smiles broadly.
“Thank you little one, you are kind to share your beverage.” I carefully take the bottle. As i do i feel some strength surge into me. This bottle is magical! I can feel it! I take but a sip and already feel my strength returning! A potion that restores stamina- this girl is well equipped. The years peel away for a moment, and i feel some of my young vigor return. This little one requires aid, and i shall do my best to offer it. I hand her back her bottle with some reverence. “Good right?” She asks.
“Delicious, and most appreciated child.” I say.
“You look like Santa Claus! Your beard is so white. Are you Santa Claus?”
“No little one, i’m afraid i am not. I am known as Earl.” I sweep a bow as low as my rigid back will allow.
“Hallo Earl, i’m Lisa.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you my dear. May i ask where your parents are? It is quite late, and there is much danger after sundown.”
She glances left and right, and i can see she now realises the mess she may be in. So i say “Do not fear Lisa, i shall protect you.” Her spirits seem to lift at that, and a tiny smile returns to her face. Still, she looks like she is going to cry. “Hush now little one, there is nothing to be afraid of. We shall find your parents.”
“B-b-but I r-r-an AWAY!” Then she begins to bawl her brown eyes out, and the sight makes my heart ache. I comfort her as best i can, and then i remember. Reaching deep into one of my many pockets, i find the treat. “Here little one, in return for a sip of your restorative potion, i offer you this. It is a bar of solid courage. Consuming it shall put some vim in your veins. And if i may say so, it is quite delicious.”
“SNICKERS IS MY FAVORITE!” And suddenly she is happy again, her little flame dancing in the wind. We sit on my sleeping bench and between mouthfuls she tells me her story. It seems little Lisa decided to go on some sort of adventure. Brave child. Too young for such wandering, but still, a respectable trait. She wandered far and bought passage on some steel carriages till she was nearly lost. Then she recognised the fountain’s spray at some distance, and made her way to the palace grounds. “It looked just like the one in Daddy’s pictures.” She said. She has never actually been here before.
I explain to Lisa. “Ah, yes, many years ago these grounds used to be safe, quite safe. This entire district has fallen into disrepute in the last few decades. It is rotten now, and no place for children, though some still arrive to play in the park, but only when the sun is out.”
“I made a big mistake.” said Lisa, sagaciously.
“A brave mistake child. Now tell me, from where do you come from? Upon what street do you dwell?”
“Umm. Let me see. Mummy made me remember once. Just in case. She tol’ me just in case to remember that i live in…..umm….TEMPLE! Temple street!”
“Very good Lisa.” My brow furrows and i turn away, hoping she cannot see. Temple street is quite far from here, on the other side of the city.
“It’s cold.” Says Lisa, and i can see she is hugging herself.
I take off one of my jackets and wrap Lisa in it. “This is my cloak of stealth, whilst you wear it the eyes of many will slip off you.”
In a hushed whisper Lisa says “Wooow.” Then she fiddles with one of the sleeves.
“Take my hand Lisa, i shall escort you to the inn of the star-crowned lady, there we shall make plans.”
“Ok, but we should hurry before Mummy and Daddy leave the city”
“They won’t leave you child, do not worry.” She nods at this but seems uncertain. We walk towards the main road. It is almost midnight. The inn is closing but I have arrived many times at this hour, and Eleena has been generous, sometimes allowing me a mug of ale free of charge. I do my best to make up for it with pleasant conversation and inquiries about her day. I knock tentatively on the glass door with my free hand, the other one encasing little Lisa’s tiny palm. Eleena comes to the door and answers.
She seems flustered.
“Hey Earl! I was hoping you’d come by. I gotta go somewhere soon and it’s been a rough day…”
“Has some vagabond accosted you my dear? I hope the customers have been keeping their hands to themselves.”
She laughs, “No, no Earl, no uh…vagabonds. I’ve just had a rough day and OH!” She seems to have spotted Lisa.
“This is Lisa.” I introduce her to Eleena.
“Hi Eleeeeena.” Says Lisa.
“Earl! What the hell?? I mean uh…sorry. What the heck. Where did you find her! Oh my God Earl!”
“Settle down my dear. Lisa requires our assistance, and though it bemoans me to trespass on your free time I humbly request you aid us, if only temporarily by allowing us to make plans inside. It is quite cold out you see. ‘Tis an evil night.”
“Absolutely Earl, come in, come in. Hey can i get ya something Lisa? How about a hot chocolate?”
“YEAH! Thank you Eleeeena.”
“Aww, aren’t you polite.” responds Eleena.
I say “She has a good heart, Lisa does.” And they both nod.
“Earl, could you lend me a hand with the chocolate? Lisa, why don’t you sit over there. You can look out the window.”
“Ok.” says Lisa.
I follow Eleena behind the counter. There she gets rather agitated. After a flurry of accusations and sinister implications i make sure to set her right. I do not blame her for thinking it strange I show up with Lisa. It comes from a place of concern, and any reasonable person would think it odd for Lisa to be my companion at this late hour.
I explain the situation in as few words as i can manage.
Eleena finally relents. “What about taking her to the cops? I can call them from here.”
Cops- slang for the guardsmen. “I have considered relinquishing Lisa to the city guard, however, I fear they may not treat her well. They have…diminished lately. Lisa lives on Temple street, and she is not white; i doubt the guard will assist her.”
Eleena says “I…I…know what you mean. Last week, the riots…they…i didn’t tell you but Miles is dead. He was killed. I don’t even know more than that, but i think he was hit by something, a gas canister or something.”
I take Eleena’s hand and pat it. Miles. Her lover, i remember. She told me about him, months ago, eagerly.
“This city…these new laws…i’m leaving Earl. I’m getting the hell out of here before it gets any worse. My flight leaves in a few hours. I was going to find you…or leave you a note. Sorry.”
“I understand m’dear. I understand.”
“It is gotten so much…so much…”
“Darker.” I say.
“Yeah. Darker here. These fucking asshole politicians, all they care about is the rich. Where their fucking money comes from. It’s not like Mum and Dad told me it would be, not like before.”
The sorcerers, yes. Greedy seekers of wealth. I am powerless against their magics and their armies. The only tool a knight has against them is invisibility. At least I have some skill in that domain.
Eleena says “I was going to tell you today, sorry Earl. I’ll miss you. No more free coffee for you i guess.”
I summon a smile. “A pity, but i shall miss your company more than the drink.”
The three of us sit around the table. Lisa playing with the over-sized sleeves of my cloak, her hands lost within. Eleena tapping on the table, legs crossed, deep in thought, and myself, trying to remember the way to Temple street.
“Correct me if i’m not mistaken, but i believe one must pass through the Old King’s Road to reach Temple Street? It has been a long time since i have wandered that way.”
Eleena perks up, “Yes, yeah that’s it. King’s Road, follow that and it shall take you to Temple Street. I mean should- should take you.” She bursts out laughing.
It is warms me to see Eleena in better spirits. When she stops she says “Except…i don’t know, i heard Old King’s Road is dangerous- wasn’t there some gang violence or something there?” Ahh. She speaks of the bandits, some petty group once more rising to prominence. They come and go all over the city, though in the last few years it seems that there have been more, not less, and this despite the supposed efforts of the guards and the edicts of the sorcerers.
“Do not worry Eleena. I know these streets, we shall be careful.”
“Why not just wait till morning? I have a friend you can stay with.” Says Eleena. “Or how about a phone number. Hey, Lisa. Do you know your home’s phone number? Is there anyone we can call?”
“Umm I don’t know it.” responds Lisa.
Eleena sighs, and one of her hands twists in the air as she says “Still, having her stay at my friends is probably the best move.”
Eleena has once more exceeded my expectations. This is a far better idea, far, far better. We begin to make plans till Lisa, perhaps upon realising what we were implying, finally spoke up. “WAIT!” She startled both us with her sudden outburst. She fishes inside her pink pockets, her hands scurrying beneathe my large cloak. Presently she withdraws a slip of paper. Eleena examines it, and her face darkens.
“SHIT! I mean uh…shoot. It’s a plane ticket. Her family is leaving the city, and tomorrow morning at that. I mean…woah…this morning. The whole family is leaving.”
“I DIDN’T WANNA GO!” Says Lisa.
I finally put the pieces together. “How long do we have Eleena?”
“Well, working backwards, i’d say you got only a couple of hours to make it before they either leave or cancel the tickets. “That settles it then.” I lurch up from the chair, which creaks. I wonder for a moment if the sound comes from my bones. “Come Lisa, we must be leaving.”
Eleena still seems quite disturbed. I do my best to set her mind at ease. “Eleena dear, Temple Street is not so far. I can take Lisa there, and thus reunite her with her undoubtedly terrified parents. Neither you, nor her, shall miss your chance to escape this deteriorating place.”
Eleena speaks up. “It’s just…Earl, you’re…well…elderly. I should be doing this.”
“Nonsense my dear, i have many years ahead of me, and this young miss has fallen under my charge. I intend to do my duty.” I grip the handle of my sword, and will some energy back into my limbs. Eleena seems distraught though, and i am at a loss as to why. Before i can think of somethign to say, she comes up and hugs me.
“Take care of yourself Earl. I really will miss you.” I return her embrace, awkwardly. She steps away with glistening eyes, and says “Hey, you don’t smell so bad today, umm…no offense.”
“None taken. Yes, the kind members of that Christopheran Church recently allowed me to bathe myself yesterday. We may not see eye to eye, but i must admit they do good works.”
Eleena laughs. “It’s not Christopher, it’s….ah…never mind. Good bye Earl.”
“Good Luck Eleena. Walk in the light.” I salute her.
I take Lisa’s hand in mine, and we exit the Inn, returning to the dark streets. The night is cold. The full moon frowning down on us, mingling with the orange light of street lamps. Gone is the violent roar of the waking city. Now whispers creep down canyons. Distant wails pierce our ears. Lisa is tied to me, hand in hand, and i try to think of something to say, to while away the hours.