The False Knight on the Motorway
The world has been cursed by the gods. Their precious relics became poison long ago, and their cities radiate death. It is the dawn of a second Dark Age, if the priests and alchemists are to be believed. Ser Wright of Kenilworth doesn't particularly care how or why the world was broken. Her only concern is regaining favor in the eyes of her lord—and if a menial errand to ransom her insufferable rival is the way to do that, Wright will grit her teeth and dutifully retrieve Ser Kai to face judgement.
But the simple errand forces Wright and Kai into a mission far more difficult: a quest for the legendary counteragent that could lift the curse once and for all. Wright's duty is to retrieve it all costs, no matter who stands in her way—even if that someone is the sarcastic, dishonorable companion who Wright doesn't hate as much as she thought.
Rain tapped an erratic rhythm on the hood of the ruined godsthing where Ser Wright of Kenilworth crouched, prying shrapnel from her breastplate. Glass from the shattered windshield crunched beneath her boots. A short distance away, her horse Farstride lipped at a patch of damp grass; he knew better than to approach a ruin of the old world, and the curse they so often carried.
It was a risk even to use the metal shell as refuge from the mud, but after four days of unceasing rain and waking up caked in muck, Wright would take her chances. In tutelage every child learned not to set foot within a stone’s throw of any unconsecrated ruin, but every child also learned soon enough that to follow that rule would mean never setting forth from Lord Kenilworth’s walls. And of course, some did not.
With a sharp jerk, Wright wrenched the last shred of metal free, and tossed it to the mud. It landed with a sound like water sizzling in a hot pan; tendrils of gas rose sluggishly where it disturbed the oily slicks on the ground. Under the steady barrage of rain, they quickly subsided once more. The water continued plinking on the metal, where she crouched out of reach of the curse’s touch.
The brigand who had shot her had almost looked surprised to see her take the hit and keep coming. There were many who did not believe that armor could stop a blast like that, even now that true bullets were rare and expensive, and the guns which still functioned were most often loaded with shrapnel. He hadn’t lived to be surprised for long.
Smiling thinly, Wright tucked her metal pliers back into her travel sack. They were a relic of her family from the Blessed days, kept in careful order for as long as Wright had owned them—for once they broke, a blacksmith would charge exorbitantly to recreate the god-made work. Her armor was a simple in comparison: metal she had salvaged herself and brought to a blacksmith to be reshaped into heavy plate. When she ran her fingers over the metal she could feel the marks of old dents, the whorls of subtle color where the different metals met, all fused into armor that could stop all but the most devastating blows.
Etched in its center, the red tower on the blue field. Years of careful maintenance had kept the colored lacquer mostly intact.
After she had donned her chest plate and gauntlets with fingers half-numb from the cold rain, she checked Farstride’s hooves, tightened his girdle, and loosened her sword in its sheath to ensure the damp wouldn’t cause it to stick in a crucial moment. Only then did she remount and continue down the game trail she had followed since the river, winding around the base of the hill until it met up with the road. Wright rode through the misery of a drizzling rain, her helmet attached to her saddle, so she could pull her hood up all the way. By the time she urged Farstride out onto the cracked black godsroad, she was ready for the ambush that waited for her.
The mounted party was five strong, blocking the road ahead. Their armor was of tightly woven leather over loose white tunics. Good to stop a slashing blow, she estimated, but vulnerable to stabbing. They wore the colors of Lord Tintagel, the black field with the white wave.
“Halt,” one of them called. A woman, older than Wright, and no knight of Tintagel’s—her breastplate was marked with dents and scratches rather than an insignia. She urged her horse forward with no lack of skill, long dark hair streaked with grey falling in a tangle from beneath her leather half-helm.
Wright kept her back straight in the saddle, yet made no effort to hide the weariness on her face. Perhaps if a worthy cause had brought her through four days of rain and mud, she could have affected more interest.
The woman stopped a healthy distance away, out of range of any projectile. Clearly she did not trust the rumor that knights did not carry guns. “Lay down your arms. We are taking you into our custody.”
Wright smiled humorlessly. “I was invited here by Lord Tintagel freely, to bargain for the life of my compatriot. I will not surrender my sword.”
“You do not hail from Lord Warwick. It was with her that the deal was struck.”
“I am an ally. A third party.”
“We did not ask for a third party.”
Wright took a moment to force down a calming breath. She nodded her head down the road, towards what she knew waited beyond. “I know who you have up there.” Wright paused, tilting her head diplomatically. “Turn me away, if you wish—I will return to my lord, who will exchange a series of long-winded missives with your lord, until I or someone like me appears right back here some weeks later once this mess is sorted out.”
Wright paused. “I know who you’re holding at that fort. And as loathe as I am to deprive you of the pleasure of that fine company for those long, endless weeks—”
“I take your meaning,” the rider snapped, and Wright had to repress a smirk. It seemed Kai was good for something after all, if only as a threat.
For a while longer, the rider regarded Wright with an unreadable expression. Finally, she made a sharp gesture to the escort at her back and tugged her horse around. “Come with me.”