Suggested By: +Kimberly Rogers
"His First Quest"
The sun beat down unmercifully on the back of his neck. Every part of him crawled with sweat. He wore only light armor—pauldrons over his chain mail tunic covered only by a leather jerkin—but the weight of it only increased with each weary step. He could see the forest on the horizon, but his steps never seemed to bring him any closer.
"Holy One," he prayed under his breath as he pulled out a kerchief to wipe the sweat from his eyes, "grant me strength!"
It was in God's cause that the knight traveled in such circumstances; he needed to find his sacred quest to accomplish in order to receive his Holy Commission. He closed his eyes and let his feet carry him down the path till he sensed the light around him changing. He opened his eyes. The ancient forest loomed before him, the dark, aging trunks twisting a gnarled path between the ground and the drooping, thick canopy.
"Yes," he sighed, "Here, on the eighteenth of June, in the year of Our Lord seven hundred sixty, Sir Martin ventured forth upon his quest!"
He stepped into the shadows of the trees, his eyes scanning the surroundings carefully. This forest, with it's perpetual shady darkness and plenty of roots to hide under, above, within—was the perfect place for cutpurses and assassins to hide. He wasn't going to make an easy target—but he shuddered to think what other dangers awaited him.
The thick foliage seemed to swallow all sound as Sir Martin advanced into the midst of it. The soft ground muffled the sound of his boots. A heavy weight hung unnaturally on the air. Sir Martin wondered if it meant some kind of enchantment on the air—then he wondered if a person could breathe magic. Was it like an apothecary's vapors? Would it steal away his senses the more he breathed? The stalwart knight pushed aside these dire thoughts as he pressed onward, ever vigilant for anything that could constitute a quest for him.
He had wandered some distance when a movement in the bushes caught his eye. Sir Martin halted and stared at the spot that moved. It fluttered again, and he could clearly discern the shape of a bird's wing. The relief rolled over his shoulders. A bird was nothing to be anxious over. He took two paces, and the wing flapped again, in the same spot. This puzzled him; why, if the bird was frightened enough to flap its wings, would it not fly away? He noted how the wing seemed to beat in the same place, without ever moving or changing positions. He inched closer to the tree while the bird still flapped madly. Standing directly underneath the branch, Martin could see the net that was no doubt the cause of the bird's distress. Part of the fine, dark mesh had gotten twisted around one of the wings; part of the knight's mind wanted to continue on to find a quest, but the other part reminded him that good things came to those who were kind to woodland creatures such as birds.
With strong fingers he carefully unfastened the net from the tree. One wing lashed out frantically at him, but being covered with feathers, it wasn't very threatening. He brought the net and bird down and began untangling the fibers while the bird seemed to hide within its wings.
"It's all right now," he spoke soothingly to it. "I'm going to help you."
There was something wrong about its body; the beak was not the shape he expected—
Sir Martin gasped and nearly dropped the bird. A tiny foot had touched his hand... But not a bird foot like he was expecting! He cradled the animal in two hands as the strangely-shaped body seemed to shift and fall away, revealing a tiny woman with bird's wings! The "body" of the bird had been a cloak she wore that covered her whole body.
Sir Martin shook his head, blinking hard. "Do I dream?" He gasped. "Has the enchantment of the air clouded my senses and caused unnatural visions?"
The woman glanced up at the face looming over her, and her eyes flashed in fright. She struggled to stand in Sir Martin's hands and spread her wings—but even as she did so, Martin saw the wing that had been most tangled hung at an odd angle. The small creature tried to fly away, but the broken wing would not move, and she spun and flopped toward the ground.
"Wait!" Sir Martin dove in a crouch to catch her again. Now he knelt in the soft grass of the forest floor. "It's all right, I'm not going to hurt you," he said. "Be still."
The creature ceased her futile efforts and curled her small body into a ball, hugging her knees to her chest like a human would. The soft sounds of sorrow reached Sir Martin's ear. He held up the former prisoner before him.
"Do you speak?" He asked.
She did not raise her head, but nodded it.
"What is your name, little one?" He asked gently.
She lifted her head and looked at him, but averted her eyes almost immediately. "Bronwen," she answered.
"My name is Sir Martin. What manner of creature are you? I have never seen anything like you!"
Bronwen looked up at him. "I am a woodland fairy. What are you doing in the ancient forest, Sir Martin?"
The knight sighed, "It is every knight's duty to perform a quest to prove he is able. I was looking for mine when I came across this forest and found you trapped in that poacher's net." He paused. "How came you to be so ensnared?"
Bronwen shook her head and sat upon Sir Martin's palm. She had lovely brown hair and a simple white dress. "It was my own fault. I should have been heading for the Druid Circle at the center of the forest, where others of my kind live, but instead I stopped to chase a squirrel around the trees. I didn't see the net till it was too late." She fingered the feathers on her broken wing.
Sir Martin considered the weak, vulnerable fairy that had just happened across his path. "Perhaps your presence is a sign," he mused.
"Pardon?" Bronwen looked up at him, letting her knees drop to the side in a more comfortable position.
Sir Martin smiled as the idea appealed to him. "I came in here looking for a quest--perhaps helping you will either be my quest, or help me get closer to it."
Bronwen clasped her tiny hands as her good wing fluttered. "Are you certain? It doesn't really sound like much of a quest; I have no special gifts to bestow on you."
Martin waved his other hand. "It is no great matter," he said. "While it is true, most quests do consist of slaying some beast or other, a knight such as I cannot be above such a journey as this; who knows what challenges we may face? Surely you wouldn't make it all the way there on your own."
Bronwen smiled and stood to display her thanks with a curtsey. "I would be most grateful, Sir Knight! It is true, the forest is dangerous for the fairy-folk such as me. Perhaps you might even get the opportunity to slay the Beast of the Forest after all!"
Martin stood and placed the small fairy upon his shoulder, where she rested comfortably against his pauldron. "What's this? Tell me more; what manner of beast is it?"
"A most cunning and devious kind," Bronwen assured him as they ventured deeper into the forest. "With long claws and thick fangs and twisted horns, it roams this forest, looking to capture the fairies. It is deadly and intelligent; I believe the Beast set up the nets in the tree, just in case a fairy might go wandering too far away from the Circle--as I did." She hung her head.
Sir Martin loosened his scabbard. "How will I know if the beast is close by?" he asked, dropping his voice to a hush.
"Its feet are like the claws of wolves," she told him. "And its fur carries a distinct, musty odor. It likes to hide in deep shadows, so as long as we stay on this path lit by daylight," she pointed to the bright thread running through the forest, illuminated by the sunbeams pouring through the canopy, "we will be safe enough."
Sir Martin had other ideas. "I would rather track the beast than avoid it," he stated, scanning the ground for claw-prints.
"What?" Bronwen gasped, tucking her body closer into the flared edge of the pauldron. "I thought you intended to escort me safely to the Druid Circle!"
"Have no fear, little pixie," Sir Martin paused to reassure her. "You are in the company of a Knight; I will protect you."
"And who might you be?" A loud voice startled them both.
Sir Martin dropped his hand and surveyed the newcomer, an elderly man with a wide girth and a well-worn tunic, who looked as if he had been traveling through the forest from the other side. His stringy grey hair hung off his scalp and down his shoulders, but his eyes still held a bright twinkle.
Sir Martin nodded to the man. "I am a knight on a mission, in search of a holy quest."
"Is that so?" said the old man, his eyebrows rising in surprise. "Fare you well on your quest, then! The Ancient Forest is a queer place to search--but then again, it might be well for the likes of you." He squinted at the feathered shape busily trying to make itself invisible on the knight's shoulder. "Is that a bird you have taken for companionship in lieu of a horse?"
Martin cast a quick glance to make sure Bronwen had her bird-cloak covering secured over her. "Yes, it is. I rescued it from a poacher's trap further back in the forest, and one of its wings was broken, so I carry it on my shoulder." Bronwen's head came up over the edge of her wing. Since she had time to conceal herself properly, she actually looked like a real bird, and she chirped like one. Martin reached up to stroke her wings.
The old man stared with eyes full of sympathy. "Y'don't say? Poor birdie; all the hunters that live around these woods spell danger for many woodland folk. Many's the creature I've nursed back to health after freeing it from a trap!" He reached toward Bronwen, who shrank back and squawked frantically at her newfound friend. The old man glanced at Sir Martin. "May I?"
Sir Martin evaluated the man. He could see tenderness in his hands, and his face held no guile. "Of course," he answered, reaching to where Bronwen sought to bury herself under the pauldron rather than leave his shoulder. "Don't be afraid," he whispered. "I'm right here, I won't let anything happen to you."
She continued to chirp and squawk so loudly that Sir Martin doubted she heard him. Her wings flapped against his hand like she wanted to hold on and not let go of him, but at last, the tiny winged form had changed hands. The old man inspected her with practiced eyes. "Yes, I see," he murmured. "I see you, little fairy."
Sir Martin flinched at the comment, but his arms wouldn't move to reclaim his friend as the old man chuckled. The knight looked down at his body. Dark roots had sprung from the soft dirt, winding around him and pinning his arms at his sides. He looked back at the man in bewilderment. "What--"
As the man stepped out of the beam of light and back into the shade, his form began to twist and bend. Spindly, tangled horns sprouted from his head, sharp fangs protruded from his mouth, and the hand that cradled the frantic fairy seemed to elongate into a cage from which she could not escape.
"Thank you, sir knight," said the beast, staring at him with beady, golden eyes. "I have been seeking a fairy for a long time. Fare you well!" he cackled as he mocked, withdrawing deeper into the forest.
Sir Martin struggled against the roots, but to no avail. His first quest, and he had failed to the utmost!
"Bronwen!" he called after them. "Bronwen, I'm sorry! I'll find you! I'll save you! I swear it!"
#26 "The Tides of Battle"
#19 "Story Time"
#1 "Red of Morning"
Crossover Parts: (Soul Mates Part 6/Serenity's Light Part 2)
#26 "The Tides of Battle"
#1 "Red of Morning"