“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
A knight, mounted on a horse at full gallop. The horse falls, and the knight with it. But he rises again, sword in hand. The harsh desert sun glints from the steel of his helmet. He raises the blade and charges forward, his comrades follow. Dozens fall as arrows rain upon them. He continues. Forward, unto the hellish press of battle. Unshaken. Impetuous. Unbreakable.
“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Men bar his way, they fall like wheat beneath the scythe. Every mighty sweep of his blade yields blood in great gushing sprays, limbs severed from their hosts, guttural screams. The Lord’s might is his to wield against the infidel. Their suffering is great. Above all, it is just.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Cold sweat. A voice, in the darkness. Harsh like gravel. Lilting and rhythmic.
… “Aye, there’s our valiant Ser Slumber, he stirs yet.”
A youthful Dismas cackles from the opposite end of the stage coach, legs splayed as he leisurely lounges in his own seat. His voice, though certainly rough at the fringes, carries much more tonal quality than it does today.
The armored knight scowls at the unfamiliar occupant. He must have boarded as he took rest. The knight clears his throat, sitting upright and smoothing the cross-emblazoned tunic that rests over his heavy, plated armor. He was a well-built man, every bit the soldier he appeared to be. He possessed powerful, squared features, and a well maintained, close-shorn beard adorned his chin. “I apologize for not having made your acquaintance. Ser…?”
Dismas disdainfully waves off the pleasantries with a peculiarly gloved hand. “Ain’t no ‘ser’ to it, ye pomp. Me name’s Dismas, simple n’ true. And there ain’t much else to tell fer me. But fer you, Ser Reynauld…” Dismas holds up a wax-sealed letter, the seal clearly broken, and plays as if he’s studying it. “Well, there’s plenty ta tell, eh? A man of the tenth crusade, how impressive. Aye, to think o’ the blood ye’ve seen…” Dismas’ conceited playacting is cut short as Reynauld angrily snatches the letter of marque from Dismas’ clutches.
“I should take your hand for as much, you thieving rat,” Reynauld growls, fixing the vagabond with a vengeful glare. He stows the letter, and begins rummaging through his belongings, almost eager to locate an excuse to pummel Dismas’ head into pulp.
Dismas snorts back a cackle, “Cool yer blood, holy man. Yer ain’t got a thing worth takin’. Trust you me, I had a good look.” He settles even more comfortably into his seat, were it possible, and contemptuously draws his upper lip as he mutters, “I must admit, o valiant crusader, yer ability to steal a good bit o’ shut eye wearin’ a full set o’ platemail is a feat most impressive. Aye, yer a man o’ great talent fer certain, I should hope ye’ll teach me. Damned coachman seems intent to rattle this accursed wooden box o’er every hole in the road between ‘ere n’ perdition.”
Reynauld is not amused. He steals a look through the wagon’s porthole, late evening, sky painted in a strangely dismal orange hue. Eerily gnarled trees rush past. Too fast. The coachman must be concerned running late, though they didn’t seem to be too far behind schedule. By his estimation, they’re not at all far from the estate. “I’m to assume, then…” he speaks in a stately manner, “… that we share employ. You, too, have received summons to the Heartwork estate.”
Dismas feigns applause, “Ooh, aye, brave Ser Reynauld. Ye’ve puzzled it out, sure as sure. Missed yer callin’ as a constable, did ye?”
Reynauld shakes his head, retrieving his helmet and placing it neatly in his lap. Fishing a rag from his travelling bag, he begins to clean it – though it’s clearly not in any dire need, the steel surface shining as brightly as the day it left the blacksmith. “Mmh. Perhaps. I would think an up-jumped knave should be thankful for as much.”
Dismas is wracked with a throaty chuckle at Reynauld’s retort. “Ho! Look now, the man’s wit is unsheathed as surely as a blade. Perhaps yer only half the dullard I’d pegged ye for.” The accolades are cut short as the wagon jolts harshly, upsetting both of the coach’s occupants.
“OI! Ye idiot! Yer well aware that ye ferry livin’ cargo!” Dismas growls, banging a closed fist against the coachman’s hatch. No response emerges, and the wagon continues to shake to and fro, its speed continuing to climb. “I know ye hear me, ya…!” The wagon goes airborne for a brief moment, clattering to the ground and tumbling both of the helpless passengers from their seats. Taking to his feet with no more than an agitated murmur, Reynauld paces across the coach to open the driver’s hatch.
The coachman immediately turns his head towards it, the angle nearly unnatural. His face is the very picture of madness. His pupils are dilated to a point that renders his eyes nearly black, lips peeled back in an unnervingly wide smile baring his crooked and discolored teeth, trails of spittle leaking from each corner.
Both men are initially stricken dumb by the display – a rare enough occurrence for Dismas, to be sure. Reynauld is the first to open his mouth, “Calm your horses, ser, the wheels cannot tolerate this pace!” The coachman simply maintains his ghoulishly gleeful glare a moment more, and slowly turns back towards the road, popping the horses’ hind quarters with a riding crop, driving them further into their frenzied gallop. Reynauld is slack jawed, Dismas is altogether finished with this insane scenario. “Aye, ye madman! Listen to good ser knight, eh?! Ye’re like tah get us killed!” Reynauld snatches his helmet from the floor of the coach, securing it to his head.
Dismas turns and snarls to Reynauld, “Oh, aye! Well ‘at’s a bloody fine idea, innit?” He unholsters a flintlock pistol from beneath his longcoat, leveling it at the coachman. “Well I’ve got an even bet-” the rest of the sentence never comes. The stagecoach pitches harshly to the side, crashing to the ground upended, flinging its occupants about as it rolls off of the road and crashes against a tree. Dismas’ head finds contact with the wall and blackness takes him.
The world around him spins dizzily, struggling to come into focus. Dismas can feel dried grass crunch beneath his weight as he shifts and fidgets, struggling to find enough balance to press himself to his feet, or at the very least onto his ass. Nothing doing. Not as of yet, anyway. He instinctively brings a bared finger to his face. Wet. Sticky, clotted. Blood.
The alarm of injury flushes enough adrenaline into his bruised body for him to upright himself. He quickly scans his surroundings.
The road is a fair distance behind the scene of the broken wagon, the horses and coachman nowhere to be find. Boxes of cargo litter the ground, and in their midst, an armored man supine in the dirt. Reynauld. Curious, Dismas crawls towards the felled warrior. His chest rises and falls with the labor of breath.
Of course, Ser Slumber takes his slumber. Dismas rolls his eyes as he sits onto his rump, back coming to rest against the wrong side of the coach. “Bloody… fine way to begin our venture, innit?” he mutters dourly, feeling around inside of his longcoat for his pipe. A smoke, first. Then to puzzle out a way to limp his way onwards to the estate. Unless… oh, hells below.
“OI! Boys, boys! Lookie what we’ve found today!”
Dismas’ teeth grit. Naturally, if a bad situation can get worse, it will. It was always his luck. Four cloaked men emerge from the trees, one bears a blunderbuss. All have swords and daggers sheathed at their hips. Cutthroats. Brigands. ‘Men o’ my caliber,’ Dismas thinks to himself, and knows all too well the further implications.
“Well?! To work, boys, to work. Open ’em boxes and let us tally our haul. Such rum luck isn’t t’be ignored!” croaks the biggest of the four, a fine brute he is. The one bearing the blunderbuss waddles towards Dismas. Short, fat, and unkempt. He levels the thing at Dismas’ face, so close he can smell the spent gunpowder. “Well, well! What about our survivin’ passenger, boss? What o’ this one?” He jabs Dismas’ shoulder with the barrel of the weapon.
The largest of them leers over Dismas, seeming entirely uninterested in the bloodied vagabond. “Survivor?” he wheezes with a pointed snicker, “I don’t see none. Just dead men ‘ere. Now go an’ make that a truthful statement, aye?” His cohort smiles wide as the rest of them get to work. He aims right at Dismas’ face, readies himself to pull the trigger. But he suddenly yowls with a pitched, pained scream.
Dismas had stuck a dagger clean through his foot, pinning it to the ground. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. In a single, fluid motion, he rolls forward onto his feet, unholstering one of his flintlock pistols and pressing it to the man’s throat while, holding it over his shoulder as he hooks the barrel of the blunderbuss into the crook of his free arm, he turns to aim his foe’s firearm towards the nearest of the three other brigands, all of whom have turned wide-eyed towards the scuffle. Dismas lets the hammer of his flintlock strike home, its shot punching a fist-sized hole through the stuck brigand’s throat, spraying the side of Dismas’ face with warm blood. In turn, the dying man involuntarily squeezes the trigger of the blunderbuss, burying a handful of shot into his comrade’s belly.
Dismas retrieves his dagger as both of them fall, just in time, as the third bandit looses a throaty, barbaric cry and barrels towards Dismas with a short blade raised. Woozy from the head injury and his first shot’s proximity to his ear, Dismas stumbles to the side, but manages to sloppily parry the sword’s swing, hooking the blade on his dagger’s crossguard. He’s now face to face with the third brigand, and ugly didn’t even begin to cover it. A gnarled, hooked nose and beady eyes, scarred lips that protruded from his rounded features.
“I’ll gut you like a PIG!” he snarls at Dismas, each word accompanied by a shower of disgusting, yellow spittle. Dismas looses his spare hunting knife from a sheath strapped to his thigh, quietly burying every inch of the steel blade between the brigand’s ribs. “Oink,” Dismas replies, coldly at first. “Oink! OINK, YE WHORESON!” every mocking syllable punctuates another hole torn into the man’s lung as Dismas stabs him repeatedly, and he begins to suffocate.
Dismas is, perhaps, a little too satisfied with his own humor to notice the leader of the band approach from behind, and bury a dagger into his back.
He collapses to the ground with a stifled groan. Thinking quickly as the immense pain washes over his senses, he snatches his pistol from the ground and levels it at the hulking brute of a man. “Back, ye! BACK! Less ye fancy a window fer yer brains!”
The brute snickers coarsely, drawing a pistol of his own and thumbing back the hammer. “Save yer bluffin’, boy. Ye spent yer powder blowin’ holes in dear Lijah, o’er there.” He tisks condescendingly, “Cost me all the boys, ye did. But since ye made such a good show, I’ll allow yer t’ take a knee n’ face yer end with some dignity.”
Dismas initially scoffs and grits his teeth. Perhaps today, then. Or… his eyes go wide as no sooner than the brigand’s last word escapes his tongue, a great sword comes crashing into and through his shoulder, cleanly severing his arm and producing an arterial spray of gore. As the brute crumples to the ground, screaming his last, he sees Reynauld standing behind, chest heaving with labored breath, helmet spattered with gore.
“Aye…” Dismas winces in pain, “Ser… Slumber rises. Tah think of all the queen’s knightly men, I… I share company with the bloody sleepy one.”
Reynauld makes no direct response, instead kneeling to examine Dismas’ wounds. “I have seen worse. Much worse. You will live, so long as we make haste. Come, then.” He simply flings the wiry highwayman onto his shoulder with surprising ease, earning no shortage of discontent murmuring.
“Worry not, Dismas. You fought well, and the Lord smiles upon thee,” Reynauld states flatly, striding down the road at pace. “O-Oh, aye,” Dismas grunts unpleasantly, awash in pain, “All this fer a smile, bloody well keep the fucker from laughing, then.”