Aurélie Cerveau watched from the shadows as the chevalier tried and failed to fasten her cuirass. Sir Ruth – who was bent over double with effort, her face knotted in pain – struggled to get her arm around behind her, struggled to hold the oiled straps, struggled to reach the buckle.
As Aurélie watched, the knight tried, failed, tried again, failed again, before collapsing back onto the wooden stool with a clatter of metal. And, for a moment, the chevalier sat there, her chest heaving with the effort, her poorly-mended arm limp at her side.
Then she picked up a leather belt from the dressing table, clenched it tightly in her teeth, and wrenched her arm round behind her again, where she somehow managed to grasp a strap, and guide it through a buckle.
One down, Aurélie thought to herself. Seven to go.
Stepping into the room, Aurélie moved to stand behind the chevalier. She adjusted the dressing mirror, so that Sir Ruth could better see what she was doing.
“Where is one’s squire, when one has need of her?” Aurélie said, and immediately regretted the question.
The chevalier – whose brow was damp with sweat – spat the belt from her mouth, the better to speak. But she did not look up.
“She is dead, madame,” the chevalier said. “Along with the rest of my guard.”
“I am sorry,” Aurélie said, and meant it, too. Then, retrieving a second stool from across the cabin, she sat down behind the knight, and started to fasten the remaining buckles.
After a moment of silence, Sir Ruth said: “I thought I had locked the door.”
“You did,” Aurélie said. “But the locks aboard this ship are not very strong.”
“Yes,” Sir Ruth said. “I have noticed this, too.”
The chevalier grimaced, and placed her leather belt back on the dressing table. Aurélie had seen it before, and had wondered about the bite marks.
“Your arm,” Aurélie said as she worked. “It still pains you.”
A statement, not a question.
After a moment’s hesitation, the chevalier nodded.
“Every day,” she said. “Twice as bad when it is cold.”
“Then I do not envy you today,” Aurélie said. The sea air that morning was unusually chill, so that dew beaded on the decks.
“I shall make do,” the chevalier said.
Finishing with the back of the cuirass, Aurélie pulled the straps tight, which drew another grimace from the knight, but no rebuke. The rest of Sir Ruth’s armor lay on the floor nearby, arranged in a neat pile. Aurélie took a pauldron from the top, and began attaching it.
“I hardly see the need for plate aboard a ship,” Aurélie said.
“I am a chevalier,” Sir Ruth said. “I wear the marque of my Comtesse.”
“I rather suspect that your Comtesse would grant a dispensation,” Aurélie said. “Were you to ask.”
“Perhaps,” Sir Ruth said.
“But you will not ask,” Aurélie said. “Will you?”
“No. I will not.”
Having fastened the one pauldron, Aurélie started on the next.
“At least it is your shield arm,” she said. “Not your sword.”
“Yes,” Sir Ruth said.
“You should consult the ship’s surgeon. She may rebreak the bone, and reset the shoulder.”
“It will do little good,” Sir Ruth said. “This break lies on top of an old one – more than twenty years old. From the Grande Tournée – I was lanced in the joust.”
The chevalier said nothing.
“How civilized of the nobles,” Aurélie said, “to make a sport of war.”
The chevalier said nothing.
“You should still see the surgeon,” Aurélie said.
The chevalier stretched her stiff arm, and grimaced.
“If it did not set then, I doubt it will now,” she said.
“This surgeon has some magic, which may be of help.”
“She offered as much,” Sir Ruth said.
“But you declined.”
“Suspicious of magic, yet pledged to a mage.”
For the first time since Aurélie started speaking, the chevalier bristled visibly.
“This ‘mage’ of whom you speak is the Comtesse Elise LaRoux, the twenty-eighth of her name.”
“She is also a mage.”
“She is my Comtesse. It is as simple as that.”
“It is never as simple as that.”
“She is a good woman.”
“And are most mages not good women?”
“Most women are not good women,” the chevalier said. She looked hard at Aurélie. “You, of all people, should know this.”
“I suppose that is true,” Aurélie said.
She pulled the straps of Sir Ruth’s pauldron tight, which drew a wince.
“What about you, then?” Aurélie said. “Are you a good woman, too?”
“I have striven, all my life, to do my duty,” Sir Ruth said. “When that is no longer possible, I shall submit myself to Goddess – as must we all – and I will accept her judgement. Until then, I serve my Comtesse.”
Aurélie arched an eyebrow.
“As simple as that?” she said.
“As simple as that,” Sir Ruth said.
A moment passed in silence, before Aurélie spoke again.
“And what about me?” she said. “Am I a ‘good woman,’ in your standing?”
Sir Ruth paused, then – but not, Aurélie thought, to be politic. Instead, the chevalier appeared to be giving Aurélie’s question real consideration.
“You have pledged your life to the service of something higher than yourself,” Sir Ruth eventually said. “As have I. There is honor in that.”
“I fail to see the honor in blind subservience,” Aurélie said.
“Your subservience is hardly blind,” Sir Ruth said. “And neither is mine.”
Aurélie looked down, and saw that she had finished assembling Sir Ruth’s armor. All that remained was the chevalier’s tabard, bearing the LaRoux family marque: a lion rampant, atop a field of stars.
“Does your Comtesse know how badly you are hurt?” Aurélie asked, as she slipped the tabard across Sir Ruth’s shoulders, and fastened the chain.
“I do not know,” Sir Ruth said. “The pain is… irrelevant to my duties. I would not trouble her with it.”
“The pain, perhaps,” Aurélie said. “But the stiffness? The limits to movement? Do you really think the woman you are sworn to defend has no need to know?”
The chevalier’s face darkened.
“I can still hold a sword, madame,” she said.
“Today, perhaps,” Aurélie said. “But tomorrow? Or the day after?”
“If the day comes when I can no longer protect my Comtesse,” Sir Ruth said, “then I will fill my pockets with stones, and I will walk into the sea.”
“Surely that’s a bit overdramatic,” Aurélie said.
“It is an honorable death,” Sir Ruth said.
Aurélie laughed bitterly at that.
“There are no honorable deaths,” she said. “We are alive, then we are dead. The dead have no honor. That is a lie the living tell themselves, as they wipe the blood from their blade.”
The chevalier stood up from the stool, and adjusted the fit of her tabard.
“On that point,” she said, “we disagree.”
“Yes,” Aurélie said. “It appears we do.”
Then, without saying a word, Aurélie drew the dagger she kept in her sleeve, and, with a short, compact motion, she drove its point towards a gap in Sir Ruth’s plate, feinting at the chevalier’s injured side.
Aurélie knew she could pull the strike, if she had to, but, in the end, such restraint proved unnecessary as Sir Ruth stepped to her left, and, with a quick swipe of her armored hand, she deflected the blow.
As her dagger glanced off steel, Aurélie ducked low, then sprung up again, swinging her blade backhand at the chevalier’s neck. This time, Sir Ruth stepped into the attack, and grabbed Aurélie by the wrist, directing the strike up and away. Aurélie resisted, putting downward pressure on the chevalier’s broken shoulder, but Sir Ruth held fast, and, even as her face contorted in pain, she did not loosen her grip.
Aurélie tried a few more maneuvers, to see if she could shake the chevalier loose. But, throughout it all, Sir Ruth withstood Aurélie’s attempts.
“Good,” Aurélie said, and smiled. “Perhaps one day, the sea will take you, Sir Ruth. But not today.”
Slowly, Sir Ruth relaxed her grip on Aurélie’s wrist.
“No,” she said. “Not today.”
Aurélie Cerveau sheathed her dagger. Then she fixed Sir Ruth’s tabard, which had gotten bunched around the knight’s shoulders.
“The next time you need a squire,” Aurélie said, “leave the door unlocked.”
Aurélie Cerveau is an original character created by RavenoftheBlack for the Expanded Multiverse.
Magic: Expanded Multiverse is not associated with Wizards of the Coast. This is a transformative work of fanfiction, protected in the United States under the laws of Fair Use.
All works copyright their respective creators.