Chapter 1: The Boy

Sunlight flashed off Sir Noirick's sword as he swung at the water monster. Behind him, Kimitri was chanting some spell or another. The priest's blue clad arm reached forward to touch the knight's shoulder.

"There, now should be able to actually do some damage. If you can manage to hit the Ransir again, that is."

Noirick snorted. "I hope this spell of yours actually works this time." He shot back as he slashed at the creature's unprotected neck. The sword bit deep and the Ransir screeched as its silver throat was ripped open by the blade.

As its purple blood spilled out through its neck, the monster fell backward and the spell on the water broke. Kimitri shouted something quickly. The priest remained above the water as Noirick fell through.

Kimitri walked back to shore while the knight was forced to swim back in his armour. "You bastard priest!" the knight spluttered as he walked out of the lake, "Why didn't you do the spell on me as well? Now my armour's going to rust."

"You need to find your own way to stay dry. It's not my problem."

Noirick muttered several curses. "You've got to be the worst priest for Aruciana imaginable."

"And you have to be one of the worst knights ever sworn in. I believe you're supposed to protect women, not bed them."

Flushing slightly, the knight dug through his pack until he found the rag he used for polishing his armour. He removed the chain mail shirt and leggings and began drying them.

"You're an idiot. If you don't dry off soon you'll get sick and then I'll be forced to sit here and wait for you to get better." Kimitri said, walking up behind Noirick and once again laid his hand on the knight's shoulder. The priest whispered a few soft words and Noirick found himself completely dry.

"Perhaps you are useful to have around."

"Well I can't very well travel without my meat-shield, now can I?"

The knight made a face. "I'm not your meat-shield."

"Of course you're not." Kimitri replied, smirking, tone indicating he though the complete opposite.

Deciding there was no way he was going to win an argument with the quick-witted and sharp-tongued priest, Noirick turned his concentration back to drying his armour.

Chuckling over his victory, Kimitri built a large fire and began using his magic to set up their tent. Finished, the priest bent his head in prayer to his goddess.

"That has to be the only time you look at all like a priest." The knight commented, unable to resist. It was true. Kimitri was short and wiry; having what was considered the build of either an acrobat or a thief. He looked nothing like a priest.

"At least I'm not a blond mountain of muscles whose only way to solve a problem is to hit it with something."

"Hey! Wasn't it me that figured out that that red-head was the demon?"

"Only after you slept with her."

"I still figured it out didn't I?" Noirick replied, flushing only slightly.

Kimitri snorted. "Why don't you use your 'intelligence' to catch us some dinner?"

The big knight grinned and grabbed his bow, his armour being dry to his satisfaction. Whenever the priest changed the subject, it meant he'd won. Now in a good mood, the knight cheerfully went about his hunting chore. The only good thing about Ransir were that after they were dead, the area around their water-source was the best place to hunt as they only ate humans. It wasn't long at all before Noirick had bagged two plump rabbits.

Returning to camp, he found Kimitri had already prepared a pot of water and spices and was waiting impatiently for the meat. Noirick handed over the two gutted and skinned rabbits to the priest before dragging out his whetstone. During the fight he'd dulled his blade considerably on the scaled hide of the Ransir. As he sharpened his sword, the priest cooked their meal.

The meal was a leisurely one in which little was said. Between the pair of them, Noirick and Kimitri managed to clean out the pot of soup. After the knight had cleaned up, his job since the priest had cooked, Kimitri set up the alarm spells and they both went straight to sleep, each of them more exhausted by their earlier exertions then they'd reveal in front of the other.

Both the priest and the knight woke early as was their habit. They had dried fruit in oatmeal for breakfast before saddling their mounts.

Noirick rode Sunblade, a huge golden warhorse with a rather cheerful and friendly disposition. Kimitri rode Healer's Grace, a dainty dapple grey mare with a wicked streak when it came to strange men. When Kimitri had first shown Noirick the horse, she'd tried to bite him. They got along alright now, but the knight still was careful around her lest she change her mind.

As per always, the priest used his magic to repack the tent and supplies so they were back on the road minutes after saddling. They were heading south to Aberfel, capital of Shantim, near the southern Gulf of Citaum. The king had ordered assistance from the healing order of Aruciana. Out of righteous anger over being ordered about, the priests had always decided when and where they would help, they'd sent Kimitri, the worst healer their order had. The priest could only heal minor cuts but was the unparalleled within the order for his mastery of mage-craft. It was the hope of the other priests that Kimitri would be able to 'convince' the king to stop trying to order the priesthood of Aruciana about.

Noirick wasn't much interested in the priestly and political nonsense Kimitri seemed to thrive upon. He was a wandering knight who'd been all but conscripted by the order to keep Kimitri safe on the journey to Aberfel. Since it had been almost autumn when the knight had arrived in the Northern Mountains that housed Aruciana's Aerie, he'd agreed in exchange for being able to stay with the priests through the long winter months.

Only now in mid-summer were the passes finally open and the pair had been able to leave the mountains to begin their journey. That had been almost a month ago and they had finally reached the Southern Shores. In little under a week they'd be at Aberfel and Noirick would be free to leave the priest.

"We'll stay in an inn tonight. I'm sick of sleeping on the ground. That monk we met the other day recommended the Gilded Duck inn. We should reach the inn by late afternoon." Kimitri said.

"Wasn't that the guy from the war god Inderes's order?"

The priest nodded. "He was an interesting fellow."

"Aren't your two gods fight all the time?"

"No just the priests. It's because most of my fellows hate war and think that Inderes's monks are war-mongers. It's the whole healer aversion to death thing."

"Then it's a good thing you barely qualify as a healer." Noirick quipped.

Kimitri gave him a dirty look. "I may not be a powerful healer but I am a strong mage."

The knight grinned. He loved nettling Kimitri. "Of course you are."

For the next hour or so, silence hung between the travellers. The knight not saying anything because he knew the priest would twist it and throw it back at him and Kimitri, because he didn't have a reply to Noirick's last comment.

It was mid-morning when they were stopped by an aging woman. "Milord Priest! Milord Priest!" she cried. "You wear blue. Be ye a servant of the Goddess Arucaiana?"

"I am." Kimitri replied as both he and Noirick reigned in the horses.

"Then ye must come with me. My husband has gone and hurt himself somethin' fierce. Will ye help him?"

The priest swung off his horse and followed the woman, leaving Noirick to follow with the horses. A few minutes of swift walk led them to the edge of a field where the old farmer lay, hands pressed against a large wet patch on his leg.

Kimitri knelt and gently moved the man's hand so he could examine the wound. A large gash across the man's lower thigh was still bleeding sluggishly despite the farmer's attempt to stem the flow, as demonstrated by the bloody shirt he held in his hands. "Sir Noirick, my kit please."

The knight grabbed the healing kit that always lay on top of the priest's right saddle bag and handed it to Kimitri without a word. The priest ignored him.

Digging out bandages, antiseptic, a needle and thread, Kimitri began threading the needle, causing the poor farmer's eyes to bulge when he saw it. The priest first cleaned the wound before whispering a spell and gently touching the man's leg with his index finger. Only then did he begin stitching the wound back together. The man's face went from fearful anticipation to relief and surprise.

"I feel nary a thing." He said in obvious astonishment.

"Priest Kimitri is quite accomplished at freezing wounds so that little to no pain is felt during the initial healing process." Noirick explained, hiding a grin behind his calm demeanour. The man's reaction had been really quite funny to watch.

Finished sewing, Kimitri bandaged the wound and handed a small packet of herbs to the farmer's wife. "Give him a little of this in his tea before he goes to bed every night. It will help with the pain as well as speed up his recovery. Make sure he stays off that leg for at least a week."

"Our son ran t'get help. He'll carry this ol'fool back home. A thousand blessins on ye, Milord Priest."

Kimitri nodded his acknowledgement of her thanks, gathered up his kit and re-mounted Grace.

The knight waited until they were well out of earshot of the old couple before laughing. "She though you were a real healer." He choked out around his mirth.

The priest glared at Noirick. "Yes and she thought you were a real knight."

The pair continued to bicker right through lunch. By then they'd run out of new things to argue about. The rest of the day found them alternating riding in silence and quarrelling about the same stupid things they always fought about.

The sun was just beginning to turn the sky golden when they reached their destination, the Gilded Duck. They were met outside by a young stable-boy who took their mounts after they'd removed their bags. The priest and the knight entered the inn proper, got rooms, dropped their packs off and headed back downstairs for an early dinner.

The tired pair ordered the chicken pies and watched their fellow diners as they waited for the food to arrive. There was two men who appeared to be hire-swords already deep into their cups, a young coupled who were being shy with one another and a party of travelling merchants.

The merchants were complaining loudly about the new taxes the king had imposed upon them because of the war with the neighbouring country of Chicon. The knight and the priest's eyes met and they both snorted their contempt of both the whining merchants and the stupid king.

Finally their meals arrived and they demolished them in short order. Noirick was going to go see if he couldn't fins himself a willing bed partner when Kimitri grabbed his arm.

"Wards on your room have been broken." He whispered.

The knight raised a brow. "Well then let's go see who our surprise guest is."

The two stole up to Noirick's room and burst through the door. In the centre of the floor of the sparsely furnished room was a young brown-haired boy, who looked like he'd been waiting for them.