In the small town of Lapia on the shores of the South Sea in the kingdom of Gaul, the town was going through one of the worst disasters of this Dark Age.
The town was covered in an eerie fog and the bells of the three churches were ringing slowly. A death dirge. More than one funeral was in procession at this time. This was not the end result of an accident or an act of murder. It was much worse than that.
In the many surrounding villages around the port town, rumors were spreading of a disease, one that was cutting down as many as ten people a day at its least and three dozen a day at its worst. No warning was given for this sickness; in fact those who would later be afflicted would be confused with a common cold until much later. A cold sweat followed by chills, then a coughing fit, and finally the most disturbing part of this disease becomes known within a few days of being infected: coughing up blood.
The Christian Church had already passed judgement on the town, and had sent its representatives to deal with it.
A man was walking alone with a cane in his gloved hand, and wearing a terrifying bird mask on his face under a wide brimmed hat. You couldn't see an inch of skin under the heavy overcoat he wore, and his appearance bought wonder to those who did not know what this man symbolized.
In most of the bigger villages there was a medicine man who would deal with diseases, and most of the time this same man was a hireling of the mayor or an assistant of the local doctor. In times of plague this man would help those in need and he was praised even if he fails to save a soul.
In Lapia, however, this man was not someone to respect but someone to fear. The mask was the sign of death, for he came not to save but to condemn. Then there was the fact that in certain towns, the man would be less than ideal in dealing with his job, and instead would take advantage of it to do things he would never get away with under normal circumstances.
Walking down the street flanked by three other men who one would deem his assistants, blanketed by the fog like a shroud of death, the Doctor opened the door to the first house. On the door was a large red X, a sign that the home was abandoned.
The Doctor pushed the door open with his cane, not wanting to touch the door for fear of infection, and stepped in. The home was dark and without light, and in the three rooms there was evidence of recent activity. Possibly the family that lived here had died recently, or had left the house in order to try and flee the disease. There was a table with a full set of chairs in the eating area, and a small sofa near the fireplace. There was a light layer of ash in the fireplace as well as on the step leading to it. The windows were covered with blinds letting very little light in, but the men could see well enough to find what they were looking for.
The doctor didn't know nor did he care, and fanned out his arms, "Search the place. Leave no stone unturned, and take what you can."
The four men went out and began to turn over furniture, searching cupboard, and even one looked under some loose floorboards.
Within the few minutes they took taking what food and valuables they could, the doctor was searching the rooms for any sign of activity. The first place he searched was the living room, and the fireplace.
Using his cane, the doctor reached up into the fireplace, and immediately hit something with the tip.
And a very audible yelp of pain was heard before someone came falling down, creating a small plume of ash as the figure tried to scurry away, but the doctor got over his initial surprise and grabbed at the person.
"You come here!" He grabbed the back of the person's shirt collar, and he discovered that it was a small boy.
Face covered in soot from being in the chimney, clothes dirty beyond the scope of knowing what he wore, and appearing to be no more than six years old the boy tried to get away but was soon held by another man helping the doctor. "Let me go!"
The doctor motioned for the man to take the boy outside, and the other men had taken what they wanted they left as well before the man in the mask went outside.
The boy's shouting and flailing got the attention of those walking through the streets, and they began to gather to see what was going on though most had an idea of what it was, and the faces of those who knew were sullen.
The boy's flailing required two men to hold him, and the doctor stood in front of him.
"What's your name, boy?" His voice was slightly muffled against the mask, but he was loud enough to understand.
"Arthur, sir," he said quickly, and rather sheepishly while keeping his head down and looking at the ground.
The crowd around was becoming larger, and to those who were just paying enough attention they would notice that the whole world had gotten quiet.
"And where is your family?"
Arthur didn't answer, he kept his lips together and eyes closed while he began to tremble. He was beginning to show signs of fear. Such a sight would bring anyone to interject on the child's behalf, but one could only go so far when the boy was suspected of infection.
And that prospect was not in his favor. Should the doctor find him to be infected, the boy could see death by fire.
"Answer," he growled.
Arthur immediately answered, "Dead sir. The plague got to them…Momma, and Papa, and my little brother as well!"
He now started to cry, and he eventually broke down as the memories of seeing his family die over the course of a week made Arthur sink further into despair. His father had gotten sick first, and when he died his little brother went next. He had been barely two years old when he died. When his mother died, Arthur had lost all hope but fearing death he hid in the house where his mother had died just a couple days before. He had resigned himself to wait for the sickness to get him next.
And now he was the 'mercy' of this Doctor.
"You know that you are at high risk of being with the plague? Do you know what happens with those who are sick?"
Arthur didn't have to answer. He knew very well what awaited him.
The third man standing near the doctor went ahead and checked the boy for signs of the plague. This disease gave an obvious sign of infection, which was the small black spots on the upper most layer of skin, giving a sign of dead or decaying skin over the heart, neck, or face.
Arthur didn't move as he was searched, and one of the men poured a bucket of water on him to wash the soot away from his skin. They searched him thoroughly, and it was after a couple minutes that they made a startling discovery.
The boy was clean, his skin was pale from lack of food and bath, but he was to the naked eye not infected.
Soaking wet and feeling worse by the moment as all eyes were on him now; Arthur looked to the doctor, and was waiting for his fate to be decided.
The doctor held his cane up, "You will be led to the graveyard and burned."
The crowd started to argue at this revelation.
One man shouted, "But he is not sick! Your men checked him!"
Yet another made the opposite claim, "He could still carry the sickness! Burn him!"
A woman, feeling sorry for Arthur, "But he is a child!"
The crowd broke into a fervor and some believed that violence would go over them, but the doctor shouted, "He will burn! To protect the town, all those infected or thought to be infected are to perish!"
Tears started to pour from Arthur's eyes and down his reddened cheeks, and thoughts of his dead family entered his mind. Maybe it was better this way, as he was about to be reunited with them. He resigned himself to his fate.
The crowd got louder, some in protest and some in favor of the death to come.
The doctor's arm was raised, cane in hand up high over his head, like he was going to strike the boy down with it.
But before he could bring it down on Arthur, the loud neighing of a horse was heard from the edge of the crowd, and everyone stopped to see who was coming through. Even the doctor peered in the direction, wishing to see who would dare come through the road.
From out of the fog came a large black steed slowly walking down the cobblestone road carrying a lone rider. The crowd, before roused to near violence, parted in silence for the rider as he passed them but stopping where the doctor stood.
"You better have a good explanation for this sir," said the doctor peering up at the rider through the eye slits of the mask he wore. He had to correct himself after seeing the rider's face however.
It wasn't a man but a woman who was on the horse, peering down at him with her eyes hidden in the hood of a white cloak. There were long tresses of platinum blonde hair coming from the hood and going down her chest which was covered in shiny metal armor. The hilt of what could have been a sword was seen on her back while the cloak draped her shoulders and her arms.
Even in the shadow of her hood, the doctor could make out a pair of bright green eyes looking down at him and he felt lucky wearing the mask as it hid his nervousness. What was it about this woman that had him, as well as the whole crowd, completely on edge?
"I wish to pass through."
The doctor took note of the woman's voice, she sounded like she was a teenager, but surely that was not the case he thought. "Could you not see the road is blocked dear girl? There is plague in this town, and unless you want to contract the disease yourself you will be on your way so we can extinguish those who keep it among us."
Getting down from her steed, metal greaves touching the cobblestone road, and caressing the neck of her horse to sooth him, she turned to the doctor. "You think this boy alone has the pestilence?"
"We have snuffed out the rest of the disease, doing what we can to protect the population, and he is of the last house known to have it. When he dies, the people can rest easy when they sleep at night."
The crowd was split down the middle, but all kept silent as the two exchanged looks.
The woman turned her head to look at the crowd that had surrounded her, waiting for how she was going to respond.
"Is that so?"
Arthur, still deep in despair, felt like something was going to happen. Whether it was good or bad, he didn't know.
The doctor stepped between the boy and the woman, "For the sake of the village, he will die. And you will not interfere!"
"Your words, like your reasoning, are sickening." Raising her arms which were covered with elbow length white gloves with small plates of armor on the upside of her arms, her slender arms reached for the hood and pulled it back, revealing her breathtakingly beautiful face. "You have no power over me."
A woman in the crowd gasped, and the doctor himself took half a step back.
The woman's face, her green eyes shining even when the sun was blocked by the gray sky as well as framed by the sunlight blonde hair that went down her body, made all those around her stare for some short moments. Some men and even women blushed as they were caught off guard by her beauty.
Somehow finding the courage in his being, the doctor replied, "I do not know who you are, but in case you do not know but I am the authority here, and if you do not follow what I say, then you can share the fate of this one!" He raised his cane up once again above his head and brought it down on the woman.
The sound of metal on metal was heard, and the man's cane was sent flying behind him, and to the surprise of everyone watching, the sword the woman had in her scabbard now had its sharp tip was resting at the base of his neck. The woman held her sword with one hand and her arm was steady which should have been impossible as the sword she was wielding was as long as a broadsword but the blade was thin and didn't seem to have been used in a long while. With lightning speed, she had drawn the sword and disarmed the man before holding the blade to his neck.
The sudden action seemed to go through the area, and Arthur felt the grip on his arms loosened and he got free. He searched around for the nearest escape route, ready to make his way through the crowd.
"There's nothing to be afraid of. Come to me."
It took Arthur a few seconds to realize the words were meant for him, and that it was the woman who had spoken to him. He ran to her left side, hiding under her cloak and wrapped his arms around her legs which on the left side was covered by a skirt with big white bird feathers that was soft to his cheek.
Now knowing the boy was safe, the woman turned her attention to the doctor who had about killed him, "I will take him." She pressed the tip of her sword further against his neck. Not enough to break skin, but to make a point she wanted to give.
Hands at his sides, wary of the fact that a sword was against his neck, "Then you will die by the disease he carries…and you will have only yourself to blame should you get sick."
The woman gave a glare and pressed the sword slightly more against him, but didn't say a word. She pulled her sword back and placed it in the sheath on her back. Her left hand was resting on the boy's head as she turned back to her horse, leading the grateful Arthur to it before helping him up into the saddle with ease.
A man from the crowd cautiously offered to help the woman up, but she gave a small smile and climbed up herself. That smile was gone after she grabbed the reins and glared at the doctor. "Then that is my fate."
Without another word the mysterious rider pulled the horse by the reins and made her way through the crowd, leaving the doctor dumbfounded and silently beside himself with a rage even God himself would find exceptional.
Once past the town heading north, Arthur finally felt his enthusiasm return, his mind and body felt invigorated. His glee with his unexpected savior was unmeasurable. Were it not for this warrior he would have been killed by that doctor. "Thank you for all you have done for me, miss!"
The woman turned to look back over her shoulder, offering the boy a small polite smile. Yet she had to let him know. "I saved you, but for you to accompany me would be even more dangerous. Is there not a place you may go beside the village?"
The woman had saved him from certain death out of her own choosing but now that he was free Arthur had to fend for himself. As sad as he was that she wouldn't be able to let him stay, Arthur didn't have to ask why. She was a traveler, and that meant any unnecessary baggage would be a hindrance.
The boy replied, "Well, I have an uncle in the next town, he had been unable to find me before the church locked down the village. You can leave me there."
"Very well," was her reply.
"By the way, miss? What is your name?"
The woman stopped walking and turned to the boy. "I am Aurora Ravensbourne, a hunter."
A breeze came through and gently swayed her blonde locks and even the rays of the sun shined through the clouds overhead. Her expression softened for the boy. It was the prettiest sight he had ever seen in his young life.