The Knight and the Amazon
The Order of the High King was superior to any other, doubtless. That wasn't even a question to Deroc when he set out for the convention. He would prove the Order's superiority to all the other warriors, once and for all. Each individual knight, as well as the whole that was composed of them. Deroc pondered this future victory as he rode along on this sunny day, his squire trailing after him piteously. He'd heard others in the Order speak of thinking away the long, dull hours of riding, and did it himself, now and then. Sir Faroy, his very own captain, was reputed to do it quite a lot. In Deroc's humble opinion, it made him less like a knight, not more like one, but perhaps that was why he'd been made a captain to begin with. Good knights, ordinary knights, did not think all too much, and were the better for it.
At a glance, he was an unassuming knight. Certainly in his homeland it was not unusual to see one of the Order, a Blue Knight as the peasants called them, riding alone, with his squire. In this country, though, he was a sight to be seen. He wore only chain mail, leaving the heavier plate armor that went over it packed and carried on one of two mules that were lead by his squire. The hood of his steel mail-shirt was down, revealing white skin, noble features, and sky blue eyes between short, flaxen hair and a matching, neatly trimmed beard. His black boots were highly polished, and his surcoat was a deep, royal blue, with the emblem of the Order proudly stitched in gold and silver upon it. Two silver swords crossed and were circled by a gold crown. A ring of intricate lettering, embroidered in pearly white, surrounded the device. He rode a noble, golden mare, and was followed by a huge, pure white stallion. As I said, a sight to be seen, for the locals.
Immersed in his musings of obvious superiority, it was quite some time before Deroc noticed the lone walker ahead. Timidly, his squire spoke up.
"Sir Deroc!" the boy called.
"Hmm?" said Deroc, startled into something of a daze.
"Sir Deroc, ahead of us, a loneman!" repeated the squire. Deroc looked ahead. Indeed, there was a solitary walker marching along a highway set to cross with their own. The loneman was too far to judge, but Deroc was not worried.
"Ease up, Sabne," he said cheerfully. "He's not a threat yet, and even if he were, we could take him!" Sabne said nothing more, but continued to lead the mules and the steed.
As they rode on, Deroc got a better look at the figure they were destined to meet. The more clearly he saw it, the more profoundly he was astonished. It was, indeed, a lone walker, but it was a woman, and she seemed to be headed to the warrior convention. Could it be…? If she was what and who Deroc thought she was, he was one of the luckiest men in the Order, and would surely have tall tales to tell his friends when he returned.
The Order was rife with legends of Amazons, warrior women that were strikingly beautiful and frightfully strong. Many of the tales were overtly sexual, if not most of them. One was not like the other, and none much like the truth. Sir Deroc, like any good knight, had heard nearly all of them, and so was watching intently as he and the warrior woman both drew closer to the crossroads. In particular, he was curious to know if the Amazons really and truly cut off their own right breasts, as a qualification of admission.
It seemed they did. Once he's seen that, Deroc had little time to gather his wits about him before their first encounter, but he managed to do just that, enough to greet her as they both turned onto the same road.
"Good day, my lady," he said to her cordially. "Might I introduce myself?"
"You might, if you wish," she replied shortly, in a deep, lilting voice. She was indifferent, keeping her eyes locked on the horizon ahead. He was engrossed, determined to note every detail of her appearance, every mannerism, to report to his fellow knights.
"Sir Deroc Blance," he introduced himself, undaunted by her chill response. "Pleased to meet you."
She was tall, broad about the shoulders, and muscular. Her skin was a deep, earthy brown. Her eyes were dark brown. Her facial features were hard and sharp-cut. Her hair was short, black and frizzled, pulled back tightly into a small knot at the peak of her head. Her attire was simple, and scant: a sleeveless leather tunic that came down to above her knees, hide sandals who's straps wound up her shins, a plain belt that was no more than a rawhide string tied around her waist. Her weaponry was ample, primitive, and well cared for: an unstrung bow and a skin quiver slung across her back, a wooden-handled axe at her waist, two daggers, one on each shin, tucked into the straps of her sandals, a feather-decorated spear that she carried like a staff. He tried to make conversation.
"Headed for the warrior convention, I assume," he said with his most charming smile.
"As am I. Sent by the Order of the High King." In case she had missed the device on his surcoat.
"We've heard of you," she informed him briefly.
"Sincerely, I must say I look forward to contesting you," tried Deroc, thinking flattery might help. "We, too, have heard of the formidable fighting skills of your order."
"Not order," she corrected thoughtlessly, "Queendom."
"Were you sent by the Amazon Queen?" he asked, attempting to appear impressed.
"We heard of this gathering of warriors. We all felt we should be represented. I was decided upon, as a delegate," she explained. "To the best of our knowledge, we are the only warriors that admit women alone into our ranks."
"You say you've heard of the Order of the High King," probed Deroc with an increasing smile.
"In my land, you are known as northern barbarians," she retorted with a quick, biting smile, then speeded her walking. It was only too easy for Deroc's golden mare to catch up. Despite the insult, he still wanted to know more.
"By the way," she added, as he came into her view again, "we're not likely to contest at all. We share no weapons." Sadly, Deroc noted that she was right. He frowned down at the sword and dagger he was carrying and wished he'd packed an axe on the mules, in addition to his crossbow, lance and flail. It was no use wishing, and he knew it. He decided to bring up touchy subjects to keep the conversation going.
"Do you think women make better warriors than men?" he inquired, now trying to sound scholarly.
"I've met men in battle that were my equals," she said. "From meeting you, I see it's not raw strength that your kind lacks, nor skill in fighting, but the wits to manage them. That is to your disadvantage." She was smiling again, a small, crooked, mocking smile. Deroc quickly regretted bringing up the subject. Speaking to a flesh-and-blood Amazon was not worth such a verbal thrashing.
He made no more attempts to compel her to speak, but kept his mare alongside her. For a time, they progressed in silence. Dusk was just beginning to dye the sky crimson, and the shadows were stretching long, when they started to hear the sounds of a camp. It was certainly the camp of convening warriors, and it sounded like they were gathering swift and numerous.
Abruptly the Amazon turned to Deroc, and spoke of her own accord. "My name is Shuraka, and I'm an Amazon warrior," she proclaimed. "I am not a camp follower, and will not be treated as such," she concluded harshly, as her eyes glinted icily.
"I never intended to-" he began hastily, but she interrupted him.
"Nonsense. Don't try to fool me, that's the only thing you've intended since you figured out what I was," she said sharply. "I was warned about this, and I'm damned if I let anyone make a try on me. I know all about the likes of you." She was cold, calculated, dangerous.
"What do you know about my Order?" challenged Deroc. Their reputation was at stake, their pride.
"Down south, we call you the Order of Bastards," she replied, chill and composed as ever.
Deroc was furious at the insult. He halted his mare immediately, and signaled Sabne to stop, too. Dismounting, he caught up to Shuraka whilst simultaneously drawing up his mail hood with one hand, and unhis sword with the other.
"I demand a duel," he said harshly to her.
Shuraka raised an eyebrow. "A duel?"
"You insulted the name and honor of my order, both of which I vowed to protect when I took my knightly oath," he explained tersely. "Now, fight me!"
"We don't fight for such trifles," retorted the Amazon with biting carelessness.
"Trifles?" demanded the enraged knight. "Honor is no trifle. Chivalry is no trifle. Loyalty is no trifle. Do you not have loyalty in your order?"
"In Amazon philosophy, survival is superior to honor, so much so that honor is no consideration at all," explained Shuraka calmly, taking Deroc's violent anger at her stride.
"It's true, then, that women have no pride," stated he, resorting to insults against the woman who would not duel him.
"Pride is an individual matter. The welfare of the whole takes precedent over any personal consideration, and therefore, questions of pride and honor are not pursued by battle," she elaborated in a neutral tone. "Only men would be foolish enough to do battle over such petty considerations," she added, with that same crooked, triumphant smile.
"Why do you do that?" cried Deroc, frustrated. "You sling words at me like arrows, and yet you won't fight me like a-" he stopped himself. He's almost said 'like a man'.
"Amazons have a saying, a piece of wisdom that has protected us from senseless wars for generations," said she, still maddeningly calm. "Petty squabbles are good for sharpening your tongue, not dulling your blade," she quoted.
The fair-haired knight almost said something, but stopped himself in time and held his peace. After a moment he shook himself, re-sheathed his long-sword, and mounted his mare. Calling an order to his squire, he took off in a gallop. The four other horses soon followed suit. Shuraka watched them briefly, then shrugged, glanced at the sky, and set walking again, hoping to beat the dark to the camp.
Deroc and Shuraka never met again. The proud knight of the Order never sought out the Amazon, among the many attending the convention. He contested in many tourneys. She fought off many would-be suitors. She never gave him another thought, as the memory of their meeting blended into a thousand other encounters, debates and assaults. He never forgot her looks and mannerism, but gave little thought to her words. Each went home with a startlingly low opinion of the other. Shuraka shared hers with her tribe on several hunting trips, directly after her return. All Deroc shared with his comrades at arms were tall tales and sordid fantasies, repeating them by the fire, over wine, for years on end.