And thus, the hero died, and all was lost. No justice would prevail, no tears would be quelched.
'It had been a bit stupid of him, thinking he was a hero of the stories man told, attacking the baron like that, and taking those other farmers along, against soldiers.' Marian thought, while she was walking home from the city. She had tried to get some food there, but the food was to expensive. As a revenge the baron had burned down all the crops, and not only those of the people that had tried and failed to kill him: but not before taking enough for himself. Tonight, she and her parents would go hungry again. Only the baron and his soldiers were well fed.
The road was empty but for her. The sun would set soon now. Hopefully she could make it back home before dark.
By the Gods but it was cold! There was definately snow in the air. She drew her mantle a bit closer to her. Not that that helped alot, but she had to do something...
Galloping on the road. A horse moved down it fast. She quickly dove to the side of the road, scaring a rabbit that was apparently hiding there for her. The rabbit was just in time to scare the horse shitless. It reared, threw his master off, and his master got stuck in the stirrups....the horse ran off, with him still stuck, making him bounce his head to the road, getting in between the frantic hooves.
She ran after them, in the hopes she could stop the horse. But the horse was fast, to fast for her. Well, at least she was warm now! She kept a while on the trail of the horse, hoping she would catch up, feeling very guilty...had she not been walking there, had she only not scared the stupid rabbit, the man would still be ok. She heard a soft whickering. She followed the sound...could it be?
There a horse stood, at the edge of the forest, just behind some shrubberies. Careful not to startle the beast again, she walked up to it. "shhh, easy there, easy now" She grabbed the reins, and attached them to a branch. Then, she went to look at the guy. He was dead. She cursed under her breath....and sickened up.
"Think, Mari, think!!!" If anyone would find out what had happened she would be hung up, that is for sure! Nobody would listen to her, that it was not as if she put the rabbit up to scare the bloody horse. They would condemn her, because she was poor and this guy at least rich enough to have a horse...There simply was no justice for the poor.
She freed the mans feet from the stirrups. Now what?
Hunger, cold and a sense of survival instinct moved her to do as she did then. She searched the mans clothing. He had a pouch filled with money, she took it. And he had a letter. She could not read, but took it anyway. His body was far from the village, and the nearest farm was also far. When the snow fell, it would cover him up. Hopefully he was never detected. His horse could feed not only her, but her entire family.
She immediately thought better then that: word was sure to get out they had lots of horsemeat. Then questions would be asked. That and the disappeared guy...not good!
But killing it and not taking the meat would be to much for her. Rather hide it then. She could use it now to be home in time before sunset. But not over the road. Nevermind how unlikely it would be someone would see her, she could not take the risk! So she climbed the horse. Not as easy as it seemed. The horse moved away nervously, as if it knew something was wrong here. Finally she got onto it. Now what? She asked the horse to move, but it refused. She thought of how people often sat on horses....they kicked them. So she started to kick it, harder and harder, till it moved. It stopped after a meter. "Comon horse, I need to get home soon!"
The horse did not seem to be in a hurry though. It started to eat. She got upset, and kicked it so hard it reared. She had to hold on as best as she could, while it set off. Grabbing the reins, she tried steering it the right way.
It took her the entire night to get home. She was exhausted. But the horse was hidden, she had dried it off with a blanket, cause she once had heard someone tell a horse could die if one did not do that, it had water and a shed. An old shed where once a witch was rumored to have lived. The cloak she had left behind of course. But some bread she had found in the saddlebags, she had taken along. She pretended at home she had been sleeping, after coming home very late. And was up again. She gave them the bread, and nobody talked about it anymore. She helped her mom making clothes from wool, she spinned it and her mom knit it together. As soon as she had done enough for her mom to work on, she went outside, to "find nuts". Surely she would try to find them, but first she had to take care of the horse. She cleaned out the shed, and let it outside to eat grass at a field nearby. She also tried to climb it again, and ride it. Suddenly she felt watched. She looked around, but nobody to be seen. Shaking off the feeling, she took the horse back, dried it off, and started to look for nuts. Luckily she saw a squirrel giving his store away, so she came back with a nice bunch of them. Her dad had bumped into a few rabbits that were foolish enough to get caught. It was shared with the neighbours who also were starving.
Days went by, with hunger, and sometimes without it if the neighbours or they could get something to eat. And her mom kept nagging her about getting a man, and a family of her own. But the boys she knew were all so stupid!
So she went to look after the horse every day to avoid her moms nagging...and wondered what to do with it. If ever she was found out she would be in such trouble!
Then there it was again, the feeling of being watched! This time when she looked around, she saw a man, standing at the edge of the grassy field she walked the horse in, further away then the field before.
She was dead....
He would betray what he had seen....she was SO dead!
The man waved at her. He did not look hostile. She waved back. He waved her to him. She got off the mount, and pulled it towards him. Maybe he would take it off of her. She almost hoped so, but then shivered in fear again thinking someone might recognise it and him pointing to her.
"You have no clue do you?" the man softly laughed. He looked nice enough. "I saw you earlier in the woods with her, and you did not improve alot with riding skills". Was he mocking her? She drew her eyes to the floor, and felt herself redden.
"I found it in the woods sir" Not a complete lie. "It did not seem to have a master, so I take care of it now"
The man frowned at that. Then, his face lightened up again. "Want at least some advise from an old man?" He was not old... "Sure"
He held his hand out to her. She looked at it, then at him. And she held out her hand. He shaked it "Santo", nice to meat you....?" "Marian" "Marian, a beautiful name for a beautiful young women"
He showed her how to climb the horse decently.
And he showed her how to hold the reins, keep her legs, her feet, how to sit. Then, suddenly, the sun started to set! She said startled "its late I have to go home". The man looked at her. "how far is home?"
She would not make it before dark, she was sure. She looked desparate. Santo chuckled. "My fault, I should have stopped earlier with teaching you. But it was such fun!" Again, she reddened. "You can sleep at my place if you want, then I will take you home in the morning and explain things to your parents"
"No please, I will make my way home alone, tonight!!"
Again he frowned. Then he laughed. "of course, what would they think, a young women with a man in one house, stupid me! Where are my manners. I will take you home then."
She felt deep agony...how to tell him her parents knew nothing of a horse? She could not go home on it! They would probably kill it either way, and she got attached to it.
Santo seemed to read her mind. "The horse can stay in my stable if you like. Then I ride you home on mine, deal?"
She nodded, not knowing what else to do. He just laughed again, and suddenly jumped up behind her and took over the reins. The horse did not even seem to bother he mounted...that was so unfair, the stupid beast always moved when she mounted it! "Hold on!" And off they went, so fast she yelped with fear. Santo just laughed, put one arm around her and made the horse go even faster.
When they arrived at his house, the sun was almost down. He told her to go in, while he would take care of the horse. And make his own horse ready.
So she went opened the door to the house. First she entered a little hallway, then a next door led her to the living room. And her mouth fell open in amazement. The walls were filled with bookcases, filled to the rim with books! On the table were even more books, and on a few comfortable looking chairs you could not sit because of...books! Never in her lifetime had she ever seen so many books!!
She figured he would be a while more, and looked on through a next door. That led to a kitchen. It was tidy, more so then she would have expected for a man living on his own. Herbs were neatly put on shelves. Fresh herbs were in the window. And a pie, warm still, was standing on a table. She wondered how it would get here if he lived alone...
She was hungry but did not want to offend him by stealing his food. She looked on...two small bedrooms. Behind the kitchen she found a small storage room. Filled with food! Meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, everything! Her mouth started to water.
A presense filled the room. She turned around sharply. A guy was standing in the doorway to the kitchen. His hairs were the weirdest colour red, as if flames were on top of him instead of hairs. It was also wild like fire. "Who are you" he suspiciously asked, his voice was not at all like the warm voice of the other man. "That is Marian, she will be eating here before I ride her home"
"Are you insane inviting people over here? You never think about possible consequences do you!!"
The redhair sounded really mad. But Santo laughed. "She won't tell anyone anything" He turned his very friendly face towards her. "They'd probably hang her when they found out she has the horse of that missing courier" He chuckled again, seeing her VERY red face now. So we all have our little secrets.
She shivered. If that was not a hidden threat, she did not know what was. The redhaired guy looked at her, then suddenly laughed. "Ok, fair enough. You do not tell anyone anything about us, and we keep our mouth shut about you and your horse"
Suddenly he seemed to be more then ok with her being there, and offered her pie. Then he started on Santo again, for not telling him he would take someone for dinner, and he would not have enough for all. Santo just winked at her. "Don't worry Marian, he is very nice once you get to know him."
They all set down at the table. She started to eat, and before she knew it the pie was gone....and the guys were only looking at her. Reddening again she realised they had not touched a single bit of their dinner.
"Barons lands?" a sad voice now from the red haired guy. Santo only nodded. Suddenly Redhair stood up and went to the storage room. He grabbed a bag and started to stuff things in it. "You two need to be on your way now. Take this"
He put the bag in her hands, it was almost to heavy to carry. Her eyes felt all watery suddenly. So much food! That was more then generous!
"I do not even know your name" she whispered. He only laughed. A deep, warm laugh it was now. Santo took her by the hand, ushered her outside and onto his waiting horse. A deep black stallion, in a deep black night.
She was in his arms, not afraid anymore, and the horse was fast. If her buttom would not have been so sore she would have wished the ride could have taken longer.
Then there was her house. They both went in. Her parents, brothers and sisters looked up from their chores. They quickly took in the good clothing of the man bringing her home. Her dad rose to his feet.
"Good evening all" Santos friendly voice sounded cheerful. "This little lady got a bit stuck on the other side of the woods, so I figured I would take her home" "Stuck, how stuck..." There was something in her dads sound that made her shrink. "The sun was setting, and she feared she would not make it home this night" Santo said, apparently unaware of the threat.
"He gave me food dad, look!!"
She showed the bag, and that did it...her father stormed Santo and hit him square on his nose. "Father no!!! what are you doing!!"
"Marry my daughter then you scoundrel, instead of trying to buy her family off with food"
"I promise you dear sir, I did not do anything to harm your daughter in any way" "LIAR" Now her mom started to rage as well "you filthy son of a bitch, my poor daughter will never find a man anymore unless you marry her!!!"
Marian was crying and screaming he had not harmed her, and he only took her home, and he told the truth but nobody seemed to hear her. Then her dad launched yet another attack.
This time Santo was prepared however. He moved faster then lightning and then dad was lying on the floor. An eery silence followed. Only her sobs could be heard. "Are you alright Marian?" the kind man asked her. She nodded, though she knew the nod was a lie. He looked sympathetic, as if he knew. Her mom said "I knew it, with all the sneaking out of the house, a secret lover, how can you do this to your family" She started to cry now, which was actually as bad as her screaming. Her dad rose to his feet.
And Santo, he just started to laugh, a booming roaring laughter. Some of her siblings started to, they seemed not to be able to help themselves. "I am so sorry Irene, but no, she is not my secret lover. She will find a man in due time, do not worry, she strikes me as a very nice young lady, that did not meet the love of her life yet"
And with that, he left. Leaving the family silent. Then the youngest one looked at the sack. He was so hungry, they had had food yet today, since there was none. She reached into it. And pulled out a ham. Then, she pulled out a bread, fruits, vegetables, cheese, and suddenly all the mishap was forgotten. The sack seemed endless! Food kept pouring out of it. It seemed more then would fit the bag, but nobody complained.
The next day they invited the neighbours over. And there was, for once, plenty to fill them all.
She however went back to the house of Santo and the redhaired guy, to thank them again, and feed and care for the horse. Santo sat on one of the chairs, reading a book. As was his redhaired friend. Just that his hairs were not red today. They were black as the night, with stars shining in them. The stars kept changing place, and she got dizzy watching it.
They looked up when she entered and smiled. Then the Nighthaired guy looked serious again. "That messenger, did he have a message on him?" She tried to look innocent and said "I don't know"
Now Santo looked at her again, and he, as always, seemed to look right through her. How did he even figure out the name of her mom? He had called her Irene. How had he known? And then she told him the truth...everything that had happened to her from when she left. They went along to the shack, where the saddlebag of the horse was, and she showed them the letter that she had tucked inside of it.
Santo read it, and Nighthair read it, and they frowned, and looked worried.
"Go to the king and tell him everything. Ride like you never rode before. Show him this letter." Nighthair said "They will never let me get to him!" she exclaimed. She had no clue where that king even lived! She would be hung for the couriers death!
"In three days, it will be midwinter" Santo said quietly. "you have to take her" he looked at his companion. Midnight shivered. "I will. But only if she promises on her very life to never tell anyone about it." Santo looked at her. "Promises are expensive at times. Can you keep it?"
She looked at the both of them. "I promise you both, I will not talk about anything that can give you away" A heavy feeling of promised washed over it. Realisation hit her. She would not betray either of them, whatever the cost would be.
Then, Midnight started to change before her eyes. He got the looks of an animal. Sometimes he was a horse, sometimes a reindeer, sometimes a lion. "Hop on" he said. "Wait" Santo said "put this on first, it will make you look more likely for a fast word with the king" and he pulled out a beautiful gown.
She changed fast, then hopped on Midnights back. And he took off. She had expected him to run, but what he did was very unsuspected. He only ran for a bit, then he took off into the air. He changed into a bird, a deer, a horse, all flying!!! And he laughed "Hold on little lady"
Before dawn they were at their destination. He put her on the roof of the castle and told her to jump down. She looked at him. A strange sense of trust washed over her. He was his human form again. Hairs changing. She jumped. And floated down gently into the courtyard. Now it was her turn to laugh. A stableboy woke up at it, and saw her standing in the courtyard, laughing and looking up, waving to something he could not see. He alerted his master, who again alerted the guards.
She was taken into custody, but the seriousness had not yet hit her after her wonderous ride. An officer interrogated her and she demanded to be let to the king at once. The tone of voice was not hers, it was commanding, yet the voice was hers. They woke up the king. And he was furious. She bowed for him, more elegantly then she could ever have done. And handed him the letter. He saw the opened seal. "for opening this I should have you beheaded" he said. She shivered, and said "as you wish it to be my King, it shall be, my faith is in your hands now."
The king read the letter and paled. "Do you know what is in this letter?" "I have no idea my Lord, I was told to hand it to you fast."
The king frowned. "Then I need to know who gave this to you."
"I am very sorry my king, but I made a promise that keeps me bound, not ever to tell." She shivered upon seeing the very angry face of the king. Now he would hang her...but rather that then going back on her promise.
Then the king turned to a sleepy looking person next to him. "Give her a decent reward, and get general Dotrum. And get this girl home"
She bowed deeply for him, overwhelmed by the fact she would not get hung but rewarded instead. "And thank the person giving you this letter as well for me" he said, smiling now. Then he marched off.
She was brought home by a soldier. At home, her parents were very quiet when she was brought home by a soldier this time. In a fancy dress no less! A horse was standing next to the house. Her horse!!! She looked at it, her eyes almost falling out of her sockets. Her parents told her it had walked towards their home, and nobody knew who's horse it was. And they on their turn heard from the soldier he was on orders from the king himself to take her home safely. Since he now had done so, he left. To celebrate Midwinter with his family.
They had the best celebrations ever. There was food enough, they now owned a horse (the soldier had told them to keep it if nobody claimed it), and her dad had cut down a beautiful tree to decorate the house with. She had to tell them the entire story of course, but she did not tell most of it. She just told them she had met a stranger that had told her to go to the king with a letter, and that the stranger gave her the dress. And she showed them the rich reward. Enough to buy them a few cows and build a stable.
The next day she went back to the house of Santo and Midnight as she came to call the strange guy. The house was abandoned though. And seemed to have been so a long, long time. No books, no food, only dust remained.
When she returned home again, baffled, she met very excited neighbours that just arrived. He is besieged, the king is besieging the baron!
The baron was defeated, condemned for high treason and beheaded. As were the earl of Mabeton and the baron of Dortinham.
The food was distributed to the needy citizens, and a new baron raised by the king. But that is another story for another time.
And though Marian kept her promise, bits and pieces of the story others knew went along to live their own lives, and formed into yet another story.