“I really don’t wanna do this...” Edward Aldrich sighed as he looked to the early afternoon sky. This time was just like the first four times he had tried to find a place where he could just sit back and relax and enjoy Merikano: someone (other than the occasional surly barkeep) decided that they did not like his preferred beverage and decided to try and set some sort of example. Invariably this was one of the local tough guys looking to put the outsider in his place or otherwise establish his dominance. “...I just wanna kick back, relax and have something light–”
“Shut up!” his soon to be opponent, what had to be the (second) largest and reddest Farming Person he had ever seen, growled. “You come into MY bar dressed up like a warrior and then have the guts to try and get something fit for a baby? Are you a baby?”
“No,” Edward replied with a combination of boredom and annoyance “I just don’t like the hard stuff, at least not until a hand past noon.”
“Oh! So you don’t like what they serve in MY bar and you’re a coward?”
Edward glanced out of the corner of his eye towards the bright red mountain of a man. His hands, which had casually rested at either end of his sword on both shoulders tightened just slightly. “...I didn’t say that.” He replied with annoyance.
“That’s what it sounded like over here.” The Farming Person grinned, noticing Edward’s annoyance. “Maybe you should speak up a bit then! Oh, I’m sorry, you’re still a baby, so you can’t!”
A small gust of wind kicked up a cloud of dust that wandered between the two men. Taking that as his cue, Edward exhaled, shoved one hand into a pocket and sauntered towards the Farming Person. Stopping just out of the red man’s reach, Edward looked up. Damn, this guy’s gotta be on the Billy Jo High-Protein Diet for Brawny Men. Oh well, the bigger they are... “Alright then... I’m going to tell you something important now, so you’d better dig the wax out of your ears and listen. My reputation of echoes far and wide. When they talk about the badass who is has an indomitable spirit, the man who never yields, never retreats and never regrets, they’re talking about me, Edward Aldrich! Just who in the hell do you think I am?!?”
An uneasy silence fell over the street, the small crowd that had gathered were stupefied and the Farming Person blinked in disbelief at the audacity standing before him. “A bloody idiot, that’s what.” He replied with a chuckle of amusement. He then reared back and brought his fist down hard and fast.
Edward saw that coming, after all that is how it went for Kamina most times. Still he hoped that it would work at least once. He stepped aside and at the same time, brought his sword around to knock the blow off-target. Not wasting a moment, slid into a defensive stance and waited for the Farming Person to decide how he was going to spend his afternoon.
“You’re fast boy, I’ll give you that.” The Farming Person smirked as he rubbed his wrist. “But really, what kind of man brings a sword to a fist-fight?”
“The kind that would rather not fight at all...” was Edward’s calm reply.
“Yeah, and look where you’re at now.”
Edward knew the Farming Person’s game; he couldn’t be trusted to not actually draw the sword at some point during the fight, so he was trying to remove it from the equation. “Alright, I’ll play.” Edward brought his sword up and threw it down, causing the weapon to sink a few inches into the dirt; just enough to keep it standing vertical while still in its scabbard. Without further prompting, he then stepped a comfortable distance away, shoving one hand into a pocket. “Happy?”
The Farming Person replied by making a typical brawler’s opening. Certainly not the best example of Captain Jiranee’s ‘Blow That Must Be Answered’, but at least the intent was there. Edward fell into a crouch and waited for just the right moment. When that moment arrived, he leapt straight up while simultaneously kicking his right foot out and throwing his weight backwards. For a brief moment the air around Edward’s lower leg rippled and his foot glowed a brilliant gold. Edward’s boot heel met the Farming Person’s chin with a resonating thud, followed immediately by a sharp, deep crack not unlike a whip snapping at the air. The force of the blow coupled with the shockwave from the kick sent the Farming Person flying backwards nearly to the edge of the makeshift ring of onlookers while Edward landed on his feet and resumed his defensive stance and waited.
The Farming Person pulled himself to his feet with a groan and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and spat blood.
“You done?” Edward asked. The Farming Person glowered in reply as he advanced in a much more cautious manner. “...guess not... Alright, I’ll keep dancing.”
The fight continued for several more minutes, however it quickly became clear that it was a one-sided match. Every attack made by the Farming Person was turned away by Edward, usually accompanied by a devastating counter strike. The fight ended with Edward sending the Farming Person down the street two blocks as the result of a particularly devastating blow he dubbed ‘Shining Fist Crash’.
Edward scratched the back of his head “...if this were a dojo, I guess this would be the part where I would take their sign or something, instead I get to mark yet another tavern off of the list of places I can just hang out at. What a pain.” He grumbled aloud as he turned to retrieve his sword.
“Ahh... here you are, Sir Edward.” Down on one knee, head bowed, a Hunting Person knelt, presenting Edward’s sword in both hands. Behind him was the tall and lanky form of a Running Person as well as a golden-maned Furred Person, both on one knee. All three were dressed in the fashion of Virava nobility, albeit in clothes that desperately needed cleaning and repair.
Edward started at the unexpected voice and then had a double-take upon seeing not one, but three Viravans. “Oh, uh... thanks.” He took the offered sword in one hand and scratched the back of his neck with the other. “Umm... you know there’s no need for that right? The kneeling thing.”
“But how else do we show our respect for such as great and powerful warrior?” The Hunting Person sounded puzzled, while the Running Person exchanged confused glances with the Furred Person. All three rose slowly, with Edward realizing that true to form, the Running Person towered over him, while the Furred Person, much to his surprise, was a female.
“You’re all a little far from Virava, what brings you three all the way down here?” Edward had a familiar gnawing feeling at the back of his mind that told him he already knew the answer, but he had to ask anyway.
“We have come to be your squires,” the Hunting Person replied quickly, as the other two nodded assent.
Dammit! Edward gave a guarded smile as the gnawing proved to be all too correct. “I...see...” He scratched the back of his head. “...well, no offense, but I’m not really looking to take on any squires, students or sidekicks. It’s not that I don’t appreciate your determination or anything...” You know that won’t work, right? the otaku gnawed at the back of his mind. Shut it. I don’t need this right now. “...I just don’t think that I’m teacher material. I’m sorry. Now if you’ll excuse me”
“But...” the Hunting Person stammered in confusion.
“Sir Edward,” cried the Furred Person, who quickly stepped in front of him. “We have come hundreds of miles, across lands strange to us, and have spent hands of days on the trading road just to see you. And you intend to dismiss us just like that?”
“Have we not proved our worth by coming this far?” Asked the Running Person. “Are you not one of the saviors of Virava and a companion of the Flower?”
Told you... “No... I mean yes.” He stopped and raked a hand through his hair. “Look, I know you guys went through hell and back to get here, and I appreciate that. I really do! It’s just that I’m not a teacher. And even if I were, as soon as Conan gets his act together, we’re going to the Center–” Edward stopped himself as soon as the words left his lips. “I appreciate you all following me all the way out here (even if it is a bit creepy if you think about it too long) and I’m sure any teacher would be thrilled to have students with a tenth of your perseverance and determination, but I’m not the teaching sort. Now, I really need to get going.” He moved to step around the Furred Person.
“But we aren’t here to be taught the sword,” the Furred Person replied.
“We already have skill at arms,” added the Hunting Person.
“We are here to be your squires, and serve you in your quest,” completed the Running Person.
Edward stopped and blinked. “Wait...what? I’m confused now. Isn’t that what squires are supposed to do? Find a knight to stick around with and learn from?” A moment’s pause was given “You know what? Never mind. Answer’s still no. Where I’m going is dangerous... dangerous to the point that I’m not sure any of us are gonna walk away from it, and I'm not about to let a group of kids tag along and wind up getting themselves killed because they thought it was a good idea to charge off and do something stupid?”
“You think us children?” the Running Person sounded indignant at that.
“I am no child,” joined in the Furred Person. “I have seen 60 seasons.”
“And your quest can be no more dangerous then the Jungle,” stated the Hunting Person. “There we guarded a caravan along the Trade Road and defended it from great beasts.”
“We have weapons.”
“And all three of us are second or third sons—err... or daughters—and have little prospect of name or notoriety back in Virava.”
“Perhaps we should ask the Flower instead. She is a woman of honor, and will not deny us.”
Edward pinched the bridge of nose and sighed. Must’ve stepped in a puddle of chocolate on the way outta that bar. “Alright, alright, calm down. I didn’t mean to offend anyone. Look, where I come from, going off and doing something completely stupid like this is something kids do. I should know... I’m damn near leading this charge, that is if our group had any sort of leader in the first place, and...” he paused and did the math, ticking off seasons on his fingers, thought about it and nodded. “...and I’m not much older than any of you, now that I think about it...”
He folded his arms over his chest and looked at the trio of Viravans. “All that aside, you didn’t really answer my question about what being a squire actually entails. If you’re not wanting me to teach you anything, then what is it you want from me? And be careful how you answer, because I’m not about to let someone follow me, or Captain Jiranee for that matter, into hell when they’ve got nothing to lose or are just looking for glory.”
“We wish to support you on your great crusade,” replied the Hunting Person. “And as your squires we would serve and follow you.”
“By maintaining your arms and armor,” continued the Furred Person.
“And seeing to your food and clothing,” added the Running Person.
“In return, you would teach the finer arts of the sword, as well as instruct us in the proper ways of being a knight,” finished the Hunting Person.
A long silence was Edward’s response as he digested their answer. “My answer’s still no. Not because I don’t think you’ve got what it takes. You do, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be standing here now. The fact of the matter is that I’m not looking for servants, aides, or anything like that.” He paused and looked at them each in turn as he spoke. “If you want to follow me, help me, learn from me, I can’t stop that. But I draw the line at being pampered. I can take care of my own gear and I’ve been able to feed and dress myself for as long as I can remember, I don’t need someone doing it for me now.
“Besides,” Edward turned his attention to his sword for a moment. “there isn’t much of anything I can teach anyone when it comes to using a sword. I’m sure that any one of you could put me on my ass if we crossed blades, and Captain Jiranee could easily wipe the floor with my face without breaking a sweat.”
The three exchanged uncomfortable glances at that. Apparently Edward’s reputation as a master swordsman far exceeded his personal assessment of his own skills.
“But...” Edward held up one finger with a half-smile. “I can teach you what it is to be a hero. Not all knights are heroes, what happened in Virava is proof of that, and you don’t need to be a knight to be a hero.”
“So you will take us a squires then?” asked the Furred Person, her voice hopeful.
Edward shook his head. “I’ll take you as friends and traveling companions. Like I said, I don’t need anyone to take care of me or my gear. We’re gonna be in this together, and I think the only thing I’ve got on you is I’ve been doing the hero thing a little longer... other than that, we’re equals. If you want to call that being a squire, though something tells me that the term doesn’t quite fit, go ahead. But for me, I’m going to I’m going to call you by your names.”
“ I am Arunkumar,” announced the Hunting Person. Like most of his people, he was tan skinned with shoulder-length white hair. His clothes consisted of a travel worn cotehardie, worn over thick woolen hose and low leather boots.
“Shyam,” announced the Running Person. Tall and long-legged, he had light brown skin and a thick shock of straw-colored hair. His clothes were akin to those of Arunkumar’s, albeit cut for his lanky frame, while his boots reached nearly to his knees.
“And I am Susheela,” finished the Furred Person. Her golden mane contrasted sharply with her gray fur and tail, while her boots reached to mid-thigh. “We are pleased to enter your service.”
Edward nodded to each of the Viravans as they introduced themselves. Not exactly names I would see in an anime or manga, though Edward isn’t much better. He gave a mental shrug. “Yeah... about that. There is no ‘service’ going on here. We’re a team, we share the duties and responsibilities as well as victories.” He paused and tried to think of a better way to explain it. “Basically we each take on a certain duty and either rotate the responsibilities or they just get assigned; like maintaining gear. For example, I would do the majority of the maintenance on all of our gear, such as making sure it’s in working order, clean and ready to use. But if you want a customization or a specific weapon or something, that’s on you. Make sense?”
“But...” Arunkumar looked confused. “We just said we would be able to look after your wargear. Why would you do it then?”
“I just said—” Edward stopped himself and raked a hand through his hair. “—because we are a team, as in ‘us’. All of us. We take care of each other.”
“Right,” replied Shyam. “And we have come to help take care of, and support, you in your great crusade.”
Edward blinked and scratched at his head with both hands in frustration, paused and took a long deep breath. “And in turn I will help take care of and support you in your efforts to accomplish your own goals.” Another pause as he realized that the four of them were talking in circles and effectively getting nowhere. “Look, here’s the deal, you help me and each other and I’ll help you. What I’m saying is that we’re all going to be working together here... and by ‘we’, I am also including myself as well.”
“Of course!” all three replied in unison.
“So, when do we start?” Susheela asked.
“Hmmm...” Edward mused. “How about tomorrow morning? That will give you time to recover from your journey.”And give me time to figure out what in the bloody hell I just got myself into. “Sound good?”
As one the trio took a knee and bowed their heads. “Sir Edward, we take your leave, until tomorrow morn,” they stated. Rising, the three walked off, chatting excitedly among themselves, apparently looking forward to the “great crusade” with an enthusiasm Edward wasn’t sure he understood. As he watched them depart, he scratched the side of his jaw, and as soon as all three were well out of sight he took an about-face and ran. He tore through the streets of Merikano looking for the one person, the only person in his mind who could possibly help him now...
* * * * *
“Captain Jiranee!” Edward panted as he stopped a short distance from the elven warrior. “Thank god I found you.”
The tall elf blinked at the outburst before thrusting her spear butt-first into the ground and leaning on it. “And why is that, Master Edward?”
“I... think I got myself into a bit of trouble.” Edward began, scratching the back of his head. He then explained the situation with Arunkumar, Shyam, and Susheela tracking him down and what the three of them expected. "What am I going to do? I don't know the first thing about teaching anyone anything. Not only that, but they seem hell-bent on being my servants or something!"
“Squires,” she corrected. “It sounds as if they wish to be your squires. Does this bother you that much?”
Edward scratched the back of his head. “Kinda sorta no... not really? It’s just...” He paused and thought for a moment. “...it’s just that they seem to want to do all of this stuff and, well, I really don’t need or want that sort of thing.” Another pause. “What I mean, is that I don’t mind folks hanging around to help me out and all, but I don’t want them doing everything, this is supposed to be a team effort, you know? Taking care of each other, watching each other’s back, working tougher to make things happen and stuff like that. But if they’re doing all of the work, well, that’s not really teamwork.”
“But they won’t be doing all the work,” Jiranee replied. “Yes, they want to keep your arms and armor in proper repair and see to you needs, but that is only a small part of it. They fully expect you to put them to work, so that they may learn those skills a proper knight needs.” She paused and sat down on a nearby barrel, leaning on her spear. “When I take squires, or even men-at-arms, it is understood that they are becoming part of my house, and that they have certain responsibilities. Keeping the house clean, keeping my wargear clean, is just one of those. I find it teaches responsibility and discipline. It also allows me to spend more time in instructing the squires later, such training them in skill at arms or proper courtly manners and graces.” She paused again and looked over at Edward with a quizzical look. “Does that make sense to you?”
“Yes and no.” Edward sighed as he looked towards the Center. “I’m not gonna lie, I have no bloody clue what’s gonna happen after we take those guys out there down. What I do know is that if I walk away from it, I’m not sticking around. There’s just too much to see here and... staying in one place just doesn’t seem to be my style.” He looked back to the Captain. “There won’t be many houses, courts or anything like that where I’m going. Sure, I’m not gonna let wrongs go unpunished or anything, but I don’t see myself staying in any one place any longer than I have to.
“That said, I don’t think what they are expecting will be conducive to their training. I mean, if I had the intention of sticking around anywhere and setting up shop, yeah, that’d be great...but I don’t, so I’m not so sure what they are expecting will mesh too well with what will actually happen.” He paused and scratched the back of his head. “Not sure if that makes sense to you or not...”
“Yes, it does,” Jiranee replied. “And Master Edward if your three squires are like some of those who have been part of my house, the life of a knight-errant may be exactly what they think service is all about. Thus, telling them of your intended plans may serve to only increase their desire to accompany you, not remove it.”
He shrugged. “I figured as much. I don’t have a problem with them following me around or anything like that. It’s just that them doing all the grunt work like they seem to expect or want to do won’t be all that useful for teaching them anything, hence the division of labor... which is something that I don’t think they actually understand. I tried before, but I don’t think they got it.” Edward scratched the back of his head. “What do you think, should I try to set them straight or just go straight to the hard way?”
Resting the shaft of her spear in the crook of an elbow, Jiranee crossed her arms and took her pointed chin in hand. “I think you should let them do what makes them happy. Forcing Arunkumar, Shyam, and Susheela to change their ways may prove to be difficult, and may end badly for all four of you. Let them service you wargear as they see fit and when they ask, tell them of your ways slowly, so they may understand them better.”
Edward nodded “…that’s what I figured. Hard way it is then.” He paused. “What? You think that’s gonna be easy on any of us? Anyway, thanks for the assist, now I gotta figure out how to make all of this work without breaking anything in the process.”
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