Aaron sat by the fire and honed the blade of his flamberge. Hugo was intently polishing his armor and humming quietly to himself, losing himself in the simple task. Aaron thought back over the last year that he had been traveling with Hugo. Hugo had saved him from a trio of knights that had been told that Aaron was a rapist. While Aaron had done no such crime, the three knights seemed not to care. They waited until Aaron was in his cups and then swooped down on him like a thunderstorm across the prairie. The first nearly cracked Aaron’s skull with a heavy cudgel; Aaron swayed out of the way of the blow and pulled at the knight’s over extended arm and pulled him from the saddle. A second rushed in on foot brandishing a long sword and screaming for revenge on the behalf of some woman that Aaron had never heard of. Aaron tumbled drunkenly and rolled to his feet, meeting the third knight as he was drawing a short sword. Aaron’s head crashed against the third knight’s unprotected skull. The first was getting to his feet as the long sword grazed Aaron’s ribs.
Hugo, dressed in his best white surcoat and red, silk tunic saw the knights pummeling a drunkard and demanded an explanation. The three knights continued their assault against Aaron, who was beginning to regret having left his weapon at the inn. He tried to wrench the long sword away when a plated boot landed square in his crotch. Falling to the ground, he could see the cudgel swinging down. Sucking in what should have been his last breath, Aaron winced. When he opened his eyes again, he saw the knight backing away, the head of his cudgel sundered off. Hugo engaged the sword wielding knights with an impressive display of defensive swordsmanship.
“Why do you beat this man so?” he demanded. “No one deserves to die in the street like this!”
“He’s a rapist and a thief!” called back the knight with the short sword as the leaf-bladed weapon clashed against the side of Hugo’s broadsword. Hugo changed his stance and let the blade of his sword slide up to the short sword’s hand guard; the cross-bar wasn’t thick enough to bear Hugo’s blade as he pushed forward with his entire weight. The cross-bar spiraled off the hilt and the sword fell to the ground, along with two fingers. The knight with the long sword charged at Hugo in his blind spot, but Hugo was experienced enough to anticipate the attack and met it with the side of his blade.
“Stop now, and we will talk of this as knights should.” offered Hugo, but pride flared up inside of his opponent, who slashed wildly at Hugo’s head. Hugo stepped away, letting the knight spend his energy. Once he saw an opportunity, Hugo launched his sword forward. The wide blade bit into the knight’s groin and blood poured from the wound. The knight fell, crying out loudly. Soon, the cries of pain subsided into a wailing, tear-filled cry.
“Save me!” the knight begged. His comrades had run away long before, and it wasn’t to bring help back. Aaron approached the fallen man and smiled at him drunkenly. He pulled at the man’s surcoat and tore off a long strip of fabric. Hugo knelt beside Aaron; he pushed the armor’s tassets out of the way and unbuckled the cuisses. He tossed the broken armor away and studied the shattered rings of the chausses.
“That was some hit.” complemented Aaron as he pulled broken pieces of mail from the wound. “He’s going to die no matter what we do.” Despite his comment, Aaron spat on the wound several times and bound it tightly. The fallen knight’s skin was as white as milk and he was coated in a veil of sweat. Hugo called for a healer, but there was little her herbs and poultices could do for the grievous wound. Aaron sobered quickly when he had realized the totality of what had transpired. He sat next to Hugo, who was praying quietly.
“I’m sorry.” said Aaron. Hugo wanted to stay stoic and ignore the interruption, but he wanted answers as much as he wanted guidance. Not moving, he asked Aaron his name, and he also asked why the knights were trying to kill him.
“They said I raped some woman from the bar.”
“Was there truth in it?” asked Hugo softly but sternly.
“None. They were just looking for a fight, I guess.” replied Aaron, drinking some fresh water and trying to clear his head. “Then again, maybe they were just looking for a reason to fight me.” Aaron never thought that he would actually tell someone his story. The town was so small that everyone knew it, and visitors seldom paid a disgraced knight any attention. “I made too many mistakes in my life to have many friends. So instead of friends, I have enemies.”
“Why?” inquired Hugo, trying to keep Aaron at ease. He was taking his measure of the man, trying to understand him. He was also trying to rationalize killing someone in order to save him.
“I was knighted five years ago. My lord sent me to tournaments, but I was a poor jouster. He decided to send me on other business; he wanted me to be his killer. I didn’t want to, but I was a knight…”
“And a knight does as his lord asks.” said Hugo with sympathy.
“One day, my lord sent me to dispatch of his son’s mistress. She bore him a son, and my lord did not wish his son’s bastard to be able to grow up to challenge him, or a rightful heir, for his seat. I went, and I did what I was told. But then I left my armor behind, as well as my knighthood.”
“Why did you do it if you were going to leave your lord?”
“Because if it wasn’t me, it would have been another knight. One that wouldn’t have done his job so swiftly; perhaps one who would have taken pleasure from the killings, and maybe more.” Aaron sat, reflecting on Hugo. This knight was everything he had wanted to be when he had become a page. Hugo seemed like he was made of valor wrapped around honor. Aaron looked at himself and saw a drunkard that probably deserved to be beaten to death. “Friend, today has opened my eyes. I don’t want to be what I am any longer. I want to be something more. Something better than I was. I want to be like you.” Hugo turned and glared at Aaron.
“You don’t want to be like me.” said Hugo without passion, as though it were irrevocable truth. Aaron didn’t understand what Hugo meant, but he learned over the year. Now, as he set his flamberge aside and started to mend his armor, he knew what Hugo meant. However, he still wanted to be like Hugo, or at least he wanted to be like he thought Hugo was. Hugo continued silently polishing his armor, thinking about his own path, wondering where he was going and trying not to think about where he had been.
“We’ll find the King of Dragons, Hugo. Soon enough, you’ll be rid of me and this quest.” said Aaron with a smile, “You’ll be able to marry Miranda, and you’ll have a dozen kids. Hey! Why don’t you name one after me?” Hugo simply looked up at his friend and shook his head, smiling. The road often seemed unending and lonesome, but it helped to have someone to be lonesome with…