Valiant Abroad: Chapter 1
“Momma! Momma!” Isme heard his voice before her son Ethan slammed the door open with far too much gusto and it shook some dust from the tiled roof and the sill above the wooden slatted door. He didn’t cross the threshold but stood there breathing hard, trying his best to spit some words at her through it all, but she quickly cut him off.
“What have I told you about the door Ethan!” His mother snapped. She was sitting at their dining room table, pulling small round leaves from thin stalks preparing the herbs to place into medicinal tea pouches.
“I’m sorry. But Tommy’s mom said to come and get you, and the big ox. There is a HUGE man on the beach, and a bunch of pieces of a ship!”
He was about to spin around and head out and around the house to the barn, but she stood up and slapped her hand against the table top to get his attention. It rattled some glass bottles against each other and the sound was drowned out by her voice. “Stop right there!” She yelled. “-What?” Her tone softed with the question and he quickly hung his head.
“Mrs Hunter. She’s on the beach with a bunch of us and there is a huge man in armor just half buried in the sand. I’m pretty sure he’s dead, but she thinks he’s not so she sent me up here to get you...and the ox.”
She thought about it for a moment, Evaline Hunter wasn’t one to over react, the man must still be alive if they were sending for her, a healer is of little use to a corpse. “Get the Ox. And take him down to the beach.”
She swept the hem of her brown dress up in her left hand and scooped up a leather bag that was just on the mantle of their hearth and went out the door, pulling it closed behind her, it slammed much as it had when her son entered.
Coming up the road was Evaline Hunter, she was a heavyset woman with thick brown hair that was always done in a brain that wrapped around her head like a crown that showed off her round youthful face. She was huffing and puffing long before she made it up the top of the hill. “Isme, did Ethan tell you? I told him to grab the oxen, there is a man stuck on the beach. I can’t tell if he’s alive but he’s completely covered in armor. I went to get his helmet off and remembered you told me to leave them be if they are out like that.”
Isme smiled, her friend was a talker, perhaps the biggest talking in their whole village, and it was often very suspect if she was listening when others spoke, so to hear her parrot back a tidbit of medical information Isme had told her, was a nice token. “You did the right thing, Evaline.”
“I got the Ox Momma.” Ethan said as he came around the corner of the house with the wide horned creature in tow. Their ox were big, easily six feet at the shoulder, but even with their huge size they had been bred to be docile animals, easily controlled and easily guided by the ring in their nose.
“Go on ahead. Mrs Hunter and I will go down there right after you. And if you see any of the men along the way grab them too.” She said. Ethan nodded and swung himself up onto the back of the Ox, who protested only for a moment before taking the ginger trot down the hill towards the beach.
“Ok, Evaline tell me everything.” She said as she let her skirts go and swept her arm into Evaline's, giving the woman someone to lean against as they turned around and walked back down the hill towards the beach at a much reduced pace so Evaline could catch her breath and tell her everything she needed to know.
The white sands of their normally tranquil beach were marred with chunks of wood and metal, clearly the remnants of a ship, but not of a style any of them recognized. Their land had few ships that could rival the size of the one that had destroyed itself against their shore. There were some bodies present but none that could be mistaken for being alive. All of them were bloated and green from the sea. Isme could tell where this mysterious armored man was because it was where everyone was gathered. She parted from Evaline’s side and swept the hem of her dress up into her hand again and gave a ginger run across the sands. She parted the gathered group although they all made way as soon as they realized she was there. The village healer, she was easily the most knowledgeable in the area about any injury or ailment. She expected to see a man in chainmail or maybe even a few pieces of plate armor but upon seeing him truly she was given a moment of pause. He was huge, even half buried under sand and wreckage. His armor was resplendent gold and had intricate tiny script carved on nearly every inch of it. The tiny recesses were home to sand and dirt and made it stand out all that much more against the gold. His helmet was closed faced and it looked like part of it was dented which would explain why no one was able to lift the visor.
She released her skirts and kneeled next to him and learned over so that her ear was next to the helm. She waited for a moment but the chatter of the gathered group was too much. She leaned up. “If you can’t be quiet then you can go back to work. I’m sure some of you are dodging chores.” She let her gaze circle the crowd and it ended on her own son who quickly found his shoes to be far more interesting. She put her head back towards the helmet and listened. She expected nothing. She thought it would be silent. After a moment though, she could feel the hot moist air pulse from behind the grill, the breath was slow, but it was there.
“He’s alive.” She looked at his lower half, it was well buried under the sand and ship. “Lets see if we can’t get some of this off him. Kids start digging at his legs. Ethan hook the oxen to those timbers and see if she can’t pull them off.” She stood up and no one was moving. She clapped her hands twice. “Hurry up now. God is watching this deed. Work well!” She clapped them again and the words spurred everyone to fervent action.
Before long the man was dug out and much of the wood was moved. Some rope was tied around him, put under his arms so that the ox could pull him free. He was too heavy for them to move with just the women and children who were there. Some of the men had been summoned from the fields but likely they were dragging their heels, sure it was a tall tale. Ethan spurred the ox forward and the rope became taught but after only another grunt he was pulled free and back several feet so that he was away from the wreckage and the hole he had once occupied.
Isme lowered herself down to his side again and fished into her pouch. She produced a small bundle of herbs and dabbed them across the visor of the helm, small bits of dust from within fell through the holes in the helm and she was lucky to lean back as quickly as she did because He shot straight up at the waist yelling so loud it seemed to silence the ocean.
Everyone scattered back away from him. All except Isme who was still kneeling next to him, and Ethan who was frozen with fear, not of the man but that he might be about to watch his mother murdered by the golden foreigner.
He gave a panicked look around until his gaze fell on Isme who seemed unphased, even if deep down her heart was racing.
“You are safe. You don’t need to fear.” She said, sure he would not understand. The slight tilt of his head answered that he did not.
She pointed to herself. “Isme.” He repeated the gesture a couple of times.
He grunted and coughed, his voice was hoarse, and he said “Agrias” and gestured at himself with a gauntleted hand. The gesture though came with a considerable wince. He moved to stand and he groaned all the way to his feet. Fully standing he was indeed huge, perhaps a foot taller than even the largest man in the village. The rope that had been around him feel to the ground and he stepped out of it. He moved smoothly at first, but the stability on his feet lasted only until he tried to take a real step and quickly dropped to his knees and then fell onto his hands, leaving him on all fours.
“Ethan. The Ox, he can lean against it.” She said as she repacked her satchel and got to her feet. Her son was still frozen, moreso when he saw the man stand. “Ethan!” She said with a snap and he blinked hard and gave his head a slight shake. He brought the oxen closer and Isme moved to the other side. “Agrias” She said, stumbling over the sound somewhat. He looked to her and she mimed leaning against the ox a couple of times. He nodded and got to his feet again and leaned against the ox, who did not expect the weight and gave some bleats of protest but eventually it calmed.
The crowd didn’t follow as Isme, Ethan and the stranger limped their way up the hill towards the village. Many thumbs were pressed to lips and subtle prayers muttered under hushed breath.
Isme watched him limp up the hill perched against the Ox, noting every little thing. He had only a dagger at the small of his back, but she did see that he had broken loops at his waist where there likely had been weapons. The other dead on the beach were armored as well, were these men attackers? Was she aiding someone who would have seen her dead or worse.
The Ox knew where to go and guided them back to the barn. Agrias released the creature and took some staggered steps towards a trough of water and dropped to his knees and dunked his entire head into the water with a great splash. Isme didn’t think much of it but it lingered longer than she felt was comfortable and she rushed up the last leg of the hill. She was going to reach out to grab him by the back of his body armor and try to yank him out but he pulled his head out from the water with a gasp just as she got close. She stopped in her tracks and pulled her hand back and clutched it to her chest, the first sign of any real reaction to him she’d given. Water poured from every hole in the helm and down the front of his armor, washing away a swath of the sand that had found itself nestled in the grooves of the script on his armor.
She took a step back and he squared himself to her. They stared for a long time until the Ox bleated down at Ethan who had run up behind his mother. He hid behind her for a breath before stepping in front of her as if to protect her from the golden warrior and she put her hands over his shoulders.
People had begun to follow by this point, although they stayed well away.
Agrias reached up and undid a hidden catch and a couple of straps and loosened his helm with a slow pull and a bit of wet suction sound; the golden helmet was removed and he held it under his arm. Even wet and sandy he was gorgeous, square jaw with only a small bit of brown stubble. His eyes though were what took her attention. They were so bright and golden they made his armor seem dingy in comparison. She felt her breath catch in her throat, and could have sworn for just a moment a light radiated from him that dulled the morning sun.
I really enjoyed this story.