Ersa rose before dawn the next morning and shoved his belongings into his saddle-bags. He threw his cloak around his shoulders, pulling the cowl up, and headed quietly down the stairs.
The inn keeper was up, to his mild surprise, and greeted him cheerfully. "Top of the morning to you, Stranger. Leaving, are you?"
"Yes. I must continue onward. But I thank you for your hospitality." Ersa replied.
The innkeeper paused, then extended a hand. "I hope to see you again, Stranger. Not many Warriors are noble anymore. I'm glad to see there's still one left."
"There's more than one, innkeeper. They just keep to themselves, because they're the ones that don't want attention." Ersa replied dryly.
The innkeeper chuckled. "Call me Benson. Benson Baretree's my name. But not many care nowadays." he added sadly.
"Well, count me as one who does." Ersa nodded to the innkeeper, then pulled the door open.
"You wouldn't be telling me your name, then?" asked the innkeeper.
Ersa smiled. "No. No I wouldn't." He pulled the door shut and strode around back, to where the stables were.
Windeye greeted him with a soft neigh, and Ersa quickly saddled the chestnut stallion. He swung up, then paused as he heard a sound. Yelling, coming from the front.
Cautiously, Ersa urged Windeye up so he could look around the corner. Six Warriors were speaking with Benson Baretree. "Where is the stranger?"
Benson shook is head. "I haven't seen him, m'lords. He left before I was up. Could be anywhere by now."
"Liar!" the leader, this time a decently-skilled Warrior, gestured to his companions. They pulled Benson from the doorway and threw him into the mud of the street.
They guffawed as he attempted to rise from the slippery mud. Surrounding him, they began to kick and pummel him. Ersa's jaw clenched with anger.
He urged Windeye out into the middle of the street. Windeye was a trained Warrior's horse, and moved so quietly none of the Warriors heard him. Keeping his voice calm and low, Ersa spoke.
"I heard you were asking for me."
The Warriors spun around, their swords slithering from their sheaths. Ersa didn't move to draw his.
"You attacked four of our Warriors without cause last night." stated the leader. He was about forty, with a firm jaw and mean eyes too close to each other.
"By decree of our noble Valon, Hisgard, you're under arrest!"
"Mmhmm." Ersa replied casually. "I'm sure."
The leader took a step forward. "Dismount and hand over your sword! Commons are forbidden to carry a blade!"
Ersa shrugged, took both feet out of the stirrups and slipped down easily. He took a few paced forward, then stopped. His hands were easy at his sides.
"Hand over your sword!" demanded the leader.
The leader, fuming, took half a pace forward, but Ersa's voice stopped him in place. "You insolent fool, you dare to challenge me?" Ersa stalked forward, his sword sliding from its sheath.
The leader's eyes widened as he saw the Warrior's insignia on the pommel. "I am on a mission from Valon Ralthor, right hand of the King!"
"Sir, forgive me, but--"
"Your young pampered comrades were insulting me and paid the price. And now I see they ran back with their tails between their legs and sent some more fools after me.
I will come to the castle, but it won't be under arrest, and it certainly won't be with you.
Now get going, before I lose my patience!" Ersa's blade began to prescribe small, powerful circles in the air, which to any experienced swordsman was a sign of battle.
"Yes, sir! I will inform Valon Hisgard that you will be visiting him later.
" the leader beckoned his comrades and they retreated down the road to where their horses were tied, then galloped towards the castle.
Ersa chuckled softly as he sheathed his sword, then reached down and helped Benson up. The innkeeper moaned, "Ooh, dear, watch the ribs." Ersa helped him sit up. Benson looked up.
"Was it true, what you said? That you were on a mission from Valon Ralthor?"
Ersa grunted as he examned Benson's wounds. "Yes. Although I suspect Ralthor was just trying to rid himself of me. He doesn't see life the way I do."
"Who are you, really?" asked Benson, trying to see past Ersa's hood.
Ersa sighed quietly. "I was born a Common, but when my parents died a Warrior took me in. I was raised as his son, and eventually became Captain of the Guard at Ralthor's castle.
But I have never forgotton my true heritage, and that is why I am not like them."
"I don't think so, Stranger. A man's ways are not governed by his parents but by his heart. It wouldn't have mattered if you were born Common or Warrior. You'd still be the same.
" Benson replied, grunting as his ribs spiked with pain. "I'd better see the healer."
"Where does he live? I'll fetch him." Ersa replied, realizing the innkeeper was in no condition to stand, much less walk.
"Right beside the tavern. With the green door. You can't miss it."
"Small world." remarked Ersa, standing. "By the way, I should probably head up to the castle before they send another patrol. I'll tell the healer you need help and be on my way."
"Then this is goodbye?" asked Benson, a trifle sorrowfully.
"Yes. Thank you for letting me stay." Ersa whistled and Windeye trotted over. Ersa took the reins and swung into the saddle. He raised a hand in farewell, then cantered up the street.
Benson watched him go. "Now there's a true Warrior." His face turned sour. "Wish we had more like him."