Chapter 1 of
The Nightmare Rider
Leginza: The Academy
Once again the sound of metal clashing preceded a smash amid the metallic pounding of robotic hooves followed by exclamations from many that were watching as she was. Mostly a mixture of surprise and approval. Jessica Weyden shook her head at the spectacle. Dante had been unhorsed again. The other rider spun his mount around then trotted back to the end. An underclassman, acting as squire, took the lance while another offered up a drink bottle. She watched as two others ran over to help up the downed rider. He was moving slower this time as he struggled to roll over and clamber to his feet. For almost any other Jessica would have admired the victor's technique. It was as solid as it came. He was able to sit firm enough in the saddle to withstand the impact of his lance into the opponent while at a slight enough angle to deflect the bulk of the opposing impact. But he wasn't any other rider. He was Patrick Fotens; Third year and a Solo of all damnable things. One of her main rivals whether she wanted to admit it or not. Down below there was activity and it didn't look good.
"HOLD," the instructor called out and went over to him.
The armor clad young man finally managed to stand up but swayed, "I'm alright Sir Belvin."
Aame Belvin gestured to him, "flip your visor Dante."
The visor was raised and the young man looked slightly dazed. The instructor looked him over carefully then shook his head.
"You're done Dante. I'm surprised your eyes aren't spinning around in different directions. You'd probably see three of him," Belvin remarked.
Dante tried to focus, "I'd aim for the middle one Sir."
Both squires laughed as they held him upright.
Finally Belvin shook his head and chuckled, "nice answer. That's good spirit, but I have to shut you down."
The instructor held up both arms and called out, "THAT'S IT. DANTE IS DOWNED. BRING IT IN FOTENS."
The other rider dismounted and strode over. He regarded Dante closely then clapped him on the shoulder.
"Take a good hit Lorenz. I owe you another lance. Its yours anytime you want or we toss this one out and do it all over," Patrick Fotens declared loudly.
Sir Belvin nodded, "Lorenz Dante. State your option, mindful that neither of you will advance nor retreat until this dispute is resolved."
"Sir Belvin, I accept Solo Patrick Fotens' challenge. One week from today full match," Lorenz Dante answered loudly so everyone could hear the response.
The instructor turned and spoke to the scorekeepers, "this match is void. Reschedule for this day next week, hold the rankings of Lorenz Dante and Solo Patrick Fotens."
Immediately the board reflected the changes.
Belvin nodded, "Very well. Dante, see the Line Trainer. Fotens, see to yourself. Set up for the next match!"
The two opponents clenched their fists and tapped their chest then the back of each other's fist in salute. Dante did his best to go under his own power, but escorted by the two squires. Fotens turned but held his place when the instructor said quietly.
"Well done Fotens. You rode excellently and your technique was dead-on. Your standing may have frozen but you did gain real world points and they'll count too." Belvin said in a low voice.
Patrick nodded back. "Lorenz is good. On the field and off. I have no problem with him having a fair shot Sir Belvin."
The jousting instructor nodded. "Good attitude Solo. On your way."
Patrick left the field leading his mount. The robotic horse walked beside him to the stable.
"Daemon. Stall." Patrick commanded after positioning the robot horse.
The standard dull grey horse backed itself into the stall then a small panel opened just behind the left front leg and a cable lowered. Patrick took the cable and plugged the end into a receptacle in the side of the stall. Patrick took the board from the post and marked the checklist then replaced it. He then went to the Solo Wardroom. Inside, a member of staff helped remove his armor and placed it on the stand inside a small closet. Of the fifty closets only twenty were being used currently.
Patrick Fotens was a student at the Academy of Armed Cavalry. Unlike many of the students he had no sponsor. Neither Royalty nor Nobility. He wasn't of the Gentry either. Patrick had paid his own tuition and expenses himself. He had no alliance or affiliation. He was a Solo. In essence; a mercenary. Upon graduation and knighting he could approach or be approached by any force and be hired as a knight for a limited time or permanently. Students without sponsorship, alliance or affiliation were rare and had been dubbed Solos. They stood alone and answered only to the Headmaster. Solos could however undertake assignments while at the Academy but with parameters. An assignment could not exceed four days of absence, could not be for an armed force and must be for profit. In short they could only join limited, small-scale engagements and more preferably serve as personal security.
Many Solos after leaving the Academy joined a FreeLancers Regiment. The First FreeLancers was the first force of Solos to be formed and recognized. They were strictly for hire for limited assignments mostly of diplomatic nature, escorting emissaries and conference delegations. Because of this they were given free passage throughout all territories provided their number did not exceed four Solos for every male they escorted or six for every female. The First FreeLancers were also known to have at least one female Solo in the contingent when escorting a female charge. There was an infantry version called the First FreeBooters Battalion and they did much of the same work.
That was out there. In the Academy things were different. In the Academy the student populace tried to establish more than one hierarchy. That was because so many of the students were royalty or nobility. They of course would try to impose authority. It never worked for long. One stipulation of attending the Academy was that all students had to agree, along with their parents, that they had no authority over any other student or faculty other than those officially sanctioned. The Student Council and Security Contingent. Security was provided by Solos of the Second FreeLancers and Freebooters. They provided security at the Academy and served as escorts for royals and nobles outside the Academy boundary. There were two villages within half a mile of the Academy and the students were free to visit them. Most of the Solos boarded in the villages as it was cheaper than in the Academy. Villagers were allowed to post assignments for Solos looking for paid work and rooms for rent. There was a post-board for the Gentry as well but the assignments were different.
Patrick took a shower, dried off then dressed. His uniform was that of the standard grey pants with matching shirt, a dark blue jacket trimmed in grey and black boots. Like all Solos his jacket and sword had no ornament or other markings other than year designation. He wore his long black hair free and tucked the black leather gloves into his belt. The jacket was of a heavy cloth, unlike those worn by the Royals and Nobles. Their jackets were usually of a velvet and in their family or country's colors and their wore white pants.The females, unless a Solo, usually wore a blouse with a ruffled front in white or the second of their colors and instead of riding pants they substituted a short skirt. The Gentry wore the colors of their affiliation with their jacket made of similar material to Patrick's. The choice of colors for Solos were those of the Academy as it prevented dispute over their affiliations, if they had any.
Over generations warfare had changed. Technology evolved. Flesh and blood horses were replaced by robotic. metal tipped wooden lances were replaced by plasma-charged composites. Razor sharp metal swords became laser-edged steel alloy impregnated ceramic blades. Hammered metal armor gave way to glazed composites laced with alloys. Flexible shaft or counter-weighted catapults hurling stones fell to compression launchers and variable density objects still called rocks. Even the conduct of war had changed. After the battle, the disposition of prisoners would be determined. Royals would be ransomed. High Nobility could be ransomed or kept as prizes. Lower Nobility were kept as prizes. The Gentry were taken as labor or sold as such. Solos were given the option of signing over, purchasing their own freedom or ransom. There was a standard price for a Solo to battle each day and that would be their ransom. However many days that Solo had been in battle against that force would have to be paid to that force. This would only occur after their status was verified. All Solos had to register as such.
Those conditions had been inspired by the Gods. Gods and Goddesses were real. Naturally they didn't get along no matter which end of the spectrum they inhabited. Each faction fought the other and the factions fought among themselves. Humans on the mortal plane had seen some of these battles and therefore emulated. In fact it was not unheard of to see a God or two watching the mortal battles. Usually placing wagers on the outcome. Sometimes they meddled with the mortals or even joined the battle themselves. When that happened; prayers, tributes and sometimes even sacrifices were the price to be paid. Some royals and even a few nobles claimed that the price for victory had been to bear or sire a child for a god or goddess None of this was new. It had been going on since before time was understood to be time. It simply was the things were. Patrick knew and understood it, just as much as anyone did as he walked through the corridor.
"Is it true?" a young girl in the colors of a noble asked.
The young Gentry boy nodded. "The staff were talking about it during the break."
Another girl in Gentry colors looked worried, "That's three hundred miles from here. The Rider wouldn't come here though, right? I mean we're a school. The Rider only cares about battles? Darnell?"
Darnell shrugged to the girl, "who knows what the Rider is interested in. The teacher did say the rumor about being a girl is true. He said he heard she was beautiful and rode a demon horse."
"What about the other story? That she drives people insane." The first girl asked.
Darnell nodded sadly. "So said, a lot of men did go insane. The rest were terrified and it took them a long time to snap out of it. They said their worst fears had come alive right in front of them. So now we know why she's called the Nightmare Rider."
A faculty member approached the trio of Second years. "Let's move along. You all have somewhere to be."
Quickly they rushed off. The faculty member glanced at Patrick and exchanged nods. No comments were neccessary as Patrick hadn't even stopped while the Second years were talking. Gossiping, more like. It was nothing new. Neither was the subject. There were many stories of the mysterious woman that had come to be called The Nightmare Rider. Most came from half-crazed survivors or the the last words of the dying. Patrick turned at the doorway and entered the classroom. Several of the other students nodded to him. A couple of the girls gave him looks of their feminine appreciation. That too was not new to him. He was an attractive young man and fit enough to appear dashing. He also had no problem admitting that some of his admirers was also attractive. For most it was only visual appreciation that led only to private fantasies. High born females would never become involved with a Solo. At least not when they still had family obligations to meet.
Though not common, it wasn't unheard of that the occasional heir was actually the offspring of a tryst, or an agreement that included some sort of gratuity. Especially when a marriage was of political reasons for the young woman. If she were of a higher station than her betrothed then it would be she who dictated the conditions of the heir or heiress she produced. Female Solos were different. They were sometimes actively sought after by young royals and nobles to produce their heirs, the rewards for doing so were frequently quite generous.
None of that weighed on his mind. Only the day was his concern. He had only to finish this class and the day was over. He took his seat and prepared for the lesson. It was a class that did require him to pay strict attention; battle history. There was one thing in common. There was an independent group that observed major battles. Afterward they documented it. Individual details were not always clear, but formations and tactics were easy to determine. Those were what was taught. Some notable Knights hired observers to keep an account of their actions in battles. That had already been strongly advised not to be trusted. Many had turned out to be over-embellishments. More than one had even been proven to be complete fabrication.
For Solos the only thing that really mattered was their Battle Ledger. Essentially it was a book that they kept all their vouchers. For any assignment they received a voucher that declared their payments. Like a receipt book. The voucher was an official document with seals and signatures of the military group they serve with along with the monies dispersed, rates and any bonuses. More often than not they received bonuses for victories or performing service above what was expected. This however was determined by the contractor. A contractor that acquired a reputation for underpaying or cheating Solos quickly found themselves not able to hire them. Likewise a Solo that acquired a reputation for performing less than agreed upon service would find themselves struggling to find work.
Patrick Fotens was a rarity, even among his fellow Solos. He had come to the Academy as a recognized Solo and even had a Battle Ledger. He had begun in a group and acquired enough money to pay for his own tuition. The Solo Regiment he'd started out with had become so small it had only four members left plus himself so they collectively joined another Regiment and he opted to enter the Academy as a Third year. The Eighty-Sixth FreeLancers were no more. The others had joined the Seventy-Fifth FreeLancers. When the Commander had heard Patrick was going to attend the Academy he wrote a letter of recommendation to ensure his admittance along with a letter of invite to join the Seventy-Fifth upon graduation.
Jessica finished putting away her class things. Unconsciously she glanced to her left and saw him. Solo Patrick Fotens. It irked her for him to be so good. Gossip placed him within the top three of the Third years and the top twenty of the Academy. Some were even speculating he would place in the tournament. That would infuriate her to no end. Especially if she placed lower. That and the fact that several of the noble young women admitted to being infatuated with him. She had heard of one even stating that she hoped to marry lower than herself so she could seek Patrick out to sire her firstborn. To date Jessica was undefeated. Patrick Fotens was as well, but holding position until his current contest was resolved. Lorenz Dante was a Gentry, but very formidable. He had only one loss and one draw. If he won the disputed contest against Patrick he would advance to contest with Jessica. If he lost then she would face Patrick.
Jessica Weyden of Lurbourg was one of five princesses attending the Academy. Two were First years, one a Second year and one a Fourth year. She was the only princess in the Third year class. Of course that came with its own problems. Her station and beauty attracted the attention of many young men and the advances of several High Nobles and one Prince. In her opinion everyone had their place. She was royalty and that meant she was to receive the best without question. Nobility were her friends and supporters. The Gentry served without reservation and the rest were either villagers or servants. Then there were Solos. To her; Solos were just short of opposing forces. To be blunt, she refused to find them trustworthy and wanted nothing to do with them other than force them out of her country.
Lurbourg had lost a battle because an opposing country had hired a Solo Regiment. Afterward that country had ransomed Jessica's Uncle, Aunt and two cousins. They had known exactly who they had captured and demanded a very high ransom. It cost heavily to buy them back. If that rival country hadn't hired a Solo Regiment, Lurbourg would not have lost. For her this was unacceptable. It was for that reason she despised all Solos. When she inherited the throne of Lurbourg she would outlaw Solos in Lurbourg.
"Your Highness," a voice brought her back to the here and now.
Jessica looked over, "yes? What is it Lamia?"
Lamia Tuala smiled, "Aruna is going into Larkendon. She asked if you and I would like to go with her."
"I'm sure she has discovered some new pastry shop. The Duchess does have quite a sweet tooth," Jessica remarked.
Lamia giggled, "so would that be a yes, Highness?"
Jessica smiled to her friend, "why not. She's never failed us before. I'll meet you at the main door."
Jessica left and went to the stairs leading to the female dorms. There were multiple floors. The Gentry on the lowest floors, Low nobles on the next, high nobles on the next and the royals on the top floor. Jessica went to her room and checked herself over. She touched up her cosmetics then brushed her hair. Had she been at home her maid would have done that for her. At the Academy she didn't have such luxury. An Academy maid came into her room in the morning to clean, collect any clothing to be laundered and change the linens. She had met the maid only once and that was on the first day to unpack Jessica's luggage and verify instructions. Even though her parents informed her that the Academy staff were not there to wait on her immediately and for most things she would have to attend herself, she still didn't like it.
The first day of classes had a very harsh start for the young royal. She had never cared to pay attention to instructions by her maid before and therefore had no clue as to how to apply her own cosmetics or style her own hair. This lack of skill was instantly recognized by her classmates. Most of whom immediately laughed at her. During lunch a girl came to her and introduced herself as Lamia and offered to help. Hesistantly Jessica nodded and showed Lamia up to her dorm room. Twice per day for a week the young lower noble taught her a different style. Jessica was shocked to learn that Lamia even polished her own boots. Lamia informed her that her parents had insisted that she learn how to look after herself completely for a whole year before coming to the academy, including cleaning her own clothing and cooking her own meals. The Academy provided those services but Lamia did have the choice to live on her own. She chose to stay in the dorm, but saw to her own needs during the weekends. She was the first friend Jessica had made and was the closest of all.
Over half an hour later the three friends were sitting in a small eatery.
"Well Highness? Wasn't I right," Aruna asked rhetorically.
Jessica smiled, "of course Duchess. Your addiction for sweets has never led us astray before!"
All three laughed.
"What are you going on about," a woman asked loudly.
The three girls turned to look and saw the woman that had served them talking an old woman sitting at a table.
"She is here. The spirits have told me. Bolt your doors and dare not go out at night or she may see you," the old woman said.
Aruna walked over, "who is here Madam?"
"The Nightmare Rider. She is lurking about the village," the old woman said.
Lamia came over, "that can't be. I heard she was at the battle on Skeldar Plain last night. That's well over three hundred miles from here."
The old woman laughed, "That distance is nothing to one such as her!"
Jessica stood at the table, "we've all heard far-fetched stories of this so-called Nightmare Rider. Most are the ravings of madmen."
"A High-Borne, aren't you," the old woman smiled.
Jessica nodded, "I am. Her royal Highness, Jessica Weyden; Princess of Lurbourg."
"I'm Aruna Monning; Duchess of Eldistin. Tell us about the Nightmare Rider," Aruna asked.
The old woman nodded, "throughout time, even before time was understood, one thing has been constant. War. War rages in Heaven, Hell, and the planes in between. There is one understanding; Power begets power. Our mortal world has seen the occasional skirmish and grew to emulate and waged their own wars. One such war was the god of nightmares fought the goddess of punishment on the planes in between. They fought to a stand-still. With all their warriors exhausted it became a duel. Poena declared upon her victory Phoetor would serve in her dungeons for five years. Phoetor accepted her challenge, but upon his victory her fate would be declared to which she must accept without resistance. Poena agreed."
The three girls sat listening as did the shop owner standing close by.
The old woman continued the tale, "They clashed for days; neither gaining nor giving any quarter until Poena stumbled after a missed slash and her sword was struck from her grip. Phoetor was the victor. He demanded she send her army home and would be allowed to rejoin them after only three years, during which time she would serve as consort and produce an heir. Three years later Poena returned to her tower; clad in her old battle armor, alone and without the only daughter she would ever birth. The child grew in the father's court, watching battles fought in the distance. One day Phoetor declared the heiress to be cast out to learn the ways of battle."
"That's CRUEL," Lamia stated.
The old woman merely shrugged, "The Gods and Goddess do as they wish. The daughter wandered, clad in only the simple wrap of cloth from a bath. She happened upon a battleground and concealed herself to watch. Vulcan fought a strange god she had never seen. In a mighty move, the strange god knocked the sword from Vulcan's grip. The heiress grabbed it and approached them both unawares. From behind she struck and toppled the strange god. With sword held high she declared herself the victor and claimed her own rewards. From Vulcan she claimed his sword, scabbard and all the coins he had. From the strange god that had no name she claimed his cloak and all the coins he had."
"How very opportunistic! Where is the honor in that," Jessica protested.
Aruna said firmly, "nobody taught her of honor! She was only doing what she had to just to survive Highness! You would do the same! Please madam, tell us what happened after that."
The woman nodded, "The heiress continued to wander. Taking advantage of unguarded moments in battle to usurp victory and claim minor rewards; serving no one but herself. One day the heiress met the Furies and struck a bargain. For all of her coins they would make a set of armor that had never been known. She gave them the coins. The Furies panned the river Styx for rare minerals to make the metal Styxion, and created the armor. The heiress declared a name for herself then. It was then her age fixed. Some time later she happened upon a Lust, a demon that provoked actions of souls based on emotions, he was a BloodLust. The Lust had two souls enthralled and were battling each other. Foolishly the Lust challenged her to fight his two thralls for eternal servitude. She won in a single sword slash. The Lust bowed to his new mistress and gifted his name. Knowing a demon's true name gives control over the demon you know. Together they traveled into our mortal world. She has become known by us mortals as The Nightmare Rider."
The girls sat silently as the old woman finished her story.
"That's quite a tale Madam," Aruna stated.
"It is as the spirits have told me. I must go now. Night is coming and I will not be out after dark. Neither should you," the old woman said firmly then slowly rose and shuffled out.
Jessica looked over to the shop owner and chuckled, "She sure can spin a tale. I bet she could make a few coins with it."
The princess felt a chill when the woman shook her head slowly and said gravely, "That was no dark fairy tale. She is a witch. Her Goddess is Tamar. She can barely see ten feet in front her but that old witch is NEVER wrong."
Lamia reached into the inner pocket of her jacket and laid three coins on the table, "This should cover the old woman's tea."
Jessica looked at her for a moment, "She did have us. Quite right Lamia. I'll pay for yours and my sitting."
Aruna took the needed coins to pay for her own and added them to the ones Jessica stacked on their former table.
"Thank you. Are you really Princess Weyden and Duchess Monning," The shop owner asked.
Lamia giggled, "They are. I'm Lamia Tuala, merely a Lady but I'll be a Dame eventually."
"I'm honored you visited my little shop and hope you enjoyed," The shop owner said then gave then a deep curtsy. "I'm Anya. I hope to serve you again my Ladies."
"We did Anya. And we definitely SHALL return soon," Jessica stated then followed her friends out.
Idly they walked down the street, looking into the windows of the shops scattered among homes. For the most part the shops were easy to discern from the homes. Shops were marked with a sign of some kind and the homes were marked with a plaque declaring the name of the family.
"Highness why did you insist we walk all the way here and back. It would have been so much easier to ride," Aruna complained.
Jessica replied calmly, "walking strengthens our legs. Our legs need to be strong to help us stay in the saddle. I'd rather be slightly tired and have a little discomfort in my feet than be upon my backside in humiliation because I was unhorsed. No thank you Aruna, I'll walk this bit."
Lamia was waving at two children playing in their yard waving at them, "I heard Solo Fotens was going to win again but Sir Belvin stopped the match."
"Didn't he contest against Lorenz Dante? What happened for that," Aruna asked.
Jessica answered, "Dante was felled for two lances so Sir Belvin stopped the match. Dante was given the option of a final lance at a later time or full contest next week. He chose full contest. He wasn't doing so well as he left the course. Perhaps in a day or two he can go back to training, prepare for the match and win."
"My my! The way that sounded; one might think you could be afraid of facing Fotens. Is our friendly Princess a bit leery of someone after all," Aruna asked coyly.
Jessica glared at her, "Not in the slightest! I would win with ease, though that's hardly the point. He's a Solo. How dare he challenge me! How dare he even THINK to challenge me!"
Aruna knew she had just struck a nerve but decided to toy a bit, "oh? So its not about skill, which he clearly has. Its about him being a Solo."
"I'll face any royal. Its expected. I'll face any noble. That's my prerogative. I'll face most of the Gentry. Many of them are honorable and seek to further that honor through legitimate challenge. Some are quite formidable I'll admit. But a Solo? Completely unworthy and without any honor at all! The only exceptions are the First Regiment and Battalion. A necessary evil, but there should be an alternative," Jessica said firmly.
"I've seen Fotens ride. He sits solid in the saddle. His technique is about as perfect as I've ever seen and I heard he hits like a boulder coming off of a cliff. Even Lord Laanower admitted it," Lamia said.
Jessica huffed, "Talbar's lackey. Its hard to determine which is more despicable. Between their bullying of underclassmen and their ridiculous wagers; its hard to decide which is more appalling."
Aruna laughed, "Fotens got Laanower really good. He only accepted the challenge after Laanower agreed to standing points only. He lost ten to Fotens."
Lamia nodded, "Fotens wouldn't agree to any other wager."
"Just as well. Laanower would never have upheld his end. By agreeing to points the contest became legitimately sanctioned and the terms had to be met by the Academy. If others take that route it won't be long those two would have to repeat a year or go home." Jessica acknowledged.
Aruna laughed, "Are you admitting that he was clever?"
Jessica started walking again, "I'm admitting that he wasn't blatantly stupid. One can learn from the mistakes of others. Laanower wouldn't back down from issuing the challenge. However everyone knows that he's never paid up on a loss. The only time Talbar ever did was against a royal because there was proof of the wager and results of the contest. Otherwise he'd have never followed through either."
"I'm still thinking about the old woman's story," Lamia said.
Aruna asked, "That the Nightmare Rider is actually the daughter of an Underworld God and Goddess?"
"Let's say that is true," Jessica mused. "Why would the Nightmare Rider show so much interest in mortal battles? Wouldn't she be better off fighting in the Underworld? Don't they gain power through worship or victories? She would have to gain enough power to have a kingdom there then she would be able to gather worshipers here right?"
Aruna shrugged, "That's how we think it works. The priests and priestesses tell us that but does anybody really know for sure? Odin is my God and Freya my Goddess, but do they really care about that? They've never come and told us so."
"Well I could say the same of Mars and Venus. My mother said she saw Venus once but they never spoke to each other," Lamia said.
Their conversation had carried them back to the Academy and through the gate. They were now entering the main door.
Jessica sighed, "I think we'd be better served focusing on the here and now with the tangible. We do what we can and the Gods and Goddesses will sort themselves out."
Patrick Fotens veered off the road onto a slightly overgrown path. He walked further and went into a line of trees and disappeared from sight. Deep in the forest he emerged into a clearing with a ramshackle house that looked almost derelict. The front door groaned in protest of being opened then again at being closed. He slid the bolt across and began to remove his jacket. He crossed the dusty and cobwebbed main room into a side room though not very clean, was at least free of the major dirt and webs. A single chair though was free of dust and the floor had been swept sometime previously as to not reveal footprints. Patrick removed his jacket and hung it over the back of the chair then sat down to pull off his boots.
"So you've returned from you daily quest for knowledge," a low voice commented.
Patrick grunted taking off the second boot and stood it beside the other, "your knack for the obvious is startling."
The voice chuckled, "a new euphemism. I see you're beginning to develop a fondness for sarcasm. So what have you learned in your dedicated pursuit?"
Patrick stood up and removed his pants, "The Gentry named Lorenz Dante. He was clearly beaten yet he wanted to continue. Then the strangest thing happened. I learned that in some cases, respectful acknowledgement of weakness is met with gratitude if there is promise to return."
"That is more confusing than normal. What do you mean," the voice asked.
Patrick folded the pants in half and hung them over the chair and began to unbutton the shirt to do the same, "I unhorsed him twice. The second time he was struggling to recover himself. The instructor determined that it was unwise to cross lances again. I told Dante that I was willing to offer him the final lance at a later time or we could revisit the entire match. I first complimented his ability to withstand my attack."
The voice replied, "yes. You've mentioned this before. Complimenting an adversary is a frequent custom during training. What happened?"
"He chose to revisit the match next week and was grateful for the opportunity. After classes he came to me and shook my hand then vowed to prepare even harder. He said he was indebted to me to become a stronger opponent for our return match and his honor would not be satisfied until I felt he had met me with all he could muster. Its very strange. He feels as if he did not fight with all he was worth and that I was being cheated of victory," Patrick said finally naked.
The young man walked forward into a darkened doorway to a cupboard. As he passed through, the cupboard was not there and instead was a large darkened room with a carved Onyx chair to resemble a throne atop a dais. In the young man's place there now stood a young woman with almost white blonde hair past her hips and clad in armor that revealed as much as it protected.
"You mean he felt as if he failed," the voice asked. "Isn't that the nature of defeat? To fail?"
No Daalumos. He felt he failed me. I don't understand it myself. He feels that the contest he gave me was not worthy of me and that I deserve a stronger opponent," She said.
A horse stepped from the deeper shadows. A horse that seemed to be partially composed of a molten fiery substance.
"But he was not worthy of you my Mistress. You were defeating him. Of course the mortal would feel that way. He is a mortal Phoebe," Daalumos replied.
"Mortals do puzzling things. Sometimes when they no they stand a chance of losing they will run away. Other times when they know without a doubt they will not survive they stand even firmly and fight to their last breath. This mortal feels as if he could have done better. Should have done better and only then can he accept victory or defeat when he has brought forth all that he can," Phoebe stated.
The bound demon shook himself, "it would not be that way among the Gods and Goddesses."
Phoebe sat back and mused, "perhaps this is more of a philosophy I heard before. Mortals not only compete against each other, but also themselves. I'm told many set standards for themselves and if they do not meet those self-imposed standards that is when they feel true failure. That may be this situation with Dante. He has not met his own standard and therefore did not bring to me true contest."
Daalumos laughed, "he failed himself and in doing so failed you? What strange notions come from mortals!"
"Strange as it may seem to us, the mortals take such things quite serious. Most of the time. I have begun to see this in the better riders. It is a trait that is shared more often in those of the lower class. The Gentry. These Nobles and Royals have it but not as pronounced. They will make up for the lack of ability with those who surpass it. The lower ones it makes them strive more ardently to overcome their weakness. I believe that will be Dante's choice. He will train harder than before to make himself worthy of the contest," Phoebe concluded.
Daalumos snorted, "as if a mortal could ever truly be worthy of you! Phoebe; the daughter of Phoetor and Poena."
Phoebe chuckled, "he is not having a contest with Phoebe. He is having a contest with Patrick."
"From the sound of that my Mistress, one would think you are starting to enjoy this charade of pretending to be a mortal. I thought I smelled food about your facade," Daalumos remarked.
"I do have to be seen consuming food from time to time. It was very interesting. It was a meat they call sausage that had been placed into a bread called a roll. They smeared a spiced paste between the meat and the bread. With this there was a packet of thinly sliced fried potato that was sprinkled with a finely ground salt. It was very easy to consume. I saw several doing so while they continued with their activity. Thinking about it now; I liked it," Phoebe stated then leaned back and closed her eyes.
Daalumos stood quietly. The Lust knew his mistress was searching for a battle. When her eyes opened some time later he roared in delight. Phoebe leapt onto his back and he bolted forward through a large archway and into the night leaving behind a trail of flickering hoof prints.
If you've liked this chapter of The Nightmare Rider please kudo. Comments are welcome. This is my first foray into the fantasy genre and I hope I do it well.
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