The Honey Joust (part 3) – An Integra of The North story – by Steve Hargett

(continued from Part 2)

Dawn woke Integra, she had slept lent against the back of her Great White Bear’s back. She stood and stretched, a simple awning was all that covered them. She dipped hands in the barrel of water she had bought and drank deeply, she then dipped her hands in again and poured water over her head to refresh herself after sleeping.

She was hungry, Engelbert for his part was quite satisfied with the belly full of raw belly pork he had devoured the night before.

She walked out from under the awning and looked around. The only people she saw were Small Folk or Servants. The two could not be confused. The Small Folk were all shabbily dressed and most were thin from hunger. Some had bowed legs or sallow skin from poor nutrition. Some had disfigurements from accidents or birth defects. The Servants were well fed, immaculate in their doublet and hose. The one group had bare feet while the second had felt shoes with leather soles.

In the Icefields each clan considered it their responsibility to care for those who could not care for themselves. These people were not lazy, they were poor by birth and the South had abandoned them. She thought of the men she had killed the night before. They will have come from base beginnings like these beggars she saw, but they had risen out of squallor through crime, in many ways these beggars were more noble.

The beggars were soon moved on by Militiamen. They went silent, without the strength to complain.

She looked at the Militiamen, they were not the same ones that had attended the scene of the fight the night before. Or they seemed not to be. Certainly their Officer was a different man, this one was a little portly and mounted on a large Unicorn.

She watched the creature walk as the Officer followed his men. It was more graceful than a horse, weightier than many but not as weighty as a Great White Bear, Aurochs, Komodo or many of the other beasts she may see in the Tournament. She had never fought anyone riding a Unicorn, hardy beasts they may be but the Icefields was not a place for their hooves.

There were no traders nearby, all the Nobles had brought their own supplies. Why they insisted she camp here she had no idea, the Nobles most likely wouldn’t approve.

She started to walk towards the area where poorer Knights were camped, their she would find food stalls. As she walked the tents became smaller, the amount of Servants reduced and the amount of beggars increased. She noticed too that the amount of women was increased the further she moved away from the Nobles area. More female servants, more female beggars but more apparent were the camp followers.

A charming term, ‘camp followers’, in towns these women plied their trade in the bawdiest of taverns or in certain areas of town that other women would less often frequent. Integra had no opinion of them either way, how they made money to put food on the table was of as much importance as to her as the Basket Weaver or the Midwif.

There were also a few Knights out and about. Some passed comments as they saw her striding past. Few met her eyes. The reputation of warriors from the Icefields was usually enough to make most Knights of the South keep out of her way.

“Icemaiden!” a voice called out.

She looked in the direction of the voice and saw a Knight with suds on his face, his servant had been shaving him to give a clean faced look, popular in the South. The man however was a Westerman, perhaps from the Marches.

Integra looked at the fellow warily, it was hard to assess his worth dressed as he was in nought but a pair of black trews. Only the fact he had Servants set him out as a Knight.

“I bested your Champion two years back,” the half-shaved Knight said.

Integra stopped, two years back the Champion had been from the Icewells Clan. Gregg of the Icewells. He had not returned, those that lost never returned to the Icefields.

“You slew him?” she asked.

“No,” the Wersterman said, he shook his head.

“I unseated him, I fear he opened his own throat that night.” The man sounded genuinely remorseful, as though it was his fault.

“It is great dishonour to lose, we cannot return home.” she said simply.

“I hope not to facve you in combat,” The Westerman said, “I tilt for sport. I wish my opponents no harm.”

She shrugged, “I am no Icewell Clansman.”

The Wersterman laughed. “I have heard of your Clan, the Brigante?”

She nodded.

“I saw your bear and the blue of your cloak.” he explained.

“You have been North of the Tundra?” she asked.

“No, but I have met some others from the Icefields that were not successful nor so honour bound to open their throats.” he said.

She was intrigued, “some still live?”

“They do, be wary of them. They have been known to attack others of your people.”

Now she understood, he felt guilt over the death of the Icewell Clansmen two years ago. By warning her that there may be danger from her countrymen he was appeasing his own foibles.

“I will be cautious,” she replied as she moved on and the Westerman returned to his ablutions.

(to be) Continued in Part 4…

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