The lady rested the flat of her longsword on her own shoulder.
"Try me right now, or go," she said into the darkness. Something shifted on the night-shrouded rooftops, and then was gone. Jasson sheathed his weapons and strode through the tavern's empty doorway, Henri following with sword still drawn.
"That was a mighty duel," Jasson said, grinning at the short, blonde lady warrior. "Might I have the honour of your name?"
"BuFae Summers," the lady said, extending her free hand. Jasson blinked, not believing his ears. "And you are?"
"I am Henri Leroux, Knight of the Realm," said Henri, finally sheathing his sword and shooting Jasson a quizzical glance. "My newly silent comrade is Jasson Sabien, Knight of the Quest. I thank you for your aid this night, Lady Summers."
"No problem," said Summers, trying to settle the longsword between her two swordbelts without cutting herself. "Sort of my job." Henri raised his eyebrows.
"Where do you hail from, that you were trained in the sword? In Bretonnia..." Henri paused, considering how to phrase his question. "Few maidens are raised to bear arms."
"Oh, I'm from a long way away," Summers said wearily. "Farther than you can imagine. And I didn't exactly want to come here."
"You were banished?" Henri asked with a raised brow, moving up next to Jasson and slamming a fist into his ribs.
"More like marooned," Summers said, and sighed. "There was this demon-god named Glory, and a portal - long story. I'm kind of looking for someone who can send me home, with magic."
"At last!" shouted Jasson, breaking his silence so suddenly that Henri and Summers half-drew their weapons. "I must come with you," he said to Summers, and turned to Henri. "Don't you see? My vision told me to bide here until summer arrived. And now she has, and she seeks a damsel of the Lady. This is my path."
"A name is not necessarily a sign," said Henri.
"What's this about a damsel?" said Summers sharply.
"But it can be! Lady Summer seeks the Lady's grace. Perhaps in assisting her, I may prove myself as well."
"I'm not a damsel," Summer growled.
"Of course not, Lady Summer," said Jasson. "I - of course, you do not know, being from a distant land. Damsels are the Lady's chosen, sorceresses of great power and wisdom. Even if it is beyond them to return you, their counsel will set us on our path."
"Wait, us? You want to tag along? Why?"
"Jasson, a word," Henri said quietly.
"I seek the Lady's favour," Jasson told Summer. "For three years I roamed the kingdom, searching for the trial or quest that would prove me worthy. This past spring, a vision of the Lady came to me, and told me to bide at Castle Montfort until summer arrived. Not the season - you, my lady. My quest is to aid you
"This Lady sounds like a lot of trouble," Summer said thoughtfully, propping one tiny fist on her hip. "You sure she's worth it?"
"He does not speak of any mortal lady, fair thought some may be," Henri explained. "The Lady is the goddess of Bretonnia, the foundation of our society. My headstrong young friend here seeks to prove himself worthy to sup from her Grail, and gain her lasting blessing. On occasion, knights on their Grail quest are guided by visions; that is what he thinks has occurred, that a vision has led him to you."
"Damsel Lucile resides at Castle Montfort, at the northern edge of the town," said Jasson. "We can begin with her; she is only a few moments ride away."
"I saw it when I walked in. Kind of hard to miss, what with the massive walls and flags. But won't she be busy with the, you know, undead roaming the town?"
"The castle has weathered much worse, Lady Summer," said Henri. He glanced at Jasson. "Once the knights were roused, they would have crushed the foul gravewalkers. Now, you mentioned a demon-god brought you here?"
"It's a long story," said Summer.
"Well, I doubt the tavern will welcome our custom," Jasson said brightly. "Let us discuss it as we ride to the castle."
"Ride?" Summer said with a raised eyebrow.
"Yes, the vampires appear to have left the tavern's stables untouched. Perhaps equine blood is too rich for their..." He blinked at Summer. "I am a fool!"
"Yes," grumbled Henri.
"You were thrown here by servants of Chaos, of course they did not let you bring a mount and arms! Well, we shall borrow one of the tavern's nags, until something more suitable can be arranged. Come, let us go! Henri, will you accompany us?"
"I won't leave you two alone, if that's what you're asking," Henri replied. Summer tilted her head.
"You really think one of these damsels can send me back?" she asked.
"It is a beginning," said Jasson, shrugging. He blinked at Summer, as she bit her lip and frowned. She was obviously uncertain about accepting his help. Lowering himself to his knees, Jasson drew his belt knife and held it out to Summer hilt-first. "My lady. Will you accept my service in the name of the Lady, until your time of need is past?" She stared at him for a moment.
"If I tell you to leave, you'll let me go?"
"I will part company with you whenever you please," he said truthfully, leaving out the fact that he wouldn't stop aiding her. Summer thought for a little longer, and placed one of her tiny - but immensely strong - hands on the hilt of his knife.
"I accept your service," she said calmly, though she was tense with uncertainty. Henri shook his head in disbelief.
Jasson kept his horse reined in, pacing Summer's eldery grey mare. Henri rode behind them, watching his horse's ears intently.
"So this Glory opened the portal with your sister's blood..." Jasson said.
"And Summers' blood was the only thing that could close it. I wasn't actually expecting to survive."
"You are certain the portal is closed?" asked Henri.
"Absolutely," Buffy said over her shoulder. "I felt it close as I...fell. And there wasn't anything portal-like in the pass where I landed." The three riders moved to the side to let a formation of mounted knights past. They were young, mostly without helmets, and they shouted joyous battlecries as they rushed past.
"Poor lambs," Henri said, leaning on his saddlehorn. "No vampires left for them."
"Yeah, about that," said Summer. "The first vampire said your name. He was looking for you, not just killing people at random. You annoy any vampires recently?"
"I have not fought the dead since I was made a full knight," said Henri. "I suppose a creature of the night may nurse a grudge for as long as it pleases."
"Or, it's related to whatever's going on with the succession and this Enchantress you guys were talking about." Henri's hand went to his sword.
"You were spying upon us?"
"Not really," Summer said with a shrug. "I'm not just stronger and faster than a man. All my senses are sharper, as well. You guys might as well have been shouting."
"It is essential that any...concerns I may have, remain with those I trust," said Henri. "The Dukes cannot be allowed to feud, not now."
"Peace, my friend," Jasson said. "Lady Summer's goal is to understand the enemy. I am sure she understands the need for silence."
"I'm not interested in fights over who gets the shiniest hat," said Summer. "But you're gathering people you can trust, and it looks like a vamp was sent to stop you doing that. Means this is more than politics."
"The throne empty, the dukes snapping at each other's throats," Henri mused.
"Unable to raise the armies, should an army threaten the realm entire," Jasson added. "Who could muster such a force?"
"The Emperor has no taste for conquest, and age has not weakened his hold on his lands," said Henri, working through the list. "The orcish filth have been no more active than usual. The forces of Chaos have no leader strong enough to hold them together long enough. The undead...it would take a mighty host to threaten the might of Bretonnia, and surely the damsels would sense that much death."
"Perhaps not an invasion, then. Some smaller design, that we cannot see until it is complete," Jasson suggested.
"I will think on this," said Henri. He fell silent, deep in thought.
"So, what are you going to tell the guards?" said Summer.
"Guards?" Jasson said, puzzled.
"When they ask who I am, where I'm from, where you're taking me."
"I will say that you - and Henri - seek counsel from Damsel Lucile."
"It is true."
"That's all they'll need to know, to let some strange woman into the castle?"
"If I accompany you," Jasson said gently, "then yes. A knight of Bretonnia would die rather than be a tool of another." He looked ahead. "We are almost there."
The town gave way to open fields, and the fields became a gentle rise. The rise became a hillside, littered with great rocky crags. At the crest of the hill stood Castle Montfort: huge, ancient, indomitable. Torches blazed along the ramparts and on the peaks of the towers, and the sable banners of the Duke of Montfort stirred in the gentle night breeze, emblazoned with the Duke's yellow castle. For all the movement about the castle, there was only one man at the gate. A knight sat upon a warhorse, wiping down his sword with a cloth.
"Jasson!" the knight shouted as the three riders drew near. "You missed a lively evening!"
"As did you," Jasson said with a chuckle. "My companions seek the fair damsel's counsel. Is she about the keep?"
"Perhaps," the knight said, casting a disinterested glance over Henri, and a slightly sharper gaze over Summer. "She retired to her chambers at mid-day, and has not be seen since. She may have left without trace, or she may be pondering deeper matters than the living dead splintering themselves upon our blades. Go with the Lady."
Once they had stabled their horses, Jasson led Henri and Summer into the keep, along a narrow passage, and up a spiral staircase.
"This is hardly inconspicuous," said Henri.
"One more knight in the castle will not draw the eye," Jasson said calmly.
"What about a woman with a sword? I haven't seen any of those around here," said Summer.
"Repanse de Lyonesse," Jasson said immediately. "She rode to battle many times."
"You cannot name one not long dead, though," Henri said.
"Ah, Lucile's door," Jasson said. He reached out to tap at the door, but found it was already slightly open. "Damsel Lucile?" he called.
"Don't bother," said Summer, sniffing at the air. She pushed the door open all the way. Lucile lay in the centre of the chamber, her blood a red tide that stained the floor from side to side.
This story is pretty light and action-based, so if you see a plot hole, just nod and smile.