When Nine Trees heard Medowin’s summons, he was in the midst of helping Laila pack. She had gone to her room to find suitable packs for carrying, and he was actually nibbling on the leftovers from breakfast, humming to himself, though he should have been finishing up morning chores so that things would be set to rights before their journey.
He heard the summons in his heart a smile washed over his features. They would leave soon, and Laila would understand. He turned and was about to join her, to tell her, when there came a disturbance from down the lonely road that led to Laila’s home.
He heard the sound of horses’ hooves as someone approached the gate of the cottage, and went to the window, curious at the sound of visitors, for though Laila was much beloved by the townsfolk for her wares, she was happy by her lonesome, and did not have many that came to call.
He supposed it was the way the riders leapt the gate, or perhaps their armor and swords, or the way the horses frothed pink from hard riding, or the way the men dismounted and marched toward the front door that made him quite certain this was no ordinary house-calling.
When the knock came to the door, he opened it without timidity, and at least one of the men was shocked to find Laila not alone.
“Hie, stranger! Who are you to open a woman’s door like this, as if it were your own?” one of the men cried. He stood before Nine Trees in armor of glistening black, looking much like he were some carved figure of obsidian.
“Hie, rider,” Nine Trees answered amiably enough. “Who are you to come pounding into a woman’s yard to frighten the beasts and knock upon the door only to greet your host with such questions?” he said in return.
“We have come for the pie-woman, who has neither paid her tax nor sworn her fealty,” the rider finally said roughly. “Send her out.”
“I am very sorry, but she is busy, as she shall be for some time next,” Nine Trees said most politely. “Would you care to call another day?”
“Fool!” the rider snapped, pulling a sword and leveling it at Nine Trees, who still did not move. “We have come for her, and you shall send her out, so that I may drive her back with us, running and muddied behind the horses like the bitch she is.”
Hardly had the rider finished his words when Nine Trees moved, and it was thus that Laila found something to let her believe in the young man’s words. All his tales had seemed of riddles and mystery, powers beyond her comprehension, but as she stepped back into the main room from where her bed laid, she saw the confrontation at her door. Nine Trees’ only motion was to lift his hand and with two fingers push the blade aside easily, singing out one clear note as his fingertips trailed down the blade.
The weapon became a wilting vine of morning glory, and fell from the rider’s hand, useless, to the front flags.
“What sorcery is this?” the riders cried, reining back their horses to look upon Nine Trees and the woman past him, in the kitchen. “Who are you, wizard, that you display such treachery, the dark arts, as you have?” the rider snarled, lifting from his belt a long black knife with a curved, wicked blade.
“I am Nine Trees. Sent of Medowin, Last Child of Raduli, First Child of –” the young man murmurs.
“Blasphemy!” Hesitant to deal with things not of their understanding, the riders backed away, glaring hatefully at the young man and the woman behind him. “The gods no longer walk the earth, and the only ones who speak for them are the priests!” the armored man with the knife said loudly. “Let us in to see the woman, or you’ll be dragged back as well!”
“Perhaps you will be kinder, then, and we might set out plates and talk like people do, when meeting,” Nine Trees said easily enough.
The men laughed harshly at such words. Their leader, suddenly noticing Laila through the door, growled to her, “Perhaps you will set out a better fare for us than shall be found on plates, witch child, and we will tell the Lord we could not find you, eh?” He moved to dismount his horse, and his company laughed with him, dark and arrogant.
“You will have nothing of this house,” said Nine Trees angrily. “You will have nothing of this woman,” he said.
“Get back, boy,” the rider snarled. He reached for the sword at his hip that was not there.
“Are you looking for this?” Nine Trees wondered. And with that, Laila watched as the young man stooped and retrieved the thing at his feet. No longer a withered vine, but a long sword of gleaming steel once more, it whined as Nine Trees lifted it to force the tip up through a gap in the rider’s armor. Scraping metal against metal through the warm resistance of flesh, the blade bit deeply into the leader’s vitals, and he had not time for a scream as he slumped into Nine Trees arms, his breath leaving him.
Wide eyes stared at Laila, over the shoulder of the young man who had only just yesterday given her a full gold for her market-lot. She supposed she might have screamed had she had any thought left in her head.
The riders drew their swords, meaning to advance upon the young man who slid the body to the ground and left the sword in it. He stood, blood upon his clothes, his hands, and looked at them without fear, without fury, that cold hardness in his eyes gone to grief. One single note sang he, and the riders found their swords were also vines, as useless as their leader’s had been.
“Go now,” Nine Trees said softly. “Take this… thing with you,” he whispered, gesturing to the body, “and come not again to this house, or I shall place a morning’s glory through your hearts, as well, if you have any left to speak of. Go, now,” he told them. “For my only mercy was to make this man’s death as quick as possible, and if you remain here, you shall find that mercy exhausted.”
Uncertain not of the need to leave but of the idea that they could do so quickly enough, the men reclaimed the body of their captain and retreated, leaving the gate open as they took their horses back through.
“Who are you?” Laila whispered anxiously as the young man came back into the kitchen, shutting the door and going to wash the blood from himself in the kitchen bin.
“I am Nine Trees,” he answered quietly, the sound of his voice thick with grief. “Sent of Medowin,” he whispered, plunging his hands into the cold water. “Last Child of Raduli, first child of Sarad. And murderer, it seems.”