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The Earl of Zerces: chapter 3
Lang felt himself falling, falling, falling, until he felt himself crash hard against the ground. Coughing and hurting all over, Lang slowly sat up and looked around. He had fallen into a picturesque valley, with golden fields all around him. In the distance he could see snowy-topped mountains, and he felt a brisk wind on his face.
“Crazy fop,” Lang coughed out. “He could’ve killed me.”
Slowly and painfully Lang stood up. Luckily there was nothing broken, and Lang rubbed the back of his sore neck, wondering what it was he was supposed to do. The Earl had mentioned a task, but what could it be? Lang was at a loss. Then, he noticed that the amulet the Earl had given him was starting to glow. When Lang held it up, the amulet started to move in an unchanging direction, away from the mountains and deeper into the fields. So that was what the amulet was for. Taking one last glance around himself, Lang proceeded to follow the amulet’s directions.
“It’s not like I can do anything else,” he muttered.
After a few hours of walking, Lang found a forest on the edge of the fields. Lang took another look at the amulet, and it motioned for him to continue, so he proceeded through the thick trees. His robes easily got caught on stray branches, and Lang’s shoes were starting to make his feet hurt. He wasn’t at all dressed for trekking in the wilderness, and Lang groaned when his cape tore on a branch.
“Stupid Earl,” Lang shouted. “What do you want me to do!?!”
Just then Lang heard a rustle in the bushes, and immediately turned toward it.
“Who’s there?” Lang inquired. No one replied, but Lang was still on his guard. Slowly, quietly, Lang prepared himself for a possible attack by some animal. At first, nothing happened. But then Lang heard another rustle, and he threw the amulet at where he had heard the noise. A sharp yelp came from the bushes, and quick as he could, Lang jumped on the bush, grabbing the animal.
Only to find that it wasn’t an animal. Lang blinked in surprise as he found his hands clutching the shoulders of a young girl, no more than 6. The girl gave out a soft squeak, and then bashed Lang’s head with the scabbarded sword she held.
“Ow!!!” Lang clutched his head in pain. “What the-“ But Lang did not finish his sentence, for the girl had swung at his stomach, and now Lang was doubling over in pain.
“Hold it!” Lang held up a hand in surrender before the girl could strike him again. “Hold it! Who are you?”
The girl still held the sword up warily, obviously expecting an attack, but when it didn’t come, the girl lowered her sword, and started crying. Lang hadn’t expected that, and was at a loss as to what to do. Awkwardly he tried to pat a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“Um, there there,” he said uncomfortably. “…Why are you crying?”
“I...thought,” the girl managed to say through great sniffles. “You…were one……of the castle guards….who wanted to…take me back home.”
“Running away, huh?” Lang now had something to go on for comforting. “Why did you leave home?”
The girl suddenly tensed up. “Are you trying to take me back too?”
“No, no, no!” Lang raised his hands up, not wanting to get hit again. “I don’t even know where your home is! I’m a traveler who just got here!”
“Oh,” the girl said, and put the sword back down.
“Could you tell me your name?” Lang asked.
“Lia,” the girl sniffed.
“Okay, Lia,” Lang said. “Why are you carrying that sword there?”
“My papa forged it,” Lia said. “He was the greatest blacksmith in Oceana. But then the plague hit, and it took him and my momma away and then the king wanted to take away all of papa’s swords so I took papa’s best sword and ran away.” Then Lia burst into tears again and burrowed herself into Lang’s robes.
Lang, unsure of what to say, awkwardly hugged Lia. Lia continued to sob her eyes out and Lang continued to feel guilty because he couldn’t do anymore. Then, an idea struck him.
“If you want,” Lang suggested. “You can travel with me.”
“R-really?” Lia’s tear-stained face looked up at Lang with big blue eyes.
“Sure,” Lang was internally cackling. “I’m sure the Earl would be positively ecstatic to take you in.”
“The Earl?” Lia was confused.
“The Earl of Zerces,” Lang explained. “He’s the fop who sent me here. He’ll definitely make sure the King doesn’t bother you again. And I’m sure he’d love to take care of you.”
“You’re sure?” Lia asked.
“Of course,” Lang said. He had grown quite sick of the Earl’s games, and he was quite happy with letting the Earl suffer a little. He could just imagine the Earl struggling to take care of a young child. It was a glorious sight indeed.
Lang picked up Lia, and proceeded to walk through the forest again. It was starting to get dark, but eventually the two made their way to the forest’s edge, and when they came out, the pair saw a bustling town.
“Ah, splendid,” Lang proclaimed. “Although, this isn’t the town you ran away from, is it?” he asked Lia. Lia shook her head.
“Great. Then I guess we can spend the night here,” Lang said, and started to walk towards the town. But then, suddenly, he felt a ripple course through him, making him stop. A force seemed to be tugging him away, almost as though a little voice was saying, “You need to go back into the forest”. Lang turned back to the woods, curious, feeling the tug grow stronger.
“What is it?” Lia asked.
“Something’s…calling me back into the forest,” Lang said, only half-paying attention to Lia’s words. The tug was getting even stronger, now the little voice had grown to a cacophony of little “Go back”s and “The forest, you need to go to the forest again”s. Then, suddenly, Lang was brought back to reality, with Lia tugging his robes.
“What?” Lang asked, as though he had come back from a trance.
“Are you on a quest?” Lia asked, and Lang was surprised to see that there was no hint of surprise or wonder in her voice.
“Um, I suppose I am,” Lang said slowly, surprised.
“Okay,” Lia said as though Lang had just proclaimed that he had to go to the bathroom. It was as though such an event were inconvenient, but irreversible. “My papa went on a lot of quests when he was younger, and he told me that when I was older, he’d take me on one too.” The little girl plopped herself on the ground and sat there patiently. “I’ll wait here for you.”
“Eh?” Lang had had far too much strangeness go on for one day. “But it’s getting dark. Aren’t you worried about a bear? Or some castle guards?”
“It’s fine,” Lia said as though Lang was a fool for not knowing the obvious. “This sword has a charm on it to protect me. I know that you adults always have big, important things to do, and I’d just get in the way, so go and quest your quest, and I’ll just wait here.”
Lang blinked, thoroughly nonplussed.
“Go on,” Lia impatiently waved Lang on. “You’d better get your quest out of the way now, before it gets dark.”
Lang managed to stammer something before ambling back into the woods. What a peculiar girl Lang thought, as he trekked back to where the force seemed to call him.