Rodran, The Last Knight of Knowledge

I’ve been occasionally trying my hand at the prompts over at reddit’s r/writingprompts, with mixed results.  A recent prompt really got my mind going, though, so much so that I ended up writing quite a bit on it. The prompt was “100 years after the collapse of society you are of the last knights of knowledge. You protect one of the core sources of power. 75 years ago your family was tasked with protecting Books!”  My response did not garner a whole lot of attention, but those couple of people reading it did seem to enjoy it, and more importantly, I really like what I came up with.  Enough so that I have decided to post it here for posterity.

Note: This is copied directly from my response without any editing, so please forgive any rough spelling or grammar.

Part 1

Rodran leaned back in his chair, his feet propped comfortably on the table, reading an old Hardy Boys. It was not nearly as fulfilling a read as some of the other classics, but Rodran was running out fiction he had not read at least once before. Plus, it was kind of quaint, how these little mysteries were considered ‘adventures’ back in the day. Back before the war of his great grandparent’s day, which transformed the world to its current state.

The manors and estates that the Hardy Boys had frequented in their adventures were no more. Rodran’s library was a testament to that. Cement walls in some places, others wood and brick were they had to be patched and re-patched after raids, furnishings that were old and worn, decayed practically to the point of losing its function. No one made things anymore, no one Rodran had ever met, at least. They just took from the scraps that remained of the old world, and those scraps broke down over time. Soon there would be nothing left.

It was ironic twist that at least a dozen books in Rodran’s library could have told him how to make a new chair out of the wooden scraps, a new desk and dresser, perhaps a more comfortable bed. No one ever came for those books, though. And Rodran had more important duties to attend to. He had to maintain his wariness, and his skill, to protect this place. That was a full time job that allowed no other hobbies. Besides reading the occasional adventure book, anyway.

He perked up when a noise alerted him that he may need to fulfill one of those duties soon. The gravel on all sides of the library had been crushed into coarse rocks; even the stealthiest of thieves who tried to step across it would end up crunching a few and making a sound. Rodran put down his book and rose.

Rodran stood a full six and a half feet tall and possessed a sturdy frame, an imposing image made all the more impressive by the thick plates of armor he wore. Unlike everything else in the library, the armor shined as if it was brand new. As it should, as one of Rodran’s sacred duties was the care of his armor. As was his sword, currently in its sheath and propped up against the desk. Rodran had read books about the knights of old times, in their sparkling mail and wielding their long lances, those whom his order had based themselves off of. Of course, he looked like a shallow imitation compared to the originals, his armor a few interwoven plates of steel to protect vital areas of his body as opposed to a full knightly suit, but he still considered them his kin. Picking up his sword, he quickly strode to the front of the building, towards the only entry.

Well, the only entry unless the invaders decided to make a new one through one of the walls. But he would deal with that if the time came.

The sound of crunching gravel grew louder as the outsiders approached. Rodran estimated by the noise that there were four of them, and none of them tried to be stealthy. He walked a few steps to where a pair of binoculars were affixed to a small gap in the wall and examined the approach. If they appeared non-hostile, he would greet them and offer them shelter, as the code of his order dictated. Unfortunately, that did not seem to be the case. Three men walked towards the door with weapons drawn. One wielded a sword, not unlike Rodran’s own, though likely in worse condition. The other had a more common weapon of the wasteland, a large bat with nails drilled into for added savagery.

The third would be the most dangerous. He had a weapon of the old world, an assault rifle, a deadly weapon capable of laying down a dozen knights. Rodran’s armor offered him a considerable degree of protection against blades and clubs, but that gun would tear through it like paper. He had seen it happen before.

The last of the group was a small, hooded figure, who kept a good distance behind the others. Probably the leader of this band. And one with some amount of wealth, or what passed for wealth in the wastelands, if he was able to afford a rifle. Like all things made in the old world, the weapons had worn down over the years, many of them to a point that no amount of repair would get them working again. By Rodran’s father’s time, the fact that the order preferred to use swords for their duties no longer seemed a strange thing.

Though Rodran was more than prepared to engage in a firefight if he had to. Tucked into a compartment on the rear of his armor was a small pistol, one that he performed meticulous upkeep on to ensure it would work should he need it. It was for emergencies only, though. He possessed a very limited supply of ammunition for the thing. Plus, using such a weapon seemed dishonorable and cowardly.

He stood to the side of the door and listened as the outsiders approached. Pressing his back against the wall, he controlled his breathing and brought himself into his warrior calm. They came with weapons drawn, and now he had a duty to fulfill.

The door burst open and the man with the assault rifle came in. He swept the room left to right, aiming down the barrel of his rifle, ready to fire at anything that moved. But he did not expect Rodran, right beside the door and in his blind spot. Rodran’s sword was out of its sheath in the same smooth motion that brought it slashing across the invader’s hand. The man screamed and somehow kept a hold of gun, but the angle of the barrel tipped far upwards and a few futile shots were fired into the library’s ceiling. Rodran’s blade flash again before the invader could react and pierced him deep in the shoulder. This time the man dropped the rifle, then slumped to the ground, clutching shoulder.

The other two were on Rodran by then, having charged to their wounded ally’s aid. Rodran easily parried the sword swing of the first, then cut across to catch the bat a moment before it would have struck his head. The blade caught in between two of the nails sticking out of the bat, and with a twist Rodran was able to lock the blade in place. He gave a great tug and the bat went flying out of the invader’s hand. The maneuver left Rodran’s sword out of position, so he had to bring his armored shoulder in front of his to deflect the next sword strike aimed his way. The impact of the strike strung and caused his shoulder to go partially numb but the blade itself did not pierce through.

Rodran brought his sword back around in time to parry the next strike, and then the next. It became clear that whoever this was he was facing was no novice with the weapon, no minor bandit who simply chanced upon the blade. He had obviously practiced and knew some basic forms. However, he was nowhere near Rodran’s equal. With a couple of precision strikes Rodran got around his opponent’s defenses and scored vertical strikes on his chest. They were not deep, but were enough to cause him to stumble back. Rodran took the advantage to cut across once again, slicing his opponent’s sword arm and causing him to drop the blade.

He saw movement below him and quickly brought his foot down to stomp on the hand of the former bat-wielder, who had made a dive for the rifle. The man cried out and struggled to free his hand, but only for the moment before the hilt of Rodran’s sword impacted with his face and knocked him senseless.

“That’s enough!” a woman’s voice called out. Rodran turned to the door to the see the final figure had entered into the library. The hood was down now, revealing a young woman with dirty red hair and a road weary face. She was pointing a pistol at him, and holding it steady enough that Rodran knew that she would likely only need one shot to end this.

Rodran slowly backed away from the invaders and dropped his sword’s tip into the ground. He knew she had him dead-to-rights, and there was no way he could get to his own gun in time if she decided to fire.

“Who are you?” the woman demanded.

“I am Rodran Mariach, Knight of Knowledge, Protector of the Books,” he answered in an unwavering tone.

The woman’s eyes went wide and she shook her head in disbelief. “That’s impossible. All the Knights were killed in a raid ten years ago.”

“Not all of them,” Rodran replied firmly. “I am all that remains.”

The woman shook her head again and holstered her weapon. “I’d say I doubt your story, if you hadn’t just bested three of the best bodyguards to be found for a hundred miles around while hardly breaking a sweat.” She held her hands up and at her side and dipped her head low, a common wasteland sign of friendship and peace. “I apologize for our rude entrance. Our information is obviously lacking. I am Ariana Cadderly, and these are my bodyguards and traveling companions. We thought for sure bandits would have taken up in this place, as it was seemingly whole, and you can find bandits in every dark hole on this road. I never expected to find a Mariach still guarding this place.”

“If you thought such, then why did you come?”

She looked into the library. “I seek a book, one that I hoped might have survived any looting this place had endured over the years. Truth be told, I felt there was little chance of success, but seeing you here, I have renewed hope.”

Rodran gave the woman a firm look, but saw no reason to doubt the story. She could have killed him if she had wanted to, but she had put her weapon away and given him the advantage. He nodded at her. “Tell me which book it is you are seeking and I will retrieve it for you. You may read it so long as you remain here, and take notes from it if you have brought your own paper. The book does not leave the building. Rooms will be made available for you if you intend to stay several days.”

Ariana’s face brightened. “Thank you, Master Rodran. Your hospitality is most generous, and we are most undeserving, given our entrance.”

After he men’s wounds were tended to, she told Rodran of a book she was seeking. A book of American history, the founding fathers, the constitution. It was interesting reading, though not particularly useful, in Rodran’s opinion. He saw in Ariana’s eyes a sort of naive idealism, however. He would not take it from her.

He provided her with multiple books on the subject, which thrilled her. Rodran actually enjoyed the next few weeks as the Ariana studied and took notes from the book. He sparred with the swordsman, Axel, and suggested some books on combat tactics to the hard-faced soldier who possessed the assault rifle. The bat wielder was a young man who took a great liking to works of fiction, though his reading level was poor and Rodran had to suggest books from the children’s section. The weeks were peaceful as no bandit wanted to come near the library while it was so heavily defended. And supplies were no issue as Ariana had wisely come well stocked.

But eventually, it had to come to an end. Ariana and her now recovered bodyguards prepared for their departure, back to the front lines of a just conflict, she had assured him.

“We will bring back the old ways,” she said. “A return to decency and American values, where one can live and work without constant fear for their lives.”

“I hope you do,” Rodran replied stoically.

“You know, we could use someone like you in the cause,” she added. “You’re the best fighter I’ve seen, and are well learned. Our forced already control a dozen towns, and you would be a great asset in helping us organize them all properly.”

“My duties are here,” Rodran said firmly, leaving no room for argument.

“I understand.” She put out her hand and Rodran took it in friendship. “I hope, if our forces ever get control of this area, we can still count on you as a friend.”

“So long as the rules of the library are obeyed.”

She smiled. “I shall see that they are.”

They left shortly after, full of new ideals and ideas for the future. Rodran doubted he would ever see any of them again. The wastelands were where ideals went to die. Soon enough, whatever power they had managed to gather would come crumbling around them, as it always did, and idealism would fall to the truth of this world.

Only here, in this library, did ideas get to continue living, long after those who had dreamed them up had died. And Rodran would see that truth continue for as long as he drew breath, even if he had to do it all alone.

When his visitors had departed, Rodran rested his sword against his desk, tipped his chair back and put his feet up, then resumed the Hardy Boy’s latest adventure.

Part 2

Rodran looked out the pair of mounted binoculars are the approaching horde. If it was one of the large gangs that ruled this area he would be alright. They had a great deal of respect for his family, respect earned by blood and by blade, and though Rodran was now alone in the library those gangs who had known his family continued to treat the library with respect. If was a new gang, or a large, wandering tribe, then Rodran could be in trouble. Based on the numbers present, at least a few dozen, there was little chance he could fight them all off himself should they prove to be aggressive.

Something snapping in the wind caught his eye. A flag, bearing the symbol of a sword and shield over a blue backdrop. The banner of a Knightly Order, he knew at once, though he cursed himself for not being able to immediately recognize it. Perhaps he ought the have paid more attention during his grandfather Tobias’ lectures on the different orders present in the region.

Truth be told, Rodran had assumed all the other knights long dead. He heard the story when he was young about the fate of the Knights Hospitaller. They were the greatest of the Knight Orders, or so his grandfather had said, comprised of seven different families working together to safely provide medicine and treatment to the sick and injured. They existed only to escort doctors to the sick and protect the place where they worked. That did not stop them from being targeted by raiders who wanted to control the supply of medicine themselves. The knights had been completely wiped out, and their precious hospital looted and burned.

After what had happened to his own family, Rodran had only assumed that every Knightly Order had eventually suffered a similar fate. He had resigned himself to the fate of the last living knight, the last defender of the bastions of civilized life. And he had never held any regrets about it.

Now, seeing this banner flying above the approaching knights, and they were clearly identified as knights, now, with their their armor gleaming in the sun, Rodran felt a new hope that he was not alone.

He wracked his brain, thinking back to those early lectures, and finally he was able to place that banner. The Knights Justicar. The traveled frequently used roads to keep them clear of raiders and went settlement to settlement settling disputes and matters of law for a small fee. A strict bunch, his grandfather had warned, but ultimately honorable. Rodran smiled and adjusted his armor, making sure everything was in its proper place. He wished he had his family own banner, bearing the symbol of a book on a pedestal, but that had been torn down and burned in that fateful raid ten years ago. He had to make sure looked the part of the knight if he wanted them to recognize him.

The Justicars stopped in front of the library and took up positions. Then three of them came forward, a fourth figure following shortly after. The fourth figure wore no armor, and after a moment Rodran noticed the figure was being forced along via a rope. A prisoner taken from their clashes with the raiders, perhaps? But why would they bringing him along to the library?

Rodran didn’t have much time to ponder it as the Justicars quickly made their way to the door. One of them approached and knocked loudly. Rodran quickly answered.

An older man with thick, gray whiskers on his lip stood before him. “I am Logan Gavers, Commander of the Knights Justicar,” he announced, holding his hands up at his sides and tipping his head. “You are Rodran Mariach, of the Knights of Knowledge, I presume?”

“I am,” Rodran replied, trying to hide his surprise that the knight knew his name. “Well met, Logan. Come seeking the knowledge of my library?”

“Seeking the answer to a question,” Logan replied. “May we come inside?”

Rodran nodded and stepped aside to let Logan and the two other Justicars inside. The prisoner followed, and Rodran’s face dropped when their eyes met. He had not recognized her at first, with her face so dirty and battered, but there was no mistaking that look.

Ariana Cadderly, who, several months back, had spent a few weeks here while she researched the history and ways of a pre-war America. She had been a friendly, if naively idealistic, woman.

Suddenly, the arrival of the Knights Justicar took a much more grim tone for Rodran.

“So you recognize our little insurgent, then?” Logan said after a long moment had passed. “Good, that means she did not lie to our interrogators. We had some reason to doubt her story, after all. Who would have guessed that one of the famous Knights of Knowledge still lived, still defended this library, and still welcomed travelers seeking information?”

Rodran didn’t say anything. He looked uncomfortably between Logan and Ariana, trying to get a sense for the situation. What had Ariana done to attract the attention of the Justicars? Why did Logan call her an insurgent?

“When we heard her story, we knew we must come and see for ourselves,” Logan said. “To ask you a very important question?”

Rodran’s expression was of stone. “What would that be?”

Logan smiled at him. “Did you provide her with the knowledge that prompted her insurgency?” Before Rodran even had a chance to respond to the absurd accusation, Logan continued. “Her and her little band thought themselves the new American order, passing their own laws and living by a code they found in your books. Or claim to have found in your books, anyway.”

“She came requesting information on American ways in the old world,” Rodran confirmed. “And I had no reason to deny her.”

Logan shook his head. “I see. Well, I suppose we can’t blame you. You did not know what you actions would cause.”

“What would they cause?” Rodran asked, dryly.

“They thought because they had their own laws, they no longer needed the Justicars.” Logan’s reply made it clear how absurd he thought the concept. “They denied us entry into their towns, and denied us our solemn duty of passing judgment. This can not stand, you understand. We represent justice. We can not let lawlessness stand.”

“The Knights Justicar go where they are requested,” Rodran replied, remembering his grandfather’s lectures. “If they did not want you -”

Logan cut him off. “Perhaps, in the old days, this was true. But what we found was that many tribes and settlements, ruled by brutal dictators, claimed to not need us, but were suffering undo torture and maliciousness every day. So now we go where we feel we are needed, up to our best judgement.”

“You go where there is food to steal and supplies to pillage,” Ariana spat, seeming to have finally found the courage to speak. “You call yourselves knights, but really you are just raiders in fancy armor! You stroll in, making threats, hanging people at your whim, and taking what you want! It is not justice, it is pillaging!”

The Justicar holding Ariana’s rope gave it a tug and the woman went flying forward, right into the knight’s fist. She collapsed on the floor, clutching a fresh welt on her face. Rodran moved to get to her, to help her up, to keep the knight from attacking her further, but Logan stood in his way.

“Worry not for the prisoner,” Logan said. “She will receive a a fair trial. For now, be concerned for yourself.”

Rodran felt himself reaching for his sword. “Should I be?”

“You can see now how a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing,” Logan replied calmly. “But we will not fault you for not seeing it, so long as action is taken to prevent it from happening again. You shall turn over the books you gave gave Ariana to us, and we shall burn them. Then we shall be on our way, parting as friends.”

“Some friends you are better off not having,” Rodran replied. He was satisfied when he saw Logan’s calm slip. “You may claim to be the Knights Justicar, but your actions here have proven that you are not the same order I once learned about. You are not welcome here in my library, knight-pretender Logan. Please remove yourself and your companions at once.”

One of the Justicars came forward threateningly but was halted but an upraised hand from Logan. “This is most disappointing,” Logan said. “I had hoped to leave on good terms. Very well, Rodran. As one knight to another, I shall respect your request for us to depart.” He smiled. “But we shall not go far.”
And so they left, dragging their prisoner behind them. Ariana looked at him with sad eyes as she pulled away, but Rodran could see nothing he could do for her. Not without having to fight off a horde of heavily armed knights single handily. He could only hopelessly watch her go.

True to his word, Logan did not go far. The Justicars set up a camp right at the border of the crushed gravel that marked the start of Rodran’s territory. They erected a hangman’s platform, built so the victims would be facing the library directly, which Rodran assumed was for his benefit. They intended to intimidate him, it seemed. One after another, they brought people to meet their end at the end of its noose. Most had the look of raiders to them, tough and muscular, but some were young, and old, and even the smallest girl could not seem to find any mercy from the Justicars.

Rodran knew these people. Not personally, but he knew of them. If you weren’t tough enough to survive the wasteland by yourself, you attached yourself to someone who could, even if they were a raider. And of course, that meant making yourself useful in some way, be it as a cook, messenger, or even as a form of entertainment. These were people guilty of nothing more than trying to survive in this harsh world. Rodran was powerless to interfere.

After a week had past, the Justicars had apparently run out of raiders to capture in the surrounding area cause they went on to the main show: Ariana. Rodran gritted his teeth at the thought of her walking up to that noose. But before then, it seemed, there was going to be a spectacle. The ‘trial’ that Logan had alluded to.

He had used the word ‘trial’, hadn’t he? This gave Rodran one idea, a single chance for Ariana’s life, although a desperate one.

Rodran approached the Justicar camp with no weapon visible, armed with only a thick book: one on trial law and procedure in the US. Wielding this, he walked straight past a number of confused knights and up the platform Logan was currently standing on.

“A change of heart, Rodran?” Logan asked his a smug grin. “But surely this can not be all the material we requested.”

“This is a book of trial law,” Rodran replied. “You claim to be holding a fair trial for Ariana, but based on law, no trial you provide her will be fair.”

“How do you reason?” Logan asked, his grin turned to a deep frown.

“First, you have provided her with no counsel to defend her,” Rodran declared. “A most basic right is that of representation. Second, there is no jury of her peers. I see no jury at all, just a judge who also serves as executioner. Even if you made a jury out of your knights, they would surely not be her peers and would be biased against her.”

Logan’s glare could have melted stone. “Anything else?”

Rodran nodded. “Lastly, according to the laws of this book, she should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof is on you, the accuser. You have already condemned her as guilty in your minds, thus there is no method of you providing her a fair trial.”

He knew he was exposed here. If he pushed Logan too far, it was likely he would be joining Ariana up there on the hangman’s platform.

“What do you suggest?” Logan asked bitterly.

“This trial be declared invalid, and the prisoner be released,” Rodran replied. “It is the proper thing to do. Unless, as Ariana claimed, this is not about upholding the law and what is fair, but about a bunch of raiders who fancy themselves knights.”

There was a long pause. The knights shuffled around him, and Rodran was sure he would die right there, either cut down by sword or shot through the head. But no one made any moves towards him.

“Very well, Rodran,” Logan declared. “Your points are valid. Since no fair trial can be had here, the prisoner will be let go.” He smiled. “But the wastelands are a dangerous place. Many things can befall one such as her wandering alone.”

Rodran and he exchanged glares, and both knew that Rodran had no intention of letting Ariana go off on her own. He helped her from her bindings and then half-carried the weakened woman back to his library. None of the knights made any move to stop him.

Nor did they make any move to depart. Rodran knew that this was not over. Not by a long shot.

Part 3

The Justicars showed no sign of departing. Indeed, by every appearance they seemed ready for an assault. Most carried swords, axes, spears, or bows, weapons which Rodran feared little, if he could somehow force the fight into narrow quarters and take them on no more than two or three at a time, assuming exhaustion didn’t eventually force a mistake. It was the guns that were the real threat. Rodran watched them day in and out, trying to get a count of the deadly weapons. Four of their numbers carried assault rifles at all time, two of those keeping close to Logan and the other two on patrols around the camp. At least five others had pistols tucked away in addition to whatever melee weapon they were carrying. Those were terrifying odds.

Ariana had said little in the week since he had rescued her from the hangman’s noose. He had done what he could for her wounds, though he was far from a doctor. What she needed most of all was rest, and he let her have it. Though that rest might be soon interrupted when the Justicars made their move.

He wished there was something more he could do to ready himself for what was coming, but the library was already fortified to the point it could be with what he had to work with. There were no allies he could call and no new weapons to be had. Very likely, this would be his last stand.

It was on that day, a week after the ‘trial’, that an emissary from the Justicars came up to the front door of his library.

“Commander Gavers has declared that this library, and the resources and information it holds, are a threat to the security and peace brought to the region by the Knights Justicar. You will depart from the building at once, or face judgment for obstruction of justice.”

Rodran replied by slamming the door in the emissaries face. He held no illusions that this was anything more than a justification by Logan to do what he had always planned to do. Even if Rodran abandoned the library, which he would never do, he did not doubt that Logan would find some other reason to pursue him. ‘The wastelands are a dangerous place,’ afterall.

At least the wait was almost over. Rodran was ready to fight, and likely to die, but the waiting was torture.

“That could have gone better,” Ariana said as she came up behind him. “Seems the Justicars intend a fight after all.”

Rodran nodded but found nothing else to say.

Ariana looked down at her feet. “I’m sorry. I led them here. I never wanted to bring this upon you, but their ‘interrogators’ broke my will, and in quick fashion.” She shook her head sadly. “I never imagined I was so weak.”

“You are not at fault,” Rodran said, not gently, but firmly, a simple statement of fact. “Those who resort to torture and intimidation while calling themselves knights, they are to blame.

She nodded but did not seem to be able to meet his eyes. He remembered those eyes from when they had first met, when she had come to this library in search of knowledge of the old ways. Back then, they had been full of a naive idealism, full of hope. Now that was gone her eyes were cold and solemn. The wasteland was were ideals went to die.

“You may be able to slip away during the distraction of the fighting,” Rodran added. “They will be too focused on me to pursue you. Maybe you can get back to your settlements, help them rebuild.”

Ariana gave a bitter laugh. “Did they tell you how they captured me? There was no big fight, not siege of our towns. They strode up and demanded we lay down our arms. We outnumbered them, almost two to one, and they we were not as well equipped we were ready for a fight. Or, so I thought, because the moment they came, the moment of our first big test defending the lives we were building, we crumbled. I tried to convince the others to fight, I tried to rally us to arms, but I was practically alone. Logan declared me a criminal for trying to rile up an ‘insurgency.’ Only Axel and his men tried to defend me, and they were butchered.” She shook her head again. “No, there’s no going back there, now. Not to the cowards who gave up everything we worked so hard for without a fight, who gave me up without a word of protest.”

“So what will you do?”

She finally looked him in the eyes. “I will stay here and help you fight.”

Rodran wanted to tell her just how suicidal that notion was but worried that he might accidentally convince himself, so instead he just nodded. Plus, he did need the help. He reached for his pistol, tucked away in its compartment on his armor, and held it out to her. He worried that her experiences might make her unbalanced, but when she took aim down the gun’s sights she held it firm and steady.

“Eight rounds, and only one spare clip. Make them count.”

They had only a little time to discuss strategy before the Justicars made their move, announced by the crunching of gravel under many feet. Rodran quickly a took a look at the approaching forces. Two knight out in front, wielding large, rectangular shields with a vertical viewing slots near the top, relics from the old days. The lettered insignia of some long gone organization was now mostly covered by the Justicar’s sword and shield symbol. Behind them came two knights with assault rifles poised and ready, followed by a dozen with melee weapons, mostly swords.

Rodran and Ariana took cover behind a large, thick steel plate that Rodran had positioned in the center of the room. He had not had to pull this barrier out in a long while; looking at it and the many indentations left in it from that raid all those years ago always made him uncomfortable. It was bulletproof, however, and he needed that now.

The door came open with a resounding crash, followed by the even louder thunder of assault rifles. They fired wildly into the room, not taking care to aim but intending to disorient anyone caught in their wake. Rodran had to cover his ears against the astounding racket as bullets collided with the barrier, the walls, the few scattered pieces of furniture in the room.

Eventually the noise died down at the rifles expended their clips. It would take them a few moments to reload, perhaps longer if they had not practiced the maneuver enough. Meanwhile, telltale thuds alerted Rodran that the leading knight with the shields had entered into the library, followed by several of the swordsman. They fanned out slowly, in a predictable, but typically effective, formation.

Rodran was only going to get one chance. He leaped the barrier, sword in hand, and went charging at the front of the formation. He wasn’t typically a fan of these kind of aggressive tactics, particularly when outnumbered so greatly, but his best shot at limiting the usefulness of those rifles, and any other guns the knights might be carrying, was to remain close enough that any shot risked hitting an ally instead.

He pressed in hard on one of the leading knights but did not swing his sword, knowing that the shield would do more damage to his sword than vice versa. Instead he brought himself against it, lessening the impact when the Justicar tried to bash him with it. He ducked low, cutting underneath the shield at his foe’s ankles. The knight collapsed as the sword slashed deep, allowing Rodran to slip past the shield and slam his opponent’s face with the hilt of his sword.

The Justicars were on all sides now, coming fast. Rodran raised the fallen knight’s shield as a barricade, keeping his enemies from coming at him from the right while he worked his sword with the left. The shield was heavy, intended to be carried by both hands, and even with Rodran’s strength he struggled to maneuver it, so he just kept it firmly in place while he backed himself to the wall to prevent himself from being surrounded. He parried sword after sword, cut down after a spear scraped across his face to take take the head off the shaft, thrust suddenly forward and caught the closest knight in his waist.

A stinging blow hit an armored plate on his shoulder and nearly threw him down, but fortunately he had already gotten to wall and was able to steady himself against it. Another blade came down and he was just barely able to get his sword up in time to deflect it.

“Clear away,” came a voice from the door, and the knights that had been pressing him immediately dove to the sides.

Seeing the rifleman aiming at him, Rodran acted more on instinct than reflex. He let his sword drop to the ground as he brought the shield in front of him with both hands and braced it with all his might. The thunder that filled the room shook him as pain shot down his arms and into his body. He knew these shield were designed to withstand arms fire, made out of a metal more durable than steel, but even it had its limits, and was not meant to withstand this kind of assault.

The assault felt like it had last forever, though in fact it had only been moments, the rifleman cut off before he even finished emptying his clip by another loud bang. He stumbled backwards, clutching his gut and the fresh blood spilling out of it. The other rifleman turned, startled, towards the barrier, just in time to see Ariana taking aim at him next. Her shot missed the mark, grazing his side, and he brought his rifle up to return fire. Her next shot took him in chest, and gun’s barrel went wide, firing a few shots well apart from her before the gunman collapsed to the ground.

Ariana fired again, landing a hit dead center on the nearest swordsman, but her next shot impacted with a shield as the knight rushed towards her, two other swordsmen in his wake. Ariana emptied her clip futilely at the shield before diving away from the barrier, just before the swordsmen leaped it towards her.

The distraction brought Rodran a few valuable seconds. Ignoring the ringing in his ears and the pain in his wrists and shoulders, he tossed the shield aside and dove for his sword. He just managed to bring himself up on his knees as a chopping cut came down on him. Rodran brought his sword up to catch it but didn’t have the force to stop its momentum; the blade cut deep into his shoulder before he brought it to a halt. Growling, he forced himself to his feet and brought his knee up into the groin of his opponent. An un-knightly move, but these were enemies deserving of it. As the Justicar bent over, Rodran was able to bring his sword up and away from him, then cut across, completely bypassing the swordsman’s meager attempt at defense and slashing his throat.

Rodran turned quickly to find the next enemy. A knight to his right was stumbling, clutching his side after being hit with a ricochet from the shield. Another was letting out a stream of curses as the pistol he pulled refused to fire, but seemed to be in no hurry to pull another weapon.

Rodran was left facing five knights, four with swords and one wielding a big club. He was bleeding badly from his cut shoulder, his body was sore, and his head was throbbing. Still, he gave no thoughts to surrender. He raised his sword high and readied himself for the oncoming assault.

He lost himself in the flow of combat. Nothing mattered anymore but the next swing of the sword the next parry, the next dodge. To Rodran, his opponent’s were not true knights, and in fact, they each found themselves outclassed by his skill. Rodran had trained harder, every day during his upbringing and young adulthood until his forms were perfect and his reflexes flawless. And his experiences had only hardened him further, fighting with his fellows, and then by himself, against all manner of raiders, whereas the Justicars relied more on intimidation and brute force rather than their own skill. Perhaps if they had more practice working together, as one, like true knights, they could have beaten Rodran, but they each acted as individuals, and, as individuals, each met his end at Rodran’s blade.

When the last fell, and the one with the pistol had dropped it and ran, Rodran nearly fell to the ground from exhaustion and from the many new wounds he had obtained in the battle: a cut on his chest, a nasty hit to his face from that club that had one eye swelled closed and his nose crooked, a deep cut on his hand that bleeding worriedly freely. But he couldn’t fall yet. He limped towards the barrier, where the other Justicars had gone after Ariana what felt like hours ago, even though it had barely been a minute.

A gunshot rang out, then another. A yell, then shuffling, followed by a third gunshot. A knight went stumbling back against, and then over, the barrier, blood pouring from his back. Ariana appeared, fresh wounds and her face and arms, but nothing that looked too serious, and spat over the barrier at the knight’s convulsing body.

“Bastard was tough to remove from his shield,” was all she said.

Rodran, with Ariana’s help, tied up the worse of his wounds so he would not immediately bleed out. Then he limped towards the door to look out at the Justicar camp.

Logan was there, with rest of his knight-pretenders, around twenty men, at least two with assault rifles. If Logan had committed his entire force to the assault, as Rodran had feared he would, then Rodran and Ariana would both be dead right now. But Logan had truly walked far from the path of the knight, subscribing to a philosophy more common to the raiders of the region, one of caution and cowardice. He wouldn’t commit all his forces to any on target, cause doing so would leave him with nothing if he failed.

He could try a second assault now, against the wounded defenses of the library, but his losses were already deep, and Rodran now had access to at least two of the rifles of his fallen men. No, Logan was not about to risk any more of his power against this one, inconsequential target. Already, Rodran could see the Justicars making preparations to tear down their camp.

“Doesn’t seem right that he should be able to just scurry away after all he has done,” Ariana said. “To go out and hurt more people with those thugs of his.”

“The wasteland is hardly about what’s right,” Rodran replied.

Ariana nodded somberly. “So what now?”

“Now, I try to patch up my wounds so I don’t die. And, if I manage to survive the night, we start fixing the damage they did.” He paused to consider Ariana. “Assuming you mean to stay here.”

“Nowhere else to be.”

Rodran smiled, though it hurt to do so. An interesting thought had just occurred to him.

“We’ll need to get you fitted for some armor.”

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