He went straight to his Saxon steed Belfries and rode off down a cobble stone path to the East gate, where he met Gisela. She seemed small and lost. She made him feel large and competent, though this was not the only reason why Vecelin liked her. There was a strength in the princess that had nothing to do with birth or place or time. He thought he knew all about strength but hers was different. He asked if she’d like to ride out with him and she nodded. He noticed that her pale eyes were communing with Belfries’ brown ones as if it had been the horse’s consent she needed, not his. Vecelin wasn’t surprised. He had felt the alliance between women, Earth and animals before. She could probably talk to the horse. He’d have liked to chat with her, but his tongue felt unwieldy, stiff and cold like a piece of iron in his mouth. Instead, he brandished his longsword, the Friedmaken, with only one hand. “What’re you doing that for, Vecelin,” she said, “can’t we just have an afternoon ride?” Vecelin grumbled and returned the longsword to its sheath. After a while, Gisela said, perhaps sensing the knight’s restlessness: “Do you sometimes wonder who you’re going to be when you grow up,” she said. “But I am grown up, aren’t I,” said Vecelin. “It’s not age, but attitude,” she said. They had reached a group of huts far beyond the Eastern wall. They looked like farmer’s houses but it was too quiet and Vecelin sensed the danger before it arrived: his chest suddenly got hot with an angry breath. He pulled the longsword with one hand and his broadsword, called Wärtling, with the other, and not a moment too soon: three men ran at them with spears in their hands, one coming so close that he could almost touch the skirt of the princess. With the Friedmaken, Vecelin took the first thief’s hand off below his elbow. As the sword swung back, it hit the second thug in the face, while he thrust Wärtling into the chest of the third. Throughout, the knight only had to remain steadily in charge of his blades: it was the horse that danced death around the attackers. Two lay dead on the ground. The third ran for his life, leaving his hand behind. Gisela asked if they should bury the limb. Vecelin thought the horse was smiling.

#10/100 Days 2011. Photo: King Philip lets the young Alexander tame the man-eating unicorn, Bucephalus.