Argeus the Paladin
Thomas Canton and the Cornwallis
“Please take care of her. Thank you very much!”
Aya said to the Ichimonji household gatekeeper as she handed him his near-comatose young mistress, not forgetting to politely bow before parting. She couldn’t hide her intense anxiety even as she turned away, leaving the Ichimonji servants to their own devices.
Now she was convinced that Rie was extremely unwell. If any doubt about that still remained after they met that morning, it was thoroughly dispersed once she witnessed her friend’s condition in the infirmary with her own eyes. Pale, almost lifeless features, eyes tightly shut, erratic breathing… by the time the nurse alerted Aya, Rie was barely conscious. Either she was sick enough to be hospitalized, or had been given the fright of her life multiple times. Or both.
It might have something to do with the story she told her earlier, Aya thought.
“Are you alright, Hanamichi-san?”
The strong Anglo-Japanese accent sounding beside her threw her off her train of thought. William Fastolf’s voice was rather hard for a native speaker not to laugh at, for despite his near-perfect grammar and syntax his accent could not sound any less Japanese than it already was.
Still, his flawed voice managed to convey his emotion well. From the way he sounded, he probably was as worried as she was.
“Ah, Fastolf-san,” Aya replied, trying to stretch a smile. “I think so.”
Then she turned to look at the English boy in the face. They were still striding together, side-by-side, along one of those less traveled and populated streets of suburban Tokyo. Two thoroughly unrelated souls on two sides of the globe, now in each other’s company, associated by a scholarship, a close friend and everything in between. It was a weird situation both of them had gotten into, Aya thought.
“Again, thank you for your help,” she said. “Not many people would care enough about Rie to even bother what is wrong with her, much less lending me a helping hand to bring her home.”
“Including her own servants?” William asked back, puzzled. “She is even wealthier than she appears at first, isn’t she? That mansion of hers is about the same size as that of some of our nation’s leading politicians and nobles!”
“Those don’t count,” Aya shook her head. “What can I say… poor Rie-chan has a very flawed opinion about her servants. Says she doesn’t want them to pity her. Long story short, she would not have them come help her, whatever the circumstance.”
“I see,” William nodded. “I learn something new everyday.”
“Please forgive her if she annoyed you in any way,” Aya went on, looking at William sincerely. “Though, to be honest, after all these years I don’t think I have known her as much as I claim to.”
“Annoyed? No, not quite. She is an interesting young lady, for one,” William agreed, a glint of perplexity flared across his features for a second. “Interesting yet disturbed – is it just me or is she beginning to act this way very recently?”
“Very recently?” Aya raised her eyebrows cautiously, as though William had struck a clue she would rather not disclose. “Just how recently are you hinting?”
“No later than last weekend,” observed William. “Last Friday she was still rather active, I presume.”
When William said ‘active’, what he meant was probably ‘making lots of noise, flunking class assignment and texting in the presence of the teacher, and throwing a hissy fit at the end for absolutely no reason at all’. Which Aya knew was all too typical of Rie. It was only from that morning that she began to act atypically.
“Seems that way,” she nodded. “Ever since she got her hand on that old piece of junk metal…”
“Junk metal?” William asked back without second thoughts.
So sudden and aggressive was William’s question that Aya was thoroughly startled, her heart almost missing a beat. And when she got back to look at him more closely, William’s eyes were fixed on her face without a blink. They flared at her with a sort of hungry interest that made Nishiyama’s charming gaze when he asked her out last year pale in comparison. For the brief second she noticed that, she was not sure whether she should be abashed, afraid or flattered in response.
“And what sort of junk metal are we talking about here? Huh?” he repeated, his voice dictating an exponentially increasing curiosity, until it climaxed in a crescendo before leveling out again. “Wait a second, let me guess… did it resemble a sword or any other form of long blade? About twenty five to thirty inches long? With a slightly outward-curving edge, even? And most of all, probably old and rusty?”
At this point Aya was more or less mortified by the strangely accurate description. She stared at William as though he was some sort of strange being, and then asked with a somewhat shivering tone, dropping her usually sweet and polite appearance.
“How did… did you know?” she asked hastily and with all due bewilderment and fright. “Did… did you stalk Rie-chan or something?”
“Stalk? No, I’m afraid not,” William answered, his voice now returning to normalcy. “I just happened to make an educated guess based on what she told me earlier.”
“And what did you get?” Aya immediately asked, her expressions had anxiety and curiosity written all over it.
“I am pretty sure she is in possession of an ancient Hellenic artifact supposedly lost over the past two thousand years, by one means or another,” he replied.
At this moment Aya’s constant footsteps on the pavement over the past minutes came to a complete halt. She stood there, hands clutching her handbag while shivering a little in a combination of excitement, fright, curiosity and anxiety. A health sprinkle of disbelief and skepticism spiced her expression as she stared at William just as rigorously as he did a few seconds prior.
“You mean like those treasures of the Greek gods mentioned in mythologies?” Aya asked. “They exist?”
“No, not at all,” William replied. “If my guess is correct, hers is a weapon left behind by Pyrrhos Aiakides the king of Epeiros, the Sword of Pyrrhos.”
“Py… what?” Aya felt her tongue twisting as she tried to repeat the name William just mentioned. “Just who are you talking about?”
“Pyrrhos, Pyu-ro-o-su,” William repeated, clearly pronouncing each syllable. “He was the king of Epeiros in the early 3rd century BC.”
“Py… pyu.. ro… ah, screw it,” Aya tried, and again failed to get it right, growing rightfully exasperated. “Seriously, what kind of name is that?”
“Well, it’s Greek, for one thing, and archaic, for the other,” William said. “That the star of the class, respected by most for her extensive knowledge and flawless academic results, does not even know about this person further cemented my assumption.”
“How can you conclude so certainly?” Aya asked back, her eyeballs now threatening to pop out of their sockets and break through her thick glasses.
“Because Ichimonji-san asked me about a certain Demetrias Thermopylaios of Pella, the mythmaker for this particular artifact, an otherwise obscure persona not even mentioned in most mainstream works of history. I don’t even know how she got that name, now that I think about it,” theorized William. “But just think about it – having known her personally, Hanamichi-san, how likely would it be that she knows something you don’t?”
One thing Aya knew, he had struck an uncomfortable note to her, which she clearly showed. Her mouth closed tight while her forehead wrinkled in a grimace. Her pupils looked like it was burning and her jaws clenched. As she racked her brain, there was only reason to justify this look of displeasure.
“Well, you do have a point there, Fastolf-san,” she finally said, relaxing her features. “The only things I’d expect her to know more than me are fashion and pop music.”
And then, completely ignoring Aya, William proceeded to snap his finger in revelation.
“On second thoughts, maybe that is why she was so… disgusted after I told her the tale behind its creation,” he said quickly. “Long story short, there were massacre, execution, cremation and arguably inappropriate disposal of funeral ash in between. I admit, even I would be queasy holding something with such a rich history.”
“That’s what you told her?” Aya resumed staring at him, a glint of displeasure sparked in her gaze. “Rie-chan isn’t the most stable-stomached girl on the block, you know.”
“I was just saying what I know,” he asserted. “But if I did anything wrong, my apologies.”
There was a brief pause as the two figures resumed their walk forward. For a moment, there was silence between them aside from the rhythmic footsteps, if only drowned out from time to time by the occasional late afternoon traffic. All the while, Aya was keeping her head down, her chin propped up by her left palm, brainstorming.
“Maybe you’re right,” she finally said. “If what you said is true, then Rie-chan has to know about it. Did you tell her what you know yet?”
“No,” William shook his head. “She looked like she was going to faint before I could formalize my theory. And you know the rest.”
“By the way,” Aya looked straight into his eyes, her own filled with intrigue as she asked, “Suppose you are right, what shall we do?”
“The most logical conclusion is to have her submit this artifact to the local authority,” William said. “This weapon is worth many millions. That aside, from a historian or archaeologist’s perspective the Sword of Pyrrhos is priceless. Just think about it, how often would we run across an artifact from that age, belonging to such a famous person?”
“That may be so, but…”
“Hello, beautiful,” a voice suddenly sounded from behind the duo, cutting Aya off in mid sentence. “Care for a round at the alehouse?”
It was a thick and abnormally loud voice by modern standard, so to speak. So abrupt was this new voice to break into the conversation that both William and Aya were stunned. Confused, their gazes slowly turned upon each other, before both about-faced in unison.
As soon as Aya caught a glimpse of her surrounding, her face went as white as a sheet. In her life, never before had she been so utterly besieged by so many foreigners. Not counting William, the crowd around her numbered to no less than a dozen, all with that distinctive Anglo-Saxon tone of hair, skin and constitution. And unlike her friend William, so muscular and large they were that Aya felt immensely threatened just by their presence.
Aya took a large gulp of air trying to calm herself down, and then attempted to probe her current situation. The crowd around her was comprised of youths no younger than twenty and no older than thirty, judging from their complexion and general features. Their clothes were nothing odd. Most wore blue or black jeans and baggy shirts, which weren’t too out of fashion in their own rights. They could have easily passed for a youth gathering out for games, shopping and maybe picking up some chicks. Aya would see the likes of them patrolling the streets of Tokyo in droves those days.
Their demeanor, however, gave that clever disguise away on the spot. There was an air of military-grade discipline and army professionalism in their feel. The group was neatly aligned in two lines behind the tallest and loudest of them all – in fact, the one who had just barged into Aya and William’s conversation. When he spoke, they stood silent yet ready for any order he would give on a whim. If they were indeed a group of youngster, they were not the usual kind. And if they were not, she couldn’t help but wonder, what on earth could they be?
That aside, the young girl couldn’t help but feel a little light on her feet as her eyes reached the face of the group leader. He was clearly gorgeous in a macho, badass kind of way. Tall, with well-tanned skin and stocky frame, he looked like he had just walked out from several years’ worth of beach gym. His hair was dark brown like well-baked bread crust, left hanging loose in the light breeze. Over his back was a presumably custom-made skateboard of abnormal length and thickness. A skating enthusiast, and a wealthy one at that, she thought.
His charm was nigh irresistible, or would have been irresistible had Aya not been a girl with a particular, grudging disdain for her hormones. If she were like any other girl she knew, Rie included, she’d be staring at this handsome, manly foreigner with starry eyes now. In the end, she was standing there, trying not to look at him, but otherwise stunned.
“And what shall it be, lady?” the group’s leader said, flashing a flirtatious smile at her, as if she wasn’t confused, dizzy and dreamy enough. “Shall I take that as a yes?”
Aya’s dignity gave her a slap across her face at this point. For one thing, she was not all that desperate for a boy – if she were, Nishiyama Ichidan-kun would have made for a more than ideal match. For the other, she was not that kind of international-minded people who would not feel uncomfortable speaking with a foreigner. She replied by trying straightening her act up. Somewhat. And looking to William for a solution.
“Eh… no, sorry,” she stammered, all eyes on her road companion. “I… I am taken, see?”
”Please, Fastolf-san, please!” she chanted in her head as she stared at him without a blink. “Can’t you act as if you’re just a little jealous?”
Her English companion, however, didn’t seem to be seeing what she was seeing. All he did was to stare at the leader, then his group, with the kind of scholarly interest he had displayed in the last history period – the one when he showered Aoyama-sensei with so many tough questions he had to call class off early to avoid.
At long last he opened his mouth, but to say a remark she never expected. In his mother tongue, no less.
“Long oaken Welsh longbows. Quivers full of well-fletched arrows. Red gambesons and leather surcoats bearing the Yorkist rose,” he recited in his original English tone of voice that Aya could barely keep up with. “Last but not least, this thick Southern accent. Do you happen to be a group of fellow historical reenactment enthusiasts from my hometown by any chance?”
Not understanding much of what he said, nevertheless Aya knew he had relieved her. The next thing she knew, it was the handsome foreigner’s turn to stand stunned. The ugly news was her relief wouldn’t last.
“Wait,” he answered in English, his voice not at all concealing either his accent or his bewilderment. “You… you can see our outfits?”
“Of course I could,” William rolled his eyes. “This isn’t historical reenactment no more, this is art!”
Had it not been for a sudden tug followed by the warm feeling of a petite body pressed behind him, William could have gone on and on about how he admired the perfection of the suits of clothing. Turning his neck backward in full swing, he realized Aya had taken shelter behind his back while he was fixed upon the newcomers’ costumes.
“Umm… what is going on here again, Fastolf-san?” she said, thoroughly confused.
“Can’t you see, Aya?” he hastily asked her, his face having enthusiasm written all over it. “The bows? The arrows? The incredibly historically accurate suits of 15th century mercenary company outfits? These people are totally deserving of every applause a history enthusiast can think of!”
“What are you talking about? They are perfectly normal gaiji… I mean, people!” Aya gasped in exasperation. “Is this a joke or something?”
A spine-chilling stare from the row of strangers came just in time to silence Aya’s sanity check. And reminded her that whatever they had gotten into was far more serious than it seemed at first sight.
“This doesn’t look too good, does it?” the tall and handsome stranger remarked, his voice still cheerful, yet with a strangely grim after-tone.
“What do you mean?” William asked back in astonishment. “I said so in pure admiration. Whoever made your costumes must be extremely well-educated in the relevant era and possessing impeccable craft!”
Contrary to his good intention, the entire row of men behind their handsome leader turned to one another in confusion, before staring back at William with a fair measure of hostility. One of them, the second tallest yet most well-built, stepped forward and faced his leader, trying to speak with him with a voice as low as he could.
Unfortunately, his lowest voice was still loud enough for everyone half a dozen yards away to hear what he said loud and clear.
“Captain, it appears our cover is blown,” he said urgently. “What shall we do?”
“Seems that way,” he said, nodding. “Or rather, blown only to this… boy. The young beauty doesn’t see through our cover, it appears.”
“Then,” his subordinate said aggressively, cracking his fist as he spoke, “should we… deal with him accordingly?”
The deathly cold glance he threw at William in mid-sentence was menacing enough without context. Just from that expression alone Aya was already shaking in fear.
“Err… Fastolf-san?” she tugged at William’s sleeve. “Who… what are they? What… are they going to do to us?”
The look on William’s face suggested that he was as oblivious as she was. Unlike her, however, he was stable enough to still glance at her and flashed that ever-confident face.
“Keep calm, Hanamichi-san,” he replied, still maintaining eye contact with the leader of the group. “Remember, we are still on the street only a short walk from the nearest junction and local traffic. Any odd move and it’s their loss.”
Fortunately, the group leader appeared to be much more peaceable than his fellow men. Even more fortunately for Aya, he was more fluent in Japanese than she was in English. He cleared his throat, then glanced once at Aya and William, and then spoke, albeit in the same thick and heavy Anglican Japanese accent as William’s.
“Friends, just relax,” he said, waving his hand to signal his overzealous companion to get back in line. “Please forgive my friend Jonathan here – he’s a very, shall I say, dedicated person for as long as I knew him.”
“We aren’t going to until you tell us who you are!” Aya shrieked, pressing her form even more closely against William’s back.
“Well, first thing first,” he said, as if not paying attention to Aya’s protest. “Do you happen to know someone by the name Rie Ichimonji?”
“Why must we tell you?” Aya stressed. “I don’t trust you, and I don’t even care to!”
“If you say no,” he said calmly, “we’ll pretend we’ve never met. You go your way and we go ours, and hopefully we won’t bump upon one another again. But if you say yes,” he heightened his tone to show his emphasis, “it so appears that we may require your help.”
“No, thank you,” Aya said hastily, only to be vetoed by her companion after her.
“Assuming we do,” William said, cutting Aya in mid-sentence. “Just what kind of business are we talking about here?”
“Fastolf-san?” Aya nearly screamed in horror. “What do you think you are saying?”
“So you do know her,” the man replied keenly, again ignoring Aya’s protest. “Care to share what you know?”
“I do know her, and so do many other people,” William answered, smiling victoriously. “Half of this city knows Rie Ichimonji – as the daughter of one of the wealthiest Japanese to have ever been alive. We may or may not have more than those popular mass to share with you.”
It took several seconds for William’s words to sink in, but when it did, Aya and the newcomer reacted wildly differently. Aya, with confusion and a furious tug at his sleeve. And the stranger, with a major string of laughter.
“Wise words, young man,” he finally said after his laughter had settled down. “So you would not want to reveal more, I suppose?”
“It isn’t my constitutional right to inform third parties about a person’s private details, especially one I hardly know,” William said coolly. “The most I can give you would be her home address, which, frankly speaking, half this city can too.”
“That we already have, unfortunately,” concurred the stranger, as he paced towards William. “As for the rest, well, if you aren’t keen on revealing to us, we won’t push you.”
Aya thought her heart had frozen solid when she saw him approaching them. Who could know what he would do to them? She wished she could just run away, but her joints were as irresponsive as a blue-screened computer. As he drew closer, she felt more and more inclined to scream. She would have, had her throats not been stuck. Or had him done anything to William more hostile than a friendly pat on the shoulder, which he didn’t.
“But you are quite an interesting young lad, so to speak,” he said, bending his neck to look at a fellow Englishman several inches shorter. “I am Thomas. Thomas Canton the archer, that’s what they call me.”
“And these are my mates,” he introduced, stretching his palm back to the row of his followers. “My friends, my comrades, my brothers-in-arm... whichever you prefer.”
“The name is William Fastolf,” William replied. “They say my family has a long history dating back to a certain English lord in the Hundred Years. So in a sense, mine is as much an impoverished noble family as the next Englishman.”
“Well met, William,” Thomas Canton said, stretching his lips in a broad smile while sticking out his open hand. “If you’d care to talk more, my previous offer still stands. We may find a pub to sit by the hearth and tell each other the tales of our adventures, if you’d like.”
Their extended hands grasped each other in a cordial handshake like any other between newly made friends. At the point of contact, though, Aya thought she saw William’s face grimace for a split second, the sort of reaction of someone having touched a surface too cold for his senses. Or maybe it was just her sense, for William, for all his articulation, uttered not a word of complaint.
“Always a pleasure,” keenly answered William, before turning to his companion, still clinging to his school uniform’s long sleeve and hiding behind him. “Hanamichi-san?”
“I… I think I’ll pass,” Aya said, her voice still shaking, not feeling sure whether she was following the conversation thus far. “I don’t think I like the look of this enough to get involved with these people…”
“How did I get involved with these people again?”
Aya literally meant what she thought. Now she was sitting comfortably in a rather small and random café in the neighborhood, a mug of steaming hot chocolate before her, the smooth sensation of the warm drink lining up her throat. That she was aware. But how exactly she got there was beyond her. Following William and his company of new friends? That might have been the case.
In all honesty, she didn’t know what to speak, in contrary to her friend, who never seemed to run out of topic.
“So you call yourselves the Cornwallis Company?”
“Just a way to honor the homeland where all of us came from,” Thomas answered. “Jonathan here is the only exception – he’s a literal Yorkist. And maybe Joseph over there who’s from Exeter. Apart from those we are all Southwesterners.”
“Let’s drink a toast to our common homeland then!” William raised his mug of tea, “For the glory of Cornwall!”
“For the glory of Cornwall!” repeated Thomas as the mugs touched each other, before returning his face to a complete straight expression. “By the way, don’t they have ale here? What’s a pub without plenty of ale and malt to lighten up the load?”
“If it had I wouldn’t even be in here with you,” William snickered. “The alcohol age limit is enforced rather rigorously in these parts.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” the man named Jonathan said, “The drink they serve isn’t half bad.”
“Japanese tea,” William answered with due enthusiasm. “Different, but still the same good old tea.”
Then he turned back to Thomas and asked with renewed keenness.
“Anyways, you said they call you an archer, didn’t you?” he said. “Are you better with a long bow or a short bow?”
“Huh? What’s that thing you call a short bow?” Thomas answered with playful disdain, and then at the highest tone of pride he could muster. “Oh, you mean the hunting bow a mewling kid could stretch! No way, young sir, here we are adults! Professionals! Ours is the long bow made of strong Welsh oak and tough sinew that can shoot an armored Frenchman full of holes from five hundred yards away like our sires did! That’s the kind of bow we are talking about!”
Aya was taken aback by the sheer amount of hot-blooded enthusiasm streaming from Thomas’ every word. It made William’s spirited debate in Friday’s history class seem like small talk in comparison. Literally – so loud did he speak that Aya was thankful the bar was nearly empty and the waitresses weren’t paying attention.
“Could you show me some time?” William asked hastily.
“Well, first you have to show us what sort of skill you have with the bow,” Thomas replied. “We don’t perform with bows to those who aren’t worthy of it…”
This time it was Thomas’ turn to be interrupted. All of a sudden the main door swung open rather forcefully, as more than a dozen figures dressed in thick, black robes and hoods that couldn’t appear more out-of-place in the modern landscape, stepped into the café. Or rather, forced their way in and headed immediately for the register. Their hasty, noisy and heavy steps managed to draw attention from all those Thomas failed to impressed, and soon all eyes were upon those strange newcomers…