He shifted his foot an instant before the hoof descended. Instead of the leathery target, iron shoe met gently with dead leaves. Paul was uncertain wether Treble didn't like him much or was simply frustrated at having missed so many times over the passed months. Most of the other initiates had been stepped on at least once; the stable master in Dol Amroth had warned them that Treble enjoyed showing the KITs who was boss around the stables. It had become a bit of a competition, and one that made Paul believe the animal had its own kind of cunning. Treble attempting to stand on his foot, and Paul always being aware and shifting out of the way. It never turned into a full fledged dance; once attempted and alluded an unspoken truce seemed to come into effect until their next encounter.
The number of encounters had greatly increased over the last weeks as the party had journeyed further and further East. There were only a few squires along, and they handled the majority of the chores. It was to be expected and eccepted and Paul did both, however it did not curb his longing to be included in the circle currently sitting around the fireside trading jibes and laughing at jokes that spanned lifetimes.
Paul finished rubbing Treble down and unclipped his feedbag. Another initiate deposited a pile of hay to be communally grazed upon. The horses fed, watered, and tied the initiates retreated to their own fire. Their number was small on such a dangerous mission, and Paul noted how Akara was again warming herself by the knight's fire. It rankled some of the KITs that she received so much special attention for a new initiate, but Paul noted there was more than just well meaning interest in the glances and looks of her mentor and the other knights.
As soon as Paul plopped down on a dead log near the fireside one of the other KITs reached over and slugged him in the arm. "Did he get you?" the other initiates laughed and leaned forward.
"It was close," Paul hesitated aware that a good some of money was wagered on his next syllables, "But he missed!" One groaned, the rest cheered and the pot grew.
"How do you think the heist went?" an initiate asked, a little later.
"Who knows," responded another, "though judging from how it just got really quiet over there-" he pointed to where Erinhue had just opened his bag of loot, "-I'd say we are no longer poor traveling circus performs, playing for our daily bread, aye?"
"Not that being circus performers isn't fun," Paul interjected.
"I just wish we did more than collected money and setting up props and such," somebody else chimed in.
"Well somebody has to do it," Paul said loyally, though he too was tired of simply doing the grunt work. "Someday when we are all knights we can start a band."
"A band of what?"
"Just a band, band, we can do music maybe," Paul added lamely. As usual his attempts at humor fell flat.
There was a brief awkward silence broken after a moment by somebody's stomach growling loudly which ultimately culminated in hurriedly prepared supper for the KITs. A little later they drew straws for night guard, and even though Paul knew how the trick was done he allowed himself to be "randomly" selected for the first watch. He grabbed his bow and the "whistling" alarm arrows.
Turning his back on the glow of the fires, Paul walked a few paces into the trees surrounding the clearing where the "circus" had camped for the night. His eyes slowly grew accustomed to the darkness and the details of his surrounding began to emerge from the night. Tall deciduous trees, marching up a rise to the east of camp, still maintained a healthy crown of green leaves while the ground bore the evidence of many a past autumn. Bushes, some bearing berries others flowers and thorns, clustered around the bases of the trunks and everywhere made large colonies in an ocean of dead leaves. Insects drowned by, invisible in black atmosphere, and it sounded as though the birds had tucked away their instruments for the night.
There was a heavy silence, the last remnants of merriment from the camp sounded muted. Paul had been growing ever more uneasy since the beginning of their journey. It had begun with the pirates and sprouted further with the decision to infiltrate as a circus.
Paul judged that should there be trouble tonight it was most likely to come from the obscuring trees, and what better location to scout for an oncoming ambush than from the air. He pulled a rather odd pair of gloves from his belt and slipped them on, tightening several strap and buckles to make sure they were secure. Slipping the bow over his shoulder and across his back he gave the arrows an extra pat to make sure they were well situated. The moment they had set camp much earlier that day he had already sized up the trees and now it became apparent why Paul had not objected to guard duty.
Paul took two quick steps toward a tree, planted his foot against the bark and leaped off at an angle. His other boot landed against another trunk further up and he rebounded in the direction of the original tree, gaining altitude. The scales sewn into the finger tips of the gloves provided extra purchase on a thick branch which in turn provided the leverage for Paul to walk his legs up the trunk and balance on top in one smooth, continuous motion. It was too dark to risk making blind leaps into the surrounding foliage so Paul contented himself with climbing a little higher in that one tree and then settling in for his watch.
His unease had been growing especially palpable most recently when he realized that, due to the skill of the knights in performing, their group was actually drawing quite a crowed and what was more quite a profit. He did not know if the knight's realized, because the initiates handled the set up and tear down and the admittance, but should they desire, they could make quite a go of it as show-people. He was also quite sure, from certain calculating and greedy looks on the faces of certain shifty looking men, that that fact had not gone un-noticed by others as well.
He wedged his back against the trunk and set to scanning the forrest floor. The open field west of the camp was also clearly visible from his elevated perch.
When it came down to it Paul didn't really know what to think of the whole circus deception. They were knights! Well, some of them were still in training, sure. When Paul had applied, his imagination had been filled with charges, battle, chivalry, honor, kingly courts, and so on. Concealing their identity and sneaking into enemy territory by way of the figurative backdoor did not match no matter how much he might grudgingly understand the necessity.
On top of that, they had raided a town! Many of Paul's preconceptions were being thoroughly challenged and he was still trying to fit the pieces back together and reconcile them with his goals coming into the knights. Still, just being in the presence of knights (and that great eagle!) sent shivers down his spine and painted glorious fantasy before his eyes. He was proud to be in the Mirthril Knights, he decided, he just didn't understand chivalry the same way and to the extent that they did. After all they had been doing it longer.