Sir Cuthbert eyed the young couple curiously as he dismounted from his battle charger. The girl was tucking in tight to her companion's chest, her blonde head resting just below his breast bone and her face hidden completely. Since he could make out no details of her, he studied the unusually large boy instead.
No, not a boy, he realized. A young man of around five and twenty, with short black hair, dark eyes that were already beginning to show crow's feet at the corners, and a full beard growing back after being scraped away, all signs of a man who care more for is hygiene than for vanity, as smooth faces had gone out of fashion with the defeat of the Norman kings. Many fighting men still chose to go shorn for comfort, though, and Sir Cuthbert could see by the man's accouterments that he was a fighting man.
"Good day, sir," the young giant said, his voice calm, showing nothing of his earlier excitement at battling the troll, his diction marking him as a commoner, though a well spoken one. Sir Cuthbert realized belatedly that he had been standing there staring at the pair for several minutes.
"Good day to you," he said, not trying to hide his bemusement. "I have been a knight for these past two score years and the sheriff of these lands for the past five years. I have never seen anyone best a troll quite that easily."
"It was in our way," the young giant rumbled self-consciously.
"The troll?" he asked, his bemusement growing. The man nodded once and the girl peaked out at him for a spit second before burying her face back into her companion's chest. Sir Cuthbert caught an impression of nervous blue eyes in a face that was vaguely familiar.
"And who are you that a troll would be in your way?"
"My apologies, sir. My name is Watt Smith and this is my wife, Lisa. We were on our way to Aimsley in search of work, as there was nothing available in Kampton City. This is the only bridge that is passable and the troll was blocking it, so we needed to deal with it to cross."
"And deal with it you did!" Sir Cuthbert agreed heartily. "I brought a full company of men to do just that, only to find you taking care of the beast with a scrap of fabric!"
"It was my wife's idea, sir. The troll was awoken by allergies. She said it would be easier to cure it's ailments than to try and kill it or lead it away. She laid a simple spell into her handkerchief and had me give it to the troll. It worked pretty well, actually," the man finished with a shrug of his massive shoulders.
"It did, indeed," Sir Cuthbert said, eying the pair more carefully. "You said you were looking for work. Where are you from?"
"From South Umptonshire, sir. My father in the village smith. I do have a reference from the local baron, if you wish to see it."
"Do you, then? Let's see it," Sir Cuthbert said, pleasantly surprised. What had started off as a troll hunt was quickly turning into something much more interesting. He didn't believe for an instant the man's claim that the girl was his wife, she reminded him too strongly of someone he thought he might know even though he had not had a chance to study her face properly. But a reference from a local baron was very good. Whoever the pair were, they were clearly good at thinking their way through sticky situations.
"Excellent," he said after reading through Baron Umpton's writ. The man was who he said he was though the paper made no reference to any wife. "As it so happens, I am in need of an under sheriff. After what I just saw, I feel very comfortable in offering the position to you."
"Un-under sheriff?" the man, Watt, stuttered uncertainly. "But that's a noble position, sir. I am merely a man-at-arms. The youngest son of a smith..."
"That's easily taken care of, lad," Sir Cuthbert said, his gaze studiously not lingering on the girl. "Take a knee."
That is easily taken care of, the knight had said. Take a knee. Watt looked down at the girl in his arms, his mind blanking out in confusion. The knight, this Sir Cuthbert de Grey, couldn't be offering what it sounded like he was offering. Could he? Lisa looked up at him, her eyes as rounded by surprise as he suspect his were. She gave him a quick, tight squeeze and slid out of his arms. She kept her face bowed deeply in apparent fear, though Watt knew it was fear of being recognized. If he accepted this offered position, they would be stuck. He had called her his wife. There wasn't any way for him to be married now and suddenly not be married later. At the same time, no rational man would turn down a knighthood and position.
So he took a knee and became Sir Watt, Under Sheriff of Aimsley Province. Or rather Sir Walter Smith because, as the newly minted Lady Lisa pointed out, Sir Watt sounded like an insane Frenchman delivering an insult. And to think he had joked just that morning about being knighted by year's end! It wasn't until the next day that he realized that Sir Cuthbert, his patron and new overlord, had made no comment about his overly bashful "wife." Considering how Lisa had recognized the sheriff so easily, the chances that the sheriff had not recognized her in return were slim...