Continued from the previous chapter, here.
𝔄s the mail-clad man slept, he dreamed, and in the dream, he was again readying for battle. Around him, comrades in arms girded on their swords and were helped into their armor, and he looked down to see his surcoat and shield emblazoned gules, on a bend argent a baton gules wavy. Away across the field, he saw an army gathered similarly, and between them, he saw the small party where two kings met and sat and drank and tried to work out terms such that the dignity and puissance of both, and God’s clear favor on anointed and crowned rulers, could be respected. He knew where he was and when he was in the dream, and he looked down to see if a serpent would once again strike his heel. But there was no adder there, nor any of the usual animals of the field.
Behind him spoke a voice, saying “This is how it should have been.” The mail-clad man turned to face it, and he found himself facing his own face, his own self, pierced with arrows in shoulder and side, and with foot and leg swollen with venom. “This is what should have transpired that day, save that the adder bit you and you struck back at it. There should have been no serpent here. All manner of beast have been driven away, fleeing the sound of fighting to come–for to what other purpose do so many ride under such heavy arms than to make war each upon the other? The beasts of the field have their own wisdom, and they know that human quarrels are not theirs to pursue. They have their own wars in which to die and need not ours, as well.
“Yet the serpent struck you, and it would have slain you. And serpents are clever, as has been written and as the priests have read. And serpents can take many forms, as well, or at least the one can. You know of whom I speak, though I will not speak the name even here. It is not fit for mortal ears, nor for mortal tongues to say it. That one do you follow now, accompanying him along his errands to no good end.”
The mail-clad man replied to himself “Yet I am sworn to follow and charged to it by the priests. I cannot set aside what I have sworn and the obligation placed upon me and keep any worship. Already do I lack it in that I left the field of battle rather than falling with my fellows–for even if I was poisoned as I was, I still could have advanced rather than retreating. Will I then add to my unworth by turning away from what I know that I have said? May I be shriven of my guilt when I become guilty while trying to do my penance? For I still am in the midst of atoning for my sins with Lady Maelis’s woman, and I would not compound the error.”
“As well you should not. But if you would address yourself to errors, then you must seek the root of them and fix it. And that root lies in what rides before you on the road. It lies in the one you follow, the one who has orchestrated the events that have unfolded. Address yourself thereto, and find your peace.”
“I have sought to do so. I could not. I cannot now.”
“Then all is lost to you.” Around the mail-clad man, the army mounted and readied itself for the charge. Spears were shaken, swords unsheathed, and with a mighty yell, the knights charged forward. After a moment, the mail-clad man turned away from himself and followed, plunging into the thick of the fighting as it began. Amid the clangor of steel on steel, the erratic percussion of weapons beating on shields, the shrieks of strained wood and metal as shields and armor failed, and the screams of men and horses as the next blows came after, the mail-clad man fought. He unhorsed one opponent, the shock of his initial charge sending the other warrior backwards over the cruppers of the horse and into the churning muck and mire, where the hooves of others’ horses ensured he would never wake again. Another thrust of his spear splintered it on the shield of another warrior, the sharp fragments of wood bursting with a high-pitched crack; his sword flashed out, then, and with a single overhead cut, he cleft the shield held up against him, taking with it the hand that held it. Another stroke took the man’s head who had opposed him–but it carried too far, and beside him, an ally groaned and slumped in the saddle, slain by his companion.
As the man fell, his weight pulled the sword from the mail-clad man’s hand. Before he could find another, he was beset again, this time by a knight wearing sable, a chief vert, who swung an ax at him again and again. The mail-clad man swung his argent shield into the path of the first blows, deflecting them, but with each stroke, he could hear the bound wood chipping away, more and more of the device stripped off and sent to the hoof-churned bloody mud below.
With one more blow, the shield split, falling from his arm in ragged pieces.
With another, his arm was cut, the blade biting deeply into bone and there lodging. The sable-clad knight wrenched the weapon sideways, jerking the mail-clad man from his horse and to the ground. His opponent’s horse reared over him, whinnying rampant, and began to crash down.
Once again, the mail-clad man woke in the night. The surrounding air was still, leaving him only with himself to consider once again, pondering why he dreamed the dreams he did anymore.
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