Continued from the previous chapter, here.
𝔚hen, that evening, after the mail-clad man had done the penance prescribed for him–having lost track of how many days he had done and how many he had left to do–he returned out into the town, he noticed that the people who noticed him gave way as the commons in manor towns had been wont to do. The lesson of the day had not been lost upon them, that he was a man both fierce and strong, and that while he might have stinted in the use of his sword in their town, he had drawn it and might well again, and there would be no stopping such a man as he had been shown to be. Yet the knight smiled and waved to people, and although they were wary and watched him, he kept of good cheer to them, and he drank to their health and the health of their town, and the people began to be at watchful ease with him in their midst again.
Indeed, as he drank and ate, for there were tables out for just such things in advance of the coming celebration, children came up to him, some nervously, some brazenly, and they asked him about himself and his travels and what he had done and if he could show them the strength that their parents had said that he had and that had scared them so much. He answered the questions as best as he could, and the answer to the last that he gave was “No, for that is a thing that should not be used in sport, but only at need, and I did badly to use it as I did today. For it is not fitting that a knight should seek to feared, save by those who will do evil, and I would not have it said that I think the folk of this town foul unless I am shown that they are, in truth.” At this, the children were disappointed, as children always are who hope for a new thing and do not see it, but they accepted the answer and drifted back into the general revelry and towards the arms of their mothers who waited nervously nearby.
Such festivities as there were that night did not last long. More was being done to prepare for the festival to come than to celebrate it early, as was fitting, although there were games played by children and some by adults, idle things, indeed. The knight did hear murmurings of the intended wrestling matches, for which a ram had been made ready, being let slide for fear of his interference therewith, and the mail-clad man did somewhat to hide his face behind his drink, for he knew that he had acted badly earlier in the day and deserved the rebuke, but few folk revel in public shame and censure, even from the commons when they are ennobled. And fear in the faces of those who should be protected is far from pleasant to see–and the knight saw it yet.
Among what was rising in the midst of the town was a platform of timbers built waist-high. Planking was being nailed to it, and a frame rose high at its back; a carpenter, evidently skilled and wise with the years thin gray hair bespeaks, directed younger workers as they clambered across the structure with hammers in hands and coils of good rope. They tied and they swung, and the older man called out commands to them, and all moved as if one body with one purpose–for they indeed had but the one purpose, and they pursued it diligently. The mail-clad man found himself watching with awe, for never before had he looked so closely at the work of building as it was done as he did then, and never before had he seen that in the swing of the hammer there is as much skill as in the swing of the sword, in the lifting of timbers as much as the lifting of shields–and the works done made things anew, while the work of the sword only tore things away. Yet it was still to the sword that the knight was sworn, and he knew that he could not depart from that oath for so long as other obligations weighed upon him.
The words of the priest returned to him again, and he thought on how that which he carried was a blessing, but the thinking was not easy. For while the work of the knight in dealing death to the enemies of those to whom he was sworn weighed upon him, far less did it burden him than the work done by many, the toil of the fields and of the crafts–however well conducted and masterful to the view. And there was at least in the doing of the work of the sword the opportunity for renown and worship, and to go to new places and see new things and people, the which could not be said for the commons of the manors, bound to the land, or even the free burghers who held rights by charter but could not count upon them in the world outside. Nor were they more likely to die at the words of lords than commons, who were often trodden down and under by those of his own sort. And there was the order that God had imposed that put those who fought in the service of lords above those who did not, so that it was clear his burden was the badge of his office and of the greater gifts with which he was endowed–and endowed again, in his new-found strength.
The mail-clad man smiled at the resolution of his quandary, and he made to return to the home of the Lord Deleiere and the chamber therein that was his. He had what he needed for the day, and he sought no more than that.
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