Points of Departure, Chapter 31

Continued from the previous chapter, here, and with apologies for the delay.

𝔗he mail-clad man looked agog at the green-clad man he followed. “This cannot be the same place we left,” he said, “for the very air is different, and none of the people are the same. The ground has changed, as well, for I saw no stone roads where we trod before, and I stand on such a one now–yet how could one have been laid so quickly?”

“How, indeed?” replied the green-clad man. “Yet I said this is the glory of the place, and would you say that what you saw is the glory of any place? And if it were, how sad must such a place be, that such gloom and ruin would be its height?”

The mail-clad man considered what it was the green-clad man had said, and he shrugged, for he could find no response thereto. And then the green-clad man bade him follow, so he did, and they walked out among the stone-paved streets and the strange-speaking people. The mail-clad man watched them as they went, and he noted that they watched him in turn, their faces betraying surprise at his appearance and wariness of the sword on whose hilt he still rested a hand. But they did speak to the green-clad man, and he answered them in the same tongue, speaking as fluently in it as in the knight’s own or the speech of those in the forest before.

Their talks seemed friendly enough, if tone and gesture were any indication, but the mail-clad man knew he did not know the words. He did, however, mark the gestures made toward him, and he thought the green-clad man might be excusing his presence in a part of Anderitum that he still did not think could be. And he was concerned that his presence needed to be excused, that he might well not be welcome in the place where he found himself–and that he knew of no way to make himself seem such. So he did what he thought was best; he remained silent, and he strove to place upon his face a pleasant expression, and he took his hand away from the hilt of his sword. And he noted that when he did, he still attracted attention, for the way in which he was dressed was unlike that in which those he passed were, and that which is unalike always draws the eye, but the eyes he saw turned towards him were far less wary than they had been before.

As the green-clad man proceeded, the knight looked about, and he saw strong stone buildings surrounding wide stone-paved roads and green plazas, rising high above the height of a tall mounted man riding a taller horse. The courses of stone were even and true, and there was but little mortar between them–and the roofs of the buildings were of tile that seemed almost to glow in the sun. It seemed a place of peace and plenty that he walked through as he followed the green-clad man, and he asked him what sort of people were they who could build such things as they saw. And the green-clad man answered that they were the people from whom he was come, people who had long lived in such places but who only rarely did anymore–although they might well again, did the mail-clad man help him.

“Is that the task for which I am charged to aid you, then? The restoration of your people?” asked the mail-clad man, and the green-clad man he followed nodded his head in answer. “Then I am glad to do it,” the knight added, and he looked about at the kinds of things he would be working to preserve. And there seemed to him to be much beauty about him, and many people who seemed folk of peace and prosperity, and he marveled that they would be so hidden and would be so rare, for it seemed to him that such folk should have no difficulty in maintaining themselves. He asked then of the green-clad man what cause required such restoration, and the green-clad man said in reply that he would answer more fully when they were come to a particular place in the town, towards which he directed them as they walked, for some matters were not fit for discussion under the open sky in the light of the day. And the mail-clad man accepted the answer, although he was not glad of it, for it seemed to him that such matters could not be to the good.

Yet he followed through the fair and open streets until he and the green-clad man he followed came to another door, one with strange symbols upon it, and the green-clad man said “This is where we would be, and when we are within and rested as we ought to be, I will say to you what needs to be said, that you may be the better able to help me in that which I must do to restore my people to what you see from what you have seen. For we are yet in Anderitum, even though it seemed to you to be as it seemed to you, full of filth and squalor and small minds that barely understand what they have seen.”

He opened the door and motioned the mail-clad man inside, and the latter saw that the place they entered was like that they had entered in the Anderitum he had known before, furnished and decorated in the same wise, and with servants clad in green tending to matters as they might be expected to do. And they greeted the green-clad man with words that sounded happy, although they were in the same strange tongue that the rest of the fair town had spoken, so that the mail-clad man did not understand them. But the green-clad man guided him to a room and had him seat himself, and when he had also sat, he said “I will say to you now what must be said, and once, so that you know the enterprise wherein you find yourself and what will need to be done if I cannot do it. For the task has fallen to me, and while I know I can do it, I do not know that I can get to where I need to be to make it happen. And for that, then, you are obliged to me. So listen well, for I have only once the power to say such things as you will hear.”

Alms for the poor? Please click here.

More About Points of Departure (and Other Shenanigans)

I got a series of calls last night and this morning telling me that my bank accounts had been compromised. I’ve been struggling to get all of that untangled–in addition to working on the paying jobs. I’m not done with the untangling, in fact, and I’m not at all sure I can get it handled and still have time to write along with the other stuff I have to do. So the next chapter’ll be pushed back a bit more.

Sorry, folks. Life happens sometimes, even to me.

Points of Departure, Chapter 30

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔗he green-clad man and the mail-clad man who followed him proceeded into Anderitum. There were people on the streets, about such business as they had, and there seemed to be much in the way of trade going on. Indeed, the mail-clad man heard voices speaking in other languages than his own, and while he had heard some of them before, others were entirely alien to him. Some seemed almost as if he was hearing his own tongue spoken as if with full mouth and broken teeth; others were utterly alien in sound to his ears, as if spoken by tongues inhuman. And there were strange smells, as well, obviously food, but cooked in ways and with spices that surpassed the knight’s ken, and he regretted for a moment that he was still amid his penitence–but he remembered that he had it not for much longer, and the food bespoken by such smells would still be there for him when he could partake of it.

The green-clad man, however, rode on, seemingly oblivious to all that went on around him. As more streets began to branch off of the main road in from the gate, he made his way down one, then another, turning seemingly at random but with full deliberation–and the mail-clad man followed him closely, and his hand moved towards one of the knives he carried as the streets narrowed upon them and the buildings rose above. As in the forest days–weeks, now–before, he thought him it would be a good place for ambuscade, and he knew he could not count on the aid of the town watch if matters went badly, for the incident at the gate would surely receive much comment, and it is not to be wondered at that one who makes fools of fellows will not find aid from them.

At length, the green-clad man came to what seemed the back of a stone building, in the midst of which was a door. He dismounted, and from within his sleeve, he withdrew a key with intricate wards, and he inserted it into a lock that showed amid the door. It turned, and he opened the door, motioning the mail-clad man inside. The knight obliged, dismounting and leading his horse within; the green-clad man followed after, handing the reins of his horse to the knight as he closed and locked the door behind them. A moment later, torches flared to life, casting flickering flame-light all around, and the mail-clad man saw that he was amid a stable that was dusty with long disuse but seemed clean. He began to tend to his horse and the green-clad man’s, but the man in green forbade him, saying that such matters would be tended to and bidding the knight follow him further–“But keep ready your sword. I know not if other parts of this house have been similarly kept free of others.”

They proceeded inward, and the knight kept his hand on his sword, but he also noted that torches flared into life as they approached and died out as they passed, and the furnishings that he saw in room after room were of older sort, as were the pictures on the walls composed of small pieces of stone set into pleasing patterns or depictions of events whose content seemed familiar but that he could not place–for the most part. Some few depictions showed matters of which he was certain, for he recognized a paler green girdle on a knight who fought another and lost, and he knew who the woman was who was tide to a stake with torches approaching it. And he guessed that the other events depicted were of similar kind–but he said nothing, although he recalled what he had heard and had thoughts in that line about who it was whom he followed. Yet still did he know whither he was charged and whence, and he would not waver from it while his flesh held firm.

Room after room they searched, and in each, there was the dust of years of inattention–but in the dust were no footprints, either of people or of the small beasts that creep in when people are not about. No track of rat or of snake was to be found, no tracing of snail or slug or other such creature, simply dust deep and unbroken save for the paths their own feet made within it. And the green-clad man nodded, saying that things were as they ought to be, and that they would soon be put to rights. “For,” he said, “I am come again into my own place, and it will remember me in time. But now, it will suffice to find food for ourselves and sleep, and we will not need our horses to do that. Nor will we leave through the door through which we entered–although others will not follow us thence.

“Come, now,” he said, and the mail-clad man followed him through some of the same rooms and into still others, moving in ways that confused his senses until they came to another door that the green-clad man opened with another key. He motioned the mail-clad man out into an open street not like that from which they had entered, but again unlike the main road that had led from the gate through the wooden wall. Instead, he stood upon well-laid stone that had been clearly maintained, and while there was business about, it was of different sort than the knight had before seen in Anderitum. Too, the words he heard were familiar, but only from the mouths of priests as they spoke in the Church’s tongue.

The mail-clad man looked at the green-clad man he followed and asked where they had gone. And the green-clad man replied that they were in Anderitum, as he had purposed to bring them, and as it stood in its glory. “For it is here, Sir Knight, that you will make a difference, perhaps,” he said, “for it is here that my business lies–or its beginning does, as yet.”

Alms for the poor? Please click here.

Points of Departure, Chapter 29

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔗he two men, one clad in green so dark as to be nearly black, one clad in mail overlaid with a surcoat of the same green and embroidered with an escutcheon of gules, on a bend argent a baton gules wavy, approached the walls of Anderitum–or of the town that had grown up around it. A low berm rose half the height of a person above the marshy land, and a wooden wall of uneven height emerged from out of it, standing taller than a person ahorse. Platforms, marked by higher thrusts of timber, studded its inside, and a largish gate stood open to the road. A couple of guards, standing in mail and leaning on their spears, kept watch on the gate at the level of the road; at least two more, archers, stood above, likewise watching.

The two proceeded ahead towards the gate, noting that there was some traffic through it. Farmers and merchants drove carts through, more going in than coming out, and people afoot walked freely in both directions. Most received no more than a cursory glance, although some merchants did have to stop and talk for a bit, and the mail-clad man marked that some coin exchanged hands more than once. One poor merchant was turned away, and progress through the gate stopped as he turned his cart around, the donkey pulling it resisting being guided about, and his face was sullen as he passed by the green-clad man and his knight.

At length, the two travelers came to the gate themselves. The green-clad man walked his horse through the gate as if wholly unconcerned with the guards around him, but the mail-clad man could not help but look about at them, and one of those carrying a spear saw his glance and called out to him, saying “Look, you in the armor, hold on a bit! We will need to talk to you.”

The mail-clad man stopped his horse and bent down in the saddle to hear, but the guard continued. “You’re going to need to come down, man, and give account. You’ve got a guilty look about you, you do, and we don’t need no guilty folk in this town. We’ve got enough problems as it is without more of them coming in through the gates.”

At that, the green-clad man turned back and rejoined his follower. To the guard, he said “What’s this about? Why do you feel the need to harass my man? What has he done that is so wrong that you would impede him? We are on urgent business, he and I, and we are not to be stopped by the likes of you!”

The attention of the archers was now fully on the two as the spear-bearing guard leveled his weapon at the green-clad man. “We guard the gate and guard the town, and if we think your man here looks guilty, then we will find out what it is that makes him so. And if he’s your man, then maybe you’re guilty, too, and we ought to stop you from heading on in and ruining what all we have.”

The mail-clad man reached out and lifted the spear away from the green-clad man. He seemed to move with little effort, but the guard struggled with the shaft of the spear and grunted as he failed to resume his posture. The knight said “As you guard the gate, I guard this man. In guarding, I note where those who carry weapons are, because each of you is a potential threat to my charge–as you have said I am to you. Being a warrior, I know the truth of this, and I take no umbrage at it. But I do take umbrage that you will point your weapon at the one in my charge, and I will ask you not to do so again, on pain of your suffering.” And he lifted his arm a bit, and the guard felt himself dragged up, pulled by the great strength of the mail-clad man exerted with seemingly little effort.

The guard let go of his spear suddenly, and he rocked a bit as he fell back onto his feet. He cried out, then, and the twang of bowstrings sang of arrows loosed. One, the mail-clad man caught in his other hand, stopping it scant inches from the green-clad man’s face; the other struck the uplifted spear. The green-clad man said to the guard “Stop your fellows, or my man will have to stop you all.”

Another twang sounded, and the mail-clad man whipped the spear about; two more arrows joined the first in its shaft, and the knight dropped it to reach for his sword. But the guard saw that they would not beat him in any fight that day, and he raised his hand and called out, and the archers relaxed their bows. And the green-clad man said “I am pleased to see that matters have resolved without incident. I trust that you are satisfied about my man and me, that he is no more guilty than I, and that I could not be so well defended were I laden with burdens. For I would hate to have to demonstrate matters more fully than has already been done.”

The guard looked at the two, then back to the gate, where several stood and stared at what had happened, and he shook his head. “I see no problem with you, now. Move along, then, and be about your business quickly.”

The green-clad man nodded and turned back towards the town. After a moment, seeing that the guards resumed their usual vigil and traffic began to flow again, the mail-clad man followed him. Houses and other buildings stood not far inside the wall, although there were fewer near it than further forward, where stone walls stood frowning. And as the knight drew abreast of his charge, he heard him to say “Welcome to Anderitum.”

Alms for the poor? Please click here.

Points of Departure, Chapter 28

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔗he green-clad man and the mail-clad man who followed him camped near the swollen stream, off the road and above its level, and they waited for the waters to recede that had grown from the rains that had fallen not long before. That night, as had been true for most of the day, there was little speech between the two; they had not much to discuss at that point, in truth, or, at least, little enough that the man in green was willing to share with the knight who followed him. But the knight, at least, had somewhat to do, for there is always much with a man of arms that needs attention, and he had no squire for to do for him as he had done for Sir Erflet in years gone by.

Indeed, as he tended to his mail, carefully wiping it dry and oiling it once again, so that it might stay proof against blade and rust not more in the damp, he recalled doing so for himself and his old master while he was yet in his youth. Sir Erflet had had him doing such things long before letting him swing a blade even in practice, noting that the use of a thing meant the care of that thing, and that the care was what allowed the use to continue. So it was that the care was more important than the use, and so it had to be the thing known first and best. “For,” he said, “what good is skill with a sword if there is no sword with which to ply that skill? And what sword will remain if not kept clean and sharp and oiled? Be sure of that before you will be sure of your blow, young one, and matters will be the better for you.”

It was with glad heart, therefore, that the knight of gules, on a bend argent a baton gules wavy, did the many menial tasks of keeping up his arms and armor. He did not stint at oiling his mail, nor yet at honing the edges of his sword and his several knives–and he well knew the value of such blades, remembering as he put the stone to one of them that he had fought one fight in a noble hall that had been closely packed, with neither room to swing a sword nor armor on body. In that, the very knife whose edge he now tended had served him well, drinking deeply of the blood of those who would have slain him and opening enough of a path for him to find a better tactical position. And there was, too, the value of the blade in the hunt, as well as many times along the road for one task or another, the myriad things that must be done but receive no comment in song, for they are daily done and seen by all who can look and care to do so.

While the knight attended to the tools of his trade, the green-clad man tended the fire. It burned badly, for the rains had made the wood wet, and it smoked much, but it grew and gave heat and light. In its hazy flicker, the face of the green-clad man seemed strange, seeming at times to reflect the flames back again as if it were of flame itself, at others to drink in all the light as if it were a hole formed at the end of a stream. And all throughout did the green-clad man’s eyes shine out, seeming brighter than the flame or even the stars that could be seen in the sky. Always did he stare towards Anderitum, across the swollen stream, and it seemed that he neither breathed nor blinked, but sat as a carved column of stone, rooted deeply and pointing the way to another destination.

The night passed with little ado, and in the morning, after the mail-clad man had risen and eaten and prayed, he and the green-clad man looked at the stream and was that it was much reduced, although still high and brown and full of debris. The green-clad man considered it a while, and he drew his horse back from the side of the stream, going off a ways. Then he charged toward it, galloping his steed as if tilting with a spear in hand, and the mail-clad man began to call out for him to stop, for he was certain that the one he followed would fling himself headfirst into water that could yet bear him far away. But the green-clad man leapt his horse, jumping the stream, and only its one back hoof touched the water, and that only briefly.

From across the stream, the green-clad man gestured, urging the knight to attempt the feat himself. For a moment, the mail-clad man demurred, for he knew himself of heavier build than the green-clad man, and his horse heavier than the other’s horse, and it seemed to him that the one he followed had not made the jump with much room for error. But then he recalled words that had been spoken to him, words that reminded him the challenges placed before him were instead gifts to be accepted gladly, and he made his trial at the feat. He drew back further than had the green-clad man, running at the bank longer than his companion had, and he waited just a moment longer before jumping.

His landing was the same; the one back hoof of the horse he rode touched the water of the stream, and the horse bounded forward, getting clear of the still-swollen water. The green-clad man smiled as he did, and the two continued towards Anderitum in their increasingly familiar silence. Save for one thing that the green-clad man said:

“We should be there tomorrow, and what will be done will then be done soon. The waiting continues to annoy, but it is better to wait there than elsewhere–at least for this.”

Alms for the poor? Please click here.

Points of Departure, Chapter 27

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔗he next days went by slowly. Rain fell on the mail-clad man and the green-clad man he followed, obscuring sight and hindering progress along the road toward Anderitum. They plodded onward, of course, for though they could not see far ahead, they could see that the road continued at least a short way in front of them with every step, and the green-clad man seemed to have little enough patience with any delay anymore. And so through mud and mire, they pressed on, their horses’ hooves sucking at every step as they picked their way carefully along, and they found no dry place to camp in the evening, but bivouacked under such trees as they could and did what little could be done to find a dry space under the boughs.

After a few days of rain, and a few more days of prayers and fasting for the mail-clad man, they came to a small village, and there they were able to stay with a roper who allowed them space under his roof in exchange for a coin, as well as food for another, and he did not disturb them as they rested and he went about his work of braiding together many strands into twine, then cords, then rope. The mail-clad man bought a coil from him, knowing that rope is a good thing to have at hand and knowing that his own supply was somewhat limited, but other than the speaking needed to transact their business, there were no words exchanged between the roper and his guests, or between the guests themselves. For the green-clad man sat and stared towards where their path led for long after they came into the roper’s home, and still he stared when the knight finally fell asleep.

The next morning, the mail-clad man rose early and counted on his fingers for the days that he had spent in penitence, and he knew that he was drawing near to the end of it, and he was glad of it. But he spoke not words to that effect, but ate and prayed and readied himself for another day of wet travel. And when he made to gather his horse and that of the green-clad man, he saw that the rain had ceased, and though the road was still much muddied, he would at least be able to see some ways down it, and he looked forward to moving faster as a result. It seemed to him that the green-clad man did, as well, for there was something like a smile on his face as he mounted and they began again to travel.

As with earlier days, their going was quiet. There were few on the road as they rode along, so there was little chance to hear news from others, but the green-clad man did not speak much to the mail-clad who followed him. For his own part, the mail-clad man looked at the countryside surrounding him, for he had not been in that part of the land before, and the trees and flowers and fields seemed to him to differ from what he had known. And he recalled what his old master, Sir Erflet, had said to him of such matters:

“Not many will see what the knight-errant sees, my boy, for they will be in one place long and stir little from it. And while it is true that they will know well what they know, down to the smallest jot and tittle, still will they be bounded, never knowing the world outside what can be seen from their small village. You will learn, as I have learned, that there is glory everywhere, that there is beauty in all places in God’s creation, if you but look at it aright. And you will learn, too, that some is easier to see than others, but it is for the challenge that the knight lives, and if there is a place that looks all foul to you, it is upon you to work to see what good is in it.”

The mail-clad man knew that he was in a place where the challenge was not to find the good, for the green fields and blooming buds and ample leaves and burgeoning fruit of the trees all spoke of bounty and plenty, and the good of such things is easily known. Instead, he knew that the challenge he would find would be that of remaining vigilant amid the splendor, for it would be easy for him to lose his focus amid the beauty, and he recalled the fight in the woods, when he had been taken nearly at unawares–and if he had come out of that fight well, still could he have done the better in it, as he knew, and if no mark remained on his flesh from the wounds he took, still did he recall the pain of getting them, and few relish such hurt.

Soon enough, the two found that they could go no further towards Anderitum on the road. The green-clad man had stopped his horse, and when the mail-clad man came up alongside him, he said “This is normally a small stream, easily forded, but the rains of the past few days have swollen it. It would not be wise for us to try to cross here, but other crossing points are far enough away that it might be well for us to wait. The rain has ceased–for now, at least–and we may hope that the waters will recede soon. But I still chafe at the delay. Perhaps we ought not to have stayed for the festival as we did; had we not, we would have been well across by now, and possibly in Anderitum already.”

The mail-clad man made reply, saying “It may be so, but it may also be that there will be a thing for us here and now. For I have heard such things said in many other cases, so it may well be true in this one.”

Alms for the poor? Please click here.

Points of Departure, Chapter 26

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔗he day after the fight dawned through rain, and it found the mail-clad man already having eaten and offered his prayer of penitence. It also found the green-clad man waiting for him outside the chamber that had been given to his use. After greeting him, the green-clad man said that it was time for them to make their way forward, now that the festival was done for which they had said they would stay. To this, the mail-clad man assented, knowing that overstaying a welcome is a poor thing to do and knowing that he was ready for the challenges that might face him and the green-clad man along the road. For his performance in the fight yesterday had emboldened him, as well it might, and he knew that even the most worshipful knights of days gone by would have been hard-pressed to do as he did.

So it was that that morning, they gathered up their things and made their farewells, and the proceeded east and south along the roads towards Anderitum. And their travels were easy, for the roads were good and much used, and there were patrols of noble lords’ forces and bridges, although there were tolls to cross the latter when they came upon them. Yet the green-clad man had plenty of coin, and there was no trouble as he and the mail-clad man went along their way.

But if there was little trouble, there was also little cheer. Never had the green-clad man been particularly open with his words, but after leaving the town, there was an intensity about him that the knight had not before noted, and he did not approach it to break it. The green-clad man sat forward on his horse, leaning and peering, and it seemed that he neither blinked nor breathed, so focused was he on the road ahead. And he did not run his horse, but he did force its walk as fast as it could be without breaking into a trot or a gallop, and the mail-clad man, long used to horsecraft, knew that it strained the animals they rode–for he did not dare let the green-clad man get too far ahead. Too, he saw that they did not talk to others along the way as had been their wont before, and the others on the road also avoided them, almost as if not seeing them. And he wondered at that, but not too much, for he had come to know there was a way about the green-clad man that made for such things to happen, and that it were best not to delve into it too deeply.

That evening, as the sun sank behind the western horizon and the green-clad man and the mail-clad made camp beside the road, the former said to the latter “I know that you think it strange that I have acted as I have today. Yet we are close to where we would be, close to being able to do what it is that I need to do–and what I need you to do, as well. And so we are close to the end of your obligation to me, which must be a source of joy for you, as well.”

The mail-clad man replied “I do not find it a burden to be in service, but rather a welcome thing. I have seen that you have much power, although some of it is strange and the working of it beyond my ken; it is not a small thing to be in service to such a one as you. And I have grown the greater in that service, strengthened as you have said of it, and I am not displeased that I can do more and do it better now than I could in earlier times. So it is not joy I feel at the prospect of being done, although there is satisfaction in discharging a charge laid. It is something I shall soon know, as well, for there is a penance upon me to fast and pray. It will be good to be quit of it, although I relish that I am purified by it.”

“I have noted it, and it seems to do you no harm. But now, you must eat, and then we must rest, for I hope within a few days to come to Anderitum. Too long have I been away from it, and there is much there I would resume, much that was mine that I would reclaim.”

“Are you from Anderitum, then?”

The green-clad man looked at his companion levelly for a moment. Then he gave his reply: “Not originally, no. I am from rather farther from here than that. But I did live in that tow for some time, indeed, and I was forced out of it. But I have had word that what forced me out is gone, and so I can return to what is mine and reclaim it again. Surely this is the kind of thing your chivalry calls upon you to assist, the resumption of right by one dispossessed from it?”

“I have said that I will aid you. I have accepted that I am charged to do so. You need not return again and again to the idea, as if you think that I will forget it if you do not remind me of it. I have said I would do a thing, and so that thing will be done, if I live to do it. You do ill to think that I would be otherwise, and I have done no thing to give you cause to doubt my word. So I will thank you not to voice that doubt again unless I should do so.”

“I am glad to hear you say it, then, Sir Knight, and that you will recall it. And I will be glad of your help when we arrive at Anderitum. I will be glad of it, indeed.”

Alms for the poor? Please click here.

Points of Departure, Chapter 25

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔄fter the cheering died down from the victory of the mail-clad man and the town over those who would assail it, the green-clad man went to his follower and said to him “You see now that it is as has been said to you, that you are made mighty to do work in the world. And I am glad of it, as are those who have seen you work, so that you need not be in worry over such things. Rejoice, rather, that you have such skill as meets the needs before you, and that you have such strength as needs to use such skills, for lacked you either, the day would not have gone so well for you as might have been hoped–although others might well have enjoyed the result.”

The mail-clad man nodded in reply and said “I am glad to have disappointed them. Yet I am amazed at the event, for it is not often that a single man can face many and not be harmed by it, and I stand unbloodied while those who faced me have fallen or fled. I had not thought that a few days of practice would make such difference as seems to have been, for even while I have known you, I have not fought so well.”

“Speak you of the encounter in the woods? Yet you yourself have said that there is no mark upon you from it, and yet there were two dead, and one an archer. So I do not know that you are improved so much as you might think in your skill, but rather in that you have been strengthened to aid in the tasks that lie before you–since they lie before me, and you must follow me, as you are charged to do.”

“I am, as I know, and I will. But first, I must see to the killing I have done, and while I need not be the one to do the burying, for there are others here to tend to it, I have taken lives and must ask forgiveness therefore. For although they would have killed me had I not them, I recall that the knight for whom I squired, Sir Erflet, said that any life taken is a sin, and I already carry enough of them without coming clean of more. So if you will excuse me, I will to the priest once again, that I may be shriven and stride ahead with less fear.”

Then the mail-clad man did as he said he would do, and he sought the town priest, finding him helping with the wounded and praying over the dead. And he agreed that he would hear the knight’s confession and absolve him once those who were in gravest need were attended to, “for I doubt me that God will send it that so worthy and worshipful a man as you will be taken at unawares after the moment of victory, and that you have acted in defense of yourself and of others will argue in your favor with the Most High even if you should be called thence between now and then. But if you will help me with such matters, I can be done with them the sooner, and then might I turn to address your need.”

So the mail-clad man did as he was bidden, and he ended up digging graves and burying bodies maugre his earlier words. But he was strong and the digging was swift, and they were laid in earth unconsecrated who had attacked the town, while those who had dwelt within it and were killed were laid out and their graves dug in the churchyard. And those who had taken hurt were eased as they might be, both by the priest and by others in the town, and the mail-clad man noted that the green-clad did not offer his healing arts readily, but only in a few cases, and then only as asked directly by the Lord Deleiere. He wondered at it, but then he thought of his own life in the short time since his own healing, and he thought it were perhaps better that others not be given the same gifts as he had received.

So it was that the town was set back to rights and swiftly, and when it was, the priest did as he had said he would, and he heard the knight’s confession, and he gave him absolution freely, saying that the labor he had done for the town was penance enough, and he blessed him openly. Then the knight continued the penance he had undertaken after the stay in the home of Lady Maelis, after which he went back into the town. For although it had been interrupted, the festival of founding still continued in some wise, having been prepared to just that end. And the mail-clad man ate and drank readily and heartily, and in each place he went in the town, he was greeted by cheers and applause, and some of the people of the town sought to have lain with him that night. All of them he rebuffed, not wanting to repeat the error for which he was already penitent, and some heard the refusal well, but others wept and fled from him when he said them no.

The night was long, and the festival went long into it, with people eating their food and drinking their drink and thanking God for the charter that made them free forever and the knight who had fought to keep them so. And the knight saw that it was of such things that peace was made and upon which kingdoms such as Logres had been at its height were founded, and he prayed that the new king would do as the old one had done in that wise. And after he prayed thus, he found his way to his lonely bed for the night, and he slept well and deeply.

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Points of Departure, Chapter 24

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔒ne of the oncoming riders, carrying a shield of ebon, two chevrons argent, raced ahead of the others, his horse sprinting as it carried him into the midst of the town. The mail-clad man there met him with his sword upraised, shouting at the man without words but with great vigor. The shouts attracted the rider’s attention, and he bore down on the mail-clad man, leveling a spear at his breast and spurring his horse to greater speed. But at the last moment, the mail-clad man stepped to the side, crossing the path of the horse and lifting it as if thrusting its point toward the heavens, so that its blade slipped under the rider’s shield and up into his arm. And such was the force of the blow that it lifted the rider from the saddle, and his horse sped onward without its rider as the argent chevron knight crashed to the ground heavily, and his helmet was dented. The mail-clad man stomped upon the chest of the fallen rider and broke him, so that blood rushed out from his mouth in a gout, and he pulled his sword out of him, turning to face the others oncoming.

For their part, the riders behind saw what had happened, and many of them reined up their horses at the display, reconsidering their attack–for it was clear that they had not thought there were any in the town who could oppose them at all, much less with might and skill. But not all of them did so, and others rushed in, closing upon the mail-clad man, for they knew him to be a threat to them. But he grabbed up the spear that his first foe had let fall, and he took its weight in his hand, and he threw it, and his throw was straight and true. Into the chest of another rider it sank, going in even past the socket and bursting through the mail of his back. When he fell, another rider came upon the mail-clad man, veering aside to keep his shield-side away from him, thrusting out his spear to the side as if to cut the mail-clad man as he passed by. But the mail-clad man stepped outside it and avoided the blow, and he cut the head of the spear from the shaft as it passed him.

Then did the rider turn and draw his sword, but before he could come about and strike again at the mail-clad man, another rider charged upon him, thinking to use the distraction of the earlier to advantage. And nearly did it work, for he was able to close upon the mail-clad man with leveled spear, but the mail-clad man ducked under the spear and cut upward, and the horse itself fell to the ground, slain, and it crushed its rider as it fell, pinning him to the earth. The man screamed, and the sword-wielding rider pressed in upon the mail-clad man, hacking at him from on high. The mail-clad man ducked and dodged away from the blows, and the rider could make no gain with his sword, but he put the mail-clad man to the test in his assault, and pushed him back–and other riders approached yet.

As the mail-clad man stepped back, his foot struck the shield of one of those he had felled, and as he ducked another blow, he lifted it up and held it above his head against the sword-wielding rider. Then did that rider draw back, for he knew well the price that a thrust from the mail-clad man commanded, and his comrades pressed upon their common foe. With his shield, he turned one spear aside; with his sword, the other; and he stepped between them and turned, facing their backs. The flat of his blade flashed twice, and both horses reared from the pain on their rumps, rising up to the surprise of their riders, and one of them fell at the mail-clad man’s feet. The blade flashed again, and the fallen rider’s throat opened to the sky, and a great welter of blood flowed forth from it. His companion wheeled about to try to thrust at the knight again, but he avoided it once again, letting the point pass him by and turning to meet another rider oncoming.

And as he fought, the green-clad man looked on, and the people of the town saw the feats of arms he performed and were inspired by them. Then they took up such weapons as they had; the smithy gave of its hammers, and there were pitchforks at hand, and spears were found that the fathers of the people and their fathers had kept after wielding them, and rocks were hefted in hand and sent in showers at the invading riders as the rest were roused to meet them by the mail-clad man’s marvelous deeds. Then those riders who had held back turned and left, for they had sought easier prey upon which to feast, and already had more of them fallen than they had thought would or should. And several of the others who had gone into the town themselves turned and fled, seeing their fellows retire from the field. But there were still some who fought on, and they did manage to slay some of the townsfolk before they were themselves slain, whether felled by a lucky cast of a spear or knocked from horse by a hammer that swiftly swung again, or else grabbed by many hands and pulled upon and beaten.

But the mail-clad man fought through the whole of it, and all who faced him fell, but none of them could touch him. Then the people remarked that he had clearly been touched by God and given strength to ease their plight that day, and they cheered for him who did not mourn at the deaths of their fellows–yet even they were hopeful, for if their fellows had fallen, they had at least done so in victory, and their town had been preserved against assault.

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Points of Departure, Chapter 23

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

𝔄s the Lord Deleiere, the priest of the town, and the green-clad man mounted the stage, a hush fell over the crowd. The sun approached its zenith in a clear sky, looking down upon those gathered, and the church bells rang for midday. When their pealing ceased, the priest gestured to an altar boy who had come with him to come forward, and he bore a closed case not unlike that used to carry the Scriptures. The altar boy opened the case, and the priest reached into it and withdrew from it a large paper, showing its age but still whole, and it was written in ink still dark despite the years. Then the priest did turn to the Lord Deleiere and said to him, “Lord Deleiere, if it would please you, the charter royal which is sent to this town, naming it free forever under the aegis of the king and of God above. Receive it again in the name of those here gathered, and proclaim its proclamation aloud, that all may know the goodness of the kind and the grace of God under whom he is anointed!” And he offered the paper to the lord, who took it slowly and with a hand that seemed to shake in the sunlight.

But yet the Lord Deleiere stepped forward with the paper in hand, and he unfolded it that he could read it the better, and he lifted up his voice and said aloud the words that were written on it. Then did those there gathered, the burghers and their visitors, old and young, man and woman alike, and members of all three estates, hear of the founding of the town, and of the year and the day of its chartering, and of the privileges accorded to it, all under the seal of the king who had been and commended to the kings that would come after, to maintain in perpetuity, so long as the world would last, by the grace and pleasure of God Almighty. And when he had done, there was applause and cheering from the people, and the mail-clad man joined them in it. And well he should, for it is right and proper to glory in the glory of others.

When the applause and cheering died away, the Lord Deleiere returned the paper to the priest, bidding him keep it in the fastness of the church, where God might keep it safe and clear so that all might read it who had the skill, and the pleasure of God in maintaining the freedom of the town be manifest. And the priest received it again humbly and folded it with reverence before he placed it back in the case the altar by bore and closed it back up again. And then he prayed, and all bowed their heads who were in attendance, and the priest blessed the town in the name of God and all those who dwelt in it, as well as those who stood in it but for a time and were passing on to other places. And he prayed that the king would live long in health and wisdom, and that there would be peace in the land and in all lands, for now and forever.

But when the priest had done, there was a sound as of approaching thunder, although the sky remained clear. But those who looked about themselves saw that clouds of dust arose and approached in haste, and it could soon be seen that there were riders leading them, and many, and they were dressed in many hues and strange shapes. Them the mail-clad man recalled from his days in service to Sir Erflet and since, and he knew that those who bore such shields and such designs upon their surcoats were reprobate and apostate from the high ideals of knighthood, and that they would not stint to take what they desired–and he well knew that they desired. So he loosened his sword in its scabbard and made his way to the stage where stood the green-clad man, and he said to him “We must away, for I know who they are who ride this way, and no good do they mean for any they here find. And if I am obligated to you, then I must act in your defense, and that will be the easier if we are away and ahorse than amid the people and afoot.”

The green-clad man looked at the knight and said to him “Surely you are not afraid of those who ride here. For I know you to be a warrior of skill, and I hear that you are become a warrior of greater might than when we met. I had not thought to hear you speak of fleeing from a field of battle that presents itself to you, nor yet to hear you say such things as might make may think you a coward.”

“Say as you will, and think it,” replied the mail-clad man, “yet I know whereof I speak, and I do not say I do not seek to fight, but only that if I will fight, I would fight as I know how best to do, and not to offer my weakness to my enemy’s strength. For if it is the case as you have said that even the most worshipful knight puts strength to weakness, still I need not make the task easier for my foes. And the fight is never lost that is never fought, in any wise.”

As they debated, the riders grew closer, and the sounds of their shouts began to be heard. Then there was panic in the town, for those shouts carried words most vile, promising all manner of harm to come and to endure for long, and none would be excused from it, if the riders had their way. But the mail-clad man knew he would not sway the green-clad to act in his own defense, and he drew his sword and made ready to face those who would attack them all.

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