D&S: To Be A Knight - Part One

  • ‘Heave!’

     

                   When spring came so did the rain and when the rain came so did the mud. The mud was a boon for the farmers, it meant that the earth was soft and compliant to the tills and with it, the promise of a bountiful harvest in the Empire. Of course, neither Aeda nor her family were farmers and the yearly harvest was of no concern to her. Mud meant the roads were ruined – so soft they were that this was the fourth time the family cart had been stuck. At least it wasn’t the goods wagon but Aeda refused to call that a blessing.

     

                   ‘Heave!’ Albus, her father barked again. Aeda, Artos, Gorggnak, and father himself pushed while little Aran and Mrs. Moorsley sat on the cart itself, beating Sweetpea and Olives, the mules into action. Cabbages and Myrtle remained idle, happily enjoying their breather from the goods wagon; the lazy arses while the horses, Chestnut and Certainly; strong and worthy as they were carried no pack. They were no palfreys; they were warhorses only to be ridden in tourney and battle. Waste not a good horse as the saying went.

     

                   But Aeda disagreed. This cart might as well be a battle! She thought. Aeda fought with all her might, so much so that sure that her face was as red as her doublet.

     

                   ‘Move you, bloody thing!’ Aeda grunted, the cart began to buckle and the wheels turn. ‘Move before we’ll chop you into firewood – Then. At. Least. You’d. Be. More. Useful. To-‘ she continued until she lost her footing and slid down into the mud hole. In her panic, she grabbed the first thing she could: Artos, her brother with her.

     

                   Aeda looked up, spat out a mouthful of mud and saw the cart slowly shrinking away – the cart was out at least. She turned around, staring at the clear blue sky and sighed.

     

                   ‘Young masters!’ Mrs. Moorsley said as she leapt off the cart with her hands lifting her skirt. ‘Are you hurt?’

     

                   Aeda gave Artos a look and chuckled.

     

                   ‘We’ve but scratches and bruises, Nan,’ Aeda said, smiling. ‘Nothing to fuss about.’

     

                   ‘But your clothes…’

     

                   ‘It’s just mud,’ Aeda said. ‘A good wash is all it takes.’

     

                   Mrs. Moorsley crossed her arms. ‘And the Nine wonders who it’ll be that’ll do the washing.’

     

                   Aeda winced. She knew that look – Nan always was strict but she knew her for as long as she could remember.

     

                   ‘Aeda is right,’ Artos said. ‘A little mud hasn’t killed anyone.’ He threw a handful at Aeda, smacking her right in the face.

     

                   Aeda spat and retaliated – not the face but the chest was a close enough consolation. Artos had never beaten her and this day was not to be the first. Artos however never relented, as expected of their proud line and threw another. Soon the air streaks with missiles of mud and laughter.

     

                   ‘Young masters! Cease this childish game,’ Mrs. Moorsley said, shielding her face. ‘This is most unbecoming of a lady!’

     

                   ‘But Nan,’ Aeda said, smiling. ‘I’m not a lady – I’m to be a knight!’

     

                   ‘Knight, lady – it’s all the same. End this game!’

     

                   Aeda frowned at Mrs. Moorsley, scooped a fistful, aimed and-

     

                   A sharp whistle came behind Mrs. Moorsley. A man also dressed in a red doublet caked in mud stood with arms resting against his hips.

     

                   ‘Playtime is over,’ Albus said, voice stern. ‘Mrs. Moorsley is right, this is no way for a knight to behave. You’re of fifteen and thirteen years; not children anymore. Come on, climb out and help with the cart.’

     

                   The pair kept their eyes low and said, ‘Yes, father.’

     

                   Artos was the first to go, latching on to Albus’s arm to pull himself out of the hole.
                                 

                   ‘I say,’ Mrs. Moorsley said. ‘Why can’t the both of you be more like Master Aran? Sweet and obedient with the wisdom to keep his nose out of trouble!’

     

                   ‘Come on, Nan,’ Artos said, wiping away globs of mud off his chest. ‘He’s but a spark. Give him a few more years and he’ll be the fire that fuels the forge,’ he continued, climbing on the cart and ruffling young Aran’s clean head with soiled hands.

     

                   Albus let out a soft chuckle and shook his head. ‘Your turn, Aeda.’

     

                   Aeda held tight as father pulled her out.

     

                   ‘Are you sure you are well?’ Father said. ‘You’ve a big day tomorrow and we’d rather not deal with a sprained ankle when you mount.’

     

                   ‘Hah!’ Aeda spat. ‘You think so little of us, father? I am a Martellus and it will take me more than a little sprain to break me.’

     

                   Father smiled, looking at his hands. ‘You do your family proud,’ he said as he wiped the muck off her doublet.

                  

                   ‘Hey, no fair!’ Aeda sniffed.

     

                   He winked. ‘Well, I am your father. Go tend to the horses, I’ll see to the cart.’

     

                   ‘As you wish, father,’ Aeda said, her head bowed.

     

                   The horses were as filthy as the rest of them – were they to trot in a parade, let alone a city they would’ve caused a scandal. But like the Martellus; a good horse is like good steel – It doesn’t have to pretty to be good, it just has to be strong. They had ridden all the way from Hammer in the west with little rest yet the pair were as fresh as ever. Certainty, her shadowed stallion was expected, young and fierce she would expect nothing less. Chestnut however was an ageing mare. Not as strong as stallions but she was swift, obedient, and most of all: loyal. Chestnut had served father in many battles and the old mare would throw a fit if she learned that father had ridden another with lance in hand.

     

                   ‘No good, Master Albus,’ Gorggnak said. ‘The wheel is loose but it’ll hold. We could brave the roads – the gods be willing, we’ll arrive at Istirus by the third watch.’

     

                   ‘If the wheel holds,’ father said, shaking his head. ‘If it falls apart, it will be dark and fixing it would be a disaster. Even more – the beasts are tired. They are not soldiers; if we forced them to keep marching, they’ll drop dead and my children would be most distraught. Fret not, even if we were to only show tomorrow, we’d still be a day early. Best make camp while the sun shines.’

     

                   Father stood up and smiled.

     

                   ‘It’s of no concern: Aeda, on the wagon. We’ll leave immediately.’

     

                   Aeda nodded her head and began to climb until she heard something – horses in the distance. She spun and fixed her gazed on the road westward.

     

                   ‘Father, look!’ Aran said.

     

                   Even in the setting sun, Aeda could see a column approaching. She counted at least two dozen of marchers and half a dozen drays. Refugees? She doubted that, they seemed too regal to be refugees. Aeda squinted her eyes and saw banners fluttering in the air. It was a golden eagle soaring on a field of white.

     

                   A golden eagle soaring on a field of white. Aeda knew her arms, Father had drilled her well. On memory most would at least recognise the cracked chalice of House Calpurnius or the roaring bear that is House Jarling. Aeda would make boast, with much thanks for Aran’s help on memorising even the sigils of more obscure and younger houses like the fearsome wetted axe of House Bleeding-Axe or the splendour of a rain of coins that marks house Ferrovici. But Aeda would no sooner call herself Seyda the Fool if she had forgotten the crimson hand of a skilled smith grasping his trusty hammer with pride on a coal ashen field – the herald of House Martellus.

     

                   Aeda was proud but even she knew when to admit defeat when she just could not put a name to the gold eagle. The closest she knew of was the silver eagle clutching a Legionary’s sword of House Amandor and they were High Elves.

     

                   Father seemed calm, almost expectant when their leading riders; two men, broke off their column and approached them.

     

                   Both had identical features; well built, comely faces with fine features although one, Aeda suspected the elder had a neatly trimmed moustache. Their light brown hairs were kept close cropped on the sides and neatly combed on the top – a strange haircut if they were Imperial but they didn’t look Imperial. They both wore a clean white velvet surcoat, trimmed with gold and the eagle emblazoned on their chest.

     

                   ‘Black of hair, eyes of brown,'  the younger said as he reined his horse. He then looked up and scowled. 'Red on black and black on red! Father, they’re bas-commonborn knights.’

     

                   Aeda scowled at the pair. Bastardborn was what he meant to say; she only knew one type of people who would ever dare disrespect them such a title – the performed ponces of High Rock.

     

                   ‘Not just any commonborn knights,’ the elder said voice deep and poised. ‘They are of House Martellus, one of the oldest and most… noblest of the commonborn,’ he continued, pointing his crop. ‘And that one there is Albus, the Patriarch of their house.’

     

                   ‘Ser Albus Martellus by the honour and wisdom of his Imperial majesty, at your service,’ father said, bowing his head. ‘And I shall grant you the courtesy of Cyrodiil. Children come! Meet Sir Reynald de Aquilos and his son, Cedric de Aquilos.’

     

                   ‘Indeed, Cedric is my firstborn and by the blessed Nine, he is an even greater horseman that I was at his age. A worthy heir as any other.’

     

                   ‘You’re too kind father,’ Cedric said, bowing his head.

     

                   Aeda’s stomach churned. Listening to his voice was like drinking soured milk… although she had to stop her face from contorting as well. It would not be proper.

     

                   ‘Artos and Aran, my sons,’ Albus said.

     

                   Reynald bowed but his spawn did not.

     

                   Albus walked behind Aeda and placed his hands on her shoulders. ‘And this is Aeda, my firstborn, only daughter, and novice to be. A woman grown; she will make our house proud.’

     

                   ‘This is a woman?’ Cedric said, his face distorting with an ugly grin. ‘You surely jest, ser. With shoulders like hers, I could’ve sworn she was a man.’

                  

                   ‘Why you little-‘ Aeda took a stepped forward but was held back.

     

                   ‘Aeda,’ Albus said. ‘Stand down.’

     

                   Aeda glared at her father and said, ‘As you wish.’

     

                   She felt her cheeks turn red.

     

                   Cedric continued with the most irritating laugh she had ever heard and he only stopped when Reynald gave him a hard cloud in the ear.

     

                   ‘Mind your tongue,’ Reynald said through gritted teeth. ‘We are of noble birth, of High Rock and that is no way for you to speak to a lady. Cedric, you will ask Lady Aeda for her pardon.’

     

                   ‘If I must. Will you forgive me, my lady?’

     

                   Aeda felt like spitting on him but Albus gave her a hard nod. She sighed and said, ‘You are forgiven but I am no lady.’

     

                   ‘Apparently so,’ Cedric whispered under his breath, soft enough to be a mumble but loud enough to be heard.

     

                   Perfumed ponce.

     

                   ‘Sir Reynald,’ father said. ‘Are you too bound for the tourney?’

     

                   ‘That we are,’ Reynald said. ‘Young Cedric here is to prove himself worthy of questing and with his talents, it would be an easy matter. For me, I’m merely seeking to break a few lances and perhaps win a few more trophies. Someone needs to teach you Imperials what is true knighthood but barring that, I’d settle for a lesson on jousting.’

     

                   ‘Is that so Reynald? If the gods be willing, I’ll see you in the tilts.’

     

                   ‘Let us go Cedric,’ Reynald said, wheeling his horse about. ‘By the Sacred Rose, we’d be off if we’d to arrive at the third hour,’ he continued to his son, paying no heed to the mud stained knights behind him.

     

                   Father spat on the very ground they stood and returned to the wagon. Not a word was spoken.

     

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    Next: Part Two

     

     

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