D&S: To Be A Knight - Part Eleven

  • Before, Uncle Mark and Tarkus visited their tent between jousts. Uncle Mark shared snappy comments and dirty jokes as father hammered the dents off his armour, chuckling as he did while Tarkus chatted with Artos and Aran; Aeda even caught strange glances from the lad from time to time.

     

                   Now father made naught a noise but the hammer, beating the dents away. Artos and Aran continued to chat albeit quietly. Uncle Mark and Tarkus? Aeda didn’t see them after father’s return.

     

                   Would they call Vendetta? Aeda thought. She remembered from her lessons of the ancient Houses of Flavius and Lapidus of a bygone era. From the era of Tiber Septim himself, the two houses were as close as hilt and blade until the heir of one of the houses spurned the other. Someone called upon Vendetta and eventually, both houses led themselves into ruin.

     

                   This is far too petty, Aeda thought. Father and Uncle Mark were as close as friends as they could be; they were brothers in arms, fellow knights, cadet siblings. They slept in muddy ditches, ate maggot infested bread, and fought in hellish battlefields for years.

     

                   Yet Aeda knew of another house calling Vendetta over a parlour game. Petty reasons are not above the proud men and women of Imperial heartland it seems. She shook away that thought. Those were the acts of lesser men and father and Uncle Mark were not lesser men.

     

                   ‘Sir Reynald de Aquilos the Slayer of the False King.’ the herald cried.

     

                   ‘Aeda,’ father said, resting his hammer on the ground. ‘Help me don my armour.’

     

                   ‘Ser Marcella Calpurnius, the Painted Knight.’

     

                   Aeda strapped father’s breastplate and gorget.

     

                   ‘Ser Markus Ambry, the Stout Knight.’

     

                   Then she strapped on his gauntlet and greaves.

                  

                   ‘Ser Albus Martellus, the Iron Knight.‘

     

                   She checked each buckle, belt, and lace again, making sure none are too tight or too loose. She checked again, thrice.

     

                   ‘Come forth and prove your valour!’

     

                   Aeda held onto to Chestnut’s reigns as father swung himself onto her saddle. As he did, a giant onion of steel, trotted to them.

     

                   ‘Martellus,’ Uncle Mark said, voice stern and formal.

     

                   ‘Ambry.’ Father said.

     

                   Uncle Mark closed his eyes and took a deep breath. ‘No matter the result of the joust,’ he said. ‘A drink of the XXV in my tent tonight. Bring your children and your household too; House Ambry’s best and most exclusive of brews deserves to be shared. Especially among friends.’

     

                   Father raised his arm and Uncle Mark clasped it.

     

                   ‘Fight hard Martellus,’ the Stout Knight said, squeezing his head into his helmet. ‘Fight well.’ His voice echoed deeply. ‘Any less is a grave insult on my honour as a knight!’

     

                   With that, Uncle Mark trotted the northern end of the list.

     

                   Father looked at Aeda, helmet in hand and eyes steeled with determination. ‘Let’s go.’

     

                   Aeda guided Chestnut to the list and fetched father a lance and shield. To their flank was Ser Marcella; Aeda met eyes with the Painted Knight’s, who nodded and lowered her visor.

     

                   Aeda cleared the list, retreated to the racks and all grew still-

     

                   The horns blared.

     

                   Knight and steed charged, men and beasts of steel. Aeda jumped and shouted; this time she cared not for who to cheer, she wanted both to win… well not entirely true, she’d rather father win of course.

     

                   The clash was marked with splinters of pine, the ringing of steel, and the wild roars of the crowd. The Iron and Stout Knight reeled but quickly recovered, tossing their lances aside as they wheeled round. Uncle Mark even gave Aeda a salute to which she returned the gesture.

     

                   Aeda ran forth to supply father a fresh lance. They met eyes and in them, Aeda saw fire. Passion – the fire of a man who enjoyed the thrill of battle, a man caught up in this moment of action, excitement. Father was so named after iron for his cool demeanour, nerves unflinching and ‘passionate’ was the last thing Aeda thought of him.

     

                   He snatched the lance and charged as soon as the horns sounded.

     

                   Martellus and Ambry fought like they the knights of a painting: Mighty and majestic, knighthood idealised. However, between them Aeda sensed something else beyond a contest of skill; a history of the two. They tested not their skill of the joust but of each other. They knew each other’s weaknesses, strengths as intimately as the scars on their body. Perhaps literally, Aeda noted. Some of their scars were reminders of close calls with the gods of death, close calls pulled away by the other.

     

                   Father and Uncle Mark exchanged blows, striking at the shoulder and the chest respectively. Both tipped over but recovered.

     

                   It would take more than that to down a Martellus, Aeda thought. And an Ambry!

     

                   Two to two. Both so evenly matched that the difference was like the edge of a knife. Now it was question of ‘who knew the other better?’

     

                 They wheeled again, sundered lance to the ground and trotted back to their starts.

     

                   The horn sang once again.

     

                   The Stout Knight aimed his lance high, point at the Iron Knight’s head. The Iron Knight kept his lance on the steady, on the safer target at the chest. Horses kicked the pounded earth into the air, sowing the lists with dust and grime.

     

                   Aeda gasped as the Stout Knight’s lance suddenly dropped downward, to father’s chest. The coronal smashed itself against his shield and then exploded into brilliant shrapnel – two to three, father lost… No, he didn’t.

     

                   She couldn’t see in the moment through the clouds, she saw father releasing his broken lance. A three to three, perhaps? That would mean a tie-breaker; both knights would ride again until one scored higher than the other.

     

                   She was wrong on that count. As Uncle Mark trotted closer, she saw a dent on his helmet. She turned to the heralds and screamed. The score was four to three – father was victorious. Well both knights were victorious; neither were unhorsed.

     

                   Aeda smiled but her mood soured when she turned to Ser Marcella.

     

                   Ser Marcella leaned on her horse, stubbornness barely keeping her on the saddle. The score was zero to de Aquilos’ two. Impossible, Aeda thought. Ser Marcella would never lose to this oaf! Yet, this ‘oaf’ sat straight, not a tear nor a smudge on his fine white surcoat. She hadn’t even touched him – her lance was unbroken.

     

                   Father dismounted and gave Aeda Chestnut’s reigns.

     

                   ‘Ser Marcella will win, will she not?’ Aeda said. Father said nothing as he removed his helmet.

     

                   ‘Come,’ he finally said, voice cold. ‘Chestnut will need rest for the next joust.’

     

                   Aeda stared on, Ser Marcella’s lancebearer forced to strap the weapon to the knight’s hand.

     

                   She won’t yield.

     

                   The horns wailed.

     

                   ‘Aeda,’ father said. ‘We have to go. There’s nothing we can do for her.’

     

                   ‘Yes, father,’ Aeda said, turning.

     

                   She sighed then heard a crack and shouts.

     

                   She spun; the Chevalier raised his lance, victorious. Ser Marcella continued to ride with the class of lady in a pageantry: with grace and utter dignity. But when she wheeled, the Painted Knight slouched, and crashed into the ground.

                  

                   She endured. A knight endures to the bitter end. That’s what it means to be a knight.

     

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