D&S: To Be A Knight - Part Fifteen

  • The walk between the camps were long – too long by Aeda’s reckoning for it gave her too much time to think. What will they say? She thought as they passed through crowds of peddlers, craftsmen, bards, and actors who only decide to now empty their stalls. What will father do?


                   She looked up and saw not the beautiful sky, dazzling with countless stars and the glorious twin moons but a dark empty void – ominous clouds had arrived and choked their splendour.


                   Aeda sniffed and detected a hint of rain in the air. She grimaced, remembering an old saying that rain arrived when one was sad – a cruel joke from the gods it was both from the Nine and the Seventeen.


                   A conturbernia marched by and father gave them a quick salute and they in turn answered the gesture with a salute of their own. He still however said nothing and when the few moments she could get a good glimpse of his face, it was of iron: cold and unbending.




                   Aeda felt her heart thump. By all rights, father ought to remain in bed for he had lost quite a bit of blood. Indeed, any and every passer-by who caught a look at him either gasped or recoiled at his ragged state but he refused and forced himself to stand tall for if nothing else, he still had his pride.


                   Was pride really worth dying for?


                   Eventually they reached the Chevalier camp. Reeking of expensive spices and wine, the camp was as stereotypically Breton as they could be. Silken pavilions strewn about, some dark and snoring while others glowed like coloured lanterns. de Aquilos’ pavilion was easy to find for it towered above the rest – quite literally as it was pitched on the top of the hill. Their pavilion spiralled with gold and white, and the golden eagle flew on its very peak.


                   Entering the camp made Aeda reached for the sword that wasn’t tied to her belt. Their eyes on them felt unsafe – Judging. Snarling. Angry. It was the look she’d expect wolves would give if a goat wandered into their den. Aeda reminded herself that she was not goat: she was a Martellus.


                   I am of steel: Martellus steel. I am of steel: Martellus steel.


                   At the mouth of the pavilion, Cedric stood up almost expectant of their arrival. The wretched squire performed a strange bow: front leg extended, a hand pressed against his chest with his head looking down and then held the flap of the pavilion open.


                   ‘This way, Ser Albus Martellus,’ he said, swollen lips visible even in the dim light. Aeda noted that addressed father by his proper title this time. ‘My father would like to share a few words with you.’


                   Father nodded and entered. Aeda locked eyes with the squire but said nothing.


                   As opulent as the exterior was, Aeda was ill prepared for grandiosity of the interior. The ground was not of grass and dirt but of Hammerfell rugs, rich in colour and complex in patterns beneath their feet. The beds were not stretched canvas or roughspun cloth but of feathers, covered with soft cushions and the brazier burned perfumed incense.


                   de Aquilos sat behind an oaken table busy reading a folio of some sorts with a trophy etched with the device of his house to his side and his free hand cupping a goblet. From time to time, the Golden Eagle would take a sip, apparently not noticing his guests.


                   ‘Sir Reynald de Aquilos,’ Cedric announced. ‘I give you Ser Albus Martellus and his heir, Aeda Martellus.’


                   ‘And they are taken,’ Reynald said, words oddly mumbled. ‘Please, take a seat my guests and let none accuse the House de Aquilos of the crime of being a bad host. Cedric, pour our guests a cup of Maraya; a simple red that won’t be too difficult on your palates – better I say than the swill Goldwine or Surilie tries to peddle.’


                   ‘Half a cup,’ father said as he took a seat. ‘Thank you.’


                   Aeda remained standing and Cedric’s eyes burned with rage as he poured her a cup. For a moment she was tempted to throw a spiteful smile at him but stopped herself before she did. She was not here to shame her house further.


                   ‘Albus,’ Reynald said, face still hidden. ‘How’s the eye?’


                   ‘Beyond saving,’ father said, voice even. ‘And you?’


                   ‘Me?’ Reynald said slowly. He dropped the folio and Aeda gasped. While he was dressed in a fine robe, his face was anything but. Held together with a series of bandages, Reynald looked like a piece of plate that had been beaten too hard and too clumsily by an impatient armourer.


                   ‘Shattered jaw,’ Reynald said, snapping his finger beckoning Cedric to refill his cup. ‘Broke apart into at least three pieces or so the healer told. Full recovery – Mara be praised for that but I doubt that you’re here to exchange well wishes, Imperial.’


                   ‘If course not,’ father said, still calm. ‘I’m here to make peace with you, Reynald. The bad blood between our houses is not good for his Imperial Majesty and the Empire and I wish to smother it before it the embers burn into an inferno.’


                   At first Reynald said nothing as he emptied a small vial into his cup. He swirled his cup around, letting the wine breathe before sipping it.


                   ‘You know,’ he said, grimacing. ‘It’s such a shame to defile a Maraya by mixing it with filth but healer’s orders as it is – it had to be done. And you Martellus, what nonsense are you spewing this time? That you think I’m upset because daughter hit my boy? Children get into fights all the time – don’t think you can convince me that you were such a cherub in your youth, always staying out of trouble.’


                   ‘Not that, Reynald,’ father said. ‘It’s not the fight – it’s that Aeda invoked the ancient laws of Vendetta on Cedric.’


                   Aeda clenched her jaw on that, grinding her teeth.


                   ‘By the honour of her blood,’ he continued. ‘Aeda is obliged to avenge the insult by any means necessary. By the sword and the axe, by the cloak and dagger and poison if need be. Vendetta means that-’


                   ‘Ah yes,’ Reynald said, waving his hand. ‘I know of this ‘vendetta’ – an uncivilised and archaic practice by you southerners. How you Imperial ever conceived this as honourable is beyond any learned scholar for what honour is there in cowardly stabbing your opponent in the back? If the spat of our children if truly about honour, then your Aeda ought to challenge Cedric in a fair duel – something even the barbaric Nords of Skyrim understand.’


                   Aeda fumed, wishing to scream at this pompous bastard but father seemingly sensed her intent raised a hand, pre-emptively silencing her.


                   ‘And you Albus, learning from experience? How’s that scar on your palm?’


                   Aeda’s eyes widened and Reynald leaned back on his seat in triumph.


                   ‘Ah, so you haven’t told her.’ Reynald raised an eyebrow. ‘You didn’t know, girl? That your dear papa has made the sacrifice to the gods? Oh yes, he did and now I ask if he has satisfied his oath? That has Vendetta been fulfilled?’


                   The brazier crackled.


                   ‘No,’ father broke the silence. ‘To this day I have not yet fulfilled my oath.’


                   Reynald shrugged, pulled a knife from his belt and rested it on the table. The knife of a strange design, one Aeda had never seen before. Handle and sheath were of pinkish chitin bearing intricate carvings and attached to the hilt was a rubbery tassel.


                   ‘Father!’ Cedric said. ‘What are you-‘


                   ‘Hush boy,’ Reynald said calmly. ‘Now you get to see what Imperial ‘honour’ is really like.’ He turned to father and Aeda. ‘Vendetta commands that you avenge your family by any means necessary: Challenge me to a duel right now and honour demands that I accept – a knight cannot refuse a challenge from another knight. Run a lance through my visor in a joust or…’


                   He tapped the knife.


                   ‘Slash my throat while I’m right in front of you and sitting defenceless. I’m right, aren’t I? That you are honourbound to do something?’


                   Father said nothing as he reached over, picking up the knife and unsheathed it, revealing a bronze blade with carvings just as complex as the handle and sheath. Cedric lunged but Reynald stopped him with a raised hand.




                   ‘You are correct, Reynald,’ father said, balancing the knife. ‘That I must avenge my family by any means necessary…’


                   ‘Father, no!’ Aeda found herself saying.


                   He snapped the sheath shut and slid it across the table.


                   ‘But that day is not today and as I have told you before,’ father said. ‘I am here to make peace. To discuss with you on how we can fulfil her oath before the cycle draws blood.’


                   Reynald frowned or at least Aeda thought he did. His expression was even harder to read with the bandages covering his face.


                   ‘You always were a mongrel, you know that?’ Reynald said. ‘Every last one of you ‘Imperial Knights’. You commoners who do not understand the sacred traditions – unwashed and uneducated peasants playing at knighthood.’


                   ‘I have no interest in exchanging insults, Reynald.’


                   ‘But I did not mean that as an insult, Imperial.’


                   Aeda raised an eyebrow. How was that not to be taken as an insult?


                   ‘For you see as low birth as they are,’ he continued. ‘Mongrels are tough. It matters not the fleas or the mange or the starvation or the whip – mongrels will always survive. No matter how hard we cull them, they will always find a way to return and that’s precisely why I like you, Martellus. You are a survivor. But enough of that, we can talk more of your ‘peace’ later for now I have something else I wish to discuss.’


                   He eyed Aeda.


                  ‘In private, if you please.’


                   She turned to father who nodded. Aeda saluted and walked out the pavilion, Cedric in tow. They stood outside, each facing the other direction trying their best to pretend the other didn’t exist.


                   Aeda wiped a bead of sweat from her brow – the omen of rain had brought the air to an almost suffocating level. Every now and then, Aeda snuffed the temptation to take a peek or eavesdrop but thought better of it. She was waiting outside by father’s wishes, not de Aquilos.


                   Still, the screams of curiosity and anxiety were almost overbearing, like a hearth with too much fuel. She sighed and relaxed her posture to a parade rest.


                   ‘Brute,’ Cedric said. Aeda raised an eyebrow. ‘You fight like a brute,’ he continued, scowling.


                   Aeda continued to look the other way. ‘Pretty words from someone who lost.’


                   ‘If we fought honourable, I’d have you soundly beaten.’


                   ‘A win is a win. It makes no difference on how you whinge now.’


                   Cedric spat to the side. ‘Spoken like a true Imperial. No more tricks for you on the morrow – no brute force on horseback and the gods be praised when you fall off your saddle.’


                   ‘Not before I knock your arse off yours first!’


                   The squire snickered. ‘You clearly didn’t check the list, did you?’


                   In truth: no, she hadn’t checked the order.


                   ‘If you were to somehow face me,’ he said. ‘It’ll only be at the final ride and I doubt you’ll even survive the first joust.’


                   ‘Oh, I will ride against you and I will knock you down,’ Aeda said. ‘Let the gods be our witness – that is my oath.’


                   ‘And when you fall, I wonder what they’d call you,’ he continued, ignoring her. ‘Dented Knight has already been-‘


                   Aeda immediately spun and raised her fist. To the squire’s credit, the lad did not flinch.


                   ‘Watch your tongue, snail-eater or I’ll thrash you again and I’ll thrash you-‘


                   Father emerged from the pavilion, expression iron. He seemed to frown a bit at Aeda, forcing a blush to her face and a quick bow of her head.


                   ‘Fortune ride with you, Cedric,’ he said, nodding. ‘And Aeda.’


                   Aeda straightened herself.


                   ‘Let’s go.’



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