D&S: To Be A Knight - Part Seventeen

  • Weak as it were, the leaden sky continued to spit rain from the first crack of dawn to the eve of noon. A cold pungent wind brought a chill to Aeda’s face, eyes down on the jousting lines, now reduced to little more than mud holes fit for pigs. Certainty snorted before leaning down to steal a drink from a puddle.


                   The Knight-Commander and the Chevalier Grandmaster stood up with mages by their side, giving their grand speeches while the canopies kept them dry. They spoke of the pride of His Imperial Majesty and the heroics expected of them. Same as before, truly.


                   In her hands, the lance felt of balance and the shield heavy, like they were made of lead and stone. That was of course, untrue for the lances were of balsa and the shield, pine. Aeda frowned. With many an hour in the forge and many an insult thrown about her shoulders; she’d expect them to be as light as a feather but no…


                   Donning her armour – tourney armour didn’t take too long at least; a little under an hour with Gorggnak and her brothers’ help. The armour was far more… excessive than what she was used to. Far thicker than combat armour, tourney armour was so bulky that not even a battering ram could pierce the breastplate. More so, it was more ornamental than her regular armour with engravings and trimmings and a plume for her helmet. This… excess still meant something to her – it was a gift from father.


                   She remembered the many of hours father spent at the forge, hammering and shaping the metal with his own two hands. She remembered it well; the orange light on his face, the burning determination in his eyes – she was there; she was his assistant, helping him create the very armour she wore at every step of the way. A Martellus tradition.


                   ‘Master Aeda,’ a voice called, no more than a light ringing in her ears.


                   The trumpets blared and drumbeats hammered wildly yet rhythmically. The crowd cheered but Aeda kept looking down, not sparing a thought for the knights, nor the horses, nor the tourney but for an image burned into her mind – of a man, covered in bloodied bandages in a state of half-dead sleep on a canvas cot.


                   ‘Master Aeda,’ the voice said again, this time louder.


                   Father… he was supposed to be here with her. He was supposed to help her don her armour, to bear her lance. He promised! She wanted to shout, to scream, to yell, to do… something! Anything but she just didn’t care. She couldn’t bring herself to care. She didn’t want to care.


                   ‘Master Aeda,’ the voice said, now firm and distinct. It was Gorggnak’s. ‘They’re calling for you.’


                   Aeda shook her head, blinked half a dozen times and blushed. Focus, Aeda! A Knight has to be focused!


                   Aeda then dug her heels into Certainty, cuing him to move. In her mind’s eye, she had already seen what was to happen. She was to ride out with the other cadets and squires, dip their lances with great dignity to the commanders and ride back. Simple, like forging a-


                   The others were halfway to the stand when Aeda noticed that Certainty hadn’t budge; he found tasting puddle water to be a more pressing concern. She frowned and dug in her heels again but the young stallion merely neighed and shook his head, slapping his mane on her face.


                   ‘Move you bloody cow!’ Aeda said. ‘Move before I sell you to the Wood Elves for-


                   Certainty suddenly trotted forward, with Aeda barely holding on followed by a stream of curses. When she finally met the others, gathered beneath the viewing stand, Aeda could’ve sworn she heard barely controlled snickers beneath their visors. She felt the crowds laughing behind her back.


                   As soon as she moved into line, they immediately dipped their lances in salute, Aeda barely a second behind them. Barthélemy, thankfully, seemed to not notice and thus, paid her no heed – his attention at his own squires. Ser Dalton however, gave her a short quick wink that made her blush so hard that it probably made her resemble a furnace under the visor.


                   When the spun round to return to their end of the lists, Aeda had the sudden urge to rip off her helmet and vomit right there and then. But if she had done that, the Martellus name will forever be shamed. Father would-


                   No, Aeda, no! She shook her head. Courage! You’re in the list now! You are not of glass, you are of steel, Martellus steel.


                   ‘Cedric de Aquilos,’ the herald began. ‘Firstborn and First Squire to Sir Reynald de Aquilos, The Young Eagle, and Champion of the Junior Lancers of High Rock. Silus Vorenicci, Son of Ser Viktor Vorenicci. Thevenin du Mesnil, Firstborn son and First Squire to Sir Quentin du Mesnil, Champion of the Junior Lancers of Rivenspire. Tara Cossinica, Daughter of Ser Leonardo Cossinica. Come forth and prove your valour!’ The crowd cheered as the riders galloped to their positions.


                   The squires’ armour practically gleamed even in the gloom of the rain. More than their silvery plate, the squires were also decorated in flamboyant accessories in the same manner of their masters. Cedric in particular also wore a white surcoat though he did not wear a winged helmet.


                   Metal unrusted is metal untested, she thought then frowned. Who am I to judge?


                   She looked down to her own metals and then to the other cadets. Yes, their armour may have featured no queer designs nor gaudy decorations - simple and brutal as armour ought to be. Yes, Cyrodiil steel did not shine as High Rock steel did, in fact it was of a dull grey complexion. Differences there are but Aeda felt a spike of shame through her. The cadets’ metals may have been austere and practical, simple and dull but they bore no scratches. No dents.


                   Unrusted. Untested.


                  As if the Gods mocking her again, the trumpets blared like thunder and the riders are off. The squires to her begrudging chagrin, rode masterfully – backs straight, lances cradled on their breastplate with the point on the level. The cadets… was something to behold. Never mind their horses charged too early or at even paces; their lances wobbled all over, like a novice trying to file without a vice. As soon as they clashed, the squires tore them off their saddles and sent them driven low into the mud.


                   Aeda felt her heart pounding as she heard a wisp laughter from the crowd. That could’ve been me! Just like that, in an instant!


                   Cedric dramatically threw his broken lance aside and pumped his fist into the air repeatedly and Aeda saw or rather, she saw naught a fleck of grime on his white surcoat. This is whom I was to defeat? Idiot, what have you gotten yourself into?


                   The following jousts was a sad retelling of the first. Aeda did expect this to be a hard fight – even father admitted that the chevaliers were the finest horsemen in all of Tamriel but for the Imperials to be thrashed this soundly? Quintains gave better fights than this! While Jawah won his joust, he won by the edge of a knife and he was of House Malik: horsemanship was in his blood.


                   ‘Gilles de la Guerre, Son of Alain de la Guerre, Prodigy of Evermore.’


                   To see Tara, Silus, Malcolm, Lucretia, and Rion so easily beaten by their High Rock counterparts send a chill up Aeda’s spine. She had seen them ride and they were far better riders than she could ever be. If they didn’t stand a chance, what in Oblivion could she do? What if… what happened to father would happen-


                   Aeda keeled over, coughing. Can’t breathe!


                   ‘Urixto Kovac, Son of Ser Hermelinda Kovac.’


                   Aeda lifted her visor, closed her mouth and thumbed a nostril. The world seemed to spin and she saw bright lights on the edges of her vision. Don’t faint. Don’t faint. Don’t faint. Don’t faint.


                   ‘Master Aeda,’ Gorggnak said, visible concern in his voice. ‘Are you alright? Would you like me to fetch you some water?’


                   She shook her head and continued gagging. It felt like someone had stuffed a stale loaf of bread down her throat.


                   ‘Tomas Rosseau, Son of Sir Damien Rosseau, Champion of the Junior Lances of Camlorn.’


                   Aeda leaned over and finally vomited. She spat once, twice and a third time to clear the foul taste. She wiped her mouth, thankful that she didn’t hit anyone or anything – a white splotch on Certainty’s black coating would let everyone know what she’d had done. Damn. I’m starting to become like Aran. She spat again.


                   ‘Tiberius Symmachus. Come forth and prove your valour!’ The crowd hushed. A silence fell upon the fort for all eyes were upon a grey courser who trotted from the southern camp carrying a rider clad in non-descript armour. Behind him trailed his lancebearer, wearing a simple linen spun tunic.


                   ‘Gorggnak,’ Aeda said. ‘Did Symmachus salute with us?’


                   ‘No, Master Aeda,’ Gorggnak said after a beat. ‘I don’t think I saw him ride out with you.’


                   Aeda saw no banners, no arms to identify this rider. And Symmachus? She’d never heard of this house nor seen it in the Census of Imperial Knights. A new house perhaps? They’d usually update the census only at the end of a decade and they’d barely started the current one.


                   This Tiberius Symmachus took his position as did his opponent on the other end. Aeda noticed that Kovac practically turned to his side to stare at the unknown. She couldn’t blame him – practically everyone did… except for Barthélemy and Ser Dalton who seemed to shift nervously in their seats.


                   They haven’t done that before, Aeda thought. What is going on-


                   The shrilly call of the horns broke her reverie as riders put their spurs into their mounts, starting the joust. Lumps of mud sprayed back from beneath their steeds as the riders levelled their lances. Kovac’s lance wobbled as expected by this Symmachus; his lance was as steady as the mountains, the point aimed perfectly at Rosseau’s chest.


                   The crowd gasped. Not at Kovac’s unhorsing – no one paid any attention to that but to Symmachus. Rosseau, the Champion of the Junior Lances of Camlorn pulled a feint; first aiming for Symmachus’ breastplate but at the last moment, flicked the point to his head. Just as quick, Symmachus rolled under the coronal and answered with a direct hit to the Red Helm of Rosseau, shattering his lance.


                   The squire threw aside his unbroken lance, clinging on to dear life on his reigns. Symmachus allowed his own lance to slide off his hand and stoically trotted round the list. For most this was the moment to celebrate, to cheer but the fort maintained the eerie silence. Only when the riders were almost to their positions did the crowds cheer.


                   ‘His technique,’ Gorggnak said. ‘Impressive… Master Aeda, your jaw is hanging.’


                   ‘Gorggnak,’ she finally said after the trumpets sounded the charge. ‘Has father mentioned anything about a House Symmachus?’


                   ‘Not a word,’ Gorggnak said. ‘I could look into it if you wish.’


                   The energy returned to the fort and all were cheering again. Fresh lances in hand, Symmachus and Rosseau kept their heads low as they picked up speed, intending a head-on clash. This was to be a test of stoutness.


                   ‘No,’ Aeda said. ‘A knight has to focus. I’m to ride after this. Focus Aeda, focus!’ She smacked her helmet, sending an echoing ring in her ears.


                   The riders exchanged hits, hard hits. Symmachus flinched, forcing him to dramatically drop his shield. Rosseau kept his shield but the force burst his saddle cinch and the squire tumbled to the ground. All were impressed at the victory but Symmachus didn’t stay to revel. Instead the cadet coolly rode back to the southern camp with his lancebearer in tow.


                   Who is he?


                   ‘Benoit D’Angeac,’ the herald’s voice rang out. ‘Son of Palmerin D-Angeac, Rising Star of Milton. Brien Goldwine, Son of Gerald Goldwine. Triston Cordelier, Son of Uthor Cordelier, the Golden Spur of Cordelier.’


                   Aeda clanked down her visor and breathed.


                  ‘Aeda of House Martellus, Daughter of Ser Albus Martellus. Come forth and prove your valour!’


                   ‘Are you ready, Master Aeda?’ Gorggnak said.


                   ‘I don’t have a choice now, do I?’ she said, shooting him an unconvincing smile under her helmet. She tightened the strap of her shield on more time and put her heels into Certainty and this time, the blasted stallion obeyed. They lined up at the southern end, her lance upright. I am of steel; Martellus steel. I am of steel; Martellus steel. She felt the urge to lift her visor and puke again but she bit her tongue. No, not now. Now is not the time to be afraid. Show courage, like fath-


                   She frowned and shook away the tears.


                   ‘Focus! Focus!’


                   A trumpet sounded.


                   Without doing anything, Certainty advanced with a slow trot. For all his fault, the stallion knew what to do. Better than his rider at least, Aeda rued as she swung her lance over to rest on her shield and brought the point down. She leaned forward, tightening her legs and squinting at her target: a ‘quintain’ armoured in bronzed steel and green finery. The quintain grew larger and larger by the heartbeat.


                   At sixty yards, Aeda finally cradled her lance but that did not stop the wobbling. I am of steel; Martellus steel. I am of steel; Martellus steel. At forty yards, the trot transformed into a gallop, clumps of mud began spraying all over and some flecking against her visor. With twenty yards between them; the mud, the leaden sky, the crowd, the knights, the chevaliers, all faded to no more than the crash of distant waves.


                   At ten yards, Aeda could see her foe all so clearly. The silvered embroidery of his clothes, the masterful barding of his horse, the confidence in his posture… the gruesome coronal coming for her eyes!


                   For a heartbeat, the world seemed so still, like her blood had frozen over. A stab of panic went through her. Look away Aeda, look away! You are no fool, not like father, not a madman like Uncle Mark had warned. Look away!


                   She gritted her teeth and locked her eyes at her foe’s heart. Aim for the heart, Aeda! Aim for the heart!


                   You will embarrass yourself! All he need do is ride past you and you will fall!


                   She closed her eyes before screaming them open. No! I am of steel; Martellus steel. I am of steel; Martellus-


                   In a moment to what seemed to happen all at the same time: Aeda heard a loud crack, a sharp recoil under her shoulder and arm, a sharp pain in her head, bright lights flashing all over and suddenly, silence. When she blinked, Aeda found herself hugging Certainty, the stench of horse assaulting her nose.


                   What happened? She thought, glancing to her side. Big mistake. As soon as she did, her ears rung again and she felt vision slowly slipping away. A loud noise boomed, surely loud enough to kill her or at least, made her want to do the deed herself.


                   She pushed herself up and saw a strange creature, squirming in the mud. A beetle perhaps for it had a hard shell? The creature rose revealing its bronzed and green skin. What’s that? What’s that? What’s… Was that Cordelier?


                   Aeda survived the first joust.



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