D&S: To Be A Knight - Part Twenty-Two

  • The feeling of a brush in her hands was odd to say the least. Each stroke was unlike the movements of a sword, an axe, or even a hammer yet they carried the same beauty to them.


                   Was this how Ser Marcella felt? Aeda wondered. House Calpurnius were famed for their painting. Master of the brush they were, so much so that they could claim the honour of painting a few of House Mede’s personal portraits.


                   Red. It should have more red.


                   Ser Marcella however was different; she painted on steel, not on the easel like her brothers and sisters. This made her the slag of the family… A tale Aeda knew too well. She remembered when she first heard it herself: The blood of Adrianne and she knows not the canvas? A disgrace.


                   Thin the paint Aeda. Too much paint will ruin it.


                   Now the name, the Painted Knight is spoken upon with reverent lips in the Empire. Ser Marcella knew how to match and detail the colours on the metals. For as long as she could remember, Aeda was taught that paints were used by the lesser smith to hide imperfections but Ser Marcella didn’t hide – she enhanced.


                   Careful now, you don’t want to lock the joints, do you?


                   More than a craftsman, Ser Marcella was a knight. No, not just a knight but a true Imperial Knight. She was more than just skilled; she was brave and true. She was dutiful and kind too.


                   Brave? True? Dutiful? Kind? Were these what it meant to be a knight? Aeda wondered.


                   The trumpets wailed long and hard. Already Aeda could feel a spark inside and it felt good. Yet at the same time, her hands trembled like she was to stand against the winter’s breath. She closed her eyes, listening to the crowd roaring like a furnace and their cheers grew louder and more intense by the heartbeat.


                   I can’t believe it, Aeda thought, sucking in a deep gasp of air. That I made it this far. Me, of all people.


                   Father shot her a look and nodded his head.


                   Aeda slipped into her arming doublet, the sweat made the fabric chafe painfully against her skin. Artos and Aran then affixed her greaves, strapping them against her boots. She had the strong urge to swat them away.


                   An Imperial Knight wears his own boots, father always said. An Imperial Knight was a soldier and any soldier worth their steel could wear their own arms and armour. They need not an army of squires unlike some people.


                   Father tightened the belts of her breastplate, adjusting so that they were neither too tight nor too loose. Artos clicked her gorget into place while Aeda held her arm out, balling her hands into fists when Aran were done with the gauntlets.


                   But these people aren’t an army of squires, she thought turned for her helmet. They’re of my blood, my own – my family, House Martellus.


                   ‘The paint is not yet dry,’ father said, holding out helmet and bowing her head.


                   ‘You need not bow, father,’ Aeda said as she took the helm with a bow of her own. The helm smudged in her fingers, revealing the sheen underneath.


                   ‘No, there is no need,’ he said softly. ‘Yet I do. Are you ready, Aeda? Are you truly prepared?’


                   Aeda covered her mouth and thumbed a nostril, breathing in and out. In and out. This anticipation was odd, she felt. Not like the previous jousts, this one felt…. Tense? Excited? She wasn’t quite sure what she felt.


                   A knight must fight with a clear mind, father once taught her. A knight must-


                   Father placed a hand on her shoulder. ‘We are never truly prepared; you will have to make due with what you have,’ he said.


                   ‘The paint is not yet dry!’ Aeda said.


                   Father looked to his hand and smiled. ‘Let’s go, they’re waiting for you,’ he said as he wiped the paint on her face.


                   ‘No fair!’


                   Father winked and held open the tent flap.


                   Outside Certainty waited for her and next to him stood Gorggnak and Mrs. Moorsley. They bowed as Aeda approached.


                   ‘The Nine watch over you, Master Aeda,’ Mrs. Moorsley said. ‘And if they don’t, then I’ll have a word with them!’


                   ‘Remember your training, Master Aeda and all shall be well,’ Gorggnak said, saluting.


                   Aeda returned the salute before squeezing her head into her helm. Gorggnak held onto the reigns as she swung herself over Certainty’s back.


                   Aeda sucked in one final gulp of fresh air before slamming her visor down. Artos gave her a lance whilst Aran fixed on her shield.


                   ‘Ride to the stands,’ father said. ‘Your brothers and I will be waiting for you at the list.’


                   Aeda nodded and dug her heels into Certainty’s sides.


                   ‘Of a bloodline since before the time of House Mede,’ the herald bellowed with all his might.


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


                   ‘Firstborn and First Squire to Sir Reynald de Aquilos, The Young Eagle, and Champion of the Junior Lancers of High Rock.’


                   Was her helmet always this hot?


                   ‘Cedric de Aquilos!’


                   The crowd exploded with chants and cheers. Aeda lifted her visor to spit.


                   She leaned forward and whispered, ‘It’s all up to us now.’ She stroked Certainty’s mane and the stallion snorted. ‘Hang in there, we’re almost done.’


                   ‘In service to the Empire and of the forty-two,’ the herald began.


                   ‘We can do this,’ Aeda said. ‘We can do this.’


                   ‘Firstborn to Ser Albus Martellus.’


                   She suddenly clutched her chest, her heart beating like hammer on metal and she grinned.


                   ‘Aeda Martellus!’


                   Aeda clicked her teeth and rode, head held high. She rode to the cheers of the name ‘Martellus’ and under the orange sun, her scarlet-painted armour burned like fire. Yes, it had smudges and amateur brushwork – it was not as sophisticated as Ser Marcella’s masterpieces but it was Aeda’s.


                   Cedric was already waiting by the stand and there was something different about him. The squire looked as glorious as ever – the clothe of golds and white yet to be stained and Aeda could barely find a scratch on him. Then what was it? What was so different about him?


                   … Wait, his steed. It was the wrong colour, Aeda noticed. Tin grey and not splendid white. Also, did Cedric himself grew bigger? No, it was the horse – it was no courser, it was a destrier! A fresh destrier – not like the fatigued Certainty. Riding next to him, Cedric towered over her – so large was he that he casted a shadow over Certainty. She was to fight that? That’s not fair! That’s not-


                   No, Aeda thought, clenching her jaw. Focus.


                   As the Knight-Command and the Chevalier Grandmaster rose, the fort grew silent.


                   ‘Children of the Empire,’ Ser Dalton began. ‘The day began with great uncertainty for many of the jousters are but untested faces.’


                   ‘But they did not disappoint,’ the grandmaster continued. ‘Squires and cadets – they all rode like the heroes in songs of old. The Gods be kind, that we are not the only ones who may bear witness to this competition.’


                   ‘Fort Istirus! Soldiers and civilians, knights and squires,’ the Knight-Commander said at the same time with the Chevalier Grandmaster. ‘To your knees for it is our honour to present you, Titus Mede, Crown-Prince of the Empire!’


                   Through the whole yard, Aeda could hear the echo of metal on metal and she too saluted as the doors to the keep opened. Marching out was an entourage from Penitus Oculatus, the elite guard to House Mede.


                   Aeda gasped. She had only seen them once, a little over ten years ago. Clad in dark steel armour trimmed with silver and a red cloak draping their backs, the Penitus were the Emperor’s eyes and blades in the dark.


                   The guardsmen dropped to a knee and bowed low as another man; a young handsome princeling emerged from the keep. Hands behind his back, the princeling wore a raiment of Imperial purples and Legion crimson, sown with threads of gold. Of short-cropped hair and strong jawed, the princeling was a spitting image of his father.


                   Why haven’t she noticed this before?


                   The princeling rose to the platform and held up open his arms.


                   ‘Rise all! Rise!’ the Crown-Prince said, voice metallic. ‘There is no need to prostrate yourselves; I am merely the Crown-Prince, not my father the Emperor. I do not deserve such a proper gesture you all of you.’


                   Tiberius really is a prince, Aeda thought. Like from the stories Nan used to tell. For a moment she was glad that her visor was down – her face was as red as her armour.


                   ‘Hail to you; soldiers, citizens, and kinsmen of the Empire,’ the Crown-Prince continued. ‘Hail to you, knights of Tamriel. This tourney has displayed some of the finest jousters the Empire has ever known – the like not seen for generations. I am pleased with your demonstrations of skill and valour, young knights!’




                   ‘And thus, I say this,’ he continued, raising a fist to silence the crowd. ‘To the winner of this joust, to they who prove themselves worthy of champion, I promise you a Prince’s Boon. Whether it be riches or titles, it matters not to me – those are but trivial requests. Go forth champions of the Empire. Go forth and make us proud!’


                   Aeda dipped her lance to the Prince and to the Knight-Commander and Grandmaster. Cedric did the same. They then spun their horses and trotted to their ends of the list.


                   A hundred feet. Cedric was a hundred feet away. So far yet so close that she could also taste the blood. It suddenly grew very loud and very heavy in her helmet.


                   What’s that sound?


                   This will be the first to five. A long, long fight. Aeda checked the weapon racks and saw father and her brothers watching. Father gave her a nod.


                   Focus, she thought. An Imperial Knight keeps their focus! Think not of father, think only of the foe. Think of Cedric. She gritted her teeth. Think of nothing but Cedric. Focus. Focus. Focus…


                   Aeda glared down the range and only saw that golden eagle. Nothing else matters. The orange sun, the liveries, the crowds, the Crown-Prince, her brothers, and even her father were just a blur of greys now. It was just that eagle.


                   Certainty suddenly broke into a slow trot. Aeda didn’t hear the trumpet but her body instinctively lowered itself into a crouch. She raised her shield and swung her lance over, looking down the point.


                   The eagle. The damnable eagle.


                   The beasts shifted into a gallop and the very earth shook. Aeda pressed her heels down, tightened her legs and let her body match the motion of the stallion beneath. Her vision blurred; her helmet was so hot she was sure she was exhaling steam.


                   She gritted her teeth as the eagle dove, talons at the ready. Mud and dirt sprayed back from the heavy hooves of Cedric’s grey and the foul beast bared its large teeth. Aeda brough her point to the centre of the squire’s chest. She then held her breath.


                   As they clashed, Aeda saw the point strike Cedric’s breastplate. She was the iron, its aim true striking the eagle. Yes, she saw it but at the last moment, Cedric raised his shield and her coronal harmlessly slid off to the side. Before her mind could comprehend what happened, she felt her shield recoiling violently, followed by a sharp pain like she had been hit with a hammer.


                   Aeda gasped, tossed aside the unbroken lance and cradled her arm. The shield suddenly grew enormously heavy; like it had somehow transformed from pine to lead. Gritting her teeth, she clenched her fist sending another wave of agony through her body.


                   All the pain faded when Aeda turned around and saw Cedric, a hand raised in triumph. The crowd roared, chanting his house and name.


                   As they made their pass on the return, the two locked eyes on each other. Even behind his visor, Aeda could tell that Cedric was smiling at her. Snail-eating ponce, she thought.


                   ‘You aim low, Aeda,’ father said as he held out a fresh lance for her.


                   ‘Sorry father,’ she said, snatching the weapon. ‘I won’t do that again.’


                   ‘No, that’s good.’


                   Good? Aeda thought, cocking her head.


                   He gave her a knowing look and nodded. ‘You’ll know what to do.’


                   The trumpet sounded and Certainty began at a full gallop. The sudden burst of speed nearly threw Aeda off the saddle.


                   ‘You’re hungry for blood too?’ she said, leaning in to a crouch. ‘Me too!’


                   Steeds aren’t usually ridden for a full gallop at a charge – their speed was gradual to not exhaust the beasts. Exhaustion is something the most experienced and battle-hardened warhorse would face. But not Certainty. No, the beast had somehow found a second wind and charged as if this was the first ride of the day, not the fifth.


                   The wind brushing against her body; Aeda saw for the briefest of moments, shock from the squire.


                   While stunned, Cedric flicked his lance up but Aeda couldn’t raise her shield in time – the damned thing was too heavy. Aeda screamed and raised her weapon in reply. The squire’s lance dug into her breastplate and Martellus steel or no, a blow with the force of a destrier behind it still hurt.


                   Teeth gritted, Aeda thrusted her lance at Cedric and when the squire raised his shield – Aeda using his shield to slide her point up into his head. Her arm jolted by the satisfying recoil and the lance exploded into splinters.


                   Hoo! Hah! Hoo! Hah!


                   Aeda raised a fist in triumph only to wince and clutch her shield arm. She might of have actually broken something. She turned and saw the squire leaned limply on his horse.


                   Drop, she thought as she squeezed her arm. Please, drop!


                   Cedric tossed his broken lance and pushed himself to sit upright. The squire was tough – Aeda would at least give him that.


                   As they made their pass, Aeda could see the dent she made in his helm; right above the eyes by the temple. They exchanged their glares and the squire gave her a dry spit before galloping to his end.




                   Aeda took a deep breath and felt some tightness against her chest. As she did, a surge of pain shot through her arm making her wince. The destrier was not yet at full charge yet it had the force to do this?


                   Certainty spun at the start of the list, snorting as he did. Artos and Aran ran with buckets and father with a fresh lance.


                   ‘A fine hit,’ father said, raising the lance. ‘A mighty fine hit.’


                   ‘Thank you, father,’ Aeda said, taking the lance. Aeda looked to her brothers who occupied themselves with checking Certainty’s harnesses and bridle. The last thing she needed was to fall off her horse because of a faulty saddle.


                   ‘Aeda,’ father said. ‘Are you alright?’


                   Aeda cocked her head. ‘Yes, I am well. Why do you ask?’


                   ‘Then why didn’t you raise your shield?’


                   Aeda’s heart skipped a beat.


                   ‘I was feeling fatigued,’ she said after a silence too long. ‘The day had been long and the fights hard. It was but a lapse in judgement.’


                   Father’s eyes darted to her shield arm before return to her gaze. ‘If you need to withdraw we can-‘


                   ‘No!’ she said, eyes wide. ‘I mean, I can do this father. The score is two to two and I hit him in the head. I can do this.’


                   For a moment father said nothing. ‘Remember, even a clipped eagle still has its talons.’


                   ‘Steel does not yield easy and I am of Martellus steel. Trust me father, I can do this.’


                   Father nodded. ‘Artos, Aran; give your sister some space!’


                   Two to two in a match to five. Perhaps she did have a chance to win – to prove to herself that she could. Perhaps-


                   She winced again as she moved her shield arm. Aeda spat a curse, forcing herself to sit upright. That blow to the shield – just what did it do to her?


                   Trumpets wailed.


                   Aeda clicked her teeth, dug in her heels, and Certainty charged.


                   Her heart pounded, not unlike the rhythm of the hammers and anvils back home.


                   Ting, ting, ting. Ting, ting, ting. Ting, ting, ting.


                   Yes, that was the sound of the workshops where she spent many a day perfecting the Martellus craft. Countless of hours at the anvil, learning proper technique and conditioning.


                   Bathed in orange sunlight, de Aquilos picked up speed, lowering his lance.


                   A clipped eagle still has talons, the words echoed in her mind.


                   Aeda swung her lance over her steed’s head and the very earth trembled underneath the beast’s mighty gallop.


                   Aeda baked under the steel. Why did it feel like she was in a furnace? There was a constant lingering urge to rip off her helmet and be free of it all. She then crouched low, focusing on the squire’s chest. Yes, that was to be her target.


                   She watched the Young Eagle dove at her. She watched as splatters of mud sprayed back of the squire’s destrier and the giant of a horse’s nostrils flaring. Aeda gritted her teeth, her shield arm uselessly clutching the reigns. It was just dead weight now and she will have to take the hit.


                   Aeda held her breath.


                   Aeda aimed her lance at the squire’s chest – a good, reliable target and the squire… disappeared.




                   Cedric weaved his body under her point. Aeda, eyes wide open could only look forward as a fish of iron grew bigger and bigger until-


                   Aeda blinked and the world looked odd. The ground was burning bright orange and the sky – Why did it look so solid? Why-


                   Something warm and wet flowed up her eyes. Aeda wasn’t quite sure what it was but the thing was thick and sticky. She coughed and choked – why was breathing so hard?


                   What’s that? Aeda looked at a strange grey thing bobbing in the distance. What’s that?


                   Aeda gagged and woke up. Feeling returned to her body and the first and only thing she knew was pain. Her shoulders and back felt as like they were torn apart and then welded back together by an apprentice. She couldn’t breath through her nose and with her mouth she tasted blood.


                   The worst part was her head. It felt as if she had been hammered so hard that it was about to burst.




                   Everything started to grow dark.




                   Aeda felt so sleepy. Maybe if she just closed her eyes…




                   Aeda felt for the reigns – yes the lance was still in her hands but the other, her shield arm still held onto to the reigns. She pulled herself forward and hugged Certainty’s neck. The world spun and when she tried to lift her visor, the thing wouldn’t move.


                   ‘Am I dead?’ she gasped.


                   Certainty snorted.


                   ‘My face,’ she said to ringing ears. ‘What happened to my face?’


                   In the distance, the world was beginning to clear. The herald slotted two more flags for de Aquilos.


                   ‘Two to four.’ She licked her lips and tasted the iron. ‘He only needs one more. I’m going to-’


                   None of that. Find your courage, Aeda!


                   Aeda urged Certainty forward, crossing Cedric at the middle but not sparing even a glance at the squire.


                   ‘Bastardborn,’ a voice said.


                   Certainty galloped to the end of the list.


                   ‘Aeda!’ father said, running from the weapon rack. ‘How are you? Speak!’


                   ‘I think,’ she said, weakly pointing at her face. ‘I broke my nose. Yes, I broke my nose. Does it look bad? Does it?’


                   ‘I’m ending this madness,’ father said. ‘Artos, get the flag.’


                   ‘No!’ she said, closing her eyes and taking a deep breathe. ‘No, father, I’m not done yet. I can still do this. I can still fight!’


                   ‘Fight?’ father said, head cocked. ‘You can barely breath, let alone fight. This is no game, Aeda. You could die out there! You could end up like me!’


                   ‘Father…’ Aeda swallowed. ‘Please, let me do this. I have to do this.’


                   Father said nothing.


                   ‘I have come too far,’ she continued. ‘To give up now. Steel does not yield so easily; Ser Marcella did not break and neither did you.’


                   Father looked away, sighing.


                   ‘Please. What knight I am who yields? What a Martellus I am who broke? Please.’


                   ‘Aeda,’ he said, turning to her. Was that a tear in his eye? ‘I don’t want to lose you… but know this: I am very proud of you. Ride well. Ride gloriously. Ride a knight!’


                   Aeda finally wrenched her visor free as father retreated to the racks, his head bowed sullen and low. She blew her nose, splattering blood all over her scarlet armour.


                   Scarlet Knight? She thought. Wouldn’t that be a title.


                   The trumpets called for one last time.


                   Certainty began to move on his own albeit lethargically. Aeda scratched the back of his ears with her shield hand.


                   ‘Almost there,’ she said. ‘Almost there.’


                   She looked to her arm and unbuckled the shield, letting the pine slide off into the ground. There was no need for a shield to defend – now was the time to attack.


                   Breathing through her mouth, Aeda spat and gagged when the blood pooled for too long. At this point, she forced herself to ignore even the bloody drool dripping down her chin. She was too tired for this, too tired to care.


                   But what she did care about was clipping the Eagle’s wings.


                   Aeda dug in her heels and Certainty drove forward. Her head hurt – no, everything hurt and Aeda pushed for everything she had to keep both eyes open.


                   I am a knight.


                   Her body begged and pleaded for her to stop. Her lungs burned fire and her head was about to burst into pieces. Her arms and legs threatened to fall apart.


                   I am a knight. I am a knight.


                   Cedric was no more than twenty yards away and he rode with pride. His grey shot through like it was loosed from a ballista and the squire’s point at targeting at her chest.


                   Let him come.


                   I am a knight. I am a knight. I am a knight!


                   Aeda stood up on her stirrup, eyes wide and lance raised. She could feel Cedric’s lance striking and bending against her breastplate. Certainty bugled and reared; the stallion himself was going to fall over from such a terrible blow.


                   I am a knight! Aeda gritted her teeth. No, I am more than a knight. I am-


                   ‘Martellus!’ she roared as she drove her lance into the squire’s chest right below the neck. Her lance snapped brilliantly, the recoil not only sending the squire flying but also knocking Aeda off her feet.


                   She landed with a bruising thud that jarred her to the bone. The pain now overwhelmed her that she could not move. For a few heartbeats, all she could do was stare into… she wasn’t quite sure what she was staring at. She tasted something in her mouth and it wasn’t just blood. Mud and grass?


                   She found the strength to push herself over, sprawling on her back. Her face throbbed and felt warm and cold at the same time. In the distance, she saw a squire, he himself covered in mud with two distinct dents; one on his helmet and the other on his breastplate.


                   She did that. She was the only person who managed to hit him.


                   The squire removed his helmet, raising a fist to the wild cheers of all.


                   Cedric won. The Young Eagle had bested her and proven himself worthy of Champion.


                   Aeda leaned her head back and laughed.



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