Chapter Six Trouble is Doubled.
The refectory was quiet as the students sat studying in the flickering light of the candles that were scattered about.
“I don’t think my back is ever going to forgive me.” Claude Bonnyface moaned as he stretched.
“Well perhaps it will teach you to dodge the mace as is swings round.” Samantha Dela Cruz said with a laugh.
The students had been combat training on a strange shield and mace affair. On an armature at one end was a ball mace on a chain and at the other a kite shaped shield. If you hit the shield hard enough the whole thing pivots swinging the ball and chain at you. The whole set up was to teach you to strike hard and then either dodge out of the way of the ball mace or block it with your own shield as it swung round. Even though the ball wasn’t made up of anything dangerous it still hurt and bruised you.
“Like you you mean, why you hardly got it to move at all.” Bonnyface replied.
Gregory Lutz looked up and made a noise like hot fat on a griddle iron.
“Belt up you two I’m trying to understand Bays law. I think I understand it but then it slips away.” He said.
“It isn’t easy because of the language being used but basically it stops duels being held till two eight days have elapsed.” Said a new voice from the doorway.
“Oh look who it is, it’s teachers pet.” De Anjou said snidely. “Have you come to spy on us for him?”
“Shut up Pierre. If you haven’t anything sensible to say then say nothing at all.” Aziz got up and walked over to the newcomer. “Well met Tomas, Sir Alexander said you’d be joining us from now on. Have you had anything to eat?”
Tomas shook his head.
“We’ve some of the honeyed porridge left your welcome to that.” Samantha told him swinging a crock pot back over the fire. “I’ll warm it up for you.”
Vicktor Maxwell Hamm was as undecided as Gregory as to whether Tomas joining them was good news or not. But at least the two young men were not as publicly hostile as Pierre De Anjou.
It wasn’t long before Tomas was sat at the wooden table eating his red hot porridge while helping Gregory with his law.
“How come you’re with us now Tomas, after all it is quite a step from being a page to being a Paladin elect?” Samantha asked gently.
“Especially a farm boy.” Pierre muttered under his breath. “He should be cleaning out the pigsty not stinking us out with his low presence.”
“Because I say he should be.” Alexander boomed from the doorway. “I won’t have favouritism or pulling rank here do I make myself clear, well do I.”
They all replied in the affirmative though Pierre’s reply was less than fulsome.
“I have had one of the Brothers go and collect some things for you Tomas, they are on your bed.”
“Thank you my lord.” Tomas piped.
With a nod the knight left the room.
“Pierre, Tomas has got something you will never have.” Samantha turned to face the boy.
“And what is that shemale?” Pierre grinned cruelly as he swept the floor.
Samantha ignored the slight and replied calmly.
“A good heart unlike your black one. He will be here long after you have gone.”
Samantha had had to put up with a little gentle leg pulling over her slight frame, her boyish physique, but De Anjou took it to another level using it as a verbal weapon.
“Ignore him Samantha your doing fine.” Bonnyface said.
“Oh your hoping to get your leg over are you big man, well you’d have better luck if you where with a girl. You’ll have to tell us what its like screwing a boy.”
Bonnyface was across the intervening space in a moment but in his rage he had misjudged his move. Pierre swung the handle of the broom straight into the big youth’s stomach knocking the wind out of his body.
“That’ll teach you a lesson for trying to ape your betters.”
Tomas with ice cold nerves confronted the boy.
“Do you really think you can defeat me?” He asked.
“I would snap your spine, arse wipe.” He brandished the handle under Tomas’s nose as the others dealt with the still suffering Bonnyface.
Tomas moved swiftly, his hands a blur as he wrenched the handle from Pierre’s hand and used the broom to sweep the boy off his feet.
Tomas put the handle against De Anjou’s chest forcing him back onto the floor.
“If you threaten my friends you threaten me, and I won’t like that.” His eyes were like cold blue chips of ice.
Moving with a economy of movement he replaced the broom.
“Could someone show me where I will be sleeping please?” He asked.
“Come on I’ll show you.” Samantha volunteered.
The dormitory was only down a short corridor from the refectory and was quite an austere room regardless of the attempts to cheer it up with throw rugs and tapestries on the walls.
It was a long wide corridor affair with its own wash rooms and toilet, a hole in a plank over the cesspit, and twelve beds, six each side in cell like enclosures.
Tomas’s clothes were on the last on the right.
“You’ll be alright with this one.” Samantha said. “It’s next to Bonnyface’s and the furthest from Pierre. The only problem is that Bonnyface snores like a pig.”
“I heard that!” Came an outraged yell. “I don’t snore I’m just a natural heavy breather.”
“If you believe that you’ll believe anything.” Samantha joked.
“Where do you sleep, not with us surely?” Tomas said incredulously.
“No I sleep next door with the novice nuns in a cold draughty cell.” She shivered at the thought of it. “Which reminds me it’s getting late. Goodnight gentlemen I will see you in the morning.”
“Not if we see you first.” Vicktor called after her.
Soon all the boys had settled down in their beds all of them wondering what the next day would bring.
In the early hours of the morning Brother Patrik lead a group of monks into the small chapel for Quiet Time prayers. The men’s plain song quietly filling the air with a feeling of utter peace.
Much to Patrik’s surprise there was already someone there in the position of prayer.
Tomas was on his knees resting against the pew his breathing low and gentle.
Patrik with a slight frown on his face crossed over to the boy only to find him fast asleep. The monk rested his hand on the boys shoulder but it did not rouse him.
With a gentle smile he put his other hand on his head and silently gave him a blessing.
The monks coming to the end of their sung liturgy and filed out, each one touching gently the sleeping boys head.
Patrik made the sign of the living Ankh over Tomas’s head.
There was a grating sound like stone moving against stone. Patrik looked up into the sad gentle eyes of an angel, an angel with four faces. The head floated above the torso, slowly rotating so each face could look down on the monk and the boy.
“Hello Holy One how can this poor mortal help you?” Patrik seemed unafraid if anything he seemed proud to be chosen to see this change.
“Be at ease my good brother.” The female voice was warm and calm.
The visitor was standing in an alcove where an angel statue once stood.
“This day evil has crossed over into the land of men, we felt its passing. It is weak at the moment but will gain in strength if unchecked.
Do you still worry about the girl?”
“Yes Holy One. She seems so sincere but so vulnerable. Must she be so used in this venture?”
“Her choosing was not of our doing, but I fear both her and her brother have a large part to play in this. The evil that is aboard the land will attempt to strike at them so keep them close.” The Angel crossed over to Tomas. “He is involved in something much larger than all this but we are not privy to see through the misty veil of time.”
“Is their naught you can tell me Holy One for it is like fighting in the dark. You are more likely to hit a friend than a foe.”
“He will be given the ability to defend himself but his sister is beyond our reach. We will increase their rate of maturity in preparation. Soon Sophia will be the centre of attention and you will need to carefully weed out those who mask harm behind a friendly smile.” The Angels presence faded leaving the smell of spring flowers in the air and the statue reappeared in the alcove.
Tomas moaned as he awoke from his deep sleep to find the Brother standing over him.
“Come young Tomas time you was back in your bed.” He helped the lad up. “Now what are you doing here at this time of night lad.”
“I came to thank Our Lady for my bounty and ask her to look after Sophia but to my shame I fell asleep.” Tomas looked down at his feet in shame.
“There is no shame in that boy. I’ve done worse, I once fell asleep during one of the Abbot’s sermons to be woken up by my own snore. I think Our Lady will forgive us those indiscretions for she knows what is in our hearts.”
As they exited the chapel Patrik gave a slight nod to the statue and for a split second it looked like it nodded back.
After they had broken their nightly fast Alexander came for them and took them to the stables.
“Every Knight has to have a complete understanding of his charger. The horse has to become part of him.” Alexander opened the stables allowing the horses to enter the paddock.
He then crossed to the gate that let the youngsters in.
“You come in quietly and stand were I tell you.”
The youngsters nervously obeyed and were soon spread out around the perimeter.
“You will each in turn call to the horses. Do not be alarmed if more than one horse comes to you only one will stay.” Alexander told them.
“We don’t pick a horse then my Lord?” Vicktor asked a little confused.
“No, they will pick you. Are you all ready?” The children nodded.
“Samantha call for you horse.”
“What do I say my Lord?” Samantha asked nervously.
“What your heart tells you.”
Samantha licked her dry lips before calling out in a clear carrying voice.
“I have need of a friend to carry me and to battle the evil in our land, could that friend be you?”
Three horses broke away from the tight huddle in the centre of the paddock. The three walked nearer to her their heads tossing their nostrils twitching.
Samantha called again.
“I would be proud to have any of you as my companion.” She started as a hot breath blew down her neck. She turned to see the adoring eye of a powerful pony staring back at her.
As she put her arms around the ponies neck the other three nodded and walked away.
Though she couldn’t say why, she had a great compulsion to name the horse.
“I name you Swift Sure and hope your hooves are as certain on our rocky road ahead.”
The horse whickered before standing quietly beside her as if to say where else would I stand.
Aziz called out in his own tongue first before adding in the common tongue.
“I am in your debt if you see me worthy.”
A small rugged pony trotted forward and stopped in front of the little man before extending its leg in a deep bow. Aziz laughed and gave a deep bow of his own.
“Stand my friend the honour is mine. I will be honoured to be carried on your back Lightning Strike.”
Bonnyface called and then cheered with laughter as the powerful Quarter Horse came over and licked his face.
Gregory’s Horse was a beautiful Palomino whilst Victors was a Chestnut Gelding.
Tomas’s was a beautiful golden Arab stallion.
Last of all was Pierre’s black fiery sixteen hander which he called melodramatically Nightmare.
“For the rest of the morning you will get to know your charges. Brother Julian and Sir Justin will teach you horse husbandry before I take you out for a ride this afternoon.” Alexander waved to the two men to take over.
Inside the Abbey Sophia was in discussion with the Abbott over the liturgy, stunning the old man with her perfect diction and deep knowledge.
“And what of the tale of the boys who’s father gave them talents?” He asked.
“Holy Father the tale tells of one boy who buried his talents under the ground to keep them safe whilst the other spent his talents. When it came time to return to their father to display their talents the first had his in full measure and felt sure of his fathers praise the other had a tale to tell of how he nearly lost almost all, but his new good friends helped him double the amount of talents he had.
The father instead of praising the frugal one, he praised the other for he had not only lived life, feeling its ups and downs, but also helped others who then came to his aid when needed.” She paused knowing that this wasn’t the answer the old man expected. “I think the Frugal one got it wrong. It is better to have lived and lost than to have never lived at all. If you have a talent however small it is a sin to keep it to yourself.”
The Abbott leant forward and studied the girl.
“Wise words for one so young. But you could well be right. I have often wondered over that story myself.” He smiled.
“Holy Father why do we have to learn so much history just to do God’s will, and love and help each other.”
“Alas it is more complicated than that child. The monks and nuns here dedicate them selves to our Lord and living a frugal life try to be close to him. We don’t so much lock ourselves away from the world as watch it one step removed.”
Sophia sipped at her glass of cold water thoughtfully.
“Dear Abbott I hear Our Lady in my head telling me what to do, what to say. Why don’t other people, the nuns and monks, hear her? Why did she chose me?”
“I don’t know child. Perhaps it is to tell us we a wrong to ignore the old testaments, the Coptic Gospels, or as I believe the chance for Her to guide us.” The Abbott rubbed his stomach absentmindedly enjoying the sensation of having no pain. “The problem is what to do with you my girl. If you are able to hear Our Lady, and I believe you can, what will be your route through life. There are some that wish you harm girl because of this gift, and it is our job to make sure that you are kept safe.”
The pair of them stayed silent for awhile before resuming the lesson in the Roma tongue.
Tomas was a fast learner and was soon comfortable in the saddle unlike Bonnyface who was dumped unceremoniously on the ground twice before gaining the saddle much to everyone’s amusement.
The ride with Sir Alexander was uneventful for the most part, it was the return to the Abbey when there was trouble.
They were walking their horses carefully through the market when they spied Sophia and Brother Patrik in the crowd.
The blacksmith was presenting something to the girl but Tomas couldn’t see what.
Sophia thanked him. His wife, the carpenter, whilst other traders held up large cloths to protect her modesty, helped her into the clothes.
When they took away the cloths Sophia was revealed in a shinning set of armour over which was a pale green belted robe.
Sophia kissed the cheeks of both of the artisans before calling out to the gathering crowd.
“Gentle people through the good offices of our blacksmith and his wife I am caparisoned for war, but know this, I will fight on your behalf and not for any personal gain.” She shook her head as if in discomfort for a moment but it soon passed. “Our knights leave in two days time to deal with an incursion by the jackal faced Gnolls and I will go with them.”
“Why do you listen to this child!” Yelled a scruffy looking man from the back of the crowed. “She should be tried as a witch. She beguiles you with her honeyed words.”
“Go back to your ale you drunken sot.” A market trader yelled back.
Both Patrik and Alexander could feel the shift in the crowds mood and swiftly reached the girls side.
“The Knight and the Monk knows the truth of my words see how quickly they come to her side to protect us.” The mans voice was a sneer.
“Yes why hasn’t she been examined, have you done so my Lord Alexander?” A respectable widow asked.
“Leave her alone can’t you see that you are frightening her.” Young Bernard De Anjou came and stood before her his hand on his sword. “Do you think that my father would even consider our union if she was a witch.”
Sophia raised her right hand and called for silence. She stood a moment before speaking.
“A claim has been made against me, a claim that I have no knowledge of how to refute. How shall I prove the truth of the matter?”
The crowd mumbled unsure how to proceed.
It was Father Pierre who spoke next.
“Ladies and Gentlemen you all know me and know I have dealt with several witches. You know how diligent I am. Will you allow me to examine the girl?” Elizabeth looked at him in stunned horror.
“Hurry up and get it done Father before the wedding contracts are signed.” De Anjou bellowed.
The crowd with some reluctance agreed.
“I as a representative of the Abbey I will be present as will Sir Alexander during the examination.” Patrik stomach fell.
He’d been out manoeuvred by the cleric and it didn’t sit well with him.
He managed to hear a snippet of conversation between Pierre and Elizabeth that only served to confuse him more.
“Elizabeth darling there is nothing to fear it is just a matter of form nothing more. Sophia will come through unscathed and more assured than before.” He patted her hand reassuringly.
“Do not be afraid on my behalf good people, but instead face it bravely as I do, knowing that Our Lady will protect me from harm.” Sophia spoke with calm reassurance. “I can not be examined until I return from the battle with the Gnolls, if Our Lady deems that I should survive. But when I return I will submit myself willingly to being examined.”
Unseen the dissenter walked away chuckling to himself his face softening into a female visage. She paused to look at the crumpled body that lay dead by the side of the road a bottle of spirit still clutched in his hand.
Soon other dissenting voices were heard as the devil poured its poison into their ears.
Later Sophia was alone in a nuns cell in some distress.
“My Lady.” She called. “Please don’t talk so loud I can’t hear you properly. Slow down please? Please.”
She looked down at the little fruit knife in her hand and drew it across her arm drawing a thin rivulet of blood.
The pain seemed to calm her, and made the voice in her head quieten. She watched as the cut healed itself filling her with healing warmth and she smiled.
Two days later in the court yard of the Abbey a group of twenty men at arms, four healers and four knights were drawn up in front of Alexander as he sat on his beautiful grey mare.
All eyes turned to the short slight figure than came out of the abbey’s side door. It was Sophia caparisoned for war. Her armour shone brightly in the early morning light, her ball mace in a holster affair at her hip.
She crossed to the men and women that made up the foot soldiers. As each bowed their head she blessed them.
“Be at peace Our Lady is with you.” She said.
As blessing go it was hardly spectacular and yet those that received it appeared to stand taller, straighter somehow.
The four knights came forward and went on one knee before her.
“Our Lady blesses you and hears your stout hearts.”
The four monks went on bended knee their hands together in prayer.
“Blessed are the healers, the carers of the injured and the sick. May your work load be light.”
Alexander dismounted from his horse feeling awkward about what he had seen and what was to come. Sophia smiled up at him and rested her little hand on the bicep of his sword arm.
“There is no need for words between us. Both I and Our Lady know of the goodness in your heart.” Her smile deepened. “Shall we start this venture my Lord.”
With that she crossed to her rugged pony. The little horse extended a leg as if in a bow allowing her to mount.
Tomas, who had been watching, crossed over and gave his sister a kiss.
“Come home safe.” He said simply.
“I will try brother. You will be with me.” She then looked up and addressed them all. “Good people of Prey know this, when you are at your most oppressed, I will be there. When your courage falters, I will be there. Look to me when battle is joined and draw strength knowing Our Lady is with you.”
She turned to Alexander.
“We are yours to command my Lord.”
“Move out in protective formation, our Lady Sophia beside me. Sir Julian scout ahead.”
With that they left the safety of the Abbey passed a waiting crowd of villagers. Many she could recognise like the Blacksmith and Carpenter whereas others she had only a nodding relationship to. Finally there was her mother being supported by Father Pierre as she waved at her daughter with tears in her eyes.
Sophia looked darkly at the man a moment before grimacing at the loud voice in her head. She rubbed her temple as she gave her mother a reassuring smile.
And then they were gone.