2: The Knight
The sky was dark, and the rain fell heavily. The sand of the melee grounds had turned to mud. Issic held his shield up to his chin as he circled his opponent. The rain trickled off his armor, and Issic was soaked from his head to his toes. Water dripped in through the eye holes of his helm and made hard for him to see. Frustrated, he cast off his helm and threw it to the ground.
Issic Frennit’s opponent was a renowned warrior. His name was Sir Morris Landerly. Sir Morris was tall and powerful. He had taken to fighting in tourneys after he retired from the Kings army. He was captain of the vanguard for many years, but his time had passed. None the less, his old age, did not seem to matter when he fought. His wins were beyond count, and he had only lost twice in the past five years.
The roar and cheers of the crowd exploded as Sir Morris launched another attack at Issic. Both men wore breast plates over a chain mail shirt with a sword and shield.
Morris swung his sword right, and Issic met it with his. Left, right left, both men blocked each other’s assaults flawlessly. Issic stepped back and raised his sword high and brought it down at Morris with unrelenting force. Morris caught the blow with his sword, but the force had sunk Morris to one knee as Issic pushed down his sword into Morris’s.
Sir Morris had strength on his side and pushed to his feet. He slid his sword free and bashed Issic across the face with his shield. The blow dazed Issic for a moment, leaving him exposed. Sir Morris threw away his shield and lunged at Issic. Morris jumped in the air and brought his boot down into Issic’s shoulder sending him toppling to the muddy ground.
The crowd jumped to their feet and roared with cheers. The sounds of the crowd were so loud that nobody heard Issic’s screams of pain. “No. I will not go down like this.” Issic told himself.
Sir Morris was basking in his triumph with his back turned to Issic.
“Morris!” shouted Issic as he struggled to his feet leaning on his sword and dropped it once he got to his feet.
Sir Morris twisted around to have a look as Issic broke into an unarmed dash and crashed into Morris. The force sent both of them crashing to the ground. Issic had Morris locked under him and smashed him in the face with a metal fist. Morris’s nose and mouth bled, but his fire was far from out.
As Issic swung a hard right fist, Morris caught the attack in his hand and smashed his head into Issic’s and then rolled him over. The rain fell in Issic’s eyes in his struggle to deflect blow after blow from Morris’s iron fists.
Issic’s broken shoulder was throbbing, and he could not lift his arm anymore. The pain left him overly exposed. Morris smashed Issic with a powerful right fist that left Issic dazed. Sir Morris roared and bashed his fist into Issic’s throbbing shoulder. Issic shrieked and coughed up a bit of blood. Morris raised his fist again and sent it crashing into Issic’s temple. A horn blew, and the crowd cheered and cheered. The fight was over.
The world seemed to grow darker. Issic only remembered a shadow looming on top of him. The weight of the shadow was crushing him. The cheers and roars of the crowd seemed to echo and fade in his ears. The blood and rain blurred his vision until darkness took him.
Issic woke just long enough to realize that he was lying in his feather bed at home. The pressure in his head throbbed and gave him a migraine. He passed out again into a restless sleep.
Issic was a young man of sixteen. He was six feet tall with a gallant face and body. His hair was dusty brown, close cropped and thick. He had bright blue eyes with a hint of silver, and his skin is lightly tanned. Issic had always been as comely as he was fair. However, his fight with Sir Morris Landerly left him with a broken nose and a swollen face. His forehead and cheeks were purple wrinkled with red and blue from the swelling. The medic had bandaged his arm and put in a shoulder-sleeve, to keep the pressure off his fractured shoulder.
He had slept a full day before he woke up again. Slowly, Issic sat up, but the world around him began to spin. He took deep breaths to try to focus on not passing out again. Slowly, the room around him stopped spinning.
“My lad!” Issic did not notice his father, Ennic, sitting in a chair in the corner of the room. Ennic pulled his chair closer to his son’s bedside. “You had us all worried, boy. I’m glad to see you’re awake. I left a cup of fresh water on your night table.”
Ennic was a rather large man with thick arms and a long bushy beard. He served as one of the captains of the King’s army. His service granted him knighthood when he was but only nineteen. The king had given him a house and income in the castle keep with the other lords of the city.
“How long have I been out?” Issic asked as he took a sip from the cup of water. “Ah… It hurts just to drink.” He coughed.
“About three days now. The medic said that you shouldn’t push yourself too much.”
“I’m fine.” Issic insisted. He pulled the covers aside and got to his feet. Immediately, his head began to spin. He fell back onto the bed out of breath.
Ennic jumped to his feet to catch his son. “Whoa! You need to slow down.”
A sudden frustration flashed through Issic’s eyes. “No! I need to get out of bed and join my brothers on the training field.” he said with a weak angry voice. “I can’t lose again!”
“Enough, boy.” Ennic said in a comforting tone as he sat back down. “This was your first Tourney. You won second place in the melee, and you are only still a young lad. You show promise in combat, and I couldn’t be prouder to call you my son.” he smiled and laughed joyfully. His beard seemed to bounce as he laughed. Issic had always found it amusing.
With disappointment looming in his mind, Issic turned over onto his side and closed his eyes. His father did not say another word. He stood up and carefully placed the chair back in the corner, then silently took leave of the room.
Sleeping, Issic dreamed about the mother that he never met. He always pictured her as a tall and fit woman with long brown hair and the same blue eyes that he had. His father would never speak of her. Issic’s uncle had told him the story about his mother and father.
A few years after Issic’s father was granted a house and lordship, he had started bedding whores and common girls. The income was good, and he had nothing do with his time but train and bed woman. Months later, his father heard a knock at his door. When Ennic opened the door, he looked down and saw baby Issic bundled up in a basket with a note beside him.
“He’s yours. Deal with him.” it read.
There was no name on the note. Ennic took in and kept the baby with love and care. Still to this day Ennic never spoke of Issic’s mother.
Issic woke the next day feeling a bit better. He still had a headache, but at least his mind was not spinning. He got out of bed slowly and opened the shutters and sat in his window seat. The sky was blue, and the sunlight poured in through the window hole. The castle keep stood on top of a small hill that overlooked the city. Most of the city is made of granite stone with flat roofs that shined bright white in the sun. From where Issic stood he could see all of the city’s magnificence and the valley river beyond in the distance. Just below his window was the keep’s garden. The colors and smell were enchanting, and the sound of the running fountain in the center of the garden could calm even the most troubled of minds.
His arm was still bound and healing. Issic called out for his father, but he got no reply. Moments later a knock came at the door of his room. Issic walked over to the door and opened it. A young woman named Anbel in a rough-spun dress of tattered grey stood in the doorway with her head bowed. She had the darkest eyes that matched her hair. She was one of the household maids his father had hired. “Apologies, my lord, I overheard you calling for Lord Ennic.” she stated with her eyes fixed on the ground.
“Aye, where is he?” he asked, flushed with confusion.
“The king sent his summons. Your father will attend court along with the other high lords. It is a matter of some importance. That is all I know.” she sounded disappointed.
“Very well, I will seek him out after court dismisses. In the mean-time, I think I will take a stroll outside, but first, fetch some hot water and fill the bath.” he commanded.
“Yes, my lord.” Anbel replied still looking at the ground.
Before she could turn and go, Issic cupped a hand under her chin and lifted her head. “There, that’s better. I have told you many times you don’t have to stare at the ground when you are speaking to Me.” he smiled.
“Yes, my lord.” she said, staring into his eyes. Then she quickly retreated to fetch the hot water.
When the bath was prepared, Issic made his way to the bathroom and stripped down naked and sat in the marble bath. He kept his right arm up and out of the water to keep the bandages dry. The heat felt good against his skin, and the steam that filled the room cleared his airways.
When he finished up with his bath, he walked back to his room to get dressed. His clothes were already laid out on his bed for him. He wore a black velvet coat trimmed with gold over his robes with a warm pair of cotton pants. Issic felt clean. Somehow being clean and not smelling so bad made his headache almost disappear.
His walk through town was pleasant. When he stepped out into the fresh air, Issic felt rejuvenated. The warmth of the sunlight calmed his mind and the throbbing seemed to disappear. He stood in the garden for a while taking in the sun. The scent of flowers and bushes were captivating. He could hear the sounds of children playing near the fountain and the birds chirping in the trees around him; Yet even in the garden the sounds of the city below could be heard. Issic walked out of the castle keep through the portcullis. When he reached the bottom of the hill, he decided to follow the path that arched to the right. Many people acknowledged Issic as he made his way through the white stone streets. Some men nodded their heads and said “my lord.” While some shook his hand and congratulated on his first melee. Women gathered up their skirts and curtsied. It was mid-afternoon when Issic reached the market row on the far side of the city. The sounds and smells were beyond counting. Bakers and grocers cooked, baked and boiled. Traders and traveling merchants shouted their wares, and many of them offered him gifts. He refused them all telling them to save their wares for people in need.
As he was making his way through the eastern streets on his way back to the keep, women flaunted themselves, but he just ignored them. Even a man-whore tried to lure him into a brothel without success. Brothels and every temptation imaginable could be found on the eastern side of the city, yet, Issic would not make his father’s shame his own.
Issic stopped at the fork near the bot-tom of the hill that led back up to the keep. In the middle of the crossroad stood a large statue of Melingra the divine, who was the goddess of all living things. It is said that she was able to change into any creature imaginable. The ones that claim to have seen her in human form say that she was the most beautiful person they had ever seen. They said she was nearly eight feet tall. She wore a pearl white gown that always seemed to glow. Her eyes were a light green and her hair was a radiant golden-blonde that only complemented her eyes all the more.
Issic sat down on a bench staring the white marble statue of Melingra. Dusk was settling about him as he got lost in thoughts of his fight with Sir Morris. He reflected on his mistakes and what he could have done different to change the outcome.
Night had settled when Issic had got back home. He found his father sitting in the same chair as the day Issic had woken from his injuries.
“Come here, boy.” Ennic’s voice sounded grim.
Issic did not say a word. He walked over to the window seat and sat down.
“We have received reports from Hollow Reach to the north. Farmers say there fields were scorched along with some of the store-houses and homes were burnt to the ground. Herds have disappeared. Some men also claimed to have heard thundering screams in the sky. Then the grown lit up in purple flames.” Ennic said in distress.
Issic’s face became grim, as well. “Who could have done this?”
“The court believes that the sages have come over the western mountains, to terrorize our lands with their magic.”
“…and what do you believe father?” asked Issic.
Ennic stirred in his seat and leaned on his chin. “I don’t know…” he said, lost in thought.
Issic did not want to say it, but he knew. “Dragon…” he thought. He knew the idea sounded unlikely ever since leg-end dictates they were extinct. He could understand the courts point of view. They did not want to, overly, upset the realm with thoughts such as dragons. Sages seemed the logical explanation.
The sages of the western lands were capable of creating storms of green fire but never purple. They were banished from the Green Valley for the crimes of witchcraft and slaughter. It would not have been the first time they rebelled against the Valley.
“I must leave with on the morrow with a small host of men to investigate the attacks at Hollow-Reach.” declared Ennic.
Issic sprung to his feet. “I will go with you, father! I can be your squire.”
His father frowned. “Son, I do not doubt that you are ready for this quest, nor do I doubt your skill in battle, but I cannot allow you to come in your condition. You must stay here to recover your strength and watch the house.” Ennic got up and laid a hand on his son’s good shoulder. “Alright? Get better and resuming your training.”
Issic’s father was not one to disobey. “Very well, father.” said Issic reluctantly.
Ennic smiled. “We’ll talk when I re-turn.” he gave his son a quick pat on the shoulder then left to begin his preparations.
Disappointed, Issic sat back down on the window seat cursing his arm as a jolt of throbbing pain ran through it. When the pain subsided he turned his head and peered out the windows the night city below.
Days passed since his father had left and Issic continued to curse his arm. He spent his days reading or walking in the city. It seemed to take forever for his arm to heal.
His father had been gone for nearly a fortnight now, and Issic had still not received any word of what was going on around Hollow Reach. The lack of news made him feel a little uneasy.
When the day came for his bandages to be taken off, Issic was relieved. The swelling his face had washed away and looked like new, but his arm had grown weak from his injury. The next day, he returned to join his brothers on the training grounds.
The training grounds can be found just inside the castle keep walls on a large field of dirt. On one side, archers practiced shooting arrows into bundles of hay, and on the other side, swordsmen were sparring together, and others beat the training dummies. At the far end of the training grounds, men practiced mounted combat.
The sounds of steel on steel, arrows whistling, horse hooves thumping the ground and the shouts of the master-at-arms filled the air. Issic entered the armory and put on a leather jerkin over a chainmail shirt. He chose a blunted short-sword and shield, and then, he made his way to the training grounds to practice his form while beating on a dummy. The dummy was made of hardened wood. It is essentially a cross shaped to resemble the outline of a human. Issic’s hacks and slashes did little effect on the dummy. The swords blunted edges were never made to be lethal. The blunted weapons made the training equipment great for practicing, whether one wants to whack a dummy or spar with another student.
After a half-hour of practicing his form with the dummy, Issic began to get tired. Suet trickled off his face, and his right shoulder began to throb again. It had been weeks before Issic was permitted to resume training and his absence started to take its toll, but Issic did not give up.
“Issic!” he heard his Master-at-arms call.
Issic took one final hard swing at the dummy then turned to face his master-at-arms with suet dripping from his chin. Issic was panting with exhaustion. “Aye, Sir Hendrel.” he replied.
Sir Hendrel was a nimble older man. He was only an inch or so shorter than Issic, yet the man’s strength was unnatural. He was dark skinned and had wispy grey hair on his head. Above all, Sir Hendrel was ripped and had arms with bulging veins. He served in the King’s army for thirty-five years before becoming Master-at-arms. As honorable as he was, Hendrel had a short temper. It was not uncommon to see recruit beaten bloody for disobey-ing him or being lazy. Some recruits had taken to calling him Master-of-discipline. “Attend boy!” he shouted as though he thought Issic was deaf.
Issic jogged over to Hendrel. “Aye sir, what would you have of me?” he stood waiting for instruction.
Hendrel gave Issic a wry smirk. “How does my lord’s arm feel today?” He never liked Issic. The idea of a bastard born child rising so high annoyed him greatly. The common people loved Issic fiercely, which only annoyed Hendrel more. “You seem a little worn out this morning. I think I’ll have you coach the recruits today.” He laughed.
Issic’s mouth tightened.
Hendrel smirked again. “Choose your next words carefully, boy.” he said in his raspy voice. “Don’t think that because your arm is recovering means you’ll be getting any special treatment.”
Issic did not say a word; he only sheathed his sword. He turned towards the new recruits and walked over to them, his heart pounding with frustration.
Hendrel shouted after him. “Good my lord, it saves me the trouble of beating you bloody.” he taunted. Issic ignored it.
The new recruits were sparring with each other not far from where Issic had been beating his dummy. They were standing in a line paired with another recruit. Their swords swung left and right, “Sloppy.” Issic thought as he stood among them. Their form was way off; their swings were too heavy and unbalanced. They were all young, about twelve to fourteen, except for one boy who looked to be about twenty. He was taller than Issic and blocky. He had a shaved head with an angry face.
As Issic was coaching them, the oldest boy seemed to grow aggressive with his partner. His assaults were pressing and unorganized. His partner kept his shield up as the aggressive boy kept on him, pounding and pounding the shield until the shield slipped his partners hands. The next blow caught the younger boy full in the face sending him crashing to the ground with blood gushing from his nose.
“What is the meaning of this!?” shouted Issic as he shoved the recruits aside to get to the older boy. He grabbed the older boy by the shoulder and swung him around.
The older boy pushed Issic’s hand away and then shoved him back. “I do not need instruction from a pup!”
Issic staggered back and then regained his balance. He smiled coolly. “What is your name, my friend?”
“My name is Botley. What’s it to you?” he replied dryly.
“Well, Botley, you must be a true warrior if you do not need my instruction, a demonstration perhaps?” Issic shouted out to the recruits as he drew his sword.
Botley hesitated, but just as he was about to charge Issic like a bull, a horn blew. AAAoooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuu! Botley stopped in his tracks. Issic and the recruits gazed around to find the source. The horn blew again. AAAooooouuuuuuuuu! Then, a man shouted from atop the keeps ramparts. “Open the gates!”
Issic caught a glimpse of the men that filled the courtyard as they filed in through the gate. He turned back to Bot-ley and sheathed his sword. “Excuse me my friend, we shall revisit your remark another time.” he turned away and ran to the courtyard to meet the riders.
The courtyard was made of polished stone. It is a large square pavilion that lay in front of the main entrance to the castle.
As Issic entered the courtyard, he took notice of the number of riders. “Is this all that is left? So few have returned.” He asked the nearest rider.
The rider made a grim face and did not answer. Some of the riders stared at Issic, but when their eyes met, the riders turned their gazes elsewhere. Issic looked about the riders. He could not find his father. His body jumped with nerves. “Where is my father?” he shouted, but the riders kept their silence. At that moment, Sir Hurst a tall, gallant and slender man dismounted from his horse. The man walked over to Issic holding a bundle. He handed the bundle to Issic and watched him unwrap it. Inside the cloth was his father’s sword. Issic’s eyes met the man’s. “I’m sorry.” said Sir Hurst.
The world around Issic seemed to slow down and become gloomy. He opened his mouth as though to speak, but he got cut off when the doors to the castle burst open and there stood king Holtz. He wore his golden crown and glimmering red surcoat. He also wore a pair of black-velvet pants with gold trim to match his crown. Two men-at-arms stood at his side as he came forward. “By the gods.” the king swore in distraught. “So few of you have returned. What of the sages? Any tidings from Hollow Reach?” demanded the king.
“We were attacked, your grace.” re-plied one of the riders.
“The sages are not known to engage in open combat…”
“Not sages, your grace.”
The king frowned. “What is your meaning, sir?”
“It was no sages, sire” replied Sir Hurst in distress. “It was some kind of demon.”