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Authors: Melissa Lynn Strasburg

Bloodless Knights

BOOK: Bloodless Knights
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Bloodless
Knights

Melissa
Strasburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright
© 2013 Melissa L Strasburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To
my sister, Bonnie, this story is for you.

To
my son, Skyler, thank you for your patience.

To
my parents, Lou & Paula, you’re wonderful.

To
the “change jar”, for keeping us alive.

Chapter 1

 

“Tristen,
please stop staring at me like I’m going to die.” Brendan Dow pulled a white
tunic over his brown hair and smoothed it over his sinewy chest.

“It’s
not like that, Brendan. It isn’t everyday that I get to see my squire get ready
for his dubbing ceremony.” I helped Brendan into a satin-lined, dark red robe,
“and it seems a bit more special since thou art my baby brother.”

Brendan’s
brown eyes stared directly into mine, “Thou art just worried that Jadorion will
not be as good a squire as I, but I give ye my word, he’s had plenty of
training for his fourteen years. He’ll take care of thy horses and meals with
no problem. In fact, I daresay that once he’s been around for a few days, thou
wilt wonder what ye ever did without him.”

“No.
I’m almost certain that’s not it. I’m simply proud of thee. That’s all.” I
opened the door of my chamber and escorted Brendan to the hallway. The hall
glowed with burning torches, but the keep seemed colder than usual. We both
shivered. “Better grab a cloak.” I returned to my temporary bedroom and drew a
black fur-lined cloak from the wooden clothing chest.

“What
art thou thinking, Brendan? Ye seem a bit tense.” I inquired when we were back
in the hallway. Our booted feet made no sound on the dense stone as we
sauntered through the abandoned halls.

“People
must have retired early to prepare for the feast and tourney tomorrow. What a
night to have to spend in the chapel, huh? I’m going to have an icicle beard on
the morrow.” Brendan joked as we continued our quiet journey through the
unusually calm and unpleasantly cold castle.

I
pulled the cloak tightly around my chest as I listened to the still, stone
building we were staying in during the festivities. I couldn’t believe that it
was this cold at April’s end. It seemed as though winter was bearing down on us
again. I patted Brendan on the back, “Don’t worry, dear brother, ye will never
regret this night, although right now it may seem unpleasant.”

Friar
Thespis Irdon somberly greeted us at the chapel door. He hugged his bible with
one arm. I took his empty hand in mine, gently placing my other hand on his
arm. “Hello, Friar. I hope thou art ready for this night.”

“Greetings,
my lords! I’ve been waiting for this night for a long while now. I adore the
king and queen’s sons.” Brendan smiled as the Friar continued, “I’ve blessed
thy sword and left it at the altar for thee. I will check on thee periodically
and return at dawn.”

I
bid a serious farewell to Brendan. I knew he was up against a long night of
fasting and praying to purify his soul. I felt a twinge of guilt that I had no
sympathy for his long night because I was looking forward to the next day’s
festivities. Jousting had always been a favorite sport of mine. Since winter
had stayed in the air longer than usual, I hadn’t been in a tournament for far
too long.

I
counted stone tiles on the floor as I returned to my chambers. The tiles were
sanded and coated with a glaze that made them shine brilliantly in the
candlelight. I was so enamored by the sight, that I didn’t see a pile of furs
draping over my father, until we almost collided. “Oh, hello your highness,” I
always bowed at father even though I didn’t like it but he required it. I
addressed him as a female, “highness”, just to see the irritation it drew on
his angry, unkind face.

“Tristen,
I came to see about Brendan.” My father, Ladislas, always got right to the point.
However, he didn’t usually avoid addressing a slight and it surprised me that
he didn’t lash out at me for it. That aside, I knew from experience that he
absolutely wasn’t here for me and wanted to say it, but doing so would keep him
in my presence longer than necessary. “I wanted to catch him before he went to
the chapel, but apparently I’m too late.” Father wiped his graying hair from
his eye and pulled his fur tightly around him.

“Aye.
He’s safely in the confines of the chapel. Friar Thespis said he’ll keep an eye
on him through the night. On the morrow thy favorite baby son will join the
ranks.” I couldn’t help being snippy, it was late and I wanted nothing more
than to sink into the warmth of an oversized bed.

“No,
no, Tristen. Ye must keep him out of the ranks. Naught must happen to him. He’s
going to be king one day.” Ladislas looked down his long nose at me with fire
dancing off his irises, “I vow to thee he will outlive thee, Tristen. I will
never be able to prove it, but ye are not my son and I knoweth this in my very
soul!”

“Aye,
old man, thou tell me that all the time. But I knoweth for a fact that I am thy
son, and the mere fact thou says I am not means thou thinks mother is a whore.
Would ye like me to tell her that? Dost thou want another fight thou can’t
win?” I pushed past him to get to my room without caring that he lost his
balance and almost fell to the stone-cold floor.

“Thou
art not my child! No child of mine would be the way thou art.” Father called
after me as his big nose hit the back of the wooden door. I opened the creaky
door slightly and peeked through the crack at him.

“And
just exactly
how
am I?” I gave him the most resentful look I could.

“Impossible!”
He spat then shook his head dejectedly, sighed, and walked away.

The
battle with father was a daily occurrence. He blamed me as the reason his army
was weak. He accused me that his vassals didn’t love him enough because I spoke
poorly of him. It couldn’t be because he taxed them to the point that many
decided to pack up and leave. Help around the kingdom was scarce and the
vassals were planning a revolt. I knew it, but father wouldn’t listen. I
couldn’t find many who wanted to be part of our army because there were just no
people to find. Father wasn’t about to listen to that either.

Father
spent most of his day locked in the tower painting, and barking orders to the
remaining servants he had left. One thing nobody could argue was that Ladislas
was the best artist anyone had seen. Many said his art was the reason he seemed
oblivious to everything else around him. A painting by Ladislas fetched a few
thousand pounds at market. The chapel and the great hall were painted, ceiling
to floor, with bible depictions hand-painted by the king himself.

I
had been in too many arguments with father to let this one bother me. I
selected the largest log I could find and threw it on the fire. It was nights
like this I wished I had a proper beauty to curl up next to. Sadly, lack of
fine women was apparent all through the kingdom and I was getting more and more
depressed about that. I pulled a hot rock from the fire, wrapped it in wool,
and tucked it into the sheets of my bed. I sank into my fluffy feather
mattress, pulled the quilts over my head and dropped off into nightmares of a
flying lizard with the face of my father chasing me.

#
# #

A
log cracking on the fire woke me from a restless sleep. I pulled the covers
over my face when my new squire, Jadorion, told me my tea was waiting at the
bedside table. I had never been a morning person and someone must have told
Jadorion this since the next thing out of his mouth was, “I brought a cinnamon
twist off the bakery cart for ye.”

“I
see thou will make a wonderful squire, once ye stop pinching, that is!” I
slowly sat up and pulled the breakfast tray to my lap. The strong aroma of tea
further drew me from sleep, as the perfect temperature of the drink warmed my
bones. The tea was as weak as plain water. To make up for that, I savored every
bit of the soft and sticky confection prepared perfectly by Chef Morgan.

“Oh,
I didn’t pinch it, my Lord. Yourn cookin’ lady, Morgan, asked me to bring it to
ye. She tried to send me with a kiss for ye as well but the whiskas on her chin
tickled me so that I couldn’t keep still.” Jadorion teased, stirring the ashes
in the fireplace. He then presented a bowl of boiled eggs that had been heating
over the fire.

“Well,
aren’t ye a cheeky lad! Give the mole a bit of respect. Besides, we must admit
that the old girl can cook; whiskers and all.” I winked at Jadorion. He held
his breath in an attempt to keep in his laughter as he set out my celebration
boots. He handed me my dark wool breeches and light-colored tunic. Jadorion
knew as well as I did that we had no time to spare. I wanted to make it in time
for Brendan’s ceremony.

I
never bathed before a tournament because I always had to afterward. Instead I
dressed in my best attire, and used a rag to wash at least a bit of the night
off me. At the wash basin, I scrubbed my face and dragged a brush through my
shoulder-length locks. I stared into the overly ornate mirror at the face my
father claimed he had nothing to do with. True, I didn’t have his beak of a
nose, but my dark brown eyes and thick black hair definitely came from him. My
recently shaved chin was as square as his was, and if someone had to identify
each of us by only our lips they would never tell us apart. The man was a fool;
yet, I couldn’t help but feel terrible that he didn’t want to claim me.

 “Tristen,
pardon me for being so bold, but people been whisperin’ why ye haven’t taken a
bride yet. Yourn a handson hero, yet ye don’t seem fancying any maidens. The
same people say ye may be a little ‘off’.” Jadorion handed me my knife and
pouch.

“Well
now, Jad, is that a proposition?” I asked him with a raised eyebrow. His face
glazed over.

“Women,”
he huffed, “I only prefer women.”

“Oh,
come now,” I pulled a brown ringlet that had made its way from the white string
holding his long hair back, “Thou art so tall and thin, I just assumed
ye
were off!”

Jadorion’s
face turned red as a beet and I knew I had delivered the point.

I
cleared my throat and answered with what I felt he would easily understand.
“Such questions as to my solitude will not be tolerated! Do not bid them again.
As I just demonstrated to ye how easy it is to cause rumors, knowest that I’m
only as “off” as the next bloke. I hope that thou will repeat
that
to
the babbling idiots.”

My
tone was stern but secretly I wanted to tell him that I hadn’t yet found a
woman who mattered. I wanted to shout to him that I was sick of this kingdom
and wanted to run away to find my missus but that I just couldn’t bear leaving
my mother and brother alone with my father. Also, that I knew without a doubt,
once I left the kingdom it would fall into dust. I didn’t want to load
Jadorion’s shoulders with too much right at the beginning of his stay with me.
It was my job to mold him for future knighthood, just as I had done for my
brother…who had been waiting in the chapel long enough.

The
first person I saw when I entered the warm and busy chapel was my angelic
mother, Jocelyn Dow. Her brilliantly light hair was tamed by a jeweled barbet.
She wore a dark purple silk gown with a long train down the back. The wispy,
gossamer sleeves billowed over her thin arms as she raised her hand slightly at
me and then pretended just to brush her lips when my father stared at her with his
cold eyes. Mother looked down with shame at the wooden floor. Of course, I knew
she wasn’t ashamed of me, but I really hated how my father controlled her. I
wished, for her sake, she could run away and be rid of him forever.

I
walked through a crowd of parishioners to stand as near the front as possible.
The monks were chanting various incantations to heaven. Musky incense burned
from sconces around the room. Friar Thespis hovered over the podium like a
vulture watching a dying animal. He would make his sermon as long as he could,
since he had the attention of so many. I wanted to tell him before he began,
that the church was full of worshipers watching my brother become the knight he
was always destined to be. However, I had known Friar Thespis all my life; I
knew my words would fall on deaf ears. He truly believed that God was his only
master and did what he wanted in the name of the Lord God.

Our
chapel was truly stunning. Father had painted a mural of Daniel in the Lion’s
Den to cover the whole front wall. The rear wall had a depiction of Adam and
Eve in Gethsemane, forever encapsulated with the king’s paint and brushstrokes.
For some reason, he had made the snake front-and-foremost in the scene which I
never understood because it was the most evil part of the picture. As a child
it had terrified me, yet as an adult it infuriated me. I vowed when he died I
would paint over it myself.

The
roof was made entirely of stained glass pieces formed to mimic angels. Red,
blue, and yellow shards allowed light to dance around the room; however most of
the glass was opaque white. Large windows of ethereal images covered both sides
of the chapel. The glass had been cut and made before the roof had and the
colors were not near as terrific or bold as the cover but they were still
spectacular.

Seeing
my brother in his best tunic, reminded me of the night I spent kneeling at the
altar in anticipation of my dubbing, and although it had only been less than
three years it seemed like a lifetime ago. I remember praying and then falling
asleep on the cold, stone steps of the church. Samson, the altar boy, had
nudged me with his foot a few times and somehow I made it through.

I
had always wanted to be a knight, but had never imagined the respect I would
receive from the kingdom. That is, from all except my father. Through my
twenty-four years I still hadn’t found anything that would earn his admiration.
In fact, I could feel his eyes burning into my skull and turned to look at him.
He scowled at me with a contempt I didn’t like, but was used to receiving. I
smiled at him and winked. His gaze developed scornfully and his lip curled
upward. I always expected that as I grew older I would outgrow such a silly
game, but it brought such joy to my life to make the old-man angry. I couldn’t
ever give it up.

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