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Wednesday, 14 January 2009
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My Brother, My Killer
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Chapter Three: All For One  

It took a long while before the young knight became accustomed to camp life. The luxury of having servants working for one is often overviewed. Weeks passed before Simon finally started to get the hang of repairing cloth or his hands to get used to an axe. Slowly he settled in a daily routine of waking at the first rays of sun, pray until the self-appointed cook, a cynic old knight by the name of Charles de Crenan, had finished making breakfast and he divided the remainder of the day over several chores for the common good of the fort, maintaining and repairing his armour and clothes and sparring with the other knights. It surprised Simon that most of them were fairly skilled in duel and horsemanship. Likewise Jean de Garlande may not have been the greatest of warriors but Simon liked him nonetheless: his wisdom was unrivalled and his tales entertained the others many a night by the campfire. Every once in a while he saw his own reflection of a few month ago as a new youth rode down to their camp to introduce himself to Nicolas to no avail of course. The only way to notice the passing of time in the camp was when Nicolas sometimes startled them by setting off, unnoticed and without a warning, to answer an invitation of this or that neighbouring lord. Though the living legend often visited the courts of the high nobility, he never lingered for more than a day and never joined in a joust for his own personal reasons. 

During the last month of spring as the days grew longer and the weather became increasingly more fair, he even got to know the man behind the legend. As Jean had mentioned, Nicolas was an amiable man who treated every single last of them as his peer. Even so; each time they got a chance to talk, Simon could not help but notice the tempered tone in his voice. Something was bothering him, this much was clear and if the others knew what they weren’t sharing, just like they wouldn’t tell him the meaning of his self-constructed chapel and to who it is devoted. Though Nicolas’ life had been eventful up to now –Simon knew all the tales by heart as did any young noble-, his adventures to this day had been void of any sadness or regrets so Simon could not discern what was bothering the legendary knight.  

“Do you know that this hill was once the site of a great battle between the corrupted of the false gods and our own forefathers?” Simon was sitting at the edge of the hill overlooking the plains when Nicolas asked him that question. Intrigued the young one quickly shook his head. “Where Louis the Young knighted the Repanse de Lyonesse? Indeed the muffled screams of the wounded still dominated the battlefield as she found herself facing her one and only love -albeit its personification of it. Tales tell of the radiant light she beamed over the plains as his sword touched her shoulders ever so lightly. The same light, I imagine, as Landuin carried in his heart as he rode in the presence of his peers. The Lady inspired them to true remembrance. Places like these are forgotten while the true heroes are the dead that made the legend worth to withstand time. I arrived here on my travels to see the chapel where once her bodily remains had been interred, cast asunder by time. Her remains were returned to a bigger tomb in Lyonesse but I discovered the grave that held many of her soldiers. Forgotten by all. I remember wondering whether every hero had such forgotten graves of corpses. The dead that are scattered around them and they died for a cause not their own. And still they don’t hold grudges. I think, that what makes a true hero, is not the great deeds sung in many ballads, but being a man who commands unquestioning love from those that follow him or her, even into death.”
“Do you believe yourself to be capable of such feats, sir?” Simon contained his curiosity as to the why he had given such a lecture.
Nicolas sighed but he did not wave the question away. “I know in my heart the Lady has made plans for me long before I was even born. The Repanse for instance learned of her calling at our land’s direst moment. I can tell you, young friend, that even knowing the will of our goddess doesn’t change that uncertainty takes root. Under the reign of pressure and nerves, she almost made a fatal mistake what now turned out into her greatest victory. If she had doubted and chosen poorly, we wouldn’t even be here discussing her. It is not easy to accept that there are plans over which you don’t have any control. Your life, a puppet in the hands of the mighty. Are you to be famous or scolded for your mistakes? People expect me to perform miracles every battle, every joust they bet me to win and swipe every lady off her feet. But when it comes down to it, I too can die on the other side of a sword, I too can feel pain when unhorsed and ladies still can choose to ignore me. I don’t feel chosen nor any more special than any other knight. Am I capable of being a hero this land needs? I don’t know.” He cast his eyes down.
“Milord, are you alright?”
“No.” The resolution behind that one simple word startled Simon. “I feel myself to be a prisoner of fate which I didn’t even get to decide. Sometimes drowning under pressure, pushing me ever under. You know: every noble I meet wants to defeat me in a duel, their lords want me to lead their army and train their sons to become me and the noble ladies of this land expect me to treat them as a goddess or worse. Afterwards there is no room for gratitude: no, I just played my part in this theatre. The only ones who truly are grateful for the aid I render, are the lowborn.” A silence lingered as Nicolas was struggling his own mind.
Simon decided to change the subject. “Is that why there are no commoners here?”
The question took him away from his doubts. “Yes, it’s the only restriction I have for staying here. I won’t let them have to give up everything back home to fulfil the whims and wishes of their masters.” Another silence ensued as the two men saw the grassy plains being tormented in the wind. Afterwards Nicolas smiled and said. “You are the first not to try to strengthen my resolve by advising me to stand tall, remain proud and take heart in the plans of the Lady.” Nicolas turned and vanished into the chapel, leaving his young peer to his thoughts. 

Once adapted to the life in the camp, Simon quickly rose up into the silent hierarchy of the knights. Even without the teachings of Nicolas, Simon’s skill with the blade surged by duelling and listening to the other knights. Finally it far surpassed the most skilled and even Nicolas came to admire his victories on the sparring field, standing on the top of his hill, with silent approval. It turned out Simon also had a keen sense for organisation and command as he successfully reshaped the camp to efficiency. The first among peers Simon came to be respected by the other and older knights. The nights were filled with the tales of Jean and the conversations with Nicolas. The latter seemed to open up more to his younger comrade, confiding in him. Slowly a bond grew between the personal guard of the living saint, a bond that exists only between those that live and serve together. Simon was proud to call them his ‘brothers’ as they meant more to him than his family back home.  

The days of the year passed, a summer of sweat and an unrelenting bitter winter of scarce game, practically unnoticed by the young knight, until the one year anniversary of his arrival of the camp arrived.
Simon had just stopped paying his respects to Her when Nicolas interrupted. “It’s been only a year and yet I see great changes. That annoying little tyke has sprouted to become a most agreeable young man.” Indeed, Simon had grown, his shoulders even defying his old armour. That youthful spark in his eyes had been replaced by the stern gaze of adulthood. Hours ride from the nearest castle, he had become used to his hair and beard being unkempt and untidy.

Nonsense, I am still that charming lad that arrived here. It is you who has changed as time has dulled your thoughts, old man.” Simon jokingly replied. This was also true: although the burden of destiny still tried to crush the knight, his temper had bettered over the months. Occasionally Nicolas had joined his guard of peers on their hunts and campfires, startling them at first but entertaining them later on with his own stories and knowledge of game. The band of brothers had noticed who had been mainly responsible for lifting the man’s spirits and were grateful for it, strengthening the bonds between the men.
“Even so, my friend: it is odd how time can soothe wounds and change minds. Maybe it has dulled mine but the result will be the same. You have learned much over this past year. On your own, relying on your own wit and skill. Your advances are impressive, especially since they are mostly self-taught and born out of talent.”
“Talent? I could barely lift a sword before I arrived here.”
“Let me finish. It is easy to blindly follow the words of a man whose hairs are grey and arms weak. In the end you know only a style which is not your own, which might not even suit you. No matter how well you’ve copied his moves, how many times you shall wield a blade or how great a warrior your teacher is, your skill with the sword will be flawed. That flaw can’t be corrected, not without a certain degree of talent. Even before I fled here, I rejected many a noble son because they lacked that. Your incessant sparring and learning of the others has increased your skill to a talent which I can help you perfect. If you’re still searching for my aid, I’m willing to teach you perfection.”
The offer shook Simon because he had put the apprenticeship long past him, wishing for no more than staying here with his adopted family and friends. Even so, his ambition now reared its head: the opportunity was too great. Yet his loyalty to the others won. “Why me? Why not one of the brothers?”
“They can’t.” Nicolas defiantly replied.
Headstrong as he was, Simon was not satisfied. “Why?”
“Because they don’t have the right will, skill or the age. Because you remind me of a youth I once knew with the same determination and the same amiable demeanour. More so; you make me feel like a humble human once more, your greatest gift to me, instead of the walking paragon of chivalry everyone else sees. A gift I intend to repay in the knowledge you seek.”
“You owe me nothing of such kind. This past year I have learnt more from you than my sixteen cycles before from anyone. For one I have consented in letting my desire not drive others.”
“Be that as it may, my offer still stands.”
“Then I’ll accept it. Lady knows, I’m more then up to it.” Simon jokingly added.
The sarcasm was lost on Nicolas that moment and he warned Simon. “Arrogance is the first step to greatness but drive it too far and at the end of that road you’ll find oblivion.” A disturbed look flickered across the grail knight’s face as he recognised the disbelief of the youth. “Trust me, I know the depths that can only be reached by ambition and zeal.  The wrong methods are still wrong even for all the right reasons. Now, these are my rules: first none of this leaves our trust. Agreed?”
“Agreed. No-one shall know.”
“ Second, we’ll have a weekly hunt just us two. A hunt to others, a lesson for us.”
“Just weekly? Won’t that hinder learning any technique you pass on to me?”
“Of course not, you shall be practising those in your daily exercises with the others with me as a silent overseer.”
“I shan’t disappoint you, trust me.”
“I’m sure you won’t but it still is a leap in the dark for both of us.”
Simon recognised the voice of doubt. “I’m sure you shall not fail me.”
“It is not you who I fear to disappoint.” 

Thus it had been agreed and thus it happened. Progress was slow, testifying to the difficulty of the tasks Nicolas set the young warrior. Over the months Nicolas shared many wisdoms and truths about the noble art of the blade.
“To be able to maintain a dance of swords, every swirl, thrust and feint must be efficient, saving your breath.”
“Balance is the key to any fight: use it and you’ll shall open the door to victory, lose it and you shall forever stand before a locked and cold door.”
“Many of the world’s monsters can withstand an awesome amount of pain before they start to weaken, more then you and I anyway: by gauging its every move and thus prepare your own to be lethal, one can survive such an encounter.”
“The elves have an inbred battle calm which makes them more capable in a duel. Stay focussed and train yourself to become an elf during battle. Even so our bodies are more hardened and fit for battle: our endurance makes us more resistant to pain. Be assured in the knowledge that what we don’t have, we can learn but what we do have, they can’t ever achieve.”
“Fighting the powers of corruption is worse than any other battle: every spawn of their horror-soaked world is a long and wearying nightmare in itself, one has to conquer your voice of fear every single time before being able to subdue your angst long enough to destroy it.” 

Three years had passed since Simon had ventured from the forests of Gisoreux and a strong friendship had grown between the two noble knights, born out of mutual respect and founded on their same love for their land. The skill of the adolescent with the blade had become as impressive and legendary as his mentor. Though the young knight’s swordplay was challenging to him, it did not rival his duel with the sword. As a master he knew his pupil’s every moves and abilities, turning it against him with the aid of his vast experience. Simon had no choice but to accept the seniority of his friend and instructor, even though it was a slight disappointment to him. Jokingly between the two of them they chalked it up to the extra boon of sipping from the grail. Despite their best attempts to cover his progress, it soon became clear to the other knights from which wind Simon’s improvement blew. Their hunting parties with just them two had already been a point of discussion and curiosity amongst their peers but when the young’s knight advancements became apparent, the truth was quickly discerned. Even so it did not change their undying respect for their appointed leader nor did jealousy turn the camp sour for his young charge. In fact Simon quickly became the camp’s leader based on the trust Nicolas invested in him. If there were those who coveted the young one’s position, they did not reveal so. Only once did the small brotherhood ride forth during those years in line behind their two captains. The arrival of the great champion of the land heartened the army who faced that green scourge of old. The waves of the greenskinned were beaten down, overturned, rallied and all but wiped out before the wrath of Bretonnia’s sons, a victory to rival the remembrance. Simon found himself in the thick of the fighting, piercing the brutish ranks of orc and their smaller kin, and finally defeated their warlord in an epic duel. His star was rising, his tale of legend born in that battle. Even so it marked the end of his youth. An urge was building momentum, a vocation that deeply burned passion into his blood: the Lady had her eyes on that promising knight, her calling an ethereal kiss that crossed the borders of the two worlds.  

One day, not long after that fabled battle, the mind of Simon was made up: his departure as swift and determined as his blade. The brothers would miss him but accepted his decision. Nicolas merely smiled: his approval -and more important his blessing- expressed in that trademark smile of his. Accounting the travels and adventures of the questing Simon is not a part of this tale as they feature in many a ballad and this tale is about their friendship. Far and wide his deeds and renown with the longsword travelled, strengthening the spirits of nobles and winning the hearts of fair damsels. His search lasted for a bit more than two years after which he returned home triumphant.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 31 January 2009 )
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