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My Brother, My Killer PDF Print
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
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My Brother, My Killer
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Chapter Four: One For All

 
Snow drifted lazily to the land’s domain, sporadically toyed by the cold wind. The latter hunting those that dared to venture outside down with a stinging vengeance. None safe a lone rider and his trusty horse dared to defy the element of winter with grim determination.  The sun hadn’t been able to penetrate the grey fog that dominated the lands, Simon’s gut telling him it was near dinner. Even wrapped snugly inside his furry cloak, the snow and frost remained: travelling for so long in that winter tempest had caused his cloak to get soaked and consequently covered with an icy layer. Whatever shelter it had provided against the abrasive breeze, it now had forfeited it. His months-old beard was caked with frost and snow, his steady breathing leaving quickly dispersing clouds. Wise men would have called it a day, warming their chilled feet at a roaring fireplace but Simon was known for his headstrongness and it had been too long. To be separated from his brothers for so long, to be alone on a road to which seemed to have no end, fighting battles, an unknown sword to cover your back at best and then the constant doubt to keep one awake at night: all made him long for the reckless and carefree days of before. But tested he was and he had stood his ground with valour and chivalry thus granted he was from that sip from the grail that only a select few had ever touched. And after all was said and done, he instantly made his way back to the only home he ever had, where he felt comfortable and wanted. Yearned, he had, for the wooden palisade and its makeshift buildings, the hill with its steep stairs and the simple chapel, to talk to the only men he had truly understood, to smile when he would be confronted with that inevitable grin of Nicolas.

 

Finally he reached the border of those grasslands he knew so well. Waist-high they still stood, bent but recognisable under a fine layer of snow. From that place he should have been able to see the lone hill, rising from the horizon, tipped by a stone speck but a grey haze clouded any vision of the fort. Anxious he had spurred his horse into a trot, hooves leaving small clods of snow behind. The walls seemed smaller somehow but they brought joy to his heart nonetheless. The gate was closed to shield the compound from the wind but they were quickly opened as he pound on the cold wood. The man opening was no stranger to Simon at least: the black cloth hiding the scar which had closed his left eye permanently during their last battle together could only belong to Aubert, a sulky bear of a man but with a great sense of humour. His hair however had slightly greyed over the years, adding more weight to the ending of his middle age.
Aubert however didn’t seem to have recognised the heraldry of one of his former brothers and Simon decided to test his mettle. In his most haughty voice, borrowed from his youth, he questioned the poor frozen warden. “I can’t believe they have a one-eyed man standing sentry over this place. Makes me wonder whether the deaf man can actually blow the horn or where the mute messenger hides.”
“I may have but one eye, ye spawn, but it sees more than the running brain of a cocky...” The aged knight seemed to be in no mood for another admirer but when he studied the rugged face and coat-of-arms some more, it dawned on him. “By the Lady’s great, Simon! That’d be you? Never expected you to tell a decent joke, lad. Come on in, come on. I’ll have some-one groom and take care of ye horse. Get inside the warm commons, the lads will want to hear about yer return.”
“Can’t say no to that, old friend.”

 Indeed the overwhelming warmth of a roaring fireplace greeted his entry. Conversations numbed and heads turned to see the one to entry. First some then others started to recognise their wayward brother. Familiar voices and face rose to greet him and congratulate him. Instantly he was guided to the middle of the room where one cleared a comfortable chair next to the fire for him, his cloak taken from him to dry as well near the hearth. Most of them pulled close some chairs and after their salutations had seized, they let the kid recuperate his breath. Simon smiled as he recognised most of his brothers, some were new to him but his legacy made him no stranger to them.“It’s good to be home at last, brothers.” Simon started as he overlooked their faces, flushed by the warmth and happiness.
“Good to have you back. Been a time, lad. Your stories have travelled long and far even to these remote parts. Nicolas even send minstrels here to make sure we heard about your new deeds.” Jorge de Baille-Mal answered, a wide smile adorning his sleek face. “Nothing like hearing them for real though.”
Simon laughed, giddy with joy. “Lady spare me! You’ll hear them all, be sure of it, until you can hear no more. I owe that much to you. But for now let me warm myself while I hear the news.”
Jean de Garlande stood next to the fireplace, looking down upon Simon. “You know this place: change isn’t prone to visit much but it seems there will some in near future.”
“Is that so?” Curiosity rose as he understood the hinted weight of his words to come.
“Nicolas has returned home.” Jean casually said while he studied his friend’s face.
“Home?” The surprise was not feigned: for indeed, the young knight ever expected Nicolas to remain there at the chapel with his heart true to the place. “You mean Pinsson Keep? In Couronne?”
“Yes, his dad passed away when the leaves started to drop. The king graciously nominated Nicolas as sovereign lord of Pinsson Keep and its estate.”
“Indeed.” Heymon, whose hairs had lost all colour and whose eyes –Simon regretfully noticed- seemed to have lost all potency, interrupted Jean before he could continue. “He left two moons ago to make arrangements.”
“Don’t try to convince me he abandoned you lot here.”
“Don’t be silly.” Jean replied. “Part of the arrangements are a permanent home for the brotherhood in his keep. All of us.”
“And the chapel? His devotion? Don’t try to tell me he forgotten about his self-appointed duty.”
“Of course not.” Vincent grunted, a silent but brooding knight with considerable skill with the blade. “Other concerns pressured him.”
“Concerns?” Simon incredulously said as he knew that Nicolas had actually tried to escape those by fleeing here. An awkward silence ensued as the brothers hesitated to reply, trying to avoid his eyes. “Jean, please tell me.”
Jean seemed unhappy to be addressed but his loyalty towards Simon did not falter. “About a year ago Nicolas rode to Bordeleaux to attend the yearly game tournament at the request of the duke itself. The stakes were the hand of his beautiful daughter, Agnés, in marriage.”
Simon interrupted as it dawned on him. “He jousted for her hand? Why?”
“Love at first sight, Simon. Mutual actually. There was no stopping Nicolas of course: one by one the other suitors fell before his lance and sword. They are to be wed when the spring rains have ended.”

A long silence followed as Simon sat speechless. Marry? Why hasn’t this crossed my mind before? One day or the other it was bound to happen. Somehow I seemed to have forgotten that Nicolas is human too. Finally he regained his resolve. “Why did I not see this coming?” The young knight thought for a moment before he continued. “Why didn’t you say so directly?”
“Nicolas probably wanted to tell you himself, my friend. He’s overjoyed with her and it shows.”Simon laughed as he added. “Odd, he never seemed that kind of man. Tense and honour-bound, I’d expected him to rest here until the Lady threw him his destiny. No, I never imagined him sitting beside a castle hearth with a kid on his knee and his love behind him.”
The group of brothers laughed in reply. The initial shock disappeared and Simon felt happy for the two. Descriptions of Agnés made her seem a true lady with the appropriate manners when she had visited the fort right during an autumn storm. Defiant to the weather she talked to all of them with extreme politeness and patience. In fact it was she who suggested to give this group of homeless knights a place in her father’s keep for the time being. Of course then Nicolas’ father regretfully perished a few months later and he was able to ferry them all to their new home at the coast of Couronne. Throughout the evening many stories were shared, a hot meal and drink heartening Simon. One by one the others surrendered to their sleep while outside the wind and snow gained momentum. A brand new and sparkling white tapestry will be waiting tomorrow. A new beginning for us all. It seems a perfect moment to marry when the past is covered by purity. 

 

Simon awoke still in the comfortable chair that morning a warm breakfast awaiting. The commons had already been cleared by the knights who returned to their duties. A bright blue sky greeted Simon, oblivious to the tempest weather of that night. As predicted a carpet of snow had turned the landscape in one great plain of snow. Meanwhile it seemed that most of the activities of the brothers included clearing the wooden houses from all that was gathered here over the years which was incredibly much. An encampment gathers a lot of gear and objects which might not have a direct use for but one still keeps for the future. Most of his trusted friends were preparing the impending leaving while others were shovelling snow to clear the compound. “It doesn’t harm to be prepared.” Jean said to Simon when he helped him lift a heavy barrel of furs unto a wagon. Simon quickly started helping out with clearing the buildings. It felt odd to him to move the furniture and utensils now that he had just come home but in a way it seemed a fitting start of a new chapter. 

 

Nicolas returned in high spirits not a week later with several other men to help the last proceedings. His good mood even soared as he was surprised by Simon. He hadn’t changed much over the two years but his eyes burned with a bright and cosy fire, fuelled by life and optimism. He had lost the beard though which underlined his smile even more. Simon couldn’t help him but laugh as Nicolas threw his arms around him.“Finally.” He said to his younger peer. “Finally. It’s been so long. It amazed me how used I had become to your arrogant face. Tell me all, tell me everything! Or better yet, wait until we are reunited with my love. I trust these lot already broke the news to you?”
“They made it sound as if you had died, brother, but I’m glad to see that you have fallen skywards. I am sorry to hear about your old man though.”
“After she died, my father has never been the same. When the mind is not willing, the body quickly follows. It wanders and trails off in the distance, the light dousing as it can’t remember anymore. It was peaceful in the end and I’m happy for it. The Lady’s last merciful kiss, what more can a man want?”
“Not much, it seems. Tell me, does she let you stay up late?”
Nicolas laughed and let him go. “It’s so good to you again, friend. By the Lady’s blessing, I’m proud to see that holy fire burning your eyes. Tell me: have you already adapted your shield and armour?” Nicolas quickly inspected his young friend and chuckled as he noticed the weathered and torn clothes. “That hasty to return to our blessed lot, were you? No matter we’ll sort that when we get to Entrevilles.” His train of thought however suddenly trailed off.
When Simon followed his eyes, he saw what doused the flames a little. The snow-covered chapel defied the blue sky as it glistened in the morning sun. “I wondered about that, you know.”“It wasn’t easy but it was inevitable. Though this place has served as a great refuge of devotion and solitude, it is no place for a lady of high standing. I’ll build something more permanent here, I promised myself. It’ll ever be my home away from home. Praytell, do you want a room with a view over the sea or do you prefer to be awakened by the morning sun?”

 

Pinsson Keep had a proud and long history as the foremost important city keep protecting the estuary of the river Mans on the most northern shore of Couronne. Situated on an extending peninsula it commanded a great and important view of the seas. Over the ages it had been fortified and expanded from one keep to a labyrinth of a citadel with a sturdy stone wall encircling the city of Entrevilles. The agreeable warm coastal wind had taken care of most of the snow, allowing the castle’s high towers and sturdy defences to show themselves. The salty smell of the sea greeted them along with the north wind. Simon could easily imagine himself call this city and the castle home. The banners still hung half-way until the new lord was appointed in the ceremony of the next week. Later Simon remembered them and wondered whether they had been a sign for things to come.

 

The city was bristling with activity for the great ceremony which even the king himself would attend. It seemed as if every citizen had hung out banners bearing the family sigils, small flags of Couronne and the king’s heraldry. The stone streets were swept time and time again until the cobbles gleamed into the sun. All betrayed an eagerness of his soon-to-be loyal subjects to warmly welcome him home and start his reign on the best of terms. Many commoners stopped to greet the small procession of carts and knights and Nicolas graciously replied that greeting all the while beaming with pride and happiness.  Simon had chosen for the room on the seaside of the castle. Its long and restless deep waters fascinated him as he looked out the window. His room was comfortable and big, even more so then his ancestral home in Gisoreux. Though not teeming in luxury, it commanded a cosy presence with a finely-decorated mantelpiece over the hearth as its main feature. It’s been a while since I have even seen a bed, let alone ever sleep in a double one. I wonder whether I’ll even be able to sleep without my saddle as a pillow and the hard ground to rock me to sleep.
“It used to be my own.” Nicolas had entered the room unnoticed and stood aside his friend, overlooking the vast expanse of water. “It holds the most awesome view in the entire castle bar none. I thought off moving down here with Agnés but deep down I felt you should have it. It belongs to the brash and restless.”
“I’ll never get tired of the view, I can guarantee you that.”
Nicolas smiled as he nodded. “I know you won’t: I know I never did. Even the plains of grass reminded me of that sea but it’s not even close to comparison. There is not a force greater than that off the sea, my friend, ranging from the soothing and lazy waves on a tranquil summer afternoon to the awe-inspiring mighty autumn storms when the wind and rains ceaselessly try to batter the walls of this keep into submission.”
“So... When do I get to meet the one that has so stolen your heart so deftly and sudden?”
“Soon, I hope. Though she won’t be travelling north until a few days before the wedding along with the ducal family. The duke insisted on this formality, I think he wants to keep her to himself.” Nicolas laughed at his own joke but then noticed Simon’s pensiveness. “What’s bothering you, Simon?”
The young knight frowned but had no answer for him. “I don’t know. All these changes... After She blessed me with the grail, I went home to find the brothers and you, expecting to linger there for many a year until fate called us. But now I find myself somewhere else, surrounded by walls and luxury I did not expect, with servants I have no need of. It’s confusing me, I guess. It seems as if my world changed from the moment I put my lips to the cup. In many ways it did but apparently not how I suspected.” Simon paused as he drunk deep the salty air. “Don’t mind me, brother, I’m sure it’ll be just a short while before I forget our previous lives.”
Nicolas smile felt reassuring to his former student. “All grown up, my little upstart. If there is anything, don’t hesitate to come running.”
And his friend left him alone to garden his thoughts. Grown up indeed but I never noticed I was in the process. A new start, new responsibilities. Simon berated himself. One can’t keep on hiding in a private fort forever, the time of adventure and recklessness has come and gone. My hand holds the quill to write the next part of my life and so far I find myself in a comfortable world. His face turned sour as his nagging feeling kept bothering him. This all seems wrong. But why? They all say that they are beside me now... Then why do I feel so alone? 

Simon had never seen the king before. A tall but gaunt man yet his advanced years had taken away much of his strength. His reign had been blessed with relative peace and his rule was already regarded by scholars and nobles alike as inspired and progressive. Once a testimony of the code of chivalry, now his abilities seemed to rely on his experience and excellent orator skills. Blessed with a powerful and sharp voice, he can hold the attention of thousands who hang on his every word. The speech in which he remembered the old castellan, thereby approving his noble rule over the fief, repeated the responsibilities and privileges of any lord and blessed Nicolas’ succession to his new position as a lord of this land, was as if written by the great bards of old. Simon had stood next to his former tutor as was his wish and had experienced the ceremony at first hand. Now he was wandering through the gardens looking blissful solitude from the crowd. I shall remember this day forever: not its majesty, nor the fact it involved my best and trusted friend but because today I saw a man beam pure royalty and command respect. He may be old and nearing death’s shroud but if age would look so kindly down on me when I near my sixties, I’d be grateful indeed. His son has big shoes to fill. It can’t be easy to have to stand in the shoes of a man that great that his shadow will  ever loom over you. Even when he’ll be gone, his account will remain, threatening to engulf him forevermore thus dooming his reign to oblivion. Nicolas holds that man in the greatest of respects and I believe I see why: not his legendary skills, nor his way with words but how his presence ever dominates a scene, blinding lesser men into loving him and follow him to whatever end. He is what Nicolas wants to be: a true hero.  

Days passed as life settled back to normal in the castle and the city. Nicolas proved to an inexperienced but just lord but he still needed a lot of time and advice to come to a suitable decision. Simon and the other knights of the chapel didn’t see him much those first few weeks after the ceremony. Even so, they themselves were busy with adapting to their new life: with much of the work now divided amongst the serfs, they had much more time on their hands. Boredom is a serious threat to any brotherhood of peers so Simon tried his best to keep them busy hunting, duelling and travelling throughout the fief. In spite of these measures tension sometimes grew too high and arguments were carried too far. Every need and wish fulfilled, they found themselves without a real sense of purpose when their leader seemed safe behind the walls of solid stone and too busy governing to have to protect him in the field. The personal bodyguard of Nicolas needed a new role and it was hard to find one.

 

Unable to vent his concerns to the busy Nicolas, he turned to Jean. He found him sitting in silent study of an ancient text about calligraphy in the library. De Garlande looked up from the manual as he approached his table. “You seem troubled, brother.”
“I guess you haven’t heard of the latest dispute between Vincent and Jorge.”
“Ah yes. The loyalist versus the doubter. What happened?”
“The usual: Vincent bored of this monotone life casually remarked that Nicolas was quick to abandon us when chance presented itself. He even insinuated that his devotion to the chapel had been faked all along.”
“Jorge did not take that well, I bet. Ever loyal but this long silence from our former leader has even made him doubt.”
“And doubt leads to aggression. He hit our brother in the face though I can’t blame him for once. I fear their discussion is causing a rift in our brotherhood between two factions, Jean.”
“And with all great changes behind us, we have no new ones to look forward to which makes us all tense and questioning our duties here. To who lies our loyalty now, we wonder? To Nicolas whose head is buried in matters of governing or to our land which could use any help we can give it? Or to surmise: stay here or abandon the cause we embraced for years. It’s a hard decision, one I’ve pondered myself before stumbling upon this extended library. In the end there is no clear answer, I’m afraid.”
“Thus we are stuck in inactivity. Unless we take matters in our own hand, we’ll have to bother Nicolas with this, Jean. He may never wanted this brotherhood but Lady knows he considers himself a part of it as well and the brotherhood will listen to him.”
“Listen to me for what?” Nicolas voice surprised the both of them. He looked weary and grim. “That one brother raises his hand against another? Don’t worry, I heard. In fact from the moment my sergeant reported the matter, I dropped everything else and went to talk to the instigators. And now I know what has been troubling my companions of old.”
“Nicolas, I’m sorry: we should have...”
“Doesn’t matter, friends, what done is done. In mounting the steps I had an idea how to temporary divert their attention.” Nicolas announced this with a certain degree of pride as he walked towards a shelf. He chose a book and showed its worn back to them: it read Laws of state: the noble decrees and enforcement. “This book mentioned a tradition of yore: it’s a title which these days is barely used anymore, partly forgotten safe for these tomes. Wandering sheriffs. Since I’m unable to travel the land myself as my attention is needed here at this time, my counsellors advised me to find another suitable solution. So, I’m willing to entitle those willing with powers to travel through my fiefs and its many villages and enforcing the law thus replacing local petty eye-for-an-eye laws that exist right now. I know it’s not the most honourable of work but it’ll have to suffice for now until my ultimate plan can be completed.” When mentioning his ultimate plan, a brief but oh so recognisable smile adorned his face.
“Ultimate plan, brother? What are you planning?”
“All in due time, Simon. For now confide in me. I entrust you with the task to send those willing to my chambers where I’ll instruct them in their new duties.” His friend sighed as if he suddenly remembered something and turned. “I’m sorry but I have other matters to attend to now.” 

The solution in combination with the promise of something more in the future was sufficient for the time being. Once again peace returned to the castle and before long the snows finally completely melted, the ground thawed and the spring showers had passed. The date was now approaching quickly and Simon caught himself to occasionally wonder what a special woman Agnés de Bordeleaux really had to be to ensnare his brother so much. When her coach finally had arrived, Simon found himself standing in the courtyard, hoping to catch a glimpse of the betrothed. As tradition wanted however she was completely veiled until the exact day. The ducal family had received its own wing in the castle to accommodate them so there wouldn’t be much chance to talk to her neither. This somehow frustrated the young companion of Nicolas who felt he had the right to at least talk to her once. I have to make sure Nicolas has chosen wisely at least. As a friend and closest thing to a brother, it is my duty to protect him from harm, even from his own mistakes. Any attempts however failed.



Last Updated ( Saturday, 31 January 2009 )
 
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