Chapter 1: A farm past the trees.
A farm past the trees.
Birds chirped their morning glory as light broke over the canopy of trees, a new day dawned, noises of village life billowing up the valley floor to the small farm to the north of Castle Redmont. Truthfully the farm wasn’t much to look at from an onlooker’s perspective, but to the expectant family that lived in the small A-framed house, with its daubed walls and lean to for the old horse.
The couple had lived there for the 7 months, renting the land bordering Aspienne and Redmont from the Baron of Redmont fief, as was the norm. Arald, a stout man with a questionable sense of humour was agreeable enough to give a young man-at-arms skilled at thatching and his wife a home outside the castle walls for a pittance, from a Crown to 3 shillings.
Daniel made enough in six months to pay the rent the first year as “old man thatcher” was as his name suggested, old. Making busy the remainder of the year, slowly turning the house to a home, sharing the excitement of his newly expectant child with the townsfolk, Daniel “Thatcher” had made a home in Redmont fief.
Trouble was brewing however, the wheels of war slowly turning like a great mill, Lords began to bristle at challenges, men started stockpiling timber and iron, Daniel was mending a hole in his gambeson in the afternoon sun when a rider came to the gate.
“Sergeant! You’re needed at the castle”
“Doesn’t the Baron have anything better to do than disturb me on my afternoons Alfred?” smiling Daniel rose to greet the messenger in an embrace, pausing as he noticed the look on the younger man’s face.
The man had become a friendly face to Daniel in his time at the castle, always cheery and flashing his teeth in a smile at every young lady he saw in the tavern, not because he was an immoral sort, just simple, kind Alfred.
“Alfred, why does the Baron need to see me, a Thatcher on a Sunday afternoon?”
Alfred shook his head “He didn’t, the steward did send me, and to get you before the evening bells, other riders have gone out to collect the other sergeants, now that I say it aloud he’s been a little odd since that tourney began up east” scratching his stubble in sudden thought.
‘The hole will have to wait, if the steward is mustering the men it means something is awry’
The thought penetrating deep into his musings about Alfred’s shenanigans, “ok give me some time to get my things and I’ll follow you down to the keep”.
Moving to the house he donned his gambeson, a little tighter than it once was after spring, and collected his kit, belting his pouch on his hip and pulling his langseax over his lap. It was an odd weapon for a man at arms to carry, though he had his spear, his father’s Langseax was his only connection to his passed life below the Avon Tarbus.
Nostalgia laid bare to his Father in a field, covered in blood not all of it his, the smell of smoke filling his nose again along with the stench of death and burning flesh, one of the raiders sprawled in the dirt next to his father, plaid cloak caked in mud, a metre away lay his mother dress torn and soaked in blood where the spear had pierced her stomach pinning her to the earth.
He had left the farmstead with only what he could carry and travelled far north to escape the Hibernian raiders, only to settle in Norgate Fief and be harassed by the Scotti as he plied his trade, Lord Syron was a good man, letting him train within the castle and eventually joining the guards to pay his debt to the man.
“Cariad are you ok? Who’s at the gate?” a visage of chestnut eyes and hair brought him out of his memories.
“I’m ok Cadwyn, it’s Alfred, I’m being summoned to the Castle is all, I should be back for supper” waving her concerned look off with a smile, now wasn’t the time to discuss ghosts, or the curses that they leave behind.
He had met Cadwyn when he finally ventured south again, heading back towards Redmont, on a good word from Lord Syron, staying in Aspienne Fief for a few months over a bad winter, he found he’d taken a shine to the daughter of the local healer, an older woman from Celtica who had travelled and settled before marrying the smith.
Scowling, his heavily pregnant wife took exception to his dismissal of her questioning, “If you’re not I’ll tan your hide for you, remember you said you were going to be fixing that cot tomorrow, I don’t need you going off to that tourney at Gorlan and forgetting about your responsibilities here” eyes flashing wildly, suddenly remembering what drew him to her in the first place, her ferocity and flare, erring on the side of caution and promising to be home before the moon gets above the first quarter, Daniel kissed goodbye his wife, heading to the castle through the lavender fields leading from the gate, all the while hoping he would be back in time for the barley soup he’d seen his expectant wife cooking earlier that day, knowing he probably wouldn’t.
The sun was setting as they entered the keep, calling a greeting to the gate guards and tethering their horses, immediately he noticed the urgency had spread to everyone, feeling out of place Daniel picked up the pace to get to the Hall where the Steward was waiting for him and the other sergeants.
Noticing his colleagues on the far side near the hearth, he almost made the length of the hall before being stopped by trouble incarnate, Kord, a heavy-set lump of a man with a nose that’d seen the last call at the tavern more than once.
“You going somewhere Thatcher? You still owe me 8 coppers from our last game” a wicked grin spread across his blocky jaw, inviting Daniel to make a scene. “And if memory serves, Kord, you still owe me for at least twice that for a bushel in your roof, plus the days labour it took to bring it all the way up to Aspienne” he trailed off trying to end the conversation with the unspoken threat of collecting his debt, much to his relief Kord seemed to be having an unusually aspiring day, picking up on the hint he left as quickly as he arrived.
Taking a seat next to Alfred, nudging him as he did to make the man move and make some room for him, Daniel took a mug of ale from the table that was still full and settled his boots waiting for the Steward to begin his speech.
“Alright arslings listen up, what I’m about to tell you is strictly need to know, so if the Battlemaster didn’t think you needed to know you wouldn’t” The steward rambled, took a deep nervous breath and continued ”Lord Morgorath has been accused of treason by Prince Duncan and we’re mobilising the Fyrd in response, the castle guard is going to be split up amongst our portion of the larger army to keep some sense of cohesion and discipline”. Mutterings of disbelief echoed in the now still hall, no-one could believe that the champion of the realm, the Black Knight of Gorlan, would do something like that, but it wasn’t their job to question Baron Arald.
“Lord?” called a voice from the back, Devon, or as he was more commonly known as, Fish, spoke up garnering the attention of the steward.
“Yes, Mac’Errol what is it?”
“Lord, with respect, it weren’t 3 weeks ago we heard tell of Prince Duncan raiding and terrorising the villages up north, I know our orders come from the Baron, but can we trust the word of the Prince at this stage?”
The hall fell silent at the accusation, everyone was thinking it, but Fish was the only one dumb enough to actually ask such a brazen question officially. If the steward hadn’t shared the same concerns Devon could’ve been put to death for treason.
“Fish” The implied threat dripping from the steward’s tone was apparent, “I urge you to sit down and trust in the Baron’s Judgement, we have reason to believe that the Prince is telling the truth, and that’s all you need to know.”
Feeling the need to interject and steer the conversation back to the matter at hand Daniel spoke up concernedly, “Lord, am I to understand that this is a full-scale deployment of the Fyrd?”
Sensing the line of questions to follow, the steward gratefully accepted the segway away from talks of treason and began explaining the logistics of the deployment.
Once the briefing was done, Daniel, Fish, and Alfred trumped through the courtyard to the inn on the outside of the castle walls.
“That went on forever, can you believe the balls of Fish to ask the steward that in public?” Alfred was never much for subtlety and practically shouted at Daniel over his third mug of ale, lowering it with a satisfied gasp.
“Alf, if you ever feel the need to go into public speaking let me know, I want to see the cabbages hit from the front row” grinning, Fish to a deep draught of his own drink before setting the mug down on the table and continuing, “seriously though, we all heard the stories from the tinkers, Prince Duncan was seen raiding the village of Kirkton-Lea, causing a right stir and at the moment I think we’re more to be concerned with the dress wearing gingers that have a fetish for big sodding swords!”
“what’s the matter mackerel, you feeling scared?”
“That’s enough you two, I’m just as concerned as Devon is, but Alf you need to also think of your son, Horace needs a father to come back to him, and frankly I prefer our chances in a border dispute than fighting Morgarath and his followers. After all, my son should be on his way soon, and I’d rather not be in the middle of a civil war when it happens.”
The two men looked at Daniel with shame on their faces, realising that both options stand to make them widowers or orphans of their son’s. With both men settled and the likelihood of a tavern brawl sated, Daniel finished the last of his ale and made his was back to his horse.
“Cadwyn is going to be mad you missed dinner” a glance from Steren seemed to speak to him on occasion, he never spoke to anyone about his horse talking to him, lest they think him mad. “Don’t you start you old nag, I’m not in the mood tonight, especially when you know you’re right” he spoke in a whisper to the horse so as to not alert the passers-by.
Steren gave an indignant snort before responding to the nudges Daniel gave, and they made their way back to the farm, and to the hide tanner herself.
Short chapter to get myself back into the swing of things, trying to set up things to follow in the next few chapters, thanks for reading
Halt sat in his cabin, looking at a small silk ribbon he had kept from that day fifteen years ago, still marred with his blood. Halt kept it as a reminder that even he was mortal, despite how many times the fates seem to tell him otherwise. After he had escorted Will to the Keep of Castle Redmont for the ceremony earlier that morning, he would either keep Will as an Apprentice, or Will would pursue a life in the Chivalric court of Araluen as a squire, and later, an ordained knight.
Either way he felt no need to take part in the celebrations, despite Pauline’s encouragement, his mind was otherwise occupied, regardless of the pride that caused his chest to swell, knowing Will had chosen to stay with him and complete his training.
The last few weeks tracking the Kalkara had sent his mind back fifteen years to his first conflict with Morgarath, during the Araluen Civil war, and back to a man kneeling over him, making him vow on his life to find his family.
Halt had ridden in silence to the now ramshackle house on the hill the night before the celebrations, where he found Will and his mother. He had the place on his map marked, having made a habit of visiting occasionally with a skin of ale, a bushel of lavender and wheat. He would make camp for the night in the open field within the boundary fence of the old farmstead.
It was rare for Halt to drink, but he felt it necessary to share a drink with Will’s parents as he told them what their son had gotten up to since his last visit.
“You know Daniel, your family has a nasty habit of saving my careless arse” chuckling, Halt poured a cup of ale and sat it next to him by the fire. “Will stood there with the same look you had in your eyes that day, it was like seeing a ghost”
“Though, he was well over forty metres away at night, so whilst I couldn’t see much, it felt like you were there saving me all over again” Halt drained his cup of ale grimacing at the taste, he knew why people drank the stuff, but wished they’d at least make it taste better.
“At least it dulls the pain in my leg” muttering to himself, he poured the last of the ale into his cup. “Your son is a good man Daniel, you and your wife would be proud of him, I hope I did the right thing, giving him to the ward, he just wouldn’t have been able to grow up in piece if he had stayed with me” Halt found himself stopping to rack a breath and let out a small sob barely noticeable in the evening song.
“He’s being given the choice tomorrow to continue under me as an apprentice Ranger, or, go to Battle School and learn to be a knight. He’s already been guaranteed a role as a squire under Rodney if he chooses to do so, Rodney has had a sword worked for him, elegant and fine, with intricate brass for the guard and pommel, and a shield painted by Rodney himself featuring a fearsome boar after the one he slew I told you about.”
“I know it’s selfish, but I hope he stays with me, and I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but he’s become a son to me and I’m afraid to lose him” as Halt said this, a gust of wind blew at his uncouth hair, sending the warmth from around his neck retreating.
“Thank you, Daniel.”
Halt sensing that he had spent long enough talking to spirits placed the bushel into the small campfire and watched as it roared to life, dancing in the night and filling his head with the smell of lavender and wheat. Feeling that the conversation had ended, if it had even happened, Halt poured the cup of ale out onto the fire.
The memory of last night was still fresh in his head as he heard Abelard’s greeting sing out to Tug, announcing that Will had returned home.
“Home, what an odd word, I don’t think I’ve called this place home in a while”
“What was that Halt?” came the call from outside.
“I said, I don’t think you’ve mucked out the stables for a while, do it in the morning alright, it’s too late in the day now” hearing the grumble of acceptance from the veranda Halt had a moment of respite to place his bandage back in his chest of drawers.
He looked at it for a moment more before sliding it shut, thinking of tomorrows labours.
Halt took the kettle off the fireplace and brewed a small pot of coffee, he knew it would take some time to get used to the feeling of his cottage being a home again, and with the uncertainty of tomorrow now that Morgarath was on the move again.
Sitting down in the wicker chair next to the fire with coffee in hand he found himself worrying about the boy.
“I have a son now, I have to be more careful, I need to set an example for him, I hope I’m able to do that, God above knows what kind of childhood I had”
Train of thought finishing with the empty cup in his hands, he placed it on the bench next to the wash tub, “I’ll deal with it later” he mused before silently exiting the front door to gaze at the young man whose legacy was in his hands.
Will must have noticed him standing there finally and turned to face him, gaze unfaltering as Halt sat down next to him, still wincing at the pain in his thigh.
“A Big day.”
I decided to tie this chapter in to the main story just for the hell of it, and end it with the beginning of the conversation between Halt and Will, fear not, I haven't decided to end this anytime soon, but I felt that this was a nice tie in to the main arc.
As always, comments, queries, death threats, constructive criticism are welcome and encouraged.