Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Dark Ages, Book 1: Chapter 1, Part 1

(Continued from the Prologue)


The might of the army of Guardia marched through town at a steady pace, and all the smallfolk had turned out to see. Glenn sat on a rooftop, above the crowds. He saw the other boys in the street and envied them since some of them got to rush up and touch the knights’ mighty destriers as they passed. Their parents would pull them away quickly, but it would be worth punishment later to be that close, even for a moment.

Glenn comforted himself with the knowledge that he had the best view of all. Surely he’d be scolded if anyone caught him up there, but Glenn wasn’t concerned. The procession had everyone’s attention, and adults rarely caught him on the roofs anyway. People simply didn’t look up very often.
The smell of horse was strong as a hundred knights rode by, almost overpowering the smells of the crowd. Glenn watched the procession as it made its way toward the baron’s keep and thought of what it would be like to be a knight, strong and respected, serving your duty and bringing honor to the kingdom and to your family. Maybe then Glenn would be able to walk with his head high. Maybe then he could meet people’s gaze without their looks of pity and loathing. It would be a while yet—even highborn boys could not squire until the age of ten, and Glenn would have to work harder than most to stand out and be chosen as a squire. Knighthood would likely take years and years. Still, Glenn counted the days to his next two birthdays. In the meantime he would watch the squires when he could and learn from them, though they often ran him off when they noticed him watching them.
Glenn heard a pair of voices from below, close enough to be understood above the rabble of the crowd. He crawled forward to hear. One of the best things about rooftops was listening in to conversations without being noticed. Glenn learned a lot about the people of the town from the things they said when they thought nobody was listening. Lying, cheating, secret lovers, plots, and the like, Glenn had overheard quite a bit, even if he didn’t really understand it all.
“…keeping the baron in line more than anything,” came a voice of a gentleman, not bothering to be hushed over the din of the crowd. His voice still held a distinct note of conspiracy, which Glenn was all too familiar with. “The king knows his grip on us is tenuous at best. Porre is a pot close to boiling, just you watch. Some of us remember our independence. It weren’t so long ago.”
“You wouldn’t know it from the way the crowd behaves,” said another older gentleman. “Look at the way the children fawn over the honor guard. The wounds will close by the end of the next generation, and the identity of our country will be lost soon after.”
“Not so, my friend. The children don’t understand yet, true, but they will learn. Their parents will see to it. Look at their eyes. Their faces are all either empty or covered in bland smiles, but their eyes tell the truth of it. The fire still burns, and the water gets warmer.”
Glenn looked, and he realized that the man spoke true, or close to it. Several people cheered at the footmen as they followed the knights down the lane, but many more stood motionless, simply watching the procession. Some held their children still and allowed them to watch, but not to rush forward. Glenn saw one man, with restraining hands on his son’s shoulders, bend down to whisper something in his son’s ear. The boy’s smile faded, his faith seemed to waiver.
Glenn turned his eyes back to the procession. No, he couldn’t imagine how anyone could suspect those men of being anything but virtuous. If Porre had a problem with the knights, then maybe Glenn had a problem with Porre. He made a mental note to ask his mother about it that night.
“I hear the king can barely maintain his own household,” said the first gentleman. “He and the queen are heard to squabble endlessly, and their younger child, the daughter, goes missing half the time.”
“Missing? For ransom?”
“Hardly. They say she’s a wild little chit, riding through the forest often as not. All the grace of a sot, if the rumors are to be believed. She tried to force the royal master–at-arms to teach her the blade, but the king would have none of it.”
“A mark in his favor, then. Women ought not man the battlefields.”
The last of the foot soldiers would be passing by soon, so Glenn decided to leave his hiding place before the crowds began to clear out. He crawled over to the rear of the building, hopped over to the next roof, and made his way toward the tree he often used to climb up and down from the rooftops.

Continued in Chapter 1, Part 2

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