Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Dark Ages, Book 1: Chapter 1, Part 2

I watched Inside Llewin Davis tonight, and I think I should take some time to digest it before posting a review.

Instead, I hope you don't mind if I post the next portion of my story, continued from Chapter 1, Part 1.


In the street, Glenn sped along, keeping an eye out for other boys his age. Luckily, most of them were still with the crowds watching at the main street, but Glenn suspected that the boys that he was worried about had no interest in knights. Recalling the words of the gentlemen he overheard earlier, he thought he might understand why.
Near the outskirts of the town was the ragged road that led toward the mill where Glenn lived with his mother. The streets were nearly deserted in this part of town, though Glenn could still see the line of soldiers heading roughly the same direction, along the great highway that connected the kingdoms of the south to the kingdoms of the north.
The sounds of marching and the rabble of the crowd were distant here, but Glenn heard ragged hooting and cheering and the distinct clack-clack-clack noise of wood on wood from a nearby alleyway. He glanced down the path that led home, to safety and Mother and food and chores. Then he glanced toward the alleyway.
The day was still young, only the afternoon. Glenn decided there was no reason he shouldn’t go and watch. He could always run away, if it came to it.
He headed toward the alley. The clatter of wood was almost rhythmic, and the cheering would occasionally cease for several long moments, only to erupt again all at once. Glenn cautiously peeked around a building and saw a small group of boys watching two of the older ones dueling with sticks.
It was a clumsy display, in truth. The older one, who Glenn recognized as the carpenter’s son Harold, swung his stick wildly, as dangerous to the onlookers as he was to his opponent. The onlookers dodged and jeered at him when he swung too wide. His opponent at least knew how to hold a sword properly and managed to block Harold’s clumsy, dangerous blows well enough, but he wasn’t making any headway either. Glenn didn’t know the other boy, although he looked vaguely familiar. The boys watching them jeered at and rooted for noone in particular.
Finally, Harold swung so wide he lost his balance, giving the other boy a chance to attack. The stick came down hard on Harold’s back, causing the carpenter’s son to yelp in pain. He whipped around in a rage, humiliated and hurt. The others fell silent as the situation grew suddenly tense.
The other boy backed off and held his stick in front of him defensively. “I got you. You’re dead. I won fair.”
Harold seemed to be mulling it over slowly. He looked down at his stick as if weighing his chances, then dropped and spat at it. “You got lucky, stableboy. I’ve beaten better.”
The other boy grinned. “I can see how. You’re pretty strong, you just…” His eyes wandered and noticed Glenn, hiding at the end of the alleyway. “Who’s that?”
The other boys looked, and one of them started to laugh. “Oh, fight him next!”
“Yeah, knock him to the ground, I wanna see it!”
The boy gave the kids a reproachful look. “That’s stupid. Why would I do that? I’m a great warrior, not a brute. I only fight fiends and those that can defend themselves.”
Some of the kids had the grace to look somewhat ashamed, but Glenn was pretty sure it was because someone they looked up to had scolded them, not because they felt it was deserved.
The boy turned back toward Glenn. “Hey kid, want to come learn how to fight? My father convinced the Baron’s master-at-arms to give me a lesson yesterday, and now I’m showing everyone else what he taught me. Better to learn how to be a soldier than to watch them march past on the street, eh?”
Glenn hesitated. The other boys were watching him. There were only six of them, all told, but they were all older than him and bigger. Most of them avoided Glenn on the streets, but then there were the two who had asked the new boy to beat him up. Jovey and Tomard were a weasely couple of bullies and had ganged up on Glenn a few times in the past, roughing him up and even sending him home with a black eye once or twice. Glenn was afraid.
The new boy gave Glenn a curious look. “Come on kid, if you want to watch you have to come over. If you’re too craven to even talk to people, you’ll never become worthy of knighthood.”
Tomard guffawed. “A knight, he says!” Some of the others snickered as well, but the new boy’s face remained inviting.
A knight, thought Glenn. Maybe the new boy wasn’t very good with a sword yet, but he learned from Ser Devon, the master-at-arms, so he must have learned something useful. And he made a good point: Glenn had never heard of a craven knight.
“Good, good, welcome,” said the boy as Glenn came forward. “Take up a sword, I’ll school you next.”
Glenn looked around and reached for Harold’s dropped stick. It was heavy, too big for Glenn, since Harold had some six years and four or five stones over him.
The other boy grinned again. “Brave of you, good Ser, but I have some blades more fitting for someone your size over here.” He motioned to a pile of sticks that Glenn hadn’t noticed until then. His ears burned, embarrassed, but he tried not to let it show.
“No,” he said. “I want this one.” I’m such a fool, he thought, as he raised the stick up to rest on his shoulder. It wasn’t that bad, really, just awkward. A real sword would be heavier.
The other boy shrugged. “Suit yourself. Now, stand and face me.”
Glenn moved closer. The other boy was certainly taller than him, maybe four or five years older. He smelled of the stables, of hay and horses. He was still a little winded from his match with Harold, but he stood confidently and more or less steady.
“I would have your name, Ser,” said the boy.
“Glenn. From the mill,” He added as an afterthought. He felt he needed to add something to such a formal address.
“Well, Ser Glenn of the Mill, I am Cyrus of the Stables. Prepare yourself!”
Glenn hefted the stick in front of him, on the defensive, and Cyrus stepped back as if expecting an attack.
The other boys were quiet, holding their breath. When neither Glenn nor Cyrus moved forward for several moments, the onlookers began to mutter to each other, confused.
“Impressive,” said Cyrus. “Ser Devon’s first lesson was that the winner of a fight is not who kills who first, but who’s alive at the end. Start by protecting yourself, not by trying to kill your opponent.”
It seemed more like common sense to Glenn than a lesson. Plus, he had seen how Cyrus had blocked Harold’s heavy swings; there was no way Glenn would get through with the same technique, less strength, and an unwieldy weapon.
Cyrus approached cautiously and began to circle around Glenn. Glenn watched him, turned with him.
And then Cyrus jumped forward, knocked Glenn’s stick out of the way, and poked Glenn in the stomach, sending him back on his rump before he had a chance to recover.
The boys cheered and laughed, and Cyrus extended a hand to help Glenn to his feet. Glenn batted it away and stood on his own.
“One more time,” he said. His rump hurt, and his wrist still throbbed from when Cyrus’s first swing nearly sent the stick flying from his hands. Yet he stood on guard again.
“The little kid wants to get knocked down again,” said one of the other boys. Glenn didn’t know him very well; he wasn’t one of Glenn’s regular antagonists.
Cyrus shrugged and stepped back again, bowed, then lunged. Glenn attempted to parry, but only managed to drive the blow away from his chest and into his shoulder. He fell down again, and the boys’ laughter grew louder.
Glenn got to his feet again. His arm ached badly from the blow to his shoulder. His hand gripped the stick well enough, but swinging it would be difficult.
“Once more.”
Cyrus grinned. “You are a handful, aren’t you? I don’t want to spend the day knocking you down, kid.”
“This is the last one. I promise.”
Cyrus considered the proposal with exaggerated thoughtfulness, making the other boys laugh even more. Finally, he nodded, and immediately lunged forward again.
Glenn didn’t even try to block it. Instead he dodged forward, under the lunge, and cracked the stick against Cyrus’s knee. Cyrus yelped and swore.
“Ow, good shot you little northern bastard. I wasn’t expecting that. You’re the first one to…”
Glenn stopped listening. It was over. Cyrus knew. Like all the others, he knew, and so it was over. Glenn felt tears coming, so he dropped the stick and ran. He couldn’t let them see him cry, not again. They enjoyed his tears too much, especially Jovey and Tomard.
He heard the other boys laughing and Cyrus yelling questions at him as he ran from the alley to the road that led out of town toward the mill.

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