How the Truth May Be, chapter three

It’s the music… it’s a blast of air, a dive into a cool lake, all of this is what it feels to be spirited away by a song. You tap a few strings, and it’s magical from the start. A vibration in the string, it causes the air to ripple, and you shiver with it. The movement creates a distortion, the distortion creates more motion, and the rules of the physical world bend to your will. To your voice. To you.

It’s the only religion I need…

chapter three

“Gaedan! Heya chief, how you feelin’?”

The attack by Roisin has changed our village already. Connla now mutters darkly at the intentions of elves, and the greviances against England are forgotten for a while.

“Yeah,” I wave my hand, hoping to stave her off, but Moll, if anything, is persistant. “I’m fine.”

“Did that girl hurt you, chief?” Concern? Perhaps.

I wonder, at this point, did I dream of Roisin? I know now that she exists, haunting the empty space between memory and fantasy like the banshee Fergus claimed her to be. From beyond the veil?, I wonder…

“You don’t look hurt, chief. Let me help you catch something though?” And there is real desire in her eyes.

A choice? Does Moll really lo…

“Looks like the bard-to-be caught himself something already.” Moll gasps, but I knew already who it was. Her. Excitement is hardly the word.

Roisin takes her time approaching us, circling around Moll, who is paralyzed with fear at the moment. I could care less, though. I look at Roisin, drink in every detail, admire how well shaped she is. My crimes are not often greater than that. Roisin grimaces. “Kinda small though. I’d throw it back if I were you, Patrick.”

She turns on me. “Or does this one have her hook into you, I wonder?” she says with a wink.

Moll sputters. “Just what do you think you’re doing here, you almost hurt Gaedan here yesterday and I know you’re just looking to do it again!” Wow. I didn’t know she had it in her.

Pursed lips. I could die right now if I hadn’t just started to live. “Well, if he’ll let me, sure. Do it again and again and again and again until our limbs fall off.” She smiles. “Sound like a plan to you, Patrick?” Oh, how she teases!

“But he’s not Patrick, Patrick is…”

“I know who he is,” Roisin looks me over and picks her nose. “He’s mine.”

“Wha… what… do you mean?”

A rumbling. Not foresight, no, for Moll can feel it too. A tremor? No – it’s above ground, a force, an army? I look to the west, towards the sea, and then inland. It’s on the hill though, that I see them… oh yes, the Siabra. I have foretold your coming, you that want to be the death of me, the ghostly renegades that have defied the Elves.

I squint. They stand on the hill overlooking Connla, letting the town take them in and be afraid. A motley band, not large, 20 men perhaps, but they are desperate people, robbers and cutthroats all. The townsmen scramble – women and children into their meager huts, the menfolk grabbing what weapons they can – mostly rusty falcattas and clubs. Roisin is now missing, which worries me. I wouldn’t think her to back down from a fight. Moll is cringing behind me now, wanting me to be her protector.

Me! A Bard! Protector of only one!

I urge her into the hut nearest us. Some of the older men and boys are inside with bows ready to defend. I take rank with the men, ready to defend our village and our lives.

We bellow out our defiance. The siabra charge.

We leave Dun Ailinne
My companions are somber. Running from Druim Ligen has burned off the excess energy that the prospect of battle can bring. Now they are alert, calm, focused on the grim art of war. We move on speed lent of sound, the only noise we make is by the concerted strings of us Bards. We are upholders of battle, after all. Wise men, prophets, royal advisors, emrys and magicians all are at the heart, living songs, tied inexorably to the eternal battle of our people.

And that is what I am. A living hymn of glory, destined to live and die in battle. And it is my song that will see the day through, make no mistake about it.

It is a responsibility I gladly carry.

And I begin to tell how it may be…
The siabra rush has pulled us off balance. Lugh blind them, they are a canny lot! We recover, however, the loss is dire – Tedwig has fallen, a brave Firbolg lad. I mutter a dirge for him, but carry on with my grim work. I am no Bard yet, I tell myself.

We regroup at the north end of town. The sky is now littered with arrows, neither side wanting to step out from cover after the first rush. The siabra have underestimated us in their first attack, and it has cost them dearly. They still hold the advantage of experience, though.

The arrows stop. The men mutter. Something is coming.

And we see it, all too late. The siabra advance now with interlocked shields, mostly made of wood and lashings, but they hold and deflect our poor arrows. Several of them hold back, looking for targets to expose themselves. The siabra reach our first position, and the din is awful. Arrows seethe into every place we allow – the battle has turned.

My thoughts are frantic. I search for the words I need to turn this battle. I scream, I am a Bard! But nobody hears. Nobody can listen. And in the smoke and confusion, I see my father.

And he is going down.

Confusion clarifys. What was once chaotic has order. The siabra have stopped, their faces blank. A note…

… a song…

My song! I feel the power within surge as the music flows from me, and once again, I enter the veil between worlds.

Come Daurdabla!
Come Coir-cethar-chuir!
Come summer, Come winter!
Mouths of harps and bags and pipes!

And she is here.

Roisin explodes into vision, still in her armor, sword in hand, she’s jumped off one of the huts into the fray, her blade tearing the siabra with vicious precision. Her warcry is lost in my song, as is everything at this moment. The air itself is alive with sense, the tingling vibration of my tenor has made the hairs on the back of neck stand at attention, it’s a power I never dreamt of, and it’s mine to command. With a wave of my hand, I see the ills of my people fade from sight, wounds restored as if they had never been delivered.

Yet, I cannot take my eyes of Roisin. She darts from enemy to enemy, her cuts quick and deliberate, never missing, never lingering. The remaining siabra turn to flee from our deliverer, but those that are not cut down as they turn have their lives extended only slightly as we rally.

And as if it were that simple… the siabra are defeated.

… to be continued …

How the Truth May Be, chapter two

You have heard me before a battle. You have heard me speak of life. Now let me speak of death and the ending thereof. You say I speak in riddles? You say I speak so that you may not understand? No, I tell thee, I speak so that you may understand. For mine is not a tale of easy understanding, after all. Mine is no simple child’s fable about a rat, after all.

The answers are always the same, after all. I tell you this story because I have to. Because I could not imagine not telling it to you.

And like all good stories, it starts with a woman…

chapter two

“Go away Moll.” I think I might have actually meant that.

“You don’t have to be so insulting, chief.” She’s pouting.

“As a matter of fact,” I say, drawing up to my full height, “I do.” She pouted. She showed me her birthmark again. And she wondered why I’ve been sending her away. I walk away.

“You know, about Patrick…” I stop.

There is a moment in time when things stop along with you, I’ve found. Time is only perception, after all. We think of things as “time really flies when you,” but time doesn’t move, it’s just us moving around it. When time stops, I’m not sure if it’s me that’s stopping, or if I’m really just catching up to time.

This time, time caught up to me.

“Gaedan!” I could hear the puffing on Elara’s lips. “Gaedan! Gaedan!”

The puffing got louder.

Gaedan! Gaedan!

An awen. My first, truth be told. Let every man hear!

A faceless mob. A voice in the din. A laugh, a cry, a song. A woman, full as nature itself, offering herself to me. Another cry, this one in lament. Sorrow fading, indifference fading, it’s a song that I can’t deny. I see the mob before me, their arms in the air, cheering me on. I see her at my side, urging me to fall, to jump, to crow like a rooster and sing for the crowds. A laugh and a cry, it all sounds the same when you’re on the stage. I lift my lips, I take a drink of nectar that is borne of no fruit.

And I sing.

“Oh there is no death of me!
There is only wide blue sea!
Send me off, ship me to Western Isle!
For here begins the tale of how truth may be!”

For a moment, all is right. There is nothing, no breeze, no land, just the sea. Then ground reasserts itself to me, and I fall…

And, again, I awake from a dream…
“Oh! Gaedan, you’re awake, chief.” Oh Lugh, why punish me?

“That’s enough Moll, let him be. Why not go tell his parents that he’s awake now, child.” Elara. Bless her.

I open my eyes. The awen hit me hard, but I’m still here, still in one place, in one time. When the foresight hits you, you feel like this. Strange. Alive. Even incapacitated, barely ambulatory, I never felt more alive. Elara is standing over me.

“How are you feeling,” she asks. I nod. Words aren’t comig to me yet, I’m still trying to relearn how to speak. Again. The foresight will do that to you. And it feels great.

“Gaedan,” she begins, cautious around me. As if Bards everyday just started into prophecy, into song, around her. “There was a visitor, an elven woman. She insisted that she see you, but I told her that…”

The door swings open.

And words cease to fail me.

“You!” I cry. I’ve never seen this woman before, but I knew her every detail. The golden hair pinned behind her head, her hair straight and molded, unmoveable, but short, so unlike an elf. She’s wearing armor, too, blood red scale, armor that seems to have been made for her body, so unlike an elf, so full it makes my heart ache.

She smiles, and I am lost. But I know what’s coming. The test. I am the one, after all, that she’s been seeking.

She jumps and nobody sees it. Her arms have now gained five feet of tempered steel, as she leaps towards my resting place, the small hut now resonated with that war cry of hers – a sound, again, I’ve never heard it, but from that moment on, I would never forget the harmony of her challenge.

She comes crashing down into my bed, the sword sheering where my head was, and the world is upside down and then right side up. Down feathers fly everyhere as I lunge for the sword on the wall that I’ve never used. She stands erect, now her face is hidden in shadow, and I think I prefer it that way. Her sword is held out, feathers fly around her, but her eyes are boring into me as I stand ready. She pounces and the fight is on.

We fight, we sing. My blood is pumping now, into every vein, and it’s liquid music and lust and love at once. “Oh Kelley”, I sing, “your rat had better be tough to face us!”

And like that she’s gone, fled before we can be prematurely interrupted, no doubt Elara has run for the guard thinking the woman an assassin of some sort. Oh, let them hear whatever the hell they want to her.

She has come, I think, and I am alive after all!

No doubt, it was attack, they said…
“I tell you, James, she was a banshee, one from across the veil, sent to kill us in our sleep!”

“Thats, ‘take you away in your sleep’, Fergus,” my father said. “And mark my words, she spells trouble from the elves. Even those Shar seem tame close to those creatures.” It’s the midnight council, we’re back in the trees, away from sight and habitation.

“Either way, James, it’s a grave threat to Connla! We must send word up to Howth for protection!” Fergus. At least he’s not Fagan.

“Bah, just be on yer guards and yee’l be fine. Young lad here seems to be rather quick with that blade, aye?” I nod. Old Kennedy this time. I liked that old man. “Aye, and to hear him proclaim today! Aye, lad will be a Bard in a few short years, mark my words.” He took a swig of his whiskey. “Any clue what she be after with ye, lad?” he asks. “Or who she be?”

A name. What was it that hack Merlin once said… a word is given when a word is required. Well, I hadn’t needed much help with this one…

“Roisin.” I wanted to melt then and there.

“Roisin?!” My father exploded. Short temper, but he is a Celt. “Now they take Celtic names!”

I shrug. “So how do you know this… Roisin?” I shrug again.

“I don’t. But something tells me I ought to. Something tells me,” I say, hoping to hide the hope in my voice, “something tells me, she’ll be back.”

And while the old men around the fire spoke of Elvish plots to take their land, I sat, cloak around me, already feeling the stiring of music within take a hold on my soul, and thought… this is the awakening, after all.

This is it, after all.

… to be continued …

How the Truth May Be, chapter one

The gleeman wrapped his cloak tightly around his body. I thought it was a bit overdramatic, myself. Something that a Britton would do. Still, I was only 9 years old. What could I possibly know?

“He who has ears to listen, let him hear!” the Bard proclaimed, ending his tale. A tale of glory, I guess. Of our High King. I didn’t know Ireland had a High King. I don’t think I even really knew what a High King was. Someone really important, I suppose. All I knew is that I was unimpressed. I was, after all, very young. But listening to the Bard, seeing the manufactored looks of intrest on the faces of my people, I think I began realize something that day. Listening to this man, this Merlin, I think I understood why the grownups often talked in hushed voices, why so many of them had looked so sad. It wasn’t until much later that I fully comprehended this thought, but I was, after all, very young.

Perhaps he spoiled me. Perhaps I thought all Bards were as puffed up and arrogent as Merlin Embries. I didn’t even want to be a Bard myself. It was all her doing, after all. After she came into my life, I couldn’t not sing – it was as if I was besotten or perhaps gaesed like the heroes of old, trapped by an elven woman with a Celtic name. Ironic that, since I’m a Celt with an Elvish name. Perhaps we were meant for each other. Perhaps, in the end, I’ll just find that I ask too many questions.

Well, they say wisdom comes to us all. Eventually.

chapter one

“Gaedan! Gaedan!” Nothing happened. “Gaedan, hey, what are you doing, Gaedan?” As I recall, it was a nice day – the Shannon was deep blue and smell of salt was faint.

I looked up. “Fishing, I guess.” She frowned.

“You don’t have any bait, chief.” Say what you want about Moll, she always sees to the heart of things. Whether she means to or not.

“I guess I’m just thinking, then.”

She squatted next to me, hands on her knees. “About what, chief?”

“Things. Life. Nothing in general. Just letting my thoughts wander along with the fish, I suppose. Why?”
She looked at me for a while. I had my suspicions about Moll. I think maybe she knew more than she said. “I was hoping… I could help you catch you something.” Then she fell on me and kissed me.

“Why don’t you change your name?” she asked later.

“Why, you think I should?” I guess there was a little edge in my voice.

“Ya, chief. You could be ‘Patrick’. I think you might be a ‘Patrick’.”

Tell me chief, don’t you want a different name?”
I was 9 again. The golden-eyed Bard held my face in his hand, measuring me for all I was worth, I guess. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t hold his gaze for that long. Not many men could, I’m told. Still… “He has the way of a Bard about him.” Perhaps if he didn’t say that, I might have felt better about the whole thing. But no. Spoiled from the start. “I could, if you like, find fostering for him over in Brittan. My academy always could use a student with his gifts.”

Yeah. Whatever. Go away, Merlin.

“Yes, young Gaedan is rather gifted, Lord Embries.” Fagan. Oh, he was a viper back then as well.

“Gaedan?” Merlin seemed a bit taken aback by that. I’ve heard Merlin had some Celt in him. Maybe he felt a little pecular about Irish names. No doubt Fagan struck the wrong chord in him. Lugh knows he strikes the wrong chord in everyone else. “Tell me boy, don’t you want a different name?” Had I a dagger, I’d have gone for him.

That’s not what he said, of course. But it’s what I heard. And it’s what I’ve heard ever since. Perhaps she didn’t even say it. Maybe she said, “Oh, yes, Patrick is a fine name,” as if she wasn’t talking about someone else while we lay together. Whatever.

I heard what I heard. Let every man with ears hear his own damn thing, it’s what you make of the music that matters, not what the music makes of you.

“… it’s a strong name, or maybe Tedwig, though that’s a Firbolg name, or perhaps … ”

Moll, as you can tell, had a healthy appetite.

It’s the eve of battle.
Tomorrow my warriors and I will defend our lands in this never ending war. We’ll kill them all, or we’ll be killed, and every night it’s like this. Lugh prevent the day when we ever feel this alive again.
And yet we are alive. Look, see, there is Lexinthis, his laugh drowning out the hall, and Kayitlen at his side, holding close to him, sharing with his glee! See how they hold each other, how they live like today is their last. And how all our brave company gathers. I was maybe born for this night, I think. And I smile. There is more sing, after all, and I am not the only Bard that’s lived.

And look! There is Nauc, the unusally boisterous Sylvaan, being taunted by Sonderac, who is teasing him with a torch.

Tomorrow we’ll fight, some of us will die, some of us will live, and we’ll go back to being seperate, the Elves in their lands and us Celts in ours. I’ll probably go back to see my parents in Connla. At times, I envy those that will die tomorrow – they will pass with this night fresh in thier minds.

And since this is the eve of the battle, and since I am a Bard, I am asked to sing…

And sing I did…
As I begin to tune my harp, I wonder, how did I get here? How is it that I was once one of the living dead and now alive, facing death with a smile on my lips?

Ah yes. Her. Well, that is not the story I will tell tonight. Here it begins, however…

“There was, I am told, a family of little means in Connla. It is true, since many families in Connla are of little means. Connla is of little means. This particular family was one of a man named Kelley, and the Kelleys had a problem.

“One day, as they sat to break fast, a rat, one of the largest rats they had ever laid eyes upon entered their house and jumped on their table. The family backed away, as they were in awe of such a large rat, but also scared out of their wits! No sooner had the rat entered and jumped on their table, did it eat all their food and then leave.

“Dinner came and after a hard day of work did Kelley come home and find the rat had just came and left, leaving his family without food for the night. The children’s stomachs grumbled and his wife was near to tears, but all that was cooked and edible was eaten, and the only full belly belonged to the rat.

“‘Lugh help us!’ cried Kelley. ‘We will surely starve to death!’

“The following day, Kelley bought a cat that was known to the people of Connla to be good at catching rats, and took the feline home with him. The cat was of an odd manner, as all cats really are, and it simply sat down by the fire and fell asleep. That night, when dinner was laid out, the rat returned, and finding the newest addition to the family, bristled its back, but made to speak with the cat to see what this curious creature would do.

“‘How goes, friend,’ said the rat in an easy manner. The cat made no reply.

“The rat tried again. ‘I say, how does a curiousity like yourself find itself in this place of all places?’ Still, no answer, but Kelley gave the rat an ominous look as if to warn the rodent of what the cat would do should it not leave.

“Nervous now, the rat backed up from the dozing cat and after a moment of consultation with itself, struck out at the cat, hoping to slay it while it dozed. However, the cat was quick and light of foot, and it dodged the initial attack. The fight was on, and a furious fight it was. However, the cat was beaten by the larger rat, and it slinked off back into Connla to lick his wounds. Woe was the family of Kelley as the rat jumped back on the table and devoured the dinner that had been laid out.

“‘We’re finished now,’ lamented Kelley, ‘That theiving old rat will eat all of our stores and leave us to starve!’

“For three days and nights, the rat returned and claimed the food it felt was owed to him, and yet, there was no sign of the cat. On the fourth morning, however, the cat appeared, and in tow was the largest cat the Kelley family had seen. The first cat resumed its position back by the hearth, but the larger cat settled into a chair back along the shadows. They were fed milk as a token gesture, and the Kelley family prayed mightily that they might be able to stop the rat.

“Breakfast was served, and no sooner did Kelley raise his fork to his mouth did the rat appear, and in seeing the cat back at its place, snickered, and fell in to attack whom it had so easily bested.

“However, when the rat struck, so did the large cat pounce, and the fight was joined yet again, this time with large cat against the rat. The fight lasted all day and into the night, and when the sun set, the large cat finally killed the rat.

“Both cats were given their share of milk for their efforts, they spent the night warm by the hearth, but when morning came, they were gone, never to be seen again.

Let every man with ears to listen, let him hear!” I have sang and will sing no more tonight before this crowd of warriors. “Tomorrow is a day of battle and no more will be said for tonight!”

… to be continued …

A Sword of Roses, The Liturgy

Gloria! Gloria in excelsis deo! (1)

Mertel endured the the Christ Mass with patience befitting an opportunist. Though his head was lowered in perceived reverence, his eyes, sharp as any merlin, darted from corner to alter, always assessing. No golden chalice or brocade finery entered his gaze, however. No matter what men would say of this man, he was no burglar. Instead his eyes moved with the trained vigilance of a warrior, even in the Pendragon’s city.

Let men scoff at my furtiveness, thought he. Not many of those gathered here have seen what I have, they have not seen how real the danger of today is.
Amen! Amen! Aahhhhmen!

The congregation rose as the Bishop presiding over the Mass held his hands above his head. The priest then grabbed the golden chalice on the alter, raised it, and said, “Simili modo, postquam cenatum est, accipiens et hunc,” (2)

“Accipite et bibite ex eo omnes. Hic est enim calix Sanguinis mei novi et aeterni testamenti” (3)

The priest drank deep of the wine, as Mertel suppressed a snicker that always came at this part of the ceremony.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum!

Et cum spiritu tuo! (4)

“Peace be to you,” the man near Mertel said. He looked at the outstretched hand of the man, a merchant, by all accord, and grunted. The merchant seemed taken aback by this, so Mertel took his hand and with all forced goodwill, shook and replied, “Peace, yes.”

“Peace would be welcome indeed.”

“Ah, Mertel, stay awhile,” said the Bishop, Urbanus. The warrior groaned.

“What is it now, Grace? You saw me in the congregation, you saw me pray, what more will you lecture me about?”

Urbanus seemed not to notice or mind Mertel’s attitude. He approached with care, however, but stood unafraid still. “You trouble me son,” he said finally. Mertel scoffed.

“I fear for your peace of mind these days, fear that you’ve turned your back even more fully on the Lord.”

“I turned my back on Him long ago, Grace.”

The older man sighed. “Yes.” Urbanus looked long at the flagstone causeway they stood upon. “The Lord favors you, even still this day, and He would have upheld you in your, uh, failures.” Mertel stiffened and the Bishop took his hands as a father would his son. “Mertel, to err, they say, is human, and the Good God is forgiving of all his children. You may have turned your back on his service, but He loves you still. You must know this, and in knowing that, you will be granted peace from your past.”

Mertel’s face could have been stone at that moment. “You may forgive, He may forgive me, and the whole realm and her people could forgive me, priest,” the last word was forced out like a curse, “but I will never forgive myself. That peace you speak of is not something I will ever know as I live.” He turned away to walk into the night.
Urbanus sighed. “You would have made such a fine Paladin, my son…”

Mertel looked long at the starry Camelot sky, then at the gravestone at his feet, and sighed, bitterly.

He entered the tavern and took in every face, every action all at once. Time seemed to slow down the more people that entered his sphere of awareness, as his fighting instincts begun to catalog all that was a potential threat. The drunk swaggering younglings at the bar. The shady Saracen in the long cloak in the corner with his pipe, searching for his next mark. The whores in a gaggle near the center of taproom eyeing him as if weighing his worth in good gold. Mertel nodded slightly to the Saracen as he walked to the bar. The bishops’ words rang like judgment in his mind, they pounded away at his soul and so he thought only to the bottle and its own brand of salvation. Salvation that he had never found as a man of God.

Mertel drank well that night and made his own company. No whore or companion came to his side, so deep was his scowl, nor were they welcomed. It was well past mid-night, however, when the braggart young ones approached his table. Highlanders all, complete in their clan tartan, swaggered with uncertainty and belligerence to the table where Mertel was all but passed out. The tallest of them leaned forward over the table, his red hair a riot of twisted braids and swept back locks.

“Ey, look at this wanker, boys. Brit can’t handle his bloody drink, eh?” The other two laughed rancorously. Mertel made no move. “I’m talkin’ to you, boy…” growled the redhead.

“Peace, lad. And let a drunk man be.”

“Peace?” The redhead leaned closer, his breath reeked of cheap scotch whiskey. “If you want peace tonight, it’ll be at the end of my blade, son of a whore!”

Mertel’s head whipped up. “Fine, whelp. Then try to deliver your peace and perhaps you’ll learn something by the night’s end!” An irrational, hot anger shot through him, the ale and scotch began to pump through his veins. The young Scotsman lunged for him, through table and chair alike, but where he lunged, only air greeted him. The unmistakable screech of steel on steel tore through the atmosphere of celebration, and all was silent at once. Mertel had shaken off his cloak and now stood no longer as one well drunk would, but with the deadly grace of a fighter. Arms coiled like springs, legs bent as if to dodge or thrust, his pose spoke of death. But nothing spoke higher of doom than what he had produced in his fists; two long and slender dirks of arcanium, dark and sullen in their power. An air of competence and of furious strength permeated from them, as if they too were alive and hungry, and as if only blood would satisfy their hunger. He held them low away from his target, in the manner of a practiced knife fighter. The Scotsman’s anger and belligerence had faded. Now only fear and desperation marked his face.

The highlander had produced a light sword that had been strapped to his belt, and he held it firm but poorly out of place. This pose produced a laugh from Mertel, which only served to stoke the belligerence within the young Scot. He swung, a clumsy and well-telegraphed swing, which Mertel easily evaded. The next swing was a bit more true to its target, but was just as easily parried by the twin knives. Again and again the young Scotsman swung at his target, and every swing was met with blade or air.
Mertel smiled. Education had not been his plan, but it seemed that the teaching would come regardless. There must be some gain from this fight, he thought, and if this young whelp is going to be taught, then… then I can be entertained. He smiled even as he parried yet another blow. The fight had moved out into the dusty street and a crowd had gathered to watch the contest. Mertel was vaguely aware of the people watching and their rising interest and delight in his defensive display. He studied his opponent’s face, which, true to his highland roots, refused defeat even though his entire body screamed surrender. Mertel had no desire to kill or even hurt the young one, but he knew that the highlander would not stop until one of them lay dead.

Well, he thought, there’s more than one way to end a fight…

The Scot, now beaten through and through, had stopped swinging, and now stood, sword tightly gripped in both hands. He seemed to gather what was left of his strength, and with a loud cry, lifted the sword with both hands and delivered a overhead strike. Mertel raised his blades to meet the swing, and begun to buckle his knees even before the sound of steel rang out yet again. To the crowd, it looked as if the massive blow had worked, as if the force had driven the strength out of the Briton’s body, as he lay there in the dirt…

… and with speed so great it appeared to be instantaneous, Mertel spun himself around and picked himself up at, his right arm swinging around, a tight fist of anger…
A powder of dirt and chalk sprang forth from Mertel’s now spread fingers into the taller man’s eyes, and as the Scot made a sound like a dog’s dying cry, Mertel had spun around once more and picked up his knife from where it lay. Steel flashed in the starlit night and it was done. Two blades lay at the skin of the highlander, one at his unprotected throat and one at his left armpit, poised to enter his heart. Mertel could feel the fear and trembling of his opponent and he could feel his body’s instincts straining to finish the job.


Mertel took his knives away from the youngling, now soiled with his own fear and clawing at his eyes where the chalk had hit. He turned to face the newcomer and smiled.

“Damn boy, don’t you ever listen?” The one called Barlyic lashed out the young mercenary. “Come, lets go. I know a better place where we can drown ourselves in ale…”


“Gimme Ale!! NOW!!” The merc shouted at the barmaid. He was miffed at the slow response, he demaned good service.

“Dammit whore, gimme my ale now!!” He yelled again pounding his fists on the table knocking the plate of food onto the floor.

“Hey there! None of that or my men will teach you some manners!” A stocky old man firmly said to Barlyic, while branishing his sword. Beside him were three men, grundy, war torn looking. The looks and smell coming off them was as foul as the intentions they had for the mercenary.

“I mean no trouble, just some service, so sit you and your dogs down, before I teach you something… Sir” Barlyic scolfed at the men, throwing in a grin and turning his back on the men.. He knew what was coming..

The three men rushed Barlyic as soon as he turned his back, but being quicker and prepared, Barly had already jumped across the table and kicked a chair triping one of the men.

“That all you got? Slower then an old man you all are” He laughed again. He knew he had this won. He was prepared. The fight was a short one. The first man charged swinging wildly, easily parried, leaving himself exposed to be knocked out my the back of Barlyic’s blades. The second one showed some grace, but Barlyic was too quick, and was able to evade, moving behind the man and knocking him out.. The third man, well he ran. Barlyic smiled.

“Now you, Leave me alone or I won’t be as generous.” He pointed his blackened blade towards the Old man.

Suddenly two hands clasped Barlyic’s shoulders and shoved him down in a chair. Trying to squirm free he tried to kick himself free, to find himself surrounded.

“Nice work there, mind if we join you?” The red headed Highlander said while sitting down.

“Name is Wade, and these here are my friends. Care if we buy you a drink? No? Good, cause well, we have a proposition for you.”

“I know a better place where we can drown…”

Mertel staggered, the competence fading into belligerence and his deadly posture dropping into the stagger of a man too far gone with drink and exhaustion. “… I’m drowned already, Barly. Drowned in the blood of a thousand wheat stalks and grain. You know of blood, don’t you?”

The highlander mercenary coolly drew his swords.

If the crowd was treated before, then they were to be feasted on a orgy of attack and counter attack as Mertel reproduced his knives with a drunken grin and hiccup. Barlyic shook his head and approached the younger man. “Its time for another lesson to be learned, then, Mertel.”

Two new Scotti knights pushed their way through the crowd to stand in the ring that had been made, but made no move to break up the fight. Barly nodded to both them, to either, Mertel made no move or notice.


And it was off. Mertel attacked with blades and forearms, blocking the highlander’s heavier swords with precision and dexterity. Barlyic in turn used the larger jambiyas he wielded to easily parry Mertel’s drunken rage. The highlander swept with a clean right handed uppercut which Mertel barely dodged, and followed with a vicious cross slash of the left that sent the Briton reeling back. Mertel reeled only for a moment, however, feinting a clumsy charge then spinning on his front heel, searing a knife thrust where Barly’s head was a moment earlier, his trailing left hand sweeping Barly off his balance. Seeing his right hand far over extended, inviting attack, Barlyic took opportunity and flicked out with his two swords in a strike obviously meant to decapitate. However, he saw only almost too late Mertel’s right hand spinning far behind him and then lashing out as a cobra would towards a victim. The highlander was nearly impaled on the thrust but used his momentum to deftly leap away as Mertel finished his spinning attack.

Mertel had scored a nicking blow, but it was clear that the edge, however slight, belonged to the older, more experienced, and more sober Barlyic. Sensing this, Mertel resituated himself in a more defensive posture, hoping to invite another opportunity. Barly remained fast, however, Mertel was forced to once again take the offensive, lasing blows to either side, but scoring none. The onslaught became faster, until his hands became an absolute flurry of flashing dark steel in the moonlight as his knives spun and chopped at Barlyic’s upraised blades, the din of steel on steel was dreadful in the dusty streets and everyone present save the fighters and the two knights, now forgotten, covered their ears.

Mertel could not sustain the attack, however, and his arms and entire body came crashing down to his knees, knives dropping to the ground.

His voice was a whisper. “Finish it, Barlyic. If you were ever a friend, then just end my pain now.”

And darkness claimed him.

It was the two highlander knights, their dark green plate mail making them look every part a pair of summoned golems or perhaps helpers from another world, that dragged Mertel out of the spectacle that he had created and into the Defenders of Albion.

Barlyic walked before them, his face a study in showing no outward emotion as he gestured to a tub of warm water. “Toss him in there, guys.” He looked once more to his fallen friend and sighed. The two knights gently dropped him in the water, leaning his head back over the tub.

Another entered the room, a Scotswoman, and harried to Mertel’s unconscious form. Her red hair was a matted mess on her purple gown. “Ya could have woke me ‘arlier, Barly,” was all she said before she absorbed her full attention to the Britton in the bath.

Barly grunted as the two knights removed their helmets. Both wore the braids of their clan, one had hair of the darkest night, the other’s was bright red. The raven haired highlander spoke. “My apologies, m’lady. Our mission to retrieve young Mertel after his annual revelry was detained by a few mishaps, however, let me hasten to assure before fear doth creep into thine heart for our safety that Sir Cunningham and I wert more than a match for the faceless mob that beset us, even as our revered leader Barlyic handled the subdual of our, more boisterous companion-in-arms. Doubtless, rumor, which spreads like the yelping of mongrel dogs at night in alarm, has spread the deeds of the night through fair Camelot, and our friend’s celebration and battle with our leader will be well known before midday on the morrow, or, as it were, today, since day hath passed into morrow already.”

The red-headed knight, Wade, rolled his eyes. “We’d have sent word darlin’, but Barly had to crack a little more sense into ‘Tel this year. And Gaelis, please, I’ve asked you don’t call me ‘Sir’.”

Gaelis managed to look shamefaced. “Forgive me, brother, for my lapse of tongue, I swear to thee it shalt not happen again until that time I forget once again your aversion to title.”

Phantasee looked at the pair of mismatched knights and laughed. “Then leave me, the three of ya, and I will do what I can do… to at least ease his physical suffering,” she added with a grin. Her grin faded. “Please, I need spend tonight in prayer for ‘Tel here, his wounding grows deeper each year, it seems.”

Barlyic yawned. “You’re right. Besides, we all need our sleep. Need I remind you all that the Christ Mass is celebrated world wide, and even now our dear friends to the north and to the west prepare their annual revelry. Already we’ve seen ships north of the Wall.” He shrugged. “However,” he added with another yawn, “that’s for tomorrow.”

True to her word, the cleric Phantasee spent the night at Mertel’s side, praying for him.

In the vaults of his mind, he heard her litany like a hammer, felt the work of God in him, but he shut his mind to the divine presence he once felt. Soft female hands rose from memory to embrace him and drag him deeper into his misery. Her face screamed to him in the night, as it had every year.

I will always love you, my Knight.”

to be continued…
(1) “Glory to God in the Highest”
(2) “After supper was ended, he took the cup and said,”
(3) “Take this all of you and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.
(4) “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” “And also with you”