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|A medieval mercenary awakes not knowing where he is and what happened to him, just to find out that he is imprisoned and something is definitely wrong... Special thanks go to Stephanie Riley for correcting my translation of this story into English!||
After the night
I woke up with a groan. It was rumouring between my temples as if a millstone was grinding corn. I squeezed my lids shut, trying to fight the aching in my skull. I sucked air through my teeth and my first thought was just to turn over and resume sleeping, but the hard wood of the plank bed below me didn't promise any relief. I then decided to open my eyes, and light shot like an arrow right through to the back of my skull. Only after an eternity of blinking did I begin to perceive anything of my surroundings. The room I lay in was small and equipped quite Spartan it reminded me of a monks cell, except my bed. It only held a small, three legged wooden stool, a single board, held by a lonely wooden staff, with a worn bowl on it and a small round mirror above. To my right was a massive door and to my left a small, draped window, through which enough light fell to constantly torture my aching head.
I carefully rose to my elbows, only to see a black cloak falling on the world around me. When the blood left my brain, I staggered and nearly slammed my forehead on my hard bed, just now really realising how weak and exhausted my whole body felt. I remained for several minutes with a half risen chest and shut eyes, breathing heavily, to focus my body and mind. Where exactly was I and how did I come here?
My name is Storm, Jard Storm, and I am a mercenary a warrior for hire. Though many regular soldiers and guards show nothing but disdain for this profession, I'm proud of my job. On one hand, it's because I'm one of the best with sword or lance, I am as good as any of these uniformed apes! The other thing is that this life enables me to choose whom I serve. I never had myself sent on suicide missions or had to go to arms against half-starved farmers rebelling against the last tax-raise actually I had taught more than one tyrant to fear his suppressed people for a worse payment then he would have offered, but for the better of my soul and conscience. In a world full of injustice and suppression I did what I did best and by doing it I tried to keep my honour alive and my stomach filled like a walk on a tightrope.
My memories of recent times my employer, so I had one, my whereabouts yes the whole last weeks all seemed to be cloaked by a thick fog, my thoughts couldn't get through.
Meanwhile my body had calmed down a bit, so I dared to risk another move, even slower then before. I tried to sit and again nausea and dizziness came, but this time I was prepared as far as it was possible. One, two deep breathes and I sat at the edge of the plank bed. My sight had also become clearer but this didn't make the room seem much friendlier. Carefully I began stretching my body to remind my limbs and joints of the tasks they were thought to fulfil and although every fibre felt terribly cramped I managed to get some fresh strength to my arms and legs. Cautiously I got up. This time dizziness and nausea were much milder and though my limbs seemed to me to be made of cotton wool, my muscles and tendons were under my control. Now, with pain and nausea slowly retreating, I realised the burning thirst, that was scratching in my throat like a captive animal. Slowly and carefully I moved to the bowl on the board at the opposite wall. To my relief it was actually filled with clear water and I put it to my thirsty lips. In long, deep pulls I let the cool liquid flow into my body, which seemed to be revived by the freshness of the water only the thirst didn't want to leave.
Now my eyes turned to the small mirror at the wall sometimes it is incredibly reassuring to know that you look as bad as you feel. But what I saw confused me at first my face seemed blurred and out of focus like the image on the surface of a lake disturbed by the wind. I blinked several times and rubbed my eyes to make sure that they didn't play a trick on me but the image remained blurred.
Anger at this piece of miserable work rose from my innards if it wasn't even able to show my face to me it was just worthless. I grabbed the wooden stool behind me and smashed it right into the glass. Splinters and pieces of wood rained down on me when both broke. A quick kick made the board also fall from the wall and shattered the bowl at the floor. Breathing heavily I stood at the centre of the room where had my self-control gone? Headache and nausea forced me to my knees.
It was dark and the trees around me grew to the star-covered sky like ancient giants. Beside me monks carrying torches and heavily armed temple knights were walking. They were systematically combing the undergrowth, obviously hunting something or somebody. I wore my chain mail shirt and helmet and had drawn my trusty blade. Our whole group seemed to be quite nervous even the stoic Templars seemed to carry their blessed arms almost fearful, holding them in cramped hands like some sort of talisman whatever our prey was, it must have been extremely dangerous. And it must have gotten into conflict with the local monastery. I do not have much sympathy for these religious fanatics. Too many of the things I enjoy in life are considered sinful and rotten by them good food and wine, a good but harmless brawl with friends and especially spending time with pretty, and in the worst case, self-confident women. But not all of their goals were despicable and their money surely wasn't. Sometimes in my business you have to take what is offered. Then I heard a crack in the undergrowth...
... And found myself lying flat on the chambers wooden floor. The debris from my battle against the inventory, splinters of glass, wood and clay, pierced my back and the back of my head felt like one big swelling. My suddenly reappearing memories had sent me to the ground harder than most pub brawls my skull rang like a church bell but at least this time the reason for my pain was obvious. Again I forced my reluctant legs to put my body upright, determined to do something. First of all, I had to leave this room to find out where exactly I was and to find my equipment if possible without sword and armour in an unknown territory I felt uncomfortably vulnerable. The long shirt I woke up with did little to make me feel less naked. Two firm steps carried me to the door and I put my hand to the handle and hesitated. What if the people on the other side didn't mean anything good to me? Carefully I put my ear to the wood. Although the door seemed massive and thick I could clearly make out some sound from the other side: heavy steps and the clanking of chain mail hinted at an armed guard. With grim grumbling, I went to my knees trying to peer at the gap between door and wall. I could actually see the lock's bolt so they had locked me into this room and were guarding me!
Anger began burning in my stomach like a blazing fire and helped me to forge a determination that swept away all my aches like some annoying flies. Nobody would hold me captive that easily and the window might provide me with an opportunity for flight. Cautiously I drew the rags aside that served as drapes for the window. The light that entered the room now was so bright that I had to turn my eyes away from it. Again a piercing pain rose behind my forehead but a firm shaking of my head showed it who ruled that skull. Blinking, I turned back towards the window. The day's bright light was still uncomfortable but I was able to take it. I pulled the drapes back completely. As I had expected, two massive iron bars blocked my way. A silent curse found its way out of my mouth. Without leaning from the window I could only see part of a wood at the horizon which obviously lay quite a bit lower then my chamber, but I couldnt see anything from the closer vicinity of the building. The colour of the light and the length of the shadows indicated that it was early afternoon time.
I grabbed the left bar and began shaking it angrily. The metal actually moved a bit the obstacle of my flight path seemed to have been added to the window afterwards and not very thoroughly. I pressed my feet against the wall below the window and pulled with all possible force to free the bar from the mortar holding it. Sweat poured from all pores and I felt fever rising but the constant crumbling and trickling assured me to go on. Then the bar broke from its holding. I stumbled two, three steps backwards until found my balance again. Surprised and happy to have regained so much strength, my confidence rose. A wide grin appeared on my face and after a short break for heavy breathing I turned towards the second bar. Encouraged by my prior success I couldn't be stopped for long by this new obstacle. Feverish, exhausted and incredibly content, I leaned out of the opening. I found myself at least fifteen feet above ground in a large building that stood atop a hill, probably a castle or a monastery or both at the same time. The last doubts about me being in Templar hands vanished. Around the castle were fields and pasture up to the dark woods that covered the more distant hills. The most important thing that caught my eye was the ledge running along the wall about one meter below my window. I carefully raised my left leg through the opening and groped for the narrow ledge, holding myself at the upper part of the window's frame. I found just enough space to place my foot parallel to the wall and little pieces of stone crumbled under my weight and fell to the ground below. But the ledge seemed to be capable of holding me at least for some time. Carefully I followed with my right leg. The rough wall didn't provide much hold but I was not willing to give up. Slowly I began to make my way along the wall, hand after hand and foot after foot, pressed against the stones like a swatted fly.
We were still searching the woods. Meanwhile our line had spread far and only the flickering lights of the torches and sporadic shouting told me that the monks and Templars still were near me. The dancing shadows in the undergrowth made my imagination go ever wilder and only the tight grip on my trusty sword kept my mind in the real world. A faint moaning coming from some nearby bushes caught my attention. Cautiously I pushed the branches aside with my blade. To my surprise I saw a young woman. She was more than beautiful with long, black hair, flawless fair skin and red, seductive lips. She wore a white dress that seemed so light and finely woven that it appeared to be made from fog and spider webs. Her face showed great pain and a nasty wound was gaping in her flank. Her big eyes looked at me, searching for help. Instinctively I knew who had maltreated her like this my fanatical companions were known to consider any kind of femininity as satanic and this gorgeous being must have appeared to them like the impersonated sin. I put my sword back to the scabbard and bowed down towards her...
...Just to fall from the ledge. I desperately stretched my arms and crashed with my lower arms and chin onto the stone. The sweetish taste of blood filled my mouth and temporarily puzzled my senses. Waves of pain ran through my body and I cursed my reappearing memories, which obviously wanted to kill me. Slowly, I pushed myself up again. Sweat ran down my back and it was only now that I felt how hot the sun was burning on the back of my neck supported by the fever rising again. Inch after inch I raised my right knee to the ledge, ignoring the desperate trembling of my arms as far as I could. A loud crack in the stones almost made me panic. Breathing heavily I began to search my way up along the wall again, and after what seemed like an eternity I finally stood on the ledge again sweating, feverish and absolutely sure that it had been one of the worst ideas I ever had to climb out of the window. Nevertheless now that I was outside I wouldn't go in through the same window I climbed out of. Only one and a half spans of my arms to the left I saw an open shutter. Still trembling and hoping that no new visions would overcome me as long as I was up here, several meters above the ground, I resumed my way.
I drew a deep, relieved breath as I got hold on the wood of the window shutter my trip into the artistic was getting near its end. I moved up to the window's frame and tried to listen what might expect me in the room beyond. A loud snorting, creating the image of a fat monk with a big, red nose, brought a smile to my face this sound was much more reassuring than silence ever could have been. This window was much larger then the one of my prison and had no bars so it was much easier to climb through it. The room beyond was large and filled with sacks, chests and barrels. In a corner next to the door a monk was sitting, who actually had a big belly and a red nose. Together with the big jug smelling like wine between his feet this told me that he didn't take ascetics as serious as some of his brethren. My mood rose even further when I saw what lay beside the man: In a carefully arranged heap lay what I had missed so dearly, my clothes, water bottle, purse and most important my sword and shield. Quickly and silently, as I had learned after so many nights, I redressed, put on my sword and strapped the shield to my back. Although I still didn't know exactly what was happening to me or where I was now I felt able to find out and deal with the situation. I went for the door when I heard voices somebody was coming towards me. I decided to just listen for the moment.
... like a madman but now he seems to be calm. This was the voice of a young man, maybe a novice of the monastery.
Well, an elder man answered, it seems to me as if it has progressed much too far already. We cannot help him anymore.
So you don't see any other option, father?
Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the higher good and sometimes you have to kill to save lives. Even if he was aiding us before, now he is an intolerable threat.
They were obviously talking about me. I almost burst out of the door to confront these big headed clerics but the sounds accompanying them made me hesitate. The number of footsteps I heard and the clinging of weapons and armour told me that several Templars were with them. Normally I wouldn't have hesitated to fight my way through them, but in my recent state I would have been lucky to take on even one of these knights, who rightfully were considered extraordinary fighters. I was looking for a hiding place when I heard how the next room was unlocked I only had a few moments now until they would go searching for me. Although the storage room was full of things nothing seemed appropriate to provide a good cover. The people in the other room exchanged some hasty words I didn't understand and began to sound the alarm. Quickly I sent the awakening fat monk back to sleep with the pommel of my sword when the door already opened. An enormous, armoured Templar stood in it.
I have found him! he shouted and charged me. I could barely parry his first blows I hadn't found the time to get my shield from my back. Each of his mighty strikes sent pain through my arms I wouldn't be able to hold him off for long and already I heard hasty steps coming closer. I was desperately searching for a flight path when a bad parry by me caused his sword to find my left shoulder. Terrible pain accompanied the deep cut. With the strength and speed only real desperation can grant, I thrust my blade into his belly. His chain mail stopped the blow but he had to take two faltering steps backwards, his face distorted by the pain, and so gave me some space. Instinctively I was going for the light opening I saw at the brink of my eyes. A long-fly carried me through it when I found myself six meters above a rapidly nearing ground. For one moment I felt like flying then the impact pressed all air out of my lungs. My world turned to red, and unbearable pain flooded through every fiber of my body. I was coughing blood and threw up.
It felt like eternity to me until I realised I was still alive. Carefully I began rearranging the parts of my body and actually, as if a higher entity had guarded me, only one of my ribs seemed to be broken. I got up coughing and moaning. Within my head a whole army made up of heavy cavalry seemed to be charging, but I could still hear somebody running towards me, shouting loudly. Filled with panic, I began to stumble away. Gradually I could convince my legs to find a more coordinated way of movement. Behind me I could hear the clinging of arms and the shouting of my pursuers. Arrows barely missed me. As in trance I was running towards the cover of the woods I had seen before and to my great surprise my steps covered the distance in little time. My blood was roaring in my ears and my sight began to dwindle when the first gnarled giants passed besides me. A violent strike hit my back and I saw the shaking, bloody tip of an arrow coming out of my shoulder. Tears ran from my eyes and my legs lost all strength. I dropped to the ground and began rolling down a slope. Splintering the arrow's shaft broke from my wound and I couldn't suppress a long scream. Overpowered by pain, nausea and exhaustion, I just lay there on the ground between the leaves of the trees. I couldn't go on anymore. My whole body seemed to be burning. Never before had I felt that helpless and with tears in my eyes, I lost consciousness.
The next moment I remember the night had come. A full moon shone at me and it was relieving cool. I got up and felt just great. All pain was washed away and new strength was running through me. Only after some time I realised that I must have lost my pursuers. It was like a dream all my problems seemed to have disappeared. Except the thirst. A thirst as I had suffered never before. My tongue seemed to cry for a sweetish, metallic taste I couldn't really define. I definitely had to find something to drink. I listened carefully. My sensed seemed to be sharper than they had ever been before. A faint rushing told me of a nearby stream. With long strides I went towards it. Actually the stream even widened into an idyllic little lake, gleaming in the moonlight. I kneeled down at the shore. My reflection looked flawless, as if all pain, disease and trouble had been nothing but a bad dream. I smiled and showed long, pointy fangs. Shocked, I retreated.
The water will not quench your thirst! - A seductive female voice sounded from behind me, and there she was, the woman of my memories unharmed and irresistible. Who... I stuttered. She put her perfect finger to my lips, almost driving me mad.
Your new mother, she answered, the one who made you what you are now, and hopefully your new companion, too! - Her smile could have melted a glacier - and it showed to me that she also had white, long fangs. Gently she took my hand and helped me up.
Let us go to the village, to drink for dinner as we do.
We rose over the woods as a joyful couple and flew towards the moon.
End (and a new beginning)
Dedicated to all who find joy in it.
© 2000/2005 by Roland Gromes
|The last dusk||
|A perfect society|