Sir William, the Black Knight
(Last updated: 2013-08-14 17:49:26 ET)
|Poitiers - Woe to Jon le Bon
I was born on December 27, 1337 and was christened Wilhelm, anglicized to William, in honor of the legendary English knight, William Marshal, First Earl of Pembroke. My father was an avid historian of chivalry and could recite to you the entire histories of all of the greatest cavaliers, noble or common-born. In any case, I am the eldest of three, my father was a minor nobleman, in service to the Crown of Castile; my mother was a well-born lady of Norman descent, hailing from nearby Aquitaine- landowners of a small estate of rich farmland located in the outskirts of Iruna, Navarra, which is located in what is now known as the Iberian Peninsula, sharing borders with Castile, Aragonia and Norman Aquitaine (Navarra being a ‘client’ of Castile at the time meant we were ruled by the Crown of Castile). The manor in which I grew up was called Montreve, named for a mythical estate in the south of France. It was small by the standards of the day- it produced enough to keep my father and his small retinue in arms and armor and all of us fed and clothed- but not much else. Still, my childhood was a happy one as most of the battles my father was involved in dealt with border disputes, primarily raids from our less-than-friendly neighbors. As such, I saw more of him than a lot of my contemporaries; say in England or France which was firmly embroiled in what would become known as the Hundred Years War, the dynastic struggle over who was to be considered the rightful ruler of all of France. To be fair, England already owned a good bit of France at the time as it was. Little did I know we had our own dynastic concerns that grew to be the casus belli that would plunge our lands into darkness for a time.
I did not mention it, but my father was kin to the royal family, albeit of a bastard line as he was first cousin to Leonor Nunez of Guzman, the mistress of the King Alphonse XI, styled as the Implacable, who died several months before I was born. Of the ten children “Aunt Leonor” bore, all cousins of mine, my favorite was Henrik. Albeit six years my elder, we both shared an inordinate interest in all things martial; by the time he was 10 years old, he could sit a horse as well as any knight- and unlike most boys his age, he did not neglect his younger siblings (or cousins in my case). He taught me how to ride when I got my first pony; he would take me out into the countryside…long rolling hills and shady glens; we would stop and hunt for small game…that is, he would hunt and I would follow and carry the game bag. He always found time to indulge in our games as well as try to teach us some of the ones he played with the older boys of the manor when he came to visit. I guess that was partly because his legitimate siblings treated him as if he were no better than the dirt under their feet so he spent a lot of time in his mother’s company traveling about to visit various and sundry friends and relatives whenever the King would allow her to travel. He did not speak of them much.
Things changed drastically shortly after my ninth birthday when my cousin Henrik brought news that his father, the King Alphonse XI, died unexpectedly from a fever during the siege of Gibraltar. Before the king had been buried, Aunt Leonor, her children and supporters were pushed aside- Henrik and his brothers fled the city and scattered to the winds in fear of what their eldest brother, Peter, the new King, could do to them. Peter would eventually be labeled ‘the Cruel’, but it was ill deserved.
Henrik made a point to pay us a visit, but more so to speak with my father than I- I was still a child, no longer in smocks, but still too young to be involved in such weighty matters. Whatever it was that transpired between my father and Henry, I did not know what it was- but it was to have a profound effect on my life later on.
Eventually, an accord was reached between Aunt Leonor and King Peter, whereby Aunt Leonor and my various cousins were permitted to return to Court- but it was unstable at best. Henrik and three of his brothers staged numerous rebellions against Peter, all bemoaned by my father as being detrimental to our country. He would look at me as he said such, but I had no idea why it should matter to me. All of that was to change one fateful day when King Peter ordered my aunt Leonor to be seized and later executed for treason (according to my father, the King’s mother, Marie of Portugal, installed her own advisor to the King who had put this idea in the King’s mind). Henry brought the news, his skin flushed and eyes wild- his grief so palpable that my parents simply embraced him for a while. He eventually got himself together long enough to impart the news, and also to tell us one bit more- he was bound for Portugal as he felt it would not be safe for him to remain at court. By this time he was tall, handsome and well made. He was also a belted knight, something that brought a shine to my eyes as I felt the honor was done to me as well. That is how close we really were. During his brief visit, he pulled me to the side and told me that he would return for me upon my 12th birthday and would formally take me on as his squire. I cannot tell you how my heart swelled at the news- so that was the bit of business behind closed doors two years prior; I had more or less forgotten about it. So you can imagine how it felt to know that I would enter into the service of my favorite person in the world, my big cousin Henry!
My lessons in horsemanship, sword, spear and shield began in earnest. Mind you, my father’s military advisor, a German transplant named Konrad had begun my training in the arts martial from age 9- when I thought about it, this actually occurred rather soon after that fateful visit where Henry had requested of my father to be allowed to take me into his service. My father, knowing I had the same sense of adventure and joie de vivre as my dear mother, felt he had little choice but to acquiesce as even then, Henry was not only a Prince of the Blood, but a strong contender for the crown, if only due to his popularity with the people, than the strength of any claim. It would seem we held a more enlightened view on bastard-born children than our English or French cousins. My 12th birthday could not arrive soon enough; during this time I acquitted myself well against the quintain as well as the mock tournaments I and some of the other boys of Montreve would set up for sport. My instructor Konrad, it should be noted, was no ordinary man-at-arms, or even knight. Before he came to Montreve (I was six at the time) Konrad had served in the Livonian Order as part of the forces sent to preserve their holdings in Prussia from the encroachment of the Polish Crown. It was rare to get him to speak at length about his experiences in the Order save to say that there was nothing glorious or noble about warfare- it was bloody, it was brutal, it was filled with pain and sorrow and at the end, those left still standing were mostly grateful just to be able to continue to draw breath. When he did speak of it, I knew to be silent and listen…he would get a faraway look in his eye and sometimes would grimace in pain at a remembered wound…sometimes received, most times given. Naturally, this was diametrically opposed to all of the great tales of knights-errant and great battles that my mother would impart to me during my childhood, so I chose to ignore that bit of wisdom. How wise we are at such a young age.
To hear my father tell it, Konrad was one of the greatest swordsmen in the entire world, as there were no knights, men-at-arms or swordsmen at the King’s Court who could withstand the burly German. Since he was my teacher, I did my best to emulate him but without his size, and more importantly, his years of experience and prowess, I was shaping out to be a middling swordsman at best. It was then that he altered my training to take advantage of my slighter build and natural agility- these were not techniques for the shield wall but for the purposes of single combat; something I was both frightened and excited to learn about. I had only seen one duel in my life, and it was to the death- it was how we were able to take Konrad on as it was our previous sergeant-at-arms who had foolishly challenged one of the King’s Knights; had Manuel been in his prime the contest’s outcome may have been different but alas, he as not and the outcome was swift in conclusion. I did not really know him, having been only 4 at the time- but my father wept as Manuel had been his comrade-in-arms from the start of the Reconquista wars fighting Moorish Granada; I would learn later how such a bond can hold two men together closer than lovers even, in some aspects, but did not understand at the time.
Konrad began teaching me advanced techniques on horseback, especially the different ways to fall and roll should one lose their seat- be it by blow, or by the killing of my horse beneath me. I grew an alarming number of bruises during those hard months but I never complained- I was being trained to be the squire to the Prince and I needed to be as good as I could possibly be. You might ask why my father did not train me himself- he would have, were it not for Konrad. Konrad wasn’t just a good warrior, he was a great one- he had a natural ability in which he could control spear, shield and horse in such a way as to appear to be more centaur than human; I had not seen the like- our folk were more renowned for our lithe but fast coursers, not the large, heavy and intimidating destriers that knights rode exclusively. But I learned my advanced horsemanship on a new courser, a black Andalusian I named Bayard, after the fabled mount of the Paladin Renaud, courtier and contemporary of Emperor Charlemagne. My mother was a gifted storyteller; did I ever tell you that?
|Crown of Castile - Homeland of the Trastamaran Black Knight
After my 12th birthday had come and gone, word came from the north that Prince Henrik had incited a revolt in Asturias, only to reconcile with his brother the King yet again. He then came to Montreve and formally took me on as his squire. As a late birthday gift, he presented me with a newly made padded jerkin, of the new, tighter fitted kind designed to be worn under maille and plate, as well as a fine-linked maille haubergeon with splits to the front and rear so that I might sit properly on horseback; no greater gift had I ever received to that point. My father gave me a matching set of plate bracers with elbows and greaves with attached knees- these would attach to the sleeves of my jerkin, and the greaves would attach to the longboots he had already given me. My mother gave me a rosary of onyx beads, a crystal reliquary containing a single hair that came from the Mother Mary herself and an admonishment to write to her as often as I could, and not like a soldier regaling her with tales of battle and death but also the new vistas I would see and the beauty that was contained in the lands I might visit. Konrad came last and his gift was perhaps the greatest of them all- he had commissioned a sword for me from a smith in Cologne that he knew from his time with the Livonian Order. Unlike his sword, which was over four and a half feet of steel, my sword came with a decidedly shorter blade, a good deal wider at the base and a more distinctly tapered profile with a single wide fuller that ran about 2/3 of the way down the blade, ending in a pronounced point that looked as if it could split rings as easily as if they were made of twine! A lightly curving cross guard to aid in stopping an opponent’s blade and a basic wheel pommel with brown leather covering a wooden grip that had been sewn tightly to make for a firm grasp. A simple wooden scabbard wrapped in tan leather with a dark brown sword belt that matched the grip. My first time picking up the sword I was astonished by two things- firstly, that it was a hefty sword, not like the lighter, thinner blade I normally practiced with, and secondly, for all its weight, it was still a fast handling sword with a pivot point closer to the grip than was typical of the time- Konrad explained to me that even though these types of swords had spread across the continent some years before, it still hadn’t caught on in our little corner of the world where our knights still preferred their long, heavy blades with the singlehanded grips. He also told me that all of the movements he’d been teaching me over the years would serve me well as this particular blade type was matched with a shield exclusively and I was adept at fighting with both round shields as well as the ubiquitous heater shields that were still in favor with the mounted warriors of the day. To round out my new accoutrements, my little brother and sister, with all due solemnity, presented me with my shield, newly-built and painted all white to signify my status as a newly-made squire. I would eventually have my cousin Henrik’s arms painted on it but there had not been enough time to have it done prior to this.
As with all good things, it was now time for me to take leave of my family and friends and begin my journey to manhood, under the auspices of my cousin Henrik, now Prince Henrik- the years spent fighting for and against his brother had served to mold him into a most formidable warrior, but he never lost that touch he had of putting others at ease- sometimes even at his own expense. Henry was an incorrigible prankster as I was to learn later. I bid my parents farewell and was truly sad to be leaving them; my mother held me to her so hard that I almost wished I’d worn my maille- I would miss my mother the most I suppose since of all my siblings, I am the most like her even though I took my looks from my father. I said goodbye to Konrad at the last, as I was headed toward the stables to collect my horses I stopped by his rooms in the armory- he was at prayer so I waited respectfully til he had finished. He turned to me as if he’d known I’d been there all along and held out his hand- when I looked down I could see that he held a cross made of a strange black metal on a leather thong; I had never seen it before. As it turns out, it was the very same cross that had seen him through his years fighting in the Livonian Order and his prayers were that it would keep me safe and bring me back to my family one day. I was speechless…I was always in awe of Konrad, and not a little afraid- he was a veritable giant of a man, taciturn, but with a soft spot for the young, the small and broken things. I would miss him greatly.
Campaigning with the French and other Matters
|Foudre, Sword of the Black Knight
Over the next four years, we fought a long and bitter campaign against my lord’s brother, King Peter, labeled ‘the Cruel’ due to a particularly nasty set of rumors started by my lord and his advisors. It was during this time that the shine wore off and I regarded my cousin and lord Henrik with a more reserved eye, and an outright, albeit secret, hatred for some of his advisors. Though I did not yet know it, we were headed for a critical juncture in both of our lives. But for right now, I was still eminently loyal to my royal cousin, for whom I would still lay down my life for. Our fortunes were in such disarray that we were forced to fly in front of Peter’s men to escape capture- Henrik it seems, had foreseen just such an occurrence for a boat was waiting for us at a predetermined port and we took ship for France and entered into the service of the King of France, John le Bon. We were marching toward disaster, but we were not there yet, as we, along with the French army dogged the enemy army’s footsteps. During this march, a gentleman’s disagreement sprung up between Henrik and one of the King’s foreign captains, a Sir William Douglas- a rogue if ever there was one; while I cared nothing for the man or his crass behavior, he was a warrior of note and many men feared him, including his own Scots that he brought over with him to fight the English. It all started amongst the men-at-arms of Douglas and Henrik…one of the Scotsmen got too familiar with one of our camp followers who objected to the foreign man’s advances and one of our men-at-arms, Ferdinand I think it was, responded by pulling the offender away. The Scotsman then drew his dirk and plunged it into Ferdinand’s eye, and then he slit the throat of the poor woman he was assaulting previously. Unfortunately for the Scot, I, another squire and more importantly, Henrik’s master-at-arms, Armand witnessed the entire scene, having come out of our tents to see what the fracas was about. Armand approached the man and drove his gauntleted fist into the man’s face, knocking out several teeth and felling him like a stunned ox; he then bound his hands and dragged him to Henrik’s tent so that justice might be served- he killed two of our own, after all.
Naturally, the Scotsman was not without friends, who, after seeing him detained by Armand, ran to their lord to protest this treatment of one of their warriors as unseemly; Douglas, ever ready for a fight sought out Henrik- along with some 50 of the roughest men I’d ever laid eyes on. “Where did they breed such brutes?” I wondered to myself.
As they made their way through camp, I, having spotted them from a small distance, quietly went round and urged the men to arm themselves- no armor, there was no time, but to gird themselves with sword and dagger and to assemble outside of Henrik’s tented area, and to do it quietly. By this time, the sun was setting and our men stole up quietly behind the arrayed Scots; unbeknownst to most of them, every man of Henrik’s present held his sword, drawn; leaning on the dominant shoulder, ready for action should it be necessary. I kept mine sheathed as I made my way to stand behind my master. Douglas began his assertion, that we had erred and in fact owed him wergild for the death of his man; one of his best he claimed. Henrik responded that what grace he possessed with sword and shield, did not extend to the maiming and killing of his men and that reparation must be made for the loss of two of our people. Douglas sneered at this, saying that a camp whore was not even to be considered a person, much less worthy of any sort of reparation. I bristled at this, for I was raised to believe that all people had worth- mayhap not for me or those around me, but someone somewhere valued them- as such, so should we all. Especially the defenseless, the weak and children. My lord simply smiled and offered that, “Animals serve their purpose, do they not my Lord Douglas- but when they bite their masters, or someone else with the power to stop them,” and with this, his gaze grew cold as he stared Douglas down, “then they must needs be put down, much as you would a mad dog.”
The gathered Scots howled at this last and began shouting at us, branding us as goatfuckers and cowards- not realizing that there was a silent force of nearly 100 men, all with swords drawn right at their backs awaiting the unspoken command. Henrik, to his credit, did not give it- and I would know why, later. Douglas growled at his men to shut their mouths and turned back to Henrik with a glower that would strike fear in a lesser man; the man was a frightening sort to say the least…I feel no shame in admitting it. Henrik merely returned his gaze in kind and waited…Douglas swore that he would pay no reparation as we would pay no wergild for his man and stated it should be dropped; only Henrik did not share the same sentiment. He quietly re-asserted his position and such was his standing in the French army that Douglas did not immediately throw down the gauntlet. Henrik was a superb swordsman, perhaps second only to Konrad and even then, it would be a close contest. Henrik had taken to training all of his men personally, such that the elite troops we fielded were feared all over Europe, and rightly so…we really were that good.
Douglas, upon hearing my master’s unchanged stance, turned back to jest with his fellows and noted the large crowd of men with drawn swords behind his men and turned back to my lord with a look that could curdle milk and demanded to know what treachery was planned! Seeing the look on their lord’s face caused the Scots to look around, and more importantly, behind them- what they saw had the immediate effect of silencing them, no mean feat as I had cause to know. My lord, as calmly as he began, replied “You come here, into my camp, to my tent with 50 men, armed and armored at your back to face me, my squire and a handful of my advisors- did you think you would pass unnoticed? No my Lord- your ire is best served by releasing it inward, on your own head as this was all brought about by your man who could not control himself with regard to MY PEOPLE.” His voice rose with those last two words and the entire Castilian camp rang with cheers and shouts for my lord’s love for his people and his bravado. Douglas turned the color of a newly ripened apple, swiveled on his heel and pushed past his own troops, then past our own as his men followed him out of our camp, silently. Before Douglas could get past our troops, Henrik called him back- as they still had not settled on the matter of the untimely demises of the two who died at his man’s hand. Our men, who had made way for Douglas, circled behind and reformed so that Douglas would have to wade through our men yet again if he wished to leave, only this time- we would detain him if our lord wished it. Douglas noted the intensity in our eyes and recognized a people wronged- something with which he was very familiar, as his people have been wronged by their English overlords for centuries- in fact, his sole purpose for being present at this campaign was so he could kill Englishmen…the man lived for it. He nodded, muttered something about sending some gold for the woman, but none for the man as he considered it even since they’d both lost a capable fighter. Henrik would not budge- as the Scot started the fight, so should the Scots be held accountable. Douglas bridled at these words and was about to offer a duel when King John arrived with his retinue. He had heard some of the commotion, and his scouts had relayed a more complete version of the story to him; seeing as two of his captains were about to throw down, he brought himself to the camp to see if he could mediate the dispute.
Henrik called me forward and I went on one knee before the King; the King was not what you’d call an imposing man, not to look at. However, as with all rulers, he had an ephemeral quality not found in ordinary men…it was what made men follow him, made him a natural leader; it wasn’t just his natural charisma, but an aura…as kings were ordained by God, he had Divine Right on his side. I told the King what I’d saw and heard, quickly and without embellishment- so much so that I could see one or other of the Scotsmen nodding as if to confirm. After my tale, the King looked to Douglas and asked if he had any witnesses to provide, at which Douglas grinned and motioned to two men-at-arms who had stood amongst the rabble of Scots- they came forward and told mostly the same tale, only this time it was Ferdinand who was assaulting the camp follower and their man, Robbie, who was trying to assist her. The Scotsmen cheered these two while all of us who were wronged stood silent, glaring at these louts, collectively willing them to strangle on their own baseborn tongues and die.
After a show of consideration, King John rendered his decision; the two witnesses from the Scots camp were men-at-arms in service to their Lord, and had in fact witnessed the act in question…he paused, then added that they also outranked me as I was but a lowly squire and my word did not carry as theirs did. Henrik drew breath to speak but King John continued on to pronounce that there was no debt, the losses on both sides were even and who ever gave thought to camp followers as they were like rats, always underfoot and hardly noticed. Henrik’s eyes flashed but he stilled his tongue; what else could he do? Douglas smirked in his beard and turned to hear a jest from his man at which both laughed. King John looked mildly disconcerted but spoke no more except to proclaim the issue resolved and with that, he left to return to his camp.
|Shield of the Black Knight, blazoned - 'Per Pale Azure and Sable, a Chevron countercolored fimbriated argent.'
Douglas turned to go away, his men waiting to follow when Henrik crossed the space and spoke to Douglas in a low voice; whatever was said did not please Douglas at all. He turned on his heel and stalked off, his ragtag bunch in tow. Henrik rubbed his chin and had a thoughtful look on his face that, when his eyes lit on me, turned animated and he bade me follow him. He motioned for Armand to attend him as well as his priest, who had come with us from Castile. Reaching his tent, he motioned for me to wait just beyond the flap, while he, Armand and the priest went inside. Puzzled, I turned around as if to guard the entrance- moments later I felt a tap on my shoulder, it was Armand. He took me away to my tent and proceeded to help me don my armor. I knew not why, only that it was to be done so, I’d better get to it. Once I was encased in armor, Armand motioned for me to follow him- I glanced at my sword and belt with a querying look, he only shook his head and motioned again for me to follow. A half hour must’ve passed since then…as we approached Henrik’s tent I wondered why all of our men were still there; the situation had been averted, they should’ve all returned to their posts (for the ones on duty) or their fires (for those at leisure). Henrik must’ve seen the question in my eyes for he smiled brightly and told me that this would be day to be remembered for all who were present now. Baffled, I could only stare as I tried to guess at what he meant. Then he drew his sword and my eyes got wide- for just a moment, a tiny moment in time, I thought he meant to punish me for what had happened. Then he winked and whispered that I should kneel, and so I did.
He then spoke to the gathered crowd thusly:
“All of you, who hear aught of my voice, listen to me now! The French King and that Bastard of the Scots have made a grave error- they let us know exactly what they think of us and ours. Well…I do not know what your thoughts are on that matter, but I shall tell you mine. I refuse to shed not one more single drop of Castilian blood on this foreign venture- especially when such rich blood is considered somehow less than worthy by the very people we have shed it for til now!” At this last, the assembled crowd roared their approval for our Lord of Trastamara, me included. He waited for the commotion to quiet down, before he continued.
“It is they, who are unworthy of US- unworthy of being protected, of being succored by such fine and honorable warriors. Such warriors as these foppish French and vagabond Scots have never seen; and today, TODAY- we shall add another name to the annals of Castilian chivalry, one who has served me well, my own kin and squire- William!” Oh, how they roared, how they howled their approval. I could not tell you what my thoughts were, but I know I cried because I could feel the tears making tracks in the dust on my face but it mattered not- I was to be a knight! So, having made his pronouncement (to my profound and utter surprise), he took his drawn sword, and tapped me twice on each shoulder- once for the Father, once for the Son, once for the Holy Ghost and once for him, my lord- he bade me to be without fear, to face injustice wherever it might be, to succor my friends and to lay waste to my enemies; to honor God and country, love my family and be true to myself. At the ripe old age of 17 winters, the last five of which I have spent in Henrik’s retinue where I acquitted myself well, I took this oath wholeheartedly- and I have kept it my entire life.
He had me rise and proclaimed me Sir William of Trastamara; in doing so he reaffirmed our blood ties and formally accepted me into his house before all and sundry. This was a great honor, more than I felt I deserved. He turned back to the priest, Father Pansa, who handed him a long package wrapped in silk. I did not need to be told what was in that package, I could guess rightly for myself. It was a new sword, but not like my ‘old’ sword which was still back in my tent- this was an altogether different sort of beast.
My new sword was as different from my current sword as I was from when I was just a young squire. Not as big as Konrad’s was, but slightly wider at the base tapering to a wicked point with a deep and well defined fuller that ran halfway down the blade- forward of the fuller the rest of the blade had a diamond shaped profile that further reinforced the point; the grip was made to fit my hands and it was capped by an attractively shaped wheel pommel and a crisply executed peen at the very top. In all, a sword any knight would be proud to call his own- me, a newly belted knight with a sword fit for a king! I would name this sword later, later than I had planned if only because of a single event that would change the course of my life, and history.
That was a wild night of celebration; one thing I can say for my people- we do know how to entertain ourselves. Casks of purloined French Bourdeaux, not to mention barrels of our own fine dark beer were broached and anyone who had a cup of some kind was welcomed to dip and drain it to their heart’s content- nearly everyone was drunk in revelry, including myself. I sat with my lord and his officers at the beginning, and shared a cup of an evil-tasting brew that was lifted from the Scottish camp; I balked at first but when everyone else had taken a turn I felt compelled to do so- I was a lowly squire no more. I tilted the skin back and took a healthy swallow, immediately thereafter it was as if the Lord Himself set fire to my belly. I shoved back from the table, eyes wide and clouded with moisture- no sooner had I stood that the fierce heat subsided to a warm glow that suffused my limbs and I sat down with a look of wonder on my face. My tablemates all laughed long and loudly at my reaction when Henrik leaned over and whispered that it was a Scottish beverage, which they called uisghe, made in small batches and the recipe kept a secret. I noticed that everything took on a softer cast…I asked Henrik if this was normal and he assured me that it was- it was the main ingredient in Scottish courage, or so he said with a wink. I took another long swallow and that’s when things got a little clouded. At some point Melisandre, or Sauce as she was referred to, the, uh, most famous of the camp followers took my hand, and with a gleam in her eye and the roars of approval and the clash of mugs and the like, led me to her tent. I confess to not remembering much of that night, beyond the obvious joy of my knighthood, and my first time laying with a woman- which in a way made me sad as it was my first time, and a man should always remember his first if he remembers none else. Or so my youthful sensibilities told me at the time…did I mention that Teresa was a very attractive woman, only a few years older than me and…well, from what I’d been told when I first noticed her because, as I said I do not remember much from my first time with her, she is as skilled as any courtesan. I would later have opportunity to sample her wares while being in a more receptive state and suffice it to say that all was true, none of it made up for the sake of creating a legendary status; even now, so many years later, I still feel a slight rill of excitement at the mere thought of her, and the times we (later) shared. However, that is a story for another time; allow me to continue my tale.
The sun hit the horizon and slowly, the camp stirred to life. I was experiencing a feeling of lassitude that I was quite unaccustomed to and it was moments before I discovered the reason. There is something to be said about being enfolded in a woman’s arms, even if she is not your own. I had no wish to alter the situation as I watched the gentle rise and fall of Sauce’s bare bosom and felt a familiar stirring in my loins- unlike the poor squire who is forced to see to the matter quietly, I had a willing partner. I roused her in the manner that young men do- with unabashed gusto. She rose to the occasion quite enthusiastically- pretty soon there were guffaws and shouts of ribald goodwill coming from those closer to our tent but it mattered not…we were in the moment. As with all things good, it had to come to an end. For us, it was the fanfare of strange trumpets that signaled the end of our tryst; I dressed quickly, tossed Sauce a wink as well as a small silver ring I’d had in my pouch and sauntered out of her tent like a man who is content with his world.
Looking toward the French camp I could just make out, through the swirl of dust, the glint of armor in the rising sun and the bright colors of heraldry. Not any heraldry I immediately recognized either- so I made my way to Henrik’s tent where he had his captains assembled; seeing me posted outside, he bid me join them. Apparently, it was an English delegation on the English King’s errand of diplomacy by way of his son, the Black Prince of Wales. Among these notables beside the Prince were the likes of Sir John Chandos, the veritable bastion of English chivalry; the Earls of Warwick and Suffolk, Bartholomew de Burghersh, a founding Knight of the Order of the Garter- England’s most prestigious Order of Knighthood, which included the King and the Black Prince among its rolls. He was also a close friend and advisor to the Prince. They had come to parlay with the French, seeking…what, we were not yet sure, but Henrik was of the mind that it was a simple stall tactic to allow them to better situate themselves in order to face the French army. Be that as it may, Henrik was summoned by the French King to attend him during the negotiations; I would go as Henrik’s second.
Representing the French side were the King, the Count of Tancarville, the Archbishop of Sens as well as Clermont, Boucicault and Sir Geoffroi de Charny, the young firebrand of the French forces, and of course, Henrik and myself. The Earl of Warwick spoke for the English and opened the negotiations with an impassioned plea for King John to pull back his forces and allow the English to retire in good order, or suffer the consequences as God was on their side and any army with God in their ranks was destined to triumph. The King responded in kind and so on went the “negotiations”, as each man summoned spoke his mind- I will not put down all that was said, suffice it to say neither party liked what the other had to offer. So, Sir Geoffroi, at the King’s pleasure, responded thusly:
“Lords, since so it is that this treaty pleases you no more, I make offer that we fight you, an hundred against an hundred, choosing each from his own side, and know well, whichever hundred be discomfited, all the others, know for sure, shall quit this field and let the quarrel be. I think that it will be best so, and that God will be gracious to us if the battle be avoided in which so many valiant men will be slain.”
The English nobility, especially the younger ones, clamored to accept the challenge to prove themselves against the French, but cooler heads prevailed. The Black Prince laughed quietly to himself while Sir John Chandos stepped forward and acknowledged de Charny’s impassioned plea, but stated that such an engagement would not suit them as they had no way of knowing if the rabble of France would allow the English army to simply walk away after having defeated a hundred of its noble Knights. This got a good natured laugh from all around, as was Sir John’s design. In truth, such a thing would only mean the English could possibly weaken their army to a fault, specifically morale and the English hundred that fell, if they fell, would mean that the English army lacked their powers in the aftermath. Edward feared such a gamble as he felt they’d flirted with Fate as it is.
|Codex Marshal the Black Knight