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Guest Post: To Shine With Honor

Posted by on April 9, 2017

This is a guest post; the first chapter from author Scott Amis’ new release, To Shine With Honor. To Shine With Honor is the first of a three-part series that begins in France in the 11th century before the First Crusade began.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

7 April 1086, the town of Grand-Forêt, southeastern France

Galien de Coudre drew a sharp breath. Beneath a shield-shaped sign painted with crossed swords, his father, his brother Martin, and his sister Alisende waited, but Thierré wasn’t with them. Galien clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. His unspeakable eldest brother could have at least shown him the honor of joining the family for his day of coming of age.

As he walked between the rows of cottages, Galien set aside his bitter thoughts. His family greeted him warmly. He pushed his hair back and straightened his gambeson, and stepped up into the armorer’s workshop. The proprietorJacques laid a bundle on the table and rolled away the deerskin to reveal a superbly crafted belt and scabbard with a hilt showing. Galien reached out, uneasy, only touching the pommel. Henri de Coudre put a hand on his son’s shoulder and said, “Go ahead, draw it.”

Galien did as his father bade. The leather grip felt just right in his hand. He turned round to study the newly-forged weapon. No better sword was to be had, of singular purpose and fit for a knight of great prowess: thirty-eight inches from point to top of weighty domed pommel, broad thirty-two inch blade with two cutting edges, of elegantly tapered proportion, not adorned save small crosses of inlaid silver. At two-and-a-half pounds in weight, a perfectly balanced sword that could strike off an arm with a keen edge and punch through a hauberk with the hardened steel point. Galien held it up before his face. With the plain nine-inch steel handguard set between blade and grip, it made for a distinctive reminder of the Cross of Christ.

He looked at his father. “It’s wonderful, but I’ll not need it at cathedral school. You surely spent three livres to get me a knight’s blade.”

Henri chuckled. “Galien, you know I make certain each of my sons has the best sword I can buy at his coming of age and knows how to wield it, become he knight, priest, or diplomat.” With this, Henri reached into his belt purse, took out a heavy silver seal ring, and slid it onto the forefinger of Galien’s right hand. “You’re a man now and fully fit to take your place beside your brothers.”

Galien stood, red-faced, as his father buckled the sword belt round his waist and stepped back, smiling with pride at his third son. Martin de Coudre, at sixteen, two years Galien’s senior and a young man bound for knighthood, shook his hand and embraced him; Alisende, already tall and pretty at twelve years, hugged his neck and kissed his cheeks.

A man-at-arms stepped up from the lane. “Sir Henri, Baron Alphonse would have you come to the fortress, right away.”

“Is Bayard starting more trouble?”

“My lord, it’s not Count Bayard this time. Peter de Villiers has blocked the road to Vézelay with a force of mercenaries, and Baron Alphonse needs your counsel.”

Henri sighed. “I’d hoped to spend the day with you, but a knight’s duties too often bear no regard for family.”

“Father, I ought to come along,” Martin said.

“No, son. I’d not deprive Galien and Alisende of your good company. All of you enjoy this fine day together.” Henri handed Galien a green leather bag bulging with coins, and turned to walk away with the man-at-arms.

Galien and Martin each held one of Alisende’s hands in their own as they strolled at their ease. Alisende said “I’m hungry!” and Galien gave her a denier, bidding her buy herself a sweet. The brothers watched her trot toward the center of Grand-Forêt, circled with thatch-roofed buildings and cottages, crowded with people of the Barony of Mirefleurs come for the market fair held in the week after Easter. Galien took a seat on the grass, his back against the trunk of an old oak tree. With his new sword and scabbard over his knees, he absently toyed with the bronze chape at the end of the belt. After a quiet minute, he heard Martin say, “What troubles you?”

“I’m so not sure I want to go into the Church.”

Martin looked at him, surprise on his face. “You’ve never told me that before, and you’ve always been so pious.”

“With cathedral school near, I’ve been thinking more.”

“Has that sword got you to thinking of the knight’s life?”

Galien drew his sword a halfscore inches from the scabbard and lovingly ran a finger over the blade. “Perhaps it has.”

“Maybe you ought to ask father if he’ll let you become a knight instead.”

“No, the soldier’s life is for you and our wretched excuse for a brother. I’ll go into the Church and become a bishop like father wants. Truly though, all I want is a quiet life of study and writing, with a wife who understands me. Right now, I’m making enough silver with my scribe work to think of marrying. Had father given me the coin he paid for this sword and scabbard, I could have a five-acre freehold and a sturdy cottage.”

“Galien, Father and Mother didn’t have you schooled in letters so you could live like a peasant. Besides, how could a charming and good-looking young nobleman like you not rise high in the Church?” Galien only grunted, and Martin nudged him with a grin. “High Church officials don’t lack for women.”

At that moment, Alisende returned, excited to see the sights of the market fair, and Galien said, “We’ll talk more about it later.”

The marketplace, crowded with people of all stations, smelled of freshly-baked bread and pastry, roasting meats, and human bodies. Galien and his brother and sister browsed tents and tables of food and drink, wares, and services of all varieties, tasting of the samples freely offered. With the coin his father had given him, Galien bought a deep-red cap embroidered with intricate golden designs for Alisende and a silver-mounted wine flask for Martin, but had not enough left for a dagger he fancied for himself.

A grimy hunched man in a ragged crimson robe approached them. “Good lords and lady, I’ve just returned from the Holy Land and with me, I carry relics of God’s saints.” He held up a tiny silver vial, whispering through snaggly teeth, “Indeed, the Blood of Our Lord Himself.”

Alisende gasped with wonderment, but Galien said, “The Turks in the Holy Land not let any Christians pass in peace. Take your cat bones and sheep’s blood elsewhere.” Galien stared at the charlatan until he shuffled off to seek his next victim, and Alisende pulled him toward a trio of dogs doing clever tricks. She watched them clapping with delight, and Martin gave their trainer a denier.

Galien saw the stone church across the busy market and handed Alisende the green bag, which yet held twoscore silver deniers. “Sister, go to the priest and fetch the parchment and quills he had made for me.”

“I’ll go if we can draw and do letters tonight, and you’ll give me some wine.”

“We’ll draw and do letters, but I won’t give you wine until you’re fourteen and old enough for Father to let you marry.”

Alisende stuck her tongue out at him. “You only turned fourteen today, and I’ll not marry until I can choose my own man, no matter what Father wants.”

“Fourteen is old enough to serve duty at arms and get killed by Count Bayard’s raiders. Now, go and do as I told you.” Alisende stuck out her tongue again and dashed toward the church, long blond hair flying from beneath her fine new cap.

Martin mused, “Too bad Thierré is on patrol today and can’t be with us.” Galien didn’t answer, and Martin elbowed him.

Galien snorted. “Can’t you see that I’m brokenhearted?” He ground his teeth at the thought of his bullying eldest brother and spoke no more.

Martin broke the tense quiet. “I wish you two could get along.”

“The lout could have left patrol duty to be there when Father gave me my sword and ring. He’s never thought of me as anything but a bookrat.”

Martin smiled, stroking his short dark beard, already heavy at his sixteen years. “You might be a bookrat, but you’re as good at sword and horse as any knight. I’ve never understood why Thierré doesn’t at least show you some respect for that. I’ve given up hope that the bad blood between you will end.”

“It doesn’t matter. He’s a knight now, and I’ll be in cathedral school. We’ll soon be rid of each other until the Last Judgment, but I swear, if he calls me ‘runt’ one more time, I’m going to hit him. I don’t care how big and tough he is.”

“Forget about Thierré for today, Galien. Think of the fine supper that Mother has waiting in your honor.”

“Mother should stay in bed. She’s in no condition to be making a fuss over me.”

“Indeed,” Martin said, nodding gravely. “But no one alive, not even Father, can tell her what to do.”

As Galien and Martin waited for Alisende, friends and acquaintances spoke to them, and Galien graciously accepted the many well-wishes for his coming of age. Shortly, Alisende returned from the church. Galien took his cloth-wrapped writing supplies, smiling to himself. Already, his precocious command of written French and Latin and his neat, artistic Carolingian lettering were putting plenty of silver into his purse while Thierré dumbly hacked away at the pell with his sword.

Martin spoke. “I’ll buy us the best wine at the tavern.”

“Might I have some unwatered wine, Martin?” Alisende said.

“Sister, today we’ll let you have a taste, in celebration. I don’t think Mother would mind.”

They walked toward the tavern, Galien grateful to God for his good-natured brother Martin and his sweet, innocent sister. Two boys of their age, sons of peasant farmers on their father’s sat on a low stone wall at the edge of the market area, taking long swallows from an earthenware pitcher of strong ale; a younger boy sat beside them, not drinking.

“Look, Jules,” one said, sniggering. “The holy man Galien de Coudre is wearing a sword. It’s nearly as long as he is.”

Jules flashed an insolent grin. “And he’s swaggering around like a knight.”

Galien gripped his sword hilt. He let go of Alisende’s hand, walked to the boy, and held up his seal ring. “Yes, Jules, I now bear the authority of my father, and I’ve caught you and Clovis poaching in his forest one time too many.”

Martin took Galien’s arm and grabbed the pitcher from the older boys. He poured the ale onto the ground and said, “Take Galien’s words to be a fair warning. My father’s never had you flogged for your mischief, but you don’t know what his youngest son might do.”

Jules looked at Martin, hostile resentment in his eyes. “What about our ale?”

“You two troublemakers best not drink in public places. But if you want more ale, find yourselves some honest work for a change.” Martin and Galien again took Alisende by her hands. As they walked toward the market, Clovis could be heard to say, “The Devil damn all noblemen to Hell.”

Galien looked back, but the two older boys had vanished into the maze of alleys and lanes between the cottages and buildings. The younger boy, about ten years of age, yet remained. Galien said to him, “Milon, why do you keep following those two around? They’ll only get into trouble and try to cast the blame on you.”

Milon shrugged. “I’m not of a landed family, and I’ll never get to be a knight, so who cares?”

“Milon, my father cares, and yours certainly does. Etien is the most respected man-at-arms in the barony, and you’ll eventually gain the same respect.”

“I know, Galien, but it’s not the same as being a knight.”

“Well, you know you’re always welcome at the house to practice with my father and me.” Milon nodded halfheartedly, Martin tousled his hair, and the Coudre brothers and sister continued their walk to the tavern.

At the tavern, Galien spotted a familiar black and grey stallion in the horse shelter. He turned to Martin and Alisende, scowling. “Thierré’s inside, no doubt drinking more than he should.”

Martin put a hand on Galien’s shoulder. “Let’s at least speak a word with him. Surely, he’ll be decent toward you on your coming-of-age day.”

They didn’t have to go inside. With his three men-at-arms behind, Thierré de Coudre came from the front door of the tavern and walked toward his horse. The nineteen-year-old knight’s head was bare; his handsome clean-shaven face framed with long blond hair falling past his shoulders; his helmet and the mail coif and padding under his left arm.

He looked Galien up and down. “Our little man looks so gallant today, with fine clothes and a sword. Have you finally found yourself a girl?”

“Thierré, you know this is Galien’s day of coming of age,” Martin said. “You need to give him the honor he’s due.”

Galien met Thierré’s stare, smelling the wine on his brother’s breath. Thierré sneered, “Truly, I’d forgotten. But now that the runt’s old enough to serve as my squire, I’ll give him the honor of lacing on my coif, and then he can run along and play with his sister.”

Galien glared back, feeling the Norman blood of his mother come to full boiling fury. He snapped, “Any God-cursed filthy corpse robber would make a better knight than you are, Brother.”

Alisende put her fingers to her mouth. With face red and eyes wide, she gasped, “Galien! How could you say such a thing?”

Thierré took a step forward. At six feet, he stood five inches taller than his youngest brother. He shoved Galien hard. “Mind your mouth, boy!” Galien staggered, but quickly regained his balance. He swung his right hand, punching Thierré squarely in the face. Thierré wiped away the blood running from his nose. Veins bulged at his temples as his blue eyes turned icy. He whipped out his razor-edged dagger, growling, “I’m going to save the Church the trouble of making a eunuch of you.”

A crowd began to gather, drawn by the curses and commotion. Well-dressed nobles stood side-by-side with humbler folk to watch the sons of the honorable knight Henri de Coudre fight their feud before a good many people of the Barony of Mirefleurs; eager boys who would be warriors cheered them on. Thierré took a wide taunting slash at Galien, and a noblewoman cried, “Guardsmen!”

Steel rang as Galien drew his sword. With his mail hauberk gleaming dully in the sunlight, Thierré took fighting stance, waited grinning, and suddenly lunged with the dagger. Galien deftly pivoted aside and stuck out a foot. Thierré stumbled on it but didn’t lose his timing. In one swift motion, he drew his own sword and took position, saying, “So, you want a real fight, boy?”

Galien took the long guard and muttered, “Don’t try me, you drunken fool.”

Men-at-arms in marshals’ colors grabbed Galien from behind and took his sword. Burly veteran sergeant Otto Huber punched Thierré, knocking him off his feet. He grabbed Thierré’s arm and pulled him up. “I’m taking both of you to the dungeon. Make it easy or hard, at your choice.”

Thierré snatched his arm from Otto’s grasp. “I’ll see you flogged, Huber,” he spat.

Otto grabbed him by his hauberk and drew him close. “Take it up with Baron Alphonse and your father. You’ll be getting the flogging, and I’ll be more than happy to lay it on.”

Thierré grew quiet at this fearsome prospect. He stood still beside Galien while the guardsmen manacled their wrists, and walked docilely as they were pushed toward the oak-barred prison wagon.

The wagon bumped and shook on unsprung wheels along the narrow trod-earth road that led through the dense forest between Grand-Forêt and Fortress Mirefleurs, Baron Alphonse’s stronghold and the place of governance for the Barony of Mirefleurs. Galien and Thierré, at last bound as brothers in dread of their father’s wrath and the sure and painful punishment that awaited them, stared at their feet, fearing to talk to one another. Thierré finally spoke above the groaning of wood and rattling of metal. He shook his head ruefully. “You showed a knight’s courage and skill back there, and I must give you honor.”

“To Hell with honor. Did you truly intend to take my manhood?”

“Of course not. I only wanted to scare you. But I must admit, you’re rather quick on your feet and with that sword. Has Father been teaching you?”

“He has. You only come home from the fortress for Sunday supper. I practice with Father in the front court on weekdays, and with the men-at-arms who live on the estate when they come to the house.”

“With all that behind you, you’ll be the best priest-at-sword in the whole Church.”

Galien raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Today, I’m not feeling so eager to take up my destiny in the Church, but ‘priest-at-sword’… I like that idea.” The wagon rounded a bend. Fortress Mirefleurs loomed, massive and grey, at the top of the low hill ahead. The brothers turned pale and fell into silence.

 

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