Golden bliss


The knight woke up from a blissful dream. Or so he thought. He could but scarcely remember its details, but he seemed sure it was a good dream; a nightmare would have had another texture, would have left another imprint on his memory. Despite this train of thought, for all his sureness he was pretty much uncertain. How could he be certain that it was a decidedly good dream? He needed to know what he had dreamt, it seemed like an important dream, but nothing felt right in those brains of his…

The youngest soul in a troop of wandering knights, the slender-looking and light-hearted young man stood there, near a cracking fire, for many a moment unsure whether or not he dreamt of a murdered family or about a woman; both of these options felt right in that little heart of his, though it was his brain who had nothing else to do other than mock him. How could that be? How could two possible dreams, as far apart from each other as they could possibly be, feel right at the same time? What kind of faulty memory had he?

The whole episode with the burned up house and the destroyed family surely could not be regarded as anything else other than a bad dream, but somehow his young mind was unsure of the actual dream he had had. Why should that be? Well, the event which had unfolded a week before left a deep and harrowing mark on him that could easily have turned into a nightmare; but just a easy he could have dreamt about a fair maiden in need of some gallant knight. He was torn between two opposing forces which ate away at him, each enjoying a certain consequence for his well being. Last week’s event profoundly saddened him, because he and his companions always thrived to help those in need but in that particular case could do nothing but revenge dead men. Meanwhile, the lady in his dream and of his dreams could have brought joy to a lonely soul. Not necessarily so, but at least hopefully.

An uneasiness followed this acute lack of proof; he would have welcomed a sign, the tiniest conceivable, that his dream was in fact a happy dream and not a nightmare. His companions had slept like logs so they were in no position to bear witness on the way he had slept. There was little else he could do about it: his memory helped him none, he had no logical reason to think he had slept well in the company of a delightful dream, there was no real proof he had had such a dream… anyhow, he wanted to think that that was the case. Why recollect a scary dream? Why not imagine having dreamt a charming one instead? Even if that did not actually happen… you know, beautifying your life?

So the knight, upon waking up lying next to a nearly deserted fire – which, not being fed any new timber for a couple of hours, started to fade away – chose to add detail to the dream he would rather have dreamt instead of the one he most likely had actually dreamt.

So the knight started recollecting, piecing up together that which his mind told him he might have dreamt and that which he wished to have dreamt: the dream involved a blond woman, a northerner, a mistery of a woman who, if gazed upon, had the power to awake feelings of joy and happiness through nothing more than her sight. She analyzed each element in her surroundings with her big blue eyes and found tiny bits of packed up joy in every single element in her surroundings. In turn, the environment seemed to respond in kind and reflect some of the joy it received from her. A wonderful bargain!

Perhaps the blue-eyed beauty liked to think that yellow was the color of joy, as everything about her resembled some nuance of that color: her hair was dyed in a shinning yellow which unequivocally suited her, the dress she wore had little flowers painted in a maize shade of yellow, the rings on her fingers shone in a fiesta of glistening gold and amber, while her fingernails glimmered in the sun in a remarkable jasmine; even her light green painted house had accents of aureolin which gave the whole place an air of cheerfulness and liveliness.

For all the gaiety emanating out of every corner of her being, the girl was rather in a disquieted state. She had recently said goodbye to her companion for the last few winters, a migratory goose which (after having spent much to much time in a place where seasons came and went away in complete disregard of the needs of quite a number of particularly choosy bird species) had finally decided to move on in spite of the bond it shared with the girl. The bird could not hope to survive even more winters in that frozen landscape which the entire area turned out to be each year starting around November. Not for all the girl’s love, the goose could not endure another freezing winter, no matter how many blankets the girl stacked upon the trembling bird and how much she struggled to find proper food for the bird. Something was not right and the bitter cold and the lack of decent food were merely a symptom of the underlying cause, the fact that the goose had its natural needs which conflicted with the girl’s habitat.

The golden girl understood the goose’s predicament, even though she needed some time to fully realize that she had been holding captive a migratory bird. Such a “happening” should not have… happened, truth be told, no matter how much she needed some company. In time, she understood the goose’s need for a different environment and so, in the end, she let it go… wherever it might have wanted to fly towards. The sad thing was that it took her quite some time to figure it all out.

The dream which unfolded in the knight’s mind had little shape; he tried to remember it as much as he could, but it was difficult to come up with all the crucial (and sometimes not so crucial) details much needed to give it its proper shape. He improvised a lot. Fact is that even as a work in project the texture of the dream turned out smooth enough so that it satisfied the knight. He had gotten rid of the conflict which made it difficult for him to remember whether or not he had a good dream or a nightmare. He chose the former: he dreamt of a woman… a fair maiden… And that much was nothing to wonder about, after all, he was a lonely wanderer whose sole company were the other two knights. They could help him in everything pertaining to their tough lives but the two of them could not never replace a woman’s breath over his shoulder. That was beyond their powers and just in the hands of a lady. Such as the lady in his dream: a phantom that she was, she had, despite her lack of a physical shape, a feature which drew her towards the real world: she had amber hair and blue eyes, exactly like the lady painted on the saddle the knight used for mounting his steed. The knight welcomed the color yellow and its nuances because he associated it with an enthusiasm for life which was much needed if one decides to take up the wondering-provider-of-help profession. In that line of work, if one lacked the passion to continue on, then the whole itinerant lifestyle could crumble around its own core in a matter of days.

Precisely because he was a pillar of positive thinking the wanderer continued on recollecting bits and pieces of his dream, fragments of the lady’s life, in hope of having a clearer picture of what he had dreamt. Or what he ought to have dreamt. His companions were in awe at his extended day-dreaming, but despite their repeated naggings he would not cease gathering fractions of his dreams and then scribble them on coarse pieces of paper. He thought that maybe one day his dreams were going to turn into reality, so why not know beforehand what the future had in hold for him?

Words and parts of sentences came into his mind; he remembered that the lady had a hard time getting over the goose’s departure, because no matter how different a human being and a bird might appear to be, they had a deep (enough) connection. Granted, not the most desirable of connections, as the bird was used to a different life than what the girl was able to provide. The girl wanted a close companion, while the goose could not (realistically) adapt to such a relationship. It was, after all, a migratory bird. Leaving the bird to its own devices turned out to be the best of moves the girl could possibly have done, and, in spite of crying a lot for a couple of days, her usual joy came back to her at its fullest in a matter of weeks. And precisely then the leaves of all the trees in the forest surrounding her house started changing color, quite a number of them choosing to humor her and adopt all sorts of harvest gold, light and dark goldenrod, and saffron in their voyage towards falling to the ground. During those days of autumn the girl appeared to be on the peak of her happiness, which, in turn, meant that in the knight’s mind settled itself a similar joyfulness.

He was contempt. He was ready for anything.



Cruelty and chivalry


Why did it have to be this way? The child did not understand. He picked up the heavy sword and took a step back. Why was a fifteen-year-old carrying a two-handed sword he could barely lift? For no particular reason, except that he had to defend himself. The sword was his father’s, a sword intended for a strong adult, but the only such person around lay slain beside him. The sword was, after all, too heavy even for his father to properly use against three outlaws. Even so, after his father’s death the boy felt he had to defend himself and the household. He was left with no choice. Not much of a last stand he was, but he had to try. He was no coward. He wanted to be like his father, a simple but honorable farmer, husband and father of two. The boy had to do something, anything. In a rush of adrenaline he rushed towards his doom, towards the marauders who brutally killed his father seconds before.

As soon as he reached the three ruffians, he began slashing at them, left and right, up and down, chaotically, no style, no technique, nothing. He used all the force he could muster, but not much came of it. He had had no training, even if his father had been, in his youth, a pretty handy swordsman. In those times a farmer had to know the basics of combat, especially one who lived isolated on the edge of a dense, sprawling forest. Why then the father did not teach his son the art of combat? That was a total mystery. A fatal mystery, a fatal omission. Because of this “omission” of his father’s, the boy was now faced with an impossible task. How was he to defeat three grown ups who looked quite hardened in battle and intend on killing? Without the proper training, there was no way he could come out of that skirmish alive.

And besides, even if he had had the required training, that monolith of a sword was too heavy for him and on top of it he was facing three opponents! One would have been more than enough, but three at once? That was utter madness. His chances of success or at least survival where very, very slim. But he did not give up. He had to fight for his mother and his little brother hidden up there, inside the house overlooking the edge of the forest from atop the hill.

The three brutes – three good-for-nothings in their forties, three men with nothing else better to do than killing farmers, burning houses and raping women – were playing with the boy. Word spread about such bandits, but nobody ever survived to describe them or identify them. Not that they were all that skilled in the art of combat, but they were cowards enough to challenge only those who could offer but little resistance. They had found a form of entertainment, basically, with no charge and free of perils. Faced with a farmer’s boy, the challenge seemed like a piece of cake for them, so they welcomed the encounter. They regarded the boy’s offensive as just the right opportunity to play around and show off “in style”. To hone their skills. Of course they could end the boy’s little “charade” any time they wanted, but it was much more fun this way. in response to the boys attack they were designing a charade of their own, a dance of swords and not a little one at that! Blood rushed through their veins much faster than usual. Everything about them started gaining pace. Moreover, apart from their fighting game, upon hearing the screams of the woman barred inside the farmer’s house they became aroused; they barely could abstain themselves from getting rid of their distraction and climbing up the hill for another one of the usual ways they enjoyed spending their time. However, they had too much fun with the current game and decided to play some more before moving on to the second part of their “venture”.

Meanwhile, the boy’s mother was screaming like mad, her lungs feeling like bursting and blowing up from all the inner pain. She could not stand idle and watch her eldest son share the fate of his father. She kept kicking the door with all the (little) force that she had, she kept kicking like possessed, like a maniac, but to no avail. Her martyr of a husband shut her well inside the house… for protection, he though at the time. Little did he knew what faux pas had he done. His wife was now doomed to watch her lad play at fighting. She knew he’d lose, it was inevitable. Their doom was inevitable, not just his. But she’d rather she died with both her sons in her arms.

On the narrow path leading to the house up the steep hill, the house at the end of which all this gruesome actions were taking place, the four “men” were continuing their “activity”. Despite appearances, none of them were men: three such villains surely could not be called humans – they acted sub-humanely, at best – while the little boy was… well, just a sprout, nowhere near a man. Even so, despite his age and his lack of training and strength, the boy acted as a proper man and in fact was much more of a man than his insane opponents, the lowest of cowards in the way they chose their helpless targets. The four “men” continued “fighting” in spite of the desperate screams coming from inside the house… Their confrontation probably was a sublime sight for any cold-blooded brute out there, just not so for the locked-shut mother who was witnessing a most callous deed.

The altercation came to a sudden halt as soon as the three outlaws got tired of their amusement. The biggest of them, “the butcher”, as the other two called him, a horse of a man, finally ended the whole farce: he raised his sword up high and with all his strength he brought it back down, in the process slaying the child in two. The blood bath that followed made the woman drop to the ground, instantly losing all her senses. As she fell, the mother hit a half-rotten chair, which in turn crashed right onto the edge of the fireplace. Sparks started jumping around gleefully, as if their sole purpose in life was to get the house on fire. As if bewitched, a leg of the fallen chair caught fire; with grim determination the fire instantly started spreading further on, eating away at the wooden chair as if a devastating hunger haunted it. Before long the chair was completely lit up and because the fire would not stop its crusade, soon the whole chamber was on fire. Huge pillars of blazes, ash and smoke had nothing to stop them in their rage; the wooden house welcomed the fire, brought nourishment to it and in the end sacrificed itself to the flames.

A two-year old boy stood there, inside the scorching house, on the most basic of beds, and wondered why his mother had no reaction whatsoever to the engulfing flames around her. What exactly he must’ve felt, nobody could imagine, but he must’ve realized the danger. His eyes sparked in rhythm with the spreading blazes around him. He gradually started crying, yelling, punching the pillows and in the end rolled right off the bed, hurting himself. His fall and his pain were nothing compared to the death awaiting him, yet they served one purpose: the mother came to her senses, woken up by her son’s body hitting both the floor and her body. But it was too late; even if she were to wake up sooner, escaping the scorching house would have proven just as impossible as her attempts to exit the house while her husband went to meet the rogues. She was trapped, doomed to burning alive, but she cared little about her own life. She cared about her boy… her boys. Because of her fainting she did not even wholly realize one of them was already slain outside the house. It was as if her brain had erased that event altogether from her memory.

She lifted her little boy up and held him to her breast, as if intending to give him one last meal. Then, in a moment’s time, she brought her sight towards the front of the house. It was getting more and more difficult to breathe as the smoke was rapidly spreading and becoming denser and denser by the second. She could barely see anything at all. She felt that all her senses were losing in the fight against the inferno which was unleashed in the house. But she had to see what’s happened to her boy outside. She moved towards one of the windows (in fact just a tiny hole in the wall, as nobody dared to build houses with bigger windows in such a place and such a time) and with great difficulty she saw her boy; he lay gruesomely slain on the path leading towards the house, three-soulless creatures around him, desecrating the body. Three murderers, three animals, three… , she thought. She wanted to face them, a foolish undertaking, for sure, but the only logical action she would have taken, if she could. But she couldn’t. Her rugged dress caught fire. She knew those were her last moments; she even stopped fighting it. She accepted her fate, but not before murmuring a curse with one last breath (while suffering immense pain, while she saw the child in her arms catching fire). Her muttering grew into a scream so maddening and so true in its purpose that the whole forest heard it; the screech reached every rock, every blade of grass and every creature. She screamed like a siren of legend, she poured in her shriek both her immense pain and all her fury, all her rage towards the savages who brought this onto her family.

The ruffians, disappointed that they had missed the opportunity to rape the poor woman, watched the house burn, laughing savagely. Though when they heard the woman scream, their reaction to it was nowhere near as they expected it to be: they started shaking, as if the mother’s curse immediately came into effect. They had never before felt like that, that much was sure and because the feeling was much too intense, the brute who killed the boy suddenly yelled that the three of them should retreat, lest someone came and discovered their… wonderful achievement. The excruciating pain of the mother reached their innermost sanctum, the very core of their miserable beings. And in doing so the ghastly high-pitched sounds left them disoriented and defenseless.

On their way to the main road, the murderers noticed a party of riders approaching. Three chevaliers, three redeeming souls, clad in leather and iron, were hurrying towards the house. Wondering knights who had heard the woman’s cry for help and immediately acted on it. The knights spotted the savagely murdered corpses and the burning house; then their sights fell upon the criminals. Guilty, they looked, sin written on their faces and scribbled in their eyes. The fact that they were soaked in blood did not help their case either. In a moment’s notice the knights descended upon the murderers, who where taken by surprise and could do little to defend themselves. There was no need for a trial, witnesses or concrete proof, in the rider’s minds everything lay crystal clear. Like a hurricane the troop rained down upon the unexpecting souls, leaving behind three mangled up bodies. A minute ago murderers, the outlaw’s corpses were now nothing more than carrion for the predatory birds of the area. They posed no danger to anyone anymore, that much was sure, though nothing could be done about the house and the two innocents inside it and that greatly saddened the knights. They had swiftly and mercilessly administered justice, but they could only achieve so much. And they always felt that mere revenge was never enough, never a satisfactory outcome. Nevertheless, that is what they had managed to achieve that day: just revenge.

One of the wondering knights, a kind man who always gave his best to defend those who needed help, shed a tear for the slaughtered family. He knew the farmer and had often bought provisions for the road from him. If only he and his companions had come by the farmer’s house an hour sooner! If only their horses were not so tired! If only fate had allowed the family to live longer! But life was cruel…

The knights made camp near the farm, extinguished the fires which sprouted up all around the farm and buried the victims. They said a prayer for the departed and, after two days spent in the area, they packed up and continued their never-ending journey through the land, in hope of maybe, just maybe, being able to help some poor defenseless souls in need of all the pity in the world. All they had with them, except from the most basic equipment which ensured their survival, was their chivalry. And that had to suffice.

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