A Festival of Reckoning
M. L. Stidmon
The festive air of the crowd was most contagious. People were coming in from throughout the surrounding countryside to the great town to celebrate the fall festival. The throngs of people with their carts loaded with the harvest bounty were for the most part already well on the way to total inebriation, so much so that the town watch was just letting them pass through the gates.
As the Knight came up some of the men-at-arms took an interest in him. His somber demeanor was in contrast to the crowds of festival goers. While many of the landed gentry had come for the occasion, none had come fully armed. A fashionable rapier was the usual visible weapon with the nobles. However this Knight was riding in on his warhorse in full arms and armor. The guards were thus nervous at his presence and what his business was about. Therefore a Sergeant of the Guard approached the Knight while fending off an already drunken young lady that tried to kiss him.
“Good Knight,” The Sergeant called out to the Knight. “Welcome to Heisenburg. Are you here for the festival, cause there is no tournament?”
The Knight reined in his mount. He looked down upon the watchman with cold brown eyes. He had the haggard look from weeks in the saddle. His dark hair was long and greasy as the stringy locks dangled about his shoulders. He wore no surcoat over the metal plates of his well-battered suit of armor. And both he and his mount were splattered with mud. The Knight though was empty handed with his shield tied to the flank of the horse. The Knight though was still very much imposing, even to the veteran Sergeant.
“Which way to Saint Lenard’s?” the Knight simply asked. He had the bearing that he was not going to engage in conversation or reveal any information more than what actions could be seen.
The Sergeant who had been smiling up to the Knight, now allowed his facial expression slowly switch to a neutral look realizing how dismissive he had been treated. “Stay on this road and you will come to it.”
The Knight spurred his horse ignoring any further attempts to be engage by the watch. He then moved down the broad boulevard as best he could due to the crowds of people. It was slow going for him, as he was trying not force himself with his mount. He was being patient with the people in their revelry. His horse however was starting to be impatient with the throng milling about and touching him repeatedly. It became an effort for the Knight to keep the horse steady.
Making his slowly along the Knight was offered all manner of food and drink, and even propositions from harlots. He moved on ignoring all these offers and being chided for being like an overly pious monk. What the people did not know was how true to their insults they were.
At one point the Knight was forced to stop as he waited for an intersection to be cleared by a tangling of three carts. While he sat and waited he would decline to join in on the loud raucousness of those joyfully partaking in the orgy of the festival with the barest acknowledgement. As he sat there, his patience wearing thin, he saw a couple of inept watchmen try to bring order to the cart fiasco with little success. The Knight in disgust then moved forward bowling people over with the large horse and reached down and grabbed the bridal of a mule of one of the carts. He then led the animal off to the side pulling the cart with it, thus freeing the other two carts to be able to move on and clear the jam at the intersection.
He continued on down the street till he came to the great plaza of the cathedral of Saint Lenard’s. Here the festival goers were truly congregated packed in the cathedral square. Despite his intimidating presence the Knight could only urge his steed around the edges of the crowd making his way to the rear of the cathedral. A short while later he was able to break free to the less crowded back of the great holy temple. He went up to a stable and dismounted. An old man came out to meet him.
“Only those of his Eminence may stable here.”
The Knight looked at the man and handed over the reins. “Brush him down and give him double the normal amount of oats and fodder.”
The old stableman looked shocked that he had been ignored and then ordered about. He held the reins that had been thrust into his hands. He was about to protest further when he saw that the Knight who had reached into a saddlebag and took out a folded up piece of cloth, was now walking away. The old man looked at the horse that looked back with a certain angry fire in its eye. The old man shrugged his shoulder as he led the horse into the stable. He would tell someone of this insult to his Eminence and the insolent Knight would pay with the forfeiture of his horse.
The Knight walked from the rear of the cathedral where the stables were to the plaza in front. He had to pick his way through the crowd and was understandably jostled as the merriment of the festival made those attending careless in their mirth. At one point he felt a slight tug on his belt and his hand quickly snatched the hand of a young cutpurse. The boy, whose hand he held in an iron grip flinched in pain and panic at being caught.
“Please Sir, it was a mistake,” the boy whined in pain. “I was not going for your purse. Please let me go.”
The Knight could see that he was a typical street urchin, mostly harmless, however a thief nevertheless. The Knight glared at the boy with his cold stone eyes. The boy was visibly shaking in fear and his color had left him as he became pale as the dead, fore the boy honestly thought he was going to die. The Knight had other plans.
“Thou shall not steal, boy,” the Knight whispered in a deliberate way that only added to the terror the boy felt.
“Please. I’m sorry,” the boy pleaded in desperation.
“Go to your mother and tell her what you did. And then you will do whatever she says for a month. If I catch you again you are mine. Now go.”
The boy was released and he tripped over his own feet in trying to retreat from the Knight. The boy’s color was still pale as he stumbled away to do as he was told. The Knight knew the boy would obey him.
When he reached the main plaza the Knight stopped as he spied a fine young lass dancing to the music. She was pretty with long flaxen hair. Her slim build was mesmerizing to watch as she twirled about to the beat and simple melody. All the while she danced, her face was absolutely radiant with a broad smile as she enjoyed herself. For the Knight, watching her brought back a painful memory from the past of a lost love wrenched from him.
The music came to an end and the girl came to a reluctant halt as she tried to catch her breath while laughing with mirth. The Knight saw several young men clap with approval of her performance and try to get her exclusive attention, only to be playfully but forcefully rebuked. Not realizing that both he and the girl had been moving towards each other she stumbled into his arms. He had instinctively grabbed her to help support her body from tumbling to the ground. In that brief moment she looked up into his eyes as he did hers. He stared into her face he could make out slight imperfections that acted as a slap for him back into reality. The girl may have reminded him of his lost love, but she wasn’t nor could she ever be.
“Excuse me,” the Knight simply said. He set her firmly on her feet and moved off.
“Hey, good Knight don’t go? We could enjoy the festival together.”
The Knight did not answer her as he left her perplexed in the crowd.
The Knight made his way up to the vast cathedral steps. Various dignitaries were gathered and looked at him in curiosity as he climbed the stairs. He easily brushed pass a guard that had made some effort to deny him. At the top of the stairs he moved to one of the smaller side portal doors. An unarm man watching over the door put up his hand to stop him.
“Sir, the cathedral is closed till after the festival.”
“I understand. Now step aside,” the Knight said coolly.
The man was obviously nervous at the confrontation of this intense man of war. However, he stayed where he was and did not move. The man did not have to say anything more as one of the acolyte priest came over to where the Knight was trying to gain admittance.
“Is there a problem here?” the priest asked in a highly arrogant manner.
The Knight looked at the Priest and saw that a few of the self-important dignitaries were also watching the scene at the door. The Knight ignored the Priest and unfolded the green piece of cloth. He then held what turned out to be a surcoat for his armor and draped it over his head. The green cloth was neatly clean with three interlocking circles embossed in gold thread across the front. The Knight then looked at the man at the door who now had an astonish look on his face.
“Stand aside,” the Knight of the Holy of the Trinity said.
The man slowly moved away. As for the Knight he reached for the latch and opened the door. The Priest made a whimpering like noise and turned away. The Green Knight entered the cathedral without looking back.
Inside he made his way down the great open sanctuary of the vast stone cathedral. No one was inside as he approached the altar alone. He stopped before the heavy ornate table with its golden cross with the good book lying open upon a golden missal stand. The Knight bowed towards the crucifix and then made the sign of the cross. He then unbuckled his sword belt and then re-buckled it over the surcoat. Once he was situated he took to his knees and with head bow started to pray.
“I have often wondered what great sin you Green Knights could have done where other men would have been put to death, to be given such mercy by his Holiness in Rome.”
The voice was old but strong. The Knight brought up his head and crossed himself yet again. He got up to his feet and turned to meet the interloper upon his prayer.
Before him was the Bishop of Heisenburg. His Eminence was taller than an average man and well into his middle ages. His hair was nearly gray that peeked out from under the miter, as was the neatly trimmed beard that framed his face. The Knight could also tell from the Bishops stance and attitude that he was one used to the power he wielded and his standing in the Church and the town.
“It is only for God to decide when I can be put to death. Until then, I am his to do as he wills.”
The Bishop snorted at the answer in contempt. He looked at the Knight as he would look at something truly distasteful. He then looked beyond the Knight and said, “Destroy him.”
The Knight moved in a lightning quick motion as he unsheathed both the sword and poniard at his waste. He brought the hand and half sword up over his head and felt the parried blow of his assailant. The Knight was then able to whip about and lash out with the smaller blade of the poniard in his left hand. The tip bit shallowly into a most formidable dark looking Knight. The Green Knight dodged to his left as yet another similarly armed Knight brought down a huge ax, crashing down where the Green Knight had just moments before been.
The Green Knight was facing two wicked looking black armor clad Knights. They were armed with a huge two-headed battle-ax that they swung about in wide looping blows. The Green Knight could not see their faces because of lowered visors. But from the eye slits emanated a dull red glow.
The first Dark Knight had recovered and was again swinging his large ax over his head. The Green Knight saw an opening and stabbed at the Knight in the exposed chest, as his foe was about to bring the ax to bear. The Dark Knight cried out in a hollow ringing howl as the blade pierced the breastplate. The other Dark Knight was not slowed one bit by the demise of its companion and brought his ax down upon the Green Knight. But the move was expected and again the Green Knight had slipped to the side.
Now his sword was embe dded in the one Dark Knight as it slumped to the floor never to rise again. The Green Knight still had his poniard but for all practical purpose was unarmed against the fierce ax wielding Knight. The Green Knight circled about avoiding the sweeping ax head while looking for an opportunity. At one point he picked up a candle stick only to have it chopped from his hands.
The Green Knight in his avoidance of the one Knight found that he had made a full circle and was now tripping over the unmoving form of the one opponent. He brushed his hand against the pommel of his sword, but it was wedge fast in the defeated Knight. His foot then kicked the discarded ax of his one time foe.
With an idea to turn the course of the fight the Green Knight flipped the poniard in his hand so as he grasped the blade and then he threw it. The Dark Knight predictably moved to dodge the flung knife disrupting his efforts. This gave the Green Knight the second he needed to retrieve the ax at his feet. Again the Dark Knight came upon him trying to crush him with the great ax.
The Green Knight brought up his ax to block the blow. He staggered under the heavy blow, going down to one knee. The Dark Knight went to swing the ax a second time, but was checked as the Green Knight thrust his ax in a jab to the midriff of the on coming foe. The Dark Knight was monetarily stunned and slightly doubled over. The Green Knight took advantage of his opponent’s reaction and swung his ax in a wide sweeping horizontal blow.
The ax head bit deeply into the side of the Dark Knight causing him to stumble even further back. Unable to put up an effective defense the Dark Knight caught another blow to the torso. This time he was brought to his knees. The Green Knight did not let up and in an executioner style move he swung the ax high over his head and brought it down upon the helmet of the Dark Knight, imbedding the ax head.
The Green Knight let go of the ax handle and went over to the first Dark Knight and to retrieve his sword from the prostrate body. The Green Knight then walked heavily with exhaustion away from the two corpses to where the Bishop of Saint Lenard’s lay. When he had thrown his poniard he had actually been aiming for the bishop who had been standing behind the Dark Knight. The Dark Knight had thought he had been the target and had instinctively ducked from the throw thus exposing the Bishop.
The Green Knight looked down upon the dying man. The handle of the poniard protruded from the right chest of the Cleric. Blood was foaming both around the wound and from the man’s mouth. It was a mortal wound the green Knight saw. And though the Bishop was still alive he was fading fast as the wound made it hard to breath.
“I was sent by his Holiness. I don’t know if God will have mercy on your soul you will soon find out,” the Green Knight said as he reached down and retrieved his smaller blade.
Blood flowed in a heavy stream from the unblocked wound, frothing in pink bubbles at every desperate breath by the Bishop. The Green Knight wiped the blade off before sheathing it and walking towards the great cathedral doors, as the dying man was left where he had fallen.
Before the Knight could open the doors, they were opened for him letting in the brilliant afternoon sun. His eyes had adjusted to the dimmer lighting of the interior of the great cathedral, now he was momentarily blinded. A dark figured stood in the doorway looking at him. The Green Knight squinted to see that it was a priest in simple robes. The man came into the cathedral and up to the Green Knight. The Green Knight stood where he was looking upon the Priest, waiting impatiently for him to acknowledge him. The Priest however was looking at the three bodies that lay on the floor up near the altar. Then the man looked at the Knight in confusion and then a look of anger came over him.
“I thought the Bishop was to be arrested and taken before an ecclesial court? Why was he killed?” the Priest demanded.
“If he could be arrested, he was to be taken to Rome,” the Green Knight retorted, “But his two demonic guards precluded any attempt at arrest.”
“I’ll be reporting this to his Holiness,” the Priest threatened. “He was to be arrested and tried.”
The Green Knight looked down upon the Priest. He knew that the Vatican had sent a high level official to investigate the accusations that the Bishop of Saint Lenard’s here at Heisenburg for conjuring and consorting with demons. This priest must be him.
“Do what you have to do, I did what I had to do,” the Green Knight said brushing pass the obstinate Priest.
Walking through the great doors of the cathedral the Knight paused on the steps. The dignitaries and people in the crowd turned to him in surprise. They were astonished at his presence as they looked upon the green surcoat with its gold interlocking circles emblazon on it. Whispers moved like rippling waves through the people gathered for the festival. The Green Knight nodded and walked down the stairs and towards the rear of the cathedral to the stables. As he walked the crowds parted like a sea before him. No one jostled him this time.
Reaching the stable the Knight caught the attention of the old man and motioned for his horse to be brought over to him. The cantankerous old man, a bit more contrite this time led the horse over to the Knight. The old man made no mention of payment as he held the bridal of the horse as the Knight mounted. Then without a word the Knight rode back the way he had first come. As he entered the Plaza he saw the dancing girl again, this time she was looking up at him with wide eye wonder. He felt a sharp pang as he remembered the lost of his one true love.