Sparring partner

Alfred was in a miserable mood. No sooner than he had finished his chores and was ready to begin the new book he had found in the church. Apparently, the priest, Father Fitzpatrick also enjoyed adventure tales. The thick volume Alfred had borrowed from the bookshelves of the church was a collection of Arthurian tales. His plans to disappear into a hidden space in the hay above the stables reading and dreaming of adventure was spoiled.

The count had requested him for a sparring partner with the boy that had appeared a few days ago. Why one of the older boys wasn’t selected Alfred couldn’t fathom. Samuel, Fritz, Duncan, Harold, and Clyde were well along in their training. The Count insisted that everyone over sixteen be trained in arms. They trained until they met the standards that he expected for the local guard. Alfred had at least two more years before he had to begin the task. It was so unfair. He heard his mother’s voice in the back of his mind, “Alfred take off that pouty face. It makes people think we spoil you.”

He put on his bland bored face as he approached the gates of the castle. The portcullis was down. This didn’t surprise him. he had never seen it open. He wondered if perhaps it couldn’t be opened. Simeon was at the iron gate the provided entry into the castle. Why was he behind the gate? Alfred didn’t remember ever seeing that gate closed. Most times he had been sent on an errand to the castle there wasn’t even a guard. He tried not to let a spark of interest show on his face. Though now he was a bit curious about what was going on here.

“Bout time you got here,” Simeon growled at him. “I’ve had to stand here for the last hour. My feet are tired.” He swung the gate out. “Get in and go to the house. I can lock this here, then sit in the warmth then”

Alfred walked thought the long tunnel through the wall of the castle. By the light of the scattered torches, he could make out the kill slots above his head. He was told in times of war invaders could be assaulted with arrows and boiling oil. As far as Alfred knew there hadn’t been a battle near here since his grandfather’s time. When he mentioned adventure and battles to this father, all he got was a gruff reply about wishing that peace would reign in the village till Alfred was a grandfather or more.  

Visions of noble knights and damsels in distress danced thorough his head. He could picture himself defeating the wicked wizard who held the damsel captive.  What he would do with her afterward he wasn’t quite sure. A kiss perhaps? The older boys hinted that there might be more. But they were as embarrassed as he when the subject came up. Which it never did when an adult was near. And they were almost always an adult nearby.

There had been two weddings the last year and the bawdy songs that had been sung that night…

“Alfred, what are you doing wandering about?” Gertie interrupted his thoughts. The count is waiting in the manor. “Best be on your way. He’s growing impatient. He’s got things to do.” She glared at him as only she could

He managed to get out “yes, um.” Then he rushed across the courtyard to what they called the manor. It had once been the castle’s chapel. Now it was where the Count lived. The area around the courtyard was the only area used now. The grand keep was a shamble of ruins. The only part of its walls in repair was what faced the courtyard. The guards were housed in what once had been the stables.  The moat had been filled in long ago. The kitchen and servant’s quarters now sat against part of the wall it had protected. The sables had been moved out to a walled yard the riders practiced on. The horses inside the walls the riders and their families lived in a scattering of houses nearby.  Of course, none of this crossed Alfred’s mind as the Count himself opened the manor door. Waving him in as it began once more to rain.

Alfred mumbled an apology for being late. “Nonsense,” the Count’s voice boomed. “You are just in time for the instruction to begin.  You know Gerhart, don’t you?”

He nodded his head in assent. He knew the wizen old man. He seldom came into the tavern. He wasn’t sociable at all when he was there. But he did know who he was.

Gerhart was standing next to Colin the man who was responsible for training the local guard.

“I’ve arranged with your father for you to stay here at the manor until I return from some errands I need to run.” The count told him.

“This is Edel.” He said as he walked Alfred over to where a lad about Alfred’s age stood. “You’ll be training with him. I expect you both to become proficient in the bow and sword. That’s Colin’s assignment. Then when Gerhart deems you ready, he’ll give you some lessons in close combat. He’s rather surprising in that you’ll see.”

Edel was a bit effeminate Alfred thought. He would have to be careful not to hurt the child. Why he didn’t even have a hint of a beard. Alfred would have had a nice start on one if his mother had allowed it.

 “I may need a page soon. That would mean some travel, Alfred.”  The Count drew Alfred’s attention back to the matter at hand. “Do well in the training and you may be the one.”

Alfred’s mind attached to the promise of travel. Yes, this was it his chance to leave this boring village and see the world. Oh, he would do well. Edel didn’t have a chance at becoming the count’s page. Not a chance.

“I’ve off early tomorrow morning.” The Count finished. “Catherine show Alfred where he will sleep. Your training begins in the morning.” The count dismissed them and walked away toward his quarters without another glance toward them.

Catherine directed him up the stairs and the second door on the left.  That’s where Alfred read of Arthur until the candle was burnt nearly out. He fell asleep and dreamed of knights, dragons and damsels.

About Dale

Stories have been a part of my life forever. I have heard them, read them, and told them as long as I can remember. I’ve written hundreds of stories. Bits and pieces of stories. This is my first novel. It is the result of a story that refused to die. It kept unreeling in my mind. After a year of this haunting, I had no choice but to write it. What started as a simple damsel in distress story changed once I met the damsel. As I wrote this set of stories the world I imagined grew. After rewrites, revisions, and letting it bake. I’ve discovered more. More of the politics of the region. More relationships between people. Now as I begin a sequel to this first book, I’m finding more complexity than I ever imagined and more loose strings that need to be explored.
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