Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Understanding Ourselves by Understanding the Past.


My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Devil's Knight - Chapter 4

Bram, County of Toulouse
April 1210

The wind shifted slightly and the smoke billowing up from inside the town suddenly veered and blew directly at them. Hughes squinted, but the smoke was too thick and at once his eyes began to sting and water. His stallion snorted and started to fidget, flinging up his head and stamping his feet. Hughes let him swing his haunches to the smoke, as he tried to clear his eyes by blinking. Finally, he was forced to pull off his right chain mail mitten and use his naked fingers to rub his eyes until the stinging let up. Then he wiped away the tears on his sooty face leaving a smear across his cheeks and beard, and squinted again toward the town.
The fires had been set by burning quarrels that Lambert de Thury's troops had managed to shoot over the walls of the town, and clearly the fires were spreading. There had been no rain in the region for over a month. The roof-thatch was dry. The stiff breeze fanned the flames and blew sparks too quickly for the villagers to contain the flames.
From the town came the dull, garble of shouts and cries, now and again pierced by a more penetrating shriek. The rumble of things being rolled or dragged away from the flames and the crash of collapsing beams provided further counterpoint to the man-made noise. High-pitched whinnies and the barking of dogs added to the cacophony.
Hughes had been through dozens of sieges in the last two decades, but each one reminded him of his first -- the siege of Ascalon by Saladin. He had been 10 at the time, and had fled with his mother and sisters from Hebron. They had been forced to abandon Hebron without a fight because all the fighting men had accompanied Hughes's father and elder brothers when the King of Jerusalem called for men to aid in the relief of Tiberias. On the Horns of Hattin the royal army had been decimated in the most disastrous battle in the history of Christian Palestine. The King of Jerusa­lem, the Grand Masters of the Hospitallers and the Templars, the bishop of Acre with the True Cross, and countless other noblemen and knights had been killed or captured. Hughes's mother had known the fate of neither her husband nor her eldest sons. The shock had been so great that the Lady of Hebron despaired. Collecting her valuables, her servants and her younger children she had fled for the safety of Ascalon ― only to find that city as devoid of defenders as Hebron itself.
When Saladin appeared before the walls of the port city a few weeks later, the defence had been feeble and the surrender quick. The Lady of Hebron had only just managed to take ship with her children for Tyre. It remained the most terrifying moment of Hughes's life, and to this day he could not see smoke from a distance without being reminded of the smudge of smoke soiling the horizon as they sailed away from Ascalon.
Since then, however, Hughes had more often been with the besieger than the besieged. The feel of sweat soaking the inside of his quilted, linen aceton and the intense heat of his chain mail when, as now, it was exposed to a hot sun was as familiar to him as the smell of siege-smoke.
Beside Hughes, the crew of the siege engine he commanded strained to reload and re-cock the catapult. The men sweated profusely and cursed as they worked, they were weary and aching. For four days and nights they had, alternat­ing with another crew every four hours, kept this siege engine in unrelenting operation night and day. They had, as a result, managed to weaken the wall. Cracks were gradually spreading and shattered masonry was piling up at the foot of it, but Hughes assessed the damage professionally and knew the wall was far from collaps­ing.
The town, he judged, would fall before the wall did. It was completely encircled by de Montfort’s forces. No less than four siege engines were engaged, and the archers with both sharp and flaming quarrels moved from place to place so that the citizens could never know whence the next barrage would come. Furthermore, a battering ram was nearing completion, and the assault was planned for the next day, despite the fact that it was Good Friday.
With a shout and a collective grunt from the crew, the catapult was brought to ready. Hughes shifted his attention back to town as he lifted his arm to signal the next volley. Something caught his eye, and with a frown he squinted against the still gusting smoke and tried to see what it was. Amidst the smoke that billowed up particularly thick and black before the church tower, something waved and flashed. He wiped his eyes again to reduce the stinging and then looked again to the spire.  There was something white amidst the smoke.
"They're signalling surrender!" The shout went up from just to the right. Bert galloped up, hooting in triumph. "They're surrendering! They're surrendering!"
 Hughes ordered his crew to hold their volley, and waited expectantly for Bert to rein in beside him. The youth was grinning from ear to ear. "They raised a white flag of surrender over the Church!" He told Hughes breathlessly. "And a delegation of citizens shouted to de Roucy for a parlay! I was with de Roucy's troops when it happened!" Hughes had to smile at his squire's uninhibited delight. It was, he reminded himself, the youth's first siege and so his first victory. He didn't even know how exceptional it was to press a siege so hard and to crack a town so quickly. But he was learning, Hughes reminded himself. In the training at Carcassone, the squires no less than the knights and soldiers had been drilled and trained mercilessly. He was considerably less worried about Bert’s ability to survive now than he had been when the left Betz.
"Stay here with the crew," Hughes ordered and set off at once for the command tent to get his orders.
One after another, the knights who had been spread out around the perimeter of the town rode up. De Montfort came out of his tent, and stood staring toward the town sceptically.
At last, Sir Alain de Roucy trotted up. In the preceding three months, Hughes had come to respect Sir Alain's competence with weapons generally, but Sir Alain remained extremely aloof, fraterniz­ing only with Sir Lambert de Thury. Sir Alain and Sir Lambert also enjoyed a privileged status with de Montfort ― drinking, carousing, consulting and conspiring with him and Arnaud-Amaury to the exclusion of the others.
Hughes knew that Sir Charles resented the favouritism de Montfort showed Roucy and Thury. After all, Sir Charles had brought more troops than either of the others, and he had every right to be included in any inner-circle of bannerets. He sat his heavy stallion with an almost sullen expres­sion, resenting Roucy´s easy victory here.
Others, including the youthful Norbert and insecure Pierre, openly courted the favour of de Montfort's favourites. Hughes recognized intellectually that he would be wise to do the same. He had 14 years experience at a royal court, and he knew how dangerous it was to offend the intimates of one's lord. 
Yet even though Hughes knew objec­tively that he was as dependent as the others, he could not overcome his pride and bring himself to curry favour like some courtier. Certainly not from men like Roucy and Thury, who were mere parve­nus.
Sir Lambert de Thury was the worse of the two, he reflected, casting a guardedly hostile look at the tall man with curly black hair. Thury was dressed in a brilliant red and yellow silk surcoat and his coif and gauntlets were embellished with bronze edging. But his finery could not alter the fact that he was illiterate. A man of obscure, possibly even base back­ground, who owed all he had to de Montfort.
Roucy came from an impover­ished family in Gasgony -- although one would not know it given the jewels glinting from the hilt of his sword or the heavy gold rings revealed when he removed his gauntlets. He was not totally illiterate, apparently able to read French, but he could not speak Latin and never wrote anything but his name.
Hughes found it difficult to respect either man, and his reservations about de Montfort's favourites compounded the reservations that he was beginning to harbour about de Montfort himself. He recognized de Montfort´s energy and competence. Certainly, there could be no question that in just three months de Montfort had transformed the odd-collection of adventurers, criminals, fanatics and mercenaries into a cohesive and effective fighting force. Yet Hughes felt vaguely uneasy about de Montfort's leadership. Too often he had insulted and ridiculed men publicly and in a manner that was unnecessarily humiliating. He could be blindly unjust when verbally attacking and Hughes had seen him punish men for things they had not done or could not change. He had a penchant for assigning tasks to precisely those individuals, who were least qualified to perform them. This was, within limits, a means of making men stretch their capabilities, but no amount of reaching will make a short man tall.
So far de Montfort had not “favoured” Hughes with extraordinary tasks, and so he had not been exposed to the hazard of failure, but Hughes felt slighted by de Montfort's disinter­est in his capabili­ties. If de Montfort did not give him any particu­lar responsi­bility, how was he ever going to turn this service into something profitable for himself and Emilie and their unborn child?
 Sir Alain de Roucy had drawn up before de Montfort. He was grinning. "There is a delegation of citizens requesting an audience, my lord."
"Ha!" The mighty Simon de Montfort jumped up with amazing agility for such a burly man. Then he turned and seized an astonished Arnaud-Amaury by the arm and like a sailor in his cups jigged three steps to the left and three to the right shouting all the time. "HA! HA! HA!"
Around him, the astonished knights broke into uncertain grins, while the fanatical abbot laughed in some embarrassment and tried to keep up with the dancing Viscount. Even Hughes was not immune. Up to now, he had experienced de Montfort only as a demanding, unrelenting task-master. He had never seen him so uninhibitedly delighted. His childlike delight reminded Hughes of Bert, and his ability to forget his dignity and show his elation like a green youth was winning.
Then, as abruptly as he started his victory jig, de Montfort stopped, and asked in an energetic tone. "So, where are these citizens? Who are they?"
"There is no lord or knight in Bram. The citizens are represented by their mayor and an elderly man, whose function I could not decipher."
"Bring them here." De Montfort ordered with obvious satisfac­tion. Jumping into the air and kicking his heels together for a second time as he gave one last shout of sheer glee. This time his triumph proved contagious and smiles spread across the weary faces, while several even took up their leader's hoot of victory.
"For God!" Arnaud-Amaury shouted, anxious to direct their thoughts in the proper channels.
"For God!" They roared back at him, as it started to dawn on them that the ordeal of the siege was already over.

 The mood was still decidedly one of satisfaction, when they collected again in the church of Bram, but by now weariness was starting to over-power the elation of triumph. After accepting the surrender of the town, they had been tasked to put out the fires they had set, and to herd the citizens together. De Montfort had insisted that each of the citizens from the surrendered town kneel before him, swear allegiance to him personally and pay a fine in accordance with his income. After homage had been extracted, all the citizens, male and female, had then been ordered to attend Mass. Roughly 100 people, almost a quarter of the population, had refused to set foot inside the church. These individuals had been arrested and were being held under guard in a cellar. The rest of the citizens had been allowed to return to their houses to try to pick up the pieces of their lives in a half burned town.
The light of day was fading rapidly and the church was dim. De Montfort, as usual, kept his knights waiting for him before he finally appeared and stomped up the aisle to take up a position at the foot of the chancel, Arnaud-Amaury at his side. He clapped his hands sharply to get order. "That's enough chatter! We all need a good night's rest, but first I want a decision on what is to be done with the heretics, who refuse to partake of the Holy Sacra­ment."
"I didn't think there could be any question, my lord." Arnaud-Amaury answered softly. "Kill them." Arnaud Amaury spoke with his unblinking eyes, and Hughes was reminded of Beziers.
De Montfort, however, frowned. "That is only one option, and I'm not sure it is the best. The only condition of the surrender was the life of all the citizens ― no distinction was made between Christians and heretics."
"You can't mean to let heretics flaunt their beliefs." Arnaud-Amaury answered coldly. He appeared not to believe that de Montfort could really contemplate mercy.
"No." De Montfort proved the Abbot's assessment correct. "I simply think that killing them would be inappropriate under the circumstances."
"Then what do you propose?" The Abbot pressed.
"Since their souls are blind to the Love of God, it seems only appropriate to blind them to His creations as well, don't you think?" De Montfort asked the question of Arnaud-Amaury, but a rustle of surprise went through the whole church.
Hughes raised his eyebrows. At the height of their power-struggle, Richard Plantagenet and Philip Augustus had been reduced to blinding each other’s prisoners in an escalating spiral of violence that only ended with the Lionheart's death, but it had been a military decision intended to make recruitment of soldiers more difficult and more expensive for the opponent. What de Montfort proposed was purely vindictive. The citizens had surren­dered and were militari­ly worthless in any case. What was more, the cruelty wasn’t justified. This obscure town had managed to defy de Montfort's army only four days. The besiegers had suffered no casualties.
Hughes glanced at his companions to judge their reaction.
Lambert de Thury, as was to be expected, only shrugged. This one gesture confirmed all of Hughes’ suspicions and prejudices. Mentally he labelled Thury a base mercenary, and shifted his attention to Alain de Roucy. Roucy's face was blank. Either he was better at disguising his feelings or he was as cold as he seemed to be.
Hughes twisted about to try to get a glimpse of Guy des Vaux, unable to believe that the cultivated, gentle priest would be unmoved by such a barbaric proposal. At this critical moment, however, the Benedictine seemed to shrink inside his cowl, pulling his hands inside his sleeves and his head into the hood.
It was Sir Pierre Amiel, who answered de Montfort's rhetorical question indignantly. "Men and women, who cannot see the Love of God when it is so abundant about them, should not ever see the light of day again! They should be blinded this very night." Hughes gri­maced and turned to stare at the speaker. Over the last three months, it had become evident that Pierre was one of the least competent knights in de Montfort's service. He sought to befriend the new-comers, because he enjoyed no respect among the others, who liberally made fun of him behind his back. Pierre could always be counted upon to abjectly approve of everything and anything de Montfort said or did. But whereas up to now his parroting of de Montfort and eager support for every notion that slipped from de Montfort´s mouth had only made him look weak and foolish. This time, it was the citizens of Bram who might pay the price.
"Let's not get carried away." Charles responded to Pierre's suggestion, and Hughes turned to him with a sense of inner gratitude. Sir Charles and he were too profoundly different in station and temperament to ever be close. Sir Charles was heir to substan­tial estates, father to four sons, and a banneret. He had never been threatened with poverty or misfortune, and Hughes had sometimes resented his self-complacency and faith in "God's Will." It was easy to accept everything as God's Will, Hughes thought, so long as one never had to accept deprivations or defeat. Charles was essentially an easy-going man, and Hughes had often wondered what had induced him to join de Montfort's forces. Whatever the reason, he was grateful to the banneret's voice of reason now.
"There is no need to rush a decision like this." Charles was remarking in his low, rumbling voice. "We should give some thought to the effect such an atrocity will have on the loyalty of other towns before we carry it out. I say we should all sleep on it and decide what has to be done tomorrow."
"I disagree, Sir Charles." De Monfort snapped with a vindic­tive glint in his eye that made several other men start to pull their heads in instinctively. "Just because you are in a hurry to get your fat ass comfy is no excuse to postpone an important decision." The slur was unfair. Charles had lost most of his extra pounds in the last months, and even if he had not, his argument against over-hasty action remained perfectly legitimate.
"I object--"
"Then eat shit! I haven't got time to coddle your sensitivi­ties. Do I take it there are no serious objections to the punish­ment?" De Montfort asked the room at large, sweeping his eyes across the assembled faces, as if daring anyone to protest. He stopped his sweep at the sight of Sir Norbert. "Something bothering you, Sir?" His tone was both mocking and challenging.
The tall, slender, fair-haired knight reddened instantly, and cleared his throat nervously.
"What? Speak up! I called you in here to hear what you have to say, so stop whimpering and speak up!" De Montfort was evidently annoyed that he had failed to intimidate the young nobleman.
"My lord, these citizens surrendered themselves to our mercy. I don't think it is proper to mutilate them." Sir Norbert’s voice was strained, but he continued to hold his head high and meet de Montfort's eye. That was more than most of the others were willing to do, Hughes noted.
"It offends your sense of chivalry, Sir Norbert?" The tone was mocking and belittling.
"It's not just that, my lord. I ― I think that they should be given a chance to repent."
"That is a waste of breath." Arnaud-Amaury told Norbert pointedly. "These people were ordered to attend Mass and refused. I don't think we need any more proof that they are incorrigible heretics." The Abbot's tone allowed for no contradiction, and, confronted with such conviction from such an exalted representative of the Church, Norbert caved in and looked down.
Again Sir Hughes turned to look to Guy, disappointed that the only other churchman was silent at a time like this, but the Benedictine remained hidden and silent within his robes.
Realizing that no one else was prepared to speak up against the proposal, Hughes had no choice but to raise his own voice. "As Sir Charles pointed out, the impact of this will reach far beyond Bram."
"So it should." De Montfort countered, obviously startled by the new objection, and focusing upon Hughes, as if he was seeing him for the first time.
"The effect will be to increase resistance and rejection of your rule, my lord." Hughes kept his voice and face calm, although he was conscious of the stares of all his comrades. He suspected that most of the men in the room had no sympathy for what he was saying. They were weary and just wanted to get a good night's sleep. The fate of the citizens of Bram did not interest them. They were evidently prepared to carry out any of de Montfort’s orders, whether it entailed extra training, attending mass, or blinding 100 harmless people. On the other hand, they were obviously surprised that anyone would dare defy de Montfort and Arnaud-Amaury, and he could almost smell their eager anticipa­tion of de Montfort's response ― like blood-hounds on the scent of quarry, Hughes thought cynically.
"Wrong." De Montfort rejected categorically. "Men are more afraid of maiming than death itself."
"All the more reason to fight to the death rather than surrender and risk mutilation."
"Only the heretics will be blinded. The other citizens will be left in peace. Bram has not been plundered, the women have not been violated and we even helped put out the fires."
"All of which will be forgotten and ignored if you blind one hundred citizens, who surrendered to your mercy, my lord."
"They didn't surrender to my mercy!" De Montfort was starting to lose his temper. "They surrendered because they didn't have a choice, and the bulk of them have gotten off with no more than a fine and should be grateful for it!"
"No one remembers that Richard the Lionhearted showed mercy to the Arab citizens of Ascalon, only that he ordered the execution of prisoners from Acre ― after Saladin failed to keep his word."
"Do you think I give a damn what Richard of England did or didn't do?! We aren't in the Holy Land, and the rebels and heretics are my own subjects. I can impose whatever punishment I like!"
"I didn't question your right to do as you please, my lord. I said it wouldn't be wise."
"That's what I tried to tell you--" Charles came to Hughes assistance - or did he want to claim the lime-light for a reason­able objection? Whatever Charles had intended, his support for Hughes only inflamed de Montfort, who reacted as if the two knights were themselves rebels.
"I don't need the advice of two knights, who have never managed to capture so much as a privy on their own!" De Montfort bellowed, and most of the knights managed to keep their eyes averted and their faces impassive in a scrupulous neutrality. "Thury, see that all but one of the heretics loose both their eyes and then remove just one eye from the last man and have him lead his fellows to Cabaret-Lastours as an example of what they can expect when I seize that viper’s nest!"
Thury had been leaning comfortably against the wall and he righted himself and nodded. "Aye, my lord. Should I have it done publicly?"
"Of course! Call the citizens together. And all of you" de Montfort pointed at his assembled knights, "will attend as well. Do you understand me, Sir Norbert?"
Norbert, though more flushed than ever, lifted his chin, and answered: "Perfectly, my lord."
De Montfort glanced for a moment in Hughes' direction, as if he was contemplating giving him a specific order as well, but then apparently decided against it. He stormed out of the Church, followed, or so it seemed to Hughes, by a herd of knighted sheep.      
Only Hughes, Charles and Norbert remained in the Church with Guy des Vaux. Alain de Roucy, who was the last of the others to leave, paused and remarked to them, "You should never defy him openly like that. It only infuri­ates him."
"He asked our opinion." Charles pointed out.
Alain made a face. "Are you really that naive?" He turned away and left them standing.
Charles and Hughes exchanged a glance, and then Hughes turned to Guy. "Why didn't you protest? You can't seriously favour blinding 100 men and women merely because they refused to hear Mass?"
"It wouldn't have done any good. As Alain said, he can't stand open defiance of his decisions. He takes it as a personal affront."
"Then why go through the motions? We could have saved a half hour and all gone to bed earlier." Charles pointed out exasperated.
"Because he assesses how we think and react in such a forum." Guy replied, and Charles stiffened and blanched slightly. Hughes had the impression that Charles only now grasped the fact that he might have ruined his reputation with de Montfort. By the look on his face, he was already regretting his protests. Hughes looked quickly at Norbert and was surprised and encouraged that the young knight seemed made of a stronger moral fibre. He was flushed but indignant. "I don’t care that de Montfort knows I disapprove! This is not right! It besmirches our honour unnecessarily! I feel dirty - no better than base mercenaries!"
"War is dirty." Charles reminded him with a cynical shrug.
"You don’t see it that way, do you?" Norbert demanded of Hughes.
Hughes took a deep breath. "Of course it is dirty - as dirty as we make it."
"Sirs?!" It was de Montfort's bellow again, as he poked his head back into the church and shouted. "Do you expect me to wait for you all night? Get out here and obey orders?" 

Hughes stared up at the stars. The night was perfectly clear and the last of the fires had gone out. The stars were bright and sharp, the "milky way" a smudge against the black­ness. It was a beautiful sight.
A hundred people would not see such a sight ever again no matter how long they managed to live. They were blind now, and therefore beggars, regardless of what they had been two hours ago. Few of them would even be aware of that second fact yet. Most were mercilessly unconscious.
Few had been able to show courage. It had sometimes taken three soldiers to hold the victims steady enough to gouge out their eyes quickly and effi­ciently. Many of the victims had repented and begged for mercy ― even begged for the Host itself, but de Montfort was unmoved. He was not even swayed by a very pretty girl, who promised herself to any and all of them for the sake of her eyes. The soldiers would have liked to spare her, but de Montfort was enraged by their hesitation and had threatened to castrate the men, if they preferred to listen to their loins than to his orders.  
Nor had he allowed the other villagers to tend to their mutilated relatives and neighbours. The victims were bound to one another and returned to the cellar. The lucky ones among them would not survive the night.
The sound of low voices behind him made Hughes start violent­ly.  He turned around sharply. The watch had challenged someone at the gate by which he had exited the village. The troops were not allowed outside the town, so when he saw movement continuing out of the walls, he realized it could only be other knights. Hughes waited alertly, straining his ears.
"Come on, the fresh air and a little walk will do you good." It was Guy des Vaux's voice, and Hughes gradually made out a curious pair walking unsteadily with linked arms. The figure on the left seemed to be having difficulty walking. Abruptly he stopped, doubled over and, with a loud chocking and coughing, vomited onto the earth. Guy was identifiable in his black robes on the left, but Hughes could not yet identify the other man, who wore a dark cloak despite the mildness of the air and had pulled the hood well forward. Then his companion righted him and manoeuvred him around the puddle of vomit. A flash of white appeared as he walked.
Hughes paralyzed and at the same moment the sick man caught sight of him. "Who's there? There are orders not to leave the town! Who's there?! Answer or you'll be arrested!" The voice issuing the sudden challenge was raw from the retching and slurred with drink, but it was recogniz­able neverthe­less. The speaker was none other than Abbot Arnaud-Amaury.
"Hughes de Hebron, my lord Abbot." Hughes answered.
"What are you doing out here? There are orders--"
"The same as you, my lord, recovering from the excesses."
Guy flashed him a look of warning, but Arnaud-Amaury did not catch the ambiguity and only groaned again as he leaned on Guy´s arm to vomit again.
"Christ, who claimed the local wine was good? It was sheer poison!" Arnaud-Amaury moaned.
"Come over here and sit down in the grass." Guy urged soothingly, leading the abbot away from his mess and Hughes.
Hughes waited a bit, watching as the other two men found a place to sit on the edge of a neglected wheat field. Arnaud-Amaury sat with his elbows propped upon his knees and his head in his hands. "God have mercy on me." He moaned.
"Amen." Hughes added, and again Guy flashed him a glance of warning. This time Hughes took the hint and retreated toward the gate, leaving the monks alone together. He nodded to the guards, and followed the main street back toward the centre of the circular town to the square before the church.
The square was empty. The victims had been returned to their improvised prison, the citizens sent back to their homes, and the soldiers ordered to their billets. The eyeballs had been carefully collected in a sack at Arnaud-Amaury's orders and hung from the market cross so all would be reminded of the wages of heresy. The blood had sunk between the cobbles and dried quickly in the balmy breeze. Hughes stopped and gazed at the Church squatting dark and sullenly beside the empty square. It seemed cold and empty. Surely, despite the Eucharist, Christ was not present.
A figure descended the stairs and came directly toward him. It was Sir Norbert. "I couldn't sleep." The young knight admitted shamefaced as he came up beside Hughes. His blond hair hung stringy and unkempt beside his face still caked with the sweat from the day inside the chain mail coif. His face was white in the darkness.
"Who can?" Hughes replied somewhat flippantly, in no mood for company.
"De Montfort is snoring so loud you can hear him right up in the attic." Norbert answered in disgust.
"And Arnaud-Amaury has drunk himself sick." Hughes answered.
They were silent together, staring at the stars.
After a long silence, Hughes remarked. "I honestly don't know which is worse: being so indifferent to the suffering you cause that you can sleep without the aid of wine, or giv­ing an order you cannot really stomach yourself."
"Arnaud-Amaury didn't give the order."
"He was the only one who could have stopped it ― and he didn't even try.”
Norbert shrugged. “He doesn’t trust his own opinion in military matters.”
“What does the mutilation of unarmed civilians after their surrender have to do with military matter?!” Hughes asked frowning. “Armaud-Aumary acts as if he worships de Montfort!”
“Don’t we all?” Norbert asked back.
“Worship de Montfort?” Hughes asked incredulous.
Norbert shrugged awkwardly. “Well, not worship, perhaps, but admire him,” he suggested.
“I may admire him for what he has achieved virtually alone, but not for what he did today."
"Are you certain the one is possible without the other?" Norbert asked before admitting, "You see, that's what I don't know. I would like to be a great knight one day, but I don't know that I could ever be as ruthless as de Montfort, and I don't know if you can achieve greatness in this bloody world without it." Then with a good night, Sir Norbert turned and departed.
Hughes was left with a denial unspoken on his tongue which slowly congealed to doubt as he stood alone in the square.


Copyright © 2013 by Helena P. Schrader

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