Fools and Heroes Writing Challenge 2017

Self Prompt: After the War

<I felt like providing myself a little bit of musing writing after the events of the last daysite, a flash fic prompt of how my character might be reacting>

Warmth crested her face and she breathed a smile, holding her face upwards towards the golden rays. The day was hot, humid and with the occassional scattering of heavy showers and on days like these she should be smiling more. But this was the first smile that had crossed her face since waking and it was short lived. There was work to be done.

She had shunned her gown this morning, dressing instead in shirt and breeches and her surcoat with her cap and wimple providing some modesty. Shirt sleeves rolled up she had heaved the barrel of sand and chain across the yard and back, the dull thud of its cargo slapping in rhythm with the work of the smith under his shelter and the background clatter of the keep. She had already cleaned her shirt, using it as a distraction from the heaviness in her chest, the faces she saw every day of people no longer here. Now she was helping to clean the other remnants of armour, anything to keep herself occupied.

600 dead. 600 souls no longer living and breathing and laughing. With those on her mind how could she smile.

With a bitter frown she set off back up the courtyard with her barrel, stripping out of her wimple and surcoat as the humidity finally got to her, hot sweaty face shining as she heaved her load back again. Muttering a curse she leant on the barrel and accepted a ladle of water from the blacksmith’s lad with a nod. His eyes seemed to echo her own hollowness – everyone in the village had heard of the battle and witnessed the three dead men of the Ridge laid out in the village shrine. Mother Elspeth had worked quickly, but seeing the husks left behind for burial had left its mark on their friends and neighbours and families. The lad was one of the dead men’s sons – she recalled hastily, wiping her mouth and offering him a ghost of a smile – he’d been so proud when the smith had accepted his apprenticeship.

The memory of the dead men threw her back into her yard work, arguing with herself that she was working towards her strength and conditioning, that shoving the barrel was better than training out in the yard playing at war. Her sons had shared a mere ghost of what she had, but they too sat wide eyed in the evening when they would be clamouring for stories. How could she tell stories of glory and honour when the truth was that battles were a bloody mess where honour and glory are just words when fighting for your life?

How could she teach them to be true knights when all she was was a butcher. And the pity in the eyes of those adventurers who had not gone to the muster, well … it took all her strength not to strike out at them and maintain her cool poise.

Only a handful knew how she was breaking, the pin badge on her jewellery box a showy gaudy reminder of a bloody day. Fancy ribbons would not bring back the 300 souls of the Korell militia, nor the two companies of the Berwickshire Medium. All they were were reminders and she could not yet bring herself to wear it as some of the men had taken to doing.

Prompt 2: “What does your character do on a normal day?”

05/03/17

The morning found Lady Judith awake and washing briskly in tepid water carried up from the kitchen by one of the servants after they’d lit the fire in the hall and the main rooms of the keep. Even the frost on the stones of the steps could do little to deter Judith from her morning routine. She dashed from the steps of the Keep to the Great Hall where she would find the early risers of the household eating breakfast and take her place on the high table to break her fast. Her father would not rise for another hour or so, and it was unlikely she would see her mother until later in the day, but she was pleased to see her husband Sir Richard sitting in his customary chair at the left hand of the great carven chair that was the Baronet’s seat. Already pouring over some papers or other, he looked up and stood as she entered, wiping his mouth on the cloth draped over his shoulder. He bent to kiss her cheek lightly and pulled the bench out a little further so she could sit beside him. She cast her eye over his work – records of her father’s judgements the previous day.

“There is a land matter he needs you to view today. Can you spare a few hours to walk the bounds with me?”
She smiled, her husband already to his business as Steward despite the early hour. “Did you even sleep last night?”
Her husband smiled wryly, gathered his papers and beckoned over the kitchen girl for a bowl of porridge. “Are you training this morning?”
“Are you offering to spar with me?” She smiled suggestively, but then picks up her spoon to eat her breakfast hot. “I’m not a delicate squire anymore.”
“You were never delicate my dear. Your father saw to that.” Richard leant across and stole a spoonful of her porridge as the girl brought across the small jar of honey for a dash of sweetness before returning to the other members of the staff and militia hurriedly consuming warm breakfast. “I suppose it is my duty as Lord Tirel’s vassal to see the Errant of his household is properly prepared for the rigours of knighthood.”
She nudged him with her elbow, causing him to chuckle. “You survived.”
“That I did. So I know what to expect. Eat up; I have to go put on something … more suitable.” He gestured at his long overtunic that was his usual stewarding attire. Excusing himself, he left to arm up and Judith hurriedly finished her breakfast and continued on to the training yard.

That morning had Judith training outside in the fading frost, hooded and capped for modesty and wrapped in her new blue surcoat. Her husband and her father’s master-of-arms had her practising sword drills until her shoulder was sore and then fencing with her husband with sword, shield and dagger. Her son joined her for his usual lessons, though this had him running laps round the yard wearing his father’s chain shirt girdled at the waist with his belt. After sparring with her husband Judith continued her drills, wrestling and practising her tumbling to work on her agility in her armour whilst Sir Richard rode out to attend to matters of the estate.

The afternoon saw her ride out to join her husband as he walked the boundary between two strips of land that was in contention between two of her Father’s tenants. One claimed the other had moved a significant boundary marker in his favour, whilst the other claimed his neighbour had ploughed over others and taken more land in his favour. Her father had decided to wait for the view of his Steward and his representative, namely Judith as his health had worsened a little with the return of the frost. So Judith found herself listening with thinning patience as her Father’s tenants slandered each other through feigned politeness, and noting that the boundary markers had been moved by some enterprising animal looking for shelter from the wind. An agreement was made that the boundary markers would remain and be respected as the strips of land, whilst uneven, were equal, and Judith had the farmers shake on it as a sign of their acceptance. They did so begrudgingly, probably only because the Lord’s Steward in his Tirel heraldry was watching them with a grim and foreboding expression.

Returning to the keep Judith was able to wash and change into something more suitable and joined her mother in the solar for the rest of the afternoon as they continued their work on repairing one of the large tapestries from the great hall that had suffered a little the past year. With spring on the way the large hangings were being taken outside and beaten clean when the weather was reasonable, and repairs made before they could be rehung. They joined the rest of the household for a simple dinner, Judith trying not to yawn as her exhaustion from the morning threatened to overcome her. Once dinner was over and her father retired to his rooms, Judith ushered her children to bed and tucked them up with a tale of heroes and adventurers, before falling asleep by the fireside in her chair. Her husband woke her gently before putting her to bed and retiring for the evening himself from the estate papers.

And so the days continued on, with Judith’s training continuing on and matters of the estate to be addressed and handled, and peace to be kept between all members of the household – expect on the few brief days she was able to get out to hunt or travel for hirings and attending the court of the Thane or her liege Lord.

———

Prompt 1: “What does your character do on their days off?”

14/02/17

The courtyard was filled with the yammer of hounds, as stoic old Hector watching the youngsters mob the huntsman as he picked his way over and through the pack with long suffering patience. It was a crisp winter morning, a powdery sky overshadowing the brooding mass of the gatehouse with the promise of brightening days with winter’s freshness in the wind. The old wolfhound raised his head as the Master’s daughter knelt to pat him in her usual way before she joined the group gathering in the archway. Stuff and nonsense, the old hound yawned and slipped sideways to lie with his muzzle in a patch of sunlight, no one’ll be able to catch anything with that racket.

As Judith joined the huntsman and his pack she was greeted cheerfully by her husband, who passed her a pair of gloves and planted a delicate kiss on her cheek. It had been months since they had been able to head out with the hounds to walk the fields and make a show of the hunt, their enjoyment marred only a little by Judith’s brother joining them. Rupert’s absence was conspicuous as Judith fussed over the younger hounds which mobbed her in the hope of a scratch or some attention. “Sir Richard, should we be off?” The huntsman motioned to the open gate and the worn bridge over the ditch. The knight, wearing the colours of his father-in-law and master surveyed the courtyard and shrugged.
“He’ll meet us at the turnpike if he cares. Elsewise we’ll catch him by the river.” He turned on his heel, striding out and catching his wife by the hand, looping an arm through hers. Laughing, Judith tried to match his stride, trotting a little to keep up. Out of the keep they went, down past the pele yard where their eldest son was hard at work firing shots at the archery butts, across the great ditch, down by the fishpool and weir, and then down the long hill towards the village.

Nestling in its shadow, the village at Prudha’s Ridge was already a bustle. The party were not quiet, the hounds bounding ahead barking and carrying on, the huntsman yelling and calling them back, but hunts never were. Judith grinned, glad to be out of courtly skirts and back in her hunting leathers, but her demeanour stiffened as they entered the village and she returned the greetings with polite smiles and promises to pass the well wishes and enquires as to her father’s health back to his Lordship. The winter had not just been harsh on the village, but also upon the health of the Baronet and such things rarely go unnoticed. It was why she was glad to be able to take the free day and enjoy herself.

Out of the village past the Inn they went, down towards the rough strand of trees and the rougher hedgerow that marked the boundary between civilisation and the wild. There would be little sport to be had here – the deer long gone into the deeper thickets over the winter, the boars wise to the yammering of the hounds, and the hares whisking away at the scent of the dogs. But it felt good to be out and about, roaming the fields and woodlands that held the promise of spring and fresh growth. With the fields turned and Longstor’s feast day past, thoughts could once again hope for summer.

They were out most of the morning, climbing through briars and disturbing a couple of pheasants that whirred away before the huntsman could nock an arrow to his bow, before they came down to the river and found her brother Rupert in his usual haunt. Rod across the knee the nobleman and lackey eyed the company disdainfully and made a passing comment about how sisters should wait for their brothers when upon the hunt. Judith merely shrugged and left him to his sport, reminding him how little brothers should be up with the sun and not idling in bed. They stopped by the old ford, the ruined watchtower overgrown and tangled with thorns, and Judith laughed as Sir Richard tried to skim stones across the roughed surface of the Thane. Following the clamouring hounds back up the hill, Judith took a moment to pause. Since making her oath of fealty to her liege lord she had not had the chance to simply be out and about upon her Father’s lands and with the fresh air filling her lungs and the song of the hunt in her ears she could almost forget the dangers she had faced already. But looking up at the village, knowing the fields beyond being readied for planting, her mind was cast back to how things can go awry – the baronetcy of Wark in strife and with many troubles.

But how could she be glum on such a day? Taking her husband by the arm they continued on up towards the keep, its presence overshadowing all it surveyed. She heard shouts from the pele yard as they crossed the bridge, her youngest son caught up in the mob of dogs with shrieks of laughter, a blonde patch amongst the pool of grey and brown. Calling out to him she ran to meet him, sweeping Percival up into her arms as he managed to free himself from the tangle of dogs. Half wild, her youngest son began to tell her of his lessons that day, and she carried him on into the keep.

Her eldest son Alexander joined them in the hall after Judith had freshened up, ditching the hunting leathers for a simple gown with her knife on her belt. Jostling with his father, he carried his grandfather’s chess set down from the chest on the dias and placed it before her on the wide scrubbed table. “Lady Mother, you promised me a game” he said as he sat down opposite her. Judith raised an eyebrow and turned the board and took up the carven horse.
“Oh, did I?”
“You did” her son announced solemnly and began to put out the pieces. They played several games, the household continuing on around them as the afternoon lengthened and the fires were banked for the evening meal. Sir Richard joined them, bringing some of his documents and records that would not wait for him even on a free day, and offered tactical insights on both players’ strategies. When her son knocked down her King piece with a triumphant “ah hah” for another turn Judith declared the game at an end. They joined the others for dinner before retiring to the relative comfort of their chamber over the gatehouse. Sir Richard plucked idly at his lute, musing over some little twist of music, as his wife watched their sons play stones by the hearth until it was time for bed and a story. She told them a tale of their ancestors, of great heroes of old, of Knights from the old Kingdom which had them shiny-eyed and eager for more, until their father soundly ordered them to bed. Her free day over, Judith thought on the days to come as she watched the fire play in the hearth, and listened to her husband pick over a piece of old poetry on the lute and a quiet hum before she bid him put down the instrument and retire to bed.

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