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Chapter Nine

 Amundr fumed silently for the remainder of the feast.  When the feast ended, Stigr said “Come, we will show you where you are sleeping.”  Stigr and Fastbjorn took their leave of Herfinnr and left the great hall with Amundr and Saegrimr.  “As a knight, Herfinnr is entitled to a small chamber of his own in the keep.  We are staying in the barracks with other men of the muster,” Stigr explained.

The group went back out the entrance and entered one of the buildings on the side of the courtyard.  They went up a winding staircase to a wooden door.  Past the door the stairs continued upwards into the darkness.  Stigr opened the door and said “Welcome home, boys.”

They stepped in and saw that they were at one end of a long room with stone walls and a wooden floor.  There were perhaps three score pallets in two rows running the length of the room and beside each pallet was a small trunk.  A few torches shone dimly in sconces set at regular intervals down the length of the left-hand wall and there was a fire burning in a fireplace in the middle of the same wall.  The wall on the right had four narrow windows which were currently shuttered against the chill night air and Amundr realized they probably overlooked the courtyard.  Roughly half of the pallets appeared to be occupied, mostly those closest to the fireplace or furthest from the windows.

Some of the room’s current occupants were whittling, a few were sharpening weapons, a small circle of onlookers had formed around one pair who were wrestling.  Past those Amundr saw that two were praying and one had some parchment out and appeared to be writing something.

Amundr and Saegrimr immediately recognized the room’s current occupants as the rest of the boys from their muster.  As they made their way into the room, Fastbjorn called out to the boys already present “New recruits boys, fresh in from the road.  Don’t be too hard on them.”  Then to Amundr and Saegrimr he added “You two grab whichever bunks you like so long as they’re not already taken.”

All of the boys looked up as Amundr and Saegrimr slowly walked to the unoccupied bunks closest to the warmth of the fireplace and a murmur arose.  “It’s Amundr and Saegrimr!  They’re supposed to be dead!  What happened?  Tell us everything!”

The boys all crowded around the newcomers and finally Stigr said “Alright you lads.  Let them breathe.  If we’re going to listen to the story, let’s gather around the fire where it’s warm.  It’s a little scary. So take care it doesn’t give you nightmares as you’re men of the muster now and you’re moms aren’t here to hold you in the middle of the night.”  Saegrimr, who was always better with words and more comfortable with people, related their tale to their rapt audience, and then answered various questions about their adventure that the boys asked.

After a while Stigr told them all it was time to get to sleep.  “You’ve had a long few days and it’s just beginning.  We’re going to train you lads up and when the Duke sends his spearmen marching to Eyjolf’s rescue I want every one of you ready to march there with them.”  The boys went to their beds, but Stigr’s comments left an excited buzz in the air that didn’t die down for quite a while.

As Amundr lay in bed, the enormity of the situation finally overwhelmed him.  His father had been his best friend and constant companion since his mother passed away when he was just a lad, and now his father was gone!  What would become of their home?  What would become of him?  He rolled onto his side, facing away from the other lads and the warmth of the hearth.  He tried to stifle the sobs that wracked his body until he finally fell asleep, exhausted and numb.

On the next bunk over, Saegrimr listened quietly.  He didn’t think any of the other lads were paying attention, and he was too confused to know what to do.  He resolved to pretend he had heard nothing to avoid embarrassing his friend.

***

The lads from Eyjolf all arose fairly early the next morning.  They washed in cold water from a rain barrel and ate a plain breakfast of grain mush, toasted bread, and milk.  After breakfast they all dressed and went down to the church to worship.  At worship, Saegrimr’s mother Hafbera and his younger brothers and sisters came over and hugged him, thrilled that he was not nearly as dead as they had been told.  When worship was over, the lads returned to their barracks, had a quick meal, grabbed their spears, and headed down to the courtyard to drill.

The recruits were put through their paces by a grizzled man at arms with a long scar across his face that was interrupted by the patch over his left eye.  The scar continued down to the left side of his mouth and appeared to have frozen his face in a permanent scowl.  After half an hour of exercising, he paused as he saw Herfinnr crossing the courtyard towards him.

“I need to take these two away for a few minutes,” Herfinnr said, indicating Amundr and Saegrimr.

“Sure, take them.  None of these kids can fight worth anything anyway.  Take them all, and then when they’re out there bleeding and dying remember that I tried to teach them and you interrupted.  Go ahead and take them and get out of here.”  None of the lads had been around long enough to realize that this was just his way of teasing new recruits, so several of them were more than a little nervous.

“Thanks.  I’ll get them back to you as soon as I can.”  Herfinnr gestured to Amundr and Saegrimr and they followed him back toward the Duke’s hall.

***

Herfinnr led the boys back to the main hall.  A large fire burned in the hearth and several lanterns produced a soft, warm glow throughout the room.  The Duke was a large man – taller than any of the men of Eyjolf – and he was standing and talking to several men when Herfinnr led them in.  His beard was graying and Amundr thought he must have seen a few more winters than his own father.  When he saw Herfinnr leading the boys in, the Duke ended his conversation and strode over to them.  His broad smile radiated warmth and good humor.

“Well met indeed.  I have heard the full story of your journey from Sir Herfinnr.  Never before have I heard of such great deeds being done by such young men.”  Men!  Amundr thought.  He speaks of us as men, not boys.

Saegrimr spoke up.  “Thank you, your lordship.  We just tried to do what was right.  We had no ambition for greatness.”

The Duke smiled again.  “There’s a lesson in that.  When men set out to seek honor and glory they often ignore virtue to receive what they seek.  When they set out to do what is right they often find that honor follows after.  Never forget that.  Nevertheless, you have served my people well and have thus served me well.  Any man that displays such courage and strength at arms should be rewarded.”  Amundr and Saegrimr looked at each other in stunned disbelief.

“Your honor, we seek no reward.  Others paid the full measure to save us both.  They and their families should be rewarded.”  As Saegrimr said this, Amundr nodded.  Many had died protecting their people.

“Others have earned honor and they shall indeed receive it,” the Duke continued.  “Their families will receive tokens of our appreciation as well.  You, however, have also earned the reward I am bestowing upon you, though you may come to think it more burdensome over time.  Kneel.”

Both Amundr and Saegrimr dropped to one knee.  The Duke drew his sword from its scabbard and tapped them each on both shoulders.  “For valor in combat, for virtue in conduct, and for honor received, I grant you the rank of Knight of the Order of the Rock.  You are now a protector of the kingdom of Alarr and the duchy of Gudmund.  Repeat after me.”

The Duke led them as they swore fealty to him, the duchy, the kingdom, and the king.  They swore to protect the people and to always act with honor and courage.  When it was done he said “Now rise, Sir Amundr of Eyjolf and sir Saegrimr of Eyjolf.”  They rose, and he clasped their hands before pulling each of them into a warm embrace.  Herfinnr, who had been watching silently, smiled and patted each of them on the back.  “Now Herfinnr,” the Duke continued, “Take these two to the quartermaster and see that they are outfitted as befits their station.”

He seemed to notice for the first time the sword Amundr had been carrying with him since he found it the day before.  “What is this?” Amundr told the tale of how they had found it in the stump of the tree and the Duke’s eyebrows shot up in curiosity.  “May I take it and examine it?  The canister as well?”  Something deep inside him made Amundr hesitant to relinquish the sword, but he nodded.  He handed the items to the Duke.  “I will call on the lore masters and we will see what we can discover about these.”  He nodded to all of them and strode from the hall.

***

As the two new knights watched the Duke depart, their minds reeled at their sudden change of fortune.  Herfinnr noticed their confused looks and spoke up.  “Well, come with me.  There are a lot of things you need to do now that you are knights.”

Amundr and Saegrimr followed as Herfinnr and one of the Duke’s household knights led them through the corridors of the keep.  “The first thing we need to do is get you some more equipment,” said Herfinnr.

The other knight opened a heavy wooden door and took a torch from a wall sconce.  “Let’s see if we have any armor that will fit you.”  He led the way into the room, where Amundr and Saegrimr saw shelves laden with musty leather garments and shields.  On the far wall they saw various items hanging from hooks embedded in the stone.  There was a large barrel full of unstrung bows and another filled with spears.  There were boxes full of wooden arrow shafts already formed and a box filled with steel arrowheads.  “The Duke has decreed that you shall be outfitted at his personal expense.  We were able to retrieve some of what you left behind at the river, but as knights you are now entitled to wear and wield swords.”

Herfinnr picked up a stout leather jerkin with mail rings embedded in the front and back and held it up to Saegrimr.  “If we tighten the laces, this should fit you well enough.”  He helped Saegrimr into the jerkin and tightened it.  “How does that feel?  Can you move your arms?  Can you breathe?”  Saegrimr indicated that he could and Herfinnr repeated the entire process with Amundr.  He then proceeded to help them find and fit heavy leather pants and topped each of them off with a steel helm.  The helmets were a little large and tended to twist sideways so that their view was blocked, but the older knights found some rags and used them to pad the helmets properly in order to keep them in place.

They were each given a sword and a shield.  “We’ll show you how to use those later,” they were assured.  Finally Herfinnr said “Now we will go gather the remainder of your things.”

They were led back through the corridors to the courtyard, where they found themselves to be the center of attention.  “Nobody this young has been knighted in Gudmund in years,” their escort explained.  Even their young companions from the muster of Eyjolf stopped their practicing to watch, which drew a rebuke from their grizzled instructor.

They entered a building adjacent to their barracks where several piles of gear were laid on tables.  “I believe that’s yours,” Herfinnr said to Saegrimr, gesturing at the first pile of equipment.  “And that pile is yours,” he said to Amundr, gesturing at the next pile.

The pile of gear looked larger than Amundr had been expecting.  “Sir, there must be some mistake.”

“We are equals now.  You may call me Herfinnr.  There has been no mistake.  Your father’s things are there as well.”  Herfinnr and the other knight stepped outside, leaving Amundr and Saegrimr alone.

Amundr fought tears as he went through the pile of equipment.  He picked up the knife that his father used to show him how to skin animals.  The water skin they had shared on many occasions was here, but it had been torn open.  He looked through the pile, suddenly simply not caring about any of these dead things.  His eyes fell upon the fleece lined jacket his father had worn for as long as Amundr could remember.  He gently lifted it out of the pile and buried his face in it and breathed deeply, remembering being held close in his father’s arms after his mother’s passing.

He felt something inside one of the pockets of the jacket.  He took it out and saw that it was several sheets of parchment folded tightly together.  He slowly unfolded the parchment and laid it across the table to smooth it out.

“What’s that?” inquired Saegrimr.

“I’m not sure.  My father taught me to read when I was little, but I didn’t think he was much for reading or writing.”  They brought the parchment closer to the light streaming through the window to the courtyard and they read it.

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