Castle Roland


by Arthur


Chapter 1

Posted: 21 Sept 15




The rights to this story remain the property of the author and may not be used for gain or trade without his personal permission. All characters are fictional and are not based on any person living or dead. This story contains sections of both a sexual and violent nature and should not be read by your mother before bed time; if in doubt close your eyes and don't tell anyone you were here.

Freeman Tremaine sat alone at the small round table. It was that time of year for the King's Joust; around him the tavern was full of revellers; many were more than a few over their capacity and the noise level had grown as more and more mugs of ale disappeared down thirsty throats.

The crowd was a mixed one; known Knights mixed loosely with the common towns folk; the three serving wenches were joined by the very young pot boy as the demand for ale and food grew.

Freeman was happy to sit alone; his left hand rested loosely on the leather scabbard of his sword. It was nothing special as far as anyone could see; it was the sword of a soldier and did not show his true station in life, the same could be said for his travelling clothes.

They were a mix of sturdy wool and worn leather; the jerkin had seen a lot of wear over the years he had owned it; the trews were heavy wool and his travelling boots were well worn but comfortable. Freeman Tremaine was a plain looking man and was often overlooked in a crowd; only the three rings he wore on his right hand told those in the know who he really was.

As he sat and watched the tumultuous and raucous crowd of drinkers; it was the young skinny pot boy that took his interest; there was something about the young boy that caught his attention. If someone had asked him what had caught his eye, Freeman would not have been able to tell them.

Freeman continued his watch as the night wore on; he was now only on his second ale and the platter of food stood barely touched; around him the crowd had grown noisy and a little disruptive; nothing really new for the times.

The small young pot boy had just served a table of four Knights and their younger Squires; as the boy moved away, one of the Knights; by his colours, a Teutonic Knight; reached for the boy and, with a heavy hand; grasped the boy's buttocks under his old and somewhat dirty smock.

The reaction was far more than Freeman, or as it turned out, the Knight himself would have expected from any man let alone a small pot boy in a backward little village.

Freeman watched in awe as the boy performed not just a turn; but more of a pirouette as he spun on one foot and slammed his heavy wooden tray into the head of the Knight; so much power was generated by the fast spin that the heavy tray split down the centre and left a deep gash in the cheek of the Knight.

Freeman was already moving as the loud crash of the tray brought a sudden hush to the once rowdy tavern. In three strides, Freeman was beside the table just as the large Knight regained his senses enough to grasp the hilt of his sword; it was plainly obvious to see where the point of the large sword was going to end up.

The pot boy looked stunned by his actions as the Knight quickly got to his feet; the large sword almost halfway out of the fancy scabbard. The hushed silence in the tavern drew every eye to the small boy and the angry Knight now standing over him.

In these times it was an almost certain death sentence for any commoner to strike a Knight; the future of the pot boy was very grim.

Freeman made it to the table just as the sword was halfway out; with a low growl, Freeman clamped his hand over that of the Knight; the small boy still frozen with the shock at what he had done; Freeman spoke loudly as he broke the spell.

"Hold! Sir Knight."

The Knight looked at the hand holding his sword arm in a strong grip; at first he was angry then; after seeing the three rings, he looked up into the placid face of the youngish looking man.

"This is a matter of Honour Sir."

"But who's Honour, Sir Knight?"

"What matter is it of yours, Sir?"

"From my eyes it seems the boys Honour and chastity was offended by your touch; should it not be the boy whom is offered the apology?"

"I am a Knight of the crown, Sir; he is but a commoner, his blood belongs to me."

"Perhaps Sir Knight but, the boy belongs to me."

"How so Sir?"

"I have this minute decided to take him as my Squire; now I suggest you sheath your sword before this goes too far."

Freeman lifted his right hand from the Knights wrist so the Knight could better see the three rings he wore; the look of shock on the Knights face told its own story.

"My sincere apologies to you, Sir Knight; I am sorry that my state of inebriation did not allow me to see your signet more clearly."

"Then this is over and we will speak no more about it, agreed?"

"Agreed, again my apologies."

"None needed Sir Knight, it is past and forgotten."

Freeman looked at the terrified boy, the two halves of the broken tray still in his hands.

"You can drop the tray boy; I have no wish to be sliced and diced with such a weapon." Freeman smiled as he spoke so as not to scare the boy any further.

The boy dropped the broken tray without even realizing it as the man smiled at him.

"Come on boy, join me at my table; we have things to discuss and my ale is warming."

Freeman led the hesitant boy back to his table; taking one of the rough stools, he indicated the boy should sit on the other. The boy still looked uncertain and a little scared; it was not often that a common pot boy was told to sit at a Knights table.

Freeman looked at the young boy; he looked to be about ten summers; his body looked underfed and a little dirty; the boy's hair was long and hung midway to his shoulder blades. It was unkempt and knotted and would benefit from a lot of hot water as would the boy's scant clothing.

"What is your name boy?"

The boy still looked terrified and found it hard to find his voice; his small hands were clasped tightly in his lap and his head bowed so he would not have to look the man in the eye.

Finally, after further coaxing by the stranger; the boy softly whispered.

"Eventide, Sire."

"Eventide; hmmm, an unusual name; how many summers do you have boy; to my eyes I would say Ten?"

"Uhm, no Sire, I have thirteen summers."

"Thirteen, I see; then you have some eating to do; we had better start by you eating this food on my table, I am not overly hungry and it's a pity to waste."

Eventide could not believe his ears; on the table in front of him was a veritable feast, something he had never been a party to.

The table held most of a full round of fresh bread, a large cut of cheese and a well cooked joint of lamb; Eventide's hand shook as he reached for a small piece of bread; he did not want to insult the generosity of the man by taking too much.

Freeman watched the tentative hand of Eventide take a minute piece of bread; it almost brought a chuckle to his lips but he refrained; instead he broke the bread in a large piece then piled a number of cuts of meat and cheese onto his plate then slid it over to the boy.

"Eat Eventide, this is no time to be hesitant; I need my new Squire to be healthy for what lay ahead."

"Squire Sire?"

"Did you not hear me before? I have decided I would like you to be my new Squire."

"But Sire, I know nothing of such things I would have thought a great Knight would have many good Squires."

"Not for me young Eventide; I need a Squire with fire in his belly and a desire to learn and better himself; too many nowadays are pampered brats; I want a fighter who is not afraid of any man; just like you."

"But I am nobody Sire; just a lowly pot boy with no home and no family."

"Certainly that is true Eventide; but a nobody who was prepared to die for his own chastity and virtue; that certainly means to me that you are no normal pot boy."

"I did not know he was a great Knight Sire; had I known I would not have struck him."

"You did the right thing; it was your chastity and honour that was at stake; for that alone I admire you; now are you going to be my new Squire, young Eventide?"

"I would like that to be true Sire but I have no idea what is wanted of me for such a position?"

"It is simple young man; you watch over me and my wares in exchange I teach you to read and write as well as learn arms and tactics of battle; when the time is right I will have you made a Knight."

"It is a great honour Sire but why me? I am not well born or have any family to pay my way?"

"Oh Eventide, you are to honest for your own good and that is what draws me to want you as my Squire."

As he finished speaking, the tavern owner arrived with a small wooden cudgel in his hand.

"My Lord is this boy troubling you; if so I will soon change his ways." The tavern keeper lifted the cudgel over Eventide's head in a threatening manner.

Freeman jumped to his feet and grasped the man's hand before Eventide was hurt; drawing a small dagger from his jerkin, he pushed it close to the man's neck.

"Lay one hand on my Squire and I will gut you where you stand; now back away and leave us in peace; Eventide is no longer your concern."

The fear in the tavern keeper's face was palpable as his bladder released and the rank smell of urine filled the tavern; hurriedly he left the pair to go and change his clothes; the boy was not worth losing his life over.

Freeman sat back at the table with a smile on his face; the shocked look on Eventide's face was almost enough to bring a chuckle to the man.

"Come now Eventide. Eat up; you will need your strength in the days to come; there is much for you to learn before we get to the King's Joust."

"The King's Joust Sire?"

"Of course the Kings Joust; you don't think all these Knights and squires are here just for the food and ale do you?"

"No Sire, not at all; but what has the Joust to do with me?"

"Why, you are to join the Joust in the Squires Melee and I only have seven days to get you ready as well as show you your duties to me."

"Me, in a Joust Sire?"

"Of course you Eventide; you are my Squire now; don't worry, there are no real weapons used only blunt practice weapons made of wood; it is not a fight to the death. It will be good experience for you."

"Me in a Joust?"

"Yes Eventide; you in a Joust." Freeman could not help smiling; he did not expect anything from the boy but the experience would be good for him if nothing else.

"Tell me about yourself, Eventide?"

"There is little to tell, Sire."

"Humour me anyway."

"Yes Sire, well my father was a bowman for Baron Chaucer; he went to the holy land on crusade but never returned; I was very young at the time. I was taken in by my only uncle; he was a blacksmith and sword maker. Last summer we were raided by the Norsemen and Uncle was killed defending the village; with no one to take me in I walked this far and found work in the tavern. That's all there is Sire."

"That's a long way from the coast to here; do you know anything about your older family?"

"A little Sire, my uncle told me we were descendant from the old ones." Eventide reached into the neck of his dirty smock and pulled out a smooth circle of stone on a faded blue ribbon; on the face of the stone were two finely carved runes.

"Uncle said the ribbon is to remind us of our homeland and the power of Woad, the stone is the rune of protection from the ancient Druids who he said were a part of our old family; I do not know of the truth of this Sire; it is just what I was told by my uncle."

"A fine tale indeed; perhaps there is more truth in this than you think; now it is time you were washed and got some rest. stay here while I get the tavern keeper to ready a bath for you; you had best finish off that lamb and bread; it will take the wenches time to heat the water. I do not want my Squire to be running around with dirt on his hands."

Freeman laughed as he left the table to see to the bath water; being an obedient boy, Eventide tried to finish off the last of the lamb and bread, no mean feat for a small, skinny boy.

The bath house was at the rear of the tavern and consisted of a small room with a single tin bath at the centre; it was filled with two buckets of hot water then cold was added to the liking of the bather.

Eventide had been given a white bath cloth with a bar of strong yellow soap; there was also a hard bath brush to get rid of any ingrained dirty. Eventide was not really surprised to have Freeman follow him into the bath house after all, it was the man's duty to watch over his Squire and see that he was clean to the man's satisfaction.

It took a lot of rubbing and scrubbing along with a change of hot water before Freeman was finally satisfied that Eventide was truly clean; the boys long hair was wet and would need a good hard combing before anything could be done with it; that would be the next objective.

All the time during the bathing; nothing had been said about Eventides state of nakedness; he was now Squire to a Knight and that was all that was needed to be said; his new duties would now all centre around the needs of his Patron and Benefactor.

Freeman waited for Eventide to dry his small thin body before telling him to leave his long and well knotted hair damp. When Eventide had done as asked, Freeman went to his small leather bag he had carried into the bathing room; taking some implements out of the bag, he turned back to the seated and waiting boy.

Eventide saw that Freeman carried what looked like a two sided bronze comb; one side with larger teeth than the other and in his other hand he carried what looked to be a pair of sheers but far smaller than those used on sheep's wool; they were also made from a very bright shiny metal not unlike silver.

Eventide felt a little fear rise up for the first time; he prayed that the man did not intend to remove all his hair; it would be against everything his uncle had told him about the old ones.

Freeman saw the fear laden look in the boys eyes when he saw the two implements; wanting to settle any misgivings the boy may have about his intentions, Freeman decided to ask him why he was afraid.

"Are you going to cut all my hair off Sire?"

"Do you want me too?"

"No Sire."

"Then we will not cut it all off but I do have to trim some of it so you can see better; there are also some knots that I will not be able to comb out."

"Yes Sire."

The boy seemed to be resigned at losing his hair although he was obviously not happy about it; Freeman decided to learn more about the sad look on the boy's face.

"Why don't you tell me why you want your hair long, perhaps we can come to some arrangement?"

"My uncle Sire."

"What about your uncle?"

"He told me it was a part of being with the old ones; our hair is our strength just like the Woad and the amulet of runes."

"I see, well then far be it for me to play with another's beliefs; what say we trim the front and top so you have a clear vision and we leave the back long but tie it up in braid form?"

Eventide felt better as he smiled up at the man whom seemed to understand things so easily.

"Thank you Sire; that would do well."

Freeman set about trying to take the thick and heavy knots out of the boy's long hair; after using the larger teeth he then turned the comb and once again went through the thick hair with the smaller and finer teeth.

By the time he was finished, it had taken the best part of half an hour to get the hair to a state where he could now begin to trim it back. Another half hour passed before he could step back and look at the results of his hard work; what he saw pleased him greatly.

After his bath and hair cut, Eventide felt like a new person although he was now becoming very tired; it had been a long and exciting day and it was all catching up with him. Freeman saw the boy yawn widely and smiled; it was time for the boy to rest; there would be plenty of time to get to know him better in the months and years to come.

Freeman half carried the boy to his room on the top floor of the tavern; after leaving the semi naked boy standing in the centre of the room; he went to a rough wooden cupboard and pulled out a thick straw pallet; laying it on the floor next to his own bed; he threw two thick blankets on it and pointed to it.

The boy Eventide was only too glad to fall onto the pallet and pull the thick blankets over his semi naked body; he was fast asleep before Freeman had even removed his own boots. He smiled at the already sleeping boy and quickly readied for his own bed; tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

The next morning, much to Freeman's surprise; Eventide was up at first cock crow, just like himself; after both had used the wooden bucket set in the corner and splashed their faces with the cold water in a bowl on the sideboard, Freeman looked at Eventide with a calculating eye; Eventide felt embarrassed by the searching gaze of the man who had rescued him.

"Well now, what are we going to do about some new cloths for you and you will need some boots as well if you are going to ride?"

"Ride Sire?"

"Of course, no Squire of mine is going to walk all the way to the King's county."

"But I don't know how to ride Sire."

"There's nothing to it, just sit on top of the horse and let him do the work; it's what horses are for. Now let's get you outfitted in the manner my Squire should be. Put your old smock on for now; it's not clean but better than showing your body parts to the wakening world."

Eventide did as he was asked; the feel of the dirty smock left him with a shiver; the only good grace was the thought of actually having new clothes; something that had never happened to him.

Freeman led his small charge down the stairs and into the tavern; from somewhere in the back they could hear the sound of someone starting to cook breakfast; they would return after their purchasing to eat.

As they walked through the dark tavern, they noticed that there were still those who never made it back to their homes or rooms. In one corner were two locals bent over a table snoring loudly; in another corner there was the unmistakeable sight of a young Squire with his trews around his ankles and fast asleep partially under what looked like one of the town guards; both were sound asleep and ignorant of anything around them.

Freeman had seen it all before but was amused to see the blush on his charges face as they opened the door and left the rank smell of stale ale and other nefarious goings on of the night before.

The new day was typically overcast but the freshness of the day soon had their blood working. It took only minutes for them to find the local shop where clothes were sold; as expected it was still closed but it did not seem to worry Freeman as he began to knock loudly on the closed door.

It took a little while before they could hear a grumpy voice approaching the door; as it unlocked, the shop keeper was about to complain he would not open for business for another few hours; that was until he saw who is early morning customer was.

"Good morning Sire, I'm sorry I am not really prepared for business at such and early hour."

"Well my needs are more important than your sleep; I need clothing for my Squire and we don't have much time; if you wish for my custom then let us get it done and you can return to your bed the sooner."

"Yes Sire, as you wish."

"Good man, now let's get this boy clothed. First I want two of the best under clothes you have; next two good woollen shirts and two pair of strong woollen trews also four pairs of hose; can you do it?"

"Uhm, yes Sire but the underclothes may be a little on the large size; there is not a lot of call for them in this village at his size."

"I'm sure they will be ok for now; I will have better ones made when we get to the manor."

The sleepy shop keeper walked to some shelves and began to look through the bundles of linen on one of them; after laying some linen underclothes on the counter, he next gathered the best trews and shirts he had that would fit the boy; the hose was easier and it was only a short time later that he had everything placed out for the noble and his Squire.

Freeman looked at the quality of the clothing and grimaced at the poor fabric of them; as he saw it at least his boy would have something better to wear; he would have to have him totally refitted when they got to the manor and had the benefit of the larger city to shop in.

After Eventide was allowed to dress in his new clothes; Freeman paid the shop keeper and left to find a leather worker; Eventide had been wise enough not to put on any of the new white hose, he would have to wait until they found some boots for him.

At the leather workers shop the scene was the same and again it took a lot of thumping on the door before the half asleep man answered; Freeman wasted no time in telling the man what he wanted and how quickly. Eventide was surprised at the forcefulness of his new patron.

After looking through some of the leather clothing; Freeman asked if that was all he had to fit his squire; most of it was not up to his exacting standards. As the poor man looked at the small pile of what would fit such a small boy; he looked up at Freeman and told him.

"Sire, I do have one outfit that may measure up but it is not cheap; I personally made it for another boy who sadly died before his father bought it; it may fit the young Squire."

"Let me see it; I only hope it is better quality than what you have shown me so far."

The man bowed and left for a back room and soon arrived back carrying a small bundle of black leather cloths; one look and Eventide could see how good they were; Freeman on the other hand was not overly impressed but he had little option if he wanted his squire properly clothed to travel.

There was no doubt they were of better quality but still not used to what Freeman would have used. After having Eventide try them on he relented and took them, after all, they were only two silver coins and would do for his boy as rough training wear at a later date.

The next stop was a boot makers; here they found a reasonable pair of riding boots and a softer pair for around the manor; after having the shop keeper provide a wash bowl of water for Eventide to clean his feet of the dirt of the street; Freeman had him put on a pair of the light linen hose and then his stronger riding boots.

Eventide could not believe the coin that his mentor was spending on him; so far it had amounted to more than four silver coins and yet the man still did not seem to be finished.

"What is your best weapon, Eventide?"

"I only know the staff Sire."

"Then a staff it will be for now."

Freeman led his boy towards the blacksmiths shop; it was plainly obvious that this man was an early riser; his apprentice was already at work on the large bellows as the forge heated up.

They were greeted by a large and somewhat grisly man; his huge hands were ingrained with the coke of his forge and his thick leather apron was well worn.

"Greetings Sire and young sir, what do you need of me?"

"I want a good dagger and a solid staff for my Squire; what do you have?"

"The dagger I have many of, some are more expensive than others; they are not of city quality but I think you will find them well serviceable; as to the staff, I do have one although it is a little used. I made it for my own son when he was smaller than today; it is made of good solid Yew and I personally capped both ends with cast iron. Perhaps the young squire would like to test it?"

"Very good, let him try it out while I look over your daggers."

Eventide could not believe his ears; daggers of any quality were expensive and he had little use for one or even how to use it properly; the staff however was more to his style.

When the staff was given to him, it was as though it had been made just for his hands; as he spun it around and went through his own practice round it felt good in his hands; if he was allowed to keep it he would treasure it for the rest of his life.

When Freeman looked at him; he smiled and nodded his head; freeman turned to the blacksmith.

"The staff is good we will take it; of the daggers there is only one that I find reasonably suitable; find a scabbard for it and send your boy for a belt, make sure it is properly honed and have the boy deliver them to the tavern before midday; we will be leaving then. I will have your payment ready when they arrive."

"Yes Sire, and the staff; will we have it also delivered?"

"No, we will take it with us now; make sure the rest is on time."

"It will be as you wish Sire and thank ye for the custom."

Freeman was now satisfied, his boy was clothed and booted properly for travel and would soon have his dagger for more protection although he had been surprised at the ability of the boy with the staff; he was showing all the promise he thought the boy had.

Breakfast in this small village was a surprise; there were ample eggs and well cured bacon along with a hot, sweet mead; it all went down well and it was good to see that Eventide ate well and until he was full; the boy was catching on to the fact he could now eat as well as he wanted.

Just as they finished breakfast, the blacksmith arrived with their earlier purchases; Freeman was pleased to see it all so quickly; it would allow them to get away earlier than normal and would miss all the rush of the other visitors leaving for the King's Joust.

After having Eventide put his new cloths in one of his own travel bags; Freeman led the boy towards the taverns stables where his horses were waiting; for Eventide this was to be another surprise.

As they entered the stable, the first three stalls were filled by Freemans horses, two were his war horses and the other was his riding horse; Eventide could not believe what he was looking at.

The riding horse was nearly sixteen hands and was almost a pure white but it was the two war horses that caught his attention the most.

Eventide was hesitant about getting too close to the enormous horses; he felt that even if he stretched to his utmost he would not be able to reach their backs. Their manes, tales and hocks were all long white hair and their main colour was a dark brown almost too black.

As he looked at the enormous horses he saw that their heads looked to be even bigger than his body; tentively he looked at Freeman and then asked.

"Sire, can I ask a question?"

"Of course you can, if you don't ask questions you will never learn; anytime you see something you don't understand, just ask me; I want you to learn everything you can."

Eventide thought for a moment then asked his question, the first of many as he would find out later.

"Why are they so big and what are they; I have never heard of such giant horses?"

"Aha, your first question is a good one. Well my new squire, these are my war horses; they come from the Flemish coast and are called Percheron's; they are the finest war horses you can get. This other one is my riding horse, it is called an Arabic; it comes from the great deserts of the holy land."

"What is a desert?"

"Another good question, you are doing well. A desert is a wasteland of yellow and red sand; a man can travel for a hundred days and not see water. It is a dangerous and hot place; not the place for a scared man to travel."

"A hundred days without water? How can a man live there and why would you want to have horses in such a place?"

"These Arabic horses are specially bred for the hot dry climate; they also have an animal called a Camel; they can travel for days without drinking and live their lives in the middle of deserts."

Eventide tried hard to get his mouth around the word until finally he asked.

"What do Camel's look like if they can travel without water?"

"Now there is a very interesting question. Camels are like no other animal I have ever seen; they are very tall with long ungainly legs and a long neck; on their backs they have a large hump that carries their water reserves. The Saracens use them to ride and carry goods."

"Who are the Saracens?"

"They are the men we are fighting on the crusades; they believe in another god which is strange to us but they are very good fighters and can be holy terrors in battle."

Eventide thought he had asked enough questions for now; there was a lot to think on and learn, of course it did not take away the fear he felt of the two great horses; at least the riding horse looked to be a normal size.

Freeman took the boys hand and led him towards his two war horses; he could feel the boy shaking as they got closer.

"Here let me introduce you to Ajax and Achilles; don't be afraid of them, they only eat Saracens not Squires."

Freeman laughed as he told Eventide that the horses were docile; as if to dispel any doubts as to their use; the closest one, Ajax, lifted his great head and snorted in Eventides direction, making the boy nearly jump out of his skin; quickly Freeman jumped to calm the boy.

"That's enough you two, this is Eventide and he is going to live with us so you behave or there will be no more oats for you ever again."

Eventide could almost have laughed if he had not been so scared of the huge horses as they both dropped their heads as though they understood every word Freeman spoke.

"Now we have to get my goods loaded and then we can leave; you will ride on Ajax; don't be afraid of him, he would never hurt you and he will follow along without trouble."

The hostler arrived to help Freeman load his three large travelling trunks on the two war horses; their two travel bags were loaded onto Achilles along with one of the trunks; Eventide would sit on top of the two trunks on Ajax; he hoped his new leather trews and jerkin would protect him.

When everything was loaded and the three horse were led outside; Freeman boosted Eventide high up onto Ajax back; it took a little time to find a comfortable place and the height scared him a little; he did not want to fall from so high up.

Freeman handed up Eventide's staff after making sure the boy had his new dagger on his belt; with that done he mounted his own horse and they left the small village just as others were waking up. Freeman wanted to be well ahead of any others; they would be at his manor by nightfall so the boy would not have to suffer to long on the huge horse.

Eventide was surprised that Freeman had no lead or rope on either of the two great war horses; they both seemed to be happy to follow along behind Freeman's horse as they rode out onto the road.

By midday, Eventide was feeling the need to relieve his swelling bladder; as though Freeman knew his discomfort he pulled his horse to the side of the road and dismounted; next he reached up to help Eventide get down to the ground. Freeman almost laughed as the boy ran to the nearest tree to ease the growing pressure in his bladder; after a few minutes and with the soft sound of a groan of pleasure; Eventide walked back to his waiting mentor.

Freeman got out a small sack that held some fresh bread and cheese; they both sat under a tree and ate their midday meal with only the sounds of the nearby forest for company; Eventide found it peaceful and pleasant, it was the first time in his short life he had ever felt so at peace.

"How do you feel?"

"My legs feel sore from trying to sit on such a big horse; I can't reach all the way around his large belly."

"Yes you need longer legs for that; however it is only for the rest of the day and we will be at my manor and we can relax; there is much for you to see and a lot to learn before we go to see the King."

"I...I will see the King?"

"Of course you will, you are now my Squire; he will like you; he is a very powerful man but he likes honest people so he will like you. There are not many honest people in a King's court, all you have to do is be yourself and he will like you."

"I will see the King."

Freeman almost chuckled at the awe in the young boy's face as he repeated the phrase; it was good to see such innocence; now Freeman began to feel a new feeling of freedom from the dark dreams that had always filled his mind.

The afternoon passed slowly for Eventide; riding on the huge horse for the first time was making parts of him ache like nothing he had felt before; he only hoped it would end soon or he felt he may never be able to walk again.

Late in the afternoon, as they finally exited the latest forest; Eventide saw a great swath of farm land before them and, in the distance, a large manor house surrounded by a high stone wall. Freeman turned in his saddle and smiled at Eventide.

"That's my manor, it won't be long now and you can rest and eat your fill; the servants should be able to see us coming now and will have everything ready."

When they neared the large manor; the gates had been thrown open and all the servants were lined up in front of the large three tiered manor house. Eventide could not believe the size of the manor house; he had heard tales of such houses but this was the first one he had seen; his mouth hung open like any yokel's would.

When the three horses stopped; one of the older men ran forward with a broad smile on his face and an enquiring eye towards Eventide;

"Welcome home, My Lord Baron; we have your rooms cleaned and ready and supper will be served in two hours. Where would My Lord like his young guest to be roomed?"

"Thank you Huntingdon; this is my new Squire; he is to be taken to the Quadroon wing; make sure it is ready for him. His word is my word, make that clearly understood to all staff. Now we will look over any waiting missives so you have one hour and a half to ready his rooms."

"As My Lord Baron commands."

The man turned and clapped his hands loudly while yelling out orders to different servants. Eventide watched as most began to scatter in all directions; as they did so a number of young men arrived and began to take charge of the three horses; Freeman jumped off his horse and then helped Eventide to the ground and waited until the boys legs were a little more steady.

Freeman helped Eventide to walk towards the huge house; for Eventide it felt as though someone had pulled his legs apart so wide they were broken; his walk was now more of a hobble as he tried to mount the stone steps into the house.

"Don't worry my young friend I'll have a servant rub your muscles free before supper. You are just out of practice; in time you will be able to ride any horse you choose."

"After that I am worried I will not want to ride ever again Sire."

Freeman laughed loudly as he helped Eventide into his chambers where all his important work was done. Freeman helped Eventide to a large leather bound chair and watched the expression on the boys face as he stared at all the large books and old tomes on the floor to ceiling shelves.

As he sat behind the large oaken desk and looked at the pile of scrolls and letters from the court; Freeman could not help but think his time on the road was the best part of his days; now that he had finally found a young boy worthy of being his first Squire, he began to have hope once again of a future for his many holdings; both in England and over the channel in Flanders.

Freeman read one of the last letters and sighed heavily.

"Damn, I was not expecting this so soon."

Freeman picked up a small bell on his desk and rang it; as if by magic, Huntingdon appeared at the door and bowed.

"Yes My Lord?"

"We have to go before the King tomorrow; send someone to the village and ask seamstress Bedford to come right away; I can't have my Squire dressed as he is for his first appearance. Also find one of the boys to help Eventide with his bathing tonight, he will need to know how to work on Eventides muscles; I don't want him hobbling before the King."

"Yes My Lord. If I may, cooks youngest son is very good with freeing up muscles, perhaps he would do?"

"Is he the redhead one that attracts dirt like flies on dead meat?"

Huntingdon chuckled.

"Yes My Lord, the very same."

"Damn it, very good; tell cook that the boys is to be scrubbed until his skin shines and get that damn mop he calls hair cut short or I will use him to sweep the floor."

"Very good My Lord."

Huntingdon left still chuckling to himself as Eventide sat with his mouth agape.

"What's the matter Eventide?"

"Uhm... me... the King?"

Freeman could not help the small chuckle that escaped as he watched the stunned look on his young Squires face.

"Yes Eventide; you and the King, now I have to get some clothes more fitting to your new station made before we leave at midday; the poor seamstress is going to have her girls work all night; still it will be well worth it. I thought we may have a little more time to get you ready; still it is better to get it over with so we can start your training."

"But Sire, I don't know anything about meeting a King."

"Then this is a good time to learn, now we have to get you settled into your rooms; you just have time to bath before we sit down to eat."

Freeman rang the bell once again and, as before, Huntingdon appeared like magic.

"Huntingdon will you take young Eventide to his rooms; is that walking mud pack ready to look after him?"

"Scrubbed and trimmed, My Lord and the hearth is swept and the fire set; his bath water is also ready and waiting."

"Thank you Huntingdon, please escort our young Squire to his rooms."

Huntingdon turned to the bemused boy.

"This way please young Sir."

Huntingdon led him out of the chambers and down the long hallway; at the end were a set of double stairs; one leading to the upper left and the other to the right. Huntingdon pointed to the left stairway.

"Your rooms are to the left in the east wing, young Sir; the west wing are those of My Lord Baron. The upper floor is for the servant's quarters should you find the need to call on them at any time."

Eventide arrived at a long wide hallway at the top of the stairs; along each side were a number of doors.

"Uhm, Mr. Huntingdon?"

"It's just Huntingdon, young Sir."

"Uhm, Huntingdon; which is my room?"

"All of them, young Sir; the east wing is yours to use as you will."

"All of them?"

"All of them; now let me show you to your bedroom; young Ted should be waiting for you."


"Yes he is to be your servant for the near future; he is also the cook's and my son. He's a bit of a ragamuffin but a swipe of the cane on his rear will soon make him more attentive."

Eventide was starting to like Huntingdon; the amused chuckle in his voice told Eventide he was only partially joking about caning the boy.

Eventide was led to the last room in the hallway; on opening the door he looked in with awe; the room was larger than most of the old tavern he had been living at.

Thick rugs covered the floor and a huge fire place was set in one wall with blazing logs at its centre. Beside the fire place stood a ten year old red headed boy; the boy's hair had been cut short and plastered down; his wide smile showed a missing tooth in his upper gums. He was dressed in a simple wrap around of white linen and was holding a bar of soap and a soft looking cloth.

"Squire Eventide, this is my youngest; if he plays up there is a cane on the shelf; don't hesitate to use it; he has a bad habit of forgetting himself. I will leave you in his hands for now and he can show you to the dining room when finished. You may later want to look over the rest of your rooms after supper. Teddy, you watch your manners."

"Yes Father."

"Mr. Huntingdon to you young man."

"Yes Mr. Huntingdon."

The cheeky smile on the boys face undid any attempt at true servitude to his father's wishes. Eventide found it difficult to hold back the giggle he felt rising in his throat as the older man left his bedroom shaking his head as he left.

Eventide looked around the huge room; his small travelling bag was empty and the few clothes he had been given by Freeman were neatly set out on a side board at the foot of the massive four poster bed.

Eventide did not know what he should do and looked at the younger boy for help.

"If your Lordship would strip and get in the bath I will see to the water Sir."

"Uhm... I'm not a Lord anything; until yesterday I was just a pot boy in a tavern."

Eventide smiled as the young boy giggled and then blushed.

"Well you are a Lordship now; well a Squire anyhow and that's the same thing to me; if you would like to jump in the bath I can get you nice and clean and then see to those sore legs of yours...Squire." Again the boy giggled.

Eventide had little hesitation in stripping out of his clothes; he did not feel any embarrassment being naked in front of the boy; he had been through far worse things in his short life.

As he settled into the hot steaming water; Teddy began to wash and soap his bare skin after untying the leather thong that had held his long hair in place. Eventide began to relax and enjoy being washed; the young boys hands were firm but not rough as he worked his way over Eventides body; he made no attempt to do anything unsavoury.

When Eventide was clean and his hair was well washed; he got out of the bath and sat on a small wooden stool as Teddy went about drying him and then running a copper comb through the long hair until it was nearly dry.

When Teddy was finished, he indicated that Eventide should lay on the bed on his stomach; Eventide watched as the boy got a small vial filled with a yellow substance.

"What is that Teddy?"

"It's a special oil that My Lord Baron brought back from the crusades; he said it was good for sore muscles and is made by the Saracens."

Eventide lay back and waited while Teddy hopped up on the bed and began to rub the oil into his sore and aching legs although, after the hot bath they were not as bad as before.

Finally Teddy jumped off the bed; Eventide felt as though he wanted to sleep but knew he had to get up and dress for supper. Teddy began to clean up while Eventide dressed; once done he led Eventide back down the stair case and showed him into a massive dining room then left to do other things.

Freeman was standing in the centre of the large room waiting for Eventide to arrive; a large table, enough to seat twenty people was set with silver and gold ware; three large candle holders were alight and along with the wall sconces lit up the whole room.

"Well young Eventide, how do you feel now? That boy must have magic in his hands I do swear. Now then, a small change; it seems we have some visitors arriving very soon; I think you will find it interesting but we will have to wait a little for them to arrive."

Eventide could only smile and look around the huge room; he knew of houses that would fit into this one room. Around the walls were hung tapestries and long banners of many colours. Large dressers for cutlery and dish-ware lined one wall; they also acted as serving tables.

As Eventide took in everything in the room, he heard a soft cough from the doorway; he turned to watch as Freeman said.

"Yes Huntingdon?"

"His Highness, Emir Saed Ben Haman and Nephew My Lord."

A tall stately looking man walked into the room; Eventides breath was taken away when he saw him and the young teen at his side. Eventide had never seen anything like it; both were dressed in long flowing robes of a very light weight fabric, the likes of which Eventide could not even imagine.

On their heads were a strange gold cloth wrapped around to form a sort of hat; hanging down one side was a longer loose piece that swept across to hang over their left shoulder. In a wide red sash around their waist was a large curved and bejewelled knife; it too Eventide had never seen the likes of before.

Both people wore very expensive rings and other jewellery; some with huge red, green and clear stones; Eventide could only stare open mouthed at the pair; he vaguely saw a number of others lined up behind the two.

The tall man was fairly dark complexioned as was the young teen; both had dark flashing eyes and Eventide noticed the teen had a rather strange dark line around his eyes; it was as though he had painted the colour to accentuate the brightness of the dark pupils.

The tall man bowed and did something strange with his hand; first touching his chest, then his lips and finally his forehead.

"Salaam Alahkim Baron Tremaine, thank you for offering your hospitality to us at such short notice."

Eventide was surprised to see Freeman return the bow and same gesture.

"Alahkim Salaam your Highness; you and your Nephew are always welcome at my table. May I introduce my Squire, Eventide of the Old Ones."

Eventide was surprised to see the tall man and then the young teen bow to him and offer the same greeting. With a little hesitancy he tried to follow what Freeman had done and said, even though he got a little tongue tied and found it strange to bow like the others.

The tall man smiled at Eventide and nodded his head as though he approved of Eventides attempt; the young teen smiled more widely and also nodded in appreciation of the attempt.

"Thank you for your consideration Squire Eventide; it is not often I see such good manners from an English Squire; I hope you and my nephew will become good friends."

"Now then Your Highness, what brings you to my home; it is unusual for you to be on the road at this hour?"

"Baron, please call me Saed, we are not at court now and, after all I am imposing on your hospitality."

"Thank you Saed and please call me Freeman and my home is at your disposal; I have my servants preparing rooms for you."

"Thank you, perhaps my nephew would like to join young Eventide in his rooms; it will give them a chance to talk and I am sure my nephew will appreciate the company of another young man."

"Then say no more, it shall be as you wish. Eventide could you share your rooms with the young man?"

"Yes Sire, I will be very happy to have the company."

"Ah... how careless of me; Squire Eventide let me introduce my nephew, Prince Mahmud Sal-A-Hadin."

The Prince smiled widely as he again bowed low; almost as though it was now automatic, Eventide returned the bow and the smile.

"Let's go to the table, you both must be hungry after your travels."

The four made their way to the huge table; already there was a veritable mountain of food being laid out. Fine silver mugs of hot mulled wine were placed in front of each setting and the supper began.

The conversation was light and most of it went over the head of Eventide as he had not been to court and did not understand most of what was discussed; seeing his confusion; the young Prince leant over and began talking to him.

"Don't you find adult talk is boring; there are far more interesting things for us young ones to discuss. Do you like hunting Squire Eventide?"

"Uhm...I don't know, I have never been on a hunt and please, just call me Eventide or just Even."

"Why thank you; Even it is and I am Mahmud; after all we are going to be good friends I can feel it. Now as to the hunt, I think it would be well if we both went out with the Falcons and I taught you the good parts of hunting; would this be agreeable?"

"I think I would like to try that Mahmud. Uhm... how do you hunt with Falcons?"

"Oh this is too good; hunting with the Falcons is the greatest of all sports; we will go for two days and stay out to watch the stars in the sky at night and the sun rise in the morning; I will bring some of my people and make it a special time for you."

"I feel I should tell you a truth; perhaps you will not want to go with me then."

"How so my new friend?"

"Well I am really only a pot boy; I have no graces like royalty or Knights. This is the first time I have ever been in such a big house or eaten food like this; I am really a nobody."

Mahmud lent back to look Eventide over; there was a faint smile on his lips as he sized up the boy next to him. After giving his Uncle a smiling look he turned back to Eventide.

"Friend Even, I am not sure what a pot boy is but he cannot be lower than I was; before I was a Prince I was a goat herder. In our land you can wake in the morning a goat herder and go to bed at night a Prince; of course the opposite is also true; in the morning you are a Prince and go to bed a slave. You my new friend are no different than I; we will go on the hunt as friends and return as brothers; of this I can promise. In my lands an honest man is worth more than his weight in gold coins; and you we will fatten up so you are worth more coins."

The sound of laughter filled the dining room as the two men also overheard Mahmud's words. Eventide blushed but also felt it was not he that was being made fun of only the situation.

"Saed, you never told me what delayed your travels to the King's court?"

"Oh yes, there was a small altercation with my nephew and a young Squire; it seemed the Squire did not appreciate a Saracen sharing the same road. We tried to tell him we were not Saracens but Bedouin; still you know how ignorant some Squires can be. My nephew had to borrow a crook from one of the local herders and put the Squire on his back before he could pull his sword. After a little discussion with the boy's Knight we declared honour had been satisfied but it left us a little late to get back on the road; hence we have imposed on your well known hospitality."

"Believe me Saed, there is no imposition; it is and will always be a pleasure to host you and yours whenever it is needed."

"Thank you Freeman; it is people like yourself and this new Squire that makes me have hope for both our people in the future."

The two men continued to talk of court related things while the boys now well into being good friends, put their heads together to talk over the upcoming hunt they would take.

As the night grew on, it soon became time to go to their beds; as it turned out, neither boy felt in the slightest put out by sharing Eventides huge bed; if anything it gave them more time to talk about things that Eventide had never thought of.

Eventide was spell bound by Mahmud's tales and stories; as they lay each on their own side of the huge bed; Mahmud began to tell Eventide a story of long ago; the sound of his new friends voice seemed to make the tale of famous Saracen Knights to have happened only yesterday and Eventide truly felt he was right there in the midst of the battle; slowly his eyes grew heavy and the lilting sound of his friends voice finally sent him off to sleep; it had been a truly magical day.

The next morning revealed a house in a hurry; Eventide did not even get the chance to look at the rest of his east wing of the house. Quickly both boys were up for breakfast and it was then decided they would all travel to court together; to say the boys were happy about the decision was obvious.

Eventide told Mahmud he was not happy about riding another horse so soon but his new friend assured him he would be alright as he would watch over Eventide personally.

By midday they were ready to leave; Eventide was surprised at the number of men and boys in Mahmud's party; there were guards with strange huge swords and long lances. A large baggage train also followed along behind; the carts piled high with all manner of things. Eventide was to learn that the Emir and the Prince had just arrived from their homeland only a few weeks earlier and were making their way to the King's court as emissaries and friends of the King.

Eventide did notice that there were many fine looking horses in the train, most were being led by hostlers and young boys dressed in baggy white pantaloons with black boots and the same wide sashes but without the big jewelled daggers.

As the day got to late afternoon; the King's city and castle appeared; within the hour they were close to the gates of the city. From the high ramparts flew multiple banners and there was a feeling of celebration in the air. As the long train entered the city, Eventide got his first view and feeling of large crowds.

Everywhere he looked there were Knights and soldiers milling around with hawkers of wares and farmers packing ready to leave the great city for the night. Eventide was amazed at the city and above it the mighty castle of the King.

The travellers continued through the city streets until they came to the mighty gates of the castle; there they saw the line of guards that protected the gate; as they passed through, Eventide noticed some of the angry looks on the faces of some of the guards when they saw the Emir and his Nephew; the times of the crusade had not been forgotten and the talk of a second crusade had brought dissent in the country.

The second crusade was being espoused by the Baronies of Normandy and the Vatican city; Eventide knew little of the politics of the time and could not understand why anyone should go and fight in a far away land when he could plainly see how good and nice his new friends were.

Freeman had only brought one of his great horses; it carried changes of cloths for both himself and Eventide; as he held his own apartment in the castle and he had much of what he would need, there was little to carry apart for Eventide.

The two boys, even after such a short time, were inseparable; they had spent the whole trip talking and laughing as they rode side by side; Eventide was only glad Freeman had found a smaller horse for him to ride; his legs did not feel as bad as the last time he was on the big horse.

When they arrived inside the castle; Eventide was surprised to see it was as big as some cities; they soon had to part from their new friends as the Emir and Mahmud turned to the left while Eventide and Freeman turned to the right towards another side of the great wall.

Freeman told Eventide they had a few hours before they would have to present themselves to the King and his court; the time was spent bathing and changing into his new clothes that had been made overnight for him. The new clothes felt strange and he could not imagine dressing like this ever before meeting Freeman.

It was just after dark when there was a knock on the door; Freeman called for the person to enter while having one hand on his sword; Eventide had his dagger in his belt and was holding his new staff in his right hand.

The young man that entered, bowed to Freeman and then stood straight as he said his message; Eventide then understood the young man was one of the King's many heralds.

"My Lord Baron Tremaine; the King wishes your presence at his court forthwith."

"Very good. Come on Eventide, time to pay the piper."

Freeman laughed at the outrageous look on the young heralds face; had the herald been older he would have known about the closeness of Freeman and the King; as it was, the comment made the herald shuffle his feet in discontent at the words of the Baron.

Following the herald into the main castle, Eventide was again amazed at the size of the place and the number of people moving through the castle hallways until they came to the central great hall.

The hall was filled with people, many of them Knights and off to one side were a large number of well dressed ladies of the court. At the far end of the great hall was a dais and the King sitting on his large throne; around the King were men of all types, many of them did not look the type to be fighters or Knights.

Surprising to Eventide were the two extra smaller thrones; to the King's left sat Saed and beside him sat Mahmud, both smiled widely as Freeman and Eventide entered the noisy hall.

As the pair walked the length of the great hall, Eventide noticed a sudden hush come over the hall; everyone was watching the man they well knew but it was the young boy at his side that had brought the hush to the noise. The fact that Freeman, Baron of Lancaster and Flanders was accompanied by a young boy who evidently was now the Knight's squire, became a note of conjecture. No one among them had ever seen the Baron with a squire before.

Freeman had explained the correct way for Eventide to greet the King. As they came to the bottom of the dais; Freeman, with Eventide following his example; knelt down on one knee and bowed their heads; Eventide heard the firm voice of the King speak.

"Welcome home Baron, it is good to see the King's Champion return; I see you have finally found one worthy of your training; please introduce us to your Squire."

Something told Eventide the King already knew who he was but he kept silent as he had been instructed by Freeman.

"Your Majesty; I would like to introduce Eventide, descendant of the old ones and newly taken on as Squire by the house of Lancaster."

"Eventide, stand and let me get a good look at you."

Eventide rose and stood with his staff in his hand; he looked at the smiling face of the King and waited for him to speak first.

"I understand you have already made friends with our most valued ally; I hope you will become better acquainted over time, they are truly valued by us."

Eventide bowed and then said.

"Thank you Your Majesty, it would be my wish also to keep my friendship with your allies."

"Well spoken young Squire. Baron, would you take your rightful place by my side and perhaps your squire would be so kind as to take his place beside his new friend."

With a small signal of his hand, the King had another chair brought to the dais for Eventide to sit beside Mahmud; the two friends smiled at each other as the rest of the court continued.

After a long time of introductions of the many Knights and other dignitaries; the King called for the great dining hall to be opened; everyone in the hall stood and then waited for the King and the Emir to leave first; just behind them walked Freeman and Eventide along with Mahmud.

Once inside the great dining hall, Eventide found himself being led to the long, wide table at the top of the hall; he noticed there were already some people there. Most were young boys and they all stood against the stone wall behind the row of tall chairs at the table. Eventide noticed two of the boys were dressed in the same clothes as Mahmud although not as fancy.

The King took the central chair with Freeman on his right and the Emir on his left; Eventide was ushered to the chair beside Mahmud but was amazed at the large amount of food spread out on the table top; he had never seen so much food in one place before.

The thing he could not understand was a strange tool on the table; no matter how he looked at it he could not fathom what it was used for. It had a handle of bone and then the rest was made of metal; it had two sharp prongs; as he looked at it, Mahmud leant over and told him it was for holding the meat instead of using his fingers; he was told they called it a fork and was something that the Saracens had used for ages but was new at the Kings court.

Eventide smiled at his friend in thanks even though he had not asked; it was good to know his new friend was watching out for him. For the first time in his life since losing his uncle, Eventide felt good that he finally had a friend.

As the great feast went on and the night grew later; both boys began to feel the late hour. Mahmud whispered to his uncle and then turned to Eventide.

"Shall we leave, you can come and stay with me tonight; this will go on for hours yet and the men will drink more and more so we will not miss anything but drunken old men playing like boys?"

Eventide noticed the large smile on Mahmud's face and turned to Freeman; without a word, Freeman nodded and smiled; he had heard every word and agreed the two boys should leave to be on their own.

Eventide followed Mahmud's lead as they both stood and bowed low to the King; with a smile from the man they both left via a door behind the big table with Mahmud leading the way.

Eventide was surprised at how long it took to get too his friends rooms, what awaited his eyes was even more of a surprise after a day full of surprises.

Mahmud's rooms were every bit as large as his own at the manor but in Mahmud's there were about ten young boys waiting.

"Who are all these boys?"

"Them? Oh they are just some of my servants, they are also good friends as you will see when we go hunting tomorrow."

"Tomorrow, can we really go so soon?"

"Of course, I have arranged it all with Uncle; he was only too happy that I had found such a good friend in this country. Now first we bath then we can talk and perhaps I will show you one of the games we like to play."

"You seem to do a lot of bathing?"

"Yes, a clean body will give you a clean mind or that is what they tell us. At home we have little water, to be able to bath like this whenever I want is truly a luxury."

"Why do you have little water?"

"We are Bedouin, or as we prefer to say "Bedou" we are the people of the desert and water is scarce and protected by the sword and spear when found.

"I have never seen a desert; what are they like?"

By this time the many servants had poured their baths and the boys sat in the metal tubs side by side as the servants held plates of strange looking fruit for them to pick from.

Mahmud pointed to the plates of strange items.

"Try the dates, they are sweet and very nice; I am sure you will like them."

Eventide picked up one of the dark brown looking things and tentively put it in his mouth; much to his surprise he did enjoy chewing on it as the sweetness filled his mouth.

"Now to your question. The desert is a huge sea of sand and rocks; you can walk for a hundred days and not get to the edge; that is if you live that long. It is the hottest of hot places; very little grows and you have to be born there to survive in the heat and dangers."

"I think I would like to see it one day; it sounds very wild and free."

"It is that indeed and I make you this promise on my blood that one day you and I will stand side by side to look out on the great sandy desert. We will fly our Falcons and hunt the wastes for Lions and Gazelles; we will have a great time."

"So how do you find water if there is none?"

"There are many Oasis if you know where to look for them, they are small pools of fresh water surrounded by mighty date palms where you can while away the heat of the day. When you come to see it I will make you a son of the desert; that is my blood promise."

"What is this blood promise?"

"It is the most sacred of all promises for a Bedou, it means I would rather spill my own blood than not keep it; we do not make this promise lightly."

"If it is so sacred than why make such a promise to one such as me, I am nobody."

"You are my friend and one day you will be my Brother; a Brother deserves a blood promise."

Eventide suddenly felt overwhelmed at Mahmud's words; no one had ever promised him anything, let alone a blood promise.

After bathing the two boys lay down on special couches while the servant boys rubbed their bodies with scented oils until they were almost asleep. Finally, with a soft groan, both boys found the large bed and were soon asleep; although both were naked, any thoughts of unusual behaviour were far from their minds.

It was still dark when Eventide was awoken by a young hand. Looking up from under the covers; he saw the young servant held a steaming mug with a fragrance he had never smelt. Gingerly taking the small cup he sipped the strong smelling brew; he was to learn later that day it was called mint tea; he grew fond of it immediately.

Movement beside him told him Mahmud was also awake and ready for the long day ahead; it was to be Eventides first ever hunt and he was already feeling excited at this new turn of events.

Breakfast was served in their large room; it consisted mainly of dates and other unknown fruits along with more of the mint tea. Hardly a word had been exchanged between the pair until after they had eaten; it was Mahmud that had started the conversation.

"So friend Even, did you sleep well?"

"Very well friend Mahmud; this new day has me very excited; I have never been on a hunt before."

"Ah, then we must get you dressed correctly so you can move in comfort."

Mahmud clapped his hands and two young servants appeared as if by magic. Mahmud spoke to them in his own language and they ran out only to return quickly with a pile of clothes.

For the next ten minutes, Mahmud helped Eventide dress as he was in the baggy pantaloons, shiny black riding boots, a white undershirt and a small waist length, tight, sleeveless jacket that was highly decorated with fine embroidery; as a last piece, Mahmud showed Eventide how to wind the long length of cloth they called a turban around his head.

In a polished metal dish they called a mirror; Eventide looked at himself for the first time; apart from his pale skin and blue eyes he now looked like one of the Bedou.

Mahmud clapped his hands as he excitedly exclaimed that Eventide was now a true Bedou; both boys laughed and Eventide whirled around to look at himself once again, much to the delight of his new friend.

"Now my friend Even, to cement our friendship I want to offer you a small gift; I hope you will accept it as a mark of our lifelong friendship."

"You have already done so much for me Mahmud; there is little need for gifts between us. You are the first true friend I have ever had and that is enough for me."

"Nonsense my friend; it is nothing but a small gift that would please me greatly for you to accept."

"Well if it is to make you happy then I will accept it and treasure it all my life."

Again Mahmud clapped his hand in delight, his smile was wide and Eventide felt happy that he had made Mahmud feel good.

"Come it is outside waiting for you."


"Of course, I could not very well bring it inside the castle walls; it would not be polite to the King; come we must go."

Eventide followed Mahmud as they wound their way down and along the many halls until they came to the great doors that guarded the main castle. As they stepped outside, the first sun beams were just showing in the morning greyness.

At the bottom of the wide stone steps of the castle keep were a large number of Mahmud's servants; from where he stood he could see another long train of his servants already leaving the castle; all the horses were packed with goods.

At the bottom of the steps, Mahmud called to one of the boys; the boy held the reins of a young jet black horse; it was no more than perhaps 13 hands; its long flowing black main and even longer tail, gently moved in the dawn breeze. Its head was smaller than most horses but its neck curved from thick strong muscles at the chest to a finer line nearer the head.

Eventide could not believe the sheer beauty of the black animal although the fire in the eyes of the young stallion gave Eventide pause to wonder how he could possibly control such an animal with his limited experience.

Mahmud stood beside him with a smile on his face; from somewhere inside his clothes, Mahmud produced a large red apple; taking his large knife from his sash, he cut the apple into four and handed it to Eventide.

"Come and greet your horse; his name is Shaitan. Give him one piece of the apple and stand in front; talk to him softly and wait for him to make the first move. Do not be afraid, I would not let anything injure you; show him you are his new owner."

Eventide held out the quarter of apple; slowly the black horse stepped forward and sniffed at the apple then again sniffed at Eventide's hand. To his surprise, the horse took the apple piece gently with his lips before chewing happily on it; all the while, Eventide spoke to him softly.

The horse finished the apple and nodded its fine head up and down as though it understood what Eventide was saying; he reached out tentively and rubbed the horse's forehead, which it seemed to enjoy.

"Good, he likes you, now it is time to saddle him."

"Don't you have to put the steel bit in his mouth first?"

"Bedou horses don't need it; you will find that only one man can ride any one horse; the steel is bad for the horse's mouth and makes them pull hard. You will have better control with your legs than any piece of steel in his mouth. Now let's find him a blanket for the saddle."

Mahmud spoke to the boy again in his own language; the boy turned to a table close by and pulled out a large wool blanket in red and yellow pattern.

"Take the blanket and let him see and smell it."

Eventide carried the large blanket to the horse and lifted it close to the horse's head; to his surprise the horse shook his head as though to say No; it then grasped the blanket in its teeth and dropped it on the ground at Eventides feet.

"Hmm, he does not like that one."

Mahmud spoke to the boy again and he carried over a smaller shaped sheep skin with black wool. Eventide held that out for the horse to inspect; much to his delight, the horse nodded his head as though to say ‘Yes'.

Mahmud showed him how to place the wool pad on the horse's back; next came a small beautifully embossed leather saddle; this Eventide placed on the horses back after it had nodded its head again. After learning to cinch the saddle tightly, Mahmud had him give another piece of apple.

The final act was a colourful over cloth; it had a strange pattern on it and a lot of long tassels along both edges; after placing this over the saddle and pulling the silver stirrups through the slits, it was time to mount.

Eventide gave the third piece of apple before he tried to mount the horse; much to his delight, the horse stood as still as stone for him. The young stable boy knelt down on all fours so Eventide could place one foot on his back to get enough height to put his left foot in the stirrup.

Once up on the horse; he leant forward and offered the last piece of apple; the horse turned his head and again took it delicately with his soft lips; as he happily chewed on the apple, Mahmud adjusted the stirrups to fit Eventides shorter legs. When he was happy; Mahmud called for his own horse and quickly mounted.

Taking it slow he led them both out of the castle and into the open lands. They walked slowly so Eventide could get used to the smaller horse and the horse; or so Mahmud said; could get used to him.

It was not long before the two boys were trotting; for some unknown reason, Eventide felt totally safe on this new horse; it was a new feeling he had not had on the other two he had ridden. Now and again the horse would give a snuffling sound, it was as though he understood what Eventide was thinking; it was a good feeling.

Eventide was happy to move along at the trot; for now he wanted to enjoy the early morning freshness and the feel of this beautiful animal under him.

It did not take long and, under Mahmud's directions, Eventide was soon turning the horse with just leg pressure alone; the reins were held loosely in his hands and barely any pressure was used.

Eventide enjoyed the ride probably more than Mahmud who was; as he told Eventide; born on a horse. It was not too long before they came up to a group of Mahmud's servants; three of them had large leather gloves on their left arms and on each glove sat a hooded Falcon.

Eventide looked around for the rest of the servants he had seen leaving the castle but there was no sight of them; Mahmud caught his gaze.

"You are looking for the other servants, yes? They have gone on ahead to set up camp for us; tonight we sit under the stars and eat and tell stories; perhaps tomorrow we will return to the castle or; if the hunting is good, the day after. Do not worry; your Baron knows where we are and whom you travel with; this is our time to make a closer friendship so let's enjoy it; just you and I."

Eventide smiled widely; not in his wildest dreams did he ever think he would be able to do something like this.

"Yes Friend Mahmud, let's own the world for today."

Mahmud laughed loudly at his new friends words, it was just as he expected, this new friend was going to be someone very special. The Magi back in his homeland had foretold of such a meeting and the goodness it would bring them both. Mahmud thought about the upcoming night; he truly hoped that Eventide was truly the one.

Mahmud and Eventide led the way; the three servants with the Flacons followed close behind. It was not long before Eventide realised they were now travelling faster; he was to learn it was called a canter. It proved to be a smoother ride and he quickly adjusted to the new pace.

His hair had not been plaited as it was neatly held in place with the new turban; the feeling of the wind in his face and the ruffling of his new clothes gave him a sense of true freedom; he had never thought in his wildest dreams he would feel so free.

Finally they came to the top of a rise; below them was a wide open plain of long grass with small copses of trees; Mahmud told him it was a good place to start the hunt.

Mahmud told him he would leave the servant called Salud, with him and the servant would teach him how to fly the Falcon; he explained the Salud was the only one of his servants that spoke a little English but was a good man and very patient.

For the next four hours, the two rode and flew the Falcon; Eventide was enthralled at learning about how to carry and fly the Falcon; at the end of the four hours, they had bagged three fine rabbits and Salud then turned them towards where they would have a rest and have a meal with the others.

They rode until they saw the others waiting under a huge Oak tree; there had been a small canopy set up and a large multi coloured rug laid on the ground for them to sit on. A young servant arrived to take Eventides horse to water, feed and rub down.

Eventide was ecstatic; the thrill of the hunt, the speed and freedom of the horse and the fresh country air; all made this experience very special.

After removing his boots at the entrance, he was shown inside the canopy; next Eventide was introduced to the way of eating with the Bedou; he sat cross legged beside Mahmud; only the three teens that had carried the Falcons joined them on the carpet.

At the centre of the large carpet were two huge round platters of metal piled high with hot food; beside them were two silver trays with small glass cups and a tall glass jar with a green liquid steaming inside.

Mahmud explained about using only his right hand to eat with after he had washed them in scented warm water from a dish carried by one of the servants. Mahmud also explained about not showing the soles of his feet to another as it was deemed a great insult.

It took Eventide a little while to get the hang of eating with just one hand; the rolling of the small white seeds he was told were called "rice" took a little practice and time; at first a fair amount landed in his lap much to the delight and laughter of the others; although none of it was malicious. Eventide just had to join in the laughter at his failed attempts.

It was a great way to eat and the green mint tea was refreshing and helped the food go down. When they had all finished eating; Mahmud clapped his hands and the servants came to clear away the trays; he was told the food left over would be eaten by the servants so there would be no waste.

Next came a silver tray with a strange fruit; Mahmud reached over and cut one for Eventide; inside it was almost the colour of blood with small black seeds.

"This is a delicacy from my home; it is called Persimmon; try it, I am sure you will like it."

Eventide took a bite and almost fell over in ecstasy; never in his wildest dreams did he ever think such a fruit existed. As the juices ran down his chin he reached for another; after two he had had enough, it was too special to be hogged down in any great number. One of the servants appeared with another bowl of warm water and a fresh cloth so Eventide could wipe off his face and hands.

As they all sat and talked, Mahmud translated for Eventide as the others except for Salud only spoke their native tongue.

It surprised Eventide to find they were extolling his efforts in the hunt and the fact he had caught three fat rabbits on his first try with a Falcon; even though Mahmud had caught ten Eventide's captures were extolled highly.

A short time later, one of the servants appeared with a strange, tall bottle like piece. Its bowl was of clear glass and filled with water; above it there were six flexible tubes fitted with metal tips; it then continued up to a narrow neck with a small conical lid on the top.

"This is called a Hookah, the water cools the smoke so it is easier on the throat, come you must join us; it will help to relax you so we can all take a short sleep before moving to the camp site for the night."

Needless to say, it took Eventide a while to stop coughing and get used to the use of the hookah; eventually he felt drowsy and, like the others; laid back with his head on a padded block supplied by the servants. As he drifted off to sleep; Eventide thought that this had to be the best day of his life; there would never be anything to top the feeling of friendship and joy he had at that moment.

Eventide woke to a feeling of someone shaking his shoulder; suddenly he remembered where he was and opened his eyes fully to see Mahmud smiling down at him.

"Come on Friend, time to go to the camp; they are readying our supper and we have an hour's ride to get there."

Eventide yawned widely and smiled at his one and only friend; shaking the sleep from his mind, he got up and went in search of his boots.

Outside his black horse stood waiting patiently for him; once mounted he followed Mahmud towards the west where the sun was sinking in a clear sky; it looked as though they would be able to sit and look at the stars all night.

It was almost dark when they came across the encampment; Eventide saw that there were two tents. One, the smaller was a dark blue colour and had many servants working over open fires. The second was very much larger and totally black in colour; apart from two lines of black riding boots lined up outside, there was no sign of anyone else.

Mahmud led Eventide to the covered closed doorway of the black tent. Under the small canopy sat two low chairs. Eventide saw that the other boots were lined up each side of the tent entrance and it appeared there must be at least twenty others inside yet there was no sound of talking coming from the tent.

Mahmud sat in one of the small chairs and indicated the other for Eventide. A servant boy knelt and helped to remove their boots and lined them up beside the others.

"Now my Friend; when we enter we have to give the greeting like you did when we first meet. I will go first as they know me then you follow. Whatever happens be brave, I will be close by to protect you."

With those words ringing in his ears; Eventide began to feel a sense of fear rising in his chest. Something was not right and he was not sure what he should do; he was a long way from the castle and, if truth be told; was not sure how to get back.

Mahmud stepped into the tent and Eventide heard him say the words "Salaam Alahkim" A rough voice answered him with the return greeting "Alahkim Salaam" next Eventide heard the soft cough that was the signal for him to enter.

With a great deal of trepidation, Eventide stepped into the black tent; as he got inside he saw that the tent was mostly dark and only a very small oil lamp hanging from the roof cast dark shadows everywhere.

Eventide could just barely make out the almost black images of others seated around the outside of a large carpet; only the lighter colours of Mahmud's costume showed him where his friend sat.

Eventide tried to do the greeting with the hand gestures as best he could. Suddenly, from one dark corner came an angry voice. Had Eventide not known that the only person that was able to speak English apart from Mahmud was Salud, he would have run for his life.

Although he knew it must be Salud; the anger in the teen's voice really scared him; this was not the young smiling and patient teen he had spent a good part of the day with; this person was really angry.

"Who allows this Infidel into the tent of brothers; speak now or I will take his blood as it should be for all Infidels'."

Eventide was ready to back out as he was sure he caught the glint of a bare blade in the person's hand. Suddenly he saw Mahmud stand up and turn towards the person with the bare dagger.

"I, Red Scorpion called this Infidel to my brother's tent."

"Red Scorpion, why would you break the covenant of the brotherhood of the Hashin and invite this Infidel into our sacred sanctum?"

"My blood tells me he is one with us."

"Then I tell you Red Scorpion, your blood is wrong. We never allow the Infidel into the brotherhood."

Eventide realised they were speaking English for his benefit; all the others were silent but he thought he made out some nodding heads when Salud spoke about his not being there.

"Brothers; I have given a Blood Promise that this boy will become a Brother. If this is against the wishes of the brotherhood then I will spill my blood here and now."

Eventide saw Mahmud pull his fancy dagger from his waist band; he was holding it in both hands and to Eventide's eye it looked as though he was really going to plunge it into his own chest.

Something took hold of Eventide; he could not bear to think his first and only friend could do such a thing. Without thinking, Eventide ran forward and grabbed the knife out of Mahmud's hand, accidently cutting his own hand in the process.

Eventide was too stunned to even notice the deep cut as he looked at Mahmud as though his friend was totally insane; all he could say was.

"Why...why for me?"

"I gave you a Blood Promise."


Eventide heard Salud's voice echo in the silent tent.

"Red Scorpion, your friend has courage and we can all see he would shed blood for you; will you stand for him in the trial?"

"I will stand; I so swear on my blood."

"Infidel, take a seat beside the one who is Blood Promised."

When Eventide was sitting beside Mahmud, the rest of the people began to talk in their own language; Mahmud leant over to him and whispered as to what was being said.

Suddenly three of the people stood up and began to argue with Salud; the gestures were angry and Eventide could only wonder what was being said; Mahmud leant in close and told him the three were actually defending him.

The three sat down and the discussions continued in a quieter manner. Salud stood and looked at Eventide; he could only see the teens eyes as, like the rest of the people in the tent; they were all covered from head to foot in black clothes with only their eyes showing through a narrow slit.

"Infidel, do you think you are brave?"

Eventide could only answer as honestly as he felt.

"I do not know."

"Infidel, would you shed your blood for your brothers?"

"I have no brothers but I would bleed for my only friend."

Salud suddenly whipped out a very thin knife and threw it at where Eventide sat; it was so fast he did not have time to react and was not quite sure if he had seen it at all until there was a thin dagger buried in the carpet only inches from his crossed legs.

Salud turned to the others and spoke clearly, he then spoke in English for Eventides benefit.

"As you can see brothers of the Hashin; he sits without fear, he bleeds for his friend; are there any who would say Nay?"

When there were no replies, Salud walked over to Eventide and took up the dagger and cut his own hand; next he grasped Eventides and said.

"My blood is your blood to the end of time; welcome to the brotherhood of the Hashin."

Salum then removed the cloth from his face so Eventide could see him clearly.

"I stand for the Infidel; from this day on he shall be known as Shaitan Bin Izurak, the devil with the blue eyes."

Salud then went back to sit in his place as another of the people stood before Eventide and repeated the words but in their own language after making the same cut and holding his hand. Soon everyone had performed the same ceremony; Mahmud was the last and then held his hand out to help Eventide to his feet.

"Brothers of the Hashin; here stands Shaitan Bin Izurak, a new brother who has traded blood and will now take the oath of silence and secrecy. Brother Shaitan Bin Izurak, on your honour and blood; do you vow to keep all the secrets of the Brotherhood of the Hashin and should you break them, willingly give up your blood to your brothers."

"On my blood I promise."

"Brothers, you have heard a Blood Promise, does anyone forbid him entry into the brotherhood?"

No one spoke so Mahmud declared the meeting closed and that Shaitan Bin Izurak was now a brother of the blood. A great ululation went up around the tent. Immediately a troop of servants came in with many more oil lamps and lit up the tent in full.

Eventide now looked around and saw how young some of the people were; there was also a variety of skins and eyes around. Some were almost as pale as he was and others were as black as the night; all of them were smiling and began to relax.

A short time later, the servants began to bring in many large trays of food and a new drink he had not tried before; it was not long before he realised there was something strong in his small glass.

The mood got lighter and lighter the more they drank and ate. Again when the main food was finished, the large trays of fruit appeared followed soon by six Hookah; this time Eventide saw them put a dark sticky substance in the hookah that was not like the green leaf of before.

Eventide asked Mahmud what it was.

"That is the Hashish, it is where our name came from; when we go into battle it makes us fearless and our enemies tremble when they know we are looking for them."

"So it is the brotherhood of the hashish?"

"Yes and no; we will teach you our language and you will understand that sometimes the same words can mean something else; in the case of the word Hashin it also means in English, Assassin."

"Oh, so I am now an assassin?"

Mahmud laughed and told the others in his language what Eventide had just said; instantly they all laughed and shook their heads.

"My brother Shaitan, you have just entered the world of the Hashin; we will now begin to train you until you are truly one of us and become a true Hashin, or as you will an Assassin."

Eventide could only sit with his mouth open as the others nodded and smiled at him.

"Now Brother, it is time for the gift giving. Black Scorpion, it is time for the gifts."

Salud stood and went to stand before Eventide, in his hands he held a long, carefully folded black cloth.

"Brother Shaitan, I give you this gift of the turban of the Hashin, wear it with pride and remember your Brothers."

Eventide took the cloth and carefully placed it beside him. One by one the others came up and said words in their language that he presumed were the same. A black Robe, black boots, black pantaloons. Next came the trappings of the Hashin; a small pouch containing six metal vials; Mahmud told him it was to carry his poisons after he had learnt about them.

A beautiful curved scimitar in a jet black scabbard, a set of four thin throwing knives in a holder. There was also a large curved knife with a black hilt and set in a bright black scabbard.

The last gift was a thick silver ring with a black stone that had a small star inside it; suddenly Eventide recognised the ring, it was identical to the one worn by his patron Baron Freeman. Mahmud saw the recognition and smiled as he nodded his head in agreement.

Eventide now knew why the Baron was so well known and accepted by the Emir and his followers.

"So the Baron is one of us?"

"Yes, but like the Emir my uncle, they are called Elder Brothers."

"Is this why he is called the King's Champion?"

"Again the answer is yes and no. His abilities as a Knight and the fact he has been on crusade would give him that title anyhow but, he has more to do than just be the Champion; being a brother of the Hashin he also has carried out assassinations for the King, that is why he is in such favour with your King. Nearly every Knight in the land is in fear of him."

"And he chose me for a Squire."

"I am sure he saw the same thing in you that we all have seen; you have an honest heart and I think you will find you are brave beyond words. Time will tell and we are sure we will be proven correct. Now enough of this idle talk; everything you need to know we will teach you; it is time for the Hashish and a good time."

Mahmud called for the others to bring the Hookah outside so they could lay and watch the stars as they smoked. Eventide found there had been a lot of soft couches laid out under the stars. All were set close to each other so the tubes from the Hookah could be easily reached. From that moment on, Eventide could not remember much except for the brightness of the stars and clear dark sky.


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