Tornmile: Part 49

Tornmile
Part XLIX: Vows

Brielle supressed the urge to rub at her knee and looked at the candles on the altar in front of her. The time was nearly gone and she would be glad to be able to rise from her position on the floor. The cathedral’s stonework was old and worn with use, the inscriptions on the tombs around her no longer legible. Her knees screamed in the agony of kneeling, but she could not rise until the time had gone.

The three hour watch of the Kingsworn Order. All entrants into the Order were obliged to undertake the watch for three hours in the cathedral. Three candles had stood upon the altar on a special candelabrum, which allowed the flames to appear like the Order’s symbol: two stars above and two stars below. As each hour waned, one of the candles would reach the cup which held it, and the wick would ignite a circle of oil, creating a bowl of flames. Two had done that now and the third was not far off. Each candle represented one of the Order’s virtues – loyalty, honour, and duty. There would be vows to come once the time had gone.

She knew that nine representatives of the Order, including the Knight Commander himself, were waiting and watching from outside the wooden screens that created this altar sanctuary at the heart of the cathedral. The door into the sanctuary had been left ajar so that she was visible to them from their seats in the central passageway. They would ensure that she kept her watch faithfully and could refuse to knight her if she did not. Darian was there as well, further back than the Order’s representatives; he was allowed because he was an anointed knight. All her other supporters – her father, Léa and Konrad, had been forced to wait outside the cathedral. It did not seem fair to her, since they were as much of a support as Darian in their own ways, but the rules were the rules and she could not begin her service in the Order by questioning years of tradition. Time for that later.

The candle burned to the last and the flames flared over the oil. She shut her eyes for a second, seeing the image of the three flames – the three stars – branded into her retinas. She longed to leap to her feet, but she could not do so until she was instructed to. She heard the sound of footsteps and prepared herself, unsure whether her knees would support her after long hours spent in the same position. The Knight Commander, Sir Amaury Guerin, moved to the altar, on which were laid a number of items. He stood in front of the flaming bowls and faced Brielle. The other Kingsworn flanked her, facing inwards in lines of four. She could not see Darian, but she had the feeling that he stood at the threshold, just out of the ceremony, but close enough to hear and see.

“Rise, Brielle, Aubin’s daughter, and take your vows,” Sir Amaury said.

Brielle did not hesitate to get up, feeling the prickling of blood running back into her legs. They wobbled a little a first, but she did not fall.

“Do you vow to keep the code of knighthood from this day until your death?”

“I vow it on my honour and my life,” Brielle said, reciting the required words, “If I break my vow may the Emperor of Heaven break me.”

The Knight Commander took a white leather belt and a long tunic from the altar. The tunic was black, bordered in white, and marked with the Order’s symbol – three golden stars, two above and one below.

“This belt and surcoat symbolise your everlasting watch.”

Brielle pulled the surcoat over her heard and Sir Amaury fastened the belt around her waist, the silver buckle shining in the candlelight, and then he stepped back to ask the next of the questions.

“Do you vow to protect your knightly brothers and sisters, never leaving them in time of need or spurning them on the field of battle.”

“I vow it on my honour and my life. If I break my vow may the Emperor of Heaven break me.”

Sir Amaury took a pair of spurs from the altar and handed them to Brielle to fit to her boots. They were gilt covered and had spiked rowels.

“These spurs symbolise your commitment to your brethren.”

Brielle fixed the spurs on, slightly apprehensive about wearing them. She could ride a horse, but she wouldn’t call herself an adept rider by any means. Still, the symbol of knighthood was the horse and she had heard many of the songs and stories of knights charging into the jaws of the foe on proud stallions.

“Do you vow to protect the innocent, defend the weak, and free the oppressed?”

“I vow it on my honour and my life. If I break my vow may the Emperor of Heaven break me.”

He picked up a cloak from the altar, part of the Order’s ceremonial garb. All the other Kingsworn wore them now, but she knew that they would rarely wear them on any occasion but those of great import. Some would not wear their surcoats either, though all would show that they belonged to the Order. The cloak was finely made, black bordered in white, with the three gold stars at the breast and on the back.

“This cloak symbolises those under your protection.”

Sir Amaury swung it about her shoulders and she fastened the tie at her neck. It was a good fit; just long enough to avoid catching on her spurs.

“Do you vow to protect your King and serve him faithfully in all things?”

“I vow it on my honour and my life. If I break my vow may the Emperor of Heaven break me.”

The Knight Commander drew his sword, a long blade of polished steel that shone in the light from the altar. The edge looked keen.

“This accolade symbolises your duty – remember it well.”

He tapped her on her right shoulder and then her left, dubbing her into the Order. She held out her arms, pulling back the sleeves of her dress so that her skin was bare. This was the final part of the ceremony. With grace and skill, the Knight Commander flicked his sword across the skin of her forearms, just below the crook of her arm. Two lines were cut into her skin, one above the other: the one above longer than the one below. Brielle gritted her teeth and suppressed a gasp as the blood came stinging to the skin, running down her arm. Two of the Order came forward and wiped the blood away, binding the wounds with bandages. The Knight Commander fastened a badge bearing the three golden stars to her tunic.

“Just as the Knights of Siarl swore to their King in the presence of the Emperor of Heaven’s messenger with their life’s blood, so too have you sworn. I name you Dame Brielle Kingsworn,” the Knight Commander said, before turning her to face the others, “Knights of the Kingsworn – here is your sister.”

The other knights responded with one voice:

“Welcome, sister, welcome!”

And it was over. The ceremony was done and she had a title now. Her arms throbbed where the cuts had been made, but the flood of happiness at having completed the ceremony more than made up for that. She wanted to laugh and sing. The other knights were silent. Why? The ceremony was over, wasn’t it? She looked from side to side, but the brothers all stood solemnly in their file. Darian stepped forward and took her hands in his own.

“Brielle, daughter of Aubin, Knight of the Kingsworn Order, since I have known you I have loved you without question or hesitation, with all that I am and ever will be. Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”

Brielle opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She hadn’t expected this. True, he’d be quiet and brooding since he had talked with his father, but she hadn’t credited it with this question. She swallowed nervously and saw the anxiety build in Darian’s eyes.

“Sir Darian Astur, son of Lord Lucian, you gave me hope when I was hopeless and love when I was lost to it. The honour will be all mine.”

She broke into the widest smile she had ever known as the Kingsworn around them broke into cheers and congratulations. Darian pulled her into his arms and kissed her in that way of his that made time stand still. Her cheeks were wet and she realised she was crying with joy: it had been that sort of night.

They broke apart and hand in hand they moved from the sanctuary and out into the central passageway, the Kingsworn still cheering and forming a procession for them. The Knight Commander led the way with four brothers behind him. Brielle and Darian followed with four of the brothers behind. The great doors of the cathedral, which had been kept locked during the ceremony, were thrown open and the smell of fresh rain was brought in on the wind. She looked around for her father, Léa and Konrad to tell them the news, but they were not in the vestibule where they had been left.

“Perhaps they went home to be away from the rain?” Darian suggested.

“Probably. I thought they’d stay though.”

“I’m sure they’ll be waiting for you back at home with a barrel of wine already open to celebrate your knighthood, if I know Konrad.”

“Knighthood and engagement,” she corrected.

The Kingsworn bade them farewell, with yet another cheer of congratulation, and Sir Amaury offered his congratulations personally. There would be an official feast for her investiture at the Order’s headquarters a little way out of the city, when the rest of the Order could be summoned from their various posts and homes. Darian went to fetch his curricle and the black cloaks of the Kingsworn disappeared into the night, the sound of their footsteps gradually dwindled.

Brielle pulled the cloak about her, glad of its warmth, sheltering from the rain under the portico. She smiled to herself and thought of the celebrations with her friends, both for her investiture and her engagement. There would be enough time for a celebration before she and Darian moved on with the serious business of raising the retinue necessary to crush Ferrer once and for all. A hanging and then a wedding.

She ran through the rain to get into the curricle, where Darian sat with his hair slicked over his forehead. He helped her into her seat and then kissed her, before moving the horses off. The wheels rattled along the cobbles in the rain, the lamps at the vehicle’s side barely illuminating the street ahead of them. The wind was cold and the rain strong. Brielle was glad when they pulled into the rear gate of Darian’s house. Speeding through the rain, Brielle made for the house whilst Darian unhitched the horses and put them into their stables.

She was surprised that there were no standlamps lit in the corridors of the house. She made her way through to the entrance hall, but all was dark in the house. Lighting a lamp, she walked back to the stable door, where she met Darian.

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. There’s no lights. It’s like no one’s here.”

“My father’s sense of humour, no doubt,” Darian said, “I think we ought to head to the dining hall.”

He smiled to himself as though he knew something that she didn’t and then strode off towards the hall, which sat above the kitchens at the east end of the house. She followed, bearing the light, though the route was so familiar to Darian that he barely noticed whether the way was lit or not. He paused at the large doors at the dining hall.

“You first,” he said, that knowing smile creeping back to his face.

Brielle frowned at him, but opened the door and proceeded inside. The room was in darkness, except for the faint glow of three candles on a table at the far end of the room. She could see the shapes of other tables and the slightest gleam of cutlery. She walked forward, moving towards the light. As she got closer, she could the shape of someone behind the candles. She walked towards them as fast as she could, almost running around the table. Slumped in a seat, which was turned half away from the table was Lord Lucian. There was blood at his lips.

“Darian!” Brielle yelled, “Hurry!”

She moved forward and twitched Lord Astur’s coat aside; there was a wound oozing blood about halfway up his chest and another further down from which the broken shaft of an arrow still protruded. Darian had run the length of the room to reach her, but he stopped when he saw his father. He called to him, moving forwards to take the man in his arms. Brielle pushed her hands against the wounds, trying to staunch the blood flow, but she knew it was no use.

“Darian?” Lord Astur said, his eyes opening slight and his eyes searching in front of him, “Son, is that you?”

“I’m here, father.”

“You must go; they attacked us. They are waiting for you.”

“I can’t go. My place is here, to defend you. To get you to help.”

There were tears running down Darian’s face and Brielle herself wept, her hands slick with Lord Astur’s blood. She backed away to allow Darian more room.

“Your place is with your friends,” Lord Astur wheezed, “they are heading for the estates. I held them off and Konrad…he got them out. Take Brielle and go.”

“I can’t…I…”

Darian’s protest was cut short by the thump of an arrow striking the table, extinguishing one of the candles as it struck. It had been a warning shot, rather than an attempt to hit them, Brielle thought, but she ducked down out of sight, scanning the balcony above for the archer.

“You have to go now!” Lord Astur commanded, his voice for a moment piercing through the wheezing breaths so he sounded like his usual self.

Suddenly, light flared at the opposite end of the hall; there was a host of thugs and fighters pouring in through the doorway, some with swords and knives and others with clubs and bows. Some amongst them wore tunics marked with a winged axe. Lord Perun followed them in with Dunstan Ferrer by his side.

“Good evening, Lord Astur, Sir Darian, Dame Brielle,” Perun said, with a sarcastic bow, “I’m afraid the celebrations have been cut short. Lord Astur was found to be harbouring Lord Minham’s murderer, making him complicit in the murder of the King’s Regent. He refused to submit to questioning and was sentenced to die. You will not be so foolish, I am sure.”

“I’ll kill you,” Darian screamed wildly, “I’ll kill you all.”

Brielle grabbed at Darian, pulling him away. Lord Astur coughed and reached for his son’s face, touching it with his own blood stained hands.

“You carry my honour, Darian. Carry it far from this place.”

“I can’t – you’re my family. I have to avenge this.”

“Brielle is your family now. Keep her safe. It is your duty.”

The mention of Brielle brought Darian back to his senses and Brielle pulled him away from his father. He came reluctantly. An arrow whistled past them but Ferrer called for the firing to cease. There was a grunt as the man responsible was stabbed through the throat. Darian pushed Brielle behind him and moved backwards into the shadows, reaching up and turning the head of the bust of a hawk there. A small door clicked open behind the fireplace. Darian and Brielle hesitated on the threshold and Perun yelled for the men to advance. The horde ran screaming forwards, weapons raised. Perun was at their head, axe raised. Lord Astur struggled to his feet, the last energy in him forcing him out of his chair and raising his sword to meet the foe. Brielle pulled Darian backwards into the passageway and the door began to swing shut. The last thing they saw was Perun’s axe cut Lord Astur’s head from his body and then the passageway was closed; Brielle and Darian were alone with the darkness.

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