Vanya and the Green Knight

“Faster.”

Glaedrigh crossed the sixth feet between them at a run, but the guardsman boots that had been jammed unceremoniously on his feet felt heavy and floppy. Did horses feel as awkward when they were fitted with iron curves and nails? How did anyone run this way? He could remember, years ago, the Lady DoNotCallMother had insisted booties of softened, thin leather be strung on his feet whenever he was brought out of the room that had been ‘his’. The nursemaid had always made sure a finger width of space was in the laces so that the leather didn’t pinch over the stockings.

His bastard sword rang against the Captain’s, at level of his hips, a crescendo of blows moving up and crossing without marking the knight with bruise or tear to muscle. It wasn’t mark of lack of effort- he was trying to score on the man. He didn’t want to hurt Maddox, but a mark would prove skill and learning. It would do honor to the teaching.

There was a sharp and spreading burn in his hip? Middle? His eyes weren’t focused at all-no, they were closed. There was they sound of a slap, his eyes were open again and he was looking at the horrified faces of two of the guard off near the door into the castle from the parade grounds.

“Are you going to die, or are you going to keep fighting?”

Glaedrigh pulled back, felt the blade in him slide out of flesh neatly as out of scabbard, but it was followed by pungent odor- blood and urine. The robes under the loose leather armor were staining fast from the broken damn. The stab was below cuirass, angled along belt, right into his bladder. Disgusting—covered in not only blood but his own piss out the wound.

“Lift your sword, higher. Your neck isn’t guarded while you’re nursing your waist.”

“They won’t go higher,” his arms were shaking, but they wouldn’t follow the commands of his shoulders. Leather armor didn’t have a gorget. No, its a fools hope to rely on armor to protect where his sword doesn’t so completely. Maddox would jam his sword just as cleanly though the joints as were there no armor there anyway.

But that didn’t help his arms any higher. His grip on the hilt was still fine- supple but controlled, but the shivers in his body were getting worse. Maddox had been frank long ago about wounds-take a bad one and the body took it as bad as a fainting lady, often succumbing to swoon before a man could conscious choose to give up or not.

Maddox attacked this time, but didn’t go for his neck. Mercy blows, or toying maybe, forcing him to command limbs to defend even the limited range of speed and area they seemed willing to respond to. His bracers thocked with a blow that finally drowned his sword into the dirt and he felt metal as a bar along the side of his neck. There was a cold line, the edge drawing blood as it parted the thin skin there in threat of biting deeper. Maddox was close, his breath hinted at the dark stout the guard were given at meals. “Men can still fight with some wounds if they have the will for it. You’re fine. Fight.”

At least until the end of the battle. He’d seen a Kyffon knight take a wound similar, he’d made it through all the raid battles and back to their side of the wall. He’d smelled the sickness building in the red and gold tent over the next couple of days while he assisted Baynton on the field. That knight never came out of his tent again to any of the other battles.

Maddox had never slouched at marking his arms and legs in practice, but this was the first serious wound. It had been deliberate and calculated. “The is practice to ignore wounds. Not get more”

The captain neither smiled nor spoke, but backed away to swordlength again, “You can still run out of spells.”

‘And what will you do then’, finished in an imitation of the Captain’s voice in his head. A situation wasn’t guaranteed to go better than it had been just because a paladin or priest revealed themselves with blessings of healing. It could even get worse, focusing efforts of an enemy on the dangers of a combatant that could revive others. Once blessings were exhausted, wounds could still cripple and the fight drag on. He had to be able to outlast all, to stand with wounds others could not bear. To stand upright and unbent even given wound unto death. Paladin was symbol as much as title.

Maddox look expectant again, so he replied repeating the attacking strokes they’d been practicing all day.

Faster. The pain paralyzing his limbs was starting to lift, familiar trickles of whatever heat entered men’s blood for minutes at a time at best. It made the leather armor less leaden. He could lift his arms again in spite of the shivering, could swing and parry. At least for a few minutes. Blood was making cakey balls of dough with the dirt of the practice ring, pungent with worse. At the end of the volley, Maddox didn’t look sour, at least. Still nothing had landed.

Eoghan and Domnall looked ill, fidgeting their hand on kilt-pins or sword haft. Not aggression, it looked restless. They must want to step in, say he should go back to the abbey and give up swordplay. They’d passed Maddox’s muster to be guards, plainly he couldn’t even do that- shouldn’t be a paladin. His own breath was coming in swallowed pants. The feeling of fire in all his middle was coming back, it had to be the urine just leaking out into the rest of him with all the original pressure gone to spit through all the flesh out the wound.

Maddox looked annoyed maybe. His brow was crinkled with a few furrows. “Put the sword on the stand where it belongs. If your arms aren’t good anymore, the least you can do-”
Least. Glaedrigh winced hearing it. He hating being the least that could be hoped for or expected. It hurt worse than the pulling wound.
“-is practice running the course with that scratch.”

The course was the circuit of the parade ground, horse-jumps for riding lessons on the path or runs of deliberately rocked ground for dangerous footing to simulate the fields purposed so as to cripple cavalry here and there. Glaedrigh nodded mutely. He could at least do that-running and jumping. If he couldn’t manage that at speed and agility, he deserved the contempt he suspected. As soon as he’d wiped the blade down he jogged over to the well worn beam of oak that was half-buried in the packed earth and waited for signal. Maddox drew it out a moment, looking him over before giving a guttural growl cough that was familiar as a replacement for speech. Glaedrigh ran.

Along the near inside palisade closest the circuit was clean grass, kept tame by the guards’ cheese goats, then over flagged stone and over a few planters of flowers of a garden kept for the noble ladies of the keep. His foot tipped the edge of every planter, refusing to lift high enough to be a full clear. His vision was woolen black at the edges as he rounded along a tower and two more of the guard, Cillian and Kempsey. He almost fell into Kempsey as the man stepped into the path, saying something and looking not at his face but at the caking dust on his robes that was slapping his calves as he ran. It was annoying, the material getting heavy and losing its fluidity. He didn’t stop, though. He had to at least do this- must be swift. If he got back to start quickly enough, with the wound, maybe Maddox would stop looking dour, and his brow would smooth.

Maddox’s arm was across his chest- he’d made it to the finish bar again already? Glaedrigh looked up at the captain’s face but there didn’t look to be a change in the line and furrows. Maybe next time. There was always a next time with practices, even if there wasn’t in battles. It was a distinction the Captain had made clear in their first practice 7 years before. The arm at his chest was mirrored by another fishing under his shoulders, making the epaulet straps and cuirass awkward. The armor was off in a blink, falling heedless aside. His own knees were giving in without the momentum of running to keep him upright, “Maddox, I’m sorry.”

The captain started puppet-walking him over to where Horse was boredly clipping glass and eyeing some of the guard menacingly. Maddox gave him a look. For what?

“I can’t stand. I’ll do better.” He didn’t know exactly how. It would be a hard thing to practice outside of lessons unless he was going to willfully stab himself, and badly, before going about sword forms and swings. Baynton probably wouldn’t approve. He always looked him over hard after practices. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t think Baynton liked the captain much. Maddox didn’t appear to care what Baynton, or anyone, thought of him.

Horse didn’t bite at them as Maddox hauled them both up to saddle, and only nosed Maddox’s calf in playful threat. The Captain of the Righ’s guard didn’t give him and answer. He gave the same guttural, growly noise and Horse bucked a little before settling into a canter. He knew his business, and could smell the blood as easily as any human, if not keener. The road down to the Abbey fields from the Keep was still twenty minutes at that pace, along the gay cobbles of the old, noble quarters and high merchant houses that served the needs of the court. There were warm candles here and there in the failing light of the evening, and hearty rye bread and scents of stewed dinner on the air in the cottages. Clouds were gathering low near the roofs, whispering of the night’s spitting rain to come. He leaned back against the Captain, matching his posts and looking to the road again instead of the sky. It was less dizzying.

All the herd was busy at evening chores- passing out night flake and cleaning or refilling troughs, reviewing the pastures for any harmful plants threatening to grow where they might be eaten by a foolish yearling. Colleen was the first to follow the horses snorts and perked ears at their approach, and she screwed up her nose at a glance. His robes were sopping from below his ribs to their edges. She came out the horse-gate to the street and boldly up to Horse’s flank, eyeing the stallion sternly. Horse still made a try at biting her arm. She gave loud, disapproving nasal sound like what Uma sometimes made and used her nails like a bite back. Horse looked pleasantly satisfied.

" We don’t always pray for healing from gods of grain’s plenty. The crops need tending, sometimes. You could tell someone if you plan on wounding our waif at lesson."

“I could,” but it didn’t sound like would.

Glaedrigh slid down clumsily to Colleen’s upraised arms, offering quiet peace,“There no predicting when I’ll get wounded on a field, so I have to get used to it.”

“Oh, is that it now ? Well you’ll not go around stabbin’ yourself or jumping off the Cruach either to know what it feels like and if you kin still walk after.” But Colleen wasn’t looking at him, she wasn’t even letting him down off her hip. She gave a respectful but wrote nod of courtesy to the knight, " He won’t be running up the castle tomorrow. W’ve only small words left tonight to make sure you’ve not killed you student, so he’s to be resting. "

Glaedrigh shifted to try to squirm down to his own feet, to try to prove he’d be alright with a little bandaging and orisons. He didn’t want to miss a lesson. He already missed so many opportunities to practice martial skills with chores and Cadfael’s lessons taking all the hours of the sun. He adored Cadfael’s and Baynton’s hours with books and writing and illuminations, but it felt like learning combat only a few nights in a week for these many years would put him at disadvantage to a noble’s heir the same age. Ser Neils’ son was already practicing wearing chainmail, and he was just 10 the past month. Glaedrigh had been for 3 months already. Colleen did not relent, " Settle, colt."

Maddox nodded to her, lifting his brows at her choice as if to say, if you see so fit, it is no trouble to me.

Glaedrigh settled, downcast. His sword master probably WAS more bothered to have to deal with him coming by. But he never just scowled when he Glaedrigh came panting up the streets at a run and knocked on the barracks or canteen door and asked for him of those on evening duty. He’d seen enough scowls and sour looks at the approach of others interrupting their lessons over the years. It was no use looking at Maddox with a pleading look- want me, be proud of me, please enjoy time with me, fight for time with me.

There was no use in looking like that at anyone. It didn’t work. It didn’t change what had to be done by everyone in a day, just because he was lonely or wished someone would want to do…whatever it was close families did. The best he could imagine was crawling onto the foot of Cadfael’s bed sometimes when he was younger and had nightmares of the ancient longwyrms devouring whole horses and riders, white on their steeds and swallowed into the sharp maw and dark-valiant but slain. Worry that this would someday happen to his beloved teachers. All of them gone in gulps and the sated serpents curling round mountains to suck up the sun and leave the Abbey and castle empty. The ribbons fluttering limpid in rain while he stood and looked at a useless, notched sword in his small hand.
Not even paid heed to eat.

He did not remember more, lost in dream just the same as memory in Colleen’s arms.

Waking after passing out was never pleasant. The body always felt weird, stale and disused like a house that had been abandoned for years look among bustling neighbors. His muscles always creaked like wooden beams. This time, he could easily roll, and couldn’t sit up on his own. His middle and hips were wrapped and splinted to prevent most ideas of getting about without help. His robes were gone-just his blanket and the Abbey tabby, Guine next to his head on his pillow. Guine was squinting at him, commiserating of drafts and lack of want to be awake. She usually slept the days away. Finn perked from his devotions nearby, bustling over as soon as he heard Guine purring. “Glaedrigh, brother ride the light to your feet at last? Do you feel sick? You might, wounds like that take appetite right out of men.”

It was already a lot of words to wake to. “I don’t feel famished.”
Which was saying something.
“Did Maddox say anything?” It was plain enough Colleen had carried him in. Someone had bandaged him and spoken at least one orison on his wound. But he still felt awful.

“Not that Colleen seems to share, if he did. I expect not, though. I’m praying for you a bit today, get you silver again. You’re tarnishing inside out, I think. You’ve got the wound fever. Don’t feel cold on waking, for once , yeah?”

“I have to do my chores, " he lifted on of his hands to his own field of vision, grimacing at how flushed and blotchy his freckles were. “What time is it?”

“Late morn, lunch is soon. Maybe some hot cider to sip?”

“Maybe” Glaedrigh settled. Finn wasn’t going to let him up. “Can I study at least?”
“Cadfael might come by to go over another scroll. Wound-fever usually addles people too much to do a good deal of remembering, but you can give it a go for comfort. Hooves and hearts beat together and all.”

‘Might’, means sleep after cider. They’ve all growth to tend with the fields getting on in the late sun. Plenty to sing and war to make on beetles and grubs. Will it be more than today? Baynton is away for another week at least. Maybe Guine will stay for company? Beds are boring without books. He lifted his hand to stroke the soft chin, earning heartier purrs. Guine stood and stretched, then meandered in distracted fashion to lay nearer his and Finn’s hands both on the sack coverlet on her side in a luxuriant heap of catness. Finn snoodled her, then left about the cider.

He was supposed to be working ground manners with Lady Deirdre’s new palfrey all morning and copying the records of her lines sent by Godfrey from Cooraclare. He was a good breeder, and kept tidy lines- it increased his business with the blue blooded of Armagh. Still the creature was one of looks more than other virtue, so unless it grew a brain overnight it added a day onto when she would be ready to be sent over to the Westfold Arch that the Lord and Lady Muirfennen held for the GwynnedRigh. Another day of arms practice was likely to be victim.

“Lessons by Guine- how to sleep all day.”
The cat was indifferent to his making any noise, and crossed her front paws contented. She would have a warm body all day.

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