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Topic Subject:WEIGHTS AND MEASURES - A Story
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Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 09-24-03 15:50 EST (US)         
A STRONGHOLD HEAVEN STORY

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES


WRITTEN BY: CIVIS ROMANUS


LIST OF PRIMARY CHARACTERS:

Angie: Blonde, blue eyes, pretty. Cheerleader. Brad's girlfriend.
Betty: Central High senior, friend of Jeff's. Black hair and eyebrows, hazel eyes, oval face.
Comely. Average heighth and physical features. Sincere. Modest.

Billy: Central High freshman, bowl shaped hairstyle. Brown hair, brown eyes. Average heighth for his age, but shorter than all but a few school seniors. Voice still high pitched.
Brad Deberg: Muscled 18 year old from suburban high school. Son of town banker.
Jeff Conroy: 18 years old. Slender build that belies his real strength. Brown hair, blue eyes, average heighth. Shy, withdrawn.
Lancaster: Middle aged, balding owner of the downtown malt shoppe.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.


Please do not post in this thread. To contact the author please click on the following link taking you to this story's COMMENT THREAD.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 09:30 PM).]

AuthorReplies:
Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 09-24-03 16:08 EST (US)     1 / 40       
THE EARLY 60'S - A MIDWESTERN AMERICAN TOWN

An anonymous hand fished into a pocket and came up with a thin coin that slid with a clinking sound into a slot, down a metal chute and into a coin sensing mechanism that responded with a soft kachunk. Inside the clear windowed machine a slotted turntable filled with black disks began to turn. Then it hesitated as the anonymous hands of the former owner of the coin pressed two red buttons at one time, twice in succession, two selections made. The turntable resumed its movement.

After turning clockwise for a moment, the turntable again stopped. This time a curved arm materialized from somewhere in the bowels of the machine, reached towards a slot with a black disk in it and grasped and extracted the circular piece of plastic. The disk was thinly grooved, had a colorful paper label looking like a massively crushed donut applied to each side; and the very heart, its center, was uniformly vacant of black plastic as if cored like an orchard apple. A 45 RPM record they called it, lighter, smaller, slower, but much better than the old black wax disks this machine used to hold and spin at a phenominal rate of nearly twice the speed of each slot's current resident.

Still in the upright position the curved arm now moved perpendiularly to the base of the machine, pressed the disk onto a rotating platter, allowed it to stay in that position as another arm equipped with a wicked pointed pick sought a willing groove on the disk and lodged itself there. From below the name Wurlitzer, gaudily placed in raised lettering on the face of the colorfully decorated machine, music and the voice of a man singing escaped and filled the room.

Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody;
I got some money 'cause I just got paid.
How I wish I had someone to talk to,
I'm in an awful way.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:32 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 09-24-03 21:19 EST (US)     2 / 40       
Also filling the room were brightly polished chrome-edged pedestal supported red table tops bracketed on either side by red vinyl restaurant booth seats. Smooth chrome coat trees were mounted on the aisle side of the booth seats to afford the patrons a place to hang their sweaters or jackets, or even the occasional hat.

Young girls, servers they were called, zipped back and forth on soft pink rubber soled black/white two-toned shoes. They were generally very quiet for young girls coming or going, unless they spoke to a patron or to a cook or to each other, or dropped a tray full of hamburgers, french fries, sodas and milk shakes onto the black and white ceramic tiled floor. Then there was very little quiet.

In the middle of the room was a continuous serving counter in front of which stood single file in precise separation shiny chrome backed red vinyl seats mounted on slim pedestals rising from the floor. On the service side of the bar tall slender handles poked up, each labeled with the flavor soda dispensed: root beer, cola, lemon-lime, strawberry, cherry, vanilla... Across the duckboard covered floor, stainless steel pump lids covered containers waiting for the push of a hand on the pump to signal the right moment to dispense cherry, chocolate, strawberry or some other popular syrup. If the container's lid didn't have a pump nozzle sticking out, it had a ladle attached within, deep diving into strawberry or pineapple topping, hot caramel or hot fudge. The stainless steel counter shined in the light of the overhead fan lamps. Shining too were the pyramid-like stacked sundae and soda glasses and the metal mixing cups used to make shakes and malts.

The smell of grilled hamburgers and french fries was everywhere, but the source was invisible. These mouth watering odors came from the kitchen in the back and through the double stainless steel covered doors the servers went in and out of carrying filled or emptied plates, cups, glasses containing the fare prepared by the Town Center Malt and Burger Shoppe, the last of its kind in the town.

Some of the oldtimers say that the Malt Shoppe survived only because the Town Council decided not to close the high school up the street despite the brand new high school that opened in the area called the suburbs earlier that year. In fact, Central High's students very often could be found in the shoppe when not in class, or when not at home doing homework, or not at the football game or the theater or the park or at the dance. Tonight, the rain made most of them stay at home, except for the few who braved the wet chill in the air just to drive the family car to the shoppe if for nothing more than to use the shoppe as a reason to drive it somewhere, their licenses to drive being new and all.

Others were in the shoppe because they worked there. Most of them had to work somewhere. There really wasn't a choice. It was good in some ways that those who didn't have to work, did not. That left these jobs available for those who weren't so fortunate. One of those less fortunate teenagers was Jeff Conroy. He was in his final year at Central High and had made absolutely no name for himself. There just wasn't any time with work and all.

As he wiped down the top of the serving bar he thought. No, no time at all. Just time to study, read a little, and make sure every meal served on this counter is warm, complete and timely. That's what Mr. Lancaster said it should be, and Mr. Lancaster ought to know. He had taken over the Malt Shoppe well over 15 years before and had run it ever since. He was a much older man now, hair nearly all grey, some of it gone; but Jeff listened closely to what Mr. Lancaster said. So far it had never been a bad thing to do.

Nonetheless, Jeff felt that moment very much akin to the man bemoaning, "Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody..."

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:33 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 09-25-03 15:57 EST (US)     3 / 40       
The door leading from the kitchen swung open and a young girl, about Jeff's age, walked through, the door's spring-loaded hinges closing the door automatically behind her. Hmmm, Betty..., thought Jeff. Must be shift change time. Yeah, 3:00 pm. Couldn't tell by the grey day outside.

Betty walked by Jeff, turned her head and flashed him an appealing smile. "Hi, Jeff!" she said, a melody embedded somewhere in her nearly tunefully pleasant greeting. "Hi, Betty," replied Jeff somewhat matter of factly as he returned to wiping down the counter where a patron had recently left the remains of a burger and strawberry soda.

The Wurlitzer picked another disk and gave it a spin.

Heh, heh, hello Marylou,
Goodbye heart.
Sweet Marylou, I'm so in love with you.
If you knew, Marylou,
W'ed never part.
So hello Marylou,
Goodbye heart.

Jeff liked rock and roll. But he liked the older stuff best. When someone picked out those older songs, it made the day pass that much quicker. Betty's a nice girl. Dark black hair, eyebrows dark like her hair. They were uniformly thick, never plucked, prettily contoured and a dominant feature of her porcelain white, clear complexioned oval face, nearly overpowering her bright hazel eyes, but not unpleasantly so. She and her server's uniform seemed made for each other. The pink skirt ended at her knees just as it should, not like some of the girls whose skirts flirted with or challenged the minimum Mr. Lancaster would permit. Her white shirt was properly sized and proportioned so as to confirm she was undeniably a girl, but one who understood very well and never tempted the laws of physics as they relate to pressure on plastic buttons.

He and Betty had been friends for a few years. They met in their sophomore year together in Central High. She was a senior now, too. It was nice to talk with her once in awhile. She never seemed to mind. Like himself, she had to work too. Just her and her Mom living together. She never said much about her Dad. Not dead. Just... somewhere else. The "Five and Dime" didn't pay her Mom very much, so that's why Betty had to work. Anyway, that's what she said one time when they talked.

The door to the Shoppe opened and into its vestibule walked a young boy almost 15 years old. He was new to the town, moved there with his parents last summer. Now he was a freshman at Central High and something of a friend, or maybe better said an attachment to Jeff. The kid was alright. He was even amusing sometimes. William was his name. Those who knew him called him Billy, just like his parents did.

Billy reached up and pushed back on his somewhat bowl shaped, longish dark brown hair as he scanned the Shoppe to see who was there. His eyes locked onto Jeff and his right hand came up in a wave. "Jeff, Hi!" he said as he made straight for the counter stool at the place where Jeff was now finished wiping.

"Billy," acknowledged Jeff. "Kind of a wet day for you to be out and around by yourself."

"Oh, I'm not by myself. My Dad's next door in the hardware store. He said I could come over here and get something." Billy punctuated his intention of staying there by placing a short stack of eight by eleven inch staple-bound comic books on the counter and by reaching for the menu in the menu holder. "Don't know what I want yet."

"Okay. Let me know when you decide."

"Sure, Jeff." Billy reached into his pocket and pulled out the paper bill and coin his father gave him. "A dollar fifty... Let's see."

Jeff continued to wipe down the counter as Billy turned the four laminated pages of the colorfully illustrated, but worse for wear menu.

"Yep, that's it," Billy muttered to himself. "Jeff?"

"Yes?"

"I got a buck fifty. Is that enough for a chocolate malt, tax and all?"

"Sure." Just barely. Nothing for a tip. Jeff mentally shrugged his shoulders. It's a customer for Mr. Lancaster. Keeps the Shoppe going. It's okay. Jeff smiled, "One chocolate malt coming up."

The Wurlitzer changed tunes.

To know, know, know him,
Is to love, love, love him...

Must've been some girl picked that. Jeff wondered who it might have been as he picked out a mixing can and began to scoop vanilla ice cream into it.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:33 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 09-26-03 15:41 EST (US)     4 / 40       
Three scoops of vanilla ice cream later, Jeff reached for the malt jar and spooned in a teaspoon worth of malted milk powder. This he followed with about a half of a cup of whole milk. Last, he placed the mixing can under the chocolate syrup pump and emptied two plunger's full of syrup into the can. About one minute with the mixer machine and the concoction was ready to be poured into a tall tulip glass. He topped the malt with a squirt of whipped cream and then placed one cherry... Jeff hesitated. Billy likes cherries he remembered.

Jeff looked over his shoulder. Nobody looking. Jeff placed two cherries on top of the malt, one of the cherries being mostly hidden in the whipped cream. He's a good kid, even for a freshman. Jeff carried it over to the counter, placed the tulip glass down with a straw, and placed the mixing can with the remaining malt right next to it.

"Thanks. Should I pay now?" asked Billy.

"Now or later," said Jeff.

"Then now." Billy laid the "buck fifty" on the counter and Jeff took it, put it in the register and brought back the change in small coins.

If I didn't have a dime,
No I didn't have a dime
To play the jukebox,
Saturday night would be a lonely night...for me.

Let's see. Oh yes, Gene Pitney, thought Jeff. Now that's an oldie! Must be at least three years old.

Jeff saw that Billy had found the second cherry. The first one he ate right away, the second one lay on a napkin being saved no doubt. "Billy, what's with the comic books? Don't they give you enough to read in freshman english?"

"Yeah, they do; I found these in the house though when we moved in. Must of been a kid living there who read these. I read some of them before I came to town today."

"Can I see them?"

"Sure."

Jeff pawed through the stack of comics. Superman, Batman, Fantastic Four, Spiderman. Wow, haven't seen these in years. Jeff remembered how he enjoyed the illustrations and light reading. Then school interfered with its mandatory reading list. Never enough time, never. What's this? "Billy, have you read this thing about knights? It's a little different from Spiderman and the others."

"Sure is. No, not yet. Why?"

Jeff looked at the cover. CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED Sir Walter Scott's IVANHOE. He flipped through a few pages. "Say Billy. Do you mind if I borrow this for a little while, say a day or two?"

"No, go ahead. Give it back to me in school or something. I have plenty of others to read."

"Sure, in a day or two, Monday maybe."

Slllurrrpppp! The remaining malt in the tulip glass completely disappeared up the straw. "Okay," said Billy as he poured the quarter portion of malt remaining in the mixing can into the glass. It began to sprinkle outside.

Uh, uh. Oh no! Don't let the rain come down.
Uh, uh. Oh no! Don't let the rain come down.
Uh, uh. Oh no! Don't let the rain come down.
My roof's got a hole in it and I might drown.
Oh yes, my roof's got a hole in it and I might drown.

"Jeff? Jeff Conroy!" It was Mr. Lancaster. "Come on back into the kitchen Jeff, I've a chore for you. Sherry will take over the counter.

"Okay, Mr. Lancaster. There in a minute." Jeff turned to Billy. "Thanks Billy. Gotta go. See you around, okay."

"Okay, Jeff. See ya."

Jeff walked through the swinging doors and into the kitchen.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:34 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 09-29-03 15:37 EST (US)     5 / 40       
Mr. Lancaster was a short, balding, energetic man near or just past 60 years of age. To the high school kids he seemed to have been there forever. To their parents, it was nearly that long. He wore the same grey pants, white shirt and red tie uniform as the boys who worked for him in the Shoppe. Only his grey hair with its shiny bald spot distinguished himself from the others, and only when he removed his military-like white folded service hat. He was liked by all of the kids working in the Shoppe. Those who didn't like him usually didn't like anybody, and didn't work there for very long. Jeff was a particular favorite of his. He seemed to take extra time to explain things to Jeff he never explained to any of the others, except perhaps Betty.

"Jeff, I need for you to leave the counter alone for awhile and help out in the kitchen. No, not to cook. To do some prep work. We buy stuff in bulk, you know; but we don't cook that way. Can't. Everything must be fresh to keep the customers happy. So we cook to order, but we must have some of the prepatory work done in order to keep the time short between taking an order and delivering the finished meal.'

"There's meat to grind, potatoes to french cut, dough to make, things like that. Now what's especially important is weights and measures. That's the way to learn how much we need to use and the way we control how much is used in what we serve. That's the secret to profitability.'

"Let's talk about a grinder for example. We start out at a quarter pound of fresh ground beef because we know it will yield a little less than a quarter of a pound when it is fully cooked. That's the right size for a grinder bun. Then there are the french fries. Which do you think makes us more money in profits, Jeff, fries or the grinder?

"The grinder, Mr. Lancaster. It's more expensive than an order of fries."

Lancaster chuckled. "Linear thinking, Jeff. And wrong. There is more margin in the fries. Actually, the customer gets more for the money with the grinder than the fries. So here is where we try to be different than the competition. We charge the same, but we give the customer more fries for the same price. Hungry customers like that."

"So that's why we give our customers a basket of fries while the other place, the chain, gives out those cartons."

"Yes. You see, Jeff, profits are necessary so that the store can remain open and I have enough money to pay for my personal expenses, the kind of expenses your mom pays so that you can have a home, food, electricity, clothes and a car. I charge a fair price for what this restaurant serves and I try to make sure my customers get all the food and goodies I can afford to give them for the price they pay. The other place is different."

"How so, Mr. Lancaster?"

"They use weights and measures too, Jeff; but they use them to ensure they repeatedly and reliably give as little as they can for the price their customers pay."

"So why do they get more customers than we do?"

Mr. Lancaster sighed. "Because they build in the suburbs where people go to live. And they collect profit from dozens of stores, but I can collect only from this one. So they can collect less in profit from each store, but together they collect far more in total profit than I do. The banks like that and lend them more money to build more restaurants when they ask. The bank won't lend me any to build a new store or to add a second one. They say my collateral is too low and my location is not good."

"The kids like it."

"The ones who come here, Jeff. The Central High kids mostly."

Jeff looked at the ground. He knew this to be true and had nothing to say contrarywise to make Mr. Lancaster feel better. Mr. Lancaster pointed to a table top scale and to a floor stand balance scale with a large stainless steel bowl hanging from a heavy cast metal weighing arm that swung from side to side. "There you go Jeff. The instructions are in the book. Weigh out flour, add eggs and milk and then move the bowl to the mixer. The cooks will take over from there. After they get the mixer going, grind out some meat for sandwiches. The meat is in the walk-in refrigerator. The book will tell you how. Follow the guide for weights and measures. All the instructions are there. You've got time so don't rush."

"Okay, Mr. Lancaster."

"Thanks, Jeff. You're a good worker. I'm glad to have you here."

"Thanks," replied Jeff, surprised. Mr. Lancaster had never said that to him before, even though he said more to him than to the others.

Jeff went to work. A few times Mr. Lancaster walked by and stopped to observe what Jeff was doing. Each time the older man smiled, nodded and walked on to wherever he was originally headed. The work day moved relentlessly to its close. Jeff's shift ended just before the dinner time rush. He hung up his apron and punched out on the time clock. Then he retrieved Billy's Illustrated Classic from his locker and walked home. It was cold outside, but at least it wasn't raining.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:35 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 09-30-03 15:25 EST (US)     6 / 40       
The "comic" book in his hand was illuminated by the 60-watt bulb in the arm lamp he swung over to shine on his bed instead of his desk. "IVANHOE by Sir Walter Scott," he mumbled to himself as his eyes scanned the colorful cover of the staple-bound booklet. Wow! Fifty cents! These cost twice as much as regular comics. He put the booklet down and opened his closet door. Way in the back was his abbreviated collection of comics: Batman, Superman, Uncle Scrooge (he liked the adventure ones best). Ten cents, fifteen cents, twenty cents. He found one that cost a whole quarter, but he found none that cost as much as the Classics Illustrated he borrowed from Billy.

Jeff walked back, picked up the comic and lay flat on his back on the bed once more. He opened the cover page and began to read or scan the words and illustrations. Swords, armor, jousts, a blonde maiden - a lady of the court, a raven haired beauty - handmaiden to various ladies of the court. Tournaments, jousts... combat... Intrigue and war. Robin of Locksley. Robin Hood? That's a surprise. The story ends. There must be more... Jeff decides to find out if there is more to the story than he found in the booklet.

Monday the town's public library opened at 9:00 am. Jeff could get to it only after classes ended at 2:45 pm. It was a short walk from the school. He was in the library ten minutes after collecting the books he needed for homework from his locker. Yes, there is one copy of the book and it is on the shelf, the librarian confirmed. Fiction section. Jeff fetched it and brought it back to the librarian. She recorded his library membership number on the index card with an ink pen. Then she stamped the due date on the card and on the slip of paper glued to the innerleaf using what must have been the loudest rubber stamp ever produced. Maybe because he was the only one in the adult section of the library at that moment did the echoing of the stamp seem overwhelming.

Homework done, Jeff pulled the library edition of IVANHOE off his bookshelf and began to read the actual words placed on sheets of paper long ago by Scott. It didn't take much time reading for Jeff to discover there was indeed a whole lot more. In just a few nights of reading he finished the book and on Friday, he returned it to the library. That same day he returned the comic book to Billy.

____________________________________________________________

SATURDAY

Jeff wiped down the counter with a wet cleaning cloth. People can be so different. One person can sit at the counter and make the biggest mess since the word 'mess' was created. Another can sit at the counter and leave not even a crumb anywhere on the counter's laminated surface. And you could not tell which would be which when they walked into the store.

Of one thing Jeff was quite sure the moment the door to the street opened and Brad Deberg the banker's son walked in. All attention would focus on Brad; if it didn't, Brad would do something to see that it did. Jeff's eyes were immediately drawn to the lovely young girl at his side. A teenage beauty. She stood about average heighth. Her voluminous blonde hair was teased, yet expertly sculptured to puff out in the style of the day. Parted down the middle, its golden tresses fell to either side of her paper white face, a face highlighted by youthfully flushed pink cheeks and just the hint of some freckles across the bridge of her well-formed, slightly upturned nose. She was well proportioned for her age, yet slender enough in her pink dress to easily qualify for a pin up page in LIFE magazine or maybe LOOK or some other publication. A decent one, that is. Jeff had never seen her before. A suburban girl he suspected. Not a town girl like Betty.

Brad pointed to a booth and unceremoniously told the girl to sit there. Then he walked over to the Wurlitzer and dropped a coin in its slot. Even from where he stood Jeff could see the coin had no front or back image pressed into it. In fact it wasn't a coin at all. It was a slug. The machine processed the metal disk and then did nothing else. Brad cursed, kicked, then punched the machine. "Gimme a coin, Angie!" he bellowed.

"What coin would you like Brad?"

Brad spun on his heels, a vicious expression cutting across his features. "When I want a coin bring me what you have. I'll pick out what I want!"

"Oh, of course Brad. I'm sorry. I didn't understand." She rose from her seat on the booth and walked towards Brad opening her coin purse at the same time. When she was within reach, Brad ripped the coin purse from her hand, "You're too slow!" he said as he reached into the coin purse and withdrew a quarter. "I have to do everything with you! There, five plays. I'll pick 'em, you sit down." She meekly did as she was told. When you're the steady girlfriend of the son of the richest man in town you couldn't afford to do anything but what you were told to do. That's the advice she'd gotten from her friends and others in the suburbs where she lived when she told them who she was dating since that summer.

The Wurlitzer still would not play. Of course not. The slug had jammed the mechanism. Jeff knew this as did anyone else who ever tried to do the same. Brad's rich. What's the point of the slug anyway. Jeff walked over to prevent further damage to the machine. Moments later, he wished he hadn't interfered with Brad's designs on the jukebox.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:36 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-03-03 22:49 EST (US)     7 / 40       
Jeff stepped out from behind the counter and walked towards Brad. All eyes turned to see what would happen next. Betty stopped making a salad and decided it would be better to fetch Mr. Lancaster as quickly as possible. That is what she did.

Everyone in the Shoppe could see that brawny Brad was bigger built than Jeff. Afterall, Brad was a star running back on the high school team, the one that nearly won the whole state championship last year. Jeff was... Well, Jeff was pretty normal. Slender, average heighth, muscles enough for an 18-year old, but not like Brad. Everyone hoped he wouldn't get hurt.

"Uh, Brad. Are you having some trouble with the jukebox," said Jeff.

"Stupid thing ate my quarter! Won't take Angie's quarter either."

"'Cause it's broken, I suspect."

"Well fix it genius!" Eyes turned to Jeff. Many secretly hoped he would fix Brad.

"The owner has a key to the machine and can fix it. I can refund your two quarters. Come with me and I'll get the change for you."

"Bring it here. I'll be sitting with my girlfriend."

"Alright. I will be back in a minute."

"Don't hurry, soda jerk. I'd like to enjoy my time here before you disrupt it. Right, Angie?"

Angie squirmed a little with discomfort. She looked up at Jeff, and then quickly looked away. "Sure, Brad," she said.
Jeff turned around and walked to the cash register, hit the combination of keys to record a credit and withdrew two quarters. He walked back and gave one quarter to Angie and the other to Brad.

"Come on, Angie. Let's get out of here. I don't like the looks, smell or company."

"But Brad, you said I could have a..."

"I don't care what I said before. I want to leave. Are you coming or not?"

"But I'm thirsty. I'd like a cola," whined Angie. Brad reached across and grabbed her arm tightly causing Angie to visibly wince.

"When I say it's time to leave I mean its... time... to... leave!" Brad squeezed ever harder.

Jeff frowned seeing the pain registering on Angie's face. "You're hurting the girl. Let her arm go," he said.

Brad's face turned beet red and he immediately stood up. He grapped Jeff by the front of his Shoppe uniform and pulled Jeff up so that his feet only lightly touched the floor. There was mayhem in Brad's eyes.

"What's going on here!?" It was Mr. Lancaster, Betty close behind him.

"Your hired help here wasn't minding his own business like he should, or yours."

"Let him go, Mr. Deberg. I will attend to him later. Have you placed an order yet?"

"No."

"Well whatever you or your friend wants will be courtesy of the Shoppe. I'm sorry for this incident, Mr. Deberg."

As he released Jeff, Brad's lips twitched into the hint of a smug little smile. "Fine. So long as someone else brings it to me. Her for instance." Brad pointed to Betty. Jeff bristled. Lancaster shot Jeff a warning look.

Things returned to normal. Angie got her cola and some fries, and Brad got his chocolate milk shake and grinder. He even came out of it a quarter ahead. Further evidence of why he was the son of a banker. He knew how to make money in any circumstance.

Lancaster directed Jeff into the kitchen preparation area. "Best you stay in here, Jeff."

"But Mr. Lancaster. He used a slug to jam the jukebox and then hurt the girl to cause a scene."

"A slug, huh? I'm not surprised. Oh, and don't give what I said about attending to you later any mind. Brad Deberg has been in here before. What you tried to do was noble, but when you give it measure and weight, Jeff, you were about to come up short. It's not worth it."

"He cheated you, Mr. Lancaster."

"Maybe so, but when I weigh the consequences, it's not worth antagonizing his father over something as trivial as this."

"But Mr. Lancaster..."

"Trivial, Jeff. It's trivial. Forget it. Prep some flour and dough if you will, and like I said, stay in here."

Betty entered the kitchen frowning and mumbling something under her breath about Brad and wayward hands. Jeff's neck began to redden. "I said stay in here Jeff and I mean it!" scolded Mr. Lancaster.

Jeff struggled to control his anger (and sense of humiliation) "Alright Mr. Lancaster."

"Good," the older man said in response. They all left the area. Jeff was alone. First he put on an apron to keep the flour off of his shoppe server's uniform. Then he walked over to the balance arm scale and pushed the arm away so that he could load the stainless steel mixing bowl in it for weighing. It stubbornly returned to its original position making it unwieldy to load the bowl. Angered at everything, Jeff pushed it harder than he did before. It reached the end of its swing and the cast metal arm swung right back.

Without thinking, Jeff gave the arm a ferocious push and it swung violently away and then back again at the very same speed. Jeff made the mistake of bending over to pick up the bowl, lifting his head just as the arm swung back. It struck Jeff full on the forehead.

The world exploded in a blinding flash of light with a loud metallic clank and then all of the lights went out so far as his eyes were concerned. The impact sent him backwards onto his posterior. He landed flat on his back with his head cradled between two sacks of flour. If his eyes were open he would have seen the lights burning in the fixture overhead. Instead they were closed. And they stayed that way until he heard a boy's adolescent voice calling to him.

"Jeffrey! Are you alive?! Are you well?! Jeffrey!"

Jeff opened his eyes to see... Billy? But why was he dressed that way. I mean? The colors, the design and cut. It was then Jeff realized that not only was it Billy, but overhead was sky filled here and there with patchy clouds. He tried to sit up but couldn't rise.

"I'm fine, Billy (at the utterance of this word the boy's expression turned quizzical). Help me up, please."

Jeff reached out an arm to Billy and found that what had been his uniform shirt and jacket was now something made entirely, completely out of... metal.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-13-2003 @ 11:42 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-06-03 16:01 EST (US)     8 / 40       
"Billy" frowned and reached out to grasp Jeff's hand, pulling hard to get him up and into an upright sitting position. Every nuance of Jeff's movement was accompanied by metallic squeaks and groans from the sheets of the heavy iron plates he wore.

"Why do you call me that odd name that sounds nothing like my real name?" said Billy, a disapproving frown on his face. "Haven't I, William, served you well as your 'Squire-In-Training'?

"Squire-In-Training?"

"Oh my, that knock on the head by the training mace must have done a bit more than knock you out, Jeffrey. Don't you remember why you're here?"

"Uh, Bil... Uh, sorry. William, I mean. Tell me why I am here. It will help me to remember, I think."

"I hope so," commented William as an aside to a blade of grass not being sat upon by Jeffrey. "You are a Knight-In-Training, Jeffrey. You are the son of the Knight of Conroy, killed in battle with the French two years ago. You are of age for knighthood and have been training for the past three months. You have done well in everything, except countering the training mace. It is good the training mace has no spikes or you would have a deeply pocked forehead as a reward for your efforts."

"How did you come to be my Squire-In-Training?"

William shook his head. "Tsk, tsk. I hope your mind is resettled in the next two weeks. The tournament isn't far off."

"Tournament?"

William cast his eyes to the sky. "God help you, Jeffrey. I think you shall have to learn everything all over again or I shall have to be Squire-In-Training to someone else."

"Why someone else, William?"

"Because either you'll fail to qualify for knighthood, Jeffrey; or Sir Bradley will skewer you like a roasted boar and I shall be unemployed regardless."

"What has this... this Sir Bradley to do with anything?"

"He seeks your life."

"My life?!"

"Yes. 'Tis you who threw the gauntlet at his feet over his treatment of Lady Angela. He accepted the challenge and now, upon your achieving knighthood, you must duel Sir Bradley to the death."

"I can see all of this is simply excellent timing on my part."

William's brow creased into another puzzled expression, as he totally missed Jeffrey's meaning. "Timing? What do you mean, timing?"

"Never mind, William. You wouldn't understand or believe me anyway. You'd think it a product of my being struck with a training mace, which it very well might be. Get me up, Squire-In-Training, if you will."

"Certainly, Jeffrey. Hold on and I'll get you up." It took awhile, but finally Jeffrey was standing upright, though his legs were less than steady and his head was throbbing. A young woman's voice caused him to swivel his pained head. He dared not move his legs for fear that the weight of the armor might send him to the ground once more.

"Well, another knock on the head I see. Any more sense than usual to be found there?" It was Betty!

"Betty!"

The ebony haired young woman with the same colored thick eyebrows took on a stern expression. "Betty?! How dare you presume to call me by that heathen name! I am no scullery maid that you should call me by some baked good made in the castle galley! I am Lizbeth, Handmaiden to Lady Angela. I am the daughter of a merchant and in her service by arrangement with the Earl of Lancaster. Do remember yourself in the future, Jeffrey, Not-Quite-A-Knight! I came here to inquire if you were well after seeing you fall to the training mace. I regret the distance I had to walk to get here, every step of it. Now that I see you are as well and as muddle minded as ever, I shall take my leave. Good day!" Lizbeth lifted her nose in the air, turned with a swish of her long dress and began to walk back to the castle.

The two of them, William and Jeffrey, stood with their mouths open in surprise and with no small degree of awe. It was William who spoke first. "I think she likes you, Jeffrey."

Jeffrey looked down at William, the shorter of the two by about six inches. "After that display? You are greatly mistaken, apprentice squire. I thought I recognized a friend, William, nothing more; and right now even that might be up for a question."

As discretely as possible, Lizbeth ever so briefly glanced back over her shoulder only to see in that brief glance the openmouthed stare directed her way by both William and Jeffrey. Quickly she ended her glance and brought her hand to her face giving the impression to all the world that she was deeply offended and on the verge of tears. Actually, she was hiding a smile on her face and pressing hard against her mouth to keep the laughter brewing inside from escaping too soon. And the moistness in the corners of her eyes? Tiny tears bearing testimony to the pain of restrained mirth. Jeffrey really is quite handsome, she thought, when he has that... that befuddled look on his face. It's endearing.

Lizbeth worked very hard to suppress the next thought, the one about the duel with Sir Bradley. It was not pleasant and certainly not wanted or welcome in that moment.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:39 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-07-03 16:01 EST (US)     9 / 40       
Clank! Clunk! Clank! Clunk! Clank! Clunk! It was a long walk to the barracks where William told Jeffrey was the tooling necessary to unbolt and remove his armor. The boy was quite talkative and Jeffrey learned quite a lot about the events of the previous few days.

It seemed that Sir Bradley of Berg, his father being one of the richest men in the region, felt he could have the run of the castle without hindrance. Lady Angela one day became one of this targets. It even seemed she welcomed the attention though his treatment of her was appalling.

Of course Jeffrey couldn't remember the day or time, but apparently Lizbeth had remarked to Jeffrey about how Lady Angela was being maltreated by Bradley, all the while the young man hinting at a possible arrangement for their union. He flattered her with praise and gifts, but from time to time seemed exceptionally rough in his handling of the lady, these occasions passed off by Lady Angela as being nothing more than youthful exuberrance.

Jeffrey must have personally witnessed such an event, because the treatment of Lady Angela was so severe as to cause the Knight-In-Training to confront Sir Bradley, Lizbeth being present at the time. After an exchange of words, Jeffrey threw his gauntlet on the ground at Bradley's feet. The resulting exchange went something like this, he gathered.

"Cast your gauntlet on the ground at me as if you were the flower of Knighthood?! How dare you!" bellowed Bradley.

"I will soon enough be a knight!" countered Jeffrey.

"Then I shall wait. Whether you fall then or now makes no difference to me; but I shall not waste my blade on a commoner who thinks himself a knight! Consider your challenge accepted! When you're a knight of this land, look me up. I shall be more than happy to separate your sorry soul from your body on that day!" Bradley turned about and walked away, not even bothering to look back to see the effect of his words.

Lady Angela stared after Bradley and then glanced at Jeffrey. Angela's eyes quickly returned to Bradley. To Lizbeth she said, "Sir Bradley is so utterly magnificent in his look of indignant anger, isn't he Lizbeth?" Excitement was in her voice.

"Yes, Milady," answered Lizbeth. Dread was in her's. She looked at Jeffrey, to whom Angela gave almost no attention. Knowing her place Lizbeth said nothing more. Her concerned look caught Jeffrey's momentary attention, but Angela's beauty, this close to him, caught his eyes and held them fixed thereafter.

Angela was dressed in a long gown of blue and white layered woven material. The bodice of the gown was cut low and pressed firmly against her bosom. Her fully covered arms rested against her indented waist creating proper parallel lines that emphasized the deep "V" design of the upper half of the gown. If her blonde tresses had been loosened, Jeffrey surmised the length of her hair would extend to her waist. As it was, her hair was rolled into two separate, tight buns, one on each side of her head. On these she wore a somewhat airy, exaggerated hat that extended width-wise nearly the width of her smooth shoulders. She was a lovely young woman of 18 years whose crystal blue eyes could entrap a dragon, least of all a man, with one casual glance.

Jeffrey ventured to say a word or two to Angela, but was greeted by a swish of her gown as she turned and walked quickly to the castle, most likely to announce the situation to any who would listen. Lizbeth glanced back and then hurried to keep up with her mistress. She appeared to be the antithesis of Angela's good humor and excitement.

William grunted as he pulled off Jeffrey's segmented iron boots. "So that's everything that happened that day. Do you remember any of it now?" he said as he put away pieces of Jeffrey's practice armor.

"Some. I remember Bradley, Angela and Lizbeth," he lied. Sure he remembered them. Except what he remembered took place in a malt shop, not on a medieval castle's grounds.

"Good, then you should remember too that in just a few days you shall undergo the test. If you pass, you will be granted knighthood and I shall become your squire. If you fail, then it is back to the pig pen for me and back to the tavern for you.

"Tavern?"

William threw his hands into the air in a dramatic gesture of frustration.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:40 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-08-03 15:48 EST (US)     10 / 40       
"Yes, the Tavern. You know, the place where I wash the dishes and you pour the ale?" The exasperation in William's voice was becoming more distinct by the minute. "In fact, your dinner is waiting for you there and then you are to tend the serving bar until after supper."

"Uh, yes. Of course," responded Jeffrey with a tinge of uncertainty. "I'll... Uh... I'll walk there with you." That, he decided, was better than asking for the location of the Tavern. His asking would not do well to reassure William about Jeffrey's state of mind. The walk was a short distance, fortunately; and the step down into the low roofed tavern was easily navigated by Jeffrey now that his oppressive suit of metal was back in the barracks and not on him.

"Where have you been, Jeffrey?! You're late!"

William jumped to Jeffrey's defense. "He had an unfortunate meeting with a training mace, Rafe. He is a little disoriented. He'll be fine, but it will take awhile."

"Again? I swear, if not for Lancaster vouching for you and giving you this job in his tavern I would see you were sent to the fields to harvest grain and hops rather than serve ale here! Alright, Jeffrey. Eat your dinner and then get busy on the serving bar."

"Yes, of course, uh..." Jeffrey wished he had heard the man's name more clearly. Then he remembered William had said Rafe. "Uh, Rafe."

Rafe shook his head. "Another clout on the head and he might not know what village this is or anything." William didn't say a word in response. Rafe very well might be right about that.

Jeffrey and William found their dinner waiting for them on a table in the galley. The meal was lukewarm but satisfying. Jeffrey went to work behind the serving bar.

No pressure driven fountain dispensers here. Everything was in wooden casks. Ale in the casks was emptied into tankards through wooden spigots. These spigots were hammered into the bung of upright casks and then the cask was turned on its rounded side, spigot pointed down, to pour out the ale. Full casks were stored in the cool cellar and brought up to replace emptied casks in the serving area. That was one of William's jobs.

The Bent Bow Tavern was owned by the Earl of Lancaster. Unsurprisingly, it was the only tavern in the village. The Earl owned the many fields of grain and hops tended by serfs around the castle. He brewed beer in the village brewery, sold the beverage in the Bent Bow and wagoned the casks and surplus grain to customers in other villages. He was well off from his trade; but Bradley's father was even wealthier. He owned everything else in the village and the enterprises and lands of Berg.

Things were fairly calm for Lancaster. Except of late he was suffering the periodic loss of a wagon of beer or grain, and the loss of the serf who guided the oxen. It was all quite mysterious, and the serf couldn't help clear up the mystery; for the serf was usually found dead in the empty wagon, if the serf was found at all.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:41 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-09-03 20:55 EST (US)     11 / 40       
The Bent Bow Tavern was busy that night. Tankard followed tankard as patrons guzzled the brew made not too far away where the dirt street led to the close by brewery.

Lancaster himself would be there that night someone said. Jeffrey already knew what the Earl would most probably look like; but indeed he was surprised when Lancaster arrived. Instead of the smallish man towered over by everyone else, this Lancaster, who bore the same face and other features as the one who owned the Shoppe, seemed taller, more robust. Then it dawned on Jeffrey. Lancaster wasn't any different than he remembered, he looked very much the same, especially up close when the Earl approached him and greeted him warmly with a "Jeffrey, my lad! How do you fare this evening!?"

The difference was in those who were in the tavern. They were shorter, smaller, more like Lancaster than Jeffrey; and certainly smaller than the kids in the Shoppe. In fact, it was Jeffrey who seemed taller than most of them, something he hadn't realized until that very moment. "Very fine, Milord. Thank you." The word 'Milord' seemed to naturally come from within, as if a word he used daily. Odd. It was in the book and in a few movies that he heard it used. He never used it before.

"Excellent! And the ale?"

Jeffrey smiled, feeling the bouyant spirit of the man begin to seep into his own, up till now, depleted enthusiasm. "Plentiful, pourable and well-received!" A cheer went up in the room signifying the patrons' general approval of this recent batch of brew.

"Good! Draw for everyone a round on the house, m'lad, as my thanks for coming in tonight!"

Someone in the back of the tavern, perhaps with a little more liquid courage than possessed by the others cried out, "And what Milord might we be celebrating this day?!"

"Jeffrey here, your everpresent barkeep, shall be weighed and measured tomorrow for his knighthood armor, which he shall win in his forthcoming test!" The Earl picked up a freshly filled tankard and turned to Jeffrey. "To soon-to-be Sir Jeffrey of Conroy, heir to his father's rank!"

A loud cheer arose from the room filled with customers and much ale was immediately guzzled by all except one, a latecomer who arrived after the Earl. Sir Bradley held no tankard and made no effort to join the salute. "Not if he doesn't master the poor defenseless training mace, he won't!" All eyes turned to Bradley and all voices went silent.

"I would have thought," said Bradley, "that you'd be drinking to my forthcoming marriage to Lady Angela instead of to an aspiring and soon to fail knight-in-training." Bradley stared pointedly at the Earl.

Lancaster met his stare without flinching. "That news will keep, Sir Bradley, until a question is decided."

"And what question is that?"

"Whether you will be able to mount the altar steps on your own or at all after Jeffrey is beknighted."

Bradley's eyes moved back and forth between Lancaster's and Jeffrey's faces. At first anger seemed to be rising, then the knight burst out laughing. "It's likely Jeffrey there will be under the steps himself, making it easier yet for me to walk up them I think." Bradley continued to laugh. "Ah me, enough humor for this day. I think I shall go my way as I find neither the ale nor the server to my liking." Eyes in the tavern turned to the Earl.

"As you wish, Sir Bradley. Visit again, someday. We accept all paying customers in this tavern. Even you."

Bradley's mocking smile faded. "My father in Berg could buy this place with small change if he so wanted, ale and all."

"He could, that's true. But you could not," countered Lancaster. "In fact it was your father who arranged with Lady Angela's family for your betrothal. And it is Jeffrey here who sees through you more clearly than does the Lady herself." Jeffrey gulped. He didn't want to make the same mistake twice and get into another duel to the death, especially since it was here and now and not some day past before his knock on the head.

"Uh, Milord, I..." whispered Jeffrey.

"Quiet Jeffrey," hissed Lancaster.

"That's right, silence the knight pretender. He will be silenced soon enough, either by the mace or by me." Bradley's eyes narrowed and his face became unjovial and fierce. "When next I taste your ale, Earl of Lancaster, it shall be my ale." Bradley in only a few deliberate steps exited the tavern slamming the door behind himself.

"What does he mean by that, Milord?" asked Jeffrey.

"I would prefer not to speculate, m'lad. Pour the ale for everyone and then see me in the back. I'll send Rafe up here to spell you."

"Yes, Milord," said Jeffrey. Then Jeffrey began to refill empty tankards as the Earl directed and waited for Rafe to take his place behind the counter.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:43 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-10-03 16:18 EST (US)     12 / 40       
When Rafe finally arrived, Jeffrey was glad for the break. Rounds on the house guaranteed a panic at the serving counter and though the patrons were patiently courteous, nonetheless they were lined up an expectant ten deep in three lines. Whew! Jeffrey didn't envy Rafe's next minutes on the job.

Jeffrey found Lancaster waiting for him in a small room in the back of the tavern. It was often used for counting and other activities. On the small table a candle burned and on the table near the wall was a balance scale. Lancaster was seated in one of the chairs. He motioned for Jeffrey to sit in the empty chair on the opposite side of the table.

"I understand," began Lancaster, "that you have mastered all of the skills except use and defense of the mace. Do you agree that this is the case?"

Jeffrey hanged his head uncomfortably. "Yes, Milord. That is accurate enough."

"It was the mace that ended your father's life, Jeffrey. There seems to be a susceptibility in your family to its influence." Jeffrey remained silent. What was there to say in answer to the truth. Lancaster frowned. "Your father was among the finest, if not the finest knight in my service. He is very much missed. He and I had great hopes for you, m'lad. Your father and I often talked of it. I lack a son. Someone must be named as such in order for this region to have an earl and transition peacefully when I am gone. I see in you a possibility. Yet you have not shown the desire, the interest. The talent is there. I have seen it manifest itself from time to time, only to disappear quickly thereafter. Can you shed any light on this, Jeffrey? Why you behave as if on a horse and a divergent path, riding along without direction or objective?"

"I don't know, Milord."

"Is that truly you or your ambivalence speaking these words to me?"

"I... It's..." Jeffrey went silent and stared at the dirt floor for a moment. "I do not know how to answer your question."

Lancaster pursed his lips and shook his head. "Maybe that boar of a knight, Bradley, is right. You very well might be a knight pretender."

Jeffrey's face turned red with embarrassment and humiliation. "There's something I can't tell you, Milord. You would not believe me if I did."

"Say it anyway."

"Respectfully, Milord. No, I cannot. Instead, Milord, please tell me what Bradley meant by saying your ale would be his."

"His family desires my demesne."

"Your what, Milord?"

"My estate. My castle and lands."

"But why?"

"It is the way of the wealthy. I am well off by most standards, but Berg is better off by a great deal more and is greedy for all he can get. If I had a daughter, there would be all manner of pursuit I assure you."

"But the Earl has never threatened or attacked this land."

"It isn't the Earl I'm speaking of. It's his son, Bradley. He desires this land for himself. Some say it is to rival his father."

Jeffrey thought of his own father. His thoughts were bright, then tempered and then sad. He would not choose to rival his father, but to be like him, if he were asked; but his father wasn't there to ask him. Just the Earl.

Solid wood wheels rumbling by in the night caught their attention through the open back door of the tavern. It was a beer wagon being driven to the next village. Jeffrey had an idea. "Let me follow the wagon tonight and see if anything befalls it." Jeffrey was surprised at how his phrasing was changing to meet the times

"Take William with you. He knows the route and can return in a hurry if there is any trouble. William!" cried out Lancaster. William appeared in the doorway. "Yes, Milord?"

Instructions were quickly given and horses saddled. Jeffrey was surprised at how comfortable he felt in the saddle of a horse he had never ridden before in his life. Strange. So very strange.

The moon was full and shadows were deep and plentiful. They rode after the wagon keeping to cover as best they could.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:42 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-13-03 15:48 EST (US)     13 / 40       
Slow as the wagon rolled, Jeffrey didn't ride that much faster. Though he found himself unexpectedly able to ride, nonetheless this Jeffrey was quite cautious as he replaced surprise with increasing experience. William seemed to have no trouble with his horse and impatiently reined his mount in so that Jeffrey could keep up. It became easier for Jeffrey the longer they rode, so that William's impatience, strong initially, gradually declined.

By paying so much attention to each other's riding they nearly stumbled right into the very reason they were dispatched. If not for the bend in the road and the harsh voices heard in the near distance, they would have had no warning that the wagon was already stopped. They pulled their horses over, dismounted and climbed up the overhanging stone that caused the road to bend.

"I told you," said the highwayman apparently in charge, "if you take the wagon then the shipments begin to slow down until they can replace the wagon. We want the ale to keep moving so we can pick and choose our lot. Now back the wagon up to this one and roll the kegs into the holding bay, just like we did before."

The driver of the other wagon grunted, but did as he was told. Jeffrey himself nearly grunted when he felt William's elbow silently poked into his ribs. Annoyed he looked at his apprentice squire to see him pointing to a spot down below. It was the side of the road and in the dirt lay Lancaster's driver. He wasn't moving and the position in which he lay suggested he wasn't alive. Jeffrey nodded to acknowledge that he saw what William saw. His blood went cold and his stomach knotted. He had known his share of death. First his grandparents and then his father. His grandparents died of natural causes though, not like this, not murder. He never saw his father die. It happened far away when he was very young.

William seemed about to make some kind of move, as if he were contemplating ending the highwaymen's scheme right then and there. Jeffrey put a hand out and grasped William's arm. He felt the tenseness in the youngster's arm and knew it to be anger, not fear. William looked at him. Jeffrey shook his head, silently telling the aspiring squire, "No, not now." The tenseness in the boy's arm remained, but he nodded understanding in reply.

It was well they were cautious, for it was just a moment later three more riders appeared, two of them swordsmen and the third an archer. Jeffrey looked once more at the fallen driver and this time, even in the dim light, saw the feathered end of the arrow that felled him projecting out of the driver's side. Ambushed from the dark.

One of the swordsmen newly arrived caught Jeffrey's particular attention. He seemed familiar somehow, either through size, posture or something else. Jeffrey couldn't quite describe the familiarity, but knew it was caused by... He just wasn't sure. The object of his attention spoke quietly to the other swordsman at this side. This second swordsman was much slighter in build than the first. Shorter, more slender, boyish. All of the others stayed silent obviously waiting for instructions. The second swordsman conveyed the instructions in distinct hand signals whose meaning was quite clear. Within moments the wagon was loaded and being driven away. The other four men disappeared into the night. Jeffrey and William were alone.

"What now, Jeffrey? Do we follow them?" asked William.

"We follow the wagon, William. We must see where they are taking their booty."

"And the driver?"

"We will see if he lives. If yes, we will get him to safety. If not, we will come back for him. Right now, if he is dead, we must follow the wagon. It is the most visible and slowest target this night, not the riders. And if we can find its destination, then maybe we can do something to save the drivers who are yet alive."

William smiled. "For the first time today, Jeffrey, you seem to be making some sense."

Jeffrey understood the meaning of the remark. "For the first time this day, William, I feel like my feet are finally touching earth." So saying Jeffrey pushed back to return to where he had tethered his horse... and slid all of the way down the slope stopping right before striking the front two hooves of his startled beast, his feet finding no purchase in the moonlight. "More than your feet it seems," observed William as Jeffrey patted dirt off the back of his worse-for-the-wear pants. He mounted his horse and with a glare beckoned to William to do the same.

Jeffrey couldn't find a pulse. There was no doubt about it now. The driver was dead, poor lad. Indeed he was only seventeen years old, William said. New to the village and eager to work. The Earl started him on his ale wagons as was his way with newcomers, but well before the hijackings began. The lad was popular among the young girls. There would be many a wet eye in the village come tomorrow. The Earl will be particularly upset. They picked the driver's body up and placed it into the back of the wagon, guiding the wagon to the side of the road and out of the way of any other users of the road that night.

Time enough had passed. Jeffrey and William mounted their horses to see about the wagon with its ale and its driver, now a good distance up the road and safe to follow.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:43 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-15-03 21:50 EST (US)     14 / 40       
Though Jeffrey kept his mind on his business, a little corner of it harkened back to the figure on the horse who whispered an instruction to the swordsman nearby. Whoever it might have been wore light armor and seemed somewhat smaller than the others. In fact, the armor was so light it was comprised mostly of chain mail. The helmet the figure wore hid its face and the cloth draped over the chain mail bore no particular family crest or other discernable family marking. The figure was vaguely familiar indeed, but there was no particular reason why it should be familiar to Jeffrey.

The wagon seemed to have disappeared. William pulled up on the reins of his horse and stared at the ground dimly lit by the piece of moon left in the sky. "It pulled off here, I think."

"How can you tell," asked Jeffrey.

"Look closely there, Jeffrey. See the shallow curved rut? The dirt is recently disturbed." Jeffrey stared at the place where William pointed. He could see the hint of a ridge where the dirt was pushed up and away by what might be cartwheels. If not illuminated by angled moonlight it might have been easily missed.

"Yes, I see why you might think that," Jeffrey agreed. "Follow it then?"

"I think we should," recommended William. Jeffrey nodded. They turned their horses and followed the fresh wagon ruts.

They came upon the wooden structure only a kilometer beyond the road. It seemed broken down and thoroughly abandoned. What the wood-craving insects left upright was barely enough to keep the roof in place. Cautiously both of them dismounted and tied their horses to bushes and branches. Silently pulling their swords, they approached the structure.

It was quiet outside, and they found it was quiet inside as well. The pull horses were gone. Only the wagon they sought was there, still loaded with barrels belonging to Lancaster. They found his mark on the casks they examined.

Now ensued a discussion. Should they collect the dead youth's body and return to the castle or should they wait there for someone to arrive and claim the wagon. Jeffrey, as usual, couldn't decide. It was William who argued both sides of the issue.

"If we stay and they arrive greater in number than we, it is sure death and the Earl will not learn what we have discovered. If we leave, there is more to this mystery that might be revealed, like the identities of the men who hijacked the Earl's brew."

Jeffrey groaned. "All I wanted to do was finish my shift and go home," he said out loud.

William looked at him quizzically. "Shift? What shift are you talking about? What is a shift? Where?"

Jeffrey realized his mistake. "Uhh, I mean watch... Uh, time behind the counter. Serving ale. You understand now?" Jeffrey held his breath.

William shrugged his shoulders. "I think so." But his expression said something different. "You have behaved so strangely since this afternoon. I truly fear that you have been somehow damaged by today's combat training."

"I'm quite well, William. Do not fear." An idea leaped into Jeffrey's head at that very moment. "Let's do this. You go back to the wagon and take the body back to the castle. I'll stay here and watch for their return." Just as the words left his mouth, Jeffrey realized the full portent of what he had said. He was not pleased with himself.

William saw it right away. "You could be in danger and will face it alone if I leave!"

Too late now. Jeffrey himself had set his own course. "Yes, but the information will be in Lancaster's hands this way and I may learn something more." He tried to give William reassurances he himself didn't necessarily believe. "Don't worry, William. I shall stay hidden somewhere. Besides, I'm trained in weapon usage, correct? I should be able to defend myself against common highwaymen."

William pursed his lips. "I've seen you in action. Stay well hidden, Jeffrey."

"Thanks," the older of the two replied, a disapproving note in his voice and his self-assurance dropping a little lower. "Get going, William. Now's the time."

They parted.

____________________________________________________________

In the Earl's keep, a wooden structure little more than twice as wide as the stone war tower to which it was attached, Lancaster sipped some mulled wine. He had finished his supper late that night and dismissed the galley servants a little early. He had wanted to be alone just to think. Lady Angela disrupted his plans by appearing unexpectedly in the banquet room from the passage to the outside door.

"How do you fare this day, Milord?" she inquired.

"I am well, though matters are not," he said, motioning with his hand for her to sit with him at the table. "You have eaten?"

"Yes, Milord." Lancaster could see something was troubling the girl.

"If there is a question you wish to ask, ask it."

"Yes, Milord. Why do you disapprove of Sir Bradley? He is young, strong, fair of face and form. He is wealthy and sure to inherit all that his father possesses."

"He is a brute."

"It is true he is rough. I think though that his heart is in the right place and I can change his ways over time."

"I do not think so. A man his age who is "rough" will only grow more rough, maybe brutal, as the weight of increasing responsibility bears down on him. For the moment he seeks your affection and the approvals of his father and me. Later, when his father is gone and I am gone, he will be able to do as he pleases with what affection you have left. By then, or soon after, there may be none. I fear for you, Angela, with this youth as your husband."

"But I shall want for nothing."

"You shall have nothing, not even his love, I expect. What he desires in intimacy will be fulfilled in other ways by another, the one of choice for the moment. On occasion the choice might be you. In that moment he will enjoy that he possesses you, the most beautiful among women in this land. Then he will wander elsewhere."

Angela looked down at her clasping and unclasping hands. "I think you are wrong. I think he loves me. Everything about this is right. A knight, a future earl, coin to live by, lands to live on. I shall be secure like no other woman in this land."

Lancaster sighed. "I hope so though I don't believe so. There seems to be no other choice for you is there? Not even your champion can turn your eyes and mind away?"

"Champion, what champion?"

"Jeffrey of Conroy."

"Him?! He's simply a fool who forgot his place! I tolerate his interference if only to see he is taught a lesson about station."

"He may die from this lesson."

"Then the lesson will be for others as well," said Angela as she rose from her chair. A shoe scraping on wooden steps caused them both to look at its cause. There stood Lizbeth, a sleeping gown in her hand, her mouth open in surprise as well as dismay. She recovered herself as quickly as she could.

"Uhh, Milady. Pardon my interruption. Your time outside seemed concluded so I brought your night clothing to you. May I... May I assist you this evening?"

"No. I shall manage on my own."

"As you wish, Milady." Lizbeth hesitated. "Milady, Jeffrey is a fine lad and..."

"Remember your place, Lizbeth!" shouted Angela.

Lizbeth's words choked in her throat. "Yes, Milady. Forgive me. I meant no disrespect."

Angela walked swiftly to Lizbeth and harshly removed the sleeping gown from her handmaiden's hands, then walked upstairs to her chambers. She slammed the door muttering to herself and removed her outer garment. Then she removed the items she wore outside and hid them below the loose floorboard under her canopied bed. With an unladylike oath, she slipped her night clothing over her nearly nude, somewhat thinly road dusted body and lay on her bed thinking deeply about what she would do next.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:46 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-16-03 21:27 EST (US)     15 / 40       
Lizbeth reached up and wiped something small and moist from a cheek. "Come sit here, young lady," said Lancaster. Seeing her hesitate he repeated his invitation. "Come, sit here. Everything is well. Have no fear."

Lizbeth walked down the stairs and sat on a chair across the table from Lancaster. "Yes, Milord?"

"That was a little incautious of you, Lizbeth."

"Yes, Milord." Lizbeth cast her eyes down and stared at the top of the table. "I meant no disrespect."

"I'm sure you didn't. How long have you known Jeffrey?"

"A few years, Milord. First from the village and then in the castle."

"I see. And how long have you felt that way about him?"

"Milord?"

"You know what I mean, Lizbeth."

"Milord, I... I only wanted for Lady Angela to see him as... as..." Her face turned somewhat pink.

"As you do?"

Lizbeth's face pinkened even more. "In a way, Milord. He is a good young man. Kind. Sometimes absent-minded..."

"As with a mace aimed at his head?"

"That has caused me worry."

"It should worry him more," noted Lancaster. Lizbeth said nothing in reply. Lancaster stared at her while thinking of what he would say next. "Young Lizbeth, life in these parts is unpredictable. Do your duty and put faith in all that you can and especially in God. I can't promise anything to you on anyone's behalf, but I can say your faith in these things will bear some kind of fruit. It has for me when I've remembered this advice and given it to myself. Go now. I think your work is done for the day."

The door to the Keep crashed open and William ran inside all out of breath. "Milord! Your barrels have been stolen again and your driver is dead! I brought them both back!"

Lancaster frowned. "Jeffrey was with you. Where is he?"

"Alone, Milord, where we found your stolen barrels. He is trying to learn the identity of the thieves."

Lizbeth's stomach turned upside down and her throat threatened to close. Lancaster was taken up by his own thoughts. "He has put himself in danger, more than I ever wanted. William, quickly, call out the Guard and have them meet me at the gate!" The Earl turned to Lizbeth only to see that her face was white as death. "Lizbeth, don't worry. We'll bring him back." Lizbeth didn't know where to put her faith, in Lancaster or in her fears.

____________________________________________________________

Jeffrey crouched behind the pile of wood and immeasurable debris making himself unseeable to anyone entering the broken down building. "What a mistake!" he thought to himself. "Why did I do this?" He shook his head. "Ride this out I told myself. Don't get involved. And the first thing you know here I am lying in wait for highwaymen."

He peaked over the mounded refuse and took a quick look around. Still quiet. "I should be at home, on my bed, doing homework or something else. Making shakes for example." He paused. "Gee, I wonder who's making shakes now? Should have been my shift. Naw, it's over. Maybe Betty covered for him. She's done that occasionally. Never seems to mind." Jeffrey sat back on his posterior and relaxed. Why not. Nobody was there.

"Betty. Just like Lizbeth. I mean, they look alike. Sound alike. Smile alike. They even tease me the same way." His thoughts wandered somewhat in a different direction. "What if I'm stuck here, wherever here really is. Can I ever get home?" He frowned. "What if this is home? Then what was the Shoppe and Central High and my home..." His mother's face appeared in his mind. Emotions rolled over him in successive waves. He gripped dirt under his hands and threw it in frustration against a wall constructed of weather beaten planks. The grains of dirt made ticking noises as they struck the wood. The dust settled to the ground shortly afterwards.

It was through the ground that Jeffrey first heard the approach of the horses. There were enough hoofbeats to tell Jeffrey that there were far too many riders for him to ever expect to defeat them all. He eeked out of his hiding spot every bit of cover he could devise. He finished just as the door to the structure opened and the riders as a group walked in.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:47 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-17-03 16:16 EST (US)     16 / 40       
At first there was silence. Then swords began to leave their sheaths with a sliding, grating noise distinctive to metal on hardened leather. Footsteps followed. Some distant, some close; and coming closer. A voice finally.

"Jeffrey, where are you?!" It was Lancaster! Jeffrey stood up. He did so without thinking about the section of wood plank wall he had pulled over his head under which to hide. His head struck it a jarring blow, sending the wood section up and over onto its side and Jeffrey pitching forward, his hand on the place on his head where all the damage was done. He landed shoulder first into the pile of debris causing it to cascade down on him in an avalanche of dirt, pieces of wood and other miscellaneous artifacts gathered from what was left of the barn.

The men nearby and beyond jumped, their hands tensing on their swords. Lancaster started as well, but something inside said that it could only be Jeffrey. When the lad stood up rubbing his head, Lancaster's inner suspicion was confirmed. He started to laugh and motioned to the five guards with him that they could resheath their swords.

Jeffrey continued to rub the growing welt on his head. It hurt, of course; but what hurt more was the realization that the very thing that catapulted him into this unfamiliar world failed to catapult him back to his own world. This left him more out of sorts than did the lump and radiating, throbbing pain.

"Lad," said Lancaster. "You must be more careful with that head of yours. You will need it on your shoulders in the days and weeks ahead." William rounded the wagon and appeared at Lancaster's side. The five guards were nearby trying their best to contain their laughter. Lancaster nodded to William. "Young William here brought the boy's body back and told us what you were doing." Lancaster's brow knitted. The guards smiles faded, their expressions sobering. "He was a good boy. Very faithful. So unnecessary. And you, I never gave you orders, Jeffrey, to do anything like this."

"I thought it was the right thing to do."

"Noble, yes. Risky, yes. Necessary, no."

"Sorry, Milord."

"Do not apologize, Jeffrey, for behaving in the highest tradition of a noble knight."

"Milord?"

"You are soon to be tested for knighthood. I suspect nobility and honor will not be a question." At Lancaster's words, Jeffrey lowered his eyes, feeling pleased, but just a little embarrassed. "What did you learn."

"Regretfully nothing more, Milord," replied Jeffrey quickly raising his eyes to meet Lancaster's. "They have not returned."

"Then let us all wait for them. Hide the horses and find cover," said Lancaster to the guards around him. "You two, stay with me." These words he spoke to Jeffrey and William.

And so they waited.

____________________________________________________________

The guard on the upper parapet of the Gatehouse that served as an entrance to the tree trunk fortress surrounding the small village and Lancaster's Keep called down to the sentry below, "Open the gate!" It is the Earl!"

A parade of men led by Lancaster passed through the gatehouse, the morning sun at their backs. Lancaster's horse carried the wounded man cautiously as if it knew any jarring of its hoofs as they hit the ground would only serve to increase the pain in the Earl's bound arm. In the middle of the pack, rode three men with their hands bound behind them. The final horse passing through the gate carried a body slung unceremoniously over the back of the horse, the head of the body overhanging one side and its legs overhanging the other.

The door to the Keep opened as they arrived and first the Lady Angela and then Lizbeth stepped outside. Both women scanned the party of men, each looking for a different face. Lady Angela's face took on a less strained look because the one she sought was not there, while Lizbeth's face brightened when she found the one she sought was with Lancaster. Then she saw Lancaster's trussed up arm.

"Are you hurt, Milord?!" she exclaimed. "Shall I get the physician?"

"Later, Lizbeth. I am well for now. If not for Jeffrey, I wouldn't be here at all. It was well fought between our knight-in-training and the highwayman. It was swords." Jeffrey looked the other way, any direction except in the direction of the ladies, especially away from the ice blue eyes and comely face of Lady Angela. They were far too compelling.

Guards helped Lancaster dismount and escorted him into the keep. "One of the highwaymen foolishly thought he could escape. Tried to run his sword through me before running over me in his haste. Jeffrey there intercepted his sword deftly and prevailed. The highwayman is now draped over a horse by his belly. He won't be stealing brew or hurting young lads in this land anymore."

Finally Lady Angela broke her silence. "Who is the highwayman?"

"Nobody we know. Foreign to this land. Soon he'll be put into it."

"The others?" she asked.

"Highwaymen too. They'll be questioned and their fate decided," replied Lancaster. "Uh, I really must rest now, Angela. I am very tired." Angela stepped out of his way.

"You know what to do," said Lancaster to the Captain of his small band of guards. The Captain nodded and left the keep just as Jeffrey and William entered, their horses taken to the stable by one of the other guards.

"Sit down... there." Lancaster pointed to two chairs. He wearily seated himself in another. "Lizbeth, please have the galley servants prepare a breakfast for these two and myself. Have you eaten, yet?"

"Yes, Milord, as has the Lady Angela."

"Fine. Go to the galley then and do as I ask."

"Yes, Milord." Lizbeth curtseyed and left to comply with the Earl's request, casting one of many glances in the direction of an oblivious knight-in-training.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:47 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-20-03 15:49 EST (US)     17 / 40       
Lady Angela found a chair of her own and sat down maintaining her silence. Their breakfast of bacon, beef and hen's eggs appeard soon afterwards. The men ate heartily while the women, Angela and Lizbeth, quietly observing the men devouring their repast. The Captain of the Guard returned just as the empty plates, once filled with eggs and meat, were removed by a scullery maid.

"Milord, we have... extracted... some information from the prisoners."

"What have you learned," replied Lancaster, leaning back in his chair, his hunger now abated.

"They are a collection of bandits from surrounding regions. They numbered seven in all. There are only six left and of these six, three are our captives."

"That leaves three still loose in the countryside."

"Yes, but there is startling information about these three."

"The information?"

"One is a swordsman whose face they have seen. The other two keep their faces covered and identities a secret. One is a well built man who gives every indication of being landed, or perhaps a noble. And the other Milord..." Here the Captain hesitated as his eyes left Lancaster's face and migrated to look first at Angela and then at Lizbeth. "Milord, the third has the size and voice of a woman."

"A woman?!"

"Yes, Milord. That's what they say," confirmed the Captain. Lizbeth's mouth opened in surprise. Angela's expression flirted with surprise and amusement.

"What manner of woman would conceive of such a thing?" wondered Lancaster out loud. Angela answered his question. "Apparently one who is either enterprising or desperate in some way, Milord. Mind you, I think her a common villain; but a woman who would do such a thing is either allied with the devil or in love with an equally desperate man." With that, Angela motioned to Lizbeth.

"Lizbeth, there are chores in my chambers that require the usual attention. Please address them if you will."

"At once, Milady." Lizbeth hurried off to do as she was bid. Lancaster noted the girl's departure absent-mindly as he digested both the breakfast and the Captain's news.

"Captain, I would like to speak to the prisoners myself. Come with me, please. You too, William. I may have need of you for messages to and fro."

"Yes, Milord," acknowledged William. All three rose and departed leaving only Angela and Jeffrey at the table in the very quiet and otherwise empty room. Alone now, Angela looked down at the table, and then raised her eyes to find Jeffrey's.

"I heard about what you did. That was very brave." Angela's ice blue eyes locked onto Jeffrey's and held them tightly. Jeffrey swallowed hard.

"Lancaster says 'foolhardy,' Milady."

"Maybe... But brave nonetheless." She slid her chair slightly so that she was closer to Jeffrey. Angela placed her hand on the table near Jeffrey. Her hand was smooth, unblemished and creamy complexioned, just like her face; unbroken in color except for the pinkish contrasting color of the flesh under her perfectly manicured fingernails. She slid her chair closer still with a eye-catching twitch of her hips. Jeffrey swallowed hard once more.

"It seemed correct at the moment."

"Like the moment, Jeffrey, when you thought it necessary to defend me and challenge Bradley?"

"I suppose, Milady."

"Noble, but unnecessary. I needed no defender that day."

"Not as I saw it, Milady."

"I was in no danger," said Angela huffily, her face transforming into a frown that faded away to be replaced by a dazzling smile. "I have an idea. Why don't you offer to withdraw your challenge to Bradley. I'm sure he'll accept it."

"I cannot. It would be an act of cowardice. The abuse was witnessed. I have no choice."

"Then do not become a knight and Bradley will have no choice but to ignore your challenge."

"I... There is..." Surprisingly, especially to Angela who did not expect this particular plea to be accepted, Jeffrey hesitated. 'Why should I become a knight?' thought Jeffrey. 'That is a way out of this. No knighthood, no combat, no anything. No responsibility.' Still he hesitated. "Milady, I think it is something I am supposed to do."

"But why?"

Jeffrey's irritation grew. "I don't know. It just seems that way."

"Well of all the stupid..." Angela controlled herself with great effort retrieving her smile, then deliberately moved her hand to place it over Jeffrey's, cupping the back of his hand warmly, closely, suggesting an intimacy she knew was merely a facade. Jeffrey felt powerless to move his hand or take his eyes off of the small twin oceans that were Angela's own eyes. "Think about it then, dear Jeffrey. We shall talk again." Angela released his hand, rose and with a flourish of skirts left the room for some other area of the Keep.

Dear Jeffrey? She used those words? To him? He sat immobile on his chair equally thrilled and confused. William broke his stalled thoughts by bursting into the room through the outside door, the same one used by Angela the evening before.

"Come on, Jeffrey! You'll be late!"

"For what?"

"Your final lesson in combat before the test!"

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:48 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-24-03 20:50 EST (US)     18 / 40       
"Horsemanship!" announced the official Appraiser of Apprentice Knights. "Passed!" His finger traced a line to the next scribbled mark on the parchment. "Archery! A hesitation. "Passed!" Next came jousting. "Passed!" cried out the Appraiser. "Swordsmanship!" The Appraiser paused. He looked twice at the marking. "Passed! With superior marks!" The onlookers who typically gathered to observe knights in training simply for amusement or idle curiousity broke out into applause. By rules of chivalry learned somewhere, because Jeffrey didn't know where, he bowed accepting their tribute.

"Battleaxe!" announced the Appraiser when the applause quieted down. "Weapon waived in favor of sword!" This was a common choice offered to apprentice knights. The sword was generally the favored weapon, though many a knight in the past had wielded the axe achieving fame and glory. Jeffrey apparently preferred the sword. Don't ask him why, he thought. He couldn't possibly answer the question.

"Mace!" Jeffrey screwed up his face knowing instinctively the next announcement would not engender anything but suppressed laughter. "Final Lesson! Pass or Fail!" That was not what he expected. The crowd gathering around the training square went silent. They knew what this meant. Either the Master Maceman would approve of his trainee's progress, or Jeffrey's ambitions towards knighthood would end here and now. The Master Maceman walked into the square carrying two maces, one for himself and one for Jeffrey. The apprentice knight picked up his shield and placed his helmet on his head. This would not be fun he knew. It never was.

The battle between them began almost immediately. The crash of mace on shield echoed off the surrounding buildings whether wood or stone. Jeffrey noted that the Master Maceman's blows were not as hard as usual. He, on the other hand, struck with all of the might and learned skill he could muster. To his surprise, the maceman began to give ground, backing up as if having difficulty with Jeffrey's assault. Then the maceman struck back very nearly sending Jeffrey to the ground. The apprentice knight recovered himself and struck back. Again the maceman gave ground, but this time he didn't stop giving ground.

Jeffrey pursued his opponent, pressing him harder and harder. An opening! There! The shield held too loosely! Jeffrey squeezed the mace tightly in his right hand and swung it up and into the maceman's shield. It flew from the maceman's hands! Jeffrey then swung his mace at the shaft of the maceman's weapon. The shaft of the trainer's mace shattered and the weapon flew out of his hand! Immediately, the Master Maceman went down on one knee, his head bowed, his right hand raised, fingers splayed, in the traditional posture of defeat and requested mercy.

"Macemanship!" cried out the Appraiser. "Passed!" Jeffrey stood in shock, his mace almost falling out of his hand. William rushed to him and was uncharacteristically pounding him on his back, congratulating him on his victory over the Master Maceman. "You're ready, Jeffrey! You're ready to advance to the test!"

There within the crowd stood Lizbeth. She was positively beaming at him. She was clapping her hands together in a very ladylike way, her face displaying a broad smile, her cheeks pink with emotion. She was rather pretty when she got like that, he observed. Then his attention focussed on Lady Angela, who happened to be nearby. Yes, nearby to Sir Bradley, who wasn't applauding. Sir Bradley, who stood there an odd expression on his face, close to Lady Angela, almost too close to Jeffrey's way of thinking. Was that a smirk on his face? Jeffrey couldn't be sure. He lost sight of Sir Bradley when some of the townspeople encircled him to give him their congratulations.

Jeffrey lost sight of the Master Maceman as well. He didn't see the maceman walk off the square a smile on his face but for a different reason. The maceman reached down into the pocket sewn into his pants and felt to make sure the plump pouch with the coin in it he was given was still there despite the things he had to do during the mock battle. He believed he, the Master Maceman, put on a convincing display of being defeated despite his "best" effort. Poor lad. It's a shame to deceive him and the Appraiser like that. When Sir Bradley gets done with him there won't be much left to bury. He patted the pouch. Oh well, there'll be other apprentice knights in the future. This was just too much coin to let the opportunity pass. So he decided to live like Lancaster, well, at least for a week or two with the coin given to him by Sir Bradley.

The Master Maceman looked over his shoulder one last time and saw the crowd around the lad. Yes, it was convincing enough, he concluded as he walked down the street on the way to the tavern. They bought the ruse completely. "Poor lad," he kept mumbling under his breath. "Poor lad."

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:49 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-28-03 20:56 EST (US)     19 / 40       
The image of a giant mace hurling itself at Jeffrey woke him from a far less than sound sleep. In the small room given to him by Lancaster, he turned over on his sleeping cot once or twice and finally fell into a fitful sleep. The face of his mother seemed to float out there, somewhere in his hazy vision. She seemed to be saying something to him. He could not make out the words. It so frustrated him that he began to plead with her to speak louder, more closely to his ears so he could hear what she was saying. The floating face melted into a thousand tears and poured through empty space into some crevice at the base of the vision.

Jeffrey awoke once and finally. Something tickled his cheek. He reached up and felt moisture. Tears. Sorrow. Lonely. He felt so lonely. Jeffrey wiped his face dry not caring what it might look like afterwards. "I'm only eighteen!" his mind screamed. "Why is this happening to me!"

There were no answers to be found in his room, so Jeffrey stood up, wrapped a dark cloak around his shoulders and stepped out into the open area between his small dwelling and the Keep. No sooner had he done so when he heard voices coming from a very dark place between the Keep and an adjoining structure. Cautiously he made his way to the spot of the noise while keeping his back to the closest building.

He wasn't sure who they were, but he could tell one was a man, a young man maybe his own age; and the other was a young woman, also possibly his own age. There were quietly whispered words, moments of silence, sighs and then the exchange of words once more. This went on for awhile. Jeffrey felt ill at ease spying like this, but something familiar about the voices caught his ear and his attention.

Movement interrupted his thoughts. A figure emerged from the space between the buildings. It was a small, slight figure - a woman. She seemed to be arranging some clothing, as if fixing one layer over another. In the very dim light, Jeffrey caught the unmistakeable, yet highly unexpected hint of polished metal. Armor, maybe chain mail! On a woman? Then the metal was covered by the cloth of a darkly colored dress and the woman retreated to the Keep, opened the door and entered it, closing the door quietly behind herself.

Next, the man left the darkened space. He was taller than Jeffrey and seemed stronger built. He walked with a familiar gait, one that Jeffrey had certainly seen before. In fact, if he wasn't mistaken... A bar of light reflected from some unseen source briefly illuminated the man's uncovered face. Bradley! What was he doing there with the woman in armor? The woman! Could it be? Jeffrey froze as Sir Bradley suddenly stopped and peered into the dark place Jeffrey was using for cover. A moment later, Bradley frowned, shook his head and began to walk away from the Keep once again. Jeffrey watched him pass from view.

The apprentice knight made his way back to his dwelling. Bradley... And a woman. Who? What woman goes out at night only to return quite late? Wears armor and is companion to a swordsman. The woman who leads the thieves? No! It can't be! In Lancaster's own household? His mind went from remembered face to remembered face. Near the end he imagined the image of Lizbeth and discarded it as unlikely. There was left only one. He imagined the face and figure of Lady Angela.

Didn't she return late the night he and William tracked the thieves? Where could she have been? With the thieves themselves? Was she the one he saw at the roadside? With Bradley? He could not accept the possibility. He fell back onto the cot and stared at the ceiling too dark to see. Angela, a thief; Bradley, a conspirator. Two things he knew would occur: Lancaster would never believe him; and Jeffrey would not sleep again that night.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:49 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-29-03 15:52 EST (US)     20 / 40       
Somebody must have borrowed the blacksmith's hammer and was using it to pound on his door. Jeffrey rose from his sleeping cot nearly tripping over the uneven planking on the floor of his room. He opened the door only to be momentarily blinded by morning sun. "You have to be the laziest knight-in-training ever born and..." William paused. "Jeffrey, you look horrible," he noted in some small degree of alarm.

"Didn't sleep very well last night."

"Must have been the excitement of passing all of your lessons, especially the mace."

"Yes, something like that I suppose," answered Jeffrey. "What time of day is it anyway?"

"Nearly mid-day, Jeffrey," said William. "Are you sure you are well?"

"Oh, I am well enough." Jeffrey's stomach growled. It was not pleased about having missed breakfast and was now demanding satisfaction from its host. "Are we too early for dinner?" he asked.

"Not by the time you are dressed, I think," William confirmed looking over his shoulder at what he could see near the servant's entrance. "They're bringing in items from the Storehouse now."

"Good. Enter. I shall be fairly quick." And he was.

A short wait followed and their portions of dinner were placed in front of them by a galley servant wearing dark woolen skirts with the outer layer pulled up and tied around her slender waist to create the appearance of an apron. It was one way to keep clothing costs down, using the inside of the outer layer as an apron and then dropping it down to create a more formal appearance for special occasions. Either way, she was quite decent, thanks to the multiple layered skirts worn to ward off the cold of the outside and the drafty Keep.

The galley servant paused to glance at Jeffrey as if she intended to say something. Then she looked down at the ground and went back to her business in the galley. Clara was her name. That's all Jeffrey knew about her. She was not a beauty, but she was not without appeal. Jeffrey felt an elbow dig a posthole in his side. "It is not right to stare at the servants," whispered William.

"But she looked like she was going to say something to me," countered Jeffrey.

"If she intended to say something to you nice she would have done so. It looked to me like she was going to tell you to mind your own business."

"You mean, as if we were servants?"

"Well, aren't we?" There was truth in what William said. Sure, they were servants in a sense. He worked for Lancaster in the tavern. He was becoming a knight at Lancaster's direction. He followed the cask cart the other night at Lancaster's request. Lancaster, Lancaster. Always Lancaster. William was right. He was a servant, if not strictly in name then in deed. Why couldn't he make up his own mind about what he wanted to do and then do it?

A woman entered the galley, her eyes searching for someone or something. She was mature, in her late thirties. She had a somewhat weathered face that hinted at long hours in the sun. She had come looking for her son and had found him. The smile breaking out on her face belied her age and brought youthfulness back from edge to edge. "Mother!" cried out Jeffrey upon seeing her. All in the galley stopped and stared for a moment as Jeffrey embraced her happily.

"Well, Jeffrey," she began. Jeffrey? It had always been simply Jeff before. Oh. Right. Different century. "That was quite a greeting. Quite unexpected. Nice, but unexpected. Hello William."

"Hello, Milady." Though she was not a "Lady" Jeffrey's mother appreciated the gesture on William's part. "That was very kind of you, William."

Jefferey impatiently interrupted. "Mother, did Lancaster call for you?" asked Jeffrey as he brought her to the table. "Did he tell you about yesterday?" he asked hopefully.

"Yes, Jeffrey; and I am very proud of you. Are you well? Are there any injuries?"

"No mother, no injuries."

"Very good, Jeffrey." Her face took on a more serious expression. "The Earl wishes to speak with you and with me. That is why he brought me to the Keep. He didn't say about what. Nonetheless I am here. He wants you to come with me to hear whatever it is he has to say."

"I can guess."

She looked at Jeffrey and frowned. "It would be best to let him say what he wants to say before thinking you know what it is he has in mind to say. He is the Earl, you'll remember; and it is his right to keep his own counsel.

Jeffrey looked at the wood of the oaken table. "Yes, mother." Mothers are always more formidable than even the strongest knight in matters of this kind. Jeffrey knew better than to tangle with his mother or her advice to him.

Clang! Clang! Clang! The stronghold alarm bell rang out. Jeffrey leaped to his feet to open the nearest door and nearly ran into Clara trying to do the same. She frowned at him and then stepped back. Jeffrey opened the door to see the lands before the Keep erupting with soldiers running to their posts.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:50 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-30-03 21:27 EST (US)     21 / 40       
Jeffrey stood in the doorway until he felt a hand push him outside. He turned to see the galley servant withdraw her hand and then run by to find a vantage point to see what was happening. Annoyed at being pushed, but otherwise uninterested, Jeffrey watched the frantic activity underway at the walls.

Cries of "Brigands" and "Marauders!" filled the air. So, it was a roving group of bandits that had everyone in a tizzy. His mother stepped outside and looked around, and then looked at him. She said nothing, but her eyes were speaking volumes. Jeffrey looked away so he would not have to see her face.

The walls built around the village were nothing more than tree trunks cleared of branches and tightly placed. This was no stone ediface being approached by the brigands, and they understood its weaknesses very well. A strong bull-like voice cried out, "Release them and we will depart!"

"Release whom?" came the answering cry from Lancaster, who had assumed command of the small army he employed to defend his village and Keep.

"Release the three men you hold that you captured near the barn! They are our men and belong with us!"

"They are thieves who belong in chains or with ropes around their necks!" answered Lancaster. "Who are you?!"

"Nobody!" came the brazen reply. "Nameless ones who will burn your village and take your women if you don't surrender those men and yourselves!"

Jeffrey's back stiffened when he heard these words. And yourselves? Well, the soldiers will just have to resist. Or better yet, give up the prisoners maybe. He tried to imagine what Lancaster might be thinking. Give up the prisoners and the brigands might go away. Hmmm, 'might' is the key word here. But why should they? Give up the prisoners and the brigands have nothing more to worry about and can attack the village as they see fit. Wouldn't it signal weakness on our part too? "Surrender those men and yourselves" the brigands' leader had said. Open the gates and they'll certainly swarm in. What guarantee have we that they won't plunder the village anyway, and since they'll be inside the barricade, what would stop them? But they said they wouldn't harm anyone.

Aaaa! Too much to think about. And since he's not Lancaster, why should he care. Whatever will happen will happen. Jeffrey turned to go inside. William appeared just then, chain mail, helmet and sword in his hand. They were Jeffrey's. He looked at the shorter lad and asked, "What are those for?"

"You, Jeffrey."

"Why? I'm no soldier."

William's face took on an odd expression. His hands, ready to give his armor and weapons to Jeffrey, dropped so that the bottom of the chain mail and the point of the sword found a perch in the dirt. "You don't care, do you!" said William, hurt and disappointment in his face and eyes. "You truly don't care!"

"Care about what?"

"What happens here, to the place that is our home," answered William.

"It's not my home." Jeffrey stepped forward as if to once again enter the building. This time he saw two women standing behind his mother staring at him. The first woman was Lady Angela. She had a bemused look on her face. It bordered on satisfaction. The other woman was Lizbeth. Her expression ran the gamut from shock to disgust.

"What's the matter with all of you?" said Jeffrey, as his ears picked up the increasing sound of battle near the wooden walls: the sound of arrows in flight, the yelling of men, the pounding of some object against a section of the wall. "It's the soldier's business, not mine."

His mother barred his way still. "Your father would never have said that," his mother said accusingly.

"My father died in Korea and left you and me by ourselves!" cried out Jeffrey. "He was a soldier! What good did it do you, or me?! You see how we live! What he left for us!"

"Korea? What is Korea? Your father died fighting to save this land from being pillaged by the very type of men who attack us even now! I am proud of him and love him all the more because of what he stood for, the man that he was. He died teaching a lesson. For years that lesson was well remembered by those who were defeated despite his falling in battle. Leave this land alone or die! We have had peace ever since. Now they come again to test us. What lesson will we teach them? Turn our backs on them so they can drive their swords home without opposition? So they can let fly their arrows at any target they wish? What weight of malevolent intention, what measure of violence will it take for you to see the choice you must make. My son, when will you take your father's place in this land and accept what you must become?! When will you accept responsibility? When will you achieve manhood?!"

Jeffrey swallowed hard, his throat and mouth nearly dry. His face was red with emotion, some of it anger, some of it pure humiliation. He could not remember his mother ever speaking to him like that. Then again, this wasn't his mother, not really. He looked at her. Her face was the same: complexion, eye color, other features all mirror images; but these words, these harsh words.

A small muffled laugh caught his ear. It came from Lady Angela, who had quickly pressed the palm of her hand to her lips to suppress it unsuccessfully. It was not humor he heard in the laugh, it was derision.

Something whizzed by Jeffrey's left ear and embedded itself in the wooden wall of the building. An arrow. A second arrow whizzed by him on the right side and struck a wooden support holding up an extension of the roof just above his mother's head. Two inches to the left and it would have buried itself in his mother's breast. She stood there without flinching, Lady Angela stepped quickly inside. Lizbeth and William did not hide. In fact, Lizbeth stepped closer to Jeffrey's mother in that moment and became equally exposed to an arrow's flight. The sound of battle increased.

In that moment, Jeffrey saw something more clearly then he had ever seen it before. It was... it was... The whole revelation was unexplainable. Jeffrey looked at his mother, reached out and embraced her. "Find cover and a safe place, Mother. I will return for you," he whispered in her ear. Then Jeffrey reached out his hands for his armor and weapon. William quickly helped him with these as his mother and Lizbeth stepped back inside and closed the door, but not before Lizbeth placed her hand on Jeffrey's arm and looked unexpectedly quite deeply and wordlessly into his eyes. A message was there, one that Jeffrey was quite surprised to see coming from this medieval copy of a high school friend. He smiled at her. "Be safe, Lizbeth," he said. "You as well," she replied, and then she too entered the building.

Now in chain mail, helmeted and armed, Jeffrey ran to the barricade to offer what help he could to Lancaster. William proudly ran alongside him.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:51 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-31-03 16:11 EST (US)     22 / 40       
As he ran Jeffrey said to William, "Stay out of the way of the battle, William. You're not trained for this.

"Yes, Sir Jeffrey!"

Though William couldn't see his face hidden by the helmet, he saw Jeffrey glance down at him and nod his head. Complement accepted. They ran on.

At the wood stake barricade two events happened almost simultaneously. With a thump, one of the soldiers fell from the upper battlement nearly at Jeffrey's feet. From his right, Jeffrey heard a resounding thump and saw part of the gate through the barricade collapse inwards. He stopped and knelt by the fallen soldier. There was a major indentation in his helmet. Struck by a rock or mace Jeffrey quickly concluded. Fortunately, though dazed by the short fall and blow on his helmet, this soldier was otherwise unhurt.

The soldier cursed in a way that under other circumstances would burn down the church. At the moment it seemed wholly appropriate. "Can you rise?" asked Jeffrey, one eye on the soldier and the other on the hardpressed defenders of the collapsing gate.

"I can rise; give me your arm, knight," the soldier said offering his armor plated arm for Jeffrey to grasp. Knight? For the first time the word sounded appealing to Jeffrey. He helped the soldier to his feet. He was a little unsteady, but quickly recovering his senses.

"How many are there?" Jeffrey asked the soldier.

"About four score, nearly twice our number."

"Can you fight?"

The soldier looked around for his sword. William quickly retrieved it from the dirt and handed it to the soldier. "At your side, Sir Knight! They won't see me in the dirt again!" The soldier grinned a nearly toothless, hearty grin. "Follow me then," said Jeffrey. They both ran for the beleagered contingent of soldiers defending the gate.

What passed became a blur to Jeffrey. There was no time for thought, just action. He and his recruited soldier joined the defenders of the gate. Bolstered by these reinforcements and led by Jeffrey's furious counterattack, they beat back the brigands trying to penetrate beyond the gate. At first there were many more brigands than defenders, but over time the difference in numbers became less and less as the five men at the gate, led by Jeffrey thwarted the brigands effort to break through.

Horses galloping in the distance seemed to alarm all combatants. Lancaster's men thought it might be more brigands; the brigands, not expecting reinforcements, didn't know what to expect. The cheer that rose from the wall and the sudden retreat and disappearance of the brigands confirmed that the news was good.

The Earl of Berg, father of Sir Bradley, led his horsemen into the fray. The added help of Deberg turned the tide of battle in favor of Lancaster. Soon, fleeing brigands chased by pursuing soldiers of Berg signaled the end to the battle. As the two Earls met inside the barricade, men of Lancaster's cheered them both and a goodly number surrounded Jeffrey, slapping him on his back and shoulders to signify their approval of what he had done to help them save the gate and the day.

"I thank you, Berg, for coming to our assistance," began Lancaster.

Berg raised his gauntleted hand to protest. "No thanks necessary, Lancaster. We've been friends for too long to let something like this happen to either of us. You would have done the same."

Lancaster nodded his head. "Yes, the very same." Boisterous noise coming from the area of the gate caught their attention. "Who is that soldier in chain mail the others seem to be cheering?"

"I really am not sure, Berg. Let's find out." They walked over to the group of soldiers.

"Remove your helmet, lad, so I can see your face," requested Lancaster. Jeffrey did as he was told. Lancaster's eyes opened wide in surprise. "Jeffrey! You! Why all the commotion."

The soldier who had fallen from the battlement answered for the reluctant knight-in-training. "Milord, this here apprentice knight fought a great battle. Why, Milord, without him I do not think we could have held the gate. My comrades and I fought at his side. We would do so again, Milord, in any battle."

Jeffrey didn't know what to say. It was Lancaster who spoke, a great smile forming on his face. "So, apprentice knight. You have done very well indeed. I trust the word of these men implicitly. If they say such, it must definitely be."

"Ahem!" The Earl of Berg sought the attention of Lancaster by loudly clearing his throat. "This lad, the apprentice knight, he wouldn't be the Jeffrey who has challenged my son, would he?"

"Yes, Berg. I regret to say it is so. Is your son with you?"

Berg looked away and hesitated before answering. "We could not locate him. There was little time to spare so we entered this battle without him. It was my wish that he be with us in this."

Lancaster saw more in his friend's face than Berg intended. Berg looked away not because he was distracted but more because he didn't want so deep a reading by Lancaster. Something was not right, concluded Lancaster. He wasn't sure what.

"My friend, it is but a circumstance. Your son simply didn't know about our emergency, I surmise. A banquet! You must join us for a banquet to celebrate this victory!" urged Lancaster.

The Earl of Berg smiled. "You are very generous, Lancaster. I shall accept your invitation."

"Excellent! This way to the Keep! We shall make preparations immediately. Jeffrey!"

"Yes, Milord?"

"You and William are to attend, understood?"

"Yes, Milord."

The two Earls fell into conversation and made their way to the Keep.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:51 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-31-03 23:49 EST (US)     23 / 40       
Musicians in the corner of the Great Hall of the Keep played cheerful little tunes on their collection of crude wind and string instruments. Guests were laughing, talking, very well enjoying themselves now that the danger had passed. Jeffrey was there with his mother. William as well was at his side. The Captain of the Guard was there as were certain of the soldiers, most notably the five who fought beside Jeffrey at the gate.

Now and then the Captain would look Jeffrey's way and smile. To Jeffrey it seemed a knowing smile, except Jeffrey couldn't fathom what the burly man could possibly know that Jeffrey did not. Amidst the merriment following the consumption of the expansive feast, a ringing sound became loud enough to gain everyone's attention. It turned out to be Lancaster banging on his pewter tankard with his dinner knife, the only eating utensil any of them had.

"Lords and ladies, villagers and guests, an announcement!" Lancaster waited until everyone became silent. "I am sure all of you have heard of the gallantry of this day. In particular I believe all of you know what one in particular among us did to protect our little village from the brigands." All eyes turned towards Jeffrey. He immediately felt like crawling under the table but good sense told him it was not the right reaction for the moment. "Rise Jeffrey and approach me here," ordered Lancaster, pointing to a place in the center of the Hall. He too rose and took a position just before the same indicated spot. Jeffrey arrived at the place a moment later.

"Jeffrey of Conroy," began Lancaster, "son of the Knight of Conroy. You have distinguished yourself this day by your courage and skill at arms in defense of this village. In doing so you have exemplified the finest traits of a knight of the land. Therefore, in recognition of your devotion to all of us here, I now waive the requirement of the test of Knighthood and proclaim you ready to speak the vows." The silence became even more so. "Jeffrey, apprentice knight, are you ready to speak the vows?"

Jeffrey heard a voice he recognized coming from himself answering the question his mind had barely begun to consider. "Yes, Milord. I am ready."

"So be it!" The vows flowed smoothly from Jeffrey as if he had only that day imprinted them on an indelible memory. He had no idea what he was saying as he had never heard these words before. They flowed from him as if the body he occupied possessed the knowledge that he did not. "Kneel!" ordered Lancaster. Jeffrey kneeled and bowed his head.

"I dub thee Knight of Conroy, a worthy successor to your father, a man I called my friend." Lancaster touched each of Jeffrey's shoulders once with the flat of the blade of his own sword that he too had wielded that day. "Rise, Sir Knight!"

Sir Jeffrey of Conroy rose to his feet to the energetic applause of all in the room. He looked over his shoulder to see his mother shedding tears of joy. He saw a great smile on Lizbeth's face where she sat among the handmaidens near his mother. Lady Angela's expression was different. This puzzled Jeffrey for the moment. Lancaster interrupted his thoughts.

"Sir Jeffrey, you must name a squire," Lancaster gently reminded him.

"Of course, Milord. I name William there my squire." Jeffrey pointed to his ever attentive friend. Lancaster nodded.

"Then he shall be known as Squire William henceforth. Attend to your master, young Squire William," ordered Lancaster with good humor and a waive of his hand. Lancaster waived his hand once more, but this time towards the musicians who immediately began to play a lively tune on their instruments.

It was then it dawned on Jeffrey what Lady Angela's odd expression was about. Sir Bradley of Berg. And the realization sank in. He was now a knight. He must now make good on his own challenge to Sir Bradley. Jeffrey glanced at Lancaster and Deberg. They were both in conversation. Neither seemed particularly pleased at the moment. It would be after the banquet concluded and congratulations were extended to both Jeffrey and William that Jeffrey would learn what their serious conversation was about.

"Sir Jeffrey, a word please," said Lancaster, approaching him in the midst of crowd that included guests from the village, soldiers and some handmaidens who felt compelled to be as close to him as possible.

"Yes, Milord," said Jeffrey, drawing himself away from one persistent handmaiden in particular.

"In three days time, lad, you will be obligated to meet Sir Bradley in combat. Berg tried to find a way to avoid the battle, but the rule is clear. Only the one who issues the challenge may withdraw it. By the heroism you displayed this day, there is no one who will question your courage should you choose to withdraw the challenge. Think long and hard on this, Sir Jeffrey. I trust you will reach the right decision." Lancaster looked at him pointedly for a brief moment and then walked away to speak to another guest.

Jeffrey stared after him. Nothing is ever easy he silently said to himself. A young woman's voice then interrupted his thoughts. He turned to find Lizbeth standing there having just called out his name. "Hello, Sir Knight," she said, warmth and affection running through her words like ribbon through well cared for hair. "I wanted to congratulate you, myself. To tell you how much I admired what you did today. The way you made your mother proud. I mean, to tell you this as a friend should."

"Yes, as a friend should," nodded Jeffrey. "A good friend." He smiled. She smiled right back, then turned and hurried away. Jeffrey was startled to see her leave so quickly, to be replaced by his mother. "Why did she leave so quickly, Mother?" Jeffrey asked.

His mother smiled. "In time you will learn the answer to your question, Jeffrey; but you must learn it on your own." Once again Jeffrey was confused. Mother or friend, lady or handmaiden. These women... These women are just too confusing for words.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:52 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 11-03-03 16:03 EST (US)     24 / 40       
The celebration wore on for hours; but wearing most on Jeffrey was the incessant attention being given him by the various ladies, even the married ones, present in the Great Hall. The men offered their congratulations, then pressed on with other social matters on their minds. Not so the women. Each wanted a recounting of how the battle went, what Jeffrey did and so forth. He felt himself free only after Squire William began to describe the battle in ever more generous detail making all of the wide-eyed women focus their attention on him (especially the youngest among the guests) and left him free to do what he really wanted to do. Escape.

The air outside the Keep was cool, refreshing. Now and then the soft breeze carried on it the smell of burning wood from the bare field beyond the village walls, from the place where the dead brigands were being incinerated. Never would the village priest permit these heathens to be buried in consecrated ground, even if the grave was collective and common.

"Jeffrey," a soft voice called to him from somewhere nearby. He turned to find Lady Angela standing there, her blue eyes reflecting the flickering flame of a nearby exterior torch. "May I speak with you?"

"Yes, of course, Milady."

"I wanted to give you my personal congratulations on being sworn into knighthood... in my own way. Then to ask a boon from you."

"Thank you, Milady. But what way is that? What boon?" said Jeffrey as he watched Angela close the distance between them gliding as it were across the ground, smoothly, elegantly, beautifully.

"This way, Sir Knight." She was now very close. She raised her hands and placed them tentatively on Jeffrey's shoulder. Then she stepped closer until there was no space left between them and her arms completely enveloped Jeffrey. Angela tilted her head a little to the left, and moved her lips very close to his. A slight motion on her part and their lips were joined. Jeffrey felt as if he would turn inside out, such was the force and insistence of Angela's kiss. He couldn't help himself. He reached out with both arms and embraced her as well.

If he had not been so absorbed in Angela's ministrations Jeffrey would have noticed that there were not one but two young ladies seeking evening air, the second stepping into the moonlight just as Angela began her lengthy kiss. Shocked by what she saw, reeling with what she felt, Lizbeth stifled a gasp with her hand, turned and ran into the Keep, her face flushed red from emotions she couldn't control, and her eyes filling and ready to flood. Jeffrey's mother saw her flight from the Great Hall, but in that moment could not fathom what ailed the girl.

Outside, Jeffrey felt Angela slowly free his lips and then brush his cheek with her lips, followed by their touch on his lower jaw and then on his neck. Breathing rapidly, she lowered her head and rested her forehead on his shoulder briefly as if to catch her breath.

"You asked a boon, Milady? What is it? If it is within my power I shall give it to you, whatever it might be." Jeffrey spoke too freely under the influence of Angela's kiss.

She lifted her face and focussed her eyes on Jeffrey's. "I ask that you withdraw your challenge to Sir Bradley," said Angela, her blue eyes trying their best to drain any resistance possible from Jeffrey.

"Withdraw my challenge? But Milady..." Angela didn't let him finish. Her face reddened more now, and not from the flush of passion.

"You said if it was within your power, you would give it to me, whatever it is I wanted." Jeffrey felt her arms tighten around him, but differently than before, far less gently, more tensely.

"But why this, Milady?"

"Because it is what I want, that's why!" This time she released his shoulders summarily, with little gentility at all. "I, Lady Angela, request this of you. That should be enough!"

"Milady, I cannot. My father..."

"I don't care about your father! I don't care about what you can or cannot do! I don't want Bradley hurt!"

"And me, Milady? What kind of caring do you have for me!"

Angela's beautiful face screwed itself into something Jeffrey could never have imagined could be so venemously mean. "You heard me, half-knight! I care only for Bradley!"

Jeffrey felt as if those fierce blue eyes he faced were twin crystalline daggers being thrust even now, one into his head and the other into his chest. His voice spoke for him. He didn't know where the words came from. "I have issued a challenge, Milady, on your behalf. I have made a commitment to chivalry and to God. I will not fail either."

Lady Angela's back stiffened and she stepped backwards one firm step. "Then let this be the first blow to fall on you!" Her hand came around so quickly, the unexpected slap to his face could not be anticipated or prevented. As Lady Angela stormed away, Jeffrey felt the place with the palm of his hand where her vicious blow landed. Already it felt puffed up and much hotter than the rest of his face.

Jeffrey continued to rub his face as he stared after the departing lady. It was not until the door to the Keep closed behind her that he stopped his silent stare. Enough this day, he decided. It was enough for anyone and especially himself.

Jeffrey did not return to the Keep. Instead, he began to walk to his lodging and his small quiet, serene, peaceful room. He kept his hand to his face to prevent the cool breeze from stinging its inflamed flesh and to prevent anyone who would not understand from seeing the fool's marking he bore.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:53 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 11-03-03 20:50 EST (US)     25 / 40       
Night became day the way it always did. Rudely. High-pitched, obviously female voices were screeching at each other at the tops of their rather powerful lungs. Thoroughly disturbed out of his sleep, Jeffrey grabbed and put on clothing for decency purposes, staggered to the door and opened it. He wished afterwords he hadn't.

Stepping past the threshhold, Jeffrey stepped into a human maelstrom consisting of two women trying to relieve each other of their long hair and to break each others' legs with kicks at the same time. Finally, the whirling, wrestling, screeching duo fell onto the plain dirt of the street and there they continued their contest. "Stop this!" bellowed Jeffrey. "Stop this right now!" They continued to struggle completely ignoring his entreaties.

Finally, Jeffrey picked up a wooden bucket, dipped it into a nearby trough of morning-cold water and emptied it on the two women. Their wrestling ceased immediately. Their screeching did not. "Here," cried out one of the women, "What did you go and do that for. I had this won until you tried to drown us."

"You did not!" countered the other at the top of her lungs.

"I did too!" screamed the first, and she launched herself at her adversary once more. It took another bucket of water poured on the two women to finally convince them the contest had ended and neither was the victor. It was the bucket that had won.

"Now what's this all about?" asked Jeffrey, glancing around at the small crowd that had gathered to watch the antics of the two women. Some of the men in the crowd shrugged their shoulders to signal they had no ideas about the cause.

"I came to bring you breakfast and this one (pointing to the other) claimed she had arrived first to do so and ordered me away! The very idea!"

"I was first! You know that!"

"No, I was!"

"Liar!" Oops. The look in the face of the accused was not peaceful by any means.

"Ladies!" cried out Jeffrey, exasperated and becoming increasingly cross. "I will accept both breakfasts. Will that be sufficient for peace to return?"

The two women paused and looked at him and then at each other. "I suppose so," said one. The other simply nodded, pushing back her frazzled hair to reveal her face. It was Clara, the same galley servant who pushed past him when the battle with the brigands began.

"Alright then. Where are the breakfasts?"

"Over there..." the galley servant said as she pointed, but then her mouth opened wide as did her eyes and she let out a shriek loud enough to shatter stone. "Get away you! Get away!"

Jeffrey turned to see what she was shrieking about and saw immediately what was her concern. Three untethered village dogs were busy using their long, slobbery tongues and yellowed teeth to consume everything they could find that was edible on the two trays full of food haphazardly placed on the ground by the two battling women. A quick glance told Jeffrey that the dogs had been far more successful at winning their breakfasts than were the two warring women at delivering breakfast to him. "I think it's too late for that now."

Both remained sitting in the dirt. One began to cry. The other, Clara, folded her arms and looked away, the perfect image of irritated disgust. "Look," said Jeffrey to the teary eyed woman. "While you go and fetch another breakfast, I and this servant from the Keep will pick up the remnants. Will you please do this for me?"

"Of course, Sir Jeffrey. I shall be right back." With a look of triumph sent in the other's direction, the young woman hurried back to her small cottage; for she was not a servant at all, but the daughter of the village smithie come to bring a breakfast prepared by her mother. Jeffrey did not want even to begin to guess why.

"Why did you send her for breakfast and not me?" asked Clara.

"Because I wanted to talk with you alone. Will you help me with this?" The servant nodded reluctantly, and after standing up and rearranging herself, proceeded to help out as requested.

Jeffrey left the door to his room opened for good reason. "Sit down,please." The girl did as he requested. "Clara, there is something I must know." The girl looked at Jeffrey, curiousity and fear mingling in eyes slowly adjusting to the dim light of the room.

All text (except song lyrics) is copyright 2003 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.
Posted by permission of HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-12-2003 @ 02:53 PM).]

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