“Good Evening, Squire.” The tone of voice made it clear that there were no good wishes in the greeting. The youth stepped in front of Derrio, blocking his path. “I said ‘Good evening’. Aren’t you going to answer me?” Derrio tried to walk around the lad, keeping his eyes cast downward in an attempt to avoid what he knew was coming. The boy pushed Derrio back. Derrio’s head snapped up and he stared at the belligerent youth.
“Don’t flap your arms at me, buffoon! You insult me by not answering my greeting. I think that you need to be taught a lesson in courtesy …” The youth leapt at Derrio, arms extended. Derrio, instead of retreating as the youth expected, stepped to the side, pushing the stumbling bully past him, then ran. He didn’t feel like fighting again.
The marching and the chores were hard, the training was tough, and the constant state of near panic had everyone on edge; but nothing was as bad as the taunting that had become an everyday occurrence. Derrio was constantly having to avoid people who meant him harm, and face up to people who tried to make him cringe. He tried to avoid trouble as much as he could, but it seemed that trouble sought him out. He finally went to Luthias.
*Question* *Why* *Squires* *Hate* *Me*
Luthias, his mind on matters of war and peace, didn’t catch all of Derrio’s signs, and shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
*Squires* *Fight* *Me* *Much*
“The other squires fight with you?”
“Do you provoke them?”
“Do you fight back?”
“Who’s squires are they?”
*Knight* *Nose* *Large*
The knight chuckled at his squire’s description, but sobered quickly. “Ongis. I might have known. The man’s arrogance has even outgrown his rather large nose. And, it appears, his squires are learning well from him.”
*Squire* *Laugh* *Me*
“Derrio, there are two ways to deal with a bully. You can do nothing, or you can do something that will make him stop. Doing nothing may help, or it may make him angrier. There is, however, the matter of an unrequited blow — something that no knight will ever stand for.”
*Question* *I* *Fight* *They* *Stop*
The knight’s face softened. “Perhaps. You can make his attacks too painful to continue, or too embarrassing. You must find a way to accomplish one of those two objectives. It is quite a bit like the war we are fighting. The only way to get the Benisons to stop is to embarrass them so badly at court that they don’t want to continue, or hurt them so badly in the field that they can’t continue. Only with this war, the chance for the former is past, and we are limited to the latter.” His mind back on the war, Luthias turned and walked into his tent.
That evening, when Luthias sent the youth off to find Michiya, the bully caught up with him again, and this time he brought friends. Two of them caught Derrio from behind and held him, while Mikus, Derrio’s original opponent, stood before him.
“Now, idiot, you will learn to respect your betters …”
WHAM! The blow drove the breath from Derrio’s lungs.
“… and with that respect, you’ll learn courtesy …”
WHAM! The bile rose in his throat.
“… and you definitely need to learn courtesy …”
“ENOUGH!!!” Luthias’ voice was a sweet sound, indeed. The boys released Derrio and he slumped to the ground, spent. The sound of flesh hitting flesh sounded briefly through the damp air, but it wasn’t Derrio that was being struck. “Cowards!! You haven’t the courage to face your opponents one-on-one! If you were my squires, not only would I release you from apprenticeship, but I would beat you to within an inch of your cowardly lives! Go, before I forget my responsibility to this army and reduce its numbers by three! GO!”
The three ruffians scrambled to their feet and ran. “Are you OK?” Luthias’ concern was evident in his soft tone.
“Michiya has returned to my tent. Come back with me and clean yourself up.”
The next morning, Derrio’s chores again took him into the camp at large, and once again he and Mikus crossed paths.
“Derrio, I’m gonna tear you apart! Not only did I get a beating from Sir Luthias, but Sir Ongis punished me for embarrassing him. You’re not gonna cause me any more trouble.”
Derrio’s vision began to tinge with a bloody haze. This was infuriating! He couldn’t even leave the tent anymore without having to defend himself.
Mikus and Derrio circled each other for a moment, Mikus searching for an opening, and Derrio looking for an escape. Mikus moved first, rushing Derrio. But instead of running away, Derrio lunged forward, throwing a “sunfist” punch as Michiya had shown him. Fist met face, and the youth fell to the ground, blood fountaining from his nose and mouth.
Derrio stepped around the fallen youth and walked away.
Later, as Derrio approached Luthias’ tent, he could hear voices raised in anger. He stopped outside the tent flap to listen.
“It is not your place to lesson my squires in courtesy!” a dark voice roared.
Sir Luthias’ voice was steady. “You are wrong, sir. It is the duty of a Knight to correct the behavior of all those who aspire to the chain.”
The dark voice answered. “My squires behave as I teach them.” With that, the dark voice acquired a name: Sir Ongis.
“As does my squire,” Luthias replied. “I taught him to give a curt reply to anyone churlish enough to taunt him.”
Sir Ongis snorted. “So your idea of a ‘curt reply’ is a blow to the mouth?” Derrio started. The news of his lashing out at Mikus had reached Luthias before Derrio could get back to explain.
“My squire is mute, sir. He can only speak with his hands.”
“You! I should teach you a lesson in how to respect your betters!”
“At your leisure, sir. I look forward to thrashing you as thoroughly as my squire thrashes yours.”
Derrio’s smile broadened.
There was a short silence, then Luthias spoke again. “Shall I have you escorted to your pavilion?”
Derrio backed away, and found himself hiding behind several horses.
“Dismissed.” Luthias’ voice had within it the note of finality. Sir Ongis burst from the tent, strode several paces, then stopped; obviously attempting to regain control over his temper before he returned to his tent. He spied Derrio standing by the horses.
“I will teach your knight the lesson that he badly needs, a lesson in manners.” The knight was speaking softly, as if to prevent Luthias from overhearing. “And when I am finished, YOU will learn a lesson in respect!” He then turned and stormed off. For several minutes, Derrio stood and quieted his quivering insides. He not only feared Ongis’ threat, but Luthias’ retribution as well, for it was his fault that Ongis had been here. Finally, his shaking halted, he approached the tent.
“If it rains tonight, we might have a little trouble. Mud could –” Sir Luthias looked up and spied Derrio entering the glow of the campfire. “Come here, Derrio.”
The Knight inspected his squire sternly, noting the blood, the dirt, and the bruises. “Brawling with Ongis’ squires again?”
Here it comes, Derrio thought. He hung his head and nodded. Luthias waited a moment before asking, “Did you win?” Derrio couldn’t help but grin, thinking that perhaps he would escape punishment.
“Good. Now come over here and look at the plan for tomorrow.”
He didn’t get angry! I thought for sure that he’d be upset because I disgraced him in front of Sir Ongis. He crossed over to the fire and looked at the markings on the ground.
Luthias used his stick as a pointer and explained, “We’ll meet Beinison here, and after a while, we’ll retreat into this meadow. The archers will be hidden in the trees around the field. The troops will split into four parts — one to protect the archers on each side, and the last to seal off the meadow — and the archers will open fire.”
Derrio studied the plan intensely. It suddenly dawned on him
… this was a trap! A trap wasn’t honorable! It didn’t allow the opponent a fair chance.
“Yes, of course, it’s a trap,” Luthias agreed. The Knight laughed at Derrio’s appalled expression. “What’s wrong? Don’t you think it will work?”
*No* Derrio shook his head. He pointed an accusing finger at the Knight Captain, another at the battle plans, then shook his head.
*You* *No* *Do* *This*
“Unlike me?” Luthias didn’t understand his squire at all. “What do you mean?”
Disgusted, Derrio motioned reproachfully at the trap. *This* *No* *Honor*
Again, Luthias misunderstood. “It’s not evil! This is war, Derrio. I’m trying to save lives.”
Luthias had to admit it. “Yes, it will kill many, too, but that’s the purpose.”
The squire was confused and angry. Luthias had taught him about honor, now he was about to perform a most dishonorable act; and many people would die because of it.
*This* *No *Honor*
The knight was getting angry. “This isn’t a matter of good and evil, Derrio, this is war.”
*NO* *You* *No *Honor*
Luthias hurled his drawing stick into the fire in frustration. “You can’t judge me by my battle plans!” Luthias cried. “A man’s conduct in PEACE makes him good or evil, Derrio, not his conduct in war. The only moral decision in war is whether or not to start one. After that, it’s survival — kill or be killed, and end as quickly as you can.”
But doesn’t war include honor. Isn’t there to be justice, fairness, in battle? The young man’s confusion grew. *Question* *This* *Fair*
Luthias smiled. “Of course, it’s fair. There are no rules in war.”
Confusion suddenly rushed onto silent Derrio’s face. *Question* *You* *Lawrence* *Fight* Luthias shook his head, not understanding. *Knight* *Drink* *Cup* Again, Luthias shook his head. Exasperated, Derrio grabbed a small stick and wrote in the dirt, “LAWRENCE.”
“Oh.” Luthias said, finally comprehending Derrio’s question. “That wasn’t the same.”
Derrio shook his head in utter bewilderment. Luthias now seemed to understand Derrio’s confusion. “Single combat does have rules. It’s not the same as war.”
Derrio again shook his head.
“You used to wrestle Sir Edward’s squires, didn’t you?” Derrio nodded, uncertain. “You were … playing a game of sorts, and there were rules. With Ongis’ squires, though, you’re just trying to beat them into the ground.” Derrio nodded again, still not understanding. “When you wrestle Sir Edward’s squires, it’s like a Knight’s single combat. You fight by rules. Thrashing Ongis’ boys is like a war — the object is to win, and win fast.”
Derrio considered this. *Question* *You* *Kill* *Lawrence*
“Yes. I would have killed Sir Lawrence if I had to, Derrio, but I would have done it under the rules of chivalry.”
*Question* *Trap* *Kill* *Lawrence*
Luthias shrugged. “If he’s there tomorrow, he’ll die by the bow, the same as the rest, if all goes well.”
“He is a good man,” Luthias agreed, “but if I were in his trap, he would let me die, too. This is war, Derrio, and we all do what we must.”
*I* *Not* *Understand*
Luthias smiled sadly. “You’ll learn.” Luthias gazed down at his hands. “Believe me, Derrio; you’ll learn. We all do.”
That night Derrio thought long about Luthias’ plans for the upcoming battle and the differences between a battle of war and a battle of honor. Fighting had always been an honorable conflict between two equal opponents — with rules and courtesies and the better man winning. Now Luthias is making a difference between war and combat. If war is “get him before he gets you”, and chivalrous combat is “prove to him that you are a better fighter”, where is the line drawn between them? If two knights meet on the battlefield in the middle of a skirmish, how do they fight? Do they follow the chivalrous rules of combat, or do they do anything that they can to win? Luthias had also talked about the trouble with Ongis’ squires. He made it sound like a war, with the outcome being the only important thing; “to win and win fast.” But if honor was a “sometime” thing, was it really important?
Sleep was a long time in coming.
When the morning sun was greeted by the call of “Break Camp!” and “Prepare to March!”, the young squire had come to a decision. ‘Honor’, as a concept, was like combat. One could follow the rules, or ignore them. It was a choice, and each individual situation demanded a decision. Choose to act chivalrously or not, choose to follow the rules or break them …
… Choose to win or to lose.
“Look mates, it’s the talker!” Mikus could hardly believe his eyes.
Before him stood Derrio, right here in Ongis’ compound! “I believe he’s come for his daily lesson …”
Derrio’s gestures were unmistakable. *You* *Me* *Fight* *Now* Then he turned and walked out of the compound.
“Hey! Why not fight right here?”
Derrio kept walking.
“Hey, Idiot! Where are you going?” Mikus and his fellow squires ran to catch up to Derrio. Mikus grabbed Derrio by the shoulder to spin him around. “It’s time to …”
WHAM! Derrio spun around and swung his hand over the outstretched arm of Mikus. Before the youth could react, Derrio stuck him in the throat with an open hand slap, causing Mikus to fall to the ground, gasping and gagging. The other two squires stepped toward Derrio, and he pulled a cudgel from beneath his cloak.
*Come* The smile that accompanied the gesture was icy and hard. One lunged at Derrio from the right. Derrio stepped forward, spun, and struck the other boy between the legs with the club. He stepped sideways to avoid another rush, then swung around and down, striking the last youth in the back of the skull. All of his assailants down, Derrio turned back to Mikus, who was still trying to lose the constricting feeling in his throat. Mikus, seeing Derrio’s approach, tried to rise, but Derrio swung the club and struck Mikus in the knees, felling him once again. Then he stepped up to his fallen adversary, looking down into the fearful eyes of a coward.
*You* *No* *Knight* Then he spat in the face of the frightened boy. As he turned and strode back to his own tent, he wondered if his last words were to Mikus, or to himself.