Setting rays silhouette the figure of a knight on a horse, poised on a hill.
The rain fell heavily from the dark grey sky, as the sun dropped behind the trees to the west. Jaryn, ankle deep in the muddy waters of the graveyard, stared at the stone monument honoring his father’s life. “Here lies Sir Karl von Gruen,” read the headstone, “honorable knight of his Royal Majesty, the King.”
Jaryn gripped the sword at his side tightly, remembering the day, four years ago, when his older brother left to avenge their father’s death. “If I’m not back in a year, my brothers,” he heard Mark say, “the next son must follow.” That meant young Karl, our father’s namesake.
Jaryn pulled the grey hood of his cloak over his soaked blonde hair and turned toward the gates. That day came and went, he thought, and Karl repeated those same words to Dirk, the third son of the dead knight. Karl left with the hope of rescuing Mark and defeating our father’s murderer at the same time.
That year passed just as quickly as the first; and, on the second anniversary of their father’s death, Dirk said to Jaryn, “Keep the family name alive. Marry before you leave in search of our honor.” And then Jaryn was alone.
Stepping into the stables, he called the boy to fetch his horse. By the third anniversary of Sir Karl’s passing, Jaryn had not married. He still had dreams of falling in love and raising children, and he hated his father for dying at the hands of a foreigner, and he hated his brothers for not succeeding in their quest, leaving him alone without hope of a life of peace. On that day, he sank to his knees in the mud, crying before the monument of his father, hating the world for the poor lot he was given.
Jaryn mounted his beast, accepted his lance, and left the stables on a journey marked for him four years before. On the fourth anniversary of his lord’s demise, he left his wife and son, the last bearers of his proud family name, and entered the graveyard to mourn, one last time, his father’s death. He did not expect to return.
A flash of lightning captures the figure of a charging knight in a split second of daylight.
Jaryn knew what must be done, and he knew where he had to do it. His enemy lies beyond the hills to the south, in the land called Caeredwyn. Jaryn was no fool, however, and knew his enemy should be expecting him. Three times before, his enemy had defeated his father’s sons; and three times before, he knew they would be coming. Jaryn hid his approach not with stealth or cunning, but with a field of grey on his shield. He would not carry the family crest as did his brothers for he had adopted this new banner. The grey of the stone monument erected for his father, and the greyness which filled his life since his first brother’s leaving.
He spurred his mount lightly as he approached the open fields of oats filling the lands outside his father’s home. The huts on the horizon belonged to his subjects, the farmers who worked day and night to produce the grain which kept them alive. What a simple life, thought Jaryn as he rode over the lands. To be alive and happy, married to the woman of your choice rather than one chosen for you, having only to plant the seed and harvest it. I wish I could be one of you, not bound by honor to defend a king you hardly know, or a father who never had time for anything but his land. To be able to grow old with my wife, to raise my children, and not to worry about the politics and economics of the realm. I am cursed, instead, with the wealth of previous oppressors, duty bound to tax you, and pressed to defend my family’s name. Such a simple life you have.
Pulling himself from his dreams of sunny days in the fields with a beautiful wife and three strong sons, he looked out toward the slowly approaching hills on the horizon. By morning he would reach them, nine days he would travel through them, and then he would meet his enemy.
The stone knight’s lance pointed at its target, ready to strike.
Along the road through the hills, Jaryn came across a peasant with a broken cart. He looked at the man, so pitiful and old, and thought that surely there would be another passerby to help him. It was beneath Jaryn’s station to help him, and he didn’t want to touch the grimy fielder’s cart, in any event. First able person I encounter I will send to help you, old man. And he rode past, hiding his face behind the grey steel visor of his helm.
Farther along, he encountered a group of young men, healthy looking, and apparently more wealthy by the swords at their sides. He told them of the man in the road, and they laughed. It had been their work, and wasn’t that a nice horse he was riding, and a fine lance and blade by his side. They didn’t have to explain the situation to him, and he hastily grasped his lance, striking the first of the group.
Red blood poured out of the man’s throat as the lance struck into his neck. A gasp, a cry, and the man fell to the ground with a dull thud. Jaryn looked at the corpse in surprise, and shock. He’s dead, he thought as he watched the blood mix with the muddy puddle at his horse’s feet. Several times he was struck by the weakly swung blades of his opponents, but he never noticed. He was untouchable in his armor and his melancholy.
He dropped the lance and drew forth the great blade his father had made for him when he was barely strong enough to lift it. Its weight was familiar to him, and gave him the strength to look back at his attackers. He felt little or no remorse, now, as he lopped off one man’s head, and separated another’s arm from its shoulder. The remaining two fled the unfeeling knight, hoping for a more favorable encounter in another territory.
Jaryn wiped his blade and sheathed it. He would leave the lance for any who would take it. It was his no longer, and he thanked the thieves for ridding him of such an ignoble tool. He would face his enemy with a sword, not the cowardly weapon his enemy had used to pierce his father’s throat.
A shield of stone hung on the knight’s arm, ready to defend its owner from the oncoming blows of the enemy.
Jaryn arrived in Caeredwyn with much ado. The people did not often see strangers from other provinces, and rarely a lord. With my shield of grey, he will not realize who I am until I challenge him, thought Jaryn. He rode up to the gates of the keep, and called for permission to enter. Jaryn gained the courtyard and begged an audience with the lord of the manor. Upon seeing his enemy, he spoke.
You are Kalen-Ord, the lord of this keep? My name is Jaryn von Gruen. I have come to avenge my father’s death at your hands, these four years past, as well as the death of my brothers before me. I will meet you in combat of arms in the fields outside your keep when the sun is low in the sky. And Jaryn left.
There was now much talk going on in the town and its surrounding villages. Once more, Jaryn looked out over the peaceful people of the land. They looked just like the peasants of his own land. They spoke the same language as his people. They had the same simple life his people did. Again, he longed for a simple life; more so now than before, since he knew his life would soon end. He wished to see his wife again, to hold his son in his arms once more, and to taste the wines his people made for the summer festival one last time before he died.
He had had enough of this. Honor and pride had given him nothing in life, and had taken his father and three brothers from him besides. He would not fight Kalen-Ord. He would not avenge his father. He would go home, love his wife, raise his son, and rule his land.
And there was Kalen-Ord, with hundreds of villagers following him, out to see their lord defend his honor.
The grey stone visor hid the stoney eyes beneath the helm, the last defense for the knight of stone.
Kalen-Ord drew up to Jaryn and asked him where his lance had gone. I do not use a lance, Kalen-Ord, Jaryn replied. It is the weapon which slew my father, and probably my brothers, and so I will not use it. I will not fight you, Kalen-Ord. I have changed my mind. Honor and pride have only lost me my family, and I do not wish to die.
You have changed your mind? Kalen-Ord was much surprised, and slightly annoyed. I wish I could accept that, young von Gruen, but I cannot. You have challenged me in the presence of my people, dishonored me, and called me a murderer. Your brothers did so before you, and I can only hope Sir Karl did not have more children such as these. I tire of killing young souls in the name of honor, but let it be known that I never challenged them to battle. I sought to ally your father to me, those years ago, when I was fearful of more powerful lords. It was his challenge I faced, when his honor was bruised, and it has been his sons’ ever since. You cannot change your mind, boy, as I cannot change the past.
And so, he swung his horse around and galloped a distance. Jaryn would face the lance of Kalen-Ord with but a sword. He did not care. He hoped his son would not follow in his footsteps, as he and his brothers had followed in their’s.
It was decided in the first pass as Kalen-Ord’s lance knocked Jaryn to the ground. The blood flowed slowly from his chest, his wound barely worth the effort to heal it. Stripping his helm from his face, he spat on his sword and flung it from him.
Kalen-Ord rode to him and dismounted. My honor is satisfied, young lord. I still have no wish to kill you. You may go in peace. And Kalen-Ord, Lord of Caeredwyn, rode back to his keep, his people straggling behind.
Jaryn rose to his feet and looked at his wound. It was nothing, but it would scar and remind him of this day for the rest of his life. He stripped his armor from his body and mounted his horse. He would return to the house of his father, now his house, and love his wife and hold his son and rule his lands.
A grey statue of stone stood in the graveyard of his father, the figure of a knight on a charging war horse, the monument to his life.