A throw of the dice.
I will now tell you the story of how i came to be held at Pirkstein castle…
It started with a calm journey from Merhojed to Talmberk, and from Talmberk to Rattay. The path was mostly straightforward but sometimes became spindly, leading here and there to forested places where some said elves and trolls lived to pray upon man.
I did not find such things, but i heard the birds chirping along, or at least that was before they scattered away when i stirred up a rock with an errant footfall. It seemed now that the pitter-patter of my footsteps would be my only true companion, now that the birds were disturbed.
Later i found open land which was more often-than-not tilled by the hand of man and the aid of beast. These tilled lands reached to perhaps a quarter-league long in length and breadth, contrasting greatly with the grassy fields full of bright flowers.
I saw as men and women worked the fields, and some greeted towards me or waved and others did not, too keen on working, or more likely they were afraid of me. I was armed just like any soldier and i was fully equipped to take as i wanted, just as some soldiers and mercenaries are oft to do when on the field.
Continuing on in my journey, I often thought of my home. I brought to mind the image of a burning Skalitz.
I saw village men who took to arms, all were put to death by manyfold bitting arrows, and so they lay dead and bloodied on the ground.
I saw Cumans at that moment, rushing in on their horses, and two others who were not Cuman. All added together there were probably twelve men and horses and maybe more who lay in the shadows of nightfall beyond where i could see. Of the other men, one was on a great white stallion and the other was on a brown horse. Both horses were perhaps fifteen or sixteen hands high, larger than the Cuman horses, which were roughly thirteen hands high.
The man astride the white stallion wore a chaperon that was a stark red and wore a houppelande of black fustian, disguising him well in the night. The other man wore similar clothing but in a blue doublet and a black chaperon and a small belt with shaped plaques made of brass. This man also appeared to have a scar on the right side of his cheek, though i could not tell details from such a distance. Perhaps this nobleman was poorer than his fellow compatriot, but he might have also been a fighter in some degree given his scar.
Both outsiders were not armed for warfare, having only a sword or dagger at their side and little armour, so they seemingly left the killing to the Cumans while they watched the display from afar. Perhaps these noblemen had the vested interest to seeing Skalitz torched to the ground, to halt the mining of silver, perhaps to bankrupt our King in some heinous manner. I remember no more after that, for i was knocked unconscious in some manner.
It was then, swaying away the memories that i saw in the distance a great tall tower and a smaller wall below it. There was also a bridge made of bricks, rough-hewn though it was, but still serviceable. On the opposite side of the bridge there was a gatehouse. That was Pirkstein castle, and aside from it was the town of Rattay, a mirage for any wanderer with aching legs, where there were beds to sleep upon, whores waiting to be screwed and ale to be drunk… yes. I would call that heaven, to be enjoyed and experienced for some time.
It was reaching the crack of dusk and the sun was soon to depart, to leave behind the night and the stars in their resplendent beauty. I knew that the tavern would soon become the focal point of the town, and that was where i must go to find refuge in a cup of ale, and perhaps a bed on rent.
I passed the bridge and reached the narrow main street of Rattay, a stray piss bucket lay to the side, where dyers would collect the urine and store it somewhere for sometime in order to create a mordant.
The main street was clean and well kept, but the side alleys were much dirtier, leading to the poorer parts of the town.
The tavern laid a good fifty paces away or so from me, perhaps a little more than that. The tavern had a name. In all honesty however, i had completely forgotten its name.
I reached out my hand in the air upon reaching the roofed porch just outside the tavern.
It seemed i had come a little early and so the tables were at ill attendance, with perhaps a man to a table. I paid the men no heed, and set my padded coif down and held it under an armpit.
“Henry, God be with you. You praise me yet again with your ass to my tavern.” Spoke the bartender in a cheerful tone.
I looked at the bartender. Although i couldn’t recall his name i did remember his face, which had somewhat effeminate features. He had blonde hair held back beneath a dagged hood and a blonde beard with strikes of red to tinge it. His hair was a bit of an oddity in these parts, for many had brown hair. I thought he might have been born in Prussia or perhaps further West, given his accent.
“God be with you, bartender. I’ll have a bed, some good ale and perhaps something to eat.” I said, rubbing at my belly for emphasis.
The bartender gave a smirk. “For the rich we have capon crowned with eggs and cloves from the orient. For the poorer men like yourself, we have beef stew with good herbs and vegetables.”
I noticed the way that the bartender had mocked me in good jest, and so i must come up with something witty in return.
“You are right, bartender,” I paused for a moment, thinking up of something to say. “I’ll not suffer an empty purse in order to eat like a king this day, the world has enough wine-sodden, grovelling men like yourself and our King. I’ll have the stew.”
I knew in my heart that it was wrong to besmirch King Wenceslaus the fourth, but had he been a better leader, perhaps Skalitz would not have been burned in the first place. It was not my place to get bothered up with the political doings between warring brothers.
The Bartender sighed, the news of Wenceslaus’s capture of last year had struck everyone in the country. “I pray to god that somebody frees that man.”
I agreed wholeheartedly with the Bartender.
“So what is the price?” I asked, curious as to the cost.
‘Five Groshen, Ridiculous.’ I thought in shock.
“You’d have to add in a go with the finest whore in France for my service to be worth that much Groshen.” I said in crude jest.
I saw as the bartender gave another sigh. “Those damn Cuman outriders have done the devils work, burning and taking what they will, it costs more now to get simple things.”
I handed my five Groshen over to the bartender. The bartender’s face glowed with happiness.
“I wasn’t actually expecting you to pay that much.”
I would have normally haggled for better prices, but it wouldn’t do to have such a tavern ruined by the events that surrounded the nation.
“Normally i wouldn’t pay you that much, but i don’t want to see this place gone, i rather like drinking ale.” I said with a grin.
I saw as the bartender smiled and with quick pace set about to service me.
Within ten seconds he seemingly dropped a bowl of steaming meat and a cup of ale from out of nowhere and into my hands.
I grasped both the bowl and the cup and started to look for a place to sit.
It was then that i saw a black chaperon and a blue doublet… surely this could not be true.
I looked to the man’s face, but realized that if i wished to look for the scar i would have to travel over to the man, as his right cheek was obscured from my angle.
‘How do i go about this?’ I thought, wondering how a confrontation might evolve.
Taking the dice of fortune and throwing it into the wind, I took my move.
“Good day traveller, may i know your name?” I called out to the man whilst i began to move over to his table.
I saw as he turned, looking at me, sizing me up with his inquisitive eyes. They were a light blue.
In the light, the truth was revealed to me, the man had a scar on the right cheek. This man was present when Skalitz burned.
“My name is Bernhart and no more shall you know of me, traveler.”
I had a name to my list, this Bernhart… he was going to die for the destruction of my village, and whoever else was with him was going to die as well.
“Bernhart, have you visited Skalitz by any chance?” I said, my voice quivering to hold back my rage.
I saw as his eyes shook for a moment. It was then that i hurled my cup of ale into his face, and that was followed up by my bowl of beef stew.
Bernhart pulled out his rondel dagger from the scabbard at the side of his hip, eyes blinded by the burning sensation of the ale that had been thrown at his face. It would not be a fair match, just as he was not fair to Skalitz.
I reached for my Longsword and withdrew the blade from the scabbard, hacking down at the man’s head in a single, vertical motion.
I felt as my sword parted Bernhart’s chaperon and slid half-way down through his skull.
With a harsh pull, I withdrew my blade. Bernhart’s blood poured out in torrents of red, leaking down onto the wooden planks below, his corpse lying still, his head split half-way downwards in a sickening fashion.
The stench of spilled blood, beef and ale were a strong combination, each of those scents fighting for dominance within my nose.
“Dear god Henry, what have you done!”
The tavern-goers had rushed from the tavern, running to alert the guardsmen. I knew they would arrive soon, this was a small town.
Perhaps i hadn’t thought everything through. I had just killed a man, seemingly in cold blood, and so the courts would try me for murder without knowing of my circumstances. To me, this was a throw of the dice of fortune, and i prayed i would leave her hands unharmed.
I kneeled downwards and cut Bernhart’s coin purse. I knew that i could take the money and run, trying to escape Rattay and her guards… but then fortune would not favour me in that regard.
I threw the coinpurse towards the Bartender.
“That man was there at Skalitz alongside the Cumans… he aided in the creation of your hardship… it is only sensible that you take his coin.”
The guards came at that moment, halberds held out towards me.
And so that was how i came to be in a dungeon, wondering if i might live or die. But at the very least, i knew that i had killed one of the men responsible for destroying my village, i had gotten revenge, though the feeling hadn’t calmed me. I still felt hatred in my heart at what had happened, and the feeling of revenge hadn’t dashed the fire that was my rage.
I laid down on the floor, wondering about my life… my dreary eyes closing, the threat of sleep drawing me to the abyss.
‘I cannot die, not until my land is free of the Cumans.’
With that unsaid declaration, i felt calm, controlled. I found sleep a moment later.