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Garin and Salina
He felt himself become lost in her blue eyes, mesmerized. A
smile creased his pale, dry lips as he thought of his luck and his life. Salina returned his smile, causing her dimples to form at her cheeks. She was a beautiful women, standing about a head shorter than Garin, and she had long, straight blond hair that fell to her shoulders, yet it was hidden by the wedding veil. Her blue eyes contained a sparkle that only those who loved life had, and her plush red lips pursed slightly as though she was always about to laugh. Stealing a glance across the courtyard, Garin saw his Baron sitting among his entourage. Baron Jean de Louis-Pierre came to all his knight's weddings, a tribute in hopes that they will follow him blindly to his ambitious conquests. The Baron was about a few pounds away from being fat, and had a giant beard and mustache, which he always seemed to stroke. Despite knowing the Baron’s selfish intentions Garin couldn’t help but to feel proud to be a knight in the Baron’s court. The priest uttered the final words of the sermon; Garin again turned his attention to his bride. Tomorrow he, they, would be in his small manor in the countryside, beginning a family.
Later that evening Garin and Salina consummated their marriage and now they sat by the fire talking about what the name of their first child would be.
The weather was finally warming; the sun splashed its light on Garin’s face sending the warmth coursing through him. Garin loved this time of year, the lush greens splaying across the countryside, a tapestry no artist could mimic. Stepping outside fully, Garin listened to the sounds of birds chirping and livestock rustling through the grasses. He stopped immediately as he heard the neighing of a horse, and slowly his eyes found the lone horsemen, roving lightly amongst his crops. Recognizing the eccentric purple and yellow of Baron Louis-Pierre’s messengers. Garin's mind ran through possible scenarios of why one of the Baron's personal messengers would be at his door.
"Sir Garin, Baron Jean de Louis-Pierre requests your presence at his royal court immediately in order to consult the upcoming assault" the messenger spoke with an arrogant air that he shouldn't have had.
"I see...and what assault is Jean planning this time" Garin spoke with a disdaining tone, angry that he and his wife would be apart so soon from becoming together. He left out the Barons title, which conveyed easily toward the pompous messenger.
Slowly and deliberately the messenger repeated his message "Baron Jean de Louis-Pierre requests your presence at court and you will leave immediately to follow through with his request."
Garin didn't even give the messenger a response. He turned sharply on his heel and walked back behind his home where a small pond lay. He slumped to his knees and washed his face with the cool water. Breaths were short and irregular, and Garin's anger rose at the impudence of his lordship. Staring in the pond, Garin saw his reflection. His hazel eyes darkened from the news he had heard, as did the rest of his slender face. His taunt jawbone tightened even more and his aquiline nose crunched up with his anger. Garin's wet calloused hands ran through his curly black hair, and all his muscles tensed as he began to cough erratically. Defeated, Garin pushed himself up and walked back to his house to prepare for his short journey to the Baron's castle. Stepping through the door, Garin saw his wife and a slow, sad smile spread across his face.
"My husband" she exclaimed with worried surprise "is something wrong, what happened".
"The Baron has requested my presence for the his new crusade. If he chooses to go to war against any neighbor I will be taken away from you for months, and I’m not sure I can handle that." Garin's spoke softly.
“It is your duty to go, such is the life of a knight, and know when you return we will be waiting for you with open arms” Salina said.
Stunned, Garin asked quickly, “What do you mean ‘we’?”
“I’m pregnant, so don’t be too reckless when you claim your glory” Salina smiled broadly. Garin returned the smile and his mood lightened considerably. With that, Garin gathered his sword and tunic and walked briskly toward the stables to ready his horse. He had told his squires to stay home on this Saturday in order to enjoy the good spring weather and to rest from the hard week of work.
The dull long building of the stable had the stench of straw and manure. Garin walked up to his courser, stroking its white mane. Sighing, Garin attached the saddle to his horse and hopped on, grabbing a hold of the reins. He led his horse out of the stable and on to the grass, still moist from yesterday's rain, and his horse's hooves sunk slightly. The Baron lived north of Garin manor, in his castle, which laid up a quaint dirt road because it was rarely traveled and fit only two horses across. The Lowlands were still a bit cool in their transition to spring, but Garin allowed his eyes to roam across the landscape, taking in the green grasses, and purple wild flowers.
His mood once again soured as the castle came into view over the blue horizon, an eyesore in the countryside. The Baron had built it because of the beauty that surrounded it, yet it ruined that serenity with its harsh stonewalls and giant cold towers placed along the walls.
After getting clearance, a guard led Garin into the keep where the Baron kept his quarters. Garin was announced and entered the large open chamber. Every time Garin was astonished to the splendor of his lord's luxury. The room could fit close to a thousand occupants and in the center was a massive oaken round table engraved with stories of Arthur who the Baron fancied himself after. Purple silk drapes covered the circumference of and hand made rugs from the Far East covered the floor. Without speaking, Garin strode to his place at the table and sat among the rest of his brethren, again his anger began to rise at his Baron's foolishness since he knew what was coming. His thoughts were broken by the large Baron speaking, stroking his brown beard as he did so. The Baron did so because he thought it made him appear more "thoughtful".
"Men of my round table" the Baron smiled at his reference to Arthur, "I have brought you all here to agree to follow me into war with the kingdom of Munster."
Garin slumped into his seat but kept his gaze stoic; slowly he spoke with much thought. "Surely you are joking milord, we have but a fraction of Munster's military, and what does the king have to say about this conquest".
"The good king has given his blessing and said any land we acquire is mine, I mean ours, to hold and rule" the Baron's voice rose with a crescendo as he spoke.
"We have the chance to grow into a formidable power, able to rival in power our neighbors France and across the sea, England. Join me, my bravest souls, let us go forth and crush the enemy...for Glory, for God, and for Gold", the Baron’s dark eyes sparkled incessantly with the idea of the shiny metal.
The other knights rose from the chairs and cheered, caught up in ideas of fame and riches; Garin joined in but lacked the enthusiasm that his fellow knights appeared to feel. In truth, he felt as though he had just been punched in the stomach. The idea of never even getting a chance to see his child crept into the front of his mind.
"We will move as quickly as possible, gather boys and men across our land. We march in one week" the Baron shouted over the cheers, a smile born of greed appearing on his face.
After returning to his manor Garin and Salina spent the last night they would have together for a long while.
“Salina”, Garin’s eyes watering, “when I return from our victory you and I will take care of our child together”.
The next morning Garin prepared; walking into the stable he wiped his hand across his face to banish the accumulating water in his eye before his squire, Jonathan could see. Jonathan helped Garin don his armor and mount his destrier. Atop his mount, Garin rode away from his home, giving it a fleeting glance before turning away for what he hoped was not the final time. He and his regiment, which made a total of twenty-five men rode until they joined the main army at the Baron's castle. When the regiment reached the castle Garin dropped his head and followed the Baron's bellow to move forward.
The spring sun soon began to become a hindrance, and Garin took a long sip out of his water sac, cherishing the cool liquid rushing down his parched throat. The army had just entered the country of Munster, and scouts rumored that they had sent a force to meet them in the Roust Valley, which happened to be a mere days walk away. Garin's heartbeat quickened at the anticipation of battle, and with the thought he shifted uncomfortably on his saddle. His hand drifted unconsciously to the hilt of his sword; he sensed his comrades felt similar. Garin had been the master swordsman in his country ever since he was first knighted at the age of 18. Though he never enjoyed war he was accustomed to its smells and tastes.
The army sifted into the valley, which opened into a bowl of lush green grass as far as the eye can see. However, Garin spotted the blue uniforms across the way, Munster was here...waiting. Drums and conchs alerted the army; officers moved up and down the ranks screaming orders of formations. Garin reacted instinctually to the orders, forming up with the rest of his men and joining a nearby regiment. Under his helmet, his eyes scanned the battlefield. He saw the Baron retreating to the back of the army with his personal guard. Garin shook his head in disgust as his eyes traveled back to Munster's forces. It was easily evident that Munster outnumbered there own a good five to one, yet the Baron insisted that their forces were superior in skill.
Garin, along with the rest of his men formed up to the right of the front regiment. Their forces had set up in a wing formation with a front line base of infantry, flanked by cavalry. Munster's forces contained all infantry, and set up in a double line formation.
Sweat from anxiousness was prevalent; Garin could feel the unease of the horses, stomping their hooves up and down, pounding the ground.
"Soldiers march ahead" Shouted officers up and down the line. The infantry moved straight ahead while the cavalry, along with Garin fanned outward slightly. Unsheathing his sword, Garin spurred his horse into a gallop toward the enemy. As he closed the gap, Garin locked eyes with a Munster soldier, and saw the calmness that he possessed. Munster's men knew they were stronger and better than their opponents. Garin shook the thought from his mind and brought his sword down in a powerful downward slash. The soldier parried and counterattacked, but Garin nimbly turned his horse out of the way. He ignored the man as the charge pushed deeper into Munster's forces. The two armies were intertwined by now, and Garin could hear the clashing of steel and cries of agony. Garin stabbed at the closest opponent, piercing the man through the neck. Raising his shield, Garin blocked an attack from the left and quickly turned right to parry a blow with his sword. He spurred his horse 180 degrees, causing the horse to knock the soldier on his left off his feet. The horse then rose and stomped down, ending the soldier's fight. Turning his attention back to the right, Garin swung his sword horizontally toward the infantryman, attacking his neck. The soldier parried but Garin had already struck again toward the man's chest. Blood slathered Garin's sword as it met the exposed underbelly of the man.
Garin's arms were already beginning to ache, as were his thighs, which gripped the horse as tightly as they could. Sweat poured down his face through his helmet, and his chain mail stuck to his chest. He had been fighting alongside his fellow cavalry regiment, yet he had watched countless fall. Now only a handful were still standing proud among their mounts, amidst the enemy. Their infantry was slowly withering away, being pushed back. The Baron had them go on a head on attack, no strategy, and the army was now paying for it. Garin cut down a soldier and made his decision.
"Retreat, fall back to the entrance of the valley, Go!" Garin shouted. The men responded immediately and calls of retreat sounded up and down the lines. Garin turned his horse and charged back toward the camp, following the remaining men. A spear flew through the air at Garin, but he bent to the right, dodging it. Another sword flashed and found its mark, taking off the whole front right leg of his destrier. Garin toppled over the top of his horse as it face planted into the ground. Garin slowly pushed himself up off the ground, coughing uncontrollably. As he rolled over to catch his breath he saw three soldiers rushing toward him. Grabbing his sword Garin cut low at the leading soldier, his quickness taking the man by surprise. The other two cut at him simultaneously, but Garin jumped back. However, it was not quick enough as a deep gash appeared on Garin's left shoulder. Garin went on the offensive, spinning coming down hard at the man's shoulder blade. The soldier lost his balance and stumbled backward, granting Garin enough time to stab straight through the man. Wrenching his sword from the man's stomach Garin heard the final soldier charging at him. Bringing his body to face the man, he ducked left to avoid the soldier's strike. Garin then brought his elbow into the man's face. Laying on the ground the man slung his blade toward Garin, but he slapped it away. With two hands, Garin brought his sword down into the man's heart. Garin ripped the blade out, which released a horrible sound, but he stumbled toward the rest of his men who were much closer to camp than he. Garin's world then went dark as a mace found the back of his head.
Garin woke up and immediately his body and head protested. His vision blurry, Garin scanned his surroundings. Bodies were littered everywhere, most wearing the purple and yellow of his lord. His arms bulged as he pushed himself up, groaning with the pain that resonated throughout his body. Garin used his sword as a crutch and began to walk toward what once was where his army camped. The Baron's large tent was smoldering to ash, and bodies of his guard surrounded it. Garin saw no living remnants of his army, but then again, none of Munster's forces either. He walked the way where they had come so soon ago, toward his home. Walking the road, Garin saw fellow soldiers dead every now and then, dried blood spanning out from where they lie.
Garin's hazel eyes now lacked all trace of color, as they had glazed over to a dim gray. His mouth was dry and cracked and his shoulder was slumped causing him to limp. He had been short on food and water for the last three days, but he was almost home. His dear Salina would take care of him, making sure he made a recovery.
Approaching his manor, Garin's nose first noticed that all was not well; sulfur and smoke clogged his nostrils, causing him to cough incoherently. Garin broke out into a run, stumbling to the rubble of where his house used to lie. Tears streamed down his face uncontrollably, and he began to search for his beloved wife.
"Salina! Salina!, Where are you." Garin managed to scream between his sobs.
Garin stumbled throughout his land, until he caught sight of a charred corpse lying next to where his stables used to be. He rushed over, his heart beating so hard that it almost caused him to choke. As he got closer, however he recognized, though barely that it was the body of his squire, Jonathan. Salina was nowhere to be found, and Garin questioned where she could possibly be. As the sun made its final appearance, Garin slumped into the hay, exhaustion taking over his body.
Raleigh, North Carolina
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"Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible."