The Marble Castle – Part III

The Marble Castle Part II here

I wake up to the bright sun rays and catch the chill of the wind that creeped in through the doorway. I must have dropped onto my bed after the vassals’ visit. I get a happy rush streaming down my throat after recalling early morning’s visit and spring up from the bed to put on my robes. I look at the window and extend my hand towards the sun to see how much time I have left till the sundown. It seems to be the midday – good time to visit Frank once again before I hear what the king has to say. I sense an adventure down the road but peril crippling alongside it and I cannot put it together to understand which thrills me the most. On a bright side, the old man may shed a light on this sudden visit from the king’s servants as he tends to have ears on the back of everyone’s head. Although, I am not sure why he did not speak of this yesterday as he usually is the first one to know everything that happens within and outside of the kingdom.
Leaving the armour behind me, I pour myself a lukewarm water into the goblet and start hungrily sipping on it. I cannot gather my spirit not to rush to hear what Frank knows about tomorrow. It has been a long time since my last service done for the king and my muscles have been growing weary and strength leaving has slowly left from my body. No matter how much I train and how long I carry this armour for, I cannot summon the same courage and passion as I had before. Being a knight is not something that one is born with – you learn and practice to be one and once you have mastered that skill, it will scar you for the rest of your life. Some look at the scar as an old wound and some see it as a gift. The former turns into madmen while the other see their gift fade away over time. The saddest part is that neither of them can live the same way.
I put the goblet on the side of the table and look around just to see if I need to take anything else with me. I come up to get my pouch of silver coins (to re-pay for some of the Frank’s past rounds and also to soothe the old man down into giving me more details on the upcoming event) and fly out through the doorway and out into the forest. Frank’s establishment is not located far away from my house and it is on the way to the kingdom as well (which is why I anticipate for the old man to spill the truth and all the rumours he has collected from the visitors all the way from there).
The forest has been very quite and I have grown too comfortable with the calmness of it all – so calm, in fact, that it has dumbed my mind.
The sun’s rays were slowly being covered by the clouds – I could sense the rain brewing. The time has come for Autumn to colour the trees and soak the ground. Most beautiful time of the year before the cold malice of winter. I can cherish those winter days spent in the kingdom – so warm and hospital it was. The huts, the houses were lit and the fire was constantly dancing outside of everyone’s place. All the kingdom folk made winter the most anticipated and jolliest seasons of all. The streets were always swarming with people, songs, celebrations, festivals and hot wine that could boil the coldest soul of any human. It was mesmerising to live there. My hut, though, cast me into a cold oblivion and made me urge for spring to return. Luckily, Frank always had a brew to warm me up and he would sometimes invite me to stay in the brewery, which was always glowing with warmth and hospitality.
I approach Frank’s brewery and, to my surprise, I do not hear the crowded noise and goblets smashing against one another in cheering. Only the dimmed lights and the same familiar warmth, crawling from under the door crack, and the smell of glazed chestnuts. I walk up the stairs to open the door and see that the place has only a few people and Frank stand behind the bar stand, preparing another brew. I nod at the visitors and come up to the old man.
“Top of the day, Frank,” I said. “Surprisingly quite today, is it not?”
“Yes, it is,” he responded quickly. “I can imagine most of my clients enjoying today without my usual sarcasm and old stories. I bet that they are only waiting for my brew to get stronger to hit their heads quicker and make them drunk. Judging by the amount of brew I have sold over the couple of years, my visitors can easily enter the ranks of Barbarians, I bet that. I certainly do not mind the quite days as I have longed for them already for quite some time. It looks like my brew has had an effect on you too now that you cannot fit into your armour now, haha!”
“Have you heard of anything that will happen tomorrow?” I interrupted Frank’s laughter.
Frank stopped rubbing the thick glass, looked at me and put his rug aside. He took a deep breath, as if we would not be able to take another one and put his hands onto the table. Frank stared at the floor for a few moments, lifted his head up and came up to one of the barrels and started pouring the drink. I gathered that the drink was meant to be for me, so I reached out for the silver pouch in my pocket and quietly placed it onto the bar stand. Frank could hear the coins touch his stand faster than they actually did. Once he had the goblet full, he placed it in front of me and pushed the bag of silver towards me.
“You may need this, boy,” he said in a deep voice.
“Pardon?” It came as a genuine surprise to me that Frank would not accept the money that I owed him. “This is the money for most of the rounds I had owed you. I am not certain of when I may be back here to drink your brew once again if the king orders us to go on a long journey. Take it now while you can.”
“You owe me nothing,” he continued. “And I sense nothing benign behind that gathering, in all honesty. The kingdom has been in peace for a long time now and it foresees no further clashes, skirmishes or wars in its path. It has made allies with everyone that it possibly could. If there is any blood to be spilled, that would be way up in the North of this world, which is of no concern to his highness and of no interest to the Barbarians that inhabit those regions.”
I was not sure what Frank had on his mind or what stories he had gathered from the others who passed by his brewery. He sounded alarmed and worried to me, and looked quite upset that I knew about tomorrow’s event.
“I gather that the vassals already paid you a visit earlier today. That is unfortunate. No matter how many times I had told them not to venture deeper into the forest, their noses appear to be longer than my stick, which I attempted to scare them off with. They should not have found you.”
“Why is that, Frank? What are you trying to say?” I took my first sip of his brew, which felt surprisingly more bitter than usual.
“You better stay where you are, boy, if you want to live.”
“I swore my life to the king. I owe him everything – what he has done for me, other knights and his people. How can you say that? If my life needs to be sacrificed for the greater good, then it shall be.”
“This won’t be a worthwhile sacrifice – that you can trust me,” Frank continued sounding unlike himself. “The king cannot continue supporting the lot of you. You are of no purpose to him any longer. He cannot disband you nor can he put you into a civil life any longer. The king once created the purpose of your existence and he is afraid of the consequences that may follow. Run while you can and hide in a new house, while you’re young and have a long life ahead. Your discipline is of my and many other people’s admiration and you have to place it elsewhere while there is time and while you are alive.”
The silence stood upon us and I tried deciphering Frank’s riddles one at a time as I could feel that he was hiding something from me or he did not know the whole story and what was about to happen. My hope was growing dim at the same time and I could feel the old man’s concern over my life.
“The king wishes you nothing good, any longer, my friend. I wish you could stay out of this trouble but I know that you shall not. This is not how you have been brought up and for that, I am glad. You are fearless and are ready to embrace the trouble and look into the mouth of the danger. But this is not the right time or occasion to do so. Stay out of this if you can. He shall set you on a mission that you shall not come back after alive.”
The sense of confusion started growing deeper inside of me and it kept me speechless. Frank could feel it as well but he knew that it would be dishonourable for me not to follow the king’s word and at the same time he had a hope that I would not go. I continued sipping on Frank’s brew and staring at him being puzzled. I was waiting for him to tell me more of what he knew.
“I am worried about it all, to say the least. Stay out of it if you want to live and if you have something to lose,” he concluded.
I remained in the brewery until late evening as Frank continued serving me the brew and tried reading one another in complete silence under the dimmed lights. I could sense that Frank knew nothing more of what were to follow tomorrow. He continued persuading me against going there but something kept on telling me that I had to. And, unfortunately, I had nothing else to lose but my word and life to my king