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

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The Marble Castle – Part II

The Marble Castle – Part I: here

The Marble Castle – Part III: here

One of the few other things I enjoy the most is heading back home from Frank’s late in the evening. The air has never been this fresh for that long this season. Walking feels like flying and it almost feels as if the head separates from your body and makes you feel as light as a feather. The trees are covered with the carpet of friendly gloom and dusted off with a sprinkle of fading sun rays that lamp the way towards my house. I always take the same way back home but during this season, it always feels different and special and I take my time to become closer to nature, inhale as much of the “freshly baked” Spring leaves as I can and gather some berries on the way. The forest is vast, breathing with happiness of being finally awake after a long winter that sucked the life out of the plants. I could not help but feel the same joy.
I open the door wide and invite the house to take in the fresh forest air inside. I proceed with taking off my thin-light armour and putting it peace by peace on a thick wooden table. That pretty much concludes my day as everyday has been a routine for me.
All the knights had been placed off their duties every since the battle of crusaders came to an end and our services were put on indefinite hold. The high king found new servants to himself and since the kingdom had not been endangered for almost a year, some of us travelled into far kingdoms in search of new kings to serve for while others remained closed off from the society or blending in the local life in kingdom. Those who decided to remain isolated continued receiving their stack of gold from the king as a life-bound agreement for protecting their king and people. I can only imagine what they could be doing now but from what I gathered from others, their lives are of mere “live from one day to another”. Those are the ones that lost their “knight discipline” and are simply feeding off their livelihood deposits. The latter do the same jobs as the civilians and live peaceful lives. I, however, decided to live a disciplined life. Although I live in a place a bit afar from the kingdom, I still visit friendly town folk and interact with the newcomers (mainly those who visit Frank’s popular establishment).
I still have faith in knights and believe that there once again will be a need for us in the kingdom. This is something that only time will show but for now, I am remain confident in my past trainings and my strength routine keeps me in good spirit. Although, I do notice that my muscles crumble under the weight of the armour – Frank’s generous brew does come with side effects after all.
It had not been particularly quite during the past year, I ought to be honest. Some of the knights felt the bloodlust spirit chasing them, not mentioning the ones who could not live in peaceful times. I’d heard from Frank multiple times that some of the us (although, only rumours are being spread at Frank’s, who catches them like fat mosquitoes) attempted to start riots within the kingdom for the quench of blood and in order to resume their service to their king. Luckily, the king was smart enough to foresee that and put those riots down fairly easily – the town folk had too much passion for his deeds and they trusted him too.
Other knights attempted to “spread the fake fire” within other kingdoms in order to put our king under a threat. I am not particularly familiar as to how they tried that but their attempts were certainly in vain and kings from fellow kingdoms were able to put down the riots in the same fashion. Word of a single knight to another king bears no authority and so any threats were rapidly squished. It is unfortunate that those granted with power of a knight became reckless, bloodlusted shamans only to seek battles and death of others. The ones who could not bear the freedom that they fought for their people turned to the very East to become “death-seekers” – those are the ones who sell themselves to fight in wars that are bound to be lost.
I am still a believer that faith in the knights is yet to be restored but I have to admit it – we’re on the verge of becoming a myth and characters of fantasy books, such as the kids are so used to reading nowadays. You can see a spark in their eyes when the knights march – they want to aspire to be one one day. To be the man with principles, honour, glory and capable of protecting its people and the king. Our reputation does not allow me to come back to the kingdom and make it feel like in the old days – some either despise us (because of the reckless behaviour of my fellow knights) or see no more purpose in our existence since it’s been almost a year without a war. There still remain (quite a few) folks who remember us for our bravery and passion to do good and protect from the bad. May be, one day…
I wake up to a loud knock on my window – I must have fallen asleep while writing my diary notes. I try to make out a person out of the dark figure standing by window but cannot seem too – it feels quite early for my eyes to open wide. I stand up, tilting from side to side (with my stomach still catching up with the brew) and slowly pace towards the door. I don’t recall anyone knocking on my door for quite sometime. This can only mean that there must be someone from the kingdom with either good or bad news. I open the door wide and cover my face with the hand – the sun’s rays almost blind me. There, by the trees, I see two horses – a vassal sitting on one and a young man, looking as if he were a jester (judging by his outfit), standing by his.
“Good morning, noble one”, said the youngling, piercing my ears with his high-pitched voice. “An order from the king has come. His majesty is summoning all knights, who once swore to protect his kingdom until their final day. You’re invited to the kingdom tomorrow afternoon to reclaim your fine reputation, good deeds and pure intentions for the people of our kingdom. The task that awaits you and the rest of the knights is under no disclosure until the king speaks the word. Should you decide to decide not to visit the kingdom to hear the king’s words, your land possessions may be revoked”.
The young lad folded the scroll back and stood silently for a few moments, looking away from me and to the vassal.
“What say you, knight?” he said, his voice sounding a pitch louder now.
“It shall be my honour,” I concluded, smiling brightly at them both.

The Marble Castle – Part I

The Marble Castle – Part II: here

 

So here I am again, sitting at an old, cracking table (as ancient as my hopes) in anticipation of getting yet another drink.

“Sir, another round, please!”

“Who is going to pay for it this time, my liege?”

“I shall figure something out. In the meantime, do me a favour and keep the brew tight in your wooden glasses, old Frank! You spill half of the brew on your way to my table.”

“If you kept your promises and paid on time, I would be more careful, Sir.”

Excuses, rubbish, rattling and noise is all that I hear today. Excuses upon excuses, as prudent and massive as the fletching of the winner’s arrow. I almost forget Frank’s barbaric behaviour while surrounded by itches of thick smell and presence of the others, familiar looking and behaving barbarians. The place tends to attract crowds specifically on the days when I feel like getting a fresh brew. Only I know when it is served fresh, as sneaky Frank cannot be bothered about the quality and freshness as who else would care? No one would dare even thinking of raising their voice as everyone knows that there is no better brewery in the town to find, so they simply stick with whatever Frank would put on their table. For those guests who would collect moderate amounts of “acidic liquid”, he would purposefully spill as much of it as possible before serving. They would not even notice or care and it was always a joy to the old man to see the drunks tripping over his brew once they leave the place. Some burst out laughing to the point that the walls start trembling and echoing their laughs, while the rest trip over for so long that they start believing they are cursed and come back to get some more brew from Frank to “get back to normal and be able to stand up”. Surely, Frank would glance over his brewery stand and tell the scared guests that he had just the right “potion to lift off the curse of the old witch from them”. The guests were shocked but thankful all the same. While they would sober up from the fear and gulp their “magic potion”, Frank would clean and dry the floor, so the guests would be able leave. While those tricked by him would be sobbing at their tables, the rest, tripping over and falling, would laugh to the point where they stomachs would start hurting and they would resort to crawling outside of the brewery. That made the old man laugh every single time – not that he was an evil, twisted and crooked man. He just had to entertain himself somehow as the old brewery was the only thing that was left to him from his wife. Ironically, she slipped on his brew a long while back and never stood up again, if you know what I mean. I guess that Frank also thinks back on his wife when the other barbarians fall over his alcohol and it makes his day.

“By God, Frank, I told you that I would pay!” I almost shouted when Frank approached me and spilt half of the brew onto my shiny armour. “I’ve just had it polished today – do you know how long it takes for me to take it off?”

“May be that would serve as an incentive for you to pay next time you come by.”

Frank knows how to convince people and make them pay their debts. He has all kinds of brew at his disposal and once you step into his old, spacious, dark-lit stone cave, you better know very well what alcohol to order.

Once upon a time there was a gentleman, who Frank knew owned the silver to one of his friends. The gentleman asked Frank to give him one of his best brews – this not only offended Frank (gentleman inclining that Frank mostly serves poorly made brew, which, frankly speaking, is true) but allowed him to give the gentleman anything that Frank would deem best fitting to the situation. Frank surprised him with dozens of chugs of a “special brew for special visitors”. The man was thrilled and paid Frank back well. Little did he realise what Frank put into that potion. After a couple of blissful brews and many minutes later, a thirsty guest started seeing illusions and later on, hallucinating. The only thing that was real to him was the old man, Frank. The stranger crawled to him, asking about what he put in his drink, to which Frank, proudly, said that it was the best of the brews and that the man was so weak that he could not handle it. The man, in panic, admitted that he was weak and asked for a drink that would bring him back to reality or else he would blame Frank for witchcraft. Frank opened the door of his welcoming brewery and asked him to go ahead and deliver justice upon him. What the gentleman saw behind an open door remained a mystery but Frank could see that whatever theme caught the eyes of the man, it was truly terrifying and made the guest turn pale beyond recognition. He begged the old man to shut the door and not speak ill of him to anyone. Frank obeyed and gave him a condition of paying off to one of his friends who the gentleman owed a few dozens of silver coins. The fear and desperation grew stronger within the visitor and without hesitation he threw a heavy pouch bag onto Frank’s stable. Of course, the old man took his time to close the door and tell the visitor all about how he opened the brewery with his wife that one time ago and how famous his brewery used to be and still is outside of the kingdom. The delusions grew stronger and bigger until the man curled and started foaming from his mouth, trying to bite off his tongue and pouch his eyes out. Frank was only half way through the story, collecting the remaining drinks from the table that he made for the visitor and started cleaning his place. By the time Frank had been done, the guest lay unconscious. Frank only laughed at him and spilt the remedy onto the poor man’s face that woke him up back to his senses. This is why you need to be careful with Frank and anyone who owes him or his friends. This story never left any spectators’ mouths and even the greedy gentleman himself. Since the man asked him for “any” drink, Frank could not be blamed for poisoning him. Even if the guest had brought this to Facalites, they would either not believe his story or be afraid themselves of daring to approach Frank’s brewery.

Although Frank had not tried poisoning me the same way for not being the most frequently obeying drinkers at his place, he would genuinely miss my presence at his place. There was some uncanny and special connection between the two of us. We were almost like grandson and grandfather. I also helped him out once too often that he offered me lifetime brew. However, I started having a bit too much for my own wellness and he started charging me again (hoping that I would eventually run out of bronze and stop drinking as often or may be even become a part of the brewery). The first prediction was on the verge of becoming a reality while the second is far from ever happening. I was well occupied with my sadness those days.

It was a busy night for Frank – the kingdom had celebrated its longest time of peace. It had been 25 years since the last crusade battle. Every man who wanted to celebrate and cheer Frank came to his brewery. Frank was joyful as he was finally able to empty out the old barrels of his elusive brew. He would not sell it on regular days but because every other brewery was packed to the roof, the guests had no choice. It took at least a whole keg to be able to taste the flavour of the brew but once you do, you knew that the old man was up to something and that flavour was one of a kind – you just need to be patient and prepared enough to drink that much. Once you do, you will never forget or find anything similar to that brew anywhere else in the kingdom. Frank felt very festive and cut the price per pint to half, so every kept on throwing coins at him. Literally. Frank was the happiest that I had seen him in a long time.

I, on the contrary, was far from feeling as festive as the rest of the folk. My head was occupied with nothingness and the deepest of the blues. It almost felt like I belonged to no king, no castle, no princess – nothing or anyone. It was a devastating feeling – the longer that I sat and drank brew there, the wider the hole was growing inside of me. As if I were digging my own hole and trying to get out of it at the same time. This is what it felt every time I would stop at Frank’s as I had nowhere else to go, no one to serve, no one to kneel to in my shining armour. However, the old man’s brewery was my only way to remain in touch with the world and besides all the sadness, that was touching the surface of my lonely spirit, I could feel warm and inviting atmosphere that was able to put little patches on the cracks of that lonely spirit of mine. It was one of a kind. Frank knew this and tried to cheer me up at all times. Even on my worst days, the man would always find a way to make me smile. Sometimes, I would not have a choice but to smile as he otherwise would not let me out of the brewery. That trick always worked.

The night was growing thicker and the curtains under my eyebrows were becoming heavier. The cheer within the brewery calmed down as well and I felt that it was a good time to part away from the brew and head out home. I picked my sword and looked around in search for Frank. He was chatting away to another group of newcomers and giving the good old pitch of his handcrafted brew. His introduction followed up with stories of the kingdom, the king, the crusaders, the golden age of the knights and stories of his life. It almost felt like the sun would not be willing to rise the next day just because it would rather stay down, enjoying Frank’s stories. The next day, I could tell, would be darker than any other.