by ricky lucier
As the sun began to rise to the east, its light shone down the water, cutting through the morning mist lifting from the pineroot river. The crickets and birds began to croak and chirp. Subtly beneath all that was the sound of the breeze coming from the river, rustling through the grass.
Rodrik sat on the river bank with his eyes closed, embracing the cool breeze against his tired face. He listened to the song of spring as if the serenity of the world as it awoke would be enough to ease his troubled mind, the mind of a warrior, a leader, a failure.
It wasn’t his first time here watching the river from its bank outside Bridgetown. The last time was over 12 years ago to meet Aymer of house Delbert, King of Adenia for talks of peace, to end the rebellion. He found no peace of mind then, he’d find none now.
This time he was here to offer the final piece of the bargain…his son. Rodrik reached inside the front of his wool tunic and ran the tip of his finger down the scar that stretched from beneath his right shoulder to just under his bottom left rib, it was a deep scar, how he had received it burnt into his memory, a token of his foolishness.
“It’s our father’s sword you want? Then I will give you a feel of her blade!” he could still Edwin’s words ring in his ears, “How dare you make attempt for my crown brother, I am The King of Wembly!” He had screamed as he was subdued by several of Rodrik’s men, “I’ll have what I want! When I want! And I’ll take any woman I feel!” But she wasn’t any woman, Rodrik thought, she was my wife, my Grace.
Rodrik could feel his anger rising thinking of it, he always had a short temper, a family trait perhaps. If I hadn’t had the men with me then when I found out of his assault, he’d have killed me surly. I cut through three of Edwin’s men almost with ease, absolutely heartlessly, and yet it was I laying on my back with a wound across my chest…from my father’s sword….it was taken when we imprisoned him to start our war.
As a horse approached, Sir Aiken’s voice broke the silence, “My lord?”, he paused for a moment, “The men have risen, we should make our way toward Bridgetown.” He paused once more before saying, “King Aymer and his attendants await, my Lord.”
Rodrik rose from the bank, “Yes, we should be on our way.” Sir Aiken was master at arms, as he had been for Rodrik’s father. He took a few steps toward the old knight before turning back to the river to make a silent prayer to his long passed wife.
He walked to the tree where he had tied his horse and slipped his leather doublet over his tunic, he picked his sword belt up and buckled it on. He thought of his father’s sword, Ruby in the hilt, white brown grip. It was his by right, for generations the sword of Arthfael was passed from King to King of Wembly, before their people were subdued. They have been Vassals to house Delbert, Kings of Adenia, one hundred years since then, but even then the sword was passed from earl to earl. Edwin stole it. He stole it from Edric as he lay dying, he stole it from me when he fled east across the sea.
Rodrik rode upon the road, Today I give up more for my brother’s failed rebellion! Rodrik chewed for a moment on that. He glanced at the column of saddled men to his left as he pushed past, his sons were there, William the oldest. He looked into his father’s eyes. He is always watching me, watching what I do, how I lead our people. He knows one day he’ll do the same. He shared a short glance with Alexander, his second son, his youngest. His throat tightened as he thought of Grace, he wanted to reach up and rub his scar through the leather he couldn’t and he’d not let his men see him fidget. He looked back over his shoulder at Alexander, he won’t look at me! He’s always been distant; he has known this day would come for years now.
His mind went to the old wound across his chest, the slash through the flesh may have healed, it ran deeper than skin, on this of all days it burned, it throbbed, it was a constant reminder, his scar. A reminder of his failures, failed as a brother, as a son, as a husband, as a father.
I won’t fail my people! He swore to himself, All I do is for my people, my country, one day they will be free from oppression of the Kings of Adenia.
“My Lord,” called out Rolland as he kicked his mare to Rodrik’s side,
“How fare you this morning?” Rodrik asked his younger brother.
“I fare well enough, Rodrik,” he responded in a low subtle tone. They were distanced enough now that the other attendants could not quite hear him speak forwardly to their Lord Earl.
“William and Alexander shared my pavilion last night. I did not think it wise to post guards on Alexander as if he’s a prisoner,” Rolland spoke frankly.
“But he is…” Rodrik paused, “I keep him under guard so he won’t attempt to run. I need him so I can ransom him for this unsecured peace with house Delbert.”
“He will be their hostage, to ensure we’ll not rise up in arms again!” Rodrik clenched his jaw.
“It is a shame the boy must pay for the sins of our brothers.” Rolland said softly. “They were my sins too Rolland.” Rodrik couldn’t help but think of his scar, “I Followed Edric and Edwin in their rebellion, I plotted as well, don’t forget brother.”
“Aye, you did, but they usurped our father and had him locked in a dungeon.” Rolland argued, “It was you that freed our father and expelled our black hearted brother to across the sea!”
You were young then, Rodrik thought, I didn’t save father, I put imprisoned him too. I only went to father after Edric died, I offered his release on the condition that he name me his heir and exile Edwin, he made me swear.
By now the King was now only a dozen yards south, knots formed in Rodrik’s stomach, he did not want this, he had lost so much, though he has no choice. “Swear to me, you will do whatever it takes, no matter the cost,” his father’s words echoed in his memory.
Rodrik raised his hand to stop his mounted column, then motioned Alexander to ride ahead to meet his captors.
He turned to meet his son, just 11 years of age. When he looked at him he could see Grace, his wife who died birthing the boy.
He slowed his horse as he met the lad. “Alex” He said softly. Alexander didn’t acknowledge him; he didn’t look at him. He hates me, thought Rodrik. As Alexander pushed past him he swallowed the lump in his throat, his men took his cue and turned their horses to head north again. “William.” Rodrik called. His heir rode to his side. “ I do not wish this William! But I haven’t a choice, when your time to rule comes you will learn that there are difficult choices to make,” Rodrik sighed, “some of which will leave us scarred and plagued with the guilt of our actions,” he paused “My father once told me that every man, every kingdom has scars, and every ruler must bear those scars, be it his own or his peoples. A man’s scars can either cripple him or he can wear them as a lesson so he can become better and be a great man, a great knight, or a great king.”
William looked at him, “But we aren’t kings… we don’t rule our people in our own right anymore.” William rode past his father.
I wont fail again, I’ve been plotting for 12 years, I will plot for another 12 if need be, his hand went to his chest, this scar is a reminder of a promise. If I don’t live to wear the crown, William will. He will gain scars of his own, but he will be King! He will liberate our people, if not, if something should befall William then it will be Alexander, the son I just gave up as hostage, the son that they will likely turn against me, the son that hates me.
The wars to come will leave us all with scars, he thought as Alexander looked back from the south bound party. Him most of all.
He turned his horse and rode back north