King Edward’s Court, England 1354 AD
The sounds and chatter abruptly ended as soon as Gareth de Mowbrey set foot into the royal court. His hands and feet were tied to iron chains, the long chains scraping across the cold stone floor, rattling in his wake. As a knight, he had witnessed many prisoners entering the court like this. But now he was the one who would stand before the king, with heavy iron chains weighing him down.
In the dungeon the night had merged into day; he had no idea how long he had been imprisoned. And when the guard came to get him, he knew his time had come. First, he would face a trial by ordeal, and then his fate would be sealed by that outcome, which was undoubtedly death.
The two knights Derrik d’Evant and Jonathan d’Abelard were already there, waiting for the trial to begin.
A half dozen men also stood at a distance from the king’s throne. They all turned, silently watching his approach, speculation and judgment already present on their faces.
Jonathan stood with his back as straight as a rod, his gaze zeroing in on Gareth. The knight had dark shadows under his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept. His hair was mused and the beginnings of a beard shadowed his chin. An image of a fierce hawk was embroidered boldly on his surcoat and covered the shining armor that he wore. He looked every bit the legendary knight that he was, forceful and forbidding. His presence was commanding, and the surrounding men kept a respectful distance from him.
He was close enough to see Jonathan’s face. But then he wished that he didn’t witness his friend’s lips tighten with distaste, or how he averted his eyes, as if he couldn’t stand the sight of him. The rejection shot through to his heart, as if an arrow had pierced it. But this is what I deserve.
He hung his head, not wanting to see the disgust in Jonathan’s eyes. He focused on placing one foot over the other. The guard gave him an impatient shove. And when he still didn’t move fast enough, the guard pushed him a little harder. Gareth stumbled to his knees, the chains around his legs and hands clinking as they made hard contact with the stone floor.
Gareth slowly got up, and through the slits of his eyes, he examined the men who were present to witness his judgment. Most of the faces were familiar to him.
The warden who officiated the trials, stood back with the others, his hands noticeably empty. Almost with dread, Gareth looked over toward King Edward. The monarch sat on his throne with one elbow propped up on the armrest and his chin resting on an open palm.
“Tell us what has happened,” the king commanded, the expression on his face grim. His advisor stood at his side, the man’s expression as serious as his ruler.
“Your majesty, Sir Gareth killed the Grey Knight,” Jonathan said, his voice dripping with disappointment and barely concealed disgust. “He killed my bastard brother after giving word that he would bring him safely to the royal court. He did this, your majesty, and robbed us all of our right to witness high justice.”
Gareth stared straight ahead, trying to ignore the cutting accusation. Of course this was useless. The sting of Jonathan’s censure had the ability to puncture through armor. He wouldn’t have cared if the charge came from another man, but this came from the Iron Hawk. He was a man who Gareth had traveled with, shared bread with, and who he trusted with his life. In all manner except for blood, Jonathan was his brother.
“This is a serious charge,” King Edward said, stroking his neatly trimmed beard. “What proof do you have that he did this?” He flicked his eyes over to the young knight. “Sir Derrik, what did you witness? Did you see the murder of Raulf of Blackburn?”
Derrik stepped forward. “When I arrived, the Grey Knight was already dead, your majesty. I had thought perhaps that the death was an accident.”
“’Twas no accident,” Jonathan interjected. “I heard the confession from his own lips.”
“Do you deny this, Sir Gareth?” the king asked, his eyes steady and cool.
“Nay,” he said, licking his cracked lips, his voice low and raspy. “I ended the Grey Knight’s life. But ‘twas what he deserved after what he did to my brother Reuben, to Lady Amelia,” he glanced over at Jonathan, “and to countless other people.”
“Aye, the Grey Knight’s life was ended,” Jonathan said bitterly, “but it should not have been by your hands.”
Gareth sensed all eyes turning toward him. A murmur sounded among the crowd. And the words disgrace and dishonor buzzed around his ears, making them burn.
“You killed Raulf,” Jonathan continued, his voice quiet although there was fury in it. He then raised a finger, pointing it to the centre of Gareth’s chest, his hand trembling slightly from the force of his reproach. “You did this when I explicitly told you not to harm him. And you denied me the one thing that was most important to me. Now I will never see the Grey Knight hanged for what he did to my betrothed.” His voice cracked and his eyes brightened for a moment, as if he was overcome with emotion. “And you lied about killing him.” He paused, heaving in a heavy breath, his nostrils flaring slightly. “How could you do this to me, Gareth? After I took you in and treated you as kin. You knew that I had waited ten years to see the Grey Knight punished.” He blinked rapidly a few times before he buried his head in his hand. But when his hand dropped away from his face and he looked up again, there was loathing in his eyes. And as he spoke again, his voice was as hard as steel.“You took an oath to be truthful at all times, to be honorable at all costs. But you have failed in your duty. You have failed me.”
Gareth closed his eyes, unable to look at his friend. He couldn’t deny that he took the vows. Nor could he deny that he broke them
“You sire,” Jonathan continued, his voice ringing throughout the court, “are not fit to be a knight.”
A hush descended upon them, and the only sounds were the crackling of the fire at the far end of the room.
I robbed him of his vengeance. For a fleeting, almost desperate moment, Gareth felt sick to his stomach. Never had he witnessed so much hatred coming from his friend. And all that hatred was directed at him.
“We have heard enough,” King Edward said, breaking the silence. He lowered his hand from underneath his bearded chin and settled his dark eyes onto Gareth. “You have put us in a difficult position, Sir Gareth. A crime of this magnitude must be punished. When you take your oaths to become a knight, you cannot treat these vows lightly. And for you to withhold the truth — this act seriously undermines your integrity as a man and as a warrior.” He paused for half a beat, allowing his words to sink in.“However, we cannot forget that you are a good and loyal knight, a knight sympathetic to our cause. Nor can we forget the loyal service that you and your brother had given to the state.”
A low hum went through the crowd, and a few people nodded their heads in agreement. The king held up his hand for silence and almost immediately the noise dwindled.
“Make no mistake, the man known as the Grey Knight was a menace to the state,” the king continued, his voice ringing with authority. “He terrorized the people of this kingdom for ten long years. ‘Twas only a matter of time before he was caught and killed.” He nodded to the guard. “Release his chains.”
“But your majesty —” Jonathan began.
“We are not finished,” the king interrupted, he pinned a glacial stare at the knight.
Jonathan snapped his mouth shut.
The guard unlocked the chains and tugged at the links, causing the metal prison to slither to the floor.
His burden was gone and he felt light. He rubbed at the raw area where the iron chains had chaffed at his skin, but that was a small price to pay. At least now he knew that the king didn’t intend to kill him. However his relief was short-lived.
The king shifted his eyes back to Gareth. “For your crime of breaking the sacred vows of knighthood,” he continued, “You will be banished to the outer reaches of the realm.”
A gasp sounded from the group that surrounded them, and they turned to one another, whispering their astonishment.
Jonathan slapped his gauntlet on his armored leg, the metal clanking against metal. He seemed almost unable to contain his objection, but he didn’t dare speak up again.
Was he supposed to be relieved or dismayed? He wasn’t sure. All he knew was that torture, whipping and death were the usual punishments for a crime of this scale. But the king’s decree made him feel numb. He would be banished outside the kingdom. And even though he wasn’t stripped of his title, he could no longer be a knight as his reputation was now in shreds.
The guard bent down to gather up the chains on the ground just as the king’s advisor spoke quietly into the king’s ear. He handed a parchment over to King Edward.
“You are dismissed,” King Edward said, waving his hand in the air. Taking the parchment, he broke the seal and began to read it.
Gareth could feel the hostility emanating from Jonathan. The king’s punishment was too light it seemed. He glanced over at his friend, and when their eyes met, Gareth felt the other man’s loathing shoot straight to his gut.
“I’m sorry —”
“Don’t speak to me,” Jonathan said, his teeth clenched. “Your words are meaningless. I will forever regret that I had put my trust in you.” With that, he pivoted on one foot and stalked off.
As Gareth watched his friend leave, an abject sensation flooded his body and gathered in his heart.
His shoulders slumped slightly, and he started to move forward. Just then a hand touched his arm, stopping him. He turned to find Derrik at his side.
“I tried my best to convince them that ‘twas an accident, Gareth,” he said.
He shook off the other man’s hand.“You have my gratitude. But as I’ve told the Hawk, I meant to kill the Grey Knight, and that’s what I did.”