Buzzards, Hawks and Ravens

(Account of Six Friends' Lives in the "Dark" Ages)

by

Ruwen Rouhs

Chapter 10.1

- Veldegg -

- Anzo's Return to his Father's Count Ship -

 

Anzo gasped for air like a fish on a sandy beach. Someone held his nostrils shut. He opened his mouth to gasp for air and immediately a burning fluid was poured into his mouth. Some of the fluid went down his gullet, the rest into his windpipe. He coughed and sputtered, and tears began streaming down his cheeks. Through the blur of tears he recognized the grey haired corporal grinning at someone supporting him from behind. "I told you, this stuff works wonders; my brandy can revive dead!"

With his right arm, Anzo tried to brush away the tears to have a better look at the person supporting him. When he tried to turn around he cried out in pain. His left arm hurt like mad. A look revealed a deep gash in his upper left arm.

"Don't get upset!" a young voice from behind tried to console him, "I didn't want to hurt you that badly. I just wanted to issue a warning, but my bolt hit your arm and you blacked out!"

Anzo recognized the voice of the younger of his two minders, the one who had watched him so warily before. Now the young soldier was looking at him shyly, and ashamed.

Anzo's clothes were wet, because he had fallen headfirst into the river when he fainted.

"You need dry garments, Monkie." the young mercenary told him, "We have some for you to wear, over in the saddle bags."

"First, I need water, please. Let me have some water, please; I haven't had a drop of water for more than a week." and then Anzo tried to wrestle himself free again, to run for the riverbank.

"Stop boy, don't drink that cold water! Take this bottle; drink it sip by sip. It's water with wine. This will quench your thirst much better and make you feel warm!" the corporal insisted.

Anzo drank and drank and drank. After a while he recovered a little and the wine made him feel giddy. Giggling, he set out for the horses, but after a few steps his legs gave in and he fell to the ground.

The young soldier lifted up him like a baby and carried him to the horses. "Oh gosh, I didn't realize you are that light. You`re as light as a five year old kid. With your cowl you looked like a well-fed monk."

Anzo exchanged his wet cowl for the some old but dry clothes, while the corporal bandaged up the deep cut on his arm. Silently, the small group set of for Veldegg, the corporal taking the lead. Anzo, clad like a poor villager, rode second and the young soldier took the rear. The mercenaries choose the road to Veldegg which headed through the mountains, instead the easier way along the river. Anzo guessed his minders choose the long way around in order to avoid the town of Quentisburry.

Anzo realized clearly now, that he was at the mercy of the mercenaries, who had orders to bring him to his worst enemy, his step-uncle, the Duke Menno of Veldegg. Before the accident, the corporal had made this totally clear by stating explicitly, "We have strict orders to bring your head to the Count of Veldegg. He didn't mention your body! Got it?...Your head is enough to get us the reward. So don't try to run off, if you want to stay alive! We are allowed to kill you!" Despite this threat Anzo felt safer now than in all the days in the cold prison cell at the monastery, and in the icy crypt. Out on the road, there was at least a small chance of escape, or if his flight failed, he could at least try to fight his enemy face to face.

Riding in silence for the whole morning, Anzo finally turned to look back at the young mercenary to check his chances for an escape. Their eyes met inquiringly. Anzo was surprised, because the young soldier smiled at him and then brought his horse closer. "Feeling better now, little Monkie? I didn't know the Abbot tried to kill you by thirst and hunger...Are you hungry?" Searching his saddlebags for food, he offered Anzo some bread. "It's old and dry, but tasty. Chew it slowly...Here, take water from my bottle, too!"

Anzo was amazed by the kindness of the dangerous looking dark-haired young mercenary, but his smiles won him over, and, hungry as he was, he accepted the food gladly.

Later in the afternoon, Anzo was so tired, that he nearly fell from the horse when it dodged a stray dog. Being tired too, the corporal decided on a rest at the next roadhouse. After a simple dinner, the old mercenary challenged the landlord to a game of dice, while the young mercenary tried to carry on with the landlord's daughter. Smiling at Anzo encouragingly, he teased him, "Hey Monkie, you've already shed your cowl; why don't you shed your coyness of girls, too? Look, she looks cute and her eyes are eating you up. I think she likes you even more than me!" As Anzo blushed, the young mercenary grinned, and added, "I'm sure she wouldn't mind if we enjoyed her together!"

Anzo blushed even more, turned on the spot, and retired into the backroom, uttering some lame excuse.

*.*.*

 

This was Anzo's first night out of the monastery's dungeons. He was still a captive, but at least he could move freely around in the pub. In the dark backroom he sprawled out on the straw. Tonight, the pokes from the bed of straw seemed to him as comfortable as the softest mattress. He had neither pillow nor blanket therefore he curled up like a puppy and soon fell asleep, despite the low temperature.

Anzo was aroused out of a dreamless sleep, by someone covering him up with a heavy blanket. Half asleep, he saw the young soldier sitting next to him. "Can I join you under the blanket?" he asked, "It's a cold night and I have only this one blanket!" Taking no answer as a `yes', he crawled under the cover too and touched Anzo's wounded arm accidentally.

Anzo winched, and turned in pain, "Please don't touch my wounded arm! It hurts like hell!"

"Oh gosh, I forgot your wounded arm. Believe me, I didn't intend to hurt you this morning!" In the ensuing silence he continued. "I like you!" waiting for in vain for an answer, the mercenary continued hesitantly, "Do you know why I like you?...You can't, I am sure! You probably think I hate you, because I wounded you, and have order to bring you to Veldegg...No my little Monkie! I like you, ever since I fished you out of the cold river."

Anzo was still drowsy, but the mercenary's words sounded so emphatic, that he turned to him despite the pain in his arm. "I know you don't hate me soldier...But look, you are a mercenary to my uncle and you are my warder. How can I trust you?"

"Listen Monkie. This morning, when I held you in my arms like a frail doll, I remembered my cousin...I haven't thought of him in years. We grew up together at the court in Genoa. He was small and lightweight, like you, and I was huge; grown and strong. We did everything together, playing, eating, fighting and sleeping. We were best friends, till his father went to Florence as a mercenary, and my father took off to Constance to serve at the Bishop's court. I haven't seen my cousin for years now. He must be your age...and I sure would like to hold him in my arms again!"

Next morning, Anzo woke up first. Still drowsy, he thought Berrit was spooning him. When he turned around, he noticed his mistake; nonetheless, he gave the still sleeping mercenary a peck on the cheek.

During the next days both minders were kind to Anzo, but at the same time always on guard. Anzo never had the slightest chance to escape. When, finally, the castle of Veldegg became visible in the fog of the late afternoon, they stopped for a last meal together. While the corporal relieved himself behind some shrubs, the young mercenary searched his saddle bag. Taking out a small knife in a sheath of leather, he turned to Anzo, "Take this, it's only a small dagger, but sharp as a razor. I bought it for my cousin years ago. Hide it carefully, you may need it sometime."

*.*.*

 

The three riders entered the castle by the postern gate. Anzo was immediately seized by the castellan and escorted to a drum tower in the northern curtain wall surrounding the outer ward. The small tower only contained a single room on the ground story and above that the wall had a walkway that ran along the top of the walls that surrounded the castle.

The small room, with two arrow slits instead of windows, had been prepared in advance, to serve as a prison for Anzo. It was more comfortable than a dungeon, because it contained a bed and a small table, and had access to a latrine. Anzo felt more like a hostage than a prisoner. His new living quarter was surrounded by the barrack accommodations of the mercenaries and guards. This part of the castle was separated from the living quarters of the count and his staff in the inner ward, by a high wall. There was no chance for an escape; not through the soldiers' quarters, nor through the narrow arrow slits, which opened high above the water flooded moat.

Being in captivity again didn't raise Anzo's spirit, but what could he expect from the murderer of his father? He hoped his status as a captive would not be forever. But there was one ray of hope in his darkness. His new friend, the young mercenary, was living in the mercenary quarters next door.

When the bolts barring his prison door were removed the next morning, he expected his minders. To his surprise, a young lady, and a boy of about three, accompanied an old maid came into his quarters instead.

Anzo recognized the old woman immediately. It was his wet nurse, the beloved nanny of his boyhood. Smilingly, she approached and embraced him. She sputtered without a pause, "I am so glad you are alive and fine, my Anzo. I am glad the bad news from the monastery was just a fake story and not true at all...Let me have a look at you! You have grown, my boy! You really look good now. You are as good looking as your father was." And tears began to well from her eyes. Then, turning towards the young lady, she continued, "Welcome your great cousin, Lady Melinda. This is Menno's step-brother's son. He's not a ghost; he is flesh and blood. This is Anzo, for real!" Turning again to Anzo, "This Lady Melinda, Menno's wife, and the daughter of your mother's older sister!...Do you remember her?...And that's her son, little Menno, Menno the menace!"

"I am glad to see you, Anzo. Welcome in Veldegg, cousin! I have heard of you often, always good things, except lately. But I glad those aren't true, and that you are alive." Then, turning to the maid, "Why didn't you tell Anzo little Menno's real nickname, Menno the monster!...He is already wrecking your room! He takes after his father!"

Anzo was so overwhelmed that he couldn't response. He just sniffed happily and embraced his old nanny.

Lady Melinda bowed her head slightly, again, "Welcome cousin, I have heard so much about you and..." then, turning around abruptly, "Where is little Menno? He is out of sight as soon as you let go of his hand!" Running to the entrance, she called out loudly, "Menno, Menno, where are you? Come back, Menno!"

Soldiers cleaning their weapons in the ward paid immediately attention to her calls. "The boy is not here, Lady; we haven't seen him!" a corporal called back, then turning to his comrades "Has anyone of you noticed little Menno?"

Nobody had seen the boy. Immediately a search started, with everyone searching desperately for the Count's son. Little Menno wasn't in the soldiers' quarters, nor in the stables with the horses, nor in the kitchen house. Milady Melinda started crying in despair.

*.*.*

 

Anzo was the first to climb up the steep flight of steps to the wall walk. The crenels between the merlons were the perfect hiding place for a small boy, but little Menno was not hiding between the merlons; being neither to the left of the drum tower, nor to the right. Suddenly a wailing and a spluttering noise drew Anzo's attention to the moat surrounding this part of the castle. Looking down at the murky water, Anzo saw little Menno. The boy was floating on the water because his heavy clothes worked as a life preserver. He struggled like mad and screamed desperately. Anzo shouted to the others for help and then, without pausing to think, he climbed on top of the next merlon and jumped down into the murky water, with closed eyes.

In a moment, Anzo hit the surface of the water. In this tiny span of time, Anzo replayed the memory of the incident at the pond in his first year in Niwenburg. His heart raced and was in danger of bursting. His body plunged into the dark water and descended rapidly into the depths. However, before his feet could touch the muddy bottom, the direction of the dive reversed. Popping out into the cold air, brought Anzo back to reality, and he spat out water. He opened the eyes and began to search for little Menno. There he was, still floating, and Anzo caught him. Holding the scared and frantically struggling boy with his right arm, he paddled to the steep wall.

Luckily, the Count had neglected the state of the castle walls for years, and little trees were sprouting from the fissures between the big stone slabs. Anzo grabbed one of the saplings with his wounded left arm and then tried to comfort little Menno, "It's alright, boy! You are safe now! Come on, boy, put your arm around my neck. Hold onto me tightly!" His comforting words were in vain, as little Menno began to hit Anzo instead, and screamed in panic. Anzo had to overpower Menno's screaming, shouting at full blast, "Help, help somebody, help! We are down here in the moat! I've got little Menno; hurry up! Help. Get ropes and hoist us up!"

Some ropes were lowered, but Anzo wouldn't be able to climb back to the top of the wall by himself, because he was holding the screaming Menno in his good arm, while his left arm was too weak from the crossbow injury. After a seemingly endless time, a rope ladder was lowered and the young mercenary, his new friend, scrambled down. He grasped the struggling Menno and climbed back up. Exhausted, and frozen to the marrow, Anzo followed suit.

Lady Melinda, having her first-born back, shed tears of relief. Pressing the boy to her heart, she thanked Anzo with a peck on the cheek, and, still sobbing, she declared, "Dear cousin, I will never forget what you have done for little Menno and me. I assure you Anzo, I will fight for you; I will fight for your freedom."

All the mercenaries and guards started to cheer and the young mercenary embraced him. "I am proud of you, my little brother! Let's be brothers forever, please!"

The officer in command of the guards beamed, "You saved us a lot of trouble young man, saving your step-uncle's son. How can we thank you? Menno the monster, is not only a nick-name for young Menno, believe me." Then, turning to a corporal, he ordered, "Prepare a hot bath for Count Anzo and dress him like one of us, like an officer of the mercenaries! He deserves it!"

*.*.*

 

In the Count Ship, the common folk still told each other stories about the good deeds of Anzo's late father, Count Matti. Now, after the rescue of little Menno, the word of Anzo's bold rescue spread quickly throughout the small county, faster than a dove could fly. The rumor spread like wildfire "The real Count is back! Count Anzo is back! He takes after his father! Have you heard about Count Anzo? He is the true one! He is the benefactor we have been waiting for! He will free us from our sorrow and pain! The oppression will soon end! "

Away from home, at a meeting with his Bishop and Overlord, Count Menno was told by his spies about the rumor. His face turned purple. He fumed with rage and decided to crush his young adversary forever! Addressing himself to his overlord, he announced with shrill voice "I must return home, my Lord, without delay! This bastard, Anzo, the intrigue making offspring of my late stepbrother, brings trouble to my Count Ship! I have to silence this disruptive element forever!"

But this was not the option his overlord had in mind. Taking the enraged Menno aside, he counseled him, "I understand your rage and I can guess your intentions, but killing Anzo will not solve your problems at all! You will just create another hero! Here's a word of advice from a politician..."

"...I am not a politician! I am a fighter!" Menno retorted, even more enraged.

"This is an order, not really advice, Count Menno, "or do you want to loose the feudal tenure?...Anzo is much too valuable to be killed in rage. We need him as a pawn in our scheme to disempower the emperor and strengthen the domination of the Pope."

"Lord, what can a sixteen year old boy help with that? He can't even wield a sword!"

"You are a stupid blockhead! If the rumor coming from Niwenburg is true, your little nephew, Anzo, is the beloved friend of the future Duke of Quentisburry, Prince Berrit! I'll bet Berrit will do everything possible to get this friend back, even change sides if necessary. He will become an ally to us, the papal followers, and will not support King Louis, as his father does."

On his way back home, Count Menno decided to imitate being the grateful father but at the same time tighten Anzo's confinement, and keep him away from the common folk. He knew he had to deceive not only this young bastard, but also the public and, last but not least, his wife, Milady Melinda.

Arriving at Castle Veldegg, he arranged a great feast in appreciation of little Menno's rescue. He invited Anzo as the guest of honor, and the nobles of the county, to fool the public. Waiting for the arrival of his guests next to the window of the hall, Count Menno saw Anzo arriving. He couldn't believe his eyes and his face turned red in anger. Anzo, clad completely in the colorful outfit of an officer of the mercenaries, was walking proudly a step in front of the commander-in-charge and a tall dark-haired soldier. Those two stately troopers looked more like Anzo's bodyguards than like his wardens.

Menno was furious but he couldn't do anything; he had to bid `welcome' to Anzo. Quashing his rage, he announced in solemn tones for everyone to hear, "Welcome back home, Anzo! I owe you the life of my first born son! Thanks for your courage!" then lowering his voice to a sharp hissing, he spoke into Anzo's ear, "They kicked you out of the monastery in dishonor, didn't they? I have been told why! Remember boy, fags are not welcome in Veldegg!"

Anzo, without batting an eye, answered with grace, "Thanks for the great welcome uncle. I am enjoying this stay in my father's castle. I may even stay here forever to succeed him. But for now, you are in charge for the county. Care well for my little realm and the citizens!" Then Anzo bent down, smiling, and took little Menno in his arms; who already begged impatiently, "Twirl me high in the air, dear Anzo! Go, Anzo, go! Go, my Anzo!"

*.*.*

 

Wintertime was drawing nearer and the season for hunting opened. Anzo was still confined in the drum tower of the mercenaries quarter and was held like a hostage. To the great annoyance of Count Menno, Anzo was well-liked, not only by little Menno, but by Lady Melinda and his old nanny, and also the mercenaries. But the comfortable conditions didn't really help Anzo's mood. He felt bored to death. He missed his books, his favorite pastime, painting of miniatures, and most of all, he missed his dear friend, Berrit. He had completely pushed out of his mind the memory that Berrit had never shown up at Niwenburg to get him out of the monastery. He was sure Berrit had not forgotten about his vow to be with him forever, and took comfort with the thought that his friend was on a military expedition far, far away from home.

The young mercenary realized that Anzo was brooding and approached him, "Don't slouch your shoulders like that; don't be down beaten, little Brother! I know you are a hostage, but your situation is pretty good compared to the prisoners in the dungeon. Everybody likes you. Forget about Count Menno, the monster! Please, tell me the reason for your sadness!"

"I miss my freedom, big brother! But you are right, that's not my main problem! I miss my friend. I like you, but nobody can compare with him; nobody can't compare with Berrit!"

The young mercenary looked for something to divert Anzo's thoughts, "I can't solve your problem, but I know what I would do in a situation like this! I would do workouts. I would train my skills in fighting! You can't be very good in fighting, because you have never learned to use a sword because you were in the monastery. You need to learn how to the fight, believe me. Why don't you join us mercenaries in our military exercises?"

The young mercenary was right. The stiff exercises helped Anzo divert his thoughts during the day, and now at night he was sleeping dreamlessly.

*.*.*

 

The opening of the hunting season was announced for the first weekend in December. Already, days early, nobles from near and far arrived at the castle to take part in the greatest social event of the year. All spare rooms in the castle were occupied by the visitors and all the guesthouses were crowded. In addition, a big fair took place during the days preceding the hunt, to increase the attraction of this event and to offer additional fun for the noble ladies.

Since his return to Veldegg, Anzo hadn't been allowed to leave the castle. But now Lady Melinda insisted that Anzo should take part at the celebrations. She pleaded with Count Menno, "Anzo must have the opportunity to visit the market, an opportunity he never had as a monk. You should also take him along with the hunting party. Please, grant me this favor!" Her pleading was joined by her two younger sisters, who had taken a liking to the good-looking Anzo. "Please, brother-in-law, give Anzo permission to be our chaperon on our visit to the market," they asked in unison. "Everyone expects that Anzo will finally show up in town. You just have to give him permission to be our chaperon!"

Against his will, Count Menno agreed and, in the late evening of the last day before the hunt, a small cavalcade left the castle and rode to town. Lady Melinda's youngest sister and Anzo were the lead riders, followed by Lady Melinda and her other sister. The grey haired corporal and Anzo's big friend, the young mercenary, rode behind the nobles as personal guards.

Anzo hadn't visited the town of Veldegg since he went into his involuntary exile in Niwenburg, more than four years ago. In the evening light of early December, the town looked small and grey to him. The houses were tinier than he had imagined, the narrow streets were nearly empty, and the pavement was covered with mud and therefore very slippery. Tonight everyone seemed to be at the town square enjoying the market day.

The big market square in front of the church was buzzing with activity, therefore the arrival of the small party caused no stir. Even when the riders pushed their way to the central fountain, to secure the horses to the posts, there was no reaction. The mercenaries helped the ladies dismount, while Anzo straightened up to get a better look around.

Sitting upright on his horse, he resembled an equestrian statue and attracted the stares of those nearby. So far, the visitors at the fair had taken Anzo for one of the mercenaries guarding the ladies, but when the light revealed his features an old beggar-woman remembered the late Count Matti. Cautiously, she drew nearer, touched Anzo's leg with a spindly finger and asked, "Aren't you Count Matti?" When Anzo shook his head to deny this, she continued, to his surprise. "Where have you been so long, dear Lord? We missed you so badly!" Then, turning around, she called out with the piercing voice of an old woman: "Count Matti is back! Everybody listen, Count Matti is back!" Raising her voice to a crescendo, "He is back! He lives! He wasn't killed by the monster bear! I told you over and over again! He's back again!"

Anzo jumped from his horse, took her into his arms and tried to calm her down. But it was in vain; she fainted. Young people gathered around the two, staring curiously at Anzo, who looked like a mercenary in his outfit. Other beggars hanging around at the fountain approached Anzo and touched him cautiously. Many of the younger people hanging around the fountain knew of Anzo's presence in the castle. They closed a ring around Anzo, stared at him in surprise and then greeted him with respect. Some even began to cheer "Hail Anzo, hail Anzo!" But the salesman and traders of Veldegg, fearing some revenge by Count Menno, didn't join in, but instead sought refuge between the sales stalls.

As fast as the small turmoil started, it was over, and Anzo strolled with the ladies throughout the market. While the ladies paid attention to the mercers and dress makers, Anzo's interest was the paintings of the Fourteen Holy Helpers on the canvas of a wagon: indicating it was the wagon of healers.

Strolling closer, Anzo watched as two healers, on the platform of the wagon, treated a fat, red-faced man. The smaller one, in a brown cloak adorned with runes, attracted his attention first. While he was looking, the other healer, clad in a wide cloak, was bent over the sick man. When he straightened himself up, Anzo nearly cried out in surprise and joy. It was Berrit! It had to be Berrit. Anzo's heart knew it. He recognized his love despite the wide red cloak and the turban concealing his hair. Anzo wanted to shout out, "Berrit, Berrit! My Berrit!" But he held back his outcry of joy and kept his mouth closed.

Slowly Anzo slipped nearer to the wagon, whistling a lovely tune they always sang together while away from the monastery on their way to sick calls:

 

 

"Car tant t'aime, sans mentir

Qu'on poroit avant tarir

La haute mer

Et ses ondes retenir

Que me peusse alentir

de t'aimer!"

 

"For I love you so much, truly,

That I could no sooner dry up

The deep sea

And hold back its waves

Than I can stop myself

From loving you!"

 

 

*.*.*

Berrit was so heavily absorbed by the task of blood-letting the overweight tradesman, that his mind only picked up the tune subconsciously. Suddenly, reminiscences awakened his perceptions. His head turned of its own accord and Berrit noticed a young man in colourful mercenary dress standing in the shadows at the edge of the platform. Berrit was looking into the dark, therefore he couldn't identify facial features of the whistler. But, just when he was about to address himself to his patient again, a torch flared up and he recognized Anzo's features. His heart nearly stopped out of joy and the knife fell out of his hand. He wanted to shout "Anzo, Anzo".

Before shouts of joy could cross Berrit's lips, the young mercenary bowed in front of him three times crossing his arms in front of his breast. It was the salutation used by monks meeting each other during silent hours. But then young mercenary spoke, pleading with a clear voice, searching Berrit's eyes, "Strange wise man! My left arm was wounded many weeks ago. My whole left side has been aching for a month. Do you know a remedy? I need your help urgently. I know you can help me! Please, Wise Man, mend my aching arm!"

Berrit bowed three times in response, "Young man, your suffering moves my heart deeply." Taking Anzo's hand and pulling him up onto the platform, "I will try my best to find the right remedy!"

Hidden by a curtain, from the sight of any onlookers, the two friends embraced each other like two people drowning. They exchanged kiss after kiss and time went by like the twinkling of an eye.

Meanwhile, Ruwen and Bastian continued with the blood-letting of the fat man and then began to treat ailing people still waiting for a healing hand, while Count Menno's spy returned to his master to make an immediate report.

*.*.*

AUTHOR NOTE

I would like to express my special thanks to B. for doing a wonderful job by correcting all the wrong expressions and the punctuation used by a non native English writer.

Comments, reviews, questions and complaints are welcomed. Please send them to Ruwen Rouhs. And I would like to add, thanks for reading.

Copyright Notice - Copyright 2008

The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form -- physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise -- without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.

 

Ruwen Rouhs