Buzzards, Hawks and Ravens
(Account of Six Friends' Lives in the "Dark" Ages)
- The Pilgrimage
- Hunted like a Deer -
Crossing the third pass over the mountains in the early afternoon, the traveling healers, Berrit and Anzo, the Midnight Princes, Ruwen and Bastian as well as Jannes and Thimus, their pages, had a great view over the foothills of the western mountain chain. Forests, meadows and farmland glistened golden in the sun, which was already low over the horizon.
While Bastian steered the wagon and Ruwen directed the lead horse, Berrit and Anzo tried to keep the swaying wagon in balance.
Jannes and Thimus, scrambling through the knee-high shrubs at the roadside for medical herbs, greeted the view excitedly. "Hey, Ruwen, look over there, at the rolling hills! Is that a river beyond the forest? That silvery line; is that the river to Trescrossing?" Jannes asked Ruwen, who was riding the lead horse.
Thimus asked, "Anzo, look here! This pinkish flower, is it the herb, Valerian? Should we harvest it?"
"Yes" Anzo called back, "But get the root Thimus, not the blossom. The root is a soporific and calms down the restless ..." He couldn't finish the sentence, because suddenly a clapping sound, much like the applause of several dozen people, startled the travelers and terrified the horses.
Thimus shouted excitedly, "Big birds to the left! I've roused snow chickens! Hurry up, Anzo, use your sling!"
"Get out of my line of fire, Thimus! Hurry, hurry, Jannes, to the right!" Anzo was whirling his sling over his head and flung a large pebble after the fleeing birds. He hit two of the fluttering grouse.
"I got two!" Jannes whooped, seizing one after the other and breaking their necks.
"Is there clutch around here, hidden somewhere in the undergrowth?" Thimus asked, poking in the undergrowth with a stick, "I want eggs for dinner!"
"You're wrong; it's too early in the year for birds to be breeding!"
Bastian couldn't risk looking at the flowers, or at the quarry, and not even at the beautiful scenery. He was fully absorbed by steering the swaying wagon safely down the steep winding gravel road.
The boulder-studded track descended nearly straight down along the edge of the sloping hillside, for nearly half a mile. Then the track made a sharp turn back again and continued over to the next steep part. Pulled down the steep track, the healer's wagon accelerated to a breakneck speed. The heavy cart gathered speed to such an extent that the simple brakes were no longer able to slow it down. Berrit and Anzo had problems keeping the swaying wagon from overturning. In turn, they supported the left or the right or slowed its speed by inserting poles between the spokes of the back wheels.
Halfway down the steep descent Jannes was the first to spot a deep notch in the ragged mountainside, "Hey Anzo, look over there; the dark notch in the crag! Is this the Vale of Oranna?"
"Ask Berrit! I've never been at the chapel!"
"I haven't been there either. Just wait!" was Berrit's answer. "We will soon reach the edge of the notch and have a look down into the deep valley's basin."
An hour later they arrived at the edge of notch and had a perfect look into the box canyon about thousand feet deeper down. Enclosed by bare rock faces on three sides, a green circular pasture identified the bottom of Oranna's Vale. On the fourth side of the canyon there was a narrow opening to the west, leading into the rolling foothills. Slightly off from the centre of the pasture a pentagonal building crouched, the famous chapel of Oranna. From the edge of the notch the chapel looked very small and the brook, flowing from the spring-well inside the chapel, looked like a silvery ribbon meandering through the pasture.
The grassland around the chapel was dotted with wagons and tents. The whole place was buzzing with life. From their high up viewpoint, the people resembled little dots. No noise could be heard from the activities down in the basin valley. The spectacle looked kind of unreal from up there.
Jannes had never had a view like this in his life. "All those small dots whirling around down there; are those people or ants?" he asked, surprised. "What do the people all want there? It looks like a town!"
Thimus also looked down in excitement. "Jannes!" exclaimed his friend, "That looks like a big market, not a town!" Turning to Anzo, he asked, "Is there a chance that Granny and Grandpa are down there too, big Bro? Will I meet up with them?"
"Sure, there is a chance. Many strolling players attend festivals like this. But, I don't know if Granny and Grandpa will be there, with their strolling players. Remember, Thimus, your appointment with your grandparents is in Trescrossing, at the Whitsun Market!"
The healersī wagon entered the pasture surrounding the chapel just when the sun went down. Bastian, at the reins, had a hard time steering the wagon through the temporary town. It was already dark and there were only small camp fires to throw some light on the rough ground.
Even days before the Bealltuinn Night, pilgrims from Trescrossing and the adjacent counties had started arriving at the chapel of Oranna. They all wanted to witness the beginning of summer in this basin valley hidden amongst the rising edges of the mountain range. Celebration of the Bealltuinn Night at this place was a tradition passed on from generation to generation, from times no longer remembered.
By the day before the night of Bealltuinn two rows of tents had been set up along the embankments of Orn Creek, the brook springing up inside the chapel. Circles of tents were scattered on the pasture, around fireplaces, together with the carts and rack wagons belonging to the pilgrims. In front of the chapel, slightly to the left, and pitched up on a bare hummock, was a big stack of logs. This stack of dry logs and cut shrubbery had been prepared for the bonfire, the Bealltuinn fire. The hummock was surrounded by stalls belonging to showmen and small taverns, each promising fun, food and beverages over the next several days. It was cheerful chaos and there were happy people everywhere, scurrying around, full of expectation.
On horseback ahead of the wagon, Berrit and Ruwen looked for the most promising place for setting up their camp. They agreed upon a level place on a hillock on the opposite side from the stack for the bonfire. This place overlooked the field in front of the chapel and was visible to all the pilgrims. In the light of a torch they unhitched the horses, parked the wagon parallel the riverbank and pitched a kitchen tent and a sleeping tent for Berrit, Anzo and the Midnight Prices. Jannes and Thimus had to sleep in the front part of the wagon for security reasons. While the others tended the horses and kindled a fire for cooking, Ruwen and Berrit quickly pulled out of the platform for the healer's stage and then ran up a flag. The colorful banner, not all that visible in the flickering of the torches, showed Saint Agathius, one of the Holy Helpers; the helper against headache and mortal fear!
Ruwen and Berrit, eager to start consultations, even changed into their healer outfits. But, before Ruwen was able to announce the opening of consultations, the others started to object. "You can't start your healing sessions now! Don't be stupid, it's pitch dark and much too late!" Bastian demanded weary from the day's hard work!
"We are all tired and moreover, Jannes and Thimus are starving to death and my tummy is also grumbling!" Anzo insisted. "Let's prepare our dinner, eat, and then go to sleep!"
"Yes, we will faint, if you don't feed us!" Jannes barged in, and Thimus threatened, with a wagging finger, "If you don't feed us immediately, Berrit, I'll tell your Ma and she'll hit you with a withy!"
Wise, as a commander should be, Berrit made a decision. "Bastian you are right, let's get some dry logs for the fire. And you, Anzo, take the boys and try to find bread at the baker."
"Don't forget a keg of beer! Our throats are dry too!" Ruwen called out as the three were leaving.
It was pitch dark by the time the snow chickens, which Anzo had hunted, were finally done over the camp fire. Enjoying the meal, Ruwen became aware of an insistent faint growling coming from underneath their wagon. Suspecting a dog was trying to break into the cart, he threw a pebble towards the noise and shouted "Hush, dog! Hush!"
The answer was not the yowling or barking of a mutt, but a yell of pain by a human voice. Drawing their daggers, Ruwen and Bastian rushed over, expecting a thief. Meanwhile, Anzo tried to lighten the scene with a lantern. In the flickering light they detected a whimpering young man crouched between the back wheels of their wagon. With combined efforts they dragged him to the fire and put him down on a mat next to the fire.
The now passed out youth seemed to be a peasant boy, looking no older than thirteen or fourteen years. He was reduced to skin and bones. His face was pale, his forehead glistening with pearls of sweat and he was burning hot, his mouth dry and his breath rattling. His dark, curly hairs sticking to his head were felted and studded with burdocks. His torn up clothes were sticky with mud and the left sleeve of the thin coat was hanging in shreds.
The boy's upper left arm was wrapped up in a bandage which was much crusted with blood. The arm itself was swollen and a bluish line ran down to the wrist. The boy's forehead was burning hot, his lips chapped,.
"Gosh, that kid looks bad!" Jannes breathed.
"He is passed out! Quick Berrit, we need to go into action without any delay!" Ruwen requested impatiently.
Berrit took a pair of scissors and removed the bloody bandage with one cut. The wounded boy groaned in pain, when his arm was touched. After the bloody rags were removed, a festering wound became visible.
"More light! Move lanterns over here and put more logs into the fire." Berrit commanded and Ruwen stated, shocked, "This laceration looks even worse than expected! --- I haven't seen a torn up upper arm like this before."
"A barbed bolt is jammed in the wound. Someone shot him! Someone tried to kill him. Someone shot him like a deer!"
Anzo had to turn his head away. He felt like vomiting because of the fetid wound. "It looks much worse than the injury I received from the mercenary's bolt."
Without a further hesitation, Berrit cleaned the skin around the wound with a soft tissue soaked in sharp spirit, while Ruwen searched the medical bag for the best instruments to open the wound and to remove the bolt.
Berrit took over the leadership of further treatment. "Get over there Bastian, you are the strongest. Hold the boy down. Don't let him move the arm in case he wakes up. You, Anzo, search for the wound elixir used by soldiers!" Looking at Thimus and Jannes, "We need more light. Light all of our lanterns to provide more light."
Ruwen had treated inflamed, festering wounds more than once in his short career as a healer. He took the sharpest surgical knife and heated its edge in the open flame, till it gleamed red-hot. He did the same with a pair of tongs and scissors. After the edge of the knife was cooled down slightly, he started the surgery. With several short cuts he incised the inflamed flesh around the wound entry, to cut the bolt free.
"Try to extract the bolt from the wound with the pair of tongs, Berrit, while I cut away some more of the infected muscle!" Ruwen commanded.
"Is he moving? This must hurt like hell!" Berrit asked Bastian, while he tried to remove the bolt.
"He is unconscious; I hope he has not died in the meantime!" was Bastian's answer.
"No, no look! His breast is still heaving!" Thimus said, slightly relieved, and Jannes asserted, "He is breathing! Oh, he is so strong! I would yell like mad, being treated this way!"
Ruwen had to cut away more of the muscle flesh till Berrit was finally able to draw out the bolt. "He is a lucky boy! The bone is only scratched." he told the others, "Give Berrit the wound elixir, Anzo; hurry up! He has to clean the flesh of pus and blood, while I keep open the wound!"
Dark-red, nearly black blood began to seep from the wound. Berrit cleaned the wound by flushing it with an elixir containing the essence of herbs in strong spirit. After proceeding in silence for a short time he stated, "Thank God, there is hardly any fresh blood coming from the wound now. I think the bleeding has stopped." Pressing the lips of the wound together, he applied a greenish unguent and muttered, "This unguent should work. The verdigris should thwart the inflammation while aloe and myrrh, the holy substances, should speed up the healing."
Nearly spent by the surgery, Berrit and Ruwen bandaged the treated arm and tied it closely to the upper-body of the unconscious and softly moaning stranger. At ease after this stressful activity, the healers sat back and heaved sighs of relief. The sighs of relief by the six friends seemed to echo back six fold from the steep rock faces around the canyon. Searching the dark around the fireplace with squinting eyes, the healers discovered a densely packed crowd of people surrounding the fireplace, just beyond the circle of light. The darkness obscured the shapes of the onlookers. Only their pale faces were reflected in the bickering flames of the camp fire, and they were all completely silent.
Ruwen and his companions froze in fear. Suddenly the sighing sounds were replaced by shy applause coming out of the darkness. Leaving the dark circle of onlookers, an old woman, clad in a grey gown, limped hesitantly to the fire while leaning on a stick. For a moment Ruwen thought Aliah, his beloved Aliah, was walking up to him. But it wasn't her. It was another grey-haired woman, bent over by age. With a piercing voice she began to sing praise. "Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, my folk! The Lord has sent his Wise Men at the right time! Praise the Lord, my folk!"
Still in shock and afraid of the big crowd gathered in the dark, outside the circle of light given off by the now low burning fire, Berrit announced to the crowd, "He is alive! He is alive and will live, if it is the Almighty's Will! --- All we can do now, is to let him sleep the sleep of recovery in a safe place!" Raising his voice, "We will keep the stranger in our wagon. A healer's cart is off limits to everyone, except the Pope!"
The crowd took up the praise intoned by the old woman and repeated it over and over, "Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, all my folk!"
Then a short, square man came forward, framed by two sturdy lads, "Don't be afraid, my Lords! Don't be afraid, Healers! I will guard you and the sick boy! I, and all my men, will be the guarantors of your safety! These folk are in your debt! Praise the Lord!"
The glistening light of the morning sun and the murmuring of a strange voice startled Jannes out of his light sleep. Reluctantly he crawled out of the warm nest of soft blankets he shared with Thimus. Drowsily he went on tiptoes to the middle part of the wagon and pushed back the curtain to the treatment room. The evening before, they had bedded down the unconscious boy on a thick pad in the healer's theatre, surrounded by the painting of the Saints. Bending over the sick boy, Jannes happily realized that the wounded boy was alive and breathing steadily. With closed eyes the sleeper was mumbling almost incoherently "Holy Mother", "Archangels", "Jesus!", "My Jesus!" and in turn with "St. Agathius, St. Blaise, St. Christopher, Holy Helpers."
Meanwhile Thimus had entered the room also and was eyeing the strange boy with chattering teeth. "Go wake up Ruwen. I think the boy needs help!" Jannes ordered his friend, while he picked up a moist cloth to wipe the stranger's hot forehead.
The soft touch roused the sick boy and he opened his eyes. At first he focused into the nothingness, then meeting Jannes eyes, he asked with a barely audible voice, "Am I dead? Am I at Heaven's gate? --- Are you guiding me to my Lord? Are you my dear Guardian Angel?"
Jannes was struck with surprise and blushed. Caressing the sick boy's hot forehead, he replied, "No, I am not your Guardian Angel! --- I'm Jannes. You are not dead. You are alive. --- Can you feel my hand touching your forehead?" Then Jannes began to yell excitedly, "Ruwen! Ruwen! Bastian, Berrit, Anzo, come quick! The boy is awake and he is speaking! He is conscious again!"
After a careful examination of the wound, Ruwen and Berrit carried the wounded boy to the kitchen tent. Here they prepared him a soft bed on a thick pile of hay.
A short time later all members of the healers company gathered around the stranger as they spooned their breakfast-groats with one spoon, from the same bowl.
"Would you like a spoonful, too?" Jannes asked the wounded boy. "Bastian's groats taste good!"
All of them were curious about the stranger. Thimus had started the questioning carefully, by offering the stranger a spoonful of groats. "I am Thimus and this is Anzo, my big brother," Then, pointing at Bastian, "This smiling giant is Bastian and these are Berrit and Ruwen, the healers." Smiling at the boy, he laughingly added, "And this cheeky rascal over here is Jannes. He is not an angel, believe me!"
"He is the unmitigated rascal, not me!" Jannes protested, "But what's your name? Where do you come from?"
And Bastian added, "Who shot you with the bolt?"
The wounded boy looked scared at the friendly group surrounding him. He stayed silent and even seemed to get smaller. His eyes looked hungry but he didn't dare take the offered spoon of groats. But when Berrit presented him water in a bowl, he nodded his assent and drank like he was dying from thirst.
Anzo squatting down besides the boy put an arm around his healthy shoulder, reassuring him, "You don't have to answer any questions! Relax! You are our guest till your horrible wound is healed!"
The boy fended off Anzo's slight touch with a weak shrug. Sensing the upcoming panic of the wounded boy, Anzo dismissed the others with a wave of his hand, suggesting, "Finish your breakfasts outside!" Then he turned to the boy again, "Relax, my young friend! I will stay with you, while the healers offer medical treatment to the sick, and Bastian takes the boys for a stroll to explore this place!"
Anzo stayed in the tent to show him that no one would be allowed to threaten him. He turned his back to the wounded boy indicating he didn't want to disturb him with anymore questions.
Singing soothing chorals, Anzo began straightening up the tent and then he rummaged through a big trunk for medications.
Suddenly he was interrupted by very halting speech, "I am ---Jeroen! --- You --- You saved my life, thank you!"
Anzo turned to the wounded boy, raised his eyes and smiled reassuringly, "Don't thank me, Jeroen, thank God!" Bending down to him, "Ruwen and Berrit, the healers, have performed this miracle, but you wouldn't have survived if the pilgrims hadn't prayed for you!"
The wounded boy tried to raise his head and speak again, but his voice failed.
"Go to sleep; try to sleep again. I will guard you in your sleep. Sleep, Jeroen!"
During the night the news about the successful treatment of the boy had spread like wildfire through the tent town. Early in the morning sick pilgrims had already gathered in front of the traveling healer's wagon, waiting for help. Still more of the ailing people were approaching, when Ruwen and Berrit, clad now in dark-red coats their heads covered with berets, folded out the flaps of the door to the healer's stage. The paintings of the Fourteen Holy Helpers on the flaps, now visible to the waiting people, were marveled at by Ahs and Ohs! The anticipation increased when the life-sized painting of Mother Mary with the benedictive Baby Jesus, at the back of the stage, came into full view of the public.
The line of waiting people grew longer while the healers began their consultations of the sick; people with wracking toothaches, choking goiter, with sempiternal pain of joints, and heart problems. Together Ruwen and Berrit diagnosed the problems, brought comfort to the suffering with reassuring words and applied the medications prepared by Anzo.
Anzo ran the little pharmacy in the kitchen tent beside the wounded boy because he wanted to keep a close look on the sleeping convalescent, in case he needed help. Walking to and fro between the pharmacy and the healerīs tent upon the wagon, he noted a sturdy young man lingering around. "Hey you, stranger, what are you looking for? This is not the place to hang around!"
"Oh, dear sir, I am here for your safety and the safety of the wounded boy! My father, the village elder, has given me orders to keep a close look on the traveling healers and that poor boy. I am your guard; at your command!"
"'Thanks' to your father, but we are quite able to defend ourselves. We are trained fighters! Believe me!" With that, Anzo charged at the young man and pressed a sharp dagger against the throat of the surprised guardian. Catching the young peasant off guard, he joked, "Not much of guardian! We can take better care of ourselves."
The young farmer blanched with fear. When Anzo removed the dagger the farmer recovered slowly and answered meekly, "You look so small. I thought you could never defend yourself." Clasping his hands and getting on his knees in front of Anzo, he continued, "Grant me forgiveness, sir! Let me be your footman! Please!"
"We don't need a footman, but you are in need of a fighter's training. I am not the right teacher for you, but ask Bastian; he is your size!" Observing the questioning glance he made towards the tent, Anzo asked in a conciliatory voice, "Do you want to have a look at the wounded boy?"
"May I? My father told me I have to care for his safety with my life!"
"Come along, satisfy yourself! Be careful, he is sleeping! --- But tell me, why does your village care for him?"
"We villagers found him and we are therefore responsible for his wellbeing! That's what our forefathers taught us."!
"Hey, come on Bastian! No pastry, we've had breakfast already!" Thimus tried to drag Bastian from a baker's hut, which was offering hot pastry.
"I love the sweet scent of hot pastry! It smells just like in mother's kitchen. I have to wait till the pastry comes from the baking oven. Go ahead, Thimus! I'll meet you later!"
"Bye, you greedy man!" Thimus mocked. "Jannes, please, come along. I have to look for Granny over by the strolling players!" Thimus blurted, stomping the ground impatiently with his foot.
"Only if Bastian promises to get us cakes as well!" returned Jannes. When Bastian nodded his assent, he followed Thimus to the hummock that held the stake for Bealltuinn.
The wagons and booths of strolling folks surrounded the hummock like a village does a linden tree. First they searched the show booths of the strolling players, jugglers and musicians. In vain! Thimus nearly cried; then he complained to Jannes, "Grandpa's and Granny's wagon is not around. They have forgotten about me! I hate them, they've broken their promise!"
"Let's check the show booths of the soothsayers and the wizards next!" Jannes suggested.
"No, grandpa would never associate with diddlers. He's an honest man!"
"But, didn't you tell me that they will be waiting for you in Trescrossing, and not at Oranna's Chapel?"
"Yes, but I really hoped they would be here! I want to see my granny, now!"
Luckily, Bastian showed up just then, with a basket of the tastiest pastries. "Hey Thimus, don't cry. You'd better taste these. Don't be sad!" We will meet your Granny in three or four days!
Eyeing the big basket full of cake, amazed, Jannes asked, "Did you spend all our money on pastry? That heap of cakes would be enough to feed the Grey Raiders and all the brave boy bandits."
"I got it all for nothing! The pastry maker recognized me and gave it to us, saying: `You are one of the traveling healers, right? You saved the poor boy! Thanks go to you and the others! Take all you want! We are all in your debt!' That's why I took enough for all of us."
Now, for the first time, our three strollers noticed the bashful glances of the pilgrims. Whenever they passed a group of people, the older ones bowed their heads reverently and the children stared at them with big eyes. This attention made the three uneasy and Jannes begged, "Let's go back to our place, I do not like to be stared at!"
When they crossed the small but quick Orn Creek, close to the Chapel, a stocky farmer approached them. Bastian recognized the man. It was the village elder who had volunteered to guard the healer's camp the evening before. Therefore he took a bow and greeted the man, "God grant you a good morning, Elder! My deep gratitude for watching our camp last night! Nobody disturbed us or the wounded boy. He is still very weak, but recovering! Thank you, and your men, again for the guardianship!"
Continuing, curiously, Bastian asked, "But why did you assume the boy and we were in danger?"
Scrutinizing Bastian, Thimus and Jannes from head to toe, the sturdy farmer replied, "It was not you. I was afraid for the boy's life. I was sure none of the pilgrims would be a threat to him, but I wasn't sure about pursuers."
"But why? Who is the boy? Who is pursuing him? Who wants to kill him? He is just a kid."
"We don't know. The boy is a stranger to us also. But we are sure somebody is after him, someone of high station!"
Jannes now remembered that wounded boy had been hidden under the wagon when they found him, and Jannes asked, "Was it you who brought him to us secretly?"
"I must confess we did that!" the farmer answered with a rueful smile.
"I told him to do it!" a grey-haired woman, supporting herself with a cane, affirmed in a strong voice. Jannes recognized her. She was the wise woman who had been leading the song of praise the night before.
She began to explain, "Our dog found that poor wretch yesterday morning, under a blooming thorn bush at the backdoor of the chapel. We took him to our tent and I tried my best to help him, but in vain. He was dying under my hands. I went to the chapel to pray for his recovery, but the chapel-doors were still locked. Therefore, I walked three times around the chapel, praying the Rosary of the Holy Wounds. While I walked around the holy building immersed in prayer, a boy with a bright shining face stepped out of the thorn-bush. He took my hand and said to me, `Wise woman. Your power is not strong enough. Bring the sick boy to the sons of the three Weird Sisters, to the Midnight Princes!' then the boy vanished into the shrubs."
Bastian was staggered. Thimus wanted to speak up and reveal the secret of Bastian and Ruwen. Jannes however, remembering their clandestine mission, poked him in the ribs. "Hush, Thimus! Hush!" he whispered to him. "Nobody must know our secret!"
"Desperate, I returned to the tent holding the wounded boy," the old woman continued. "I asked everyone about the Midnight Princes; all my friends, and all the wise women from the other villages. Everyone had heard about the Midnight Princes, but no-one had ever seen them, nor knew their whereabouts."
"She was desperate. She was worn out and cried," the elder of the villages affirmed. "Dozing off beside the dying boy, she had a dream. She saw the boy with radiant face again. He told her: `Do you see the healers over there on the hummock? Go there after dark! Bring the boy to the healers! Only they can help!'"
"When I woke up, the hummock was empty and it stayed empty. I asked the young people: `Are there healers on the hummock?' They have better eyes than I, but they didn't see anybody there either!"
"Then, after dark, we suddenly saw a small fire blazing up on the hummock besides a wagon with a flying banner. We carried the wounded boy over the brook in secret and laid him down."
Bastian still didn't comment, so Jannes continued, without revealing the identity of the princess, "You did right! The wounded boy is recovering already! Ruwen and Berrit, the healers, did wonders!"
The village elder added meekly, "She talked me into bringing the dying boy to you in the dark! All my friends wanted to help the stranger boy, but we had to make sure it was not to your detriment."
"No apology needed! Since days no longer remembered, healers are under obligation to help the wounded and sick! Every healer has to take an oath: `I will practice and prescribe to the best of my ability for the good of my patients, and try to avoid harming them. I will treat all sick, regardless of origin, gender and state'."
With the rising sun, the strength of the wounded boy seemed to increase. His vital spirit revived with every further moment. When Anzo offered him some of the remaining groats, Jeroen accepted with a nod of assent.
Then, putting on a shy face, the boy asked with soft voice, his eyes still downcast, "Sir, would you like to hear what happened to me?"
Receiving an encouraging smile from Anzo, Jeroen began to tell his story about his wounded arm.
"Your friends asked me where I came from and who had shot me," Jeroen began in a low voice. "I lived with my parents and my six sisters, in a hamlet in the flood lands down by the big river. At the end of this winter a group of marauding soldiers ravaged our county. One morning they surrounded our hamlet. They forced us out of our houses and lined us up around the lime-tree of our village. Threatened by their weapon, the small children cried, the mothers embraced their daughters while awaiting the worst, as my step-father, together with the other elders, tried to come to terms with the marauders, who were about nine in number."
"We want two calves and a fat pig and two bagfuls of flour!" and, inspecting us carefully, their chief pointed at me. "We will also take this boy! He will be our hostage. If you inform the Count about the raid, he gets killed! We will hang him! --- We'll take him now and leave the hamlet undamaged, except that if you don't give us the goods and the boy, we'll take him anyway and burn down your homes!" My step-father then handed me over to the marauders to save the others.
Closing his eyes, Jeroen paused, trying to recall the horrors of the first days of his slavery. Then he went on, "The marauders were cruel during the first days. Shackled by the ankles, I had to care for the horses, cut wood, and prepare food. They gave me a rough time, and I always suffered hunger and blows."
"Oh Jeroen, stop! There is no need to recall all these dreadful experiences! We will not send you away; you can stay with us. Don't be afraid!" Anzo tried to comfort the boy, who was breaking down, but he couldn't stop him.
Jeroen wanted to get rid of his bad memories. He continued his report, interrupted by uncontrollable sobbing. "Soon I knew why they had to acquire their horse-boys by robbery. They treated me like a slave, worse than a bondman. I took the first chance I had to slip away. I escaped one night, when all the marauders were sleeping, dead drunk after a raid on a tavern. --- I sought refuge in a thick forest. The whole day I tried to make my way through the thicket. It was cold and there was still some snow around in shadowy troughs. In the evening I fell asleep without having had a crumb to eat the whole day."
"The barking of deer-hounds woke me next morning. From sheer fear I climbed up an oak, but the fierce dogs soon found my track and treed me. Soon a fat, bald-headed abbot on horseback broke through the thicket with his hunting party: `Ah, what an unexpected prey; what a lovely little bird! Just the prey I waited for!' He called out to his entourage. `Climb down boy or should I order my bowmen to shoot you?' At his command my hands were bound behind my back and I had to follow the hunting party all day long. They were on horseback and I had to walk. In the evening the hunt adjourned at a large hunting lodge with a big feast. I seemed finally to be in luck because I could myself stuff for the first time in weeks."
Jeroen paused for a moment and tears began to well from his eyes, when he continued, "At the end of the party, when everyone was sated and many men of the entourage lay drunk around the fire, a servant approached me: `The abbot wants you! Hurry! Do everything his highness asks you to do! Everything! Never object, if you want to have it easy! Remember the abbot is a harsh master! If you do not obey him, he will castrate you or kill you!' Then he pushed me into an overheated room lighted with many candles."
Meanwhile Anzo had gone down on his haunches besides Jeroen and had taken his hand. Jeroen accepted the soft touch and continued with closed eyes. "I panicked! I had never seen something so sickening before. The abbot was sprawling with splayed out legs, on the dark red cover of a bed. His puffy body bare, his eyes leering, his prick sticking up like a candle. I panicked! I turned around and tried to escape through the door, but the servant pushed me in and the abbot commanded: `Get naked boy! Hurry. I've been waiting for you too long already! --- Are you a virgin? Say yes!! I like to rape virgin asses. Look at that burning candle! My prick is eager for your rosebud!' Drooling with anticipation, he added, `I like dirty peasant boys. I like the dirty holes of little boys. I like boys smelling of fear! --- You are just the bird I have waited for many days! Pleasure me! Pleasure this!' And he pointed at his hard member. `I can't wait any longer!'"
Catching his breath, Jeroen continued, "Horror took my sense. I took a candle stand, hit it over the servant's head and ran off into the forest. In the faint moonlight I stumbled through the thicket! Soon I became aware of the hound-dogs chasing me. To my luck, I remembered the swamp we had passed by last evening and sought refuge in it. The hunters couldn't follow me in the faint moonlight. I had to stay in the swamp the whole night, because I didn't find a way out. --- In the morning the hunters began to tighten a ring around the bog. Luckily, I detected the last gap in the encirclement. Staking out the situation on horseback, the abbot spotted me and commanded his crossbowmen: `Shoot him! Shoot the bird! I want this bird, dead or alive! I must have the dirty boy!'"
Anzo couldn't believe his ears. Could a man be such a monster? Could an abbot be such a monster? He well remembered an abbot could! Holding the boy even tighter, the former novice began to rock the crying Jeroen.
But the wounded boy couldn't stop his report. He had to tell someone about his dreadful experiences. "I was hit by a bolt, but I managed to escape. The barbed bolt got caught in my upper left arm and I was unable extract it, as often as I tried over the following days. Soon the jagged wound got inflamed; pus began to run down my arm and poisoned my blood. I got delirious from hunger and pain! I was unable to find my way out of the woods. For days I wandered disoriented through the thick forest. Four or five days later I dreamed of a boy with a radiant face. He pointed up to the mountains. He told me. Walk straight ahead; walk up into the mountains. One morning I found myself underneath a blooming rose-bush behind the Chapel. Then I lost consciousness."
Opening his eyes, like coming out of a dream, Jeroen finished the report, "The next thing I remember, was the guardian angel, which woke me up by cooling my forehead with a soft cloth smelling like sweet roses!"
Suddenly the door of the tent flew open. Anzo was startled up. Being afraid of assailants, he picked up his short-sword and charged towards the entrance. Luckily, the center pole of the bell shaped tent forced him to a stop, before could run his sharp weapon into Jannesī chest. Jannes, Thimus and Bastian had listened to the last part of the Jeroen's report from outside the entrance. Now Jannes was crying out for revenge, "We will kill that boarish monster! We will hunt down this abbot like wild boar! Anzo and Berrit will nail that monster down with the bolts of their crossbows and Ruwen and Bastian will spear him. Belial is waiting for this fat boar!"
I would like to express my special thanks to B. for doing an unbelievable great 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. And I would like to add, thanks for reading.