Buzzards, Hawks and Ravens
(Account of Six Friend's Life in the "Dark" Age)
St. Michael's Market
- The False Monk -
Late next morning Bastian was aroused by a constant tickling in his arm pits and a soft voice humming a well-known tune into his ears "Er graif mir an den wizen lip..." He had a terrible hangover from too much beer last night. A swarm of bees was buzzing through canals of his brain. The only wish he had was staying in bed for the rest of the day, curled up like a fetus.
He growled, "Don't do that Ruwen!"
"Don't be a lazy cat, the sun is shining, the fair is waiting!" and Ruwen continued to humm "er rante mir in daz purgelin, cuspide erecta...."
"Not now! You horny geek! Stop it or do you want to be engaged in a lance fight? You know very well, who's got the bigger one!"
Ruwen didn't end tickling. Instead he increased the torture by tickling Bastian all over, "You will loose this fight today; believe me!"
Bastian couldn't help it anymore, "I am surrendering! I am surrendering completely! Peace! Please! Peace!" and broke into an endless giggling.
Bendrich, one of the twins, broke into the room with the giggling boys, "You lazy bums, making out again!" sniggering, "Yesterday, I thought you are finally into girls and now! I better not reveal this to our rents!"
Geroldt pushed inside too, brushing Bendrich aside, grinning, "Hey love-birds, quick, get out of bed, market day is on already and your father is in a bad mood! God only knows why!"
Just now Klas's hollering made the walls trebling, "Being princes doesn't mean being lazy, be down quick both of you, or else...! Your little guest is already down for hours!"
Ruwen and Bastian hastily prepared for the fair ground and left without breakfast, taking Mirza along.
Meanwhile the twins were questioning their mother downstairs, "Why is father that worried about his great-cousin Gavain? He is only two days overdue. That guy is always late. Every year he turns up later."
"Don't forget Mom, it's a long ride on horseback from his village to ours, at least four hard days."
"Sure boys, but this year it's something important. Dad and Gavain don't meet for fun this year! They have a serious business in mind!" emphasizing "Klas and Gavain have even sworn each other to meet on the first market day this year."
"That must be a really a serious business unlike the other times. Usually they are just chatting about days gone by and getting drunk!"
"Sure it is, Bendrich! Didn't he give you at least a small hint? Was your father so tight lipped? That's just not right from Dad. He should have revealed their plan to both of you. It's a big project for Gavin's family as well as ours!"
Ruwen was scanning the clear September sky for buzzards and harriers circling in the updraft of the steep mountain ridge, "Where's my friend Buzzie? Where are the guardians of the valley?" he asked a worried.
"Don't trip over your own feet, dream-boy. Buzzie is not up in the air today, your birdie is shunning the noise and the crowd of St. Michael's Market for sure. Better mind your way and take care of our knave Mirza!"
"Look Ruwen!" his little knave pointed at the Linden tree, "What's going on down there?
An agitated crowd had gathered around the Linden tree over by the church, trying to catch a view of somebody in the shade of the old tree. The number of spectators increased moment by moment as new visitors arrived for the market. The big ones pressed forward impatiently, while the small ones and the children tried to slip though the crowd to get closer to the tree.
"Why are the people crowding around the tree? They should be either in church for a Sunday prayer or at the fair for shopping and feasting. Why are they wasting time for a nuisance?" Trying to get more information Ruwen begged Bastian "You are bigger than I, peer over the heads of the spectators and try to catch was happening!"
"It's one of those begging monks who is causing the crowding! He is preaching! Don't you hear him?"
"Do you call this preaching? He hollers like a madman. It's more like cursing, not like preaching! What is he yelling?"
"That's right, Ruwen. Oh, I can get some of his words, it's SINNERS! SINNERS!"
The monk now was yelling at the top of his voice, "REPENT! REPENT you accursed Sinners! Do PENANCE for your BULGARIES, for your LIES, do PENANCE for your EVIL DEEDS, for your blatant UNCHASTITY! DOWN on your KNEES!..................Did you enjoy lying with your wife during the Lenten season; did you go whoring with your neighbor's wife, with your daughters, with your mother? Did you rape innocent virgins? Did you rape your neighbor´s son?........... DOWN ON YOUR KNEES! REPENT, REPENT! PERDITION IS NEAR! CONFESS your sins now! CONFESS them in PUBLIC;... Confess your sins or the village will turn to ashes and your body will burn in the hell for ever!"
"Let's sneak up to the preacher. Come on big Bro; let's try to push through the crowd from the other site of the tree! Come on Mirza, don't let go my hand or you will get lost!"
Arriving in the back of the preacher Ruwen exclaimed disgusted, "Oh Gosh, Bastian! Watch that a dirty guy! He stinks like hell!"
Mirza clasped Bastian's leg frightened, staring at the monk wide-eyed "What is this ghastly shape? Is this the Black Death? He stinks rotten! Where is his scythe?"
"Hush Mirza, that's a real monk not an actor!"
"God have merci, that's a skeleton in the cloak of a monk. His head looks like a skull! And that horrible crook he is leaning on! It got a cross with a blood dripping Jesus at its peak."
"That skeleton is wearing a blindfold! Is he blind?" Mirza asked.
"Hey Bastian watch that dirty bunch of rags at his feet! Is that a friar? I can't believe it! This bunch of clothes looks even more rotten than the monk itself. The bunch moves, it's a man, a devilish rag-doll!"
"Doesn't that shape look familiar to you, Ruwen? That sure looks like your old adversary Tanko! That bugger, that fucktard! He lives, he not dead!"
"I can't believe it? Is that evil crook a preacher now?"
The silent crowd was speech-reading the monks curses: "DOWN ON YOUR KNEES! You DEALERS, CHEATERS, CROOKS, HOODLUMS!......... FIRE UPON YOUR HEADS, fire under your asses!........... God will annihilate you and your wives, and your sons and daughters... Fire upon your heads and houses, if you RESIST God´s message! Fire! Fire!"
Suddenly four dust-covered horsemen were approaching the crowd in a fast gallop, a captain, two common soldiers and a civilian. They were closing in on the Linden tree. The men encircled the intrigued crowd and tried to push through to the monk, recklessly.
Suddenly the sharp voice of the preacher got even more shrill and changed in an instant from "FIRE, FIRE!" to "MURDERERS! MURDERERS! ASSASSINS! Bail out! Bail out!"
The spectators, terrified by the advancing horses, tried to break away, some yelling scared others cursing. Frantically the fleeing people tried to avoid being run over by the big animals. In an instant the attentive assembly had transformed into a chaotic crowd of yelling people, trying to escape in all directions.
Ruwen and Bastian kept cool. Little Mirza tried to hide behind Ruwen anxiously, forgetting his good intentions to defend his new friends. Disregarding the imminent danger Bastian pushed forward to rescue the blind monk from the resulting chaos. Suddenly he stopped staggered. Both, the monk and the friar had disappeared in the fleeing crowd. Nothing was left at the foot of the tree but the torn cloak of the monk and the rugs of Tanko.
The four angry horsemen faced the three boys who were the only villagers staying behind at the tree, "Where is the beggar monk gone? Where is his servant?"
"They just vanished in the crowd like snakes. They mingled with the onlookers and were gone a moment later! How can a blind man run as fast as a weasel?"
The three soldiers turned their horses and began to search for the monk in the crowd of the people running away.
The fourth horseman, the civilian, turned to the boys, "That crook is not blind, he is an imposter; he's a wolf in a sheep's coat. He is an arsonist, a robber, a murderer! We need to capture him!"
"Aren't you Gawain, father's great-cousin? Where have you been? Klas is waiting for you impatiently. He expected already you two days ago!"
"Aren't you Bastian, the son of Klas? And you are Ruwen, right!"
"Sure Gawain. We can help you, we recognized the companion of the monk. It's not a friar! It's that crook Tanko from our village. He vanished without leaving a trace. Tanko's run-down farm is down the road. Let's check there, maybe they are taking refuge in his estate!"
"Down there? Come on quick, Boys, show us the place!" the returning captain demanded, "The false monk and his crooked servant may be still there, for sure."
Bastian kicked the wooden blanks of the gate at the entrance to Tanko's small property, trying to break the door, "Damn the gate is closed!"
"Stop this stupid; better help me to get over the wall. The gate is probably barred from the inside!"
"Let me do the climbing; I am stronger; I don't want you to get hurt!"
Meanwhile Gawain had pulled Ruwen onto his horse and helped him to cross
the wall surrounding the farm.
"They used a log to bolt the gate! I got the lock open, now push it open!"
The other two soldiers had returned cursing, "These damned crooks had tricked us! Who is in charge here? Where is the provost?"
"That's our father! But let's search Tanko's farm first, he was the companion of the beggar monk. Maybe they are still in here hiding!"
Tanko had left his farm about a year ago. Now it looked unused and down run. The cluttered court between the front of the small living-quarter and the barn-stable was overgrown by weeds, stinging nettles and young shrubs. The stable was empty, but it smelled of horses and the manure on the paving was still fresh.
The soldiers broke into the house from the front side, while the boys and Gawain dashed to the back side of the house. The door in the back was open and swinging loosely in its hinges as was the gate in the garden fence. "Look uncle, the garden door is open. They managed to get away."
None-the-less the party searched the house meticulously. The rooms smelled sulky and damp. The air in the kitchen was filled with smoke rising from the glowing ashes on the fireside. At the table was a bowl with cold porridge, some bread and stinking cheese, all covered by buzzing flies.
"Look they have left their supplies behind. Their clothes are over here in the bedroom."
"Damn, nobody is here! They made a narrow escape!"
Turning to his subordinates the captain demanded, "You two, take up their track. Try to hunt the crooks down or at least scout the way they have taken. But turn back before the night is on, that's an order! Don't follow them in the dark. They are unscrupulous crooks and as devious as dangerous."
Klas was startled out of his thoughts by the yelling of the scared folk trying to escape from under the Linden tree. He rushed out of his house just to observe two strangers breaking into the farm of Tanko. He took a flail leaning near the entrance of his house and ordered the twins, "Take pitchforks and clubs and follow me down to Tanko's place, there are robbers there!".
The three sneaked up to the house, pushed the door open and were extremely surprised finding Bastian and Ruwen chatting animatedly with a captain of the archbishop's guard and a farmer. Klas was even more staggered when the dusty farmer rose and took him in a bear hug, "Hey Klas, big cousin, I am so relieved. Is everything all right in the village? I think we just made it in time!"
Now it was Klas turn to be surprised, "Why are you relieved? Miriam and I were worried about you because you didn't show up. We were waiting for your arrival for days now! ...Hey Gawain, where is your wife and where are your sweet daughters?"
The twins joined in "Yea, where are your daughters? Dad told just us today you wanted bring them along, because you both wanted us to meet with the girls!"
"Oh Klas, how come you gave away our surprise to the boys in advance? Did you tell the boys our secret plans? I hope not!"
The captain interrupted the friendly exchange; "You better tell them what the matter is, Gaw. They don't realize the danger they are in!"
"I couldn't bring my family along, that was just impossible... I wasn't at home for two weeks now. We are on a manhunt, a secret manhunt... Tell me, what are you people talking about lately? I bet it's about the terrible pest, these Gray Raiders."
"Yea Gawain, the whole border area is in a flurry of shakeup! More than twenty villages have been raided already, more than 50 men killed, an lots of young girls violated and boys abducted and there is still no trace of the Gray Raiders!"
"The devil is their ally! Not one of the assailed village could ward off their attacks!" Berdrich exclaimed.
"Yeah my Bro Bendrich is right! People think the Prince-Bishop has forgotten about his own subjects, even worse, he has depreciated us already."
Bendrich assisted "The raids are far away still! But who knows the day or the night when the Gray Raiders assail our village!"
"Yea! They attack a village nobody expect to be the target, at a time nobody is able to predict!"
The captain was shaking his head "Calm down a bit, men! That's not true. Now we know exactly the attacks always occur in dark nights, usually at the time of the new moon, the raids take place in the early morning hours always, when everyone is sleeping and only those places are raided which belong to the Prince-Bishop and are situated close to the southern and western border of his principality. These are the main conformities of the raids and everyone should know by now when and where precautions have to be made!"
"Yes, that's the basic scheme, but there is one additional trait" Gawain added, "and this characteristic will help us to catch the raiders."
"An additional recurring feature, what is it?"
"Sure! You all have heard of the beggar monks and repentance preachers besetting the villages days before the raid happens? Didn't you?"
"Yea sure, everybody talks about these preachers. They are god's emissaries! They demand renunciation from our sinning! They are the last premonition before the damnation, like it is said in the Bible!"
"And, does penance hold off the raids? Are the raids prevented if people become pious, confess their sins, give all their money to the church or to the poor? No, damn, NO!!"
"Are you a heretic, Captain? Are you denying that these preachers are god's emissaries?"
"Heaven forbid! But those are not God's emissaries! They are spies! They are the spies of the Gray Raiders and not emissaries of God!" the enraged captain answered, "They outwit people! The Raiders use two different men for spying. One of these devilish emissaries is the guy you know from under the Linden tree. It's this skeleton like crook with his skull-like face preaching fire and hell. The other one is a big, fat trickster who butters the folk and likes to flatter the gullible women."
"Well Klas, that's were my task joins in!" Gawain interrupted the captain, "About two weeks ago I was helping a cousin of my wife in a close by hamlet up on a hill. That day a beggar monk turned up seemingly out of the nothing, a tall, gray fellow with a head like a skull and hollow eyes wearing a tattered coat. He looked like a corpse out of a grave and was reeking of earth and mud. At first he preached at the chapel, later he went from house to house preaching, begging alms for the starving pagans in the Holy Land and threatening everyone with hell fire. He gave everyone a guilty conscience, even the small ones... In the evening he vanished in the fog."
"Was this the monk preaching at the Linden tree?"
"Sure! Just that the crook!.......... That night at home again; I woke up by the stench of smoke coming through the open window and a glaring light from a blazing fire at the hill where the hamlet had been just hours before...When we arrived in the hamlet all eight farms were burned down to the ground. Everything was in ashes! The wife of my cousin was crying hysterically. She and her two small daughters were searching for him in the smoldering ruins. Later we discovered my cousin. His head split open, his body charred....She broke down completely. We also recovered the corps of three other farmers in remnants of the village. All livestock was robbed or killed; cattle, swine, goats gone!"
"God have merci! What happened to the rest of the family, to your small nephew? What happened to the other villagers?"
"We didn't find the boy, no trace of him. Soon the inhabitants of the hamlet emerged out of their hiding places in the wood, the women, children and the escaped men. But two lads were missing also. So one boy and two lads were abducted. The Gray Raiders take young men away to press them into their gang to use them as child soldiers."
The captain was growing impatient and cut in Gavain's description of the massacre, "As soon as Prince-Bishop got the news about the raid he ordered me and a company of soldiers to hurry to the burned village to take up the track of the Gray Raiders."
"I have seen the false monk," Gawain interfered "therefore the Captain asked me to come along at the pursuit!"
"Gawain is one of the few to recognize the false monk for sure. I was right. We were able to pick up the track of the monk three days ago and now we are here.""
"I have reasons enough to track down the Gray Raiders. I have to take vengeance for my cousin and I promised my late cousin's wife to rescue the abducted boys!"
A terrible suspicion arose in Klas, "But the monk has escaped together with Tanko! Do you think the village is in danger now?"
"Not at the moment, I guess, because the crooks know we are at their heels. But as the provost you have to increase the precautions in the village and watch out for the raiders day and night! I am sure you and your men can not fight them. The party of the Gray Raiders is too strong. They are more than three dozens of heavily armed men. They also use fierce dogs, bloodhounds. You better prepare a save retreat for the villagers and the livestock, immediately. If you suspect a raid is close then take the people to the retreat and inform the Prince-Bishop with out delay. That's an order!"
Klas, Ruwen, Bastian and the twins were shocked; Mirza was shaking scared to the bones and cried lowly. The lightheartedness of St. Michael's Market had suddenly turned into fear.
Ruwen picked up Mirza and carried him down the road to his parents, the travelers. Holding him tight, he enjoyed the boy's birdlike heartbeat and his faithful embrace a last time for now.
At the fair ground the stands were already closing down. "Bad news is spreading fast!" Ruwen remarked.
"Yes Bro; bad news spread faster than good ones. The visitors are already leaving, the traders are leaving, and look the gypsies are loading their gear into the wagon, also."
"You know, Gypsies and the Jewish traders will leave the fair ground the first, they are afraid people will accuse them to be in cahoots with the Gray Raiders."
When the traveling company left, Ruwen accompanied his new friends about half a mile down the road. Sitting beside Mirza at the rear end of the minstrel's wagon, the two sang to each other in low but clear voices:
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
I would like to express a special thank to Paul for doing a 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 email@example.com. And I would like to add, thanks for reading.