Buzzards, Hawks and Ravens
(An Account of Six Friends' Lives in the "Dark" Ages)
RAIDO! Head-on into the Unknown
- Foes become Friends -
"Ruwen, I am freeing you! You aren't my hostage anymore. Let's revoke our deal...You are free and I will forgo burning down your homesteads!" Berrit, the young Gray Raider captain made that statement with a voice which slowly died away. While standing next to Ruwen at Aliah's deathbed, he could no longer stand being the head of a gang of muggers, killers, rapists and arsonists. It went against all his convictions, against everything he had lived before, against his life as a prince, and against his education in the monastery.
Ruwen stared at the Gray Raider captain, wide-eyed, then turned and walked into the garden to collect flowers for Aliah, for the last time. Adorning the bed-spread covering Aliah's remains, with purple asters, rosehips, and the last of the rose flowers - he turned to Berrit. "I have to leave the village; I must. Can I go with you, not as a hostage, but just of my own free will?"
Berrit, Ruwen and the last two Gray raiders left the village in the early afternoon hours. Before his departure, Ruwen had stowed the basic equipment needed by a healer into his backpack; some medical instruments, some vital elixirs, and unguents. When he was done he had turned to his home of more of than seven years, Klas's house, and said good-bye. He had also fetched his most valuable passion, Aliah's final present, the bridal quilt, from its cranny in the old pear-tree.
For his mount, Ruwen had chosen a ragged young stallion from the gang's herd of pack horses. He trusted the fidgety, lithe horse from the moment he saw it, and now enjoyed the bumpy ride into the unknown. He was deeply convinced that his decision to leave was inevitable, because he never would be a villager at heart and he had to learn more about healing in order to become the Wise Man that Aliah wanted him to be.
The closer the little party came to the ford through the river, and the further he drew from Klas's house, the more wistful Ruwen became. His conscience grew heavier with every step the horse took. He knew that by leaving, he was betraying the villagers, because he left them without a healer; he betrayed his adoptive family of seven years, his father, mother, his brothers and sisters, all of who loved him deeply. He knew he was betraying his little sister Eileen, leaving her without a sibling. But he was convinced he would meet them all again.
He was leaving Aliah behind, forever. This almost broke his heart, but he knew she was sleeping her last sleep and would never wake up again. There wasn't anything he could do for his dear aunty anymore, besides follow her example and advice to become a Healer.
The longer the distance became, the more his heart ached, because of Bastian. Ruwen knew that Bastian also now had to make a decision, but his brother had to make it on his own. On top of Aliah's bedspread, Ruwen had left an invitation for Bastian to follow him into the unknown. He was convinced his blood brother could read the rune sign; the rune for a long ride, RAIDO. He smiled to himself. The first letter of Ruwen, his own name, looked like the rune RAIDO and was also the first letter of rosehip, the R. Ruwen had used rosehips to outline the rune RAIDO on Aliah's deathbed as a clue. He was sure Bastian would realize the tie-in between the name RUWEN, the rune RAIDO and the ROSEHIPS and follow his clue.
There was one more question on his mind. Did he leave with an enemy? Sure, the Gray raiders were his enemies and those of the villagers. But, was Berrit his enemy? Was he an enemy in any way? He wasn't sure about that anymore. The Duke's son had treated him as an equal; as a peer. He had never let him feel like a country boy, a yokel. His heart told him that Berrit was not his foe. Would it even be possible that they could become friends?
As the party crossed the ford, he turned back to have a last look at the village and to search the sky for Buzzie, his friend. Buzzie was up there, sailing peacefully; fulfilling his commitment as the guardian of the vale. The village was peaceful. But then he became aware of galloping horses coming down the slope from the mountain ridge. The riders were still far up on the ridge, but the one in front on the black horse must be Bastian. No one else could handle a horse like his blood brother. Bastian was on his way! Now he knew for sure that his friend would follow his tracks.
Darkness had settled down on the barren plateau at the foot of the last pass of the rocky mountain ridge. From the apex of the pass the trail lead down to a wooded plain to the south of the mountains. The faint glow of campfires hardly pierced the night. As soon as the small party arrived at the campside set up by the Gray Raiders, Berrit searched out Jesper and Pinkus, his lieutenants. They had to discuss their plan of action for the next day. While the two raiders who had accompanied Berrit and Ruwen settled down with their comrades, Ruwen searched the campsite for the boys who looked after the transport of the supplies and tended the horses. He didn't want to join the bandits at their campfires; instead he had decided to join the young servants and grooms. Three of them were about his age; one seemed to be around twelve, and the smallest still looked like a child. These five boys seemed to be less dangerous than the grown-ups, even though he still regarded them as boy-raiders; child soldiers.
The boy-raiders were crouched in a circle around a small campfire at the fringe of the camp. They were just roasting pieces of bread, on sticks, when Ruwen stepped up to the circle.
Red, named because of his foxy hair, bowed low before Ruwen, addressing him wittily, "Your Majesty! Welcome to our illustrious circle. Join us and take part in our delicious meal of scorched bread and clear spring water! If Your Majesty misses the ham and the roasted veal, go and convey our thanks for that, to Jesper and Pinkus, our great lieutenants." With this mocking invitation he moved to the right and ushered Ruwen into the circle between him and the smallest groom, a dark-haired, frail-looking boy.
Ruwen smiled and sat down. He opened his backpack and took out a big round cheese and some smoked ribs. "Well, my dear subjects, let me improve our meager meal. I think this poor lad needs some more meat on his bones!" And with this remark, he pinched his small neighbor in the ribs.
"Stop that, Midnight Prince! Yes, I am frail looking, but I am strong!" The boy displayed a small bicep. "My name is Davy, and I am as strong as King David, who killed Goliath with his slingshot. Shall I prove it to you?"
"Don't slay our illustrious guest! He has just paid his contribution to the meal and he is now admitted to our circle, the `Brave Boy Bandits'!" shot back a lanky, blond-haired lad from the left. Meanwhile, Fatty, a stout teen with a lot of baby fat still around his hips, divided the donated food into six equal parts with his dagger.
"Why don't you stay with the adults?" the other small groom, a curly-haired boy, demanded. "Are you afraid of these evil ruffians and roughnecks?"
Fatty, studying Ruwen closely, "Are you afraid of your special enemy, Tanko?...There is no more need to be afraid off that wicked crook and rapist!" Chuckling, "He fell onto my dagger last night!" Noticing Ruwen eying the dagger with disgust, currently being used for dividing the cheese, he added, with a big grin, "No need to throw up, Midnight Prince. I cleaned my knife afterwards."
Fatty's remark was drowned out by dreadful yells from Ruwen's small neighbor, Davy. The lanky blond sitting on his other side took the little bandit in his arms and tried to sooth him. Ruwen, also attempting to console the sobbing boy, asked, bewildered, "Why is Davy yelling like this? What is wrong?"
Red uttered a deep sigh. "Well, we do not like to talk about it, but you should know it's partially your fault!"
"My fault?" asked Ruwen, surprised, still patting Davy's shoulders; who finally stopped yelling and relaxed.
Fatty hesitated for a moment, then began with a harsh voice, "Tanko was mad yesterday, just like the others raiders, because the raid turned out to be a huge flop. He was even madder than the others though, because the Captain declared you his hostage and Tanko couldn't mutilate you as he longed to do. He was mad as hell."
"Tanko got drunk and then began looking for a victim; a defenseless victim." Red interrupted Fatty, "He was a real mean coward, meaner than most of the other raiders, even meaner than Pinkus. Every time a village was mugged, Tanko snatched a helpless girl, raped her relentlessly, and then killed her when he was done."
"Yesterday there was no girl around and I saw him getting edgy. He began looking all over the place for a helpless victim, and then this coward noticed little Davy standing at the roadside taking a piss. He seized the puzzled boy and dragged him down the street."
"Fatty noticed the abduction, and immediately called on us for help, and then began to sneak down the road after Tanko, to spy on him!"
Fatty carried on excitedly, "At the Tanko's house I heard Davy pleading at the top of his voice! Stop this Tanko! Don't do this! Do not hurt me! Please do not hit me! Please let me go!"
"Tanko retorted with the coarse voice of a drunk, Oh, I like this, Baby-Boy! I like your resistance! Defend yourself, little cat! Yea, do it. I like your scratching!...Oh! Damn, that hurts!...Now, that's enough! Stop it! You've got sharp claws! Stop biting! Stop this, or I will break your neck!"
"Abruptly Davy's yelling changed into a gurgling noise! I knew it; Tanko was strangling Davy! I couldn't wait any longer! I broke into the house!"
"When Red and the rest of us finally arrived," the blond teen continued, "Fatty was kicking Tanko, and screaming like mad, trying to the crook to let go off Davy."
"Tanko was horribly drunk and raging like a bull," Fatty continued, disgusted, "He turned to me, cursing...I took a chance and charged at him head on! The dirty coward fell back on top of Davy."
"Then Tanko took hold of Fatty by the neck and tried to strangle him with both hands! We couldn't separate them."
"I desperately tried to break free! I kicked him; I pounded his chest and face with both fists, but Tanko's grip didn't loosen up. I was starting to get really weak, and knew I had no choice. I took my dagger and stabbed him at random."
"Tanko was bleeding like a pig when we finally tore them apart. Fatty and little Davy were completely covered with blood."
"Tanko had received two or three stabs into the main blood vessel in his throat, and he was bleeding to death...We tried, but were not able to stop the blood flow...On the other hand, we didn't really want to help him. We don't like monsters who rape children."
Berrit had come around to look for Ruwen and overheard the bloody account. As he stepped into the circle, he said "Thank you Fatty; thank you my little soldiers! Thank you Fatty, for rescuing little Davy at risk of your own life!...You are a brave young man; braver than I expected! You are deserving of a reward!...But now it's late and we should all get some rest."
Soon, Davy and the other small boy were huddled together under a pile of blankets, as were the three bigger grooms. Berrit had brought along some blankets too and two thick sheepskins for pads. Looking over to the cuddling boys, he asked Ruwen, "Maybe we should follow suit and crash together? It will be warmer that way on a cold night like this!" Soon, three piles of tired teens were snoring at the camp fire, their feet warming by the glowing cinders.
Exhausted, with reddened faces, wheezing in the thin air, the lieutenants, Jesper and Pinkus, waited for the rest of the Gray raiders to reach the top of the last pass in the southern mountain range. The steep ascent had used up a lot of their strength, but that was not the reason for their furious cursing. Berrit, their young Captain, had just informed both of them that he had decided to return to Quentisburry, taking the less obvious route via the monastery of Niwenburg.
"And you will be taking the Raiders for a two day rest at the base-camp; and will then return to Quentisburry, and report to my father, the Duke, without delay once you get there."
Angrily, when given these orders, Jesper had snapped back at Berrit, "Captain, you can't just leave the troop and go to Niwenburg all on your own. You are responsible for the safe return of all the Gray raiders back to Quentisburry! The Duke expects you to follow his orders closely."
Now, standing side by side with Jesper at the steep gorge, taking a piss, Pinkus ranted: "It's all the fault of the witch! She's to blame for the disaster in the village; she, and this MIDNIGHT PRINCE, the son of a witch!"
"Don't bawl like an injured bull; the others are not supposed to hear our complaints. Remember, we have to keep up our reputation!...Yes, that son of a bitch cast a bad spell upon our raid. He has bewitched our Captain! Weren't the last two raids before that a complete success? We got everything we wanted: money, cattle, goods, virgins!...And the Captain did everything we suggested, just as his father intended."
Directing the hot stream of his yellow piss onto a couple of small beetles making love on an alpine rose branch, Pinkus growled, "I'd gladly piss those two into the gorge; like these fucking beetles!"
While the two lieutenants mounted their horses, the beetles cleaned their wings and returned to their twig and picked up their former occupation.
Jesper and Pinkus were worried. They couldn't care less about Berrit, but they cared about their own heads. The Duke had ordered the two experienced lieutenants to watch Berrit's actions and eventually press him into making the needed decisions. He had told the two, "This is my son's first campaign! You know he has been living in a monastery since he was nine years of age, but now that his older brother has been murdered, I have decided he will be my successor as the Duke of Quentisburry. He needs to be introduced to the skill of ruling as well as to the art of war. He is inexperienced as a young colt, in both, and has a soft heart because of his life in the monastery. Take him; make him a warrior. I will make him a ruler! But I warn you; you are responsible for his life and his safe return home! Your heads will be rolling if he is harmed!"
Pinkus approached and pleaded with Berrit
again, "You can't just cross half of the
"I won't. My companion will be the Midnight Prince, and Fatty and Davy will be our servants!"
"You are just not safe enough with only a fifteen year old small boy as your groom. Remember, that son of the devil's grandmother, the Midnight Prince, is your enemy!"
"I will be! I can trust the Midnight Prince. I have trust in Fatty and I am responsible for little Davy! There is no reason to be worried. The grace of the Holy Mother is with us and the norns will guard our way!" Showing his anger by raising his voice, he said: "Now, follow my orders. We will meet safely in Quentisburry!"
The troop of Gray raiders left the barren ridge as soon as the rearguard arrived. In a long single line they crossed the apex of the pass and moved down the stony path towards the river winding through the wide lowland.
Half way down the mountain, the Captain's party of four young companions halted, and waited patiently for the last of the Gray raiders to vanish into the forest, and then took the small trail to the east. The hardly used path ran along at the edge of the barren mountain plateau and the dark fir forest. Ruwen stayed behind to place a twig with rosehips on the path, to give Bastian the direction of their ride.
At , the sun was up in the clear sky, and fog only covered the highest mountain peaks. They had been on horseback for six hours now, and Davy hung from the back of the big horse like a wet rag. Ruwen could see blue-green bruises all over the little groom's left cheek, when the little troop finally dismounted at edge of a small brook to have a meager snack,.
"Oh Davy, you look awful! You've got bad a bruise on your cheek! Yesterday evening, at the campfire, and again this morning in the twilight, I thought your face was just dirty! When did you hurt yourself?"
"Tanko hurt me, when he tried to kill me! Oh Ruwen, I'm feeling kind of sick, and this bruise on my cheek is not the only one; the whole left side of my body is sore and I can hardly raise my arm."
"Oh, poor boy, you should have told us earlier! Take off your shirt and show the injuries to Ruwen and me." Berrit began to rummage about in his back bag for some ointment. Pointing at the shivering boy, he said, "Look Ruwen, his upper arm and his left side are all green and blue."
Ruwen also began to search his own bag for a cooling salve. "Let me take care of this, Berrit. I am the healer and you are a captain!"
"Who told you that I am a Captain? I am truly a healer and not really a Captain. I got my education in the infirmary of the monastery. But, maybe you know more about the treatment of bruises, because you learned your profession from a Wise Woman in a village!"
"Wow, we are both healers! You are one lucky boy, Davy; you've got two healers for companions!" Then to Berrit, "Let's check whose treatment works better; that of a physician educated in a monastery, or that of a witch boy."
Together the healers cleaned the bruises and applied ample amounts of their ointments. Davy bore the pains of treatment without wailing, but his face was a display of anguish. To help, Ruwen tried to distract his attention, "Tell me, Davy, how come you became a member of the Gray raiders? That's not a proper job for a nice, young boy like you!"
"My father asked Jesper to take me along, because he couldn't afford to feed me anymore!"
"Don't tell them a story, Davy. You know that's not the whole truth!" Fatty interjected, "Davy was sold to Jesper for gambling debts!"
"You are a fat liar, my father would have never, never sold me!" But tears began streaming from his eyes.
Later, when Fatty and Ruwen fell behind, the groom told the Midnight Prince, "Davy cannot accept the truth. His father really did sell him! I saw it with my own eyes, because I was around that night, in the pub. Davy's father was a `down and out' gambler. In the morning he gambled with the lieutenants with the last of his money, and lost. In the afternoon he risked his horse to win back the money. He lost again, and started to drink! In the evening, his sleeping son was the stake. Jesper accepted the stake and won the prize!"
"That can't be true! Only monsters gamble their children?"
"You are unworldly. Didn't you know? A lot of poor parents sell their children! You are naive and innocent, you and Berrit!...Red was also won in a game of dice! But Jesper is not really such a bad substitute for a miserable father. He has no kids of his own and always wanted some. The ones he adopts are treated decently, get enough to eat, and in the winter always have a warm place!"
"But he is making you into child soldiers, boy-bandits! Would you rather end up at the gallows, or live life as an honorable man?"
Just as the night began to wrap the mountains with darkness as well as a nearly impermeable fog, the four riders were lucky enough to run across a small barn at the side of a brook. The hayshed offered a safe shelter for the night, as a high pitched howling announced the presence of wolves in the forest. While Fatty confined the horses safely on the ground-floor, and the Ruwen and Berrit prepared the evening meal, little Davy built two nest-like beds on opposite sides of the hay-loft.
After the cold meal Fatty and Davy retired to their nest, cuddling together in the soft hay, like puppies. Soon Davy's whispering voice came through the dark, "Thanks, Fatty, dear Fatty, you saved my life! You are really tough; the bravest." And then a sound like kissing was heard, followed by an outburst of giggles.
"Stop that Fatty; you know I'm ticklish! Stop it; or I'll tickle you back!"
The tickling continued for a while. Suddenly Fatty snorted, "Don't touch that; that's not for little boys!"
"But you like it! It's already hard! I know you and Red do this every night; I have spied on you!" Fatty stopped protesting. A little later, he began purring like a kitten, then breathing faster and harder. After the noise subsided, Davy stated knowingly "I made you come! Did you like it? That's my small repayment for saving my life. I hope you liked my present!" The sounds of a long kiss proved the acceptance of the gift and soon regular snoring announced that both boys were dead to the world.
Cuddling comfortably in their nest, Ruwen began to question Berrit. "I didn't know that you are a healer, too. Just two days ago, I took you for the heinous Captain of the Gray raiders and despised you. After we slept together peacefully during that night, I wasn't so sure about your nefariousness anymore, and now I even think we could become friends...You're very different from my dear Bastian, but I like you more and more!
"Bastian seems to be more than a friend to you. He seems to be even more than a brother to you. Do you love him?"
"I already told you my life history. So, by now you should know that Bastian and I have loved each other since we met the first time. Since midsummer night, we knew that even the Norns want us to be one!...But it's your turn now. Tell me about you and Anzo!"
"Let's sit down opposite each other, legs crossed, knees touching, looking into each others eyes. This is the way I used to sit with Anzo, when we talked over a serious question. This way it is easier to exchange thoughts, even to reveal secrets nobody else should know."
I would like to express my special thanks to Paul, TSL and B. 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 Ruwen Rouhs. And I would like to add, thanks for reading.
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