A Question of Morality

Impresario5

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"Ser, we should make an example of this man! He threatened your life!"

Grant, a young squire of 12 years stood over a young man who was laying prone on the ground. An armored figure carrying a heavy war hammer and shield pressed his boot to the young man's chest. A rusty dagger lay a few feet from the young man's hand. The boy's hand had been broken; no doubt from a vicious kick to disarm him. The armored figure lowered his guard, resting the hammer on the ground by a spike on it's crown. He rested his shield at his side, and stared down at the young man with a sympathetic gaze. The young man was thin, and not well fit. He had some spark left in him, but most of his fire had been doused by hunger and grief. The knight looked at the scratch mark on his left pauldron; a futile attempt to take the knight's life and money. There is no honor in this, he thought. A moment later, his accusing eyes were on the young man.

"What is your name, craven?" he asked with venom.

"Boren....Ser...." he said, remembering that he was at the mercy of this knight. He knew better than to forget his courtesy.

"Boren. Is your home far from here?" the knight asked.

"No, Ser, it is less than a league from here. It is just over those hills....n-n-no more than an hour's stride," said Boron.

"Get up," the knight said, lifting his boot from the young man's chest. "Grant, fetch me my purse."

The young squire had an incredulous look on his face. Did he hear his master's words correctly? Did he just bid him to go get his purse? Why in all the gods' names would he want his purse at a time like this? The knight gave his squire a stern look, and the squire remembered himself. He ran to his knight's warhorse and retrieved a coin bag from one of the saddle bags. He returned it to the knight, and watched with disbelief. The knight reached inside the bag and retrieved a few copper pennies, and a silver stag.

"Boren, do you know what this is?" the knight asked the young man. The knight held the silver stag out to the young man. Boren's eyes lit up with disbelief and wonder. He stared at the knight and nodded his head.

"Aye, Ser, it is silver."

"Yes. This coin has only one purpose. You will use it to buy your next meal. Make it a large meal, and see that you enjoy it. You should get many copper pennies back from the innkeeper, or from wherever you buy your meal. These copper pennies are for you, and whomever you love," he said, handing the coins to the young man. The knight turned away and started walking back to his horse. He continued to talk as he walked away. "I will be returning to these lands in the next few months. I will visit your village then. If I do not see you in better standing in your village, I will remember this crime, and see that you are justly punished for it. My coins will be returned to me, and you will be placed in the dungeons, or put out on display for the village to ridicule you. Had you cut me, I could have requested the offending hand as payment. Remember that," he said.

The young man was dumbstruck. He had done a terrible crime against an annointed knight, and he was not only being pardoned, but he was being rewarded. For a moment, Boren thought that he should attack other annointed knights and hope that they are as merciful as this one. But then he remembered himself, and realized that his life had been given back to him. He should feel grateful, reborn, not greedy. "Ser...what is your name, that I might remember you when you come...?" he asked.

"I am Ser Cole Sembelyn. Run home, boy. Remember your charge," he said. Without another word, the young man bolted into the forest, away from the direction that he had first pointed to. Cole smiled slightly, knowingly.

Grant, however, was dumbstruck, his mouth wide open.

"Ser....how...how could you?"

Cole furrowed his brow, and turned to face his young squire, a fierce venom in his eyes.

"Let me teach you a hard lesson, Grant of House Stowell...."

Crack!

Cole's gauntlet connected square on Grant's mouth. The young squire saw the blow coming, but could not evade. He closed his mouth and braced himself against the blow. Cole was still too fast for him, even in his heavy plate armor. Grant fell to the ground, his body making a resounding thud even on the soft grasses of the plain. He clutched his face tightly and sobbed loudly. He looked up at Cole with angry, bloodshot eyes. He could feel his upper lip pulsating with blood. He could feel a few drops trickle down his palm and wrist. It coarsed down his arm, staining his tunic sleeve which had been rolled up near his elbows. Grant screamed, and fell onto his back when he saw Cole's warhammer come near his head. The young squire closed his eyes and turned his head, fearing a hammer blow that did not come.

"Please, Ser! I meant no offense! I beg your mercy! Please....Ser...mercy...." Grant pleaded, raising his hand slowly in defeat. Cole swatted it away with his war hammer, and brought the head of the hammer down to his chest. "What...what did I do? Mercy...."

"Why should I offer you mercy, Grant of House Stowell? Why should I offer it to you when you did not offer it to that young man back there?" Cole said, spitting the words at Grant. The young squire glared angrily at Cole and pointed his finger up at him.

"I did not try to take your life, Ser! I do not deserve this!" Grant said.

"Perhaps not, Grant, but do you know what it feels like to starve? Do you know what it feels like to be poor? Have you ever payed a tax in your life?," Cole said. Grant kept his mouth shut and started recoiling away from Cole. Cole wouldn't let him leave. He pressed the warhammer down on Grant's chest even harder. Cole knew that the answer to all of his questions was no. Grant was a spoiled little brat. His lord father knew that Grant was an able-bodied young man, but he lacked a knight's humility. There was no better lesson in humility in having to beg for one's life.

"How would you have me make an example of you, Grant? Do you want me to have you strung up by your ankles and have the village magistrate whip you with canes? Should I cut out your offending tongue? Should you serve hard labor in the dungeons? How, Grant?" Cole asked. He finally lifted his hammer away from Grant's chest.

Grant's lip and jaw throbbed with pain. He was beginning to feel an ache in his neck. That was no doubt caused by the blow. His head had been thrown back by the force. He felt the vertabrae in his neck crack, and recoil. It was so painful. Grant looked up at Cole angrily. He all but refused to see the wisdom in the lesson that was his bloody jaw. Cole may have even loosened one of his teeth. Gods, pray that he didn't!

"No answer? You can start by tying Hughly's reigns to Autumn's pommel. You're walking for the rest of the day. Not only that, but you will walk without your sandals," he said. Grant raised up again in protest, but Cole brought the flat of his hand down on his cheek. "You will defy me and my honor even more, Grant?!" he howled. Grant recoiled again. He fell back to his rear end and began sobbing again. He looked up at Cole with tear-swelled eyes. He knew better than to defy him again. After two heavy blows he knew better than to speak out against him.

"Now do as you are told before I think of another punishment for your cowardice," said Cole. He began to visibly calm, much to Grant's relief. The knight stepped away from his squire and moved to his war horse. Grant got up soon after and did as he was bade. He took his horse's reigns and tied them to his master's horse.

The two did not speak for hours after.

The sun was setting in the west. The horizon was painted with hues of gold, red and orange. It was a beautiful sight, a sweet sight. It was a bitter sweet sight to Grant. He would have rather been viewing it from Hughly's back, snacking on a cut of sausage from their dinner. Instead he had to look on with bloodshot eyes and aching feet. Ser Cole rarely give him time to rest. Whenever he was allowed to rest, he would look at his feet, only to find a new blister or thorn. His feet were bloody and sore, and he could not bear to walk on them, but Cole forced him. The hard journey did little to help Grant see the lesson. But in the waning hours of the day, Grant began thinking about what he had said, what he had really done. Although Grant had not taken any physical action against the young man, his words were just as cruel as a hammer blow. Grant would have punished the young man in a cruel way. Had they been in the village he would have made an example of him, so that all criminals would fear. That is the way that kings, lords, ladies and knights dealt with criminals! He has seen it many times from the lofty heights of his father's keep. But the lower he got, the more he began to realize...

"Ser?" Grant called out, a pleading tone in his voice.

"No, Grant. Walk. Keep up," Cole said.

Grant frowned deeply. He winced slightly with the movement. Gods, it hurt to frown! He was so happy that there was no one else travelling with them. It was so embarassing to have to walk this way with no sandals. His feet were swollen from exertion and they were covered in dirt. His lips were swollen from the vicious blow Cole had given him. He looked like a leper. He looked like a slave!

He...looked like a slave...

Grant lowered his head slightly and stopped dead in his tracks. He looked at his tattered feet. He felt his swollen lip. Then, he closed his eyes tight, and swallowed his shame. Grant was an insolent young man, and he knew it. Making hard examples of young, starving men was not the act of a noble knight. With his words he would have made a slave out of that young man. He would have been beaten, and then dragged around like a slave. He would have been brought down to his lowest point. Grant realized that he was the example that he would have made of that young man. He was living the punishment that he would have given. Grant would have shown the young man his wrath rather than show him mercy. He was a shameful sight...

"Ser...I understand..."

Cole pulled back gently on the reigns and turned Autumn so that he could see Grant. The young squire was low. Very low. Cole nodded his head and dismounted. He reached out to Grant and lifted him up. He placed him on Hughly's back, and then unstrapped his reigns.

"Grant, as a knight you will have to look with gentle eyes. You will have to know what it is right to show mercy rather than wrath. That young man was starved. He didn't attack me because he wanted to kill me. He attacked because..." he said. Cole would have continued, but Grant interrupted him.

"..he wanted your money. Ser? Do you think he will do what you told him to do?"

"Yes. That will be the sweetest meal of his life," he said. Cole held out a length of sausage. Grant took it and stared at it for a few moments. Cole walked back to his horse and mounted it. Grant stayed still while Cole began trotting away. He looked from his master to the sausage, and then took a bite.

Grant smiled. Cole was right. It was sweeter now.
 
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