I heard someone calling me to wake up and I thought it was my mother at first, until reality flooded my mind with the sight of her crying out to me as a Cuman drove his sword through her back. I opened my eyes to see the familiar face of Theresa the mill wench. I was surprised to see her, but before I could speak a word she began changing the bandage on my head and asked me how I was. I felt dizzy and weak, but I wanted to get up and hunt down that bastard who took Sir Radzig’s sword! “Rest, Henry,” Theresa urged and gently eased me back down on the bed. “You need to rest and heal.”
When I woke again, I felt much better, and Theresa was there again. “Where are we?” I questioned. She answered that we’re in Rattay, at her uncle’s mill. She convinced him to take me in, but he was upset about how expensive the treatment from the apothecary was. “I’ll talk to him and pay him back. How did you find me?” She told me she was in Skalitz waiting to die because the Cumans killed her brothers in the mine. The Cumans who were trying to violate her as I fled to Talmberg were unsuccessful, thank God, but I could see she was deeply troubled.
She says she’s a different person now, but I wonder if she’s just trying to be a new person so she doesn’t have to carry that trauma with her. That’s how I felt anyhow. I wanted to leave my childish, scared, and cowardly self in the muddy mess where he was killed by bandits. When I’d spoken with her uncle, Miller Peshek, I headed toward the castle to see Sir Radzig, and found a bathhouse on my way. I desperately needed a bath and a shave, and I decided to get a haircut that would make me look like a new man.
Guards stopped me at the lower gate to the town, and they didn’t want to believe me when I told them I needed to see Sir Radzig at once. They scoffed at me and called me a peasant. I wished I could’ve punched him in the face for that, but I kept my cool and explained who I was. “I’m the son of the Skalitz blacksmith, and I was supposed to bring him a sword my father forged for him. I’m honour-bound to tell him what happened to his sword.”
They let me in and I rushed straight to the castle–the lower castle, as Rattay has two of them. I arrived while Radzig was dining with other nobles and a priest. I told him about the bandits who took the sword and promised to get it back for him. He tried to convince me otherwise, but I insisted on account of my father. I could tell he understood how important it is to me, and he agreed to take me into his retinue.
That’s the first time I was mocked by a young nobleman–he can’t be even a year older than me. He was so arrogant and smug, and said I ran away from Skalitz as a coward. I am no coward! I ran so I could warn the people between Skalitz and Talmberg. I stabbed a Cuman in the back to save a wench, ignoring the fact there was a mob of them. I stole a horse and raced it through fires and chaos, being shot at by vicious archers, and I refused to give up! I am no coward.
Sir Radzig put the nobleman, Sir Hans Capon, in his place very politely, then sent me to train with Captain Bernard. He showed me the basics of sword fighting and defense, but our training session was interrupted by Capon. He teased me some more and whined about his sore arm bothering his archery, and then Bernard explained that Radzig wanted me to learn archery also. I had to train with that guy in the archery range at the same time, and he did it again. I couldn’t hold back my anger, but at least I didn’t curse at a nobleman. He challenged me to an archery competition, and I accepted with the hope that I could embarrass him at his own sport.
I don’t know how I did it–it must’ve been pure pissed off determination–but I won the archery contest. Hans Capon made excuses about his sore arm and challenged me to a sword fight! I was as mad as hell, and I wont ever back down for that guy. He has a fine bastard sword, and I have nothing but an old sword I found in the carnage of Skalitz. Hans Capon is fast and extremely agile. He’s experienced with a sword and he slashed me good a couple of times during our duel, but his weakness was that heavier sword. After blocking one of his furious attacks, he was slightly winded and didn’t get his sword back up in time to block my strike directly to the top of his head. I slashed at his left arm and quickly stabbed him right in the cheek!
He was forced to admit I got the better of him and he gave me his hunting bow, as promised. In the moment I was just happy to see his face all cut up by my sword, but it’s a really good bow. I’m incredibly grateful for it now. After the duel, I went to see to the apothecary to pay my debt for the medicine he administered while I was laid up for a fortnight. I asked him about all the recipes he had for ointments and decoctions. “Can you teach me how to read?” I asked. He told me of a scholar to the north, in Uzhitz, who could instruct me.
I wanted to learn how to read because those maps I got from the wayfarer on my last night in Skalitz could lead to valuable treasure. I need money for better equipment if I’m going to track down those bandits and take back my father’s sword from them. I couldn’t leave town immediately because it was already late in the day, so I decided to stay over night and help Peshek with a favour he asked of me. I was to dig up a grave and take a ring from a corpse! I sneaked up to the Executioner’s house to see if the coast was clear, and I saw him leave the house and walk around the opposite side.
I thought it was a perfect opportunity to check out his house and see if he had any valuables–Peshek said he’d buy stolen goods from me. I went inside and into the bedroom, then quickly closed the door in case he came back inside. I picked the locks on both of his chests and stole everything he had! Luckily the dead man’s ring was among the executioner’s possessions, so I didn’t need to dig up a body at least. It was dark already when I returned to the mill with the ring and stolen goods to sell. I went inside to get some sleep, but since both Peshek and Theresa were outside, I took the opportunity to unlock their cabinet and chest as well. It’s so ungrateful but I took what they had and sold it all back to Peshek a few minutes later.
In the morning I woke up on a hillside: I was sleepwalking again. I used to do it when I was a kid, anytime I was troubled or ill. “I suppose it’s no surprise,” I said to myself. After everything I’ve been through… I think I’ll be troubled for some time. I collected my maps and headed north to learn how to read.
Capon’s bow came in handy for me as I made my way through the forest: I did some poaching and shot several hares. I was carrying so much meat I couldn’t run, but thankfully I wasn’t far from the town, and I found a butcher’s shop right as I entered town. I cooked up all the meat to increase its value, then sold it for a couple hundred Groschen. I’m getting a nice bit of coin adding up, but I’m not looking forward to the walk back to Rattay. I’d much rather have a horse, and definitely shouldn’t steal one of those!
But first things first: I had to visit the scholar. I spent several days with him, learning how to read and write. He even had me read Latin, although I couldn’t understand a word of it. It was just important to read the words and recite them for my instructor. He was very impressed with my skill!
“Take this book, Henry,” he said and handed me a book with blank pages. “Use it to practice writing. You never know when you might need to.” I thanked him and he went back to work writing at his desk. His back was turned, so I stole a few books, a quill, and also some food from his pantry on my way out the door.
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