Up on the wall…
… the night was calm. There was no wind and on the horizon rays of the sun coloured the clouds with ember. Melkin stood on the wall of Sarum and looked out with a bitter expression on his face, feeling conflicted and angry.
When he had grown up he had never had the same confidence as his older stepbrother Cadry. The many times he had been sick as a child, had often left him with a feeling of being left out from all the excitement Cadry, Maelgwyn and got to experience. He had always tried to come with them when he had been well, but being smaller, less strong and less experienced than the other boys he sometimes had gotten himself into situations that he couldn’t handle. Reckless as he was Melkin once fell out of the old oak on the Tisbury grounds when he tried to follow Cadry to the top of the impressive tree. He had broken his arm and missed out on riding, swimming and hunting that summer as he had the summer before.
Today he was left with the same lonely frustrating feeling as he had felt many a time both before and after that summer when he broke his arm, the feeling of being useless.
When he had scowled at the young pages for being afraid of rats he had had no idea of their size or ferocity. They had been rats, and he hadn’t been afraid. Yet he had been unable to defend himself against the vile vermin that had jumped him and Gamond in the cellar. As one of the dog-sized creatures tore a huge piece of flesh out of his neck Melkin almost fainted from the sheer pain and blood loss. Gamond had been forced to drag him out of the room.
The first feeling that hit Melkin when he realised that this was a severe wound, was not fear but shame. What type of squire let rats defeat him? He had been armed hadn’t he? As a result of his injury he had not been able to help Gamond and Cadry in either killing the very rats that had wounded him nor in riding towards Ambrius Abby in search of the important wine. Instead he was stuck picking flowers, and to top it off he had almost lost them to four men trying to rob him on the way back to Sarum.
Sitting on the wall Melkin thought back on the situation and of how scared he had been, knowing that he would not have been able to defend himself against the robbers. Did that mean that he was a coward? The words Amig had told him when arriving at Sarum still rang in his head.
“You are going to be a knight soon, straighten your back and speak up.”
Looking out north towards the barely visible Stonehenge Melkin couldn’t help but wonder if he would be able to become a knight together with Maelgwyn, Gamond and Cadry. Stretching his neck to see the sacred place the pain grew so intense that he had to sit down. His back to the wall he breathed heavily for a few seconds. A noise made him turn his head as Cadry climbed up the ladder looking around.
“There you are little brother,” Cadry said as he saw Melkin. “What are you doing, sitting here by yourself?” Cadry went over to his brother’s side and sat down.
Looking at the younger boy, he could tell that Melkin had turned his thoughts inward once again. The fact that Melkin often had been sick as a young boy had made him into a gloomy youth who for some reason always deprecated himself and considered himself less that his older brother or for that matter their two friends Maelgwyn and Gamond. Cadry had many times tried to break his brothers propensity for being maudlin and self-pitying but most of the times he thought he had managed to reach him, Melkin’s chaplain would be there and once again try to break him down and make him think less of himself.
Not waiting for a proper answer Cadry carefully put his arm around the smaller mans shoulders to reassure him and to share some of the affection he felt for his brother.
“I’m doing nothing really,” answered Melkin feeling stupid. “I needed to think. It’s been a long day, but even so I’m not tired, just… exhausted.”
“In that case, you are made of sterner stuff then I am. I am tired, exhausted, still feel dirty, cold and confounded.” Having said as much, Cadry yawned and stared out into the night. “What are you thinking of?”
“I was scared today” Melkin admitted after a short silence. “I couldn’t… I didn’t…” His voice broke and he bit his lip angrily.
Raising his eyebrows slightly, Cadry glanced at his brother in the weak torchlight. “Well, that’s not so strange. I was frightened too. Especially when that stranger just rode up to me when I was already wet, tired and injured and asked my name, and when I gave it he just attacked me. I really thought I was going to die.”
Slumping down a bit where he sat, Cadry had trouble concentrating on anything other than wanting to just curl up and sleep, but something in his brother’s voice forced him to focus.
“I think that everybody is scared from time to time and that it’s the brave man who can push through that and just keep going. I wouldn’t have known what to do if I stood before four armed ruffians intent on robbing me, but you did. That’s both brave and very clever.”
“Brave?” Melkin almost laughed. “You dueled a knight! By yourself! I… didn’t feel brave. I just felt scared, and I got myself injured by a rat, a damned rat, and because of that I couldn’t help with anything and I wasn’t there when that knight attacked you.” Melkin drew breath slowly. He was shaking now out of frustration. “I couldn’t even kill the rat that injured me, so useless…”
“Well, that stupid rat bit right through my armour and shield and got past my guard even though I was prepared for it, so you are hardly alone.”
Thinking back, Cadry tried to remember the entire day in the right order but the memories blurred together.
“You helped a lot so don’t go telling yourself anything else. If you had ridden with me and Gamond, my horse would still have misstepped and I would still have insisted that you and Gamond should keep on riding for the Abbey. And thus I would still have had to face that blackguard by myself.” Adjusting his seating slightly and turning towards Melkin, Cadry’s gaze suddenly turned a bit harder.
“So what if this one situation turned out a bit worse for you than me or Gamond? You can’t always blame yourself. You can only square your shoulders and be all the more determined to face the next challenge!”
Melkin met Cadry’s stern look and all the frustration seemed to wash off him. “I know…” he said looking defeated. “I tried. I… just don’t want to be left behind. I want to be a knight too, and… I don’t know… I can’t think…” The wound was throbbing again and Melkin put a hand over his neck.
“Left behind? You are not getting left behind.” Sighing a bit and carefully taking hold of the smaller mans arm, Cadry tried to somehow transfer his own certainty just by touch. “Next year they will make us knights and then we can really start making our mark on the world.”
Melkin just nodded and gave Cadry a tired smile. He wanted to believe his brother, but as of this moment he had a hard time doing it.