Read Sir Bentley and Holbrook Court Online
Authors: Chuck Black
“He did not hire me,” Bentley said bluntly.
Avarick turned his glare to Bentley, and they locked eyes. Bentley fought the urge to challenge the man, reminding himself that he was just a swordless peasant.
“Lord Kingsley requires extra tax for any additional laborers on a farm,” Avarick said. “Sir Owen, mark this farm down for an extra ten percent tax.”
“Yes, my lord,” the knight replied.
At that Creighton looked up with look of despondence. “My lord, I can hardly pay what you already require, and my leg is barely—”
“Silence!” Avarick drew his sword.
Gripping his sickle tightly, Bentley stepped forward and slightly in front of Creighton.
Creighton pulled backward on Bentley's shoulders. “I'm sorry, my lord. I will gladly pay the taxes Lord Kingsley desires. It is my honor and privilege.”
Avarick clenched his teeth and gripped his hilt tightly as he glared at Bentley. Creighton continued to pull Bentley backward, a couple of steps away from Avarick's horse.
For a long moment, Avarick scowled and pointed his sword at Bentley. “Watch your actions, knave!” He then sheathed his sword, wheeled his horse around, and rode off in a huff toward the next farm. His knights thundered after him.
“That was too close,” Creighton said with a big sigh. “He has struck men dead for less.”
Bentley was still angry and stared after Avarick. “Why do these people put up with him?”
Creighton looked at Bentley in disbelief. “Because we have no choice. Either we do or we die!”
“Better to die a free man than to live a slave,” Bentley said angrily.
“And what of my wife and daughters, Bentley?” Creighton pointed back to the cottage where Anwen and the girls had been working in the vegetable garden. They were standing still, having just seen the exchange. “Do I make a brave stand just to die and leave them to starve?”
Bentley looked at Creighton and felt his anger turn to sadness. He put his hand on his friend's shoulder.
“No, Creighton, you do not. You must live and care for them.” He managed a smile. “You are a wise and compassionate man. It's not your calling to change such things.”
Bentley thought. He put his hands back to his sickle and the job of harvesting, but his mind was beginning to settle on an entirely different task. He wasn't quite sure just what it was or how he was supposed to do it, but he knew without a doubt he was called to it.
Bentley had been to the village of Holbrook before. But this time, as he traveled there with Creighton, Anwen, Meg, and Nia, he saw it with new eyes.
For one thing, Lord Kingsley's beautiful castle seemed to loom more prominently than ever, its magnificent beauty heralding to all the land its master's wealth and power.
For another thing, the village seemed to be larger and more congested than it had been on his last visit. Bentley's companions confirmed that impression, saying that each year more people came to Kingsley for protection from the marauders of surrounding lands, especially from the Lucrums of the Boundary Mountains. Rumors of the mysterious and crude rituals practiced by this tribe of barbarians abounded, and such rumors struck fear in the people's hearts, keeping them pliant under the heavy hand of Lord Kingsley.
For Bentley, the stories brought greater understanding of the plight of the people and ignited a passion to discover what his purpose was in this place. On this particular afternoon, though, his purpose was simply to enjoy his friends and to learn as much as possible.
Creighton bartered with various shop owners and other farmers for his produce and seemed satisfied with the exchange. But the family and most of the villagers were tense and uptight, for this was the day of Lord Kingsley's estate tour. Castle guards came into the village to prod people into lining the main thoroughfare leading from the castle and on through the center of the community.
At the third hour of the afternoon, trumpets began to blast at the castle gates as thousands of people lining the main thoroughfare waited for the parade of Lord Kingsley his family, and his entourage of nobility and knights.
A herald stood atop the castle barbican, above the gates, and yelled, “Hear ye, people of the land! It is with great honor that I proclaim the mighty and benevolent Lord Kingsley, his noble family, and the court of Holbrook. Give homage to your protector and his heirs.”
Bentley stood beside Creighton and his family. Little Nia was jumping up and down trying to see beyond the people who lined the road.
“Here you go, little miss.” Bentley lifted her up onto his shoulder.
“Tanks, Bentley,” she said with glee. Like most of the village children, she loved the interlude from the drudgery of her daily life. She was not yet old enough to realize what an empty facade these parades presented.
“Here they come!” Meg shouted as a squire on horseback thundered through the gates, proudly carrying the flag of Holbrook Castle. He was followed by a pompous figure in a bright silk tunic—Sir Avarick, the first knight of Holbrook Castle. Behind him trailed twenty-five knights in similar array. Castle guards dispersed throughout the crowded streets “encouraged” the people to cheer as the procession passed by.
There was a small gap between the phalanx of knights and the elaborate open carriage that carried the noble family of Holbrook. Four prancing white carriage horses pulled Kingsley's carriage. As it drew closer, Bentley glimpsed a prominent and regal-looking man sitting
beside a beautiful and yet strange-looking young woman, whom he assumed was Kingsley's daughter, Lady Gwylin. A handsome young man with bronze-colored hair rode beside the carriage on a gallant white steed—obviously Lord Braith, Kingsley's son. Behind the carriage rode a phalanx of nobles and a small company of dancers and musicians.
“It's the Painted Ice Princess!” Nia pointed at the carriage, still a short distance away.
“Shush that girl!” A nearby guard stepped toward Bentley and Nia. She pulled back her hand and looked frightened.
Bentley pulled her off of his shoulders and gave her a quick hug. “It's all right, Nia. Don't mind him.”
He turned her once again to the procession, for the carriage was nearly to them. Kingsley was a rotund little man decked in colorful silk, and he wore a fur hat that Bentley thought looked quite silly, although no one laughed. His eyes were dark and set deep, giving the impression of sternness that contradicted his chubby features. His complexion was fairer than most, except for his daughter's. Her face was painted porcelain white, with some blue markings near her eyes and on her cheeks.
Lady Gwylin sat stiff and tall without offering a single glance to the people on the roadway. A hat covered most of her dark hair, setting off her aristocratic cheekbones; her gown was a work of art, with embroidery, lacing, and pearled beads adorning the ivory fabric. Bentley was sure it cost more than his newfound friends could earn in a lifetime. Gwylin's chin was elevated and her eyes nearly shut—the very picture of arrogant perfection. Bentley had seen the same pious attitude in some of the Noble Knights.
Is this how the poor of Chessington looked at me?
he wondered, feeling another flush of shame.
“Sir Bentley!” a young voice screamed with excitement from the other side of the road.
Bentley broke his gaze from the procession and looked across the
roadway to see Anya, the little crippled girl from his Mercy Maiden venture. She lurched excitedly toward him. A thin, frail woman called to her from behind, but to no avail.
Bentley's heart thumped in his chest, for she was crossing the road right in front of Lord Kingsley's carriage.
“No, Anya!” He held up his hand, but that seemed to encourage her all the more. A big smile enlightened her face as she ran, oblivious to the sixteen forceful hoofs that would soon pummel her to death.
The driver of the carriage made no attempt to restrain his team or turn aside. He only scowled. Bentley handed Nia to Anwen and rushed into the street to meet Anya, who was now directly in front of the approaching carriage. One of the horses whinnied in alarm as Anya turned to see her demise. She screamed, and Bentley lunged for her just as the first two horses came upon her. The crowd gasped and the horses reared up, spooked by Bentley's actions.
Bentley covered Anya with his body, and he felt the force of hoofs pound into the dirt all around them. Anya's panicked screams spooked the horses further, and Bentley tried to cradle her beneath his slightly raised torso. He knew that at any moment he would feel the crushing blow of a powerful hoof slam into his unprotected back.
The moment lingered long, and he heard the cries of Anya's mother mixed with the exclamations of hundreds of onlookers. But the sound of pounding hoofs finally diminished and was replaced by the sound of carriage wheels passing by on his left and right.
“Get out of the road, fool!” Bentley heard a man shout from above them.
He looked up and saw Lord Braith glaring down at him from atop his horse. He drew his sword. “You nearly upset Lord Kingsley's carriage. Out of the way, or I'll take off your head!”
Bentley scooped up Anya and took her to her mother, suppressing the urge to yank the arrogant brat from his horse. The crowd began to
cheer Bentley for his heroic actions, but he was oblivious to the praise, for he was still enraged with Kingsley and his family.
“Pompous fools,” he muttered as he glared back at Kingsley, his son, and his daughter. He glanced once more at Lady Gwylin and saw her look briefly toward Anya, then turn her head up and away as if nothing had happened.
She truly is an ice princess
, Bentley thought bitterly.
The rest of the procession passed by, and Bentley found himself surrounded by children and adults alike, thanking him for his deed. Anya's mother struggled toward Bentley, leaning on a long staff nearly as tall as Bentley. She reached for his hand.
“I'm Hatty, Anya's mother. Thank you, sir.”
Bentley tried to keep from staring. The woman was so thin and frail that Bentley was amazed she could even stand. Her cheeks were sunken, her hair was thin, and her eyes seemed nearly hollow. Whatever ailed her was obviously winning.
Bentley took her ice-cold hand. “You are welcome.”
Anya hugged Bentley's legs. “I'm sorry, Bentley, I didn't—”
He knelt down and gently hugged her. “It's all right, my little princess.”
Anya put her arm around Bentley's neck and turned out to look at her mother. “Mama, this is Sir Bentley, the knight I was telling you about!”
There was a bit of a stir about them, especially from the children. A little boy came and stood next to Bentley, squinting his eyes as though inspecting him.
“Are you really a knight?” He crossed his arms. “You don't look like a knight.”
Bentley laughed and opened his mouth to respond.
“He is too!” Anya squinted back at the boy. “Only knights can jump in front of horses and not get killed! And he knows lots of stories about lots of knights.”
The boy's eyes widened. “Really?”
By now a dozen children and half as many parents had gathered around them. Bentley looked up and found himself in quite a predicament.