'Seven men share one destiny…their battles continue until evil perishes, and justice prevails.'
'The promise of our Legacy lives within
us. We were, we are, and will be again.'
Characters: JD, seven
Disclaimer: Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep `em…damnit!
Universe: Legend Chronicles
Summary: Britain, 495AD – 537AD found a young King Arthur fighting to hold his position against invading and settling Anglo-Saxons, while keeping one step ahead of tribal leaders throughout the kingdom resolute on usurping his crown. Respect for the young, brave king who wanted no more than to unite his country, earned him inconsistent loyalty, and as such, the dedication from the few he trusted with his life offered him the opportunity to forge on against the marauders.
One such leader led an eclectic band of seven men, who would willingly lay down their lives to serve the king, while protecting a settlement Lord Orrin of Travis had guided them to. Life was hard and fraught with danger, but their bravery and honor knew no bounds. Unbeknown to them, these men, brothers, were on a quest that would see them together, through different eras, for eternity.
A journey of honor and justice, which would become another Legend of the Quest.
Thanks to Sherry for the
And to her and Kathy M for looking this over for me
For the record, I’m no historian, and while I’ve researched, I may well go wrong so please remember this is fiction :o) All names are shown to be old enough to use, so I have (okay, with maybe a little artistic license!)
Brothers in Arms - The Quest of the Broadsword
The approach of fast hooves, dulled by mud, brought five men from their huts and into the center of their settlement. Their leader Christopher, stood proud, hand on sword and prepared to meet the intruder head on, but relaxed on seeing the hasty arrival of the man who was like a brother to him. “Vin?”
Vincent Tanner, so named after his deceased father’s profession, leapt from his steed before the blowing stallion had halted. A little breathless, he addressed the men he looked on as family. “We must ride. Saxons to the east have a young, male Celt.”
“You have seen him?” Chris asked.
Vin nodded. “I have. His treatment is poor; I fear his time is short.”
“How young?” Buck stepped forward. His original name was a mystery to all but the few who knew him well. The appellation of Buck was allotted when he killed a male deer with his bare hands in order to feed the starving settlement he, and the others had been ordered to protect.
“Not yet a man,” Vin replied. He turned back to Chris, his gaze beseeching. “We must act, now.”
Without looking back, Chris strode toward his horse. “Mount up!” In minutes, the thunder of hooves heralded another rescue mission.
The six men lay flat atop a grassy hill overlooking the newly formed Saxon encampment. Vin passed a spy glass between the group; a simple but ingenious use of two pieces of curved glass wrapped in animal skin; that their brother, and Moor healer Nathan, had gifted him. Each man in turn seethed over the prone form below them. Buck cried out, softly. “Is he dead?”
Nathan took the spy glass and shook his head as he viewed the scene below them. “I believe not, but the boy is in a bad way.” Taken from his home when young, and passed around as a slave between various marauders over the years, the black man, now healer, was all too aware of how quickly whipping injuries could fester.
Buck moved to stand, but Chris seized his arm. “Hold…we have the advantage of surprise.”
“If we wait, he could die.”
“If we are too hasty, we could all die.”
Their gazes locked, both men paused to reflect. Buck relaxed, nodded and dropped back to the ground. “Soon, yes?”
Chris smiled tightly at the big-hearted man. “Soon.”
Ex-Benedictine monk Josiah Sanchez sighed. Like his adopted brothers, he abhorred cruelty, and his heart grew heavy at the youngster’s plight. Despite the distance between them, the lad’s tattered clothes and prone position, easily displayed the bloody welts across the milk-colored skin of his back. Josiah felt a hand on his arm.
“I warrant this day, those men will pay.”
Josiah looked back at the chestnut-haired Jute. Initially from Breton, Ezra had traveled alone, and eventually found family with these men. His errant ways to provide himself a living, though long behind him, were often useful in battle. The man was wily like a fox and, despite constant denial, valiant to his very soul.
The big man smiled. “Most certainly.” He glanced across at his family of the heart. A mixed bunch to be sure. Chris and Vin fair of head, though slowly darkening with the often overcast climate; Ezra auburn, Nathan black of skin. Himself of Spanish descent from his father’s side and Welsh from his mother, and his own once dark locks now gray. Buck was the only full Celt…and now it would seem they had found another…if they could liberate the boy before his injuries ended his short life.
King Arthur trusted these men as no others. Despite their mixed roots, they fought as one heart, and took no glory from it, save to please and protect their king. Between conflicts, they stood as defenders of justice…primarily for the village they had become responsible for, but their honor was boundless and any unfortunate that crossed their paths would feel the embrace of their protection. If they were in time, this boy would be mindful that his persecutors would rue the day they roamed to this place. The Holy man’s musings were interrupted by their leader’s voice.
“Come…it is time.”
John Dunne prayed to be released from this life. Had God forsaken him? He feared it must be so, for in the four days these Saxons held him, he had endured the most painful of castigation, while forced to serve them as their slave. Still unsure as to why the recent lashing had been initiated, and despite his pain, he lay there quietly, in the vain hope no one would bother him further. His parched throat and dry lips added to the misery of the agony of his back and legs, but he refused to cry out. If he were to die this day, it would be as a man. Those very thoughts steadied his resolve. He was alive, God had ordained it…there must be something else, perhaps a destiny to be fulfilled. He must not let go.
Since his mother’s death in the summer, John had traveled from Wales alone. Winter almost upon the land, he had hoped to make it to Arthur’s court to serve his king before the first frost, but since his capture, John feared this was never to be. He exhaled; slumber would aid him. Too weary to react to unfamiliar voices, he drifted down into the black chasm that held the means to his peace.
The Saxon group’s leader, Gildas glanced over at the youth lying across some scattered straw. He had tired of this game and standing, drew his sword and raised it to plunge it through the still body on the ground. Noise from behind caused him to halt. Turning, he faced six strangers emerging through the trees.
“You are not welcome here.”
Christopher du L’Arabee confronted the large Saxon. “You uttered the very words I intended to use,” he replied. His right arm crossed over his abdomen and his hand clasped the hilt of his sword in readiness for an assault.
Watching the five armed men with him positioning themselves to prevent his own band from interfering, Gildas eyed the stranger. “What is it you want?
Chris gestured toward the prisoner. “The boy.”
“And if I say no?”
“You will not see this day end.”
“Should I release him, how will I know you will not kill me anyway?” Gildas asked.
“You have my word my men will not harm you.”
Considering this for a moment, Gildas finally consented. “Take him, he is but a clumsy waif and has proved to be more trouble than his worth.”
On Chris’s signal, Nathan and Buck moved in. Under the protective watch of Vin, Josiah, and Ezra, the latter wrapped the lad in a discarded animal skin, and scooped him up before hastening toward the horses.
Chris drew his sword and held it aloft. Gildas scowled. “You gave your word your men would not harm me.”
A nod. “I did, but I did not include myself in that oath.” He watched with care, and once the Saxon’s sword had cleared the scabbard, Chris struck. The clash of steel pierced the air and assaulted ears as the two men fought, maneuvered and dodged until Gildas lunged, missed, and Chris’s sword ran him through. As the Saxon breathed his last, through panted breath Chris addressed the nervous group.
“Let it be known, those who threaten the court of King Arthur, will answer to us and all who are loyal to him. Leave this place, and we will spare your lives.”
It took them little more than a few minutes to gather their belongings and leave.
Once the area was cleared, all six men mounted. Anxious looks were directed at the unconscious youth in Buck’s arms. Nathan answered their unspoken question. “He burns with fever and is weak from abuse and lack of sustenance. I will know more when I can study his injuries.”
With an understanding nod, horses were urged homeward. No one missed the softly spoken words Buck uttered to the boy throughout the journey. Upon their arrival, stares were forthcoming from behind canvas flaps and villagers wandering the camp. Jumping down from his horse, Josiah raised his hands and Buck reverently eased his prize into the strong, waiting arms. About to take John to Nathan’s hut, Buck stood firm.
Nathan agreed and the three entered the small straw, wood, and mud dwelling. Lying the youth face down on top of the animal skins Buck slept on, Josiah offered to heat water while Nathan stripped the bloodied rags from the boy’s torso.
“Good thing Chris ran that barbarian through, else I would be returning to do it myself.” Buck’s bubbling anger evaporated the moment the boy moaned. He leaned in and stroked the soaked tresses. “Rest easy, boy…you are in safe company, now.”
Outside, Chris, Vin and Ezra stood in helpless fury. The lad looked to be at death’s threshold, but they hoped they were wrong. Sensing he was being watched, Chris glanced to one side and eyed the scrutinizing gaze of their resident soothsayer, Gorwena. He nodded once, tapped Vin on the shoulder, and the pair crossed the camp.
Gorwena eased back the cloth covering her doorway, and observed the six men arrive and take the injured boy into Buck’s dwelling. She acknowledged Chris’s nod, and smiled as she watched him pass through the camp. “Six become seven…the prophecy is fulfilled. It is time.”
The atmosphere around the settlement was tense. Death was commonplace through injuries, and while the individual was mourned, everyday life was too fraught with danger to dwell on it for long. However, the past two days had seen the village’s six stalwart protectors tense and unusually anxious over the youth they had recently liberated.
The prostitutes housed at the far end of the village were especially saddened by the turn of events, as their favorite visitor, the gregarious and kind mannered Buck, had not visited since John’s arrival. For that matter, none of the six handsome warriors had called on them. However, knowing these women had no other means of support, the men had not forsaken them, delivering a haunch of meat from the day’s kill and asking no favor in return. Kindness such as this was one of the many reasons these men were respected by the villagers.
Outside the doorway to Buck’s dwelling, Chris halted and ran fingers through his hair. Pushing on, he pulled back the cloth and peered inside. The steamy air assaulted him as he crossed the small area to the cot the youth was lying on. He touched Nathan on the shoulder. “How fares the boy?”
The Moor healer glanced up at him before resuming his ministrations. “He has been badly mistreated. His wounds are infected, and the fever burns, but he is strong.”
Chris nodded. “Buck…come…get some air.”
The big man shook his head. “Until I see the color of his eyes, and learn his name, I will remain here.” He looked up at his leader and placed a hand over his heart, before returning it to the heated head of the youth on the bed. “He needs me, Chris…I feel it, here.”
Unwilling to argue, Chris crouched next to the bed and laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Hold fast, bairn. You have friends, now.” Josiah had joined them, and all in the hut held their breath. Not since the death of Chris’s beloved Eleri and son Llewellyn, had any of them observed such tenderness from the man. Josiah’s movements broke the spell and Chris stood. “There is much to do.” In seconds, he was gone. Buck smiled, his first in two days. Josiah leaned into the youth. “Those gathered just witnessed a miracle. God sent you here, boy…I have no knowledge as to why, yet, but I sense a change in the wind.” He placed a hand on John’s head, bowed his own, and prayed.
Outside, and before Chris could consider his actions inside the hut, Vin approached. “Gorwena requests an audience with us both.”
Chris acknowledged the demand, and both men traversed the settlement to her dwelling. Seated beside a small cauldron, the soothsayer nodded to the pair as they entered her home. “My Lord, join me. Vin, on my chair is a bundle wrapped in cloth, bring it here and sit with me.” Once both men were settled, she unwrapped a cloth to reveal a tome. Reverently she stroked it, gestured its presence to Chris, but passed it to Vin. “This I have kept for many years. Awaiting this moment, it was passed to my ancestors by a man long dead. Vincent Tanner, you are the ordained keeper of the tome, but all seven men through the teachings of the Holy man, Josiah, must share its knowledge. His understanding of this precious manuscript, will ensure all seven named within it, will fulfill their destinies.”
The men exchanged glances before Chris asked the question. “What is it?”
She threw something into the fire under the cauldron that caused the flames to flare, bathing the dark room in an eerie green glow. Transfixed, the men watched images of their forefathers, captured in the pot’s steam, while Gorwena talked.
“The quest for justice and the seven men ordained to uphold it is legendary. Through the annals of time, those before you have followed the teachings of the tome, and brought peace, justice, and honor to their lands. Fate brought the seventh man to you, and the winds are whispering your names across the portals of time. This day, you become magnificent; today you begin your journey to fulfill your destiny.”
The images faded and, snapping out of his daydream, Chris eyed the old woman. “Have you been drinking Meade, Hag?”
Gorwena laughed. “With or without its potency, this moment is predestined. I am merely a messenger, you my Lord, and the six men that stand with you, are the guardians of righteousness.” She bowed her head. “Go with God.”
Vin held her arm. “Is the boy we recovered the seventh you speak of? It is still uncertain he will live.”
The soothsayer gave a toothless smile. “Go see for yourselves. And do not forget to pass the tome to Brother Josiah.”
Outside the hut, Chris frowned. He learned long ago to never doubt this woman, but her words vexed him. Was not their lot in life enough to deal with? How could it be there was a higher calling than they already executed? Before he could ponder further, a howl came from Buck’s hut and he and Vin hurried toward it.
Buck watched as Nathan placed more tree moss on the youth’s wounds. He never understood its healing properties, but heal it did, and it was evident the cuts were benefitting from its use. So focused was he on the ministering, he missed the hazel eyes staring at him from between damp, black lashes.
“Is this Heaven, Sire?”
Buck smiled and leaned in. “I know of ladies who would say they had reached it in this place, yes.” He chuckled at Nathan’s groan. “My name is Buck, and I am not of noble blood, so Buck will suffice. By what name are you hailed?
“John Dunne.” The voice was weak and raspy, and Nathan came around to offer the boy a drink. Both men startled as the voice regained volume and the boy yelled out.
Swords drawn, Vin and Chris rushed into the hut. “What is it?” Tanner asked.
“What…what are you?” John asked, his eyes wide with terror as he stared at the dark-skinned man.
Nathan smiled. “I am Moor. My name is Nathan, I’m a healer.”
Returning their weapons to their sheaths, Vin and Chris approached the bed. “The fever is gone?” Chris asked.
“It would appear so,” Nathan answered, resuming his offer of a drink to the parched youth.
Vin’s grin was wide. He had no clue as to why it was so important to him this boy lived, but it caused his soul to soar on hearing the lad’s voice.
“I’m sorry,” John whispered. “I meant no disrespect, but I have never met one such as you.”
The healer stroked the boy’s face and cleared a trickle of water from his lips as he did so. “We are few in this land but, as yours, my blood runs red, and warm.”
Josiah looked around the group. He sensed a momentous occasion approaching, and the look on Vin’s face, revealed he was feeling it too. The Holy man smiled.
Ezra was in his dwelling with Eunice, the woman who was fast capturing his heart. The pair rolled over onto the animal skins covering Ezra’s bed and held each other close. Eunice sighed with contentment. Her mother had taught her that the act of mating was on demand, and often unfulfilling, but Ezra was a considerate lover and never disappointed her.
He gazed into her eyes. “Eunice, my love, I can hardly wait to make you my bride.”
“Patience, my warrior. Our time will come, but I am in no need of a ceremony to confirm I am yours. I knew it was so the moment I met you.” They kissed, but commotion from Buck’s hut caught the man’s attention. Pulling from her, he hastily threw on his deerskin breeches and, sword drawn, hastened toward the dwelling.
John turned his head to see who else was in the hut. He looked at the imposing blond dressed in dark, yet noble attire, and then to the tow-hair beside him. ‘Saxons’, he thought and the fear returned. Chris dipped down to meet his gaze.
“All here within this village are of mixed lineage. Celts, Saxons, Jutes. We live as one.” He smiled. ”Good to see you are improving.”
John stared at him in awe. “Was it you who saved me, Sire?”
“I and the five men standing with me. Another is…” Before he could finish, sword aloft, a breathless Ezra charged through the doorway.
The auburn haired man halted on seeing six pairs of eyes staring back at him. “Ah, I see you have it in hand.”
“Sharing yours and Eunice’s intimate endearments is considered ungentlemanly, Ezra,” Buck teased.
Not missing a beat, Ezra snorted and lowered his sword. “I can assure you, I can think of better places for my appendage than her delicate hand, my friend.”
The six friends laughed. John frowned at the interactions and tried to sit up. He smiled when Buck helped him and then stared at the man with his sword held aloft. “Is it his mighty weapon he speaks of?”
The six men laughed harder and all seven gazes met. A surge of energy encircled the room and stole their breath. In seconds, the moment had passed.
“What was that?” John whispered, unknowingly clinging to the fellow Celt holding him upright.
“Fate,” Vin breathed, and though no one understood why, his explanation was accepted.
John broke into the silence. “I am in your debt, sirs.”
“What brings you to these parts, boy?” Chris asked.
“My mam passed on, so I left my home to serve the King.” He sighed. “I have no clue as to my whereabouts, and doubt now he would take me on when he learns I could not defeat the pigs who captured and tortured me.”
Vin shook his head. “That you lasted so long shows the kind of spirit Arthur would be proud to have at his back. We are for the King, and welcome fresh men to stand with us.”
Buck gently squeezed the youth’s shoulders. “Tell us lad…are you with us?”
“He is young,” Chris pointed out.
“I’m older than I look,” John insisted.
“Are you skilled in the art of warfare?”
“No, I had no father to teach me, but I ride well, and I am a fast learner, and willing pupil.” He could see the blond had doubts. “Sire…all I ask is that you respect my desire to serve my king.”
“Surely we can use him,” Buck implored.
Chris stared at John for a long time, and then extended his hand. “Alright, John Dunne, if you wish to die by the sword, who am I to stop you?” He looked at Buck as the boy enthusiastically shook his hand. “The whelp is yours, teach him well.”
The big man smiled at the boy, his heart filled to bursting. ‘He is mine.’
“What does he mean, ‘yours’,” John asked, turning to the man supporting him. “Am I to serve you?”
“No,” Buck assured. “If you so desire, I will teach you all I know. We will eat together, sleep under one roof, and practice every spare waking hour. You will become not only a great warrior, but as a brother to me.”
John swallowed. His mother bore him out of wedlock and never married. Having a father and brother was something he had always dreamed of. “I would consider it an honor.” He grinned. “Alas, my only regret is that you are of such mature years.”
The others laughed as Buck blustered, to then cuff the boy gently on the head. “When you are well, you will pay for that remark, brat.”
Satisfied with events, Chris reminded Nathan there was stew left in his pot should John need food, and then left. Vin approached Josiah. “I would speak with you, Padre.”
With a nod, Josiah followed him out. Ezra touched the hilt of his sword to his forehead as a parting gesture, and Nathan left to get food. Seeing the youth was exhausted, Buck eased John down into the bed. “Rest, little brother.” The smile he received warmed his very soul. For the first time in a long while, Buck felt…complete.
Furthermore, Buck was happier than he had been for some time. He waited for Nathan’s return and then headed for his favorite women. Happily hefting a giggling brunet beauty over his shoulder, he laid her down on a cot behind a curtained area, and kissed her soundly on the lips.
“Take me, master.”
With a chuckle of appreciation over their frequent and elaborate game, he growled. “Prepare, wench. I have much to celebrate.”
A while later, sated, and on his way back to his hut, Buck spied Ezra and Eunice. He smiled. They were in love, and, though happy for them, he was regretful such a love had yet to find him. He smiled as he approached his doorway. He had someone to care for, now. A boy to call brother. Life was good.
Five days on saw the young Celt almost to full health. Some of his wounds were yet to fully heal, but his spirits were high and his appetite good. In the days of his recovery, his adopted brother told him of the men he would come to know as family.
How Nathan was liberated from Jutes by Arthur himself in a pact forged between the Briton king and Maldrid, King of the Jutes. The Celt monarch entrusted him to Christopher, and the Moor had settled well.
Then Josiah. Once a Benedictine Monk, until his faith of abstinence and servitude wavered, and he ventured out from the confines of the monastery to help other, more unfortunate souls. When asked if he would ever return, the big man’s answer was simple, and caused much hilarity. No, he would not. Though his faith had been restored, he had discovered the allure of carnal pleasures too much to give up.
Ezra had happened upon them during a lull in the fighting just after a large Saxon advance had been thwarted. A loner by nature, the man was wily and charming, while entertaining, to boot. When a short uprising from the north saw the loner disappear in the midst of the skirmish, the others feared he had deserted them, only to have him charge into the thick of the battle and fight beside them until only they remained standing.
Vin was an enigma. All they knew of him was that his father died before the second anniversary of his birth, and his mother around his fifth. The village of his origin entrusted him to their elder, who brought him to manhood and taught him to hunt and fight. The one who raised him was a man of mystery, and Vin regularly exhibited the most startling of spiritual traits, while always seemingly at one with nature. He found Chris at a time the man was sore in need of salvation, and the pair had forged a bond of brotherhood.
Some years back, Buck and Christopher had returned home from battle to find their village burned to the ground, and the bloody, ravaged bodies of Chris’s wife, Eleri and his five year old son Llewellyn. For a time, he was lost to the man as a brother to him, but Buck remained close until Arthur himself had happened upon them and the pair answered his call to arms. Lord Orin, one of Arthur’s trusted advisors beseeched them to protect a village short of men, and a vulnerable chink in the King’s defenses. Their acceptance set them on a path that, unbeknownst to them then, was destined from time eternal.
And Buck. John learned the man was much like himself. Born out of wedlock, but unlike his own mam, to a woman much like the ones that lived together, deep within their village. He and Christopher forged a friendship several years back when the latter had married and settled. The pillage and destruction of their village, and the death of Chris’s family, who had become much like his own, too soon followed Buck’s loss of his mother to a violent death at the hands of a drunken villager.
John marveled at the man’s high-spirited nature, considering such a tragic background; and, for a warrior, how kind and caring he was to a boy he only just met. Their instant rapport made it as if they truly were brothers, and had known each other all their lives. Through his healing, the six men had visited frequently, even Chris; and John already knew, despite having much to learn, he would lay down his life for these men. Was this the reason God had kept him alive? Was this to be his destiny? He would support his King, as he intended, but this new adventure seemed to suggest there was far more to come than mere allegiance to the crown.
Another week on and Vin and Buck had taken the youth on his first hunt. Though not the champion of the day for the main kill, he succeeded in bagging a pheasant. Buck and Vin were like proud papas and smeared the blood from the bird on the boy’s cheeks in honor of the deed. Neither man spoke of the green tinge to the lad’s skin tone immediately afterwards.
Over the next several months, each man taught the boy something of his skills. Josiah, how to forge steel; Nathan, what to look for of nature’s bounty, for when sick or injured. Ezra instilled in him the art of fast thought and misdirection; Vin in how to track and hunt, and work animal skins to make clothing and straps, and Chris spent many hours talking of his experiences and the art of surviving, along with who to watch out for in terms of a threat to himself and his people. He gave the boy his first lesson with the broadsword.
John practiced his combat skills day and night under the nurturing tutelage of the man who deemed to claim him as his own, and it was during such a session with Buck one afternoon, that saw the band of brothers gathered to observe his progress. Buck would never intentionally humiliate the boy, but would also, on no account pull punches on getting the lesson across. With an axe covered in cloth to protect his pupil, Buck expertly swung the weapon while John parried and defended with broadsword and shield. Each time, much to the amusement of the group, the encounter would end with a poor move by John, followed by a wallop from the axe to the youth’s posterior and him ending up on the ground,.
Undeterred, John forged on, his gaze catching that of Chris. Holding back a smile, when Buck attacked, John lost his grip on his weapon and the sword dropped to the ground. While Buck advanced and howled out his victory, the boy flicked the weapon up with his foot, snatched it from the air and positioned it in such a way that, had the fight been real, he would have run Buck through at the throat. John waggled his eyebrows as he held the sword against Buck’s exposed neck, and while the gathered men whistled and cheered their approval.
“Yield, big brother, I have you.”
Recovering from the shock, Buck laughed, softly at first, then with hearty guffaws. “I yield.” The pair relaxed. Buck turned to Chris and playfully wagged a finger. “I recognize that move.”
Chris raised his hands. “You have me dead to rights, brother.” He smiled with pride at John. “Good work lad.” Chris stood and, with a sheathed sword and fashioned leather belt in hand, approached the youth. Holding the weapon in both hands, and with arms outstretched, Chris’s smile widened. “Vin made the belt and sheath, Josiah and I forged the blade that Buck designed. The jewels in the hilt are from Ezra and the engraving on the blade from Nathan.”
Eyes glistening, John looked to each man before his gaze shifted back to the sword, and then to Chris. “For me?”
Buck approached from behind and squeezed the youth’s shoulders. “For you. Its weight is to your measure and its blade blessed by Brother Sanchez for the battles to come.”
Chris placed the gift into John’s hands. “May it carry you safely through combat.”
Before John could utter his gratitude, a call from the village gates had six of them drawing their swords. Buck pushed John behind him and Vin joined him in protecting the protesting youth. Tanner turned to him. “Hold your tongue. Watch and learn.”
A Celt on a white steed, followed by a wagon, and flanked by two male riders, approached. John watched in awe as all six men dropped to one knee and bowed their heads. Halting his steed, the handsome, dark haired Celt looked down at the boy in amusement. “You do not recognize me, lad?”
Buck looked up. “Forgive him, my liege; he is not from this land.”
The man nodded and dismounted. “Allow me to make my introduction. I am Arthur, and you are?”
With a squeak, John dropped to one knee and stared at the ground. “Forgive me, Sire.” He heard a chuckle, and felt a hand on his head.
“Forgiven.” Arthur’s attention turned to the others as they stood. “Christopher how fare you?”
“I am well, thank you. What brings you here?” He was already looking past him and to the wagon full of females, one striking, strawberry blonde-haired woman catching his eye.
“I am in need of your assistance. My cousin Rowena and her courtiers are under threat. I wish to leave them under your protection.”
Chris nodded. “Consider it done.”
With a return nod, Arthur began to walk away, when he stalled. He suddenly drew his sword, turned and slammed it down on top of John. Without thinking, the boy brought up his shield to catch the blow, while his sword arm moved into attack position. Smiling in satisfaction, Arthur extended his hand and pulled the youth to his feet.
“You are fast, lad. Good.” With a parting pat to John’s shoulder, Arthur mounted up, rode back to speak to Rowena, then with a glance and a nod to Chris and the others, galloped out of the village.
Gorwena watched the proceedings from her hut. The old hag smiled as she eyed the women in the wagon. “And now the continuation of the prophecy is guaranteed.”
Inside the large counsel dwelling, a hut reserved for all banquets and village business, the eight women and seven men were joined by Eunice and they broke bread and drank wine before introductions. Chris approached Rowena. “What is it that threatens you?” He stared into her blue-green eyes, mesmerized by their intensity.
“Spanish merchants came to my court in the grounds of Arthur’s village, on the pretence of offering quality wine. It soon became apparent they were more interested in raping and removing healthy women to sell, than trading in comestibles. Arthur considers your village amongst the safest in the land. We are indebted to you for allowing us to stay.” She gestured around the room, not missing how the men and women had somehow paired off around the banquet hall, save for her two matriarchs. “This is Netta and Glorida. They have been with me, and my mother before me, for many years. The raven-haired woman close to Buck is Inesta, originally from Spain. With Josiah is Bridget, a Celt from Wales. Next to Nathan is René, Spanish, but with Moor lineage, with John is Theresa, my newest and youngest court lady, and a Celt from these lands; and the red-haired woman next to Vin is Annalise, from Breton.”
Chris glanced around and nodded to the gathered women. “You are all welcome to stay for as long as you deem it necessary.” He smiled and made an introduction as Gorwena entered. “This is our elder and soothsayer, Gorwena.”
The woman looked around at the gathering before joining them. The companions from their pasts may have taken different forms, but it was evident their souls had sought each other out, even if they were not yet aware of it. Satisfied all was in place as ordained, Gorwena pondered how long it might be before the abbot was required to perform the first of seven wedding ceremonies.
Winter moved through to spring. One warm day, as evening closed in, and on hearing the now familiar arguing between Buck and Inesta coming from the hut John and Buck shared, John guided Theresa away and toward a small copse deep inside the village perimeter. Buck peeked out of the door and, smiling, returned to the fiery Spaniard. Snatching her into his arms, he kissed her passionately.
“I feel bad we must go through this performance to ensure our privacy,” she breathed.
“I too, but it is preferable to the alternative of him walking in on us.” He sucked at her exposed neck before taking her in his arms and carrying her to his bed.
Buck had always been a voracious, yet tender lover, but his feelings for this woman had changed his very being. Each day Inesta thanked God he persisted in breaking down her early resistance and introduced her to a raw, unfettered love that carried her to new heights. This evening was no different, and as they lay together, she clung to him and spoke the words she never expected to pronounce. “Te quiero…I love you.”
Buck gazed into her dark brown eyes. “And I you.” He pulled her close and felt at peace as he carded through her raven tresses.
In the privacy of his home, Chris and Rowena enjoyed their time together. She held him as he quivered from subsiding passion. He was as a man possessed when making love, a soul in need and she adored him. Kissing his sweat-soaked locks and urging him to sleep, Rowena knew, as did the other women she had traveled with…they were home.
Vin smiled as the gloom from the twilight seemingly lifted, when the woman he adored entered his dwelling. Annalise consumed him. Every moment apart from her was torture and she had barely crossed the threshold before she was in his arms. He stared into sapphire blue eyes. “You cause my soul to soar on eagle’s wings. I thank God every day that you came to me.”
Her eyes studied his handsome features. His warrior heart and poet’s soul was as potent to her as a cask of imported wine. She had known from the instant she saw him, he was hers. The way he held her now, endorsed her surety he felt the same of her.
Releasing her long red hair from its tight coil, her lips brushed his as her hand ghosted across his muscled chest. They spent little time sleeping that night. As dawn broke, Vin nuzzled his beloved while she slept. His life was complete.
Nathan pulled René back against him and sighed. He never expected to find love, much less with a woman of his own kind, and he knew without doubt, they would be mates for life. He sucked on her shoulder. He had found family, and now the woman of his dreams. He could not be happier.
Josiah thanked the Lord for guiding him away from the ministry. Bridget had awakened his aging body to delights he had only dreamed of, and he hoped his proposal of marriage would be well timed. Living without this woman was not an option, and he felt sure she was of the same mind.
Eunice stepped out from the warm skins of Ezra’s bed and pressed against the form glancing out into the night. He turned to kiss her.
“Are you alright, my love?”
“Yes,” he breathed. I…” he frowned. “I sense a change…something about this night tells me we may soon be on the verge of a new undertaking.”
Nodding, she held him close and savored the body heat enveloping her. She was sure he was right; some of the other women had declared their partners were sensing it, too. “Let us not waste a moment of what we have, my love.” They returned to bed. This night was theirs, tomorrow would be a new concern.
“It will be dark soon.”
John nodded to Theresa and pointed to a small, secluded spot near a stream they often frequented. “Come, I wanted us to sit here a while.” As they lay there in the tall grass, she rested her head on his chest and smiled at the beating of his heart beneath her ear. Her affection for this boy had grown swiftly. He was tactile, funny, earnest, sweet, and the perfect companion. He never feared showing his feelings when around the men he adored. She recalled her parents were candidly demonstrative, and it would seem, from tales of Mair, John’s mother, the woman was nurturing and also openly affectionate with her son. Theresa’s mother had once said, ‘the true measure of a man is not just in the defence of his family, but also in the way he treats a woman.’ As she stroked his chest, she felt sure she had found a man her mother would approve of.
John sighed and kissed Theresa’s head. He enjoyed these times with her. They were such stark contrast to his teachings and his duties. Only being around his new brothers compared to it…except the feelings each encounter evoked were entirely different. Playfully he rolled her to her back and stole a kiss. Theresa moaned and returned it with a fervor he had not anticipated, nor experienced previously, and he pulled back to gaze at her. “Are you alright?”
She stroked his face. “May I speak frankly?”
She smiled. “You have stolen my heart, John Dunne.”
He glanced away, shyly. ‘Had she the ability to read minds? Only this morning he had watched her from afar and thought the same.’ Her hand on his face returned his gaze to her.
“John?” She gasped as he kissed her, sensually.
“And you, mine.” He breathed.
“I desire you,” she confessed. “Make me yours…if you wish it so.”
Eyes glistening, and dark with passion, John leaned in. “I have no experience.”
She kissed him. “Nor do I.”
“You are sure?” he checked.
Once, back in his home village, John had happened across a man and woman in the throes of passion. He recalled their positions as he gazed at the beautiful face of the girl he was about to take into womanhood. If he replicated that pose, her countenance would be lost to him for the duration. Decision made, they kissed and despite both being novices, a rhythm as old as time took them into a realm of magnificent delights. John smiled at the woman in his embrace. “If this is not love, I have no understanding of the term.”
Theresa kissed him. “This is love, I would wager my life on it.” She held him close, stroked back his thick, dark tresses, and prepared to enjoy their second union before the night drew fully in.
Buck’s anxiety over the late return of the boy in his charge dissipated on seeing him escort Theresa to the hut she shared with Inesta, Rowena, and Annalise. His heart filled fit to burst as he watched them embrace and kiss…a kiss that told its own tale. He grinned broadly, as John almost bounced into their dwelling and flopped onto his cot. Buck crossed the room and perched onto the end of the boy’s bed. “Welcome to manhood, little brother.”
John stared at him in astonishment. “How did you know?” he breathed.
“Experience, brat.” He held his arm. “Are you happy?”
“Yes.” His answer was short, but its delivery spoke volumes. Chuckling at the embrace from the man that had taught him so much, John patted his back. “And you?”
Gently pulling away, Buck smiled. “I think you will find all seven of us have found love.” He tapped the boy’s shoulder. “Rest, your body, mind, and soul begin a new journey, while still traversing their original one. You must stay strong. Word is that a Saxon revolt from the coast may soon be upon us.”
While the boy watched his mentor, and self-proclaimed brother head for his bed, Buck’s words, and the events of the evening, guaranteed him no sleep this night.
Two weeks later and a messenger on horseback rode into the encampment at speed. The seven men strode out to meet him.
“Greetings from King Arthur. Our southern borders have been penetrated. Arthur is gathering troops to retaliate at Birchers field, and asks for your support.”
Christopher stepped forward. “Go, and tell him he has it. We will be twenty strong when we arrive.”
With a nod, the man rode out. Chris turned to all his brothers. “Vin, Buck, rally the men. Choose thirteen of our best warriors and inform the remainder they are to guard this village with their lives.” He gazed at the men he cared for with all his heart. “Go…say your goodbyes and prepare for battle. We leave within the hour.”
Chris’s orders set into motion, each of the seven paid mind to personal business, before returning to their dwellings to dress in battle gear. Watching John struggle with his headgear, Buck approached and assisted. He smiled as he exposed the youthful face through the opening in the chainmail headdress.
“It is cumbersome, but lighter than armor and could save your life.”
John nodded, his words unable to form, from the dryness of his mouth.
Buck held his shoulders firmly, and grinned with approval. “This day will see the warrior we know you to be. We will be victorious; Gorwena proclaims the book of legends ordains it.” He leaned in. “And even if the Meade-soaked hag is talking from an orifice reserved only for excrement, let it be known, it is also the belief of the men who will fight beside you.”
John laughed before sobering. “I will not let you down.”
Buck smiled. “This I know. You never have, and my pride in you burns as strong as the beacons across the land.” Strapping on their swords, the pair left their dwelling to join their brothers.
At the allotted time, seven betrothed women, Glorida, Netta and Gorwena, stood together to say their final farewells and watch their men leave for battle. The twenty mounted men raised their swords aloft in salute and turned to leave. Lifting his sword high, Christopher shouted out. “To King Arthur and to victory!”
Echoing his words, the men rode out through the village gates, which, on instruction, were then sealed shut until their return.
Finally able to show her true feelings for their call to arms, Theresa sobbed. “I pray God will keep them safe.”
Gorwena smiled and stared at each woman before answering. “They will return, they have sons to raise.” Her grin widened as six women gasped and instinctively placed a palm to their bellies. She reached out, and with a knowing nod, took hold of, and jiggled Theresa’s flat abdomen. “Seven sons for seven heroes.”
Theresa squeaked, and then blushed, before all the women embraced and cried with happiness.
Four days on, wounded, and bloody, Chris stood and stared across the battlefield. It ran scarlet with blood while littered with the mutilated and dying bodies of the fallen. The conflict had been fierce, but they had been victorious. Arthur had just departed; light on men by more than thirty. Christopher du L’Arabee, the Saxon born - Celt leader, howled out across the plains.
“Brothers in arms, I beseech you, show yourselves.” His heart constricted when no reply was forthcoming. He recalled separate incidents where he had spied each of his brothers engaged in combat, but before his sorrow overwhelmed him, men from his village emerged from the trees after seeing off the final marauders. Then, one by one, damaged but alive, six men as family to him appeared, and approached.
Tears threatened the humbled leader as the brothers staggered nearer, came together and embraced each other. John’s smile was bright, despite his wounds and obvious concern for an injured Buck. But their spirits soared and Chris knew not one of them would die from this encounter. He turned to Vin, concern and pride shimmering in green orbs, and the pair clasped forearms in a tradition only they shared.
Horses retrieved, the seven men and eight of the thirteen villagers that had accompanied them, returned to their community victorious.
That night, Gorwena stared into the fire burning brightly in her dwelling and smiled as she held the tome that told of the Legend of the Quest. Soon the seven would return, marry, and raise the sons growing strong in their women’s bellies. The Quest of the Broadsword would be captured within the pages of the book for all eternity, while the next generation of Magnificent Warriors prepared for their own destiny. She read aloud the very first inscription, just inside the ragged, aged parchments.
’The promise of our Legacy lives within us. We were, we are, and will be