by Arthur

Chapter 2

The next morning found the hunting party ready to leave for the castle. Mahmud had insisted that Eventide should once again dress as one of them for their return; he said it was so Eventide could get a feel for the new form of dress and would in the future, feel more at home with his new brothers.

The large hunting train did not try to hurry; they had all day and would make the castle with plenty of time to spare. Eventide even now felt at home on his small black horse; the new clothes of his friends felt light and gave him a freedom of movement he had never had with his old ones.

It was past midday when the troupe approached the outer walls of the castle. Before they entered, Mahmud told Eventide to pull up the long tail of his turban and hide his face; once that was done they then began the trek up to the castle proper. All around them were people going about their daily tasks.

The narrow streets were almost filled with shoppers and farmers as well as Knights and their ever present Squires. The group had only just turned down the final street towards the castle when Eventide felt something hit him hard in the ribs; from the crowd came loud raucous laughter.

Eventide looked down at his once clean new clothes; where his ribs now ached a little, he saw the unmistakeable dirty splotch of horse dung; he also saw the laughter coming from a group of about six Squires. Before he could react, Eventide felt a hand on his arm; it was Mahmud. It was only seconds later the Squire who had thrown the offensive dung was looking down at four very sharp lances only inches from his throat.

The Squires voice which had been saying something about the dirty Saracen was suddenly silenced by the closeness of the sharp points.

Before there could be more trouble started, there came a loud and very easily recognisable voice as Mahmud had drawn his fancy dagger and was about to fly at the Squire from the back of his own horse.

"Hold your hand Prince Sal-A-Hadin; why do you draw a weapon on my streets?"

Mahmud bowed low from his horse and salaamed the King after which he replaced his dagger at his waist. Mounted beside the King were Saed on the left and Freeman on the right; both looked at the boys with an almost wry smile as they recognised the smaller frame of Eventide; even though he was barely visible under the disguise and showing only his light eyes through the thin gap of the scarf and turban.

"Your Majesty, my brother has been dishonoured in the most foul of ways; I was trying to decide which of two penalties should be reigned down upon the perpetrator; this Squire."

The King had not recognised Eventide in his disguise and had assumed he was just another of the Bedou boys in the very large troupe that had arrived with his friend and ally Saed.

"If that be the case, then why does not your brother take back his own honour?"

"Your Majesty, he is new to your court and is not familiar with the ways of chivalry; I wished to stand in his stead."

"That may be very honourable of you young Prince but, what had you planned with your dagger?"

"Your Majesty, I was of two minds; there was the possibility of drawing his blood and then facing your wrath for his death or; I could have taken his manhood and sent him to my uncle's harem as a eunuch. At this time I was not decided."

By now the small group of Squires were starting to look for ways to disappear; unfortunately for them, the large crowd of towns folk had moved so close they could not move; it was not unintentional that the commoners had done so; they wanted to see a Squire brought down as they had the reputation for harassing many of the common boys as they were looked upon as beneath the Squires and their Knights.

"Perhaps your brother should have the final say on the Squires future, after all; he is the one offended?"

"As you command, Your Majesty."

Mahmud sidled his horse closer to Eventide and leaned over to whisper in his ear.

"Follow my lead; we will have a little fun at this Squires expense. Pretend to speak to me but keep your face hidden and voice low so no others can hear you."

"What have you got in mind; I don't know anything about fighting to be able to beat him in a duel of honour."

"You won't have too; listen this is my plan; if you agree."

Mahmud continued to whisper his plan to Eventide; only the widening of Eventide's eyes indicated anything about the plan Mahmud had in mind; not only was it clever but also very devious and would break with all traditions of the joust that was to come in a few weeks.

Eventide nodded as asked when Mahmud stopped whispering, he then sat back on his horse and let Mahmud do all the talking.

"Your Majesty, my brother; who is of a gentle nature and who has decided to be magnanimous towards his attacker; would ask of you a boon?"

"Tell your guards to put down their weapons and pull back then tell me what your brother asks of me."

Mahmud gave the order for his four guards to retire and then looked back at the King; it was noticeable that Saed and Freeman were looking at the two boys with some interest and a little mirth; both knew of Mahmud's tendency for fun; even if it was a little twisted at times.

"Your Majesty, my brother would ask that the offender be given pride of place at the Squires melee and; as he has taken the first strike against a Saracen." The inflection on the word Saracen did not go unnoticed by either of the three men. "He also asks that such bravery be rewarded with the white surplus and Red Cross of a crusader and that he be at the fore front of the charge to lead the Squires into the battle?"

"A most unusual request Prince Sal-A-Hadin, still if he is satisfied with that then so it shall be."

The King turned to the offending Squire and gave him a glare that would have caused other lesser men to wilt away.

"Squire; you have heard the boy's request; are you truly brave enough to wear the cloth of a crusader and lead the charge at the melee?"

The Squire went to one knee and almost glowed at being asked; he could not fathom why the filthy Saracen would give him such an honour after being smeared with horse dung; still the boy was only a filthy Saracen and was obviously scared silly of the Squire; he felt it was a shame the boy would not be on the field when they crushed the commoners like they did every year. He could just imagine a few extra heavy blows with his wooden sword on the smaller boy.

"As Your Majesty commands, it would be my honour to lead the charge and win the day."

"I only hope you can carry it through, young Squire. Well Prince Sal-A-Hadin; your boon is agreed and your brother's wishes shall be fulfilled."

"My brother and I humbly thank Your Majesty for his boon."

Mahmud bowed low again as the King turned his horse back in the direction of the castle; Eventide did not miss the smile on the faces of the other two men; he also did not miss the lifting of their forefingers and the slight nod they gave him as they indicated they had seen the black stone of his new ring.

Had Eventide's face not been covered, everyone would have seen the bright red blush fill his cheeks. As the three men left and Mahmud rejoined him; his new brother smiled widely and reached over to slap Eventide on the back lightly.

"My brother, there is fun afoot, come we must go and make our plans, we have much to do before the day of the melee."

Mahmud took the lead towards the castle, Eventide settled in beside him as the long train of the hunting party wound their way back to the castle keep.

After the evening meal and sitting alone in Mahmud's rooms, the two boys began the planning for the upcoming melee. Mahmud told Eventide what they would need and how they were to go about it. As the plan was revealed, Eventide became more enthusiastic and let his imagination run wild with possibilities and suggestions. It was late into the night by the time the two boys had worked out a rough plan of action.

As they settled back into the large bed side by side, Mahmud said.

"You know we are going to completely disrupt all the old laws of the melee with this plan; don't you?"

"How would I know? I've never been in a melee but your plan does sound interesting, if only we can pull it off?"

"Oh we can pull it off my brother; the surprise factor alone is worth ten men for each of theirs; now tomorrow we must start to fulfil what we have discussed and we must keep it all as secret as the Kings gold."

"If this works, you know we are going to be talked about a lot and not all of it will be good."

"My brother, if this works there will not be a single person; Knight or Squire that would dare touch or confront us ever again."

With those last words, both boys settled back and fell asleep; they would need all their strength and cunning for the next few weeks until the melee; there was a lot to do and hard training for not only them but all the others they hoped to bring into their plan.

Two days later and it was time for the vows to be made by the commoners and Squires alike; as well the Knights would give their vows to honour the joust rules. The King would then tell them when and where the joust and the Squires and Knights melee would be held.

At the annual joust there were many parts. On the first day it was the day of the lysts where the Knights would fight with horse and lance. On the second day it was the individual fights with sword or axe. The third day of the joust was the Squire's melee and finally it was the Knight's melee.

Each day was separated by two days of feasting and entertainment by travelling troupes of acrobats and other entertainers; there were also games for the children and adults as well as copious amounts of ale and cider along with roast wild boar and other meats.

The King's joust each year was a celebration of all that was good and fun in the land and would call people from all around the country to watch and enjoy the spectacle of Knights jousting and fun at the two week long fair.

The day dawned bright and sunny; it was the height of summer and the conditions were ideal; as they were each year for the King's joust. At the large palisade where the lysts would be set up for the first day of the Knight's joust; the King and his selected advisors were sitting up on a covered stage; around the outer edge of the central ring were all the people of the land; many were high up in nearby trees to watch the spectacle of the vows.

The first of those to enter the ring and say their vow each year were the commoner boys; from the crowd there was silence as the very large group of boys shuffled into the ring; there were many ribald calls from the Squires at the rag-tag group of almost two hundred commoners; most were dressed in their best clothes; although they were not much better than their everyday wear; this also caused many remarks from the Knights and their Squires.

The King had a stern look on his face as he heard some of the remarks; he did not appreciate most of them; these were his people; they were the back bone of his armies and the suppliers of his food and weaponry.

The King raised his arms to call for silence; he looked at the large group of boys, some as young as twelve summers and others as old as seventeen summers; The King rose up and looked down at the boys of the commoners.

"Have you selected a leader for the people?"

A large well muscled young man stepped forward and then knelt down and bowed his head to his King before he looked back up and said in a strong voice.

"I am called Bernard, son of the blacksmith; I have been chosen to lead the people in the Squires melee."

"Then Bernard, son of the blacksmith; I ask under which colours do you fight?"

For the last ten years, the commoners had never had any colours to fight under but were asked just the same as the Squires or Knights were; each year they had said nothing; there was nothing to say; instead, this time Bernard looked the King in the eye and said loudly and with a certain confidence.

"We are the King's people; we fight under the colours of the King, Your Majesty."

The King was suddenly unable to find his voice; while he was trying to avoid a tear coming to his eye, the rest of the two hundred boys knelt down and raised their right had in a fist and, in one voice said.

"We the King's people fight under the King's colours and will bring honour to our King."

The hush of the crowd was suddenly broken as loud cheering from the commoners roared out drowning any loud comments and laughter from the assembled Knights and squires.

"Then my people, I say welcome to the joust and may your valour win the day."

The large group of boys moved away to the far edge of the ring to let the squires perform their vow; there would be no disturbance of the Squires vows by the common folk; they would show that they had honour for the occasion.

The King sat back down to listen to the vows of the Squires that would be followed by all the Knights. It was easily noticeable that the Squires were far better equipped than the commoners would ever be. They were dressed in their best clothes and armour and carried fine swords and daggers; the commoners had been empty handed and wore only the best clothes they could manage; many had no other clothes but what they stood in.

The first squire rode up in front of the King and bowed his head; each of the one hundred squires would follow the same vow as the first; it was noticed that the first was the Squire that had thrown horse dung at the disguised Eventide; only Freeman and Saed noticed that both Eventide and Mahmud were missing from the ring and could not be seen anywhere.

The first squire began.

"Your Majesty, I am Nevel Thorain; Squire to Sir Justin of Kent; I fight under his colours and will lead the Squires to victory once again."

"Squire Thorain, I hope you will do justice to your claims and fight well; I see you already wear your surplus of a crusader; may you bring honour to it and to your Knight."

The Squire bowed and turned back to join the others as the next came up to vow his place in the Squires melee. As the last Squire turned back to join the others who were, by now well happy with themselves; there came a small disturbance below the stage where the King sat.

From out of the crowd came a smallish built boy; the King as well as Freeman and Saed immediately recognised Eventide; he was dressed in rough woollen trews, short strong sandals with criss-crossed thongs tied half way up his calves; he was bare chested and carried only a wooden staff; the King looked at him with askance on his face.

"Your Majesty, I am Eventide; Squire to Baron Tremaine of Lancaster; I stand under the colours of the King and fight for the people."

Freeman looked at Saed as if to say ' I told you something was up'

Before the King could reply; Mahmud appeared from the same place; he was dressed in the plain blue of the Bedou, even his dagger was plain and without adornment; he bowed to the King and said in a strong voice.

"Your Majesty; I am Prince Mahmud Sal-A-Hadin; I stand with my brother under the colours of the King and fight for the People."

From every corner of the ring came the cheers of the commoners; it completely drowned out any discontent by the Knights and their Squires; the fact that two boys who should have been fighting on the side of the Squires; even if they were disliked by those same boys; had blatantly thrown down the gauntlet and flouted all the rules of the joust.

For the King it was almost the proudest day of his life; there were no rules to say the boys could not fight alongside the commoners; over the years it had just been assumed that all Squires would fight the melee as one group; that unspoken rule had now been thrown aside by two small boys; this may turn out to be a good joust after all.

As happy as the King was to see the two boys declare their honour for the King and the common people; he did not hold out much hope for their future; they would now be marked for special treatment by the Squires should the occasion arise.

The King held back a particular tear that was persisting in trying to roll down his cheek as he gulped to clear his throat.

"Welcome to the joust to you both; however I have one thing that puzzles me. You say you fight under the King's colours yet you have no such colours to show me."

For the first time in his life, Eventide took the lead.

"Your Majesty; while we would like to stand under your colours, we can still fight for your honour without the colours flying overhead as they are in our hearts and that will suffice in our moment of need."

"Well said young Squire but not good enough."

The King turned to a young page boy of about twelve summers and pointed at him and then to a pole with his colours hanging on them; it was the bright red banner with a single gold lion sewn on it.

"Page, take those colours to our valiant Squires; they shall have our colours flying above them when they fight."

The young page hefted the banner and ran down the steps to stand in front of Eventide and Mahmud; before either of them took the banner, Mahmud whispered something to the pageboy. The young boy looked at Mahmud and a wide smile broke out on his face as he knelt down and bowed his head; his grasp on the banner pole grew tighter.

Mahmud looked back up at the King and smiled.

"Your Majesty, we the King's people would ask of you a boon?"

The King smiled wryly and even lifted one eyebrow.

"Again? Well ask away."

"We the King's people would ask that Page Robin be the bearer and defender of your colours in the upcoming melee?"

The King smiled broadly; what else could he say to such a forward and cunning boy as the Prince.

"Agreed, you have your boon; page Robin rise and face me."

The young boy stood up and faced his King.

"Page Robin; do you swear to bear and defend my colours with your very life if such is needed?"

In a young, clear but high pitched voice, Robin replied.

"Upon my life I swear, Your Majesty."

"Good, then I give you the title of Bearer of the Kings Colours; defend them with your life and your honour."

There was hardly a dry eye in the large crowd as the boy again knelt down and swore his vow; only the Knights and Squires had a few choice words to say as to the fate of the small boy when the melee began and ended as quickly as it usually did.

In the past the longest the commoners had been able to hold out had been less than one half hour; this time the Squires had a lot more to fight for and the victory would come that much sooner; of that they were sure.

It was late in the afternoon before the last Knight had made his vows; the King then rose to tell everyone when and where; for the common boys it had been a long day and these final words only went to confirm the suspicions they had had before.

"In two weeks time the first two days of the fair will take place here; on the third day the jousting will take place in this palisade. On the third day after the first joust will take place the hand to hand combat and duels in this arena. On the ninth day the Squires melee will take place at the valley of Kent; as normal, the commoners will select their ground to defend first. On the twelfth day the Knight's melee will take place at Commons ground; sides will be selected according to ballot as is usual. Bernard, son of the blacksmith; how do you select your ground?"

Bernard stood from where he had been seated on the ground and looked at Eventide and Mahmud; after a quick nod he looked up at the King.

"Your Majesty; we the King's people would select the western end of the valley and defend your colours from there."

Even though the King was a little puzzled by the decision of the boy he had to agree; it was normal for the common boys to pick the wider end of the valley as they numbered so many more and needed the extra space to try to manoeuvre against the better trained Squires.

For them this time to elect to defend the narrow slope of the western end was beyond him, they would have no space to move and would be at the mercy of the Squires charge; still it was not his to reason why; they had selected the western end and that was that.

"Then as the rules of the melee allow, the western end is yours to defend; may luck and honour be on your side."

It was the last thing to be decided and now it was time to return to their homes; the common boys now had a little more than two weeks to prepare to once again meet their fate at the hands of the arrogant and better trained Squires.

Freeman and Saed noticed from that day on, both boys would now spend their nights in each other's rooms; they also noticed that the boys were gone early in the morning with their hunting falcons and a small troop of ten other Bedou as guards and would not return until almost dark.

The boys were away all day on their hunts; the two men were not really sure what was going on as the returning boys usually had very little to show for a full days hunting; normally it was only a few birds, rabbits or hares; barely enough to fill a couple of stomachs for so many hours spent out hunting.

The weeks passed and there was nothing but hustle and bustle as everyone prepared for the upcoming joust. As the first day of jousting arrived; Freeman and Saed saw little of the two boys; even today; the first day of competition, there was no sign of them.

The jousts were fast and furious; being only allowed to use blunted lances there were no deaths but there were a number of broken bones and lacerations. The modern joust, while a lot of the blood had been taken out with the banning of metal pointed lances; was still not for the faint of heart; falling from a horse in full armour could still do a lot of damage and not only from the lance strike.

Once again Freeman was triumphant as the King's Champion although his left shoulder ached intolerably from a good strike by his last opponent but he was still the best Knight there. Freeman did not have time to wonder where his new Squire had got to; the boy had asked to be excused from his duty as a Squire for the period as he had little knowledge of what to do for a Knight in a joust; besides, the King had provided his champion with all the squires he needed.

For the next two days, Freeman was; as the champion and best Knight of the joust; feted wherever he went; there were many ales to be drunk and stories to be told. When the day arrived for the individual competition, the King asked Freeman not to enter; he had once again proved himself and Saed had requested that he be allowed to fight in the arena for his own amusement; who was the King to forbid another crowned head his pleasures.

Saed proved to be far more than an ordinary swordsman; using his own lighter and better made scimitar; he cut a swath through the competition to step forward as the winner of the individual competition; again there were more rounds of feasting and ale; of the boys neither man had seen a sign of them; they had continued to go out hunting while everyone else was training and preparing for their own fights.

Finally the day of the Squires melee arrived. The Kentish valley was set in a tear drop shape; around the upper sides were the positions for the spectators to watch the melee. Half way along a great platform had been set with bunting and flags for the King and his guests to watch.

The valley was a long shape; at the wider end were all the mounted Squires; they could not use their horses in the charge and had to go to foot when they reached a line drawn by two white flags about one hundred paces from where the commoners would be.

The common boys were now pressed into a tight narrow section; as the watchers looked down they could see the commoners milling around in what looked to be total confusion. They had no armour and very few of what could be called weapons.

There was a murmur of doubt all around the arena like valley; the lost and forlorn look of the commoners was made worse by the high spirits and better equipment of the Squires; Freeman and Saed could still not see any sign of their two boys. They had little doubt the boys would be here; the thought of dishonour by not showing was just not an option; Freeman decided he had to take a closer and better look at the disorganised rabble below them. Something did not feel right.

The Squires could plainly see the disorganised rabble of the two hundred commoners; the jeers and laughter rang around the valley much to the concern of the common folk watching above them; it looked as though, once again their boys would be in for a hiding; of the King's colours and the two Squires there was no sign.

Freeman moved over to stand beside Saed; he also was looking closely at the shuffling rabble of the commoners.

"Do you feel this is not what it looks like my brother?" Freeman asked Saed quietly.

"Yes brother; something is not right and I am starting to put together some questions my nephew has asked me over the last two weeks."

"Funny; Eventide has also been asking me strange things as well."

"Such as?"

"He asked me to tell him about ancient battles and things like that; he even asked me to start to teach him to read and write his letters."

"Very strange; Mahmud asked much the same; what the Shaitan are those two up to; there's something going on down there but I can't put my finger on it."

"I feel much the same."

The two friends watched as a few of the squires made a line charge on their horses and then turned back when they reached the white banners; it appeared to frighten the commoners even more as they crouched down and hid their heads; only the tall thick body of Bernard could be seen moving around talking and whispering to some of the boys on the field.

On the other side of the valley stood a line of ten red banners; as the time grew closer for the melee to begin, one of the banners would be dropped to indicate the start was close; both men watched as the first banner slid down; there was now only about nine minutes to the beginning of the battle.

The Squires took another opportunity to make one more false charge before the next banner fell; the atmosphere grew even grimmer as the time ran down; it looked as though the commoner boys had been totally cowed.

It was as the third banner fell that something caught Freeman's eye; it was a group of boys sitting at the back of the others and higher up on the small slope. He looked closer and then smiled as he nudged Saed and silently pointed to the small group of about twenty boys who were dressed in rough woollen cloaks that covered them completely; it was then he saw that they were not the only ones covered by the rough cloaks.

The only thing that seemed out of place on the side of the commoners were a line of ten small carts being held by farm horses, they were stacked high with hay.

"You know brother; if they used those carts as a barrier, it may well slow down the Squires charge." Freeman said.

"I don't think it would help my brother, the Squires are trained for assaulting barricades; it will not slow them down much."

"I don't know, there's something going on here that we can't see."

Just as he finished speaking, the fourth banner fell; suddenly there was a blast of a horn that sounded much like a cow horn; what happened next stunned all those watching, especially the Squires.

As one person the boys all stood tall and threw off their homemade cloaks; underneath they wore solid looking leather jerkins; at the same time the straw was thrown from the carts and a mass of boys began to take wicker shields and long poles with a small square wooden cap on one end.

At the centre of the field a large number of smaller boys also threw off their cloaks and revealed that they were holding small bows and quivers of blunted arrows; further back, the twelve largest boys took up what looked like solidly made tall shields about six feet tall and four feet wide.

Behind the largest boys now stood twenty black clothed boys in their Hashin garb, only their dark eyes showing. Just behind the Hashin there was suddenly a small stage; at one corner now flew the green banner of Lancaster and a smaller blue banner of Eventide. On the other side flew a black flag with strange writing on it.

Up on the stage stood a small slim boy dressed in blue and green striped trews; on his feet were the leather sandals with the cross hatching of thongs tied up the calves; his chest was bare and he had bright blue swirls drawn on his chest and shoulders. Across his forehead was the dark blue woad of the Iceni and his long hair was bound back in a long single plait.

Beside Eventide stood the smaller frame of the page boy; much to every ones consternation the small boy was armed with a real steel sword and in his hands was the King's banner; it appeared he was truly going to defend it with everything he had; he also had a cow horn over his shoulder on a thin strap.

Even as they watched, the boy lifted the horn to his lips and blew three short blasts. The activity increased down on the flatter ground where the Squires would hit first. Suddenly, from disillusionment of earlier; there came a hive of activity.

What was once a down hearted muddle of boys there was now three tight lines of wicker shields; some little distance behind them and up the slope a little stood three lines of young boys with their bows at the ready.

To the right hand side of the front lines stood a figure in black clothes, a metal shield on one arm and a short wooden sword in the other. The front line of shield bearers also had short wooden swords while behind them stood two solid lines of boys with the long poles and wicker shields.

As the second last banner fell and battle was now imminent. The front row of about fifty boys formed up close to each other and locked shields; it was noticeable to anyone who took the time to see it, that the front line was all of larger boys; ones who could take the first charge and keep their feet; they were all well built boys from the farms and knew all about hard work.

The second and third lines pushed the long poles forward so the blunt wooden end rested on the top of the front line of shields; Mahmud stood to one side of the front line and gave orders and encouragement. It was noticeable that there was a certain silence now from the massed Squires; they had never seen the commoners do anything like this before and they were not sure how they should proceed.

"Tell me brother, what are those poles?" Saed asked Freeman as they watched the preparations below them.

"They are called pikes; the farmers use them for holding up the stacks of straw when they are building them; it is to stabilise the stack until it is finished."

"Ingenious, I am looking forward to see how they use them."

"So am I my brother; so am I."

Everything had happened so fast that the Squires had not had time to try and change tactics; as they tried to change things, the last banner fell; there was little they could do but charge. There was hope the sight of the horse charge would unsettle the boys in front of them; even though they could not use the horses to actually attack the line.

As the Squires charged, Freeman caught the movement of Bernard moving from his upper line down to stand beside the smaller boys with bows; as he watched he heard the long then short blast from the horn; it seemed every boy suddenly straightened up even more and prepared to fight; they were not the same group that had huddled and listlessly moved around before.

Freeman turned to Saed.

"Well it looks like we have an Athenian shield wall backed up by Persian bow lines; it's the large shields up top I can't work out and the twenty boys of the brotherhood standing behind them."

"Well as you know, the black flag is the signal for Jihad so those boys are up to something; the three lines of bowmen is new to me; there are only about thirty boys all told so it will be little effect on the Squires line. Not enough mass power but, I must say it is going to be an interesting day."

As the Squires began to walk their horses at the beginning of the charge, the commoners on the far slopes grew silent; from the Knights massed around the stage on which the King and his advisers sat, came a loud cheer and many ribald comments towards the waiting lines of commoner boys.

Freeman could not resist the temptation to rile up some of the less honourable Knights.

"Sir Justin; I see your Squire leads the charge; mayhap he will also be the first to fall?"

"I would not think so My Lord Baron; I personally taught him and he is a good student; he will break their lines and we will sit for lunch before the commoners get back on their feet."

"But you have not allowed for the interest of both my Squire and the young Prince?"

"An inexperienced boy and a Saracen? Really Baron I see no competition there."

"Perhaps then a wager would be in order?"

"A wager would be welcome but my honour says I am stealing from you Baron Tremaine; the Squires have won every melee for the last ten years; you stand little chance of winning but; if you insist I would place ten gold on the Squires."

"You have great confidence in your protégé, perhaps twenty gold would be a better indication Sir Justin?"

"If it is your wish Baron, then twenty gold it is."

Suddenly both Saed and the King spoke up almost together with finally the King taking the place of the speaker.

"Sir Justin, I and the Emir would also like to wager on our people; it is the least we can do."

At the sound of the Kings wager, suddenly every other Knight wanted to get in on the wager; none were refused; Freeman turned to the King.

"Sire, if our boys do not find a solution to the Squires we could all be paupers by day's end."

"True Baron but a slight error; I will be a pauper; both you and our friend have enough land and gold to rescue me afterwards so I hope we will remain friends?"

"As my King requests; we shall both bail you out of debt should our boys lose."

The three men laughed and turned back to watch the field; with over a hundred Knights in on the wager, the three men were indeed in for a large loss if their boys failed on the field.

The Squires had started back at about 800 paces; they would increase their pace until it was a canter and then for a short distance a full gallop although they would have to slow as they reached the white markers and dismount. Grouped close to the markers were a mass of young page boys dressed in the colours of the Knights; they would take the horses off the field once the Squires had dismounted.

The Squires were lined up in two ranks of approximately fifty five boys in each; out in front as promised, rode Squire Thorain; his white surplus and Red Cross standing out on the green field. It was obvious to any there that the Squires were far better prepared for the melee; they all wore heavy padded leather jackets over which was a well made chain mail shirt; on their left arm was a large metal shield and in their right hand they carried a four foot long heavy wooden sword.

As the pace of the charge increased, the thunder of the horses hooves began to fill the narrow valley; for the defenders at the far end it must have sounded like the very devil himself was coming; yet they stood calmly and waited.

Freeman and Saed heard a soft cough behind them; turning they saw a small gesture from the King to come and stand at his side; the two men obeyed. Once beside the King and with the other advisors more interested in the valiant charge of the Squires; the King asked them both.

"Am I getting old or are my eyes deceiving me?"

"How so Your Majesty?" Freeman asked the King.

"The Squires appear to be compressing their lines as they move forward; if they continue in this fashion they will have less than thirty at the front line; it would lessen their attack by more than fifty percent."

Freeman and Saed looked closer and watched as the charging horses closed in on each other; both began to chuckle at the same time as they saw the outer horses slow and fall behind the others; the further they moved into the valley; the more fell back.

"No Your Majesty; your eyes do not deceive; those two have used the ground to blunt the charge. The sloping sides are interfering with the horse's gate and forcing them to fall behind; even now we can see how they are beginning to string out in a column instead of a strong front."

"Very cunning those two boys. I see also that they have set their three lines at the front in the ancient form of an Athenian shield wall; what worries me is why they would have those tall stronger looking boys of the third rank at the rear; surely they would better be able to hold the front line instead of the shorter boys in the first line?"

Freeman and Saed took another look at the three lines of the shield wall; the first and second lines looked to be of equal height but the front line looked to be of heavier build. The second line of boys appeared to be a lot younger but were the same height. Of the third line there was a marked difference in height and size by at least a head height; the two men looked closer.

After a few more glances at the three lines; Freeman took out his dagger and held it up level with his own eyes; after a few seconds he began to chuckle and replaced his dagger before telling the other two.

"It's the rise of the ground; where the Squires will begin their attack is rising ground; they will be fighting up-hill all the way. The first rank are boys of the same size as those in the third rank; the second rank is smaller and younger boys; why they hold the second rank is beyond me as yet but the boys must have their own reason."

"But why do they have at least six or eight boys in the first rank that are partially up the slope; they are no good there when the attack hits the line?"

The other two looked again; the King had seen something they had missed. This time it was Saed who pointed out the changes.

"Your Majesty; if we look at the second rank there are perhaps eight or ten boys up the side slope and the third rank has a few more; now if those extra boys were at some stage to move around and down, they would outflank the frontal assault; would they not? Add to the other fact that the Squires will be strung out in columns instead of a broad attacking front; then those boys up the slope will be in perfect place to raid the flanks."

The other two also now saw what Saed had described; both nodded in agreement.

"That looks to be the case Friend Saed; but what about those very young archers; there are not enough to make much of a difference?"

"True Your Majesty; but at this stage I cannot see how they will be of any use; it appears we will have to wait for developments but the boys must have thought this out if the rest is any indication."

Slowly the battle field took shape; the Squires charge had now weakened and was strung out in five or six long columns and the pace had never been able to reach its full potential. The tactics had fully blunted any hope of a strong and fear inspiring charge.

When the horses finally reached the markers, there was a certain amount of disarray in the Squires ranks; as they all dismounted and let the pages take their horses; there was a sudden loud blast from the cow horn, it was quickly replaced by a loud shout from Bernard who stood to one side of the three lines of young archers.

"Front rank ready."

By now all the Squires had dismounted and were trying to reorganise their attack lines for the foot charge into the commoner shield line which was only one hundred paces away; to anyone looking and not really understanding the lay of the ground; it appeared the Squires would have a straight run; to the three men that had seen the tactic, the squires would be moving up-hill all the way.

With the horses now off the field and the squires about to move forward; the next loud spoken order from Bernard filled the valley.

"Front rank, Fire."

Within a second the order continued.

"Second rank, Fire: Third rank, Fire: First rank, Fire."

And so it continued; the three men watched as a veritable torrent of blunted arrows took to the air; with the first line being ready to fire as the third line released theirs it was a continuous stream of arrows. While the first arrows only numbered ten, by the time they actually hit the lines of Squires, there were more than ninety others already in the air and coming down at them.

The continuous rain of blunted arrows caused the Squires to lift their shields to protect their heads and faces from the storm; without realising it, they left their bodies wide open; it also caused many of the boys to keep their eyes on the sky which created stumbles and falls which only went to make others fall over those already down.

The Squires kept moving forward but they were now disorganised and their solid line of attack was slowing; the heavy punch they hoped to hit the front line with was all but gone; from now on they would be almost on the back foot. For Squire Thorain at the front none of this was seen; all he looked at and thought about was the shield line in front of him; to his best knowledge he had the backing of a full healthy charge with the power to force through the thin line of commoners and take the King's banner.

As the torrent of arrows flew through the air; the three men on the stage smiled at the cunning use of the thirty archers; the King was the first to speak.

"Well that answers that question; the charge looks like it is broken; from now on it will be just guts and hope for the Squires."

The other two looked at the young Squires who had already fallen; they appeared to number about twenty and; apart from one unlucky lad who had got hit in the eye with an arrow; the rest were those who had been tripped or fallen over and been stepped on by their fiends. There was an obvious number of sprained or broken ankles and even a few holding injured arms where they had fallen on the heavy shields and dislocated a wrist or shoulder.

As yet the Squires had not even reached the front line but had already lost twenty men; it did not bode well for the rest of the day; add to that the continuous need to watch above for the arrows that continued to rain down on them and the line charge slowed even more.

As the line closed on the waiting shield wall; it also became noticeable that some of the Squires were tiring; their training was concentrated more on horseback tactics and fitness; the long run under fire along with the weight of the heavy armour was already taking its toll.

"Well Your Majesty." Said Saed. "It appears the boy's tactics are already showing benefits; the Squires have about twenty down and probably out of the fight and a large number are feeling the weight of their armour and the rising ground so are slowing to not much more than a walk. A good commander would pull back now and reorganise his men but I doubt that will occur to the young Squire leading the way."

"I fear you are right friend Saed; perhaps this will be a good lesson for the boy; still, he has a good ninety men yet so they might still break through with their superior weapons; we will have to wait and see how the boys on the shield wall hold themselves."

The other two men nodded but were also now a little more sure that their two boys had pulled a rabble of commoners into a viable and tough fighting force; the Squires were not going to have it easy by any means.

Finally the front line of about twenty Squires hit the shield wall, or they would have if they had not suddenly been stopped short by the long hard wood of the pikes that had been pushed forward and into the very faces of the front line of squires.

Squire Thorain had been the first to have his head rattled by a hit on the forehead by the thick block of wood on the end of the long pike; it sent him to his knees as others were struck about the head or held away from the wall by the strength of the double row of boys holding the long pikes.

Those at the very front of the shield wall stood solid and ready, they knew their turn was coming. Squire Thorain was on his hands and knees; his metal helm had taken some of the sting out of the blow but he still had to shake the stars out of his head before he could rise again and charge the waiting line.

Around Thorain lay some of his friends; the strange pikes had taken a toll on the first to reach the waiting commoners and those behind had stumbled over and onto those already down; the charge had become a rabble of shouting and cursing Squires and still, the pikes did their hard work on those trying to get back on their feet.

Thorain regained his feet but, after only two steps he was felled again; this time by a heavy blow in the chest; he had forgotten in the heat of the moment to raise his shield; again he struggled back to his feet and moved forward.

To the attackers, it seemed an age before they actually met the shield wall; as more and more forced their weight against the wall it slowly began to bend but not give.

Behind the lines, the archers had now moved into a new formation of a single line; the three watchers on the stage saw a number of the Hashin run forward with replacement quivers for the archers who were now taking aim at individual targets; none of the arrows would do much in the way of harm but they were distracting for the Squires.

The centre of the front line was now bending a little further; suddenly the second and third lines stepped forward and used their shields to hold the front line and keep it solid; they did not try to straighten the line but just help hold it.

It was now plainly obvious that the squires were tiring although still trying to push forward; it was a game of cat and mouse at best; when the Squires eased off to get their breath back; the front line would suddenly open their locked shields and attack with short heavy wooden swords; not to slash but to stab at open points on the squires; when it looked as though the squires were going to return to the attack; the shield wall would close and lock once again.

The to and fro continued for more than an hour; there were now young Squires almost on their hands and knees from exhaustion and the summer heat; their heavy armour was doing them no favours.

Suddenly there was the loud blast of the cow horn; it ended on a rising note; at the end of the blast, the front line suddenly began to move in what at first sight appeared to be a break in the line. A loud cheer went up from all the assembled Knights; their Squires had broken through the front line; there would be little to hold them back now. Sir Justin raised his voice and called Freeman.

"What now Baron; I don't suppose you would like to double our wager now that the line is broken?"

From the stage it appeared differently to the three men as they looked over the whole battle field. The front line was not broken; it was obvious they had heeded the call of the cow horn and were moving not back in retreat; but to the side. The line had split at the centre and each of the two parts had moved slowly sideways until they were now covering both flanks of the squires.

Freeman looked over at the Knight.

"Doubled it is Sir Justin."

"Add ours Sir Knight." Called the King.

It now could be seen that the boys of the shield wall were slowly forming a deep pocket for the squires to fight their way deeper into. The boys up on the flanks now stayed off but guarded against any of the Squires breaking out of the narrow front they were fighting on.

The second and smaller line was now holding and fighting the very tired and, in some cases, totally exhausted Squires. The younger and smaller boys along with the aid of the large friends behind them; held the line although it did bend a little at the centre.

One hundred paces back, the archers were breaking up and retreating up behind the twelve large boys behind them; from the rear appeared four black clad boys carrying what looked to be earthenware jugs; pulling the stoppers, the four boys poured something over the ground about ten paces from the twelve waiting boys above them.

Once finished, the four disappeared back behind the last line to mix with the archers who seemed to be busy with something else not quickly apparent.

With the archers safe and the four young figures now out of the way; the cow horn blew one long and two short blasts; much to the delight of the squires, the second line of young boys broke.

The three men watched with a faint hint of amusement on their lips as more cheers and yells went up from the watching Knights; their Squires had easily broken the second line; none noticed the smaller boys moving up beside those of the front lines out on the flanks and above the weakening Squires.

The pocket created by the defenders now had the Squires deep inside; looking down the three men saw that there were now only about fifty squires left able to fight; many had injuries and others were just totally exhausted to such a stage they could no longer stay on their feet and had collapsed where they were.

The third line was fresh and took a toll of the weary Squires; when the cow horn sounded for them to retire to the flanks, there were only about thirty Squires still standing. The loud cheering from the supporting Knights gave those left a new lease of strength.

At the sound of the cow horn, the third line broke and went to join their friends up the slope. The last line made their way up the slope to join those waiting from the other two lines; as they joined the younger ones, the boys from the first line moved down behind the Squires back where the first Squires had fallen and formed a double line in their rear; the Squires were now hemmed in with no escape.

Freeman nudged his friend and pointed up to the slopes where the shield wall boys were now standing.

"Look, they came prepared for a long fight."

Saed and the King looked up at the mass of boys on the slopes that now formed the flanks of the deep pocket; a loud chuckle came from them as they watched each boy take a small water flask and crust of bread from a pouch at their waist and begin to eat and drink to restore their strength.

Squire Thorain had taken many hits and seemed to ache in every part of his tired body but, he had broken the last line, now all he had was a few boys above him less than fifty paces away and the King's banner was his.

Thorain called the last of his men to him; they had one more hard push to win; even though it had now taken three hours for them to break the lines they were now in sight of victory.

The rules of the melee were that no person not in combat could enter the field without being called by one of the combatants; the boys of the first line, now started to walk towards those that had fallen early; as they reached a downed Squire, one would point his sword and ask the squire something; the Squire always nodded yes. At the nod from the Squire, the boy would raise his sword high above his head; it was the signal that the Squire had yielded and could leave the field or that a page could come and assist him to leave if he was unable to do it on his own.

Slowly the boy's double line moved forward, always closing in on those Squires standing ready to make the final charge; it did not take long before the last Squires were hemmed in and surrounded in the pocket.

Before Thorain could call for the final charge at the twelve waiting boys above them, Eventide appeared at the right end of the twelve large boys; many were surprised at the volume such a small boy could use as he called out to the remaining Squires.

"Squire Thorain; I ask you to yield the field; you cannot win this day and can leave with honour; all of your men have fought well and it is no dishonour to retire in the face of certain defeat."

Thorain looked up at the blue painted small boy; what did the boy think he was saying; he still had thirty or more good Squires and he was only paces away from a mere dozen boys that did not even have their shields up. It was a whisper from one of his other Squires that caused Thorain to turn around and look behind him.

For the first time in his life, Thorain felt a touch of fear. Both the rear and both flanks were a mass of waiting Commoners; no one could say what caused the words to come out of Thorain's mouth but they sealed his fate and the fate of the last few Squires.

They had formed themselves into a wedge shape in readiness for their last charge; Thorain grasped his shield tighter and lifted his long wooden sword; once again he was at the leading edge of his men.

"We are soon to be Knights; we do not bow down to common curs nor filthy Saracens; CHARGE."

The massed wedge began to run up towards the twelve boys; Eventide disappeared behind the larger boys and was soon replaced by all of the young bowmen and Hashin. For those watching closely it was evident that the bowmen were now scouts; they were in groups of three; one boy held a long handled two pronged pitch fork, the other carried a small round buckler on his left arm and a flail with the handle cut short; the Hashin with them carried a long quarter staff.

Saed asked Freeman what the small boys were carrying as he pointed to one of the boys with a buckler on his left arm.

"It looks like a cut down flail that the farmers use for separating the grain from the chaff; it would normally have a longer handle to generate more power for the threshing; it will be interesting to see how they use them."

Saed nodded his head as he watched the one time bowmen and his Hashin split into two and take a flank each. While all this was going on and the squires were starting their charge; the twelve boys above them suddenly leant down and lifted the huge wooden shields; it was then that the watchers saw the two long steel spikes at the base of the shields.

The twelve boys; in a display of pure power; lifted the heavy shields and drove the spikes into the ground; each shield was touching the one next to it; the boys then set two thick poles behind the shields to hold them in place; they had quickly made a large and tall solid siege wall.

Freeman, along with the other two; chuckled as he saw the siege wall erected; with the two poles and the shoulders of the twelve large boys; there was little chance the squires would breach it; what happened next made it an impossible task for the squires to win the day.

When the charging wedge was only ten paces from the daunting wall; the Squires began to slip and slide as they lost their footing; the charge died as they tried to keep their feet on the grass that had been well oiled by the Hashin after the young bowmen had retired.

On both flanks there was suddenly short sharp raids by the one-time bowmen and the Hashin; the boy with the pitch fork would run in and catch the squires shield arm between the two tines; with a twist he would open up the Squires body for the Hashin to come in with his longer staff.

On the other side, the boy with the flail used the buckler to deflect the now weak attempt with the long sword and strike four or five quick blows with the flail head; usually at the wrist or arm of the Squire. Once done and with the squire down, the three would run back to their line and let another three attack.

It became a continuous and painful skirmishing line. It took only a few minutes to bring the last of the Squires to their knees; only Thorain still stood and none of the Squires had made it to the siege line; the orders had been to not take down Thorain; injure; yes but not bad enough that he did not reach the last line of shields.

From behind the wall strode Bernard; he had even dressed in his blacksmiths leather apron. Bernard had been told by Eventide and Mahmud the final honour was to be his for all the insults to the people by the Squires.

Even though the melee had been truly won; not a single cheer went up from the commoner boys; their battle was not over until their two new friends; the young Squire and the Prince; led them to stand before the king and declare the victory.

The boys all stood silently as Bernard made his way to the exhausted and now cowed Thorain; with an open hand he cuffed Thorain hard and sent him spinning to the ground. Bernard then showed just how strong he was; bending at the waist he turned Thorain over and grasped him by the back of the neck and the seat of his pants then lifted him bodily up; turning towards the solid siege wall of shields; he rammed Thorain's face into the solid wooden wall; it was said that the sound of breaking cartilage could be heard around the whole field; when Bernard dropped the now totally stunned boy on the ground; it was apparent Thorain would never breath properly from his nose ever again; Bernard had the last word.

"You can now tell your friends, that you were the only one to reach the wall."

Bernard turned his back and stepped over beside the waiting Eventide, Mahmud and Robin; each was holding their own banner; Mahmud nodded to Bernard with a wide smile.

Robin took his cow horn and blew a long high note; immediately the mass of commoner boys began to reform. The three front lines were given pride of place at the front and formed up in three separate phalanx; behind then came the smaller phalanx of young bowmen and the twenty Hashin. Next in the parade was Robin with the King's banner then behind him and on each side were Eventide with his green and blue banner and Mahmud on the other with his black banner.

Flanking the three banners were the twelve larger boys of the siege wall; they stood six to a side. At another blast of the horn, the procession moved down the field until they came opposite the King's stage; there they formed up and Eventide nodded to Bernard; everyone had decreed that Bernard was to be the leader and take the congratulations from the King.

Bernard stepped forward until he was beside Robin.

"Your Majesty; the people return your colours and declare a victory in your name."

The King looked at the boys below him; had anyone looked closer they would have seen the two tears running into his beard; the King coughed to clear his throat.

"The victory belongs to the people and so does the banner; I declare that tomorrow night; in the great hall, every boy who fought today will appear for the feast in their honour. Robin, Bearer of the King's Banner, I would ask you why you carried a steel sword into the melee when the rules state it is illegal."

"Sire, I pledged on my life to defend the colours; had they fallen then the sword was for my own use."

"A noble gesture that shall be rewarded at the feast tomorrow night. I declare the victory of the Squires melee go to my people and, never was a better battle fought by any man or boy."

That was the final signal for the boys to release a lot of pent up pressure; almost as one voice they all raised their right hands and yelled at the top of their young voices.


The boy's voices were soon joined by the common folk who had remained silent through all three and a half hours of the melee as they all yelled and celebrated their great win after ten years of being nothing more than target practice for the arrogant Squires; there was a lot of frustration to be rid of on this day.

During the raucous celebrations, only two people saw Eventide, Mahmud and the twenty black clad Hashin disappear from the crowd of boys; they would have their own little celebration out of sight of the crowd; even Freeman and Saed would be excluded; as it turned out those two would be busy collecting a veritable fortune in gold from the assembled Knights.

Eventide along with Mahmud and the twenty Hashin hurried to their quarters in the castle, once they were all there, they sat and began to laugh and enjoy their own victory; the hookah were brought out and large platters of food and fruit appeared as they all discussed what they could have done better; it was decided that very little would have been changed.

As they all sat around laughing and joking; there came a heavy knock at the door; one of the young servants went and opened the door and immediately stepped back and to the side as a tall man dressed in the black of the Hashin strode into the room.

With little preamble his coal black eyes; the only part of him that could be seen; looked at the happy boys gathered on the floor.

"The Commander of the Brotherhood decrees that all those present will appear at his tents to the south of the castle at the setting of the sun; all those of the Brotherhood will appear as Hashin."

The tall man turned and left without an answer as there was none to give by the boys; it was a decree from the Commander; who of course was the Emir and Mahmud's uncle.

The boys all sat stunned at the turn of events; those in the know, which did not include Eventide, knew that the Commander only called all of the Hashin to assemble in one place for only one reason and that was not usually a good one; something must have gone wrong for all of them to have been summoned so seriously.

The sudden change caused the celebrations to wilt as the boys tried to work out why they had been told to attend; had it been that they had shown themselves in public without the advice of the Commander; it was a possibility and if so there would be dire consequences for all of them.

The closer the time came for them to leave for the tents; the more nervous all the boys became; none of them had ever been called before the Commander; even when they had done something a little daring or not totally honest.

The time came when they could wait no longer; Mahmud helped Eventide into his black garb; making sure everything was correct and that his weapons were placed in the right way and place even though Eventide had now had three weeks of training.

With the other twenty Hashin following them, they made their way to where their horses were being held by some of the servants; there was not a single boy that did not have a little tremble in his step as they mounted and Mahmud led them out of the castle grounds and into the darkening landscape.

It did not take long for them to see the black tents and smaller fires of the encampment; the closer they drew to the tents, the more their nervousness increased. In the camp it was almost totally silent; in front of the largest tent stood two young Hashin; they would assist in taking off the boys boots and then enter.

As normal each boy was required to show his face before he could enter the tent; when Mahmud and Eventide showed themselves, the two waiting boys told them they would enter last. For Eventide this reminded him of the last time he was presented in such a way and what had happened; was this going to be even worse and more blood spilt?

When all the other boys had entered; the last two were allowed to remove their boots and then the helpers left them alone to enter last. As they entered the tent, Eventide saw there were four oil lamps burning; while it gave a little more light than the last time, most of the tent was still in shadow.

Eventide glanced around and saw there were at least thirty adults as well as the twenty boys now in the tent; as he walked beside Mahmud, a Hashin adult at the far end of the tent called to them.

"Red Scorpion kneel at the centre and bow to the Brothers of the Hashin."

Mahmud walked forward to the centre of the large carpet and knelt down on one knee with his head bowed.

"Shaitan Bin Izurak kneel at the centre and bow to the Brothers of the Hashin."

Eventide tried to keep the shaking in his legs from being seen; as he moved to follow Mahmud to the centre he saw that every man and boy was holding a thin cane in their lap; he hoped it was not for him.

Eventide did the same as Mahmud and bowed his head; the two boys stayed in that position as the man in black continued.

"Brothers we all know what has transpired this day; two of our number revealed our presence without the word of the Commander of the Hashin; for this they must pay a price. There is also a matter of a certain victory organised by the same little brothers; what say you on their fate?"

For Eventide kneeling at the centre and feeling very alone and afraid, the soft whisper of his friend and brother, Mahmud was good to hear.

"We will be alright; we take our punishment and then it is over; I will defend you as you did not know of the rule of secrecy so my punishment will be more than yours as I knew I was breaking our rules."

Eventide whispered as quietly as he could.

"No, we are brothers and friends; I'll take my own punishment beside you."

Before anything more could be said; the Commander called for quiet and the many conversations stopped immediately.

"Red Scorpion, you have been found wanting in using your brothers in the battle today without my consent; do you wish to speak for yourself?"

"Lion of the Desert, I would not speak for myself as I was the one to ask for my brothers help in the battle but, I would ask mercy for my brother Shaitan Bin Izurak; he is not at fault as he did not know our rules; I will stand in his place for punishment."

"Shaitan Bin Izurak; do you have words to say?"

"Lion of the Desert; if my brother is at fault then so am I; my ignorance of the rules of the brotherhood are no excuse; I stand for my punishment beside my brother."

"Then so it shall be. Each brother will take one stroke of the cane upon the back of the two and then it will be forgotten as they are valiant brothers with honour. Let me be the first to strike and the Falcon shall be second."

With his head down, Eventide could only follow the Commanders movements by sound. Eventide only hoped he could stand the pain of a cane stroke from so many grown men and not cry out like a child.

Eventide did not know how to take it when there was a simple and very light tap on his shoulder; he almost cried with relief as each man and boy did the same; just a light tap and then moved on. When the last boy had tapped both boys and moved back to his place at the edge of the carpet, the Commander, with almost a laugh in his voice said.

"Well I hope our two little brothers have learnt their lesson; now onto better things. Red Scorpion, Shaitan Bin Izurak, stand and look to your brothers.'

Both boys stood up and looked around the men and boys sitting in the tent; when they turned back to the Commander, they saw him remove his face scarf to reveal the Emir; standing next to him was the one called Falcon; when he took off his scarf Eventide saw it was Freeman; the relief was enormous.

Each man and boy removed the covering from their faces and smiled at the two boys standing in the centre of the carpet. The Commander began.

"We, the brothers, saw today a feat of arms that would go down in any scroll as a tactical victory on a level of Alexander and Sparta. The use of history to win the melee was well thought and efficiently carried out. There are many sorry squires who; even now are working hard in the stables as a penalty for losing what should have been another easy victory. Brothers, today we saw something great on the field of battle that we should remember. Our two little brothers showed courage and honour in victory and it is now time for them to get their reward. As Commander of the Brotherhood of the Hashin; I give the lands and palace of Wadhi Sufaria to our brothers Red Scorpion and Shaitan Bin Izurak for all their days. Who is next?"

Freeman stood beside Saed and began next.

"I Falcon of the Sands ask that as I have no heirs that Shaitan Bin Izurak become my legal son and his brother Red Scorpion be forever welcome in my house and on all my lands."

Eventide could not believe his ears; he would now have a father and be heir to the lands of Lancaster and Flanders; even after hearing Freeman's words he could not believe it. Another man stood.

"I Ben Kahlif of the Bedou and the Brotherhood, gift to our little brothers, ten horses and twenty camels; each of which they may chose to their own liking."

When the man had sat down, another rose and walked over to the two boys; in his hands he carried two very ornate scimitars in scabbards covered with expensive gems, gold and other inlays that Eventide could not identify.

The presentation continued until all but four of the young Hashin were left; the four boys rose and carried two small chests between them. Placing one in front of each boy, they stepped back and bowed low to Eventide and Mahmud; one of the boys spoke to Mahmud in their own language and then all four went back to their places.

Mahmud smiled at Eventide and told him what the boy had said.

"Our brother has gifted us with the winnings of their wagers for the battle; it seems they all wagered four gold coins on us winning and want us to have their winnings as a gift for proving them right; it also helps that most of it comes from the Squires."

Eventide looked at the huge pile of gifts; he suddenly realised most of them had been given to him alone; there were new clothes and boots, fine leather worked saddles and pads; beautifully worked leather belts with fine silver buckles; a complete black tent rolled up tightly that had taken three men to carry in.

Some of the saddles were strange in shape but Mahmud told him they were for his camels which the boys would select when they went to Mahmud's homeland sometime in the future.

Once the gifting had finished; Saed called for the servants to serve the food and drink; it turned into a very late night that the boys did not awake from until well into the next day and they still had another feast later in the great hall.

As the two boys lazed in their hot baths; Eventide asked Mahmud what the Wadhi Sufaria was and why it was given to them.

"It is a great fort; the Palace itself lies within the fort and has a hundred rooms between them and a large courtyard for our guards. The Wadhi Sufaria is the most important of all the forts on the trade routes; it is here that the merchants gather to form their caravans and enter the great sands to cross to the large cities of the western ocean. Some call it the Great Road, some call it the Gateway of the Sands and others call it the Great Silk Road because much of the goods come from places far to the east. When the merchants reach the Wadhi Sufaria, they have to pay a tax on their goods to pass through to the great sands; Brother Shaitan, you and I are now very wealthy boys."

"But how will we ever look after it; you may be able to go there but I am here and see no way to watch over such an important place; I know nothing of commerce and taxes or even the great sands; I'm just a pot boy who has good friends and now a lot of brothers."

"Oh, you have much more than that; now that yours and my names are marked on the scrolls as the Kahlif's of Wadhi Sufaria; you are also uncle to the Emir's many children as well as being protectors of the people and merchants of Sufaria. Now we have to arrange for your servants; I have talked with our brothers and six have volunteered to be your teachers in the ways of the Brotherhood. When you return to the Baron's Manor they will go with you to help teach you all that you will need to know; the Baron has already approved them; most of the time I will have to stay here with uncle to learn about your court but I will try to get away to visit with you as often as I can. It has been agreed between the Baron and my uncle, that in three months you and I will visit my homeland where we will stay until the Squire's melee next summer. The King himself asked that we once again return to defend his colours with the people."

Eventide tried as he might to take it all in; for a pot boy only a few scant weeks ago to a wealthy titled boy now was catching up with him. Last night before bedding down, he had looked into the small chest; it had taken his breath away; he had never seen so much gold coin in one place before; he thought it would take him a full day just to count them all.

His other gifts now filled one corner of the large room that was his; how he was going to move it all was beyond his understanding but; the greatest gift of all was now having a name that others would respect, Squire Eventide Tremaine; heir to the Barony of Lancaster and Flanders and now also Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria. Eventide shook his head while still trying to fully accept what he had become.

"Mahmud, what about these children of the Emir; how is it that I am now their protector?"

"Now there is a lesson we should take while the servants rub our bodies; come, we will move to the tables to let them work."

The two boys got out of the tin baths and let the servant boys dry them off with soft cloths; once dry they both lay down on the narrow tables for the boys to massage their bodies and rub in scented oils. Eventide was almost over his shyness for getting an erection at such times although it did not stop it from happening but his blush was a little less; the servant boys did not seem to notice.

"Now then, the Emir has twenty two wives; most are political marriages; he also has a large harem of girls and boys for his own enjoyment but that's another story. Now his wives must conceive a child to validate the marriage. So far the Emir has fifteen sons and nine daughters. As I am just his nephew and my father and mother have gone to paradise; I cannot take his throne; only one of his sons can do that. Now as his eldest and closest nephew, it is my duty to protect my cousins and as you are my brother of the blood, you also now have that duty. When it comes time for one of the sons to take the throne; we will both swear to defend and protect him. By gifting the Wadhi Sufaria to us it gives us enough power and prestige to hold sway in our court; even the sons of the Emir cannot take away the Wadhi; only the death of both of us will make it available to a new Kahlif."

"So the eldest son takes over when the Emir passes and we watch over the new Emir?"

"Not always the eldest son; the court of the Bedou is even more dangerous than your King's court; it is the strongest son that will take the throne, for us we will have a special position in the court; whomever takes the Emir's throne knows that we will never try to take it from him; they know that you and I are the only ones that can keep it in his hands and that we do not covert his place; we are the only ones with no interest in ruling so they feel safer with us around than any others; even the many court officers could try to take the throne given the chance. As Kahlif's we both have all we need."

"It sounds very complicated and also dangerous."

"Yes it can be complicated and for those in the court, very dangerous when the sons get close to their majority. The oldest son is now only seven years old but over the next ten years you will see a thinning out of some of them."

"What of the daughters?"

"They cannot take the throne; they will be married off for political reasons and to strengthen ties with other tribes or kingdoms."

"It seems a strange way to live."

"For you and I it will be a free way to live; we have the richest Palace in our lands and will have a great army to protect it as well as being of the Brotherhood; you and I brother, are going to do great things; of this I am certain."

When their massage was over and Eventide was feeling a lot better than earlier; the two boys dressed; Mahmud in his own style and Eventide now in the more traditional garb of a Squire; he would much have preferred to continue to dress like his friend and brother but they were in the King's castle and it would be disrespectful in court.

The rest of the day was spent taking lessons from Mahmud in the Aramaic language of Mahmud's homeland. Eventide was surprised that he found it a little easier than he thought it would be; Mahmud said he must have a talent for language to be able to pick it up with such ease. Eventide could not help the blush that coloured his young features.

The time to leave for the victory feast arrived; as they left Eventide's room where they had spent the afternoon; a Royal Page waited for them; he told them they would be asked to enter the great hall last along with Bernard after the commoner boys had been arranged inside the great hall.

Eventide and Mahmud soon found Bernard and began to talk with him; the young blacksmith was still feeling the weight of their first victory over the Squires in ten long years.

Before they could be called into the great hall, Eventide saw Freeman approaching with what looked like a scroll in his hand; the other two boys saw him and began to move away to give the pair some privacy; before they could, Freeman called to them.

"I would ask you both to stay; we may need your witness if Eventide agrees."

"Witness to what, My Lord?" Eventide asked.

"Why young man, these documents; the King has agreed to my request for you to become my heir and adopted son; that is if you agree and sign this document and can find two friends as witness for you."

Eventide was at first confused; it had only been two days ago he had finally been able to sign his own name; as yet he could not read well enough to even begin to understand the rolled document. Eventide looked helplessly at Mahmud as though to ask for help.

Freeman was quick to pick up Eventide's distress;

"Don't worry too much Eventide, there is time yet and if you wish for your brother Mahmud to read it for you then I will wait but, if you are to sign it, it would be better to do so before entering the great hall."

Freeman gave the rolled document to Mahmud and stepped back as the boy unrolled the scroll and quickly read it through. Once finished he looked at Eventide.

"It is good, you should sign it with your name; it will give you presence in the King's court and in your lands."

Eventide took the scroll and looked for a desk; at the side of the hall was a small table, he laid the scroll down and carefully wrote his name as he had just learned, next Mahmud took the quill and signed his name in the Aramaic script. As Bernard did not know how to write; he dipped his thumb into the black ink and laid it on the scroll; Mahmud carefully wrote his name in the English script beside the thumb print.

Freeman came up and, after placing a large gold ring on Eventide's small finger, he looked at the finished scroll; taking a small flask from his cape; he dusted fine sand over the ink to help dry it; once completed he rolled the scroll and returned to the great hall. The three boys looked at each other until Mahmud said.

"I suppose we should call you Baronet Eventide now."

"Wha..." Eventide was looking down at the large gold ring; it had the crest of the Baron on it and, although it was just a little loose, Eventide wondered how many more rings he would have to wear; the gold in this one alone would keep a farming family in food for more than two years.

Before any more could be said; a page appeared and asked the three to enter the great hall one at a time starting with Bernard; he also told them how to behave when they entered; Mahmud already knew but the other two were looking nervous; it would not do to make a mess of their introduction to the King in front of more than one hundred and fifty Knights of the Realm.

A man dressed in black with a long black staff came up to Bernard and smiled at the nervous boy.

"Come, it is not as bad as you think."

The man led Bernard down the long walk to the stone dais at the far end; on each side were long tables; seated on the benches were all the other boys of the battle; behind the long row of tables were more that held the Knights; the boys had been given the central place of honour for the evening.

The man in black took Bernard to the bottom of the stone steps and banged his staff three times on the stone floor.

"Your Majesty, I have the honour to introduce Bernard, son of the blacksmith and Commander of the people's army under the King's Banner."

Bernard went to one knee and bowed to the King as the man stood above him.

"Arise Bernard, Commander of the People's army and defender of our colours; it is we that should be bowing to you for your well planned and executed victory in our name."

Bernard stood up with his mouth agape; he was sure the blush he felt on his cheeks could be felt around the great hall.

Next the man led in Mahmud; the same three knocks and then he said.

"Your Majesty, I have the honour to introduce his Highness, Prince Mahmud Sal-A-Hadin, Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria and a loyal ally."

Mahmud bowed low and performed the movements of his salaam to the king.

The smile on the Kings face could be seen by everyone. Even from his place at the entrance; Eventide could hear the mutterings of the Knights; it appeared they had very much underestimated the young Saracen. There was not a Knight there that did not know the importance of the Wadhi Sufaria on the trade routes of the known world.

"Welcome Kahlif Sal-A-Hadin; it is our honour to welcome one of the architects of our victory and a favoured ally of our people."

It was now time for Eventide to enter; he followed closely behind the man in black and tried to keep the shaking in his knees from being seen by everyone else; what he was to hear only made it worse for his knees.

"Your Majesty, I have the honour to introduce Baronet Eventide Tremaine, heir to the Barony of Lancaster and Flanders, also Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria."

The King turned and looked at the Emir sitting at the large table behind him; Saed just smiled and shrugged his shoulders as thought to say 'What could I do'

"Welcome Baronet Eventide Tremaine; again we must thank you for your aid in the planning of the victory in our name. I would ask all three of you to sit with us so we can discuss your tactics in the great victory."

Mahmud took the invitation in his stride, Eventide was a little nervous and Bernard was just plain shocked to find out he was going to sit at the King's table. Slowly the three boys made their way up the steps and around behind the long table; much to Bernard's surprise, Freeman stood from his chair beside the King's larger one and indicated for the boy to sit there while he took the next one with Eventide beside him; Mahmud took a seat beside Saed on the King's left.

Once the King had taken his place he clapped his hands and what seemed like a horde of servants appeared carrying large earthen jugs. It did not take long for all of the large silver goblets to be filled with strong sweet mead; the King stood up and raised his goblet.

"Knights of the Realm; I ask you to stand with your goblets and offer a full toast to the victors of the melee; We are sure that you have never seen such a victory at any joust held in these lands. To the victors."

Every Knight lifted their goblet and called out in a roar; "To the victors" they then all emptied their goblets and returned to their seats as a number of servants appeared to refill them. Immediately Mahmud stood with his own goblet raised and looked out at all the boys below.

"Your Majesty, we your humble servants would like to answer your generous toast; boys of the People's army and defenders of the King's colours, I ask you to stand and raise your goblets. To the King and the generosity of the Knights of the Realm."

All the boys rose along with Bernard and Eventide as Mahmud spoke; when he called the toast they all repeated it.

"The King and the Knights of the Realm."

All the boys then drained their goblets as the Knights had done; no mean feat for smaller boys not used to the stronger mead of the King's court; amid a few hiccups, the boys sat down as the Knights thumped their fist on their tables in a sign of appreciation; the boys had shown a sign of honour even though the Knights and Squires had shown them little; it was to be a good lesson for some of them.

As the toasts had been taking place; a number of servants had carried in more tables and placed them in a line at the bottom of the steps; more servants appeared with colourful bundles and small chests; then some chairs had been placed behind the table at intervals; the chairs were soon filled with men that looked like clerics and had rolls of parchment and quills before them. The King called for silence.

Eventide looked down at the long rows of tables in the centre of the hall; it was plainly evident that the boys had not fought the battle unscathed; he could see five or six with thick bandages around their heads; four of the smaller boys from the second rank had an arm in a sling. Quite a number had black eyes and many more had scraped knuckles and even one boy had a badly broken nose but the wide smiles took away any pain they may have been feeling.

The King rose once again as the clerics got settled.

"Knights of the Realm, defenders of our colours, as with any army; the soldiers must be paid for their service and honours given to those who have shown valour in the face of the enemy; it is now time for us to pay our dues. Soldiers of the first rank of swordsmen, rise."

The fifty boys who had held the first line all stood from where they were seated.

"As you were the first to hold the line against the full charge of the enemy and due to the donations of the Knights wagers I decree that each of you shall receive the sum of one King's gold coin in payment for your services; you are also to give your name to one of the clerics and take from them the red sash with double chevrons of a Yeoman of the King's army. Upon reaching your majority, should you wish to join our army you will be given such rank when you start your training."

The standing boys could not believe what they had just heard; a Kings gold coin was the largest and most valuable in the Realm, it was more than a farmer could earn in two years; added to that if they wanted to join the army when they reached eighteen they would already be a junior officer. Stunned, the fifty boys made their way to the long tables and began to give their names and receive their reward; each one of them proudly placed the red sash over their shoulder and went back to their place at the table.

When the last boy had taken his place at a table, the King stood once again.

"No less valiant were those boys of the second and third ranks, although we could all see they were used as a delaying force, they still fought with valour and great heart; to those soldiers of the second and third rank, we gift one Kings gold and the red sash with one chevron so that, if they wish to join our army on their majority, they will do so as swordsmen of the first rank."

The hundred boys of the two ranks stood and made their way to the tables and began the long process of giving names and receiving their rewards. While all this was going on, the goblets whether they were Knight or boy, were kept full; when the last of the shield wall boys sat down it was time for the King to rise again.

"We now ask for the archer skirmishers to rise."

When the thirty boys were standing, the King continued.

"We have seen many battles where the archers were not as effective as you all were; at first we thought you were too few in number to make any difference yet you forced many of your enemies to the ground by your steadfast fire and even more went down when you changed to skirmishing; your reward is as follows; you shall all receive one Kings gold coin and the blue sash with gold bow of the King's archers; should you reach your majority and enlist in our army, you will be called First Rank Archer."

The boys could not believe their ears, as they went to the tables and gave their names and received their reward, some said they saw a tear in many of the very young boy's eyes. The last archer boy took his seat and the King rose again.

"Page Robin, come forward."

The small boy walked out before his King, while he was not overawed by the occasion, he was still nervous at being singled out; after all he had done nothing but hold the banner and blow the horn.

"Page Robin, from this day on you will no longer be called Page; from this day on you are to be the sole bearer of our banner at all occasions; your title from this day on will be Squire of the King's Colours; where we go you will follow with our colours, your single duty is to those colours and no other. As with those who fought, you will receive one Kings gold coin; also you will now wear the gold rosette with ram's horn to mark your station and will receive twelve silver coins per year for life."

Robin almost felt his knees give as the King finished his speech, with shaky steps he went to the table to give his name and receive his reward then went back to sit at the table with the other boys; before he could do so the King's voice called to him.

"Squire Robin, our colours hang beside this table; it is there your new duty lies; you will join us up here."

Robin was now ready to faint as he turned about and shakily walked up the stone steps and took his place on a chair near the end of the table but only an arm's length from the very banner he had carried in the melee.

"There now are only two more presentations to give out and then we can feast the night away. Of the two both are as important as the other yet we find ourselves in a quandary for one is sure and certain yet the other is far more complicated so we will go forward as we first planned. Commander Bernard, come forward."

Bernard left his chair and walked to the front of the dais so he could see the King's face before him.

"Bernard, son of the blacksmith, from this day you shall be known as Squire Bernard the Black, you shall wear on occasion the gold rosette of the King's Commander of the People's Army, also the blue rosette with crossed swords as a Junior Officer of the King's Guard and the red rosette for Valour; upon your majority, should you wish to join our army you will be given rank and take position in the King's Guards. As your father would miss your aid at the forge, it shall be given the mark of Royal Approval. Along with these titles I gift ten Kings gold as dues for the Commander of the People's Army and a further fifty silver coins as reward for showing valour, honour and courage on the field of battle."

Bernard could not find any words, he was still trying to take in what the King had just said as that same man led him to the table below to get his rewards and rank; afterwards he did not even remember how he got back to his seat at the table; only the sound of the King's voice brought him back to reality.

"We would now ask Kahlif Sal-A-Hadin, Baronet Eventide Tremaine and our twenty Bedou allies to come forward."

When they were all standing at the bottom of the steps, the King continued; it was noticeable that the twenty boys of the Bedou were now dressed in the dark blue of the Bedou and not the black of the Hashin and their faces were revealed and not hidden.

"It is here that we are in a quandary; we are not sure what reward should be offered to the architects of the battle which; I may remind our Knights; was the longest melee ever fought in any joust we can remember. We find it difficult to reward the architects and our twenty young allies. We are sure that they already have wealth more than they would need; also they have titles that far exceed most in this hall. We could not offer good horses as they already ride the best that are known to man and we are sure they have more in their stables. After long consideration we could think of only one thing that they did not have but richly deserve. To this end we have written out and signed with the Royal Signet a King's Passport for each of you. This will entitle you to free and full travel within our Realm without hindrance or delay; it also entitles you to food and lodging in any village, town, city or castle without delay and at the expense of the King's treasury; should you be in need of an army, you are entitled to call on any Knight of the Realm for assistance that cannot be denied. We hope that you will also be prepared to script the melee for the next joust as you did for this one. We would be interested in how you would perform for us once again."

The King walked down the steps and; with a cleric following him; he handed each of the boys his own Royal Passport; the parchment was rolled in a fine leather cover for protection and had a heavy Royal Seal attached to a red ribbon tied around it.

When the last Passport was handed to the last Bedou, all the boys bowed low and were then allowed to return to their seats, Eventide and Mahmud went back to the top table as the King also stood at his chair; with a clap of his hands, the King called for the feast to begin.

The feasting and many games went well into the late night hours; when the servants came in next morning, they were surprised to see so many young boys asleep on the floor of the great hall; all of them showed the signs and smells of too much mulled wine, ale and mead; there would be many sore heads later in the day. It took more than an hour to get all the boys out and on their staggering way to their homes.

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