The Tiger: Part I

Once,
there lived a knight. Edward “the Tiger”, he was called, for though a
young knight there was nothing he would not dare and do, and nothing that he
had ever set his hand to do in which he had failed. He had fought in
tournaments and battles, quests and adventures and had never lost. At jousting
he unhorsed anyone who came against him until many thought that Launcelot had
been reborn. In the press of battle he would often dismount and fight on foot,
surrounded by the press of enemies. At times his comrades feared the worst, for
he had been known to move so far from any friends or allies, and to bury
himself so deeply in the thick of the melee, that even from horseback his
friends would lose sight of his red helmet plume. But each time they rode to
his rescue he would shake off the crowd of his foes and behold, he would be
standing in the midst of the press of them, utterly untouched and untouchable.
His sword flashed too rapidly to be followed, and thrust and hewed too mightily
to be blocked. This was how they first called him “The Tiger” for his
every movement was smooth and powerful. Every enemy attack was smashed by his
shield flying and swiping like the wing of a heron, and every attack was
answered by an instant counter so that to strike a blow at him with lance or
sword was certain death. Such was his skill in battle that wherever his red
plume and gray heron arms were seen, the enemy ran before him. Only the
bravest, seeking to boost their own reputations, ever challenged him, and every
one was destroyed.

In the
times when he was not fighting, the report of his exploits spread among the
courts and castles to the delight of all who heard them. Wherever he went he
was welcomed. He was tall and handsome, and every lady who met him thought him
also well-mannered and pleasant, so consequently he was never short of fair
admirers. Many a nobleman tried to arrange a wedding between this brave knight
and a daughter. However, Edward only smiled and shook his head.

Tournaments
were held in his honor. Castles were awarded him. His father was raised from a
relatively minor lord to the King’s personal circle of councilors. His family
was made rich and powerful. His brothers and sisters all made wealthy and
influential marriages. It seemed there was nothing he could not do. There was
no favor the King Charles would have begrudged him, perhaps not even one of his
own daughters, or at least neices, for Edward had broken the backs of the Moors
in many battles.

When
the wars were over, and the borders had been secured, everyone told him to come
home. His father was anxious that he should marry and take up a position in
court, close to the King’s ear. His mother wanted him to rest and stop riding
off to fight in the wars. No one was prepared for him to leave. At a rare
family meal with his parents and most of his brothers and sisters he told them
simply, “I’m going away. I don’t know when or if I will ever return.”

“Where
are you going?” his family asked him.

“I
am going East.”

“To
the Holy Land?” His father asked.

“Perhaps.”

“Are
you going on pilgrimage?”

He
nodded thoughtfully, as if that was a new idea. “Yes. I think so.”

“Why?
If you wish to do a pilgrimage we can arrange that next year. I am sure some of
his Majesty’s ships will take you most of the way in the spring.”

“I
am afraid that will take far too long. I am gone tomorrow.”

Of
course there was a great uproar and much argument from his father and tears
from his mother. He remained immovable. His purpose was fixed.

After
the meal, as he was retiring to his room for the last time, his favorite
sister, Celia, came to him with a lamp.

“Are
you going early, little brother?” she asked.

“Before
light, lady.”

“Why?”

“I
must.”

“I
know. Brother, you always do what you must, I know that you must do this. I
would like to know why, though.”

He
sighed. “I have fought many times, sister. I have never once been free.
Every fight, battle or tournament, I have fought for this land, for the King,
for my Father, for my family, for the audience, for the damsels crying my name,
for every reason you can think of. I have even fought for love, once.” He
laughed.

“I
didn’t know that,” she smiled with interest.

“When
we were children and that peasant boy threw mud at you, and I pummeled him
until he begged your pardon. You were my sister, and I would not have you
treated so.”

“I
had forgotten about that,” she laughed.

“Of
all the battles I have ever fought,” he said, “That was the only one
that made any sense.”

“What
of all those battles to drive the Moor away?”

“They
were good and necessary, but they did not make sense.”

“And
that is why you must go?”

“I
must learn why it is that I fight.”

She
looked at him understandingly. “Life has never come easily to you, little
brother. Even when you were learning to crawl, I could not keep you still. You
would be everywhere, in the fire, on the stove, under the cows, hanging off the
bridge above the mill wheel, trying to climb the tallest trees, running off to
the forest alone. I hope you find what it is you seek.”

“As
do I.”

She
stood on tiptoes to embrace him. “Go with God, little brother.”

Before
the sun rose he saddled his favorite horse, and rode away, taking only his
sword, his light armor (consisting of a cuirasse and helmet, with chain mail
and leather arm guards and leggings) and a shield and lance, with a light
hunting bow to secure his meals.

Edward
rode for many months. His shield had no device on it, and his helmet was bare
and practical, with not even a crest. Before the first month was over it didn’t
matter anymore. No one had ever heard his name in these lands.

Eventually
he came to wide, barren, mountainous lands, cold, bitter, swept by wind and
snow. These lands seemed even colder and more bitter than the alps themselves.
He didn’t know where he was going, but he was driven to go there beyond all
sense or safety. He could not sit still and rest at any town he came to.
Sometimes he slept in a barn or house if hospitality was offered him for a
night before moving onwards, sometimes he slept in the open, his back against
his horse for warmth. Sometimes he did not sleep at all. He wasted a little
from poor food and little sleep, but still he pushed himself on without pity.
Without a destination mere movement became his only goal. Just to cover as many
miles as he could, in a generally eastern direction before he collapsed from
sheer exhaustion. After a few days of this, he was caught in a blizzard, which
rushed up behind him with no warning. He forced himself on, knowing that to
stop moving meant death, punishing himself and his horse until the poor beast,
not being as driven as his master, gave up and died rather than endure the
torment. Edward could not. He left his lance, bringing his shield and the
hunting bow from long habit, and continued to walk. The longer he forced
movement from his torn and ravaged limbs, and the more pain he endured from his
blistered, bleeding feet, and the harder the cold and wind nipped and froze his
nose and fingers, the more the deep relentless burning grew inside him. At
times he feared he was going mad, until he decided that he already was mad. His
sanity had fled a long time ago. Behind him, wherever home lay, there was a
warm house and a loving family. Peace, quiet, contentment and ease lay behind
him. On the road he had many times thought of how simple it would have been to
turn back. He could have gone to any seaport, paid a few coins and bought
passage to Europe, and once there, the mention of his name would erase all his
troubles. He had not taken that opportunity. Now here, in hell, there was no
such chance. He would continue to walk until he died, and when he died, he
would do so never knowing why he had died. In rage and pain, he lifted his face
to the heavens, only to find he could see only swirling white, and he cursed
himself for a dog. Pain shot through his legs, from ankle to hip, and they came
unstrung, and he fell at full length in the snow. After that his legs, which
had been absolutely numb for as long as he could remember, gave him no relief.
The pain was incessant and terrible. He might have stayed on his face and gone
to sleep, but the pain throbbed through him too badly. He couldn’t move his
legs, but he put his hands under him and crawled until he remembered no more.

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