A Short Story Collection by Peter Stone - HTML preview
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Alone in the castle’s deserted courtyard, Ryan Bonfield stood while contemplating the events that had occurred there twelve years ago this day. Although he would pay homage to the family members who had perished that fateful day, his main purpose in returning was to confront the demons released into his life by those events.
Neglected, the castle had fallen into ruin. Once powerful battlements, now little more than crumbling stones, were disappearing rapidly beneath the relentless advances of voracious vines. Bushes and weeds flourished in cracks found between the courtyard’s cobblestones.
Ryan cast his gaze upon the ramparts where he had last seen his father, the castle’s lord. He bit his lip as terrifying memories leapt unbidden to his mind: the ferocious Border Reivers as they came swarming over the walls, his father attempting to fight them off virtually single handedly. His terrified, cowardly response of hiding behind a secret wall panel: and creeping back outside hours later to find the castle’s few occupants, including his father, stepmother, and two stepbrothers, put to the sword.
“Hello Ryan,” said a woman from behind him.
Startled, Ryan jumped and span around. The beautiful, wealthy woman standing there was disturbingly familiar. “Mistress?” he asked unsurely.
“There is no longer any need to address me as ‘mistress,’ Brother,” she said, walking slowly over to him.
“You have never called me that before, Mistress,” he replied, respectfully averting his gaze. Two years his senior, his stepsister had survived that fateful day’s massacre by hiding in an alcove beneath a stairwell.
“Please, Ryan, my name is Miriam.”
“Very well, Miriam.” He looked up. “You are here today to pay homage to your--to our--family?”
“Actually, no. This is the seventh year in a row that I have come here on this day, and it has never been to pay homage to the deceased.”
“Really? Then for what reason do you come here?” he asked, perplexed.
“Why, to look for you, of course,” she admitted.
“Why would you want to see me, Miriam? I am nothing but a worthless coward.”
“You must not speak of yourself so, Brother. I am the coward, not you. I needed courage to overlook Father’s infidelity and accept you into the family after your mother died, but I took the easy way out and persecuted you alongside my mother. As my brother, you had as much right to be part the family as me, yet I treated the lowliest of our servants with more kindness than I did you. Please forgive me, Ryan.”
“I deserve only your contempt and loathing, Miriam, not your apology.”
“Why do you say that, Brother? Why do you hate yourself so? I could never understand why you ran away from our Uncle’s home after he rescued us, those twelve years ago.”
Ryan answer came as though from a great distance. “I was standing right here, on this very spot, when the Border Reivers came swarming over the walls. I watched Father trying to fight them off. I heard him call ‘Ryan, Ryan!’ as they bowled him over. I knew I should have gone to his aid, but I was so scared that I ran and hid instead! What more damning evidence do you need than this, Sister?”
Miriam touched his hand. “Oh Ryan, is that what has been troubling you? Are you not aware that I witnessed the whole incident from that window up there? Father did not say, ‘Ryan, Ryan!’ He said, “Run, Ryan!’ Do you understand the significance of this, Brother? When confronted with death, Father’s first concern was not for me, my mother or for my brothers, but for you…”
“His bastard son?”
“No! For you, his eldest son, and heir,” she concluded.
“Yes, Ryan. Uncle Michael found Father’s will when he returned to the castle to recover any items of value overlooked by the Reivers. The will named you his successor. Ryan. You should also know that since Uncle Michael passed away, I have managed not only his estates, but also our family’s holdings and investments. I have done this in your name, not mine. Please come home with me, and take your rightful place as lord of our family. My husband and I are your humble servants, Brother.”
“And three children.”
“Three children?” Ryan smiled for the first time in twelve years. “Lead the way, Sister.”
For nearly three centuries, beginning in the late thirteenth century, Scottish and English Border Reivers, or mounted raiders, terrorised both sides of the Anglo-Scottish border.
Have You Seen My Squire?
"Good evening, captain," I said as I approached the castle gatehouse. The afternoon air was becoming quite frigid.
"Good evening, Sir Carl," he replied hesitantly.
"Have you seen my squire, captain? He was supposed to clean my horse’s armour and then bring the horse to the village to be re-shod,” I queried.
"Ah, well, sir, I think Squire Anthony is hiding," the captain stammered.
"Hiding from whom?" I asked.
"From you, sir," the captain admitted.
"And why would that be, captain?" I pressed.
"Have you looked in the moat, sir?" he replied while tugging at his collar.
"No, I have not."
"Then perhaps you should, sir," the captain suggested.
Upon walking to the side of the drawbridge I received a quite a shock. "Ah, captain, what is my horse doing in the moat?"
"Well, sir, perhaps you should ask your squire that question," the captain recommended as we took in the scene below. A dozen guards were trying to save my horse. One held the stallion’s head while the others worked to remove the chainmail armour. Once removed, they would use a trebuchet on the castle wall above to lift the horse out of the shoulder depth waters.
"I will, captain, as soon as I find him," I announced while resisting the urge to tell the men below to be careful. I headed off to my squire’s usual hideout. The fourteen-year-old boy had only recently entered my service.
I opened the door to the gatehouse’s interior and bellowed, "Squire, show yourself right now or I'll affix you to the drawbridge next time it lowers!"
A scrawny lad jumped out from the shadows to stand in front of me. He was soaking wet. "Sir Carl, please don’t kill me! I’m so sorry about your horse - honest!"
"Squire," I said softly.
"Yes sir?" he wailed.
"Why is my horse in the moat?"
"Well, sir, um, you know how you asked me to clean your horse's armour?" he began unsurely.
"Yes," I said this very slowly.
"Well, um, I had this great idea of cleaning it with water," he continued.
"Right," I said this slowly too.
"So, I thought to myself, why bring heavy buckets of water to the armour, when I could take the armour to the water," he explained.
"Where does my horse fit into this, squire?" I prompted.
"Well, you see, I needed someone to help me carry the heavy armour, and who better than someone who carries it on a regular basis. So, I put the armour on your horse, grabbed a bucket and a rope, and took your horse to the moat. You know, so I could use that water," he clarified.
"And how did the horse end up in the moat, squire?"
"Well, we, ah, kind of slipped on the muddy bank, sir. Both me and the horse - right into the moat," he admitted shamefully.
"I see. Then why are you here, hiding in the gatehouse, instead of helping get my horse out of the moat?" I demanded.
"Sorry, sir, but I was so scared you'd skin me alive that I just bolted and hid here," he squeaked.
"Squire, can I ask you a simple question?" I began.
"Oh course, sir."
"How are you supposed to clean chainmail armour?" I asked.
I think a lantern lit up over his head. "Oh! By putting it piece by piece in a bag of sand, and then shaking the bag, sir."
"So why didn't you do that?" I queried.
"Oh, oops. I, um, forgot, sir," he replied.
"What happens when chainmail armour gets wet, squire?"
He looked mortified. "Oh dear – I forgot all about that, sir. It rusts, doesn’t it?"
I laid a hand on his arm. “Look, squire, honestly, this is not the end of the world. Although the armour is probably ruined, I can get the armourer to make a new set. The important thing is that you are okay, as will be the horse once they pull him out of the moat."
Squire Anthony looked at me incredulously, "What - you're not going to skin me alive, sir?"
I ruffled his hair, "No, Anthony. I know you're clumsy and don't listen so well, but you'll get there eventually. Besides, you remind me of myself when I was a young squire..."
"Really?" he said keenly.
"Yes, but not that much. I never put my master's horse in the moat!"