“Yes, I am Arc the Younger”
“No, You are Arc the Elder now” Arc’s father had been killed on the Northern border. His death would become a lay to be recited at feasts. “The Death of Arc” a poem in 57 verses to be intoned in loud and glorious tones by the bard of Larn from memory. He had stood when all had fled, and challenged the might of the Arturans as they rushed the hill. Long had he stood, with sword and shield, laying low the warriors of the King’s enemy. But their swords were many ... and so the lay would run to its end of his glorious and valorious death.
In the workshop, Arc was sharpening his sword, a broad two handed sword. He favoured the two hander over a shield and sword. “Arc the Yo- I mean the Elder?”
“That is my name, though there is only Arc now, no elder or younger”
“My Lord sent me with refreshment for you” He looked up and saw her lithe body, her slim waist opening to welcoming hips. His eyes followed up to her well formed bust, tied down as befits a servant and then to the oval face and clear bright eyes of one with noble blood mixed with the lowly breeding.
“Thank you” Her body was a reminder, he should free his loins of lust so his heart, filled with hate, could be his guiding light. She gave him the food and drink and left. His eyes followed her and his sword slipped, nicking the edge and his wrist. “Arrgh! Shit!” He set to work with more concentration to remove the nick in the sword whilst his cut flowed, slowed, oozed and finally stopped. A cut was nothing, an imperfect sword was everything.
His armour burnished, his sword razor sharp, and his helmet modified with the red flourish indicating his pre-eminence in his family line, he made his way to the King’s chamber for a final meal. He had asked no permission to leave the guard, he needed none; avenging his father’s death was the only requirement on his honour now; even though he had not seen his father for many years.
The same servant was pouring wine to the revellers. It might have been a solemn occasion but for a bold fighter such as Arc it was a time to show what he could do. He had to have a good send off.
“When will you go? Tonight?” Asked the King
“Tomorrow, first light” Arc’s eyes followed the girl. He needed to rid himself of his lust.
As the feast broke up, he went to her. “Will you lie with me?”
“If my lord wills it” She was untouched, she had the right to refuse but she did not.
In his chamber, her first touch was brutish, urgent, short, painful. She cried a little and he tried not to see. He felt guilty but could not afford to; before the night was out, he had to have emptied his lust; he needed her more times. Five more times in fact. She was painfully sore and bruised from his attention as she sat up and watched him dress in leather walking armour, put his sword in its shoulder sheath and his armour pack on his other shoulder. Then he strode from her, from the chamber and from the castle. He did not ride. Warriors do not ride.
“Did he know, do you think?”
“I’m sure he did not. He is no monster; he simply took a liking to Canh daughter of Arc”
At the border, the fluid border of the North, he did not stop. For many weeks after Arturan warrior class bodies without heads would be found – on the road, outside inns, in fields. An Arturan cannot be welcomed into paradise without his head. His soul resides in his head and if that is lost, so is the soul. This was a deliberate insult to the Arturans. News of his arrival carried, some blustered that they would deal with this man if they met him, some were silent. A wise man knows when to stay silent so people do not know he is a fool.
Twenty bold Arturans fell to his sword, some in combat, some in ambush. He cared little for the method of killing, only that his father’s death was avenged. Then he returned to his own kind and joined the border army; he was no general, but he was a leader by example. Where ever he stood, the soldiers stood more firm.
In time his angry heart found peace and his loins began to re-assert their love of life. He lay with serving wenches or noble wives, he cared little for station, only for sated lust. Then he met Atherni. Atherni, the hostage from the Arturan tribe of Bigonti. They sued for peace to farm their sheep. Atherni, daughter of underKing Makin was given as provenance of their desire for peace. She was of the ebony line. Black and lustrous like the coal from the anthractite mines. Not hard like that though, soft and subtle, sinuous and desirable. Arc knew he could not take her, he had to win her affection.
He wooed her, he gave her flowers, he had a cloak of mitre-wool made for her, green to match her eyes. He gained her friendship and took her, and her retinue, for picnics. This rough warrior was smitten and unafraid to show his love; she was drawn in by such unashamed desire. Their love blossomed together and they coupled and produced a daughter of half each colour. Some called her oak and others teak. He called her a beautiful slice of elm, a varnished brown thing of ineffable beauty. Her mother cried out and bled again, and the bleeding would not stop. It seemed even her night-black skin paled as her life-blood ebbed away. Arc was left with a daughter full of his love, and a heart full of his grief.
She grew well with wet-nurses, and she grew strong. He grew more silent, he loved her dearly but knew he must send her away for safety. With her mother an Arturan, the tribe might one day claim her as their own, as was their right; and without her mother she had no noble protector; Arc was, a warrior, respected, nearly worshipped for his fighting prowess, but not noble.
When she was five he sent her south to the city, to learn to wait on noble ladies, to learn politeness. And to be protected from the Arturan’s, friend or foe.