by Elin Gregory
“Your master has the field for today, but his name, whatever it might be, is without honour.”
Olivier the squire worships the Black Knight and takes a fierce joy in his prowess as he defends a bridge against all comers. Olivier only wishes that his master loved him as much in return, instead of treating him as a servant and occasional plaything.
Then word comes that the King desires to cross the bridge. With an army approaching, a bright eyed archer enticing him to desert and the first cracks beginning to show in the Black Knight’s gruff demeanour, Olivier is left wondering if his honour is worth more than a chance for happiness.
27,000 words / 104 pages
Publication 1 February 2018
“[A]t the top of the genre for me.”
Review by Sammy at The Novel Approach 27 February 2018
Laden with a steaming bucket in one hand and a platter bearing bread, sausage and a jug of wine in the other, Olivier shouldered aside the entrance flap to enter the pavilion. Sir Maheris was still armoured but had removed his helmet and pushed back his coif. His short cap of black hair had spiked up with sweat, and deep lines bracketed his full lips. Maheris had fierce black eyes beneath frowning brows, but Olivier had seen his scowl ease into a gentle smile when he slept. Olivier wondered what dream could put that soft vulnerability on Maheris’s face and prayed one day to see such a smile turned towards him.
But now Sir Maheris was glowering. “You were delayed? The horses ran off? You had a nap? Undo these buckles.”
“Sir?” Olivier put his burdens down and hurried to his side. “Did I fasten them too tightly? Your pardon, sir, I… “
Maheris grunted and raised his left hand, ungauntleted now, to show it bright with blood. “A lucky stroke,” he said. “Reihershof’s point caught a chink in my brassard.”
Olivier’s heart thumped fast as he assisted Maheris. Blood was still dripping, the sharp scent of it mingling with the stench of iron and old sweat from the padded doublet. He set the pieces of armour aside to clean later and eased the doublet over Maheris’s head. The left sleeve of it weighed heavy with blood, and the shirt beneath was sodden. Olivier bit his lip as he eased the clotted fabric away and saw the bright trickle that followed.
“I will need to patch this, sir,” he said, “or the stitching will fret at the wound.”
“Then use a thicker binding on my arm.” Maheris swore, voice muffled as the heavy garment covered his face, and again as Olivier peeled the sweat-soaked shirt from his torso.
“That’s enough,” Maheris said, once he was bare to the waist. His heavy shoulders and chest gleamed with sweat, his skin goosefleshing in the chill air, but he waved Olivier away when he brought Maheris a towel. “Time for that when the wound is sealed,” he said as he took a seat. “You know what to do.”
The wound in his bicep gaped like a hot, wet mouth.
“Is it clean?” Maheris demanded.
Olivier knelt at his master’s side and used a little of the hot water and a clean rag to clean around the gash. More blood ran as he pinched the flesh to search the wound, but it had to be done. There – almost invisible against the flesh – a shred of thread from the torn shirt. Such a thing caused bad humours in a wound, caused it to stink and rot, could cause a limb to blacken, a man to die. Olivier took a silver needle and silk thread. He seared the needle in flame and soaked the thread in spirit. Even in the dimness of the pavilion, the tip of the needle shone bright against the exposed meat of Maheris’s arm. Olivier teased out the shred of fabric, wincing on Maheris’s behalf as the muscle tensed.
“Is it clean?” Maheris’s voice was perhaps a little more peremptory than usual but Olivier still took another close look before replying.
“I … I believe so, sir.”
“Then get on with it.”
Olivier dipped the needle and thread in the spirit again, then closed the wound with three even stitches.
Maheris breathed deeply through his nose, his right hand clenching on the arm of his chair until Olivier was sure the wood would crack, but he made no sound at the bite of the needle. Olivier pushed his hair back from his cheek with his wrist, grimacing at the blood on his hands. A taste of copper hung in the air, mingling with the far more pleasant smell of Sir Maheris’s sweat.
“Done, sir,” he whispered once the final stitch had been tied off, the bandage secured. Maheris was still breathing sharply, his broad chest lifting, belly hollowing with each breath. Olivier eyed him, admiring the smooth lines of his collarbones, the swell of muscle shaded by dark hair, the vulnerable pink of his nipples, but Olivier’s wistful lust was augmented by a little flutter of apprehension. The fight had been won, but only by Reihershof’s withdrawal; he hadn’t been beaten into surrender. The frustration of this was often more than Maheris could bear. At times his temper, often seething, would boil over into rage. He would reject Olivier’s care with cuffs and curses, and send him fleeing. But sometimes his mood demanded another form of release. The unpredictability that brought him glory on the battlefield made him a hard taskmaster. Maheris’s expression gave Olivier no clues, and his apprehension grew as he wavered between getting out of reach and leaning close.
Maheris shifted his left arm, glancing down at the bandaged wound, testing the range of movement, then closed both fists, white-knuckled, on the arms of his chair. Olivier let out a shaky sigh, part relief and part regret, and sat back on his heels. He rolled the scraps of linen bandage and tucked them back into their box, stowed the needle and thread, then reached for the bowl of bloodied water.
Maheris’s sudden movement made him flinch, the bowl rocking, but the big hand seized his shoulder. “God’s teeth,” Maheris groaned, and Olivier’s apprehension turned to excitement.