A Young Man from Elginshire

Three pigs wallowed in the mud, squealing as they fought for the deepest, coolest spot. Milkmaids carried buckets of sloshing milk back to the kitchen to make butter and cream. Workers tended to the fields, their skin sun-darkened and leathery from years out in the elements.

Stout green trees surrounded the manor house, and lined the road that led to it. In the background the blue-gray peaks of the Blue Mountains rose high into the sky.

“Liam! Vincent! Aiden! Get back to the house! It is time for your lessons!” The live-in tutor was plain, with a matronly figure. When she got no response, and did not see any of her three students, she stomped her foot heavily and went back into the manor house.

Young Aiden giggled. “I thought she saw us for a moment there!”

Liam sneered. “That fat cow can’t see over the fat of her cheeks.”

Vincent punched Liam’s arm. “That’s not kind.”

Liam rubbed where he was punched. “Well, She’s not kind!”

The three brothers were hiding in the hay loft of one of the dairy barns, peeking out of the small swinging door through which hay was loaded. It was one of their favorite hiding places when escaping their schooling or other duties.

Liam was nearly 18 years old, and would soon go off to study at the Imperial University of Feron...or perhaps the Lordly Academy in Jacobe. It had not been decided by their father, Eden, yet.  Liam would eventually become Lord of Elginshire in the Imperial Province of Gwent.

Vincent was 16, and a few inches taller than his older brother...but definitely thinner, his age not having caught up with his latest growth spurt.  As the second son, Vincent's future was uncertain.

Aiden was the baby, at 12 years old. Though his brothers had always treated him well. He was a good-natured lad. With little of Liam’s mean-streak, and none of Vincent’s need to defend others from harm or bullying.

Liam gave Vincent a playful shove. “Let’s spend the afternoon in the Dorcha Fens. Exploring...digging for old sacrifices!”

Aiden giggled. “Yes! Let’s go treasure-hunting in the fens!”

Vincent shook his head. “You guys go without me. I have arms training with Caiptein Findlay. I don’t mind skipping out on my reading lessons, but I can’t skip out on the Caiptein.”

Liam nodded, a look of appreciation on his face. “Good...good on you Vincent. When I am Lord of our lands, I’ll need a good commander for the men. You may serve well if you keep up on your training.”

Vincent gave a polite smile. He was used to Liam bringing up the fact that as eldest son, he would be the Lord someday. And he was used to Liam rubbing it in that Vincent would be work for him. He was used to it...but he did not like it. Vincent did not want to spend his life commanding men to fight and die. He did not want to spend evenings in a barracks. And as much as he loved his brother Liam, he did not want to live under him as Lord. Their father Eden, with his dry wit and merciless nature, was challenging enough as Lord. Vincent worried for what sort of leader Liam would become.

“If I get done early, I’ll catch up with you two down in the fens. Otherwise, I’ll see you tonight!” Vincent jumped down from the loft, onto a stack of hay bales, and ran toward the training grounds.

As Vincent approached the sparring circle, he saw Caiptein Findlay was geared up in training armor, and was fighting three men similarly outfitted. The Caiptein would gesture for one of them to attack, and once he had repelled the man, he would signal for the next to charge. And this round-robin training continued while Vincent watched.

The Caiptein gestured for all three men to attack at once. They looked one to the other, and then advanced as a group, flanking the experienced fighter. The man-at-arms on the left, attacked...but the Caiptein redirected his momentum past himself, toward the man-at-arms on the right. The man in the center was blocked by this movement across, and the Caiptein waited for the path to clear, and then put the center man straight onto his ass.

Vincent laughed. He had seen this sort of training before, and he knew the Caiptein’s moves pretty well. So, he was pretty sure what was coming next.

With a series of parries and dodges, the Caiptein allowed the increasingly frustrated men-at-arms to miss him, and hit each other instead.  It was a technique he called the Fankle.  This went on for a minute or so, and despite the heavy padding, all three men were staggering a bit and were worse for wear by the time the Caiptein ended the exercise. “Braw fight men! Toby...you almost had me there at the end. Let’s keep working on your footwork, and tomorrow I’ll teach you how to watch for where I will be in a second or two, rather than where I am when you start your swing.”

The three men gathered their gear, and walked back toward the barracks. The Caiptein removed his helmet, and looked toward Vincent. “You are early, young Vincent. I believe you should be in your reading lesson about now.”

Vincent shuffled his feet. “I’m not going to that today.”

“Did Ms. Eloise cancel your lesson...or are you and your loons skipping lessons again?”

Vincent smiled. “How can we speak of skipping lessons, if I’m here...right now...ready for a lesson from you?”

The Captain wiped the sweat off his face, and pushed back his damp blond hair. Findlay was a bachelor, and his good looks and dangerous reputation ensured he rarely slept alone. And never with the same woman twice in a row. He grinned. “Touche. A lesson it shall be. Get geared up, young man. It is clear I’ll have to beat some sense into you.”

Vincent ran to get his gear from a chest under an eve at the barracks. He was having trouble forgetting Liam’s latest attempt to get under his skin. Talk of Liam’s eventual Lordship, always had an underlying meaning. Vincent, as second born, mattered very little. He would get no real title of substance. His inheritance and stipend would be enough to sustain him, but little more. He would be a mere ornament in his brother’s court at Elginshire.

Caiptein Findlay seemed to sense his students distracted mind. “What troubles you, Vincent? You seem out-of-sorts.”

“Nothing you haven’t heard before, Caiptein. I know the path that is set before me, and I don’t like it. It isn’t me. It isn’t what I want. But, I know the role I must play. The role my family needs me to fill, as the dutiful younger brother to the new Lord. I know these things, but I struggle with it. More and more, I struggle with it.”

Caiptein Findlay flipped his wooden sword a full rotation and caught it with a flourish. “Vincent, do you consider yourself a man of action? I know you are young, but it is time you decide who you are. Who you are going to be.. So, I ask you, do you consider yourself a man-of-action?”

Vincent stood there with is training gear on. His helmet under his left arm, and his wooden sword held in his right. “Yes. I guess. Yes...that is what I want to be. That is who I want to be.”

Caiptein Findlay nodded slowly. “Then stop worrying. Stop fretting. Stop regretting.  The only sin is to not choose...to not act on your own will” Findlay threw on his helmet, and raised his sword. “Act, Vincent!  Whatever you do, you must ACT!”

The two trained that day until Vincent’s training gear was soaked, and he could barely lift his sword. They spoke not another word during their sparring, and both trainer and student walked away bruised and a little wiser. But, from that day forward, Vincent’s world changed. It opened up. Its possibilities were laid bare. And he would not stay in Elginshire to become his brother’s shadow. He would leave to see the world.


    • Mark Stinson

      There's a few odd words of Scottish slang in there, for the province of Gwent is very similar to Scotland.  A loon is a boy.  A Caiptein is a Captain.  To Fankle is to entangle.  And Braw means excellent, or epic.  Just FYI.   :-)