18 Beautiful fools - 1213
My soldiers charged, were stricken down, retreated, and advanced once more. The gruesome dance of battle, whose victims remained lying on the ground with wide, broken eyes. Tar covered their arrow-stricken bodies as their flesh was put aflame in mockery. The stench travelled over the plains and would likely be detectable till days after the fact.
They burned. They burned and I quivered.
"Your majesty!" I turned to see Auguste ducking a shot. The broad-shouldered man hauled himself down beside me, "you are hurt."
"I am well," I tried to shift away, so my strained expression might be less in sight.
"You should fall back. Why did you take of your helmet?"
"No," I involuntarily glanced towards the fallen men upon the grass.
"You are wounded."
"I am fine!"
"It remains dangerous if not cared for properly!"
I hiccuped, swallowed heavily and scoffed, though my voice wavered, "I can still yield my sword and ride should the need arise. I am able to give orders until the battle ends."
Auguste shook his head. "You will pass out, I've seen it before. Do you still bleed?"
An arrow hit the statue above us, the claw of the stone lion mangling into jagged chunks. Auguste pulled me by my arms and pushed my back fully against the statue, "stay here."
"What are –"
"Stay here and put the goddamn helmet back on!"
However, I moved away before the man may protest. I ran along the vegetation and into the regiment lines hiding behind an uneven low mount in the terrain. The cut stabbed in protest at any movement but I paid it no heed as I looked for Phillip and Louis among the men.
A soldier fell onto my path, spots of red forming on his upper thigh, where an arrow was buried up to the feathers. I darted around him almost apologetically, as I was unable to help him.
"Phillip!" I said as I spotted my second in command, "what of the advance?"
A hand pushed hard against my wound, making me cry out. I turned to see Auguste with a hump of fabric - the severed ensign of his massive spear - pressed against my shoulder, preventing any continuous flow of blood. I frowned but Auguste solely glared back, holding his hand persistently over the wound.
"We might breach their walls," Phillip said as he came up to us. Another arrow flew overhead.
"Minutes, depending on them. Where is your helmet?"
"Where is Louis?"
"He has taken some troops to the other side, we closed off all possible escape," Phillip's cold gaze hit Auguste. "Where's his helmet?"
I turned my attention back to the small castle as Phillip berated Auguste. My enemy was right there. Was he regarding us from behind those stone walls? Was he frightened? Had he accepted his defeat? I had been waging war against him for long, yet I had never paused to reflect on how he might reason, how he might think when he saw my army before his gates. If only he had retreated to a more durable fortress, he might have bested us, but over time we had steadily cut him off from his allies.
"We should fall back," Auguste grabbed my hand and placed it where his own had been, "follow me."
The urge to object arose again, but this time Phillip was quick to intervene;
"He is quite right," and upon seeing my brief glance towards the dead men behind his back the older man laid a hand upon my head, "please get treated, your majesty, lest you end up like them."
His bluntness startled me, but I complied. Following Auguste, who immediately issued for a doctor upon our arrival, I let myself be guided along. Nausea overcame me. The horizon blurred before my eyes and I ought to have fainted regardless of my attempts to remain upright. Luckily, my observant guard noticed and subtly guided me to sit while a surgeon approached us.
Auguste and a page helped me out of my harness. I inhaled sharply as my shoulders were released of the heavy metal and the fabric clotted within the cut was removed. The doctor positioned himself behind me and laid a hand upon my exposed shoulder. The heated needle sank through the edges of the wound, where raw flesh met skin and brought them together with a cautious pull.
The man's hand was steady, though he lingered, and as the surgeon was finishing his work, a messenger wearing Phillip' insigne trod up to us and informed me of our victory. I rejoiced and almost rose, yet the surgeon clicked his tongue and the grip on my shoulder hardened, prompting me to stay seated.
It took some time for Phillip and his men to return, and I wished to inquire after Otto IV, yet the Grand Duke of Palearia promptly dismounted, indirectly avoided my questions and guided me towards my tent.
"We rounded up the remaining men," he began, loosening his helmet, "yet Otto IV is nowhere to be found."
"What do you mean?" I said as Louis entered from behind me. I looked back and forth between the two of them.
"It is as he said, your majesty," the duke of Bavaria pulled back a chair and slumped down on it, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, "he isn't among the men, nor is he in the castle."
"How can you be sure?" My breath hitched. The two older men before me shared a look, an unspoken conversation that I didn't comprehend, yet infuriated me all the more; "where is he?"
"Only God knows at this point," Louis tilted a lonesome cup on the table as to check whether it contained any leftover liquid.
"Please, be reasonable, your majesty."
"Damn the lot of you!"
Phillip rapidly walked up to me and clasped my shoulders.
"Where is he!" I shouted in his face.
"Calm yourself," he grasped the back of my neck - scarcely avoiding my wound - and guided me towards the seat next to Louis's, but I was not to be calmed. I escaped his hold and rounded the table.
"Set fire to the estate! I will smoke him out!"
"He isn't in the castle, we would have found him, I assure you!"
"Where is he! Where is the damned man?"
"I got word he was sighted fleeing towards Flanders," a voice made our heads turn towards the entrance as Auguste let the fabric close behind him. I stilled in a mere moment.
"He never passed trough Konstanz," Auguste said.
A diversion. We lost a day, so the usurper might flee. The words fell like the blow from an axe. 'We can outplay him,' Phillip had said when we had ridden out that morning. It occurred to me, chillingly, that this chance had evaporated.
As logements within the newly occupied castle were prepared for me, I received a notice that Julius was being detained in one of the rooms. Several soldiers had already been posted in the corridors and I kept on walking down the line of doors, hearing arguments in the background, mingling with the whinny of horses from outside. A shout overlapped them;
"I beg you to remain-"
I sped up, all but throwing open the door on my left and halted in the middle of the entrance. The scene before me was to be called comical, were it not for the bloodied rags. A man held Julius by his shoulders on the bed, while another stood by a basin, washing the blood off his hands. My friend lifted his head upon recognising my voice. His harness had been removed, as had his chain mail and shirt. I saw a gash on his biceps and his temple, which had left blood on his eyebrow. Having discovered the cut on his ribcage, I took my concern out on the man at the basin.
"Is it grave?"
"Yes," the man said, drying off his hands and looking momentarily at the pale figure on the bed.
"Hell and damnation- I'm fine!" Julius said.
"He was almost cut in two."
"I'm still alive, aren't I?"
"You believe you need an arrow or spear sticking out of your body to be injured?"
"I am well enough," Julius turned to me, the skin around his eyes red, his blond locks appeared dark as they stuck to his forehead. I took place on his bedside and helped him in an upwards position.
"Axe or sword?"
"Sword. Barely touched me."
"Barely? If I were to let go now, you would fall back."
He leaned forward, slowly and with strain, supporting himself on his elbow. He reached out and placed a hand on my cheek. He sighed, "I am fine. I shall recover."
I turned away from his hand, gripped the edge of the bed and dismissed the men tending to him with a wave of my hand.
"It could have been far worse."
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"Cut it out."
"Shut up, I'm worried, you bastard."
"You're injured yourself."
"A scratch? I bet you cried and panicked like-"
"I did not!" I pushed him, softly, playfully, yet too hard for his state. He gave a cry and fell back. I cursed, while Julius merely regarded me, his expression soft and collected, though I could still see the strain that laid behind his eyes.
"Cut in two and nigh beheaded, aren't we two beautiful fools?" He said.
"We should form a union."
"I should rise."
"Julius," I leaned in closer, the sheets shifting under me, "you will not."
He did not protest. I slid my hand up to the bruise on his side - he watched and waited. I pulled back and rose from his bedside, bidding him to sleep.
Upon leaving Julius's chamber, I received two letters. Recognising the proficient hand of my wife and the elegant strokes of the lovely Adelaine, I sought out a quiet corner within the modest library of the estate. Decency urged me to read my wife' words first, though I was restive to finish her letter. Updates on the court of Sicily were not of an abundant nature and soon my eyes wandered towards the letter of the lady Urselingen.
During the months in which I had occupied the south of Germany, we had frequently exchanged informal pleasantries. I had come to know her as a charming woman, who never failed to lighten my mood. Quite early I had come to the realisation that she was fairly headstrong, as she never altered her ideals, no matter the profound discussions we had.
Ideas and concepts one would normally cautiously entrust to paper, she would gladly bestow onto me - and I onto her. It was as if we were old acquaintances, and an intimacy, a mutual understanding, was established between us, alike in character and kind.
So as the sun was setting on another battle filled day, I smiled and opened the parchment with a flutter lingering in my heart.