Matthias would often watch me and the novices while we were about our chores. He would lean against the wall surrounding the training yard, gauntleted arms crossed over burnished chest plate, staring as we sweated in the sun. Sometimes he would grin wolfishly at a novice, or whisper into another’s ear. Whatever was said would make the boy’s face blanch, but most had the good sense not to make a fuss. The older ones seemed to know better and always found chores to do wherever he wasn’t. In any case he seemed far less interested in them. He did however seem fixated on me and another boy, a slight, fair skinned blonde boy who looked about my twelve years of age. I never spoke to him, or any of the other boys, as I was not permitted, but he seemed to possess a sweet, if pious disposition.
It was an unusually hot summer when things started to get worse. Most of the knights were absent, off defending their god’s name against the followers of another, even going well, and that the fight could soon be brought to our city. Most of the priests spent their days in heated arguments. Some proclaimed that (?) had deserted us, and only sacrifice and penance would save us from torture and death. Others said that leaving the city, or even converting was the way out. Either way, trouble was imminent, and everyone was on edge.
The blonde boy and I were cleaning the stables that day. It was a sweltering afternoon. Both of us were stripped down to our undergarments in a vain attempt to keep cool. We worked without speaking, our breathing laboured with the effort of drawing in the heavy air and the rank scent of horse droppings.
The blonde boy brushed down the horses while I laid down new straw. He whistled a ditty while he worked, a short, sharp tune I had never heard, but nonetheless had a familiar, almost reassuring quality. My cheeks stretched with the strange sensation of a smile. I glanced over at the boy. He caught my glance, and smiled in return, not missing a note. I quickly looked away, red-cheeked, and redoubled my efforts with the rake and straw.
The stables doors opened with a slow creak, flooding the the room with the harsh orange light of the setting sun