Journal of a Paladin
Episode V: Black
By Matt “Mattü!” Fleming
A.K.A. the Cheddar Paladin
Entry #5 – The Eighth of November in the Year Sixteen Hundred and Ninety-seven
I try to forget that first day of training. Like most “first days” it was more of a test to see what we already knew and find out just how hard we could be pushed before breaking down, then doubling the intensity of that limit. It was not fun. I don’t remember what drills we did that day or even if I did well on any of them. I try to think of it and I only remember that during the sessions, I just did whatever Sir Chesley told me to do, ignoring all outside distractions and performing to the best of my abilities. Aside from my monotonous approach to training, I remember the feeling that night of total exhaustion and the soreness of waking up the next day to do it all over again. Now, that was worse than the day before. Exponentially worse. Of that day, I remember about the same monotony, yet three times the strain on my body. Sleep came easy that day as well. They were the blackest two days of my training.
We had a day off on the third day. It was Sunday. A cloudy Sunday and it very well could have snowed that day, and it would have been just my luck to have to go back to training on a snowy field, marching through slush, mud, and sweat. Luckily, it was early enough in autumn so that it wasn’t cold enough yet to keep snow on the ground and it never was during my nine-week basic training period, though we did have to go out in the rain a few times. Not pleasant.
That day, I slept in like I had never slept in before. It must have been midday before I arose. I was happy to see that Jordan was just getting up as well. It wouldn’t seem right if he had gotten up before me or vice versa. So I rose and opened the door to see the gray clouds covering the sky. Jordan and I got to talking about where we could get lunch and he told me of a tavern a few blocks away that served him a savory plate of cheese melted cattlecut and a tempting slice of cran-grape pie for a generous price. The idea of a meal like that cut deep into my stomach which in turn told my legs to take a walk to that tavern.
So, Jordan and I walked down the empty, slummy street a few blocks and came to a surprisingly well-kept looking tavern by the name of the Black Stop. Contradicting the look of the rest of the street, the building looked to be composed of a dark wood and an almost charcoal looking stone. The sign was more than a plain wooden board with the title carved into it; it was actually an artistically designed engraving with the letters painted black with a red outline bordering each letter. A marvelous work of art indeed.
We entered the Black Stop and I looked at the interior. The first point of interest was its vastness. At least it seemed vast in the middle of the day with few customers. Everything was made of the same dark wood used in the framework of the exterior. It looked almost gray but there was a hint of brown visible. The stage was the obvious attraction, being right in the central point of view from the doorway. It was large enough for a choir or a band but not so large that a single performer would look lost if he were on stage alone. The bar seemed to be the default place to be served but there were tables that a wench was serving to out on the floor. The bar stools were padded with quite comfortable dark red leather and the counter was finished in a cherry like color. There were no windows in the tavern except in the entry door so the room was alight with oil lanterns and stayed really well lit at all hours of the day.
However gothic the joint appeared, the customers and the service seemed happy enough. The wench served those at the tables with a smile and a low cut black dress that emphasized the right places, which helped make said table-dwellers happy. The food was prepared very clean, not sloppily prepared or hurried. All the drinking glasses were spotless and clear. The barkeep was exceptionally polite and enjoyable. Upon seeing us walk in, he waved at us and asked, “G’dafter noon, boyos! Ah, Mr. Hoffburg, pleasure t’be seein’ ya again. How can I bein’ of service to th’ two o’ ya’s?”
Jordan replied, “Hey, Seamus. We’re here for my usual.”
The barkeep hollered to the kitchen, “Maggie! Two cheesy cattlecuts with some o’ yer cran-grape pie!”
The cook shouted back, “Ain't got no cran-grape today, Seamus! Only cherry, blueberry, blackberry, and cranberry!”
“Blackberry sounds nice,” I implied.
Jordan agreed and said, “Sure does. We’ll have that.”
Seamus ordered to the cook, “Make that two slices of blackberry, Maggie!”
“Alrighty! I’ll whip all that up in a jiff for ya’s!” came the response from the kitchen.
So we waited for our food with anticipation. Blackberry sounded really good, though not as tempting as cran-grape. The last time I had cran-grape pie was on my most recent birthday at that time made by my grandmother. It was simply scrumptious as only a pie made with love could have been. And it was indeed made with love. My grandmother and I, her living on our estate, were closer than most family members separated by a generation. I learned a lot of music from her and I learned the importance of faith from her. She had always been motivating me to do what I feel is right and she showed the most support for any decision that I made. She never discriminated between me and my brother despite his age. For all of that, I’m very grateful to have been able to spend as much time with her. I really should have spent even more.
The food came and went quickly. It was good and it was more importantly inexpensive, a few coins for a slab of meat the size of half the plate it was served on and just as thick and a satisfying slice of sweet blackberry pie. I was destined to be a regular here even before I knew of the occurrences that took place at night.
Jordan and I departed the Black Stop after our lunch and he showed me some of the sights of Winguard. He’d been there some time before I arrived so he had the opportunity to take in the beauty of the central parts of the city. There were many statues peppered throughout the city, all of them bearing information about the individual immortalized in the marble, bronze, or bluestone before us.
One of the more memorable stories attached to a statue of bluestone was of a man named Jacques de Fromage, a captain of the original Winguard Navy (WNW) before Tenguard was established. He was the first captain of an airship of Winguard. Before the Winguard Air Navy (WAN) was established, the airships flew under command of the WNW. Captain Fromage was in charge of the ship W.A.S. Cloudwake and it was a huge ship. While the actual hull of the ship wasn’t much larger than a sea ship, the mass of the propulsion machines were almost as large as the hull if combined. The “propulsors” in those days were mostly large rotating blades on all sides of the ship and also lining the immense wings on both flanks of the ship. There was an engraving on the pedestal of the statue that illustrated what the W.A.S. Cloudwake looked like. It was amazing yet almost silly compared to our modern airships.
We went back to the Black Stop later that night. It was filled considerably more than at lunch time. On stage there was a lute performer dressed all in black and he stood tall with a very sincere and honest look to him. The sound that came from his lute was steady and rhythmic. Powerful yet simple, not melodic like most minstrels of the day. His voice demanded attention and it received plenty as the entire room was quiet while he sang yet applauded graciously after each song was through. His words reflected the thoughts of many of the people in the room. They referred to the current state of the kingdom, how times were bad and why his appearance was as dark as it was. He told great stories about love, death, and faith.
The most interesting feature about him was that he carried an elaborate longsword on his belt. The hilt resembled a cross and it was completely black. The blade was contrastingly bright white and looked similar to a nail in the way it was tapered. I wondered what kind of minstrel wandered with such an interesting blade. Were his songs of murder and prison true? Maybe they were, but I don’t think they were of his own experiences.
Finally, my curiosity got the best of me, and I whispered to the barkeep, “Who is the melancholy man on stage?”
“Aye, that be Jean le Noir,” whispered back Seamus, “Th’ lad is interestin’, aye?”
“Very much so,” I agreed.
I would eventually get to meet Jean le Noir in person one day and find out just how real his stories were. But that night, after a few mugs of chilled tea, Jordan and I returned to our apartment so we could wake up on time for our next day of training. My dreams that night were of an amazing airship in the sky and I could see a man in black staring off the bow. In his hands was a longsword and its white blade was coated from hilt to tip in brilliant flames. Also present on that ship was a man in a poncho wielding a red staff, a roguish man in blue and red, a girl with a feline tail and ears, the explosive lad from Millket, and a scruffy fellow playing a lute.
At that time, I had no idea what that dream meant. Maybe it was just the tea taking effect on my mind. I could only see the individuals from afar, so other than some obvious traits, I could not tell who they were. Or exactly what they looked like. Strangely enough, I was not present on the ship.