With the bandits all taken care of, the juniors of Pekot school gathered in the meadow to stand around and stare at the gutshot fellow. Knuckle had made short and horrifying work of the last two bandits in the river with his greatsword, and all the others had the good manners to die of their wounds before the lads got around to checking on them. But this one with Pinch’s arrow in his stomach was not letting them off so easy.
“Fer fuck sakes! Shut up!” Knuckle barked at him.
The young man at their feet, however, continued to writhe around and scream and squeal.
“Honestly, I think it is time for us to kill you, man,” Baron suggested helpfully.
“No! Please! No! Don’t kill me!”
“Why not? Ye can’t walk, and yar not going to recover. And even if ye did, ye’d just be going to the gallows anyway. What’s the use of prolonging it?” Baron continued.
“Please! Mommy! It hurts, mommy! Please help me! I want my mommy!”
“Well, there’s just no reasoning with him, is there?” Baron said.
“Buck up, man! Is this how you want to meet Stron?” Pinch asked earnestly, looking deeply disturbed.
“Okay, fuck this guy. He’s yar kill, so are ye gonna finish him, or what?” Knuckle asked Pinch.
Pinch looked completely at a loss. “I don’t want to do that,” he finally managed.
“Well, okay then. Fuckin pussy,” Knuckle said. He drew his dagger and stabbed the wounded man through the windpipe, severing an artery or two for good measure in doing so.
Choke took a knee by the man and, with his fingers held in a gestured of a blessing, traced a circle with an X in the air over him as he died. Then it was quiet.
“Good idea. Let us pray,” Baron said. He waited until Pinch and Knuckle had joined Choke and him on their knees before he continued:
“Lord Stron, we thank you for delivering these men to us this day. We thank you that we prevailed over them. Please take their wicked souls to your father, Altas, for his judgment. And may Altas have mercy on us all, for we know that Stron, ye shall not. Amen.”
“Amen,” the other three chorused. Then all four traced the circle and X over their own breasts.
“That was fuckin perfect!” Knuckle laughed, clapping Choke on the shoulder as they got to their feet. “How many did we get?”
“I got two. This one here and one over there,” Pinch said, gesturing to another corpse face down in the meadow with an arrow sticking up from between his shoulder blades.
“Likewise. I got two. One with my lance and one by sword as he fled,” Baron said.
“Yeah, and I got them two in the river,” Knuckle said cheerfully. “So, fuck, that means… how many did ye get, Choke?”
“I counted ten total, I’m pretty sure,” Pinch said. “Did ye kill four, Choke?”
Choke shook his head. “No. I took one with my lance, and rode down another. Then, in the river, I killed one more by sword. There was one more there, a scrawny little fellow who ran away upstream.”
“Oh, yeah, that one. So ten it was! Well, I don’t think that one pipsqueak is going to give us any trouble,” Pinch said.
“Not likely,” Baron said. Then he turned and presented his hand to Choke. “So, you are the best of us this day, Choke! Well done!”
Pinch and Knuckle then took a turn shaking Choke’s hand and congratulating him on his win of the kill count.
“Yeah, ye done good, Choke,” Knuckle said to him as they separated. “Yar one of the good ones! Don’t let no one tell ye different, especially not me! Don’t mind all that shit I was talking earlier, man. I was just ornery, that’s all.”
Choke took everything from the lads’ praise to Knuckle’s fucked up attempt at an apology with the same stone-faced stoicism.
“So. Now what?” Pinch asked.
“Perhaps we should bury the bodies,” Choke said.
“Fuck that!” Knuckle exclaimed. “Cleaning shit outta fields is peasants’ work. Let’s just collect their weapons. Then I’m gonna have a nap in that cow shed.”
“That, Knuckle, is the most sensible thing you have said in quite some time,” Baron said.
Sir Gareth was camped with his force in some farm pastures at the mouth of the hollow they had followed the bandits into. Out near the dirt road that accessed the pastures, about a dozen executed bandits were hanged by their necks from nearby trees. The soldiers were bivouacked around the tree line, with Sir Gareth’s large colorful tent out in the field.
The sergeant rode with the Pekot juniors to the tent where Sir Gareth was sitting under its wide awning, drinking beer with his other sergeants. The knight was a large, robust, handsome man in the prime of his life with a tendency to joviality that could cloud over to anger suddenly.
When the sergeant dismounted to salute Sir Gareth, the Pekot boys followed suit with formal bows.
“Ah! Monk boys! Welcome back!” Sir Gareth boomed cheerfully. “Anything to report?” he asked his sergeant.
“Actually, yes. A small squad of bandit stragglers made it through the ravine on foot. These lads killed nine of them. One escaped, apparently.”
“Is that so? Well, well done, lads! Well done! A fine show!” Sir Gareth said, rising to his feet to shake their hands and jostle them cheerfully. Then he turned back to his seated men:
“Who’d have thought the monk boys would have come through so well in a pinch, eh?”
“Well, they are junior Brothers of the Holy Stone, so not such a surprise, really,” said Sir Gareth’s master sergeant.
“True. True. Steady and deadly as they come, the Holy Stoners. This is true,” Sir Gareth conceded seriously. He then turned back to the lads: “Well! Good show all around, boys! Ye did well. From start to finish. Obedient. Disciplined. Hard-working. And, it turns out, deadly! It almost makes me regret having gone to such lengths to keep you all out of harm’s way. I needn’t have bothered, eh?”
At this revelation, Knuckle shifted his weight and grunted as he stifled a curse. Sir Gareth took note. He gave Knuckle a smirk and skipped in to give him a playful jab to the shoulder.
“Ah, you didn’t appreciate that, did you? Good man. I understand exactly your feeling. I was the same way when I was your age. But, as capable as you all clearly are, you are also Church lads. And if there is one principle in life and leadership that I never deviate from, it is to stay clear of the Church and their business. The last thing I need is a dead or injured Church lad on my watch.”
Sir Gareth returned to his camp chair and picked up his beer stein as he sat down.
“So, that is that, then! Your duty done, you can return to your monastery,” Sir Gareth continued. “But, tonight, feel free to stay here and celebrate with my lads. The brigands had rather a nice hideout up there, it turns out. With beer and rustled livestock. So, we are partaking tonight. You are most welcome to join us. The beef should be ready shortly.”
The four Pekot juniors issued their thanks as they gave Sir Gareth another bow.
“Sergeant,” Sir Gareth addressed the man who had fetched the lads from the stream. “See to it these men get everything they need tonight. Of beef and brew they should want for nothing. But. You keep them out of those goat sheds up in the hollow there. These are Church lads, so I’ll not have their corruption weighing down our accounts. Tonight, sergeant, you are their shepherd.”
“All right then, lads. Good show! Off with you! You have my leave to depart whenever you will tomorrow. Tell your abbot, or senior brother, or whatever, that I am most grateful for all your help. Further, once you are released from that cloister of yours, if the Brothers care not to take you on, or you them, do seek me out. I always have use of capable men-at-arms such as yourselves. That is all. Dismissed.”
The Pekot juniors tended their horses and set up a basic camp for themselves in the trees before going to fill themselves with spit-roasted beef and pork and good, strong ale. Their chaperone, Sergeant Murray, shadowed them in a relaxed fashion and did not interfere with them enjoying themselves with the soldiers.
However, even if Sir Gareth had not alerted them to it with his assignment of Murray, it soon would have been obvious to the lads that there was something more going on in camp that night. Small groups of soldiers would come and go up into the hollow, and were not entirely subtle about what they were doing there.
“Yeah, there’s fucking going on up in that holler!” Knuckle reported to the other three at their camp. He had just returned after attempting to follow some soldiers up.
“Oh, no shit?” Pinch said. “Man, that was quick! Ye finished even faster that I figured ye would!”
“Fuck you! Couldn’t get anywhere near it. That asshole Murray has an eagle eye, the prick!”
“As well he should,” Baron said. “And shame on you for trying!”
“Oh, fuck off. Did ye hear what I said? There’s fucking going on up there! And we’re missing it!”
“No. We are not missing it, Knuckle. We are enjoying some well-earned good food, good drink, and good company after a day of righteous action. As is good and proper for junior Brothers of the Holy Stone and virtuous Stronians. What you are missing, young man, is a mortal sin!” Baron said, waving his beer stein above his head like a senior Brother with a Holy Book at pulpit, his tone an utter mockery.
Pinch doubled up and rolled over in gales of laughter, spilling the rest of his beer. “Oh! Ye have Brother Willem exact!” he finally gasped.
When things had settled, Choke, who had drunk only a little, cut in:
“I don’t suppose it has occurred to anyone that whatever is going on up there is most likely rape.”
“Oh, great, here he goes,” Pinch muttered.
“Rape!” Knuckle exclaimed. “Rape? Bullshit it is. Bandit camp followers is what they got up there in them goat sheds. Hoors. So what’s the difference to them if it’s a bandit or a soldier on top of them?”
“Whatever arrangement they might have had with the bandits is immaterial. If ye come into possession of a flogged horse, is then flogging it yourself more or less a cruelty?” Choke said.
Knuckle scoffed. “Whatever. It’s yar horse to do with as ye will. Bandit hoors get what’s coming to them. And it’ll be a far easier than what their men got.”
“Well, hanging is a punishment in law. Rape is not. So there is a world of difference there. By your way of thinking, it is only assault if the victim’s social status is high enough to qualify them as human. But we know we are all children of Altas under the eyes of Stron.”
“Fuck, Choke, yar like a stuttering monk with this shit!” Knuckle laughed. “What I’m fucking saying is, alls I’m saying, is that I wish I was up in that holler fuckin. That’s it! Why ye gotta go and turn everything into a Holy Book sermon? Who are ye, Brother Simon over here? Next ye’ll be calling me a sodomite.”
“Well if the shoe fits,” Baron said.
“I don’t think it was a shoe he was thinking about fitting into,” Pinch quipped.
Everyone but Choke had a good laugh at this. When that had settled, Baron continued:
“It’s an interesting thought, though. Sodomy with shoes, I mean. Brother Simon has warned us against all manner of sodomy. Oral sodomy, buggerative sodomy, pederastic sodomy, bestial sodomy, autoerotic sodomy. Am I forgetting any?”
“Vaginal sodomy,” Pinch answered.
“Ah, yes. Of course. Vaginal sodomy. How could I have forgotten that gem. I could never get my head around that one,” Baron said.
“It is quite simple,” Choke answered. “Vaginal sodomy is vaginal intercourse for any purpose other than procreation.”
“There ye go! Recite the lesson, chapter and verse! Good boy!” Knuckle shouted at Choke.
“I understand the reasoning, just not the classification. Wouldn’t fornication be a more appropriate label?” Baron asked.
Pinch answered this:
“Not for Brother Simon! For you see, when you are properly moved by the spirit of Altas, every hole is an anus!”
This one generated even more laughter than his last, from some of the nearby soldiers as well as Baron and Knuckle.
“Don’t be blasphemous,” Choke snapped.
“How could a simple rephrasing of Brother Simon’s position be blasphemous?” asked Pinch.
“The words are of no matter. Your intention in speaking them foundations the sin.”
“What a good boy ye are, Choke! Chapter and verse. Chapter and verse,” Knuckle laughed.
“And you, Knucklehead, are bound for hell with the road yar on.”
“I think we have lost sight of the bigger picture here,” Baron interjected. “The shoes! To get back to the shoes. With all the forms of sodomy that Brother Simon has warned us against, I think he’s missed a trick by not railing against the perils of sex with footwear. After all, shoes and boots are everywhere, and they are, after all, dank, smelly things with holes.”
“So ye’d fuck a boot, would ye?” Knuckle asked Baron.
Pinch fielded this one: “Knuckle, ye ask that question as though ye haven’t done it yarself. Probably multiple times this week. And why would Baron do that when yar horse has been here with us all this time?”
“Why? Because Brother Simon told us all about that bestial sodomy, but never said nothing about us not fuckin a boot!” Knuckle roared with laughter as he finished.
“Good point,” Baron conceded when Knuckle had settled down. “But, what to call it, though? Pedestrial sodomy?”
“No, that would be sodomy pertaining to the feet themselves,” Pinch countered.
“Cobbler’s sodomy!” Baron exclaimed.
Pinch nodded sagely at this to give it his measured approval. Then he added:
“Cobbler’s sodomy. Exactly. Also commonly known in the trade as leather tenderizing.”
Having run everything to ground, the lads left Pinch with the final word on it as they laughed and laughed.
“Yar all on the road to hell,” Choke said quietly. Then he rolled himself up in his cloak and lay down to go to sleep.