Silent Knight; Alexander – Elizabeth Rose

Peter Mowbray died the day he was born. However, as of a minute ago, he’d just been brought back to life. Or, at least, that was what Alexander Masterson thought his dying father had whispered to him on his deathbed. This was not turning out to be a very happy holiday at all. It was less than a week before Christmas and Alex’s life was turning upside down. “Father, what did you just say?” Alex leaned over the bed to listen, thinking Crandell Masterson had gone delirious from his illness these past few days. Perhaps, the man’s high fever had taken control of his mind. How could a baby die and then be reborn twenty-two years later? “Leave us,” his father called out to the healer that was across the room. He dismissed the woman, barely able to lift his hand because he was so weak. Alex and his father resided in a small cottage constructed of wattle and daub in the south of Devon. The house was very small and only had one room. It wouldn’t have mattered if the room was larger because there was just the two of them, and they never stayed in one place very long. They recently moved here after traveling through Spain, Italy, France, and even the Holy Lands. Because of always traveling, they never stayed in one place long enough to make friends. Then again, mercenaries didn’t have friends.

Alexander looked over his shoulder at the healer and nodded, letting her know it was all right to leave. “But Master Alexander,” said the woman. “Your father is old and frail and very ill. He shouldn’t be left alone.” Crandell coughed and struggled to sit up in bed. “I might be old, and there is no denying I’m about to draw my last breath, but damned if anyone has ever referred to me as frail!” His eyes narrowed to mere slits and his face turned bright red. Crandell Masterson’s stubborn pride would keep him grouchy until the minute death claimed him. He had once been a guard for Baron Mowbray and resided at Framlingham Castle. The man was courageous and had emotions made of steel. To see him losing control was something Alex was not accustomed to.

“Margaret, there is no need to stay.” Alex pushed himself up from the bedside chair, taking a moment to stretch his bad leg before he tried to walk. One too many times, he’d moved quickly and ended up on the floor because of a cramp in his twisted limb. But the disability he’d been born with had turned out to be an advantage in their line of work. His stealth, and being able to catch others by surprise because of his condition, is what helped them make most of their money over the years. Alex was a mercenary, trained by his father to be naught more than a paid assassin. Alex scooped one of his last coins from his waist pouch and held it out to the old woman. “Thank you for your care, but you are no longer needed.” “But he’s dying,” protested the woman, not wanting to leave. “Exactly.

” Alex pressed the coin into the old woman’s palm and nodded. “Thank you, Margaret, for your excellent service. I am only sorry I cannot pay you more.” “Get out of here, you old crone!” shouted Crandell from the bed. “You are taking precious moments of my life that I could be talking to my boy. Now, go!” “Thank you,” Alex told the woman, keeping his voice calm and gentle so as not to scare her. His subdued nature and controlled emotions helped to make him successful at his profession. Margaret plucked the coin from his hand and shoved it down her bodice. She complained as she collected her things. “Fine.

I’ll leave you to your misery. Let the old bat die, what do I care? He’s never been kind to me in the past week the way you have, Master Alexander. You are always gentle and kind and very polite. Your father, on the other hand, is a shrewd cur. I’ve known him for only a sennight, and that was a week too long. I feel sorry for you that you have to live with such a beast.” She stacked the poultices and herbal ointments into a basket and quickly covered it with a cloth. The room was cold and dank with only a small fire in the hearth that threatened to extinguish at any minute. The winter wind whipped against the small cottage and rattled the latched shutters, doing very little to keep out the cold. Alex shivered but, at the same time, sweat beaded on his brow.

With both windows bolted closed, there wasn’t enough circulation to blow away the scent of death that hung over his father in a dark shadow. “Margaret, he’s my father,” said Alex, escorting the woman to the door. He limped as he crossed the floor, his twisted leg hurting like the devil. His father often told him that when he was born, he wasn’t expected to live. His leg always hurt when the weather changed – even more so when it snowed or rained. “Thank you, Margaret, and Godspeed.” Alex waited until he saw the old woman climb aboard her wagon and take the reins of her horse. She held her cloak tightly closed, trying to keep warm as she battled the elements. Once he was satisfied that she was secure, he quietly closed the door and turned around. “Oh!” he shouted, jumping backward when he found his father standing right behind him.

The man had been too weak to get out of bed for the past sennight, but now he stood there tall and proud as if he were having a last surge of energy before he departed from this world. With Alex’s balance thrown off by his surprise, he stumbled and had to catch himself on a nearby chair. But the chair tipped, and Alex ended up on the ground. “Get up and act like the nobleman you are,” growled his father. “I have something you need to know before I die, Peter.” “Peter? Noble?” Alex questioned, shaking his head and pushing up to his good knee. “Father, lie back down. You’ve gone delirious. My name is Alex, and we are not noblemen. We are naught but stinking mercenaries, killing on command to earn our daily bread.

” “Nay, it’s not true. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Your birthday . it is in the summer. But by telling you the truth . you are reborn today.” The surge of energy seemed to leave. His father reached back and collapsed atop a chair. He laid his head on the table. The small flame flickered in the hearth, throwing eerie shadows over his father’s face.

The wind whipped through the cracks in the walls sounding like a screaming banshee as it threatened to blow out the pungent tallow candle next to the bed. “Father! Are you all right?” Alex hurried over to the table, placing his hand on the man’s back. Crandell turned his head and looked at him, not having the strength to lift more than his eyes. “I guess I am frail,” he said in a weak voice. “But I wasn’t always this way.” “I know, Father. You were a guard for the late Baron Mowbray. You were as strong and as skilled as any knight. You’ve trained me to be the same.” “You died, Son.

You died . the day you were born. And I did an awful thing to someone I really cared about. It was because I mourned the loss of my wife and only child – that’s why I did it.” “What do you mean?” Alex limped over to the other side of the room and poured some ale into a cracked wooden cup. His fingers were so cold that he could barely bend them. His leg was stiff as well. “I was born in Italy and Mother died when I was two, so I don’t remember her. You and I traveled to many countries over the years. You not only taught me to fight and wield a sword, but you taught me that even with my twisted leg, I can still accomplish anything.

” “Then why don’t you do so already?” “How so?” “Make something of yourself and stop being so . so dependent on me.” “Dependent?” That took Alex by surprise. He never knew his father thought of him in this manner. He’d fought at Crandell’s side his entire life and killed more men than he could count. He thought of them as a team. To hear his father say this cut him to the bone. “I only turned mercenary because I was banished from Framlingham,” the man said in a raspy voice, struggling to breathe. “I should have been condemned to death. But Lady Summer .

and her husband saved me.” Crandell started coughing and wheezing. Alex hurried over and handed him the ale. “Drink this, Father.” Crandell’s hand shot out, and he knocked the cup to the ground. His eyes became glassy. “I’m not your father, dammit,” he said in not more than a whisper. It was taking all his energy just to speak. “Don’t you understand? Your father was the evil Baron Mowbray. And your mother is the baroness .

Lady Summer. She thinks you are dead!” He took a deep breath and released it, speaking louder as he relayed his story. His face turned pale and he looked gaunt. “I should have told her, but I stayed silent. I was greedy and wanted . a son.” He did something next that Alex had never seen him do in his entire life. The big, strong man he had idolized since childhood, cried. “Father, don’t cry,” he said, rubbing his hand over the man’s back. Crandell was talking nonsense.

Alex realized it was near the end now. Their last trip to the Holy Lands had been too much for Crandell since he was getting up in years. “Summer needs to know,” Crandell said in a weak voice. “You need to go to Framlingham and tell her . that you are Peter . the son that died. The boy I buried. The baby I . stole.” “Save your strength and do not talk,” commanded Alex, feeling unsettled to hear his father speaking this way.

Undoubtedly, it was naught but nonsense. None of it could possibly hold any truth. “God’s eyes, what do I have to do to convince you?” spat Crandell. “Instead of burying you –” he took a second and wet his lips, moving his jaw a little before he continued, “beneath the rose bush . like I told your mother I did . I gave you to a servant. I paid her never to tell the truth. When she died right after I was banished . I raised you by myself.” “That’s enough, Father.

Now please, let’s get you back to bed.” Alex reached out to help him, but his father grabbed hold of his hand. The man’s golden signet ring dug into Alex’s fingers. “Nay! You need to promise me.” He struggled to breathe. Alex could hear a gurgling sound coming from the man’s lungs. “Go to . Framlingham. Dig up the grave if you have to. The box is empty, I tell you.

” His hand slid off of Alex’s. Alex needed to calm his father. It did him no good to get so worked up. He hesitated before he answered, and then let out a sigh. “All right, Father. If that will give you peace of mind, I’ll make the promise. We’ll go to Framlingham as soon as you are feeling up to making the trip.” “Nay.” Crandell wheezed, trying to catch his breath. Any tidbit of color left now drained from his face.

The disease in his lungs made every breath sound as if the man were drowning. Alex choked up, trying to hold back his emotions. His father had shed tears. Now, Alex felt as if he would do the same for the first time in his life. He didn’t want his father to die. They only had each other. He needed his father – Crandell was right. Alex depended on him. With Alex’s bad leg, no one would want to hire him even if he were skilled with a blade. Without his father by his side, he didn’t have a chance.

“You go, Son. I am . banned,” Crandell whispered. His fingers snaked out and rested atop Alex’s hand. The feeling of his cold, dry skin felt like death had already entered the man’s body. “Tell Summer not to hate you . for what I did . Peter. It is not . your .

fault.” “I’m Alex, Father. I’m not this Peter that you think I am.” He got up and went back to pour another cup of ale. “Roses. Summer loved roses,” Crandell mumbled from the table in a soft voice. “Yes, summer is the time when roses bloom,” mumbled Alex, only half-listening to his father’s nonsensical chatter. “It is now winter and we are in the midst of a storm. There are no flowers, Father.” “Nay, I mean Lady Summer, you fool! I don’t deserve to live .

because of what . I’ve done.” “Of course, you do. Everyone deserves to live.” Alex headed back with the cup of ale clutched in his hand. “Your father didn’t deserve to live. He was . murdered. And rightly so.” “Murdered?” Alex stopped in his tracks.

He couldn’t have heard the man correctly. To even think of killing a noble was preposterous. “Who murdered the baron?” “I should never have stolen Summer’s baby,” mumbled his father. “I will go to hell for that. Especially after what she did . for me.” “What did she do?” Alex asked curiously. “I . loved her, Peter. Like .

like a daughter.” “I don’t understand this at all. Why would you steal a baby? And why would someone murder the baron?” This was all starting to sound too real. Perhaps his father wasn’t delirious after all. Even an addled man couldn’t make up a crazy story like this. “It’s up to you now . to make things right . Peter.” “Aye, Father,” he answered, hearing his voice as if he were someone else. The cup slipped from Alex’s fingers and hit the rushes at his feet.

For some reason, being called Peter suddenly felt right. It was almost as if it really were his name. “Father,” he said, his heart beating wildly in his chest. If what he’d just heard was true, then his father was not the dying man before him. Nay, his father was the late Baron Mowbray – a noble. And the man at the table whom he thought to be his father was really only a cutthroat killer and a thief. “Nay, I can’t make things right,” said Alex shaking his head. He did not want to be part of this horrible lie. “I can’t do it.” “You .

p-promised . P-Peter,” was the last thing Crandell ever said. His haunting, hollow, open eyes stared up at Alex from his dead body. It made Alex feel as if Crandell would be watching him, expecting him to keep his promise, even in death. “Father!” Alex shook the man, not wanting him to die. He wasn’t going to let the man leave this secret at his doorstep. He loved Crandell. His heart broke to see him go. But he also hated what he just heard. Crandell was the only father, or relative Alex had ever known.

He didn’t even know this Lady Summer or anything about the late Baron Mowbray. Nay, it couldn’t be true. Crandell had raised him and been at his side his entire life. He had to be Alex’s father. This man had always treated him as if he were a son who had two good legs. Never once had he made Alex feel incompetent because of his disability. But now, being all alone made Alex feel uncomfortable and very incompetent, indeed. “Father, wake up!” Alex shook him once again. Crandell’s hand fell from the table, swinging at his side. The thick, gold band he wore with the monogram of an M for Masterson carved into it, winked in the last flames flickering in the hearth.

Crandell never sold the ring during their travels, even though they could have used the money from it on more than one occasion. Instead, he had always told him that the ring was special and that Alex would inherit it someday. Was Alex really nobility? He pondered the thought. And was his mother Lady Summer, the Baroness of Framlingham? If so, how could he just show up and drop this at her doorstep? All the weight of the world was on Alex’s shoulders now. The last thing he wanted was to spend his Christmas finding out that everything in his life was a lie! “Merry Christmas,” he mumbled, sinking atop a chair, covering his face with his hands. He would be alone now for the first time ever, and probably for the rest of his life. No man was going to betroth his daughter to a man who was lame. Could he possibly be the boy who died and, somehow, miraculously came back to life? Nothing made any sense. He let out a sigh and looked at the dead man collapsed atop the table, wondering how he was going to bury him. With one twisted leg, it was hard enough for Alex to walk, let alone carry a man who outweighed him.

And how was he going to dig a hole in the frozen ground? “You have no choice but to pick yourself up by the bootstraps, Peter Mowbray,” he said, testing the name on his tongue. Damn, why didn’t it sound or feel as foreign as he’d hoped it would? Pushing up out of the chair, he knew what he had to do. “You died and managed to come back to life, so burying a dead man in the middle of winter should be an easy task.” It wouldn’t really be easy or pleasant but, then again, going to Framlingham and telling Lady Summer that he was her dead son was going to be the hardest thing he’d ever do in his life!

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