1476 c/o Brad Green

The Siege of Nancy

Bernard pushed out the tent hoping to catch a glimpse of the hanging. He spat onto the black ground and crushed the frozen glob under his boot. If this was the ground the Duke wanted so badly, he was crazed. But perhaps watching a bloodless death by hanging might warm Bernard nonetheless, get the sludge of his dull blood flowing in this cold. He was wrapped in blankets thick with must, coat tatters he'd found along the road or pulled off the dead and still he shivered. Twenty more days of service in this siege, escalation or not, then it was back home, away from the nobles and their campaigns. Back to the plump grapes of the vineyard, the rich dung of the goats, the nights ripe with stars and not shivers. He couldn't see where the hanging was supposed to occur. In the end, it didn't matter. Charles the Bold would have the impudent Knight's life, either by the snap of a rope or by a grinning knife to let in the daylight. One didn't question Charles the Bold, especially in matters of the military. He'd have his Christmas siege, no matter the cost. Bernard pushed back inside the tent.

Corentin scowled and wrapped his arms around the thin fire. "Close the flap, fool."

"No one is about. Maybe he changed his mind."

Corentin slid the last thin stick into the fire and the fire raged into the wood so that new snakes of smoke boiled loose. "The Bold doesn't change his mind. The Knight will die."

Bernard sat next to the fire, held his stiff fingers over the trembling flame. The wood cracked open in the flame, heat-wisped and dry with rot to its core. They'd had to fight off three men for the tent earlier, but now it was so cold that everyone was afraid to grip their swords or piss into the trench, much less fight for the tent which wasn't much protection from the cold. All the armor piled outside, gray and frozen. A keening wind through the black and thin trees behind them. "Wood's not going to last long."

"Then you'll die in service to your Lord." Corentin spat into the fire. "The Knight was right."

A thin curl of smoke spent itself against the wind as it wafted out the smokehole at the top of their makeshift tent. "You best watch your tongue or they'll string you up with him."

"Better to hang than to freeze to death." Corentin said. "Duke René will never give in, even if he and his men behind Nancy's walls gnaw on rats. At least they're out of this vile wind, while our balls turn to ice. As useless as the siege I put upon another cold-hearted bitch not that long ago." He looked up at Bernard to gauge his reaction, but he'd already turned away.

A shout squipped out of the night. A crunching of boots. A slow gathering of sound in the dark. Bernard rose and pushed his head out into the wind. A man was running, jumping over the soldiers spooned on the ground like lovers in search of warmth. The man had removed his armor and shirt, skin red with cold. He was shouting.

"What's he yelling?" Corentin asked.

"That he's on fire. Burning up. He's coming this way."

"Back in!" Corentin wrapped his arms around the fire again. "Hide this."

Bernard shuffled back, took off one of his blankets and held it around the fire in hopes that the light would die out of their tent. Breath came white and fast out of his nose. The light from the flame quaked against the cloth.

"He's mad with cold." whispered Corentin. "I've seen it before. We're all going to freeze out here. It's already started and the night isn't yet full." He looked around. "I'll say it. Damn the Bold. Damn him."

The coldmad man was close. Yelling for water to put the flames out on his body. Soldiers began to stir, curse with a white fur out of their mouths. Someone shouted that he'd seen light, a fire. Boots scraping against the hard ground. The snap of a twig under a knee as bodies labored to rise.

"We're found out." Bernard said.

Someone ripped away the tent and the wind whipped at the fire. The small coals flared in the rising dark. Several men pushed closer. Bernard and Corentin were shoved back, yanked away. The wind drove such a cold into Bernard's body that it felt as if the chill inked from the long, blue bars of his bones. He'd lost the blanket he'd pulled off in the scuffle. The wind stabbed through him as if he were immaterial before its unabated force. The shirtless man had sat on the ground. He was quiet now, breathing slowly, chin against his chest.

Bernard sat on the ground and huddled into himself as much as possible. His legs against the ground burned with cold. There was nowhere to turn away from the wind. He thought of grapes thickly clustered on vines, the warm swell of Nancy's breast in his palm, how the table at her house had been scored with knives. All the men that had rushed the tent now sat on the ground near him. No one moved any longer. The world about freezing in a slow grey breath, the only motion being the black thrashing of the tree limbs. Sharp pains in his exposed skin melted into dull throbs. The coals released their grasp on the orange and faded to dull ash. In the distance, Bernard finally located the gallows. A body twisted on the creaking rope. It was the Knight, the one that had spoken against the Duke's plans, the one that had tried to save them all. No one had cut him down and come to his aid. If he had a knife, he...

When she was atop him, the roll of flesh at her belly jiggled...

Dirt black and warm on his palms...

Trees knuckled thickly into the loam, full and proud of their growth...

Corentin had crawled close. He was speaking into the dirt which was too cold to even yield up a dust to his weak breath. "...something about your girl..." Then the wind stole away the rest.