He was not a big man as knights may be. His muscles were not huge but hard and well defined. But he had that look, that air, that walk which would mark him as a knight without the crest or mail. His temples were gray and his face weathered from days on end riding in the sun, wind and rain. But his eyes were soft, strange for a man who had fought a hundred battles.
He had come to the castle and the service of its lord almost twenty years ago. No one was sure where he came from or what circumstances brought him here. If those around him asked questions it was only to themselves. He was liked by many but close friends with none. He was fierce in battle but not brutal. Many times he hit a young or inept opponent with the flat of his sword, breaking their collar bones when it would have been easier to run them through. For them this ended the battle but not their life. But if a woman or child had been gravely wronged he gave no quarter. A rage was shown that no man would see a second time.
He had few possessions except his tools of war. He had armor, sword and shield. His horse was not a comely steed. But he loved to battle. If an opponent's horse came too close when riders were going sword to sword, this knight's horse would bite great chunks of flesh from anything that came within reach. But with a child upon his back he would move in a subdued and placid way. The knight had only one real treasure. He kept locked a small velvet lined ivory box. It contained a mystery to all except him. He opened it now and again in those times when the night seemed full of mist and shadow, but he could look up and see a million silver stars glistening against the black. He never touched the contents, only held it close to his face as if to catch one last whiff of its owner's scent.
If he had a passion for anything, it seemed to be training young knights and squires. He insisted on giving equal time to weapons and teaching a knightly code. With weapons he had great patience, but he would not teach any man who had no honor. You must walk away from some battles that can be easily won and sometimes you must fight battles you know that will be lost. Honor and duty must make the choice. Honor is hard to define, but easily seen. Honor was not a goal he worked toward but a spot where he firmly stood.
It was a pleasant winter day, cold, but with a warming sun. His steed shook his head wanting less bit to increase the pace. He relaxed the reins and let the horse move into a slow canter. Today he was a messenger, a noble knight delivering a letter. It was not a letter that needed his guard, but only his rank to present it.
His horse caught the sound before the rider, as it so often happens. It was the thud of a mace against a shield. He moved his horse off the road as to come upon the scene to observe and be unobserved. It was wiser to see who was friend and who was foe before joining any fight.
He stopped his horse about thirty yards from the fight. A coach was stopped. A coach if not of royalty was certainly of some wealthy lord. Four guards and two what were surely thieves lay on the ground. Four thieves and no guards were left standing. He would have followed them until he could have gained some advantage, but they pulled a lady from the coach. Four against one was not good odds he knew but he had little choice. This battle must be short. He must win quickly or lose. Two against four you stood back to back and waited for a mistake to be made. One against four. he must hope the guards had done some damage to those still standing.
He took a deep breath, drew his sword and spurred his horse toward the four men. He had too much ground to cover to catch them completely by surprise but did catch them before they could organize. He aimed toward two of the thieves that were standing close together. He faked and made them raise their shields and then bent very low and cut their legs from under them. But not without cost, one thief fell toward him knocking him from his horse. All would have been lost for he lost his sword and shield, but his horse swerved and knocked over the closer of the two men left standing. This gave the knight time to recover and get ready for the attack. The battle was fierce but short. The knight prevailed as right should always do. The lady was safe and the thieves dead, but the knight was badly wounded.
The knight went to his knee and then lay down, but before his head could touch the ground the lady had it cradled in her arms. Their eyes met and in the same instant they caught their breath and memories of parting so long ago filled their thoughts. In the dark shadows of a garden with a million stars overhead they had said goodbye. She was the only thing in life he would have given up his honor for, but he loved her too much to see her give up hers. He had always been at the center of her love, a love so great she would let him go rather than see him dishonored. Neither could speak, he because of his mortal wounds, she because of the tears that filled her.
He studied her face. It was older now, with lines around her mouth from years of smiles and laughter. She had been happy. He was glad. An emerald green scarf was around her neck as he had remembered it long ago.
She kissed him now. The first time their lips had ever touched, but a thing they had seen in a thousand dreams. He smiled as best he could. No man can choose his death but if he could, a cold day, a battle won; in the arms of the one he loved were his final thoughts.
As he took his final breath her heart skipped a beat then two and then ceased to beat at all. For in that garden long ago when she had given him her scarf, their hands had briefly touched and in that touch their hearts had begun to beat as one. His heart had stopped because of wounds of battle, hers because it could not go on without its mate.
They were found that way, the knight in the arms of the lady, both with a peaceful smile upon their face. In the years to come that spot was ever known for the emerald green clover that bloomed crimson year round.
They laid her to rest in a white silk dress. In her hand was a book of poems with a small-cherished flower pressed between its pages. It was picked one night long ago lit only by a million silvery stars.
They buried the knight in a place of honor under a large oak tree, with his sword, his shield and a small ivory box that contained an emerald green scarf. It would be beside his heart forever.