Chapter 52: The mystery of the women
26 November 1263, 7 AM
The morning is still young, for the first light still crawls over the mountains, lighting little rainbows in the early dew I see on the windows. It has begun. My suspicion has been confirmed. Who are we to think we rule our own world? And what world do we truly live in? Who are they who live among me? I now know the answer to that last question. There is no turning back anymore. Well, maybe a poor sod - a servant, or a recruit perhaps - will take the blame and everything could be sorted out before anything would feel suspicious, but will it all really matter when the earth will rise to swallow us all? When the sky comes tumbling down, freezing mountains in its path? When we will be consumed by the flaming sun, crashing into the hearts of the people? Or when the sea swallows you whole, only to spit you out on shores, keeping your most precious possessions to itself?
As I wiped the bloody knife clean with a silk handkerchief I found beside the bed, I knew that I wouldn't return to this room any time soon. Not after the sacrifice I just made, the pain and agony I forced myself to endure. I'm sure it hurt her a lot too, but what is the physical pain compared to my mental health, which has given itself a severe blow? Maybe I had known from the day I courted her that it would all end in tears, somewhere deep inside. The past years the feeling had grown. But now that the deed has been done, I can't weep at all. Not only because the only handkerchief in the room is reddened by blood, but also because it all won't matter. After today, the world will never be the same.
Have you ever wondered what a woman really looks like? From the inside, I mean. What makes her heart tick, her stomach growl - altough real ladies will postpone that to private moments - and the man fit. And of course, most importantly, where the babies come from. You and I all know that they grow inside her, a small human trying to get big enough that it won't fit anymore and needs to get born. A woman is the workshop of men. Maybe that's why you don't see many of them on the battlefield: precious gems that are not to be wasted, for they are the ones who will produce new soldiers for the next generation. How else to train an army in fifteen to twenty years time if the women bearing the fruit of life would perish themselves on the battlefield?Women are important assets for a future generation of soldiers.
In my time as a count I've seen countless bodies spread across various fields, even long before I winded up here in Calradia. Severed arms, guts spilling out: I can't help but be a master of anatomy. But the bodies I've seen were all male, all men who fought and perished. Here in Calradia it was no different. Even the female fighters were man enough on the field. But a real woman, who bears your child? No, I can't say I ever seen one from the inside. I even didn't witness the birth of my children, back home in Holland. The real
Holland. So how am I supposed to know what their innards look like?
My deed was fed by suspicion for a long time. For as the years pass by, not even the most carefull woman can hide the signs of aging. A peachy skin will lose its softness, eyes will harden and even hair will loose it's once beautiful colour, to turn gray or white. Sometimes it takes decades, other times it seems to happen overnight. I've seen quite a few women in my time, but none as stunning as here in Calradia. First I praised myself lucky, especially with so many to choose from, but as the years crawled by, an unreal feeling started to creep up. Where were the marks of old age?
In all my years I've spend here travelling hence and forth, I've met quite a few people, including women. But none of them showed any sign of change. Yes, there are elder women - mothers of nobles, for an instance - but none got any more gray hairs, and their daughters remained in the blossom of their life. Any other man might remain happy when it would come to their attention, if at all, but not me. As I started to travel to pay the fees for my men and train them at the same time, I paid attention to the villages. It is among the common people that nothing remains hidden, and the miracle of birth happens far too often along those poor fellows. But not here.Wherever I went, the women looked the same as the day I had arrived.
I've searched everywhere, I can assure you that. But nowhere a baby nor a small child was to be found. No women had felt the pain of birth, nor spoke of it at all. There were only adults, people in the flower of their life or at the peak of their wisdom - there was even no in between. Where do new soldiers come from, where do the women tend their offspring? And where are the old men burrowed who passed on to the next life? There is no graveyard in Calradia, no ceremony for tending the dead. Even the bodies of a battle disappear within a few days, I tested that out quite a couple of times. When I finally realised that something strange was going on over here, I knew that my wife would hold the answer.
When I heard her waking up, I walked to her and kissed her goodbye for the last time. 'Go back to sleep, my love,' I said to her, as I slowly grabbed my knife outside her sight. She closed her eyes, and made a ladylike sound, even tough she was still half asleep. Her eyes opened in a panic when my free hand firmly covered her mouth, pressing her lips shut. In her eyes I could read the silent question of 'Why?' when my knife quickly slit her throat. I was merciful with that, after all she was my wife and I had no quarrel with her. I only regret not to see any comprehension in her eyes, as the old masters had shown before removing themselves from this world.
When life had slipped away, I removed my hand from her dead lips, who were only warm by my body warmth. I watched them turn blue, and started to work. I opened her chest, and saw a pair of good lungs with a strong heart. These could have kept her going for quite some time if it hadn't been for me. So far so good. I lowered my knife to show her innards to the world. Everything a man has, including a fleshy hole for my manhood, was there. But nothing a woman should have. No place for a child, nothing that makes her female. Even the women of Calradia were men on the inside.I never paid enough attention to my wife, lady Nelda, until this moment.
Now that I know, another puzzle piece has fallen on its place. I know what you are, Calradia. Beware, for I'm coming for you. After today you will know it too, and fear the moment I finally face you, and regret the day you ever took me in. But I can't keep on writing for now, as I hear a knock on the door. That will be the poor sod who will unwillingly take the blame for lady Nelda's death, even tough he is unaware of that fact yet. The day will truly start when I open that door. There is no turning back anymore. Calradia, here I come.
Here is a picture Floris' stats on 13 April 1262:
This chapter playes only a few hours after the previous one, and the day isn't over yet. Expect more to come.
During the following half year, still nothing changed on the map, so I'll show you some arena pictures instead. It's up to you to guess where they are taken.