Word of Honor(5)

By: Alexa Aston

As the accuser, Geoffrey must down Barrett of Winterbourne before the stars appeared in the night sky. Considering the fight commenced at noon, he could be in for many hours of brutal conflict.

If Barrett stood undefeated, he would be declared the winner and acquitted of the charge of treason. His accuser would then be charged with perjury. If Geoffrey won, Barrett would publicly proclaim himself guilty of the crime.

Most men convicted of treason were sentenced to hang, removed from the noose right before their deaths only to be drawn and quartered. Betrayal of the king was kin to blasphemy under English law; the king having been duly anointed by God to sit on the throne.

Instead of hanging, noblemen convicted of the same crime suffered what was considered a more dignified death by beheading, their lands forfeited to the Crown. The earl told Geoffrey if Barrett went down in defeat, the Black Prince might choose either method of execution in order to make an example to his troops.

He’d heard the prince was known for his open mind and fair nature, so he assumed Barrett would lose his head.

If Geoffrey succeeded.

He watched as William de Ufford, Earl of Suffolk, escorted the accused to the field. Geoffrey’s gaze met Barrett’s for a moment. They’d known each other as neighbors but had never been friends. Geoffrey found all the inhabitants of Winterbourne arrogant and conceited. He was relieved they’d fostered in different households and had little contact over the years.

Now, hatred shone from his enemy’s eyes as Barrett came to stand next to him. They didn’t speak as they awaited the arrival of their judge.

Surrounded by his entourage of commanders, Prince Edward finally arrived at the field and stood directly in front of the pair.

“Do you swear you shall not invoke the aid of demons or evil spirits?” the prince asked.

“Aye,” Geoffrey and Barrett replied.

“Do you understand that your pole shall be your only weapon beyond your physical body?”


“Since my father fights now in Scotland, you will engage in combat before me, Edward of Woodstock, known as the Black Prince, eldest son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. I will serve as your judge and render my verdict as to which of you proves to be victorious.”

They bowed.

Oxford signaled for them to rise as the prince walked to the dais and seated himself. Both men placed their helmets on their heads and strode to the center of the field hand-in-hand, as required by the rules of trial by battle.

“You will die this day,” Barrett hissed as they marched forward. “Don’t think I’ll merely down you and quit. I plan to grind my boot into your throat as I drive my pole through your eye. You’ll never see England again or the pretty little wench you are betrothed to. In fact, I think I’ll take her as my bride. I’d enjoy bedding her.”

Geoffrey struggled to keep his temper in check. But he knew the errant lord tried to rile him.

“You’ll end this day marked as a traitor,” he replied evenly.

They reached the middle of the field and separated, going to their respective sides, then faced the prince.

“As judge of this trial by battle, I declare, you may begin.”

Geoffrey gripped his pole with both hands and charged his rival at full speed. Barrett did the same.

Geoffrey had participated in stick fighting as a means of training from the time he served as a page in Sir Lovel’s household. Hours had been devoted to this type of combat. He was comfortable with the weapon—and steadfast in his belief that truth would prevail.

Their poles clashed.

He had a couple of inches in height on his opponent, but Barrett was a more seasoned fighter. It would take all Geoffrey’s skill and wits to defeat the treasonous bastard.

The minutes dragged as Geoffrey slammed his pole constantly into Barrett, smashing it against his enemy’s body. The padded jerkin softened his blows, so Geoffrey began jabbing lower, battering Barrett’s legs. He knocked the pole into his opponent’s unguarded arms, spinning Barrett around.

Barrett kept his head, though, and soon Geoffrey fended off heavy blows from his adversary. A few times, Geoffrey knocked his enemy to the ground, but Barrett’s quick reflexes allowed him to spring to his feet.

Several hours passed. Sweat dripped into Geoffrey’s eyes, stinging them. No cheers came from the crowd. Only silence as the men watched the lengthy duel continue. Barrett was the first to move away from strictly using the poles. As they struggled, their sticks locked against each other, their bodies close enough to smell the stench of one another’s sweat. Barrett drew back his foot and kicked Geoffrey hard in the knee.

Geoffrey fell but kept his pole defensively positioned over his body. As Barrett raised his stick over his head and brought it down, Geoffrey rolled to his side, avoiding the blow.

Hot Read

Last Updated