"Days of yore, but nothing changes. It's all about blood and guts and making a buck."
"I go to see far away places."
"You go to hell."
"Father! You say that to me now, even as I gird armor to make war?"
"This is not your war, boy, but you'll die in it, as certainly as I stand here speaking. You'll die and you'll go to hell before all is done."
Edmund sniffed as he wriggled into a final corset made of finely meshed steel. "If I die, I will not go to hell, Father. I will be a martyr of the cause, and all martyrs, as you know, have a special place in Heaven."
"You have a special place at home. But you don't think of that. You don't think of your poor mother and how she bled giving birth to you and six others. Of four sons born to me, you and Charles are the only ones to survive past four years. And Charles has ever been a sickly boy. As the oldest and the fittest, it is your place to stay here and tend to the affairs of our holdings." His father made a grumbling, farting noise with a nearly toothless mouth. "But you! You'd rather run off to play lethal children's games. You'd leave your bleached bones so far afield that no treasure in the world could ransom them."
His mail jingled softly as its many links settled comfortably into place. Edmund never failed to marvel how so much weight in the hand could feel so light on the body. "I don't have plans to leave my bones anywhere but where they belong, within my skin."
"You plan to live, even as you plan to go off to war. The two aren't reconcilable together, Edmund. War is death. Horrible death. If you plan for war, then it's dying you're planning for, not life."
"Aye, dying. I imagine a great many heathens will die."
"And a great many Christians, too."
"Your speech mocks that of a coward. If I was ignorant of your history, sir, I might doubt you."
"Then doubt me, for I am a coward. I'd not go to war again for ten estates such as ours."
"Yet once you did go to war. And you won much honor."
Father, Sir Hershel of Rosewyld, spat to the floor. "Honor. What do you know of honor? And what do you know of winning? Nothing was won in that conflict, save that it served the King. What I received for my service was paid for, and it was a most lofty price indeed. Yea, I went to war, I and three of your uncles; Edmund, my older brother and your namesake, Eosin, and Edward. Many other members of our house also went, cousins, nephews, my own uncles. Old and young, our halls were emptied of men and armor and horse. And we went. How many of us returned, I ask you now? Give me the number."
"Those that went, those that returned. Either."
"Forebear me, sir. I cannot."
"Aye, you cannot. So I ask again, what do you know of honor? Of winning? Of prices paid or demanded?"
"As you say, nothing." Edmund secured a baldric over his tunic, the cloth of which was emblazoned brightly with his own coat of arms. He would wear this proudly, at least until he mustered with the rest of the King's men. Smoothing it, he smiled. His sisters had stitched most of its best details. His sisters and his mother. Where was she right now, he wondered? Weeping, no doubt.
"I will give you the number. Seventy three was the number of our blood that went. Twenty and one the number that returned. Of our own house, I and your uncle Eosin alone lived to see England again. You know what became of your uncle, how he lived out his last years. It was his wounds in the war that killed him, as surely as Edmund and Edward were also killed. He lingered on a while longer, but in the end his fight was but a valiant last stand. So, in truth, I alone have survived. If not for me, our blood line might have passed from the Earth."
"Yes, Father, yes," patronized Edmund, "I know that story well."
"Yet you could not recall the number."
"What worth, numbers? Of course, I remembered the number, sir. What sort of Rosewyld would I be, had I not? And would you have held your tongue, had I answered?"
"You remember nothing. Our house is weakening to fall, Edmund. Between you and Charles, we might have rebuilt the glory and power we once enjoyed. I beseech you one time further, son, not for my sake, but your mother's. Do not go. Stay home where you are most needed. Stay home and make a family. Perhaps our numbers will withstand the next war, for there are sure to be others."
Edmund paused a moment, seriously considering his father's request. One half of him, the adventurer, disdained his advice, but another, the timid boy, wanted to concede the issue.
Seeming to sense his son's hesitance, Sir Hershel tried again. "We will announce you have the Fever. Nobody would expect you to make muster then. For God's sake, Edmund, heed me. Do not go."
But the boy shook his head slowly, smiling abashedly. "I must go. You know I must go, and you know why. We could say I had the Fever, yes, and the King would not deem to have me then, for fear of infecting his army. And I could stay here with you and mother and Charles, as you have made clear. Such is my heart wont to do. Much of my mind tells me to do this, also, for it counsels that I should live.
"Surely would I live, if I remained at Rosewyld, but I do not believe I could grow to be the man I am meant to be, having purchased my hearts blood with the wages of cowardice. I could not grow to be the man Rosewyld requires to well lead her. Then, too, would our house weaken to fall, only it would be a more tempestuous decline, a decline of pity and shame. No, I do not have the Fever, Father, and we will not say falsely that I do. I will go to war as a boy, naive and unskilled as you have declared, and I will return a man, whole and true of heart."
"Or," sighed Sir Hershel weakly, his eyes teared with pride and sorrow, "You will not return at all. More's the pity, my son. More is the pity."
Edmund lifted his parade sword away from its rack, and girded it with expert deftness. Last to assemble his attire was a heavy, well padded helm, its nose guard fashioned as a crucifix. Once it had belonged to his father, and had borne the old man to the very gates of Jerusalem. Perhaps it will safely see me so far. We shall see.