Brother Thomas stood anxiously in the cold hall as the heavy oak door before him shuddered under the force of savage blows.
“You shouldn't be here, Brother,” Sir Edward, who had come to them broken and bleeding a season before, pleaded.
“Neither should you, yet here we are,” the monk replied, braver than he felt. He tried to imagine what his older brother would do, or his father: men of arms, strong and brave, if not quite honorable. He did not have to imagine, though. They would do what Sir Edward was doing, what he was trying to do now.
“No lectures about spilling blood, then?” the knight asked.
“Not today,” the monk answered. “Today we've no more cheeks to turn. Today you are God's own champion...despite yourself.”
Edward looked back at Thomas and smiled sardonically, but had no time to reply before the door splintered inward.
The knight did not wait for the slivers to settle before he shot his windlass crossbow, the heavy quarrel, at nearly point-blank range, bursting through its target's unarmored belly and lodging in the groin of the man just behind.
More barbarian raiders kicked their bodies aside and poured through the gap, but not before Edward cast aside his crossbow with distaste and drew his sword, hoisting his shield from against the wall. Brother Thomas stood behind Edward's shielded side, a stout walking stave held before him.
Edward's shield turned aside a blow from a stout ax, then his sword hewed off the hand that held it. A savage, backhanded slash kept the mob at bay for a moment, and Edward pressed what little advantage he had gained, leaving Thomas a few paces behind.
Choking back his sudden fear, Brother Thomas took a hesitant step forward, then suddenly a foe was before him, twisting past Edward's guard and swinging a cruel, spiked club. With instinct born of desperation and something that might have been divine intervention or dumb luck, Thomas managed to sidestep the brutal weapon. Without hesitation or thought, he lashed out with his staff, catching his attacker under the chin to send him reeling back, stunned.
Brother Thomas was about to shout in triumph until the staggering barbarian slammed into Edward's back, causing the knight to stumble. Just that moment of weakness was enough. He lifted his shield to block an attack from his left, but it took too much time, too much attention. He was too far behind to block the spear that ripped through him and thrust a handbreadth out of his back before Brother Thomas's eyes.
Edward slashed his killer's throat with his own blade before all strength left him and he was overrun, his limp body shoved at Thomas as both men were thrown to the ground. The monk was not even worth killing; the attackers surged by as though he was already dead, laughing as they went.
Thomas felt ire surging inside him at their disregard, saw Edward's sword still cradled in his limp fingers. Rising, he took up the weapon and shouted, “Stand fast, heathens! I am Sir Thomas, son of Lord Charles the Bloody, Defender of Greenwold Abbey, and you will not harm one stone of this place while God's breath fills my lungs!”
Laughing no more, the barbarians turned and charged, roaring as they came. Thomas growled back like a cornered dog, swinging the blade like a madman, and his life was dearly bought. As he fell, he saw other brothers, their courage roused at last, surging forward to the defense, and he smiled at one final thought: “Father would be proud.”