The Squire's Debate by P.L. Ernix

A rotund miller and a young squire were perched upon a soft bench surrounded by other locals, engaged in an eventful conversation regarding the deposition of king and court by peasants and townsfolk in the face of hastened deterioration of living conditions.

They were merely speaking in hypotheticals, as neither had any interest in seriously attempting such a foolhardy errand, and since quality of life was such that there was really no need. The miller portended that in certain instances it was necessary for the people to express their disdain for a ruling class through either disobedience or dagger, should the need exist.

The eager squire was thoroughly against such a claim, less due to his loyalty to a sovereign leader, but instead because of his romantic assertions that no inexperienced locals should dare besmirch the holy institute of combat without proper training. He spoke without regard to the miller as he thoughtlessly tugged at a loosened thread on the banner of his knight, stationed now firmly between his legs.

"It is too much to ask of an untrained people to carry into the heat of combat the dignity required to not make a mockery of it," said the careless squire.

Perturbed by his innocent arrogance, the miller fell into his usual tone with the squire, "Do you mean to say that peasants would not be able to engage in combat simply because they are untrained as knights or warriors?"

"I'm not saying that they would not be able to engage in combat," the squire returned, "I am saying that they should not." Ignoring the miller's angry looks (with which he was all too familiar) he continued, "it is my belief that the honor of combat should be reserved for the chosen few who have dedicated themselves to it, and not be delved into so recklessly by those who are not fit to participate." His last remarks were met with a wry smile thrown in the direction of the miller, which he knew in turn would rile the increasingly loud workman.

"Those not fit to fight?" barked the petulant miller. He had by now once again had enough of the unfounded ignorance of the young squire, and would yet again let the young man hear it. "Funny how a young squire should hold judgment on those no fit to fight when he himself was not so long ago nothing more than a page who had not the strength to lift his master's sheath, let alone his sword. I beg you not to continue to disparage the dignity of common peoples less than your precious combat, as we can easily be persuaded to impart on you the impressions of our labor." As he said this he casually raised a clenched hand to his face so as to not overtly be charged with the threatening of a young squire.

"If I may," interjected the delicately adorned franklin who had been quietly seated on the same bench as the miller and the squire, "I think your debate, which has turned rather ugly and diverged from its intended course mind you, has overlooked a vital aspect of such a scenario." The miller twisted his large figure in his place so to better see the tidy franklin, dressed in a finely-woven kirtle, held in front by a white girdle and crossed with an ornate gisper of imported silk covered in stones of valued appearance, though the franklin would likely not admit them to be false. His equally-fine cappe was adorned with an elegant swan feather, which was the final exclamation in the marked difference between his appearance and that of his counterparts. He continued his interruption,"it is not much a matter of dignity or ability that would lead a people to engage in combat against a court, but instead such an motion would be an act of necessity." The miller again grumbled, but was decidedly clueless as to the franklin's purpose, so he kept this quiet so as to wait and see if the franklin was indeed going to share words that would eventually bolster his argument. The squire had all but stopped paying attention, and instead was lost in his own thoughts while gazing upon one of the stones in the franklin's golden brooch. "Necessity, mind you, would be the result of the people having no other recourse against harmful practices of a ruling order than to do no other than take up arms against those who would just as easily let them perish as they would ignore them. Therefore, it is no matter that the commoners can or should engage in combat, but instead the question is posed: do they need to?"

"Well if they need to they certainly could," said the miller, jumping in so as to not let the squire twist the franklin's words to his own benefit.

The squire, now realizing he was falling out of favor in a conversation he had started and from which he had accidentally retreated, said easily to the franklin, "Even if they were to engage, peasants could expect scant little in the way of outcome against men who have been bred in the worshipful art of combat since they were still suckling. It's truly tragic."

"It's survival," said the franklin calmly. "Despite their lack of training, many a common person would do wondrous things unexpected in the name of survival. It's not only seen in people, but animals as well, event insects. Those who not think such small creatures would be able to withstand the mighty power of man should be stung or bitten by a poisonous creature, and be surprised that their believed advantage would do little to save them."

As the conversation wore on, other people surrounding them sat and listened to the three go on. A young merchant's wife sat nearby with her back to the three men, listening intently but not yet intruding on the topic of men and war. Another man, who seemed increasingly irked by the entire conversation, also sat with his back to the bunch. He did not wish to have any part of such a conversation, and remained angrily hunched in his seated position, spinning his wheel and letting the group continue.

"I daresay," said the squire, "that you have a made a worthy comparison, good freeman. Survival or not, it seems apparent that many a peasant easily bare resemblance to poisonous creatures or slithering serpents." He felt the miller squirm angrily in his direction, but finished his thought regardless, with a small smile creeping up the side of his young mouth. "Although I can't say say that such people could ever share a common trait with such creatures so as to be classified as 'small' by an honest man."

The final barb had the desired effect, as the miller once again lost his composure with the mischievous young squire. "Poisonous creatures, you say? Well let me ask ye, young squire, what would the courts do without industrious peasants to carry out the will of the land? Surely young nobles such as yourself would not be able to produce enough grain for bread or crops to fill the king's table. Odd that a boy who likely can't even properly fetch water from a well should so easily mock the importance of the people he depends on to sustain himself. Especially considering the likelihood that a young squire is no longer guaranteed dubbing by said king, and may need turn to the kindness of such 'poisonous creatures' when he is an old man still carrying a shield. And to you, sir franklin, to say that we peasants could surprise and bare arms only in necessity of survival, I should say that you have once again underestimated the strength of common man, as we could do so for many other reasons as well. To speak only of necessity is injurious and ill-advised."

"It's madness, is what it is," chimed in the merchant's wife from nearby. She addressed the group while turning her head over her shoulder, without giving them the dignity of turning fully around. Donning a scarlet gyte made not of reeds but instead some luxurious exotic weave, she was also fitted with a ceint of fine silk, and several small pieces of jewelry not usually befitting that of a merchant's wife. She carried with her afreshly picked white rose attached to her garment that may or may not have been bestowed on her by a young suitor that could not claim to be her merchant husband. The fact that her appearance did not fully reflect her stated background was not lost on the group which she was addressing. "To argue whether a group of people could only fight out of necessity or without reason is to go beyond the logic of ages of men who have existed without permission or interference from others. And to say whether or not people should fight," she said, now fixing her gaze solely on the young squire, "is a foolish notion which would only be held by those who have not yet had experiences in their lives by which they could claim to be of a sufficient age that they should be commenting on such topics."

"I beg your pardon, my lady," said the squire, "I have not wished that my opinions or years have been cause for offense, I merely maintain that combat is a noble endeavor which should be reserved solely for those who have chosen or born to such a calling. I hadn't meant to call to question the unquestionable value or contribution of workers or traders like your husband or your many other welcomed suitors." To this the miller, squire and franklin all quietly giggled to themselves while the merchant's wife shot the young squire a dark stare of ice such as that of a winter night.

The young squire's questioning allusion to the merchant's wife true profession had not gone unnoticed by the young wife, who shot back, "Funny that such a young squire should speak freely about such matters when he himself has not grown enough to be able to carry the full weight of sword or shield and instead carries around a less cumbersome coat on a thin weave. I should think that perhaps a squire would need more growth in stature and experience in courting himself before he comment on things of which he does not know."

The young squire had stopped smiling and remained quiet, instead quiet sulked and sank his attention back into his fraying banner. The miller and franklin, however, were both laughing now with full body, as the young squire had been made humble by the sharp tongue and sharper wit of the proclaimed merchant's wife.

"It seems our young squire," said the miller while wiping tears of laughter from his heavy face, may have finally learned that it is better to speak from experience than to spear the 'poisonous creatures' without his heavy shield."

"I imagine the 'poisonous creatures' are the only thing our young squire has any experience spearing, for that matter," replied the merchant's wife, over her shoulder. To this, the miller doubled over in his seat, as the caul fell off his head, and he buried his face in his barmcloth. The franklin had also started laughing heartily, and had his head turned away from the squire with his hand upon his mouth to shield his amusement from the vanquished youth. He tried to steer the conversation away from the young squire's embarrassment.

"Well it can be said that experience is the base of any knowledge, and should always be the dawn of any personal account in such matters of debate. After all, experience is wisdom," he said.

"Is that so, kind freeman?" said the miller, now drying his face with the rough fabrics of his cloth.

"Undoubtedly," responded the franklin. "Wisdom is as good as an inheritance. Yes, it is more excellent for those who see the sun. For wisdom is a defense, even as money is a defense; but the excellency of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it."

The squire now looked up at the franklin, and asked, "I believe those words not to be your own."

The franklin did not disagree, instead stating "that is quite right young squire, they belong to something more knowledgeable than you or I could ever be."

"What is that?" asked the squire.

"Ecclesiastes," said the franklin.

"Impressive," said the miller, looking across the squire at the franklin.

"What's Ecclesiastes?" asked the squire.

"It's the Good Book," said the merchant's wife.

"Yes, young squire, it is the Good Book itself that provides us the most profound wisdom of all, even in matters of wisdom itself" said the franklin.

"The wisdom of the Bible..." said the young squire.

"What the fuck are you guys talking about??" screamed Randy.

The four remained quiet.

"Mom said I had to drive you to the Renaissance Fair but I'll be damned if I'm gonna listen to this shit all the way there," said Randy.

"But Randy," pleaded the young squire.

"No 'but's'! Jesus, I'm fucking sick of you faggoty little freaks!" said Randy, punching the steering wheel. Four moved slightly in uneasy nervousness and one smoldered in silence.

The merchant's wife peered out the window as she lightly traced her fingers over a petal on her white rose. It came off in her hand, and she looked down and quietly studied it, her lips tucked closed.

P.L. Ernix is staring 30 in the face. He's an East Coast guy who still believes the written word is one of the most powerful mediums out there. He lives in NYC.