0: The Central BAAr
I didn't know how long it had been since I'd come here. Weeks and months dull memories, and even though I passed the narrow archway leading to this quiet tavern often enough, I'd been too busy to go in.
Still, it's always amazed me what a simple touch, a chance smell or familiar voice can do for one's memory. Psychologists believe that, short of physical damage, we never actually forget anything but simply lose our ability to easily access it. I wouldn't know. The older I get, the less certain I am of supposed facts.
The Central BAAR then, its stout wood door opening at my touch. It's quiet tonight: Most of its patrons, like me, simply got busy or found other distractions. I walk past the oak bar where I've seen everyone from Roman legionnaires to Cold War fighter pilots sharing beer, wine, ale, whiskey and a hundred other concoctions. Behind it, where another bar might have a mirror this had a number of shields, engraved on which were the winners of various awards and between the shields, its cold, grey metal barrel intimidating even when not in use, the dreaded quote gun.
I don't know how many hours I spent in this room working on my own stories, or chatting with friends. Even after all this time the baar fills me with a warm glow, a sense of camaraderie and home. Perhaps they will come in later. Anyway, I'm here for another reason.
He's sitting at a table in the corner, near the dormant fireplace and nursing a cup of something that smells like a mixture of beer and honey. he could have been anywhere between thirty and fifty, brown hair lightened by the sun, then silvered in the bargain. A big man, muscular and stout, his silver and black tunic did much to conceal him in the dim lamp light. His eyes, however, would have betrayed him even if he wanted to hide - a hazel so pale they were almost grey and piercing. He impaled me on his gaze and I paused.
"I heard you were looking for me," he said.
"Yes." I indicated the chair across from him. "May I sit?" He said nothing but continued watching me. I finally took his lack of reaction for agreement and sat. The silence between us lengthened, and if not for those eyes I'd have sworn he'd forgotten about me.
"Why are you here?"
I glanced at the 'tender, who nodded and headed for the tap. "I hear you're an authority on knights. You know I was writing about them for awhile."
"Until you ran into a technical problem," he replied neutrally.
"It was an accident!"
"It stopped you." He paused as my drink was brought. "Are you planning to write about them again?"
"I hope to," I said, "but I want to know more about them. As I said, I'm told you're an authority."
"Perhaps." He lifted his honeyed beer in a half salute.
"I hear you are one. A knight."
"Perhaps." He sipped, then put down his drink. "Some would say you're a knight also. It's in your name."
I looked down and flushed.
"That wasn't a compliment," he said sternly. "Knight is just a title. By itself, the name means nothing. You say I'm an authority on knights? They are warriors trained in heavy cavalry tactics and operations. That's about it."
"They live to a higher ideal," I protested.
He waved his hand impatiently. "I've seen your writing. You aren't that naive." Abruptly he leaned forward. "Or is that why they've always fascinated you since you were a boy?"
"I know not all live ... lived up to their expectations," I answered. "Nor many at all, really. The chivalric code in many cases was just a dream. I suppose I like to think that for awhile enough people believed it that it made a difference."
The knight studied me for a long moment. "There are believers, idealists, call them what you will in any age. Not all of them wear armor. I think you've linked the ideals with the title of knighthood. You're enough of a historian to know better."
"I'm also enough of a historian to know we tend to glamorize the past, to look at it through a rosy lens." I sat back and regarded him. "It's why I'm here. I want to hear the truth."
"About knights?" he asked, smiling.
"If what you say is true, about men in general."
His eyebrow slowly rose. "The truth should be obvious. They tried their best. Some succeeded. Some failed. Some kept to their ideals, and some were happy just to survive. Read any story with any redeeming qualities and you'll see the same themes of hope, despair, betrayal and occasionally redemption over and over. It's the human condition, or if you prefer the danse macabre."
"If it's the human condition, then that sounds like that much more reason to keep their stories alive," I said, leaning forward. "I told you: I don't want some glorified fairy tale. I want to know the truth."
His lip curled in what may have been a sneer, or perhaps the beginning of a smile. "Very well," he said softly. He signaled for another drink, folded his hands and stared at me for a very long time.
Once upon a time, there was a group called the Brothers of the German House of St. Mary in Jerusalem. You know them as the Order of Teutonic Knights.