By Thursday, Jared is back on his feet and itching to take full advantage of it: he finds a willing sparring partner in sir Murray and leaves after dinner for the training grounds.
He is studying the fight between Murray and a French knight when Geoffrey calmly walks up to him. “Jared,” he says in a low voice. “You must come with me at once. Count von Kripke requires your presence.”
Jared stands, confused. “His lordship?” he murmurs before calling a quick farewell to the other knights and striding back to the camp. “I don’t understand… Why am I summoned, do you know, Geoffrey?”
The older man nods sombrely. “Yes, I do. That’s why I offered to come and fetch you myself. It’s better if your hear it before we get there.”
“Hear what?” Jared asks, worried.
“There is no easy way to say it, so here it is: your squire is currently under arrest.”
The news is so unexpected, so outlandish that it makes the young knight stop in his tracks. “Jensen arrested! No…no, it can’t be!” I promised him I would protect him!
Geoffrey gently wraps an arm around his shoulders and tugs him forward. “Come, my friend. We are expected.”
Jared, however, will have none of it. “Why was he arrested?” he growls, shrugging off Geoffrey’s comforting arm and walking even faster. “On what charges? I can’t believe it!”
“Calm down, Jared, let me explain.” Geoffrey grabs his arm. “Listen, this not a trial yet, but it’s better if we establish the depth of his deceit right away. We must make it clear you had nothing to do with it.”
“Deceit?” he frowns. “What do you mean?”
“I mean how that little son of a bitch used you to infiltrated our camp. He is not the good Christian boy he pretended to be. He’s one of them – a spy, probably. Certainly an heretic! But we must make clear you knew nothing of it.”
“That’s ridiculous! I know him…” Jared replies angrily, but Geoffrey doesn’t let him finish: “I knew you wouldn’t want to believe it, but you must not let your pride cloud your reason. Denounce him right now, Jared, it’s your only chance. There must be something you can say to show you suspected him.”
Jared presses his lips into a tight line and does not answer as they enter the count’s large tent, quickly trying to assess the situation: von Kripke sits on carved chair like an emperor on his throne, surrounded by his major vassals and advisors. Jensen is on his knees before them, his head bowed and his wrists and ankles secured in iron manacles.
It’s enough to make Jared’s blood run cold.
Von Kripke greets them with a court nod. “Sir Padalecki, lord de Morgaine. Now that you are here, we can begin.”
Jared steps forward, forcing himself to remain calm. “Your lordship, my lords, I understand there are serious accusations against my squire.”
“It is so, sir Padalecki. He is accused of being a spy for the Greeks.”
“As my squire, everything he does reflects upon me as well. He has been with me for more than a month now – perhaps not a very long time, but I have come to know him and he never gave me reason to suspect his loyalty.”
Geoffrey steps forward as well. “Of course he would be careful around you – the boy is dense, but not a complete fool.”
Jared regards him coldly. “I’d like to know how this started. Is it because he was born here? He never denied it and that doesn’t make him any less of a good Christian.”
“But what sort of Christian, exactly?” Geoffrey replies haughtily. “Do you know that, Jared? When you were laid up with the physician, I saw that lying son of a bitch cross himself the Greek way.”
Quick as lightning, that tattered memory flashes before his eyes. The dark shadow. Jensen was looking at me, he didn’t see him coming... Damn it!
Unconsciously, he straightens his back even more, as if he was readying himself for battle. “Are you ready to swear it, sir de Morgaine? Remember, an innocent man’s life is at stake.”
Geoffrey snorts incredulously. “An innocent man? Hardly!”
“Nothing has been proven yet. Could you swear it?”
The older knight frowns and steps forward menacingly. “Are you calling me a liar, sir Padalecki?”
“I am not,” Jared replies evenly. “In fact, I believe you are being completely truthful. I am merely allowing for the fact that you might have made a mistake.”
“I made no mistakes! I know exactly what I saw and I ought to give you a thrashing for implying that, you arrogant pup.”
“If this is your challenge,” Jared replies, his voice cold and cutting as the Northern wind. “I accept it.”
Jensen flinches imperceptibly at his words – at least, imperceptibly for everybody else , but not for Jared, who sees him out of the corner of his eye.
Geoffrey opens his mouth to reply, but the count stands, effectively cutting him off: “Enough! We have not come this far to fight among ourselves!”
“My lord, sir de Morgaine has insulted my honor. If this court cannot decide, I am ready to prove him wrong in a trial by combat.”
Von Kripke glares at him. “Your determination is duly noted, sir Padalecki. Let us continue before it comes to that.”
Another man steps forward – a priest, not a knight.
Jared inwardly thanks all the saints watching over them as he recognizing Father Lehne.
“We must recognize,” he says, “that sir Padalecki’s objection does have some merit: it’s entirely possible that sir de Morgaine’s eyes might have been tricked by the light. I believe we can solve everything quite easily.” He turns to Jensen, addressing him in a kind voice. “Cross yourself, young man.”
Jensen raises his head, stealing a quick glance at sir Jared. There’s a queer expression on his face, almost like...relief.
Straightening his back, he opens his right hand and raises it to his forehead. “In nomine patris...” Down on his chest, as far as the chain will allow, “...et filiis...” Left shoulder, right shoulder. “...et spiritus sancti, amen.” His right joins his left hand, palm against palm.
Father Lehne nods. “Now the Apostle’s creed, if you please.”
Jensen takes a deep breath and obiedently starts reciting: “Credo in Deum patrem omnipotentem, creatorem caeli et terrae...”
Jared can feel Geoffrey’s glare on him, but he does not care: Jensen holds his complete attention, the foreign words falling easily from his lips as if he had been repeating them his whole life.
As his beloved prays, in the sanctuary of his own mind, so does he. Forgive us this deception, my Lord: don’t look at our words but at the faith in our hearts. If there be a price, let me be the only one to pay. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
“...et vitam aeternam, amen.”
“Good, good,” father Lehne says. “Just one more thing, then...Yes, the Hail Mary.”
Jared’s blood runs cold – he hasn’t taught Jensen the Hail Mary, he didn’t have time. Without thinking, he starts moving forward, ready to stop everything before they realize it – then Jensen, the real Jensen is looking straight at him, a clear order in his eyes that stops him in his tracks.
Before Jared can say or do anything, Jensen is looking ahead again and speaking calmly. “Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedecta tu in mulieribus…” The pronunciation is not as polished, but somehow it works: it makes the scene look real.
Jared keeps staring at his squire, feeling proud, hopeful and almost deliriously happy all at once.
“...ora pro nobis peccatoribus nunc and in hora mortis nostrae, amen.”
For a moment, nobody speaks, then father Lehne smiles at the kneeling squire turns to the assembled knights: “This is proof enough for me.”
Count von Kripke nods. “So is for me.”
Geoffrey tries to protest: “My lord, the second accusation...”
“...was merely a suspicion based on Ackles’ religion.” Von Kripke interrupts. “It has been proven to my satisfaction that this young man is in fact a Latin Christian. He can go back to his duties without further delay. Sir Padalecki, my apologies for doubting your words.”
Jared almost doesn’t hear him, too engrossed with watching the manacles being removed from Jensen’s limbs. “None was necessary, my lord. Thank you for presiding our case.” He reaches out, helping Jensen to his feet. “If we are not needed anymore, I wish to retire to my tent.”
“Very well, sir Padalecki – you are excused.”
“Thank you, my lord,” he says as he bows, one hand on his squire’s shoulder to keep him from toppling over.
His hand stays there even as they rise and walk away, steadying him when he stumbles and gently guiding him through the flaps and out in the open air.
Geoffrey follows them out, glaring at both of them. “This isn’t over yet, Padalecki.”
Jared doesn’t answer, just squeezes Jensen’s shoulder and softly pushes him away.
They exchange no words as they cross the camp. Although Jared is painfully aware of the rough cloth under his palm and the quick glances Jensen keeps throwing him, he can’t bring himself to remove his hand.
It’s all he remembers of their walk back to their tent.
When they finally get there, Jared has to blink as he steps inside: everything looks normal, untouched by the afternoon’s events.
Slowly, reluctantly, Jared lets go of Jensen’s shoulder and drops on his bed with a sigh, hiding his face in his hands. He still feels as if a boulder was crushing his chest.
“Si...Jared?” Jensen whispers, his first real words in who knows how many hours and Jared can’t bring himself to ignore him.
“I’m sorry,” he says, not looking at him.
“Sorry? What for?” Jensen replies, sitting down beside him. “I should apologize: it’s my fault you were dragged into this mess. If I had been more careful...”
“It wasn’t your fault. You just acted on instinct – it was bound to happen sooner or later.” Jared sighs. “It was just bad luck that Geoffrey should walk in right then. If you want to blame someone, blame him: he should have talked to me first. He had no right to have you arrested...” he adds, almost growling.
“I already do. Blame him, I mean.” The younger man shrugs, his movement uncovering the red marks at his wrists.
Jared can’t take his eyes off of them. “Does it hurt? Your wrists – and your...”
“Ankles? A little.” Another shrug. “It will pass.”
Jared looks away again, his hands itching to reach out and touch. “I’m sorry. I said I would protect you and then...”
“Then you did,” he says, unceremoniously cutting him off. “You taught me your prayers. I’d be dead if you hadn’t.”
Jared hurriedly shakes his head, trying to banish the hundreds, thousands of images that swim before his mind’s eye – Jensen hanged, drowning, tied at the stake... He has to look up, look at the real man beside him before he drowns in them.
“I didn’t teach you the last one. The Ave Maria.”
This time it’s Jensen who looks away, reddening. “I listened to you – when you pray, you always say it. I just paid attention.”
Jared nods, still looking at him. “Good. You were...really brave in there, Jensen.”
Another feeling flickers on his face, but it’s gone before Jared can identify it. “Thank you. I just...did my best. I didn’t want to drag you down with me.”
Jared doesn’t say anything. After such an afternoon, his heart is screaming at him to pull Jensen closer and hold him tight, make sure he’s still there because sight is not enough, he needs to touch, to feel him in his arms, under his hands... But he doesn’t move.
If I touch him now, I’ll never let him go.
At night, Jared dreams of fire.