Working on a possible way out of the block on POS...more later.
Another day passed with them traveling in silence. The land they rode through was pleasant, though the farms were now smaller and the people a bit less friendly. The knight’s stature assured their passage and respect, but he took little notice of anything except the road. As for David, his mind was too lost to be truly aware of what was around him. The only time he smiled was when a pair of squirrels appeared beside them and chattered at him, only to be chased by an angry bluebird.
At night by the campfire, David silently watched the sky explode with more shooting stars. He counted at least a hundred before he lay back to sleep.
The knight also remained silent, but he cast more quick glances at the boy. He noticed how David’s brow was constantly creased with thought and how he rode, moved and ate with a deeper concentration. And as the knight settled back to sleep, a hint of sadness crossed his face.
On the afternoon of the fifth day, they stopped to water their horses at a stream. The knight had dismounted and was re-attaching the strap to his saddle when a shrill scream was heard, followed by frantic barking! He glanced around and quickly pointed to a grove of trees.
“There!” he cried.
David instantly turned, kicked the pony and raced for the grove as the knight re-mounted.
David rounded the trees to find a tall man struggling with a furious shepherd girl as another man tried to fend off her dog. A herd of sheep swirled nearby, bleating in fear at the uproar. The girl was barely as old as David and was kicking and biting the man between cries for help.
The boy exploded in fury! He saw a broken branch lying nearby, guided the pony over, grabbed the branch and shouted, “Stand fast!” Then he galloped toward them!
The tall man was barely able to turn before David whipped the branch against his back! More angry than hurt, the man released the girl, pulled a long gleaming knife and spun to face the boy. The second man finally slung the dog aside and raced to help his partner.
David reined the pony about, saw the man’s weapon and yanked out his own knife then roared back to them, swinging both branch and knife in the air and hollering, wildly! The picture he made gave the men pause. Then the shepherd girl began slinging rocks at them and the dog re-joined the fracas, so the men turned and ran down the glen. The dog chased after them, yapping and nipping at their heels with a happy abandon.
David leapt from the pony to beside the girl just as the knight thundered around the trees. The boy pointed after the men.
“Those two!” he cried. “Down there! They were attacking this girl. I think they wanted her sheep.”
The knight pulled his stallion to a halt. “Escort the girl to her family,” he ordered. “Stay with them. If I have not returned by morning, continue without me.” Then he raced after the men.
“Without you?!” David cried. “No! Wait!”
But the man did not hear him. David saw the thieves disappear around a distant thicket of trees, quickly followed first by the dog and then the knight. Reluctantly, he turned to the girl. She was scratched and her sleeve was torn, but she was otherwise unhurt.
“They snuck up on me,” she said, breathlessly. “If they hadn’t, I could’ve stopped them. But that’s what they did, so I couldn’t.”
“It’s fortunate we were here,” said David.
“It is, Sir Knight,” she replied. “My thanks.”
“Oh, I’m not a knight. I’m just David.”
“I’m Emily, ‘Just David’,” she said and cast him a sideways glance.
David caught his breath. He had not realized how pretty she was or how blue her eyes were. “Emily,” he finally said, “where is your family?”
“This way,” she said, then she whistled for the dog. He came bounding up, very satisfied with himself, and herded the sheep into following Emily as she led David to her family’s farm. He walked at her side, leading the pony.
“Where were you going?” asked Emily.
David hesitated. “Sir Richard’s castle,” he carefully replied.
“Why do you want to go there?"
David was barely able to keep his surprise at her question under control. “Why would I not?”
“Because it’s big and dirty and crowded.”
“Have you seen it?”
“Oh, yes. My father goes there for market and I usually go with him. It’s not even a day’s journey from here.”
“I’ve never been.”
Emily looked at him, quizzically. “Where are you from?”
“The...the west of here. Five days’ journey.”
Her look turned to amazement. “You came all that way just to see the castle?!”
“Not exactly,” David smiled. Then he drew himself up and said, “I’ve been summoned by the king.”
“Oh,” said Emily. “What did you do wrong?”
David froze at the shock of her question. The thought that he was being brought to Sir Richard for punishment had never crossed his mind. He could not think of anything he might have done that would warrant such a thing...at least, nothing that would gain notice from anyone greater than the town master.
Emily laughed. “Oh, don’t look so worried, ‘Just David.’ You’re not in chains, so I don’t think it’s anything really bad. Maybe he does just want to meet you.”
David forced himself to smile at her. “My name is David,” he said. “David Martin.”
Emily smiled back. “My father’s farm is just over this hill...David,” she said. Then she gaily continued on. He slowly followed her, still reeling from her question.
When Emily told her family of what David had done, her mother prepared him a meal fit for a king as her father and brothers fed and groomed the pony. Then they bade him sit at the head of the table and listened with rapt attention as he told of his journey to the castle. While he spoke, for some reason he kept noticing how Emily watched him with her sideways look. And how her hair shone like spun gold. And how her eyes gently sparkled like sapphires dancing in the firelight. Then he thought of his grandmother and how her room was just as warm and friendly as this one, with good food and steady laughter.
And tears stung his eyes. He felt as if he had lost something during this journey, something he treasured but did not know what it was, just yet. All he knew was, his heart ached like it was empty and would never be filled, again.
But then Emily gave him a slice of bread and butter with honeycomb and a bowl of milk, and her mother lay blankets by the fire for his bed, and for a moment he felt better...but all he could thank them with was a smile.