Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

David Martin - part 6

Wheels as regards POS are still cranky. Here's more of "David Martin."

The knight did not return by the next morning, so David readied himself for the last day’s journey. The farmer gave him bread and cheese and apples and pointed him towards the castle.

“You should be there by mid-afternoon,” he said. “The road twists and curves but it is the best way. Are you sure you won’t stay with us?”

“I am expected,” said David. “But I do thank you for your hospitality.” Then he offered the man one of his copper coins.

“Oh, no, please, Sir Knight,” said the farmer. “It is we who thank you. Had it not been for you...”

The youth smiled at the man. “What we swear to protect must be protected...but I – I am not a knight.”

The man still refused to be paid. So David shrugged and started away. The farmer and his family waved and called their farewells until he reached a turn in the road. Then he remembered Emily’s words and stopped, a chill running down his back. What if he was being called for punishment? To be slung into Sir Richard’s dungeon for some as yet unknown offense? But no...if that were the case, the knight would not have left him. Or would he have? The events had come upon them so suddenly. David was at a loss. He finally looked around to find Emily waving to him from the entrance to the barn, and the picture she made looked like home.

“I could stay here,” he told himself. “I could stay here and be happy. I don’t have to meet Sir Richard...not really...”

He turned the pony around and started it back to them. But then a butterfly drifted up to him and brushed his face with its simple blue and white wings. It danced before him, like it was asking him to play, then flitted off on a gentle breeze, heading in the direction of the castle. David smiled...found himself returning Emily’s wave and then turning back and continuing on around the curve.

The road did indeed twist and turn through a land of rolling hills and wide fields flowing in the breeze. The sky was crystal blue and the whispering air was gentle against his skin. Birds and squirrels and more softly colored butterflies seemed to escort him along, singing or chattering or coyly brushing his hands with their wings.

He rode without thinking, without looking ahead more than he absolutely had to. He just kept moving forward, as if drawn to the castle by a string tied to his wrist. Sometimes he let the pony trot. Sometimes he cantered. Sometimes he just stood beside a stream so he could watch the trout jump about in the icy water.

He passed an increasing number of people. Some of them returned his smiles; some of them snarled at his apparent good humor. But most of them seemed pre-occupied with problems he would never know. The road grew dirtier with the refuse from man and animal, and the fields grew smaller and smaller, and the farms were now tightly bound by stone fences, their meager crops and few animals intended to feed little more than those living in the attached hovel.

As night approached, he passed through a thick darkening forest that suddenly ended...and before him stood the gleaming towers of Sir Richard’s castle. And it was far more glorious than he could ever have imagined. Cut from the purest granite, the bright walls stretched hundreds of feet in every direction to surround a castle keep that rose four – no, five levels up from the ground! Its turrets were capped by colorful flags whipping in the brisk breeze, and soldiers were visible keeping watch in every direction. A huge sturdy drawbridge leapt across a wide moat that surrounded the castle and was the sole entrance to the courtyard. To David, it seemed only the thatch-roofed huts gathered near the drawbridge could prevent the entire structure from floating into the clouds.

He could not move. The presence of the castle was too great, too overpowering, too wonderful to bear. People brushed past him in every direction as he watched a very large, very angry gatekeeper stop anyone who wished to cross the bridge over the moat. The man turned away as many people as he let pass. But then he, in turn, was ignored by pairs of knights who trotted inside as other pairs of knights galloped from the building. All of them were proud handsome men with the same air of certainty and purpose David had seen in his own knight. And he forgot his concerns and fears and felt an intense pride that he lived in a kingdom of such wonder and possibility.

Until he realized two of the knights leaving the castle were headed directly toward him! Suddenly, David was terrified. What if they were sent for him? What if they were coming to arrest him and take him to prison? He panicked and frantically glanced around, then noticed a small, dirty inn was close by. He scurried into its courtyard and dismounted then watched as the knights thundered by to continue on down the road.

Now David felt foolish. “I behaved like a scared little boy,” he sneered at himself. But he was still shaking, so he decided to stay at the inn. And he secretly prayed the knight would catch up to him in the morning.

The inn was dirty and crowded, the stench of ancient ale drifting about the room. Two of his copper coins bought David a corner near the fire and a slice of roast to nibble upon. And let him listen to excited talk about how one of Sir Richard’s knights had saved a princess from abduction in a nearby village.

“Twenty of them,” said one man. “He fought off twenty of them like they were nothing!”

“Her father’s King of Aquitania, I hear,” said another.

“Wrong!” cried another. “Spain!”

“Oh, of course,” sneered a fat waitress. “And why would a Spanish Princess be here?”

“Maybe Sir Richard’s finally getting married, again,” cried the first man.

“It’s about time,” said a farmer sipping a mug of ale. “He should find himself a nice lady and settle down!”

The inn-keeper joined them, wiping his hands on a filthy apron. “It’s those knights of his what should settle down,” he said. “Always off prancing around the countryside chasing lasses. D’you think one’s around when you need him?”

“To toss out a dead-beat boarder?” snipped the waitress. “Why would they bother?”

“And why not?” the inn-keeper huffed. “I pay my taxes just like anybody.”

“When you have to,” laughed the waitress. Many in the crowd laughed with her.

Then another man nudged David and said, “I saw you come in from the west. Do you know anything about that knight saving a princess?”

“No,” said David. “I saw one of Sir Richard’s knights keep some men from stealing a girl’s sheep. And he saved a man and woman from robbers, but that’s all.”

“Must’ve happened after that,” snorted the man.

“The boy doesn’t know about it because it happened to the east, you fool,” snapped the inn-keeper.

“No, it was north!” said the waitress.

David found it odd that people here seemed more concerned with the doings of Sir Richard’s knights than with the king. Then a thought struck him. “Tell me,” he asked, “what does Sir Richard look like?”

The waitress exchanged startled glances with everyone in the room. “I can’t remember the last time I saw him,” she said.

“I never have,” said the farmer.

“I caught a look at him a few years back,” said the man, “but all I could see was his hair was already white and he was barely able to stay on his horse, he was so shaky.”

“That was the archbishop,” snapped the inn-keeper.

“Well he has to be old,” said the waitress. “He was king here before I was born.”

“Nobody’s that old,” laughed the inn-keeper. The others joined him as the waitress stormed back to the ale-room.

David snuggled into his corner. That sense of fear was gnawing at him, again. No one knew. All he had heard on this journey were stories about Sir Richard told by people who had never seen the man. Not even the knight would speak to David of him. The youth was beginning to wonder if Sir Richard was just an old man who governed by way of his legends and his knights. Or worse – what if he never even existed? The mere thought of such a possibility threatened to make him ill, especially since the Sir Richard of David’s dreams had always been strong and perfect and...well, real! But the man had to exist, because David was about to meet him.

Wasn’t he?

He closed his eyes, trying to banish the hundreds of questions making themselves known to him, and he whispered to himself, over and over, “I’ll know, tomorrow. I’ll know then.”

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