This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. It is available as an audiobook, paperback, and kindle.
II – Story Time
Sir James had never questioned why Dashtek wanted to be his squire. He simply hadn’t thought of it, but it was unusual for a young man of Dashtek’s age and strength to be paired with such a mediocre knight. In fact, on more than one occasion, Dashtek had been asked to be the squire for knights who actually did something more than sleep. At one point the famed Sir Cowain had offered to train him. Under such tutelage Dashtek would have no doubt become a great knight, but instead he refused. Dashtek explained to each who offered that it would be disloyal to leave Sir James. “My oath to be Sir James’s squire does not expire because a better opportunity arises. My honor depends on my living my oath. Besides, if I do not squire for Sir James, I doubt anyone else will.”
Although he spoke his words truly, in his heart Dashtek remained Sir James’ squire not only out of loyalty for the aged knight, but out of love for the Princess. You younger readers need to beware at this point. Love has a way of opening up strange windows into another’s soul. Although Dashtek was aware of the princess’ general overbearing, selfish, demanding, obnoxious, and generally rude nature, he was also aware that she could be much more and believed that with time she would come to discover the person he knew was inside. Since both Sir James and the princess rarely left the castle, his employment allowed him plenty of opportunity to steal a glance at his favourite young lady.
The boar cooked, the sun set, and the air began to cool. After each of the party had filled their stomachs with the day’s kill, the party sat around the fire for warmth and to spend the evening telling stories. Usually those who had traveled the most had the best stories to tell. Poplazi, believing the length of his journeys entitled him to go first began with the tale of a woman who had lost her shoe after an evening of dancing. He told how it was found by the prince who thought it was such a nice shoe that it had to be returned to its owner at all cost. Poplazi explained that that the prince had a thing about matching footwear. He spent twenty minutes explaining how the prince was rumored to have cried whenever a sock would go missing after being washed and break up the pair. So when he found the fancy shoe he had to find the owner.
You might have heard this story before. Poplazi’s version of it wasn’t very well told or very interesting because he focused most of the attention on the silly prince with an overactive interest in matching footwear.
Once Poplazi’s story ended anticlimactically, Kilewal offered his tale. That is to say, Kilewal grunted.
There was silence for a while which wasn’t a problem until it started to feel awkward. To break that silence Sir James began to tell the tale of the battle of Mabonigon. Everyone who had heard it before (many, many, times before) hoped that Sir James would breathe new life into the story. Instead he told the tale using precisely the same words and inflection as he had many, many times before. Mid-sentence princess Jan interrupted.
“We’ve all heard that story before. You were there. The clashing of sounds made a great cacophony. The enemy was fierce and you were standing next to Arthur when he blew his horn to rally the knights and win the day. End of story!”
The rudeness of Princess Jan’s interruption was enough to draw everyone’s attention—everyone except for Alamus whose attention remained on the fire. And because no one was looking at him no one noticed his lips moving or made out the words he whispered as he stared at the smoke rising from the flames. It was a spell not unlike talking to a cat. Cats are incredibly smart, but fiercely independent and only accommodate people when they choose to. A few kind words goes a long way to getting a cat to do what you want it to do. And so it is with smoke. With the right words amazing things can happen. Slowly the smoke from the fire started to drift toward the princess.
“Now that I’ve finished your story for you Sir James you can go back to sleep and someone (cough) with a story that isn’t sold old (cough) can have a (cough) turn.”
The smoke had made her eyes water and her throat sore. She tried moving twice to different sides of the fire to no avail. The smoke continued to follow her. It was only after taking a few paces back from the fire that she was able to regain her breath, far enough away that she was not able to easily interrupt the evening, nor could she feel the fire’s warmth.
Lady Arable began to recite one of the many poems from the Hallbrook. She began with a story of a lovely stream that began in the mountains where the snow would melt. In this poem it was said that the snow melting was nature’s way of crying at winter’s passing and that these tears would feed the stream that would water the valley’s flowers in springtime. It was a reminder that each season of the year has its beauty and when lost, worth a tear in its time, but that sadness usually passes into joy.
The princess’ voice came from the darkness behind them. “Well it feels like it’s winter time here. I’m cold.” One might think of the nights of summer being warm, but the nights of late summer, after weeks of someone gets used to the hot weather are particularly hard to bear.
At the princess’ word Dashtek got up without drawing too much attention to himself. He removed his jacket and put it around the princess who had her back to the group. She pulled it tighter onto her shoulders. He didn’t wait for a thank you, and she didn’t offer one.
Lady Arable saw that the princess was temporarily warmed and began reciting another poem. She had believed that her example of decorum and civility would eventually be recognized and emulated by the princess. Thus far such an educational strategy had been unsuccessful. Still she considered poetry among the noble expressions of humanity and enjoyed reciting it as often as opportunity permits. This one was about the stars being holes into heaven—that as each person dies and leaves this world, they create a hole in the curtain of blackness as they fly toward heaven. As she recited those who listened began to look upwards. As their eyes adjusted away from the firelight and through the trees they could make out the billions of stars glowing above them. When the poem concluded she pointed to the North Star and said, “There is a legend more ancient than the Hallbrook about that star, but I’m afraid I must prepare the princess for bed. We have some miles ahead of us tomorrow.”
The good Lady took her leave and walked toward the Princess kindly putting her arm around her. The princess rejected the gesture and made her own way back to the tent with her characteristic pouting-stomp. When they got into the tent Princess Jan laid down on what was to be her bed for the night again began a new round protest.
“This?! This is the bed I have to sleep on? Your nephews must have put this tent over the top of every rock and root in the forest.”
The princess’ protest continued.
The nephews sitting warm by the fire snickered and taking advantage of the empty stage started telling tales of their various games and adventures. They started by retelling the time they invented a game called “stick head” in order to decide who would swing first on a vine they discovered near a river back home. The game wasn’t very inventive. The rules were simply this: whoever could break the biggest stick by smashing it on their forehead would go first.
The adults around the fire listened with limited interest—enough interest though, that no one noticed as Dashtek left his spot near the fire and moved toward the horses. There he grabbed his blanket. The squire then went to a leafy spot in the woods and laid his blanket on the ground and piled as many leaves as he could upon it. Folding the corners in he carried it toward the white tent. From outside he could still hear the princess fussing. He announced his presence with a polite cough outside the door and was welcomed in by the Lady Arable. Once inside he moved to where the princess’ blankets had been spread, laid them neatly aside, and began removing as many rocks as he could. He then spread the leaves and laid his blanket on top, using the rocks on the edges to keep the leaves from escaping. Finally, he laid her blankets back out on top of his as neatly as he had found them, and left.
He didn’t wait for a thank you, and she didn’t offer one.