The sun was slowly disappearing beyond the distant hills yonder. Around ten peasants sat at the courtyard of a little hamlet forming a circle. A young man sat in their midst and addressed them.
“It had been days since I had undertaken an adventure. I decided I had enough of leisure in the comfort of my home. So I strapped my mighty Excalibur to my belt, mounted my trusty steed and set out. They say adventure comes seeking he who seeks adventure and so it was with me. I had not ridden a few miles, when I happened to look up skywards. What do I see but a dragon! A fierce one, indeed! Larger than any reported to date. It was making away with a fair maiden. The fairest I had seen. My heart just went out to her. How could a valiant knight like me see a damsel in distress and do nothing about it? I decided to give the dragon the chase. The dragon must have seen me coming in its pursuit for it began to pick up speed. The vile creature must have realized who it was up against. When you know you stand no chance in a fight, flight is the best option. One must credit dragons with at least that much intelligence.”
He paused to see the effect of his statement. None was forthcoming. These country clods probably found it tough to comprehend heroism. He continued on.
“But then I was not the one to let the beast make away with a beauty so easily. I also spurred up my steed to keep pace. I was soon at its lair. The cowardly dragon was now cornered like a rat inside its hole as I advanced towards it through the only entrance to its cave. As I entered the cave some strange creepers sprang up from nowhere and began to coil around me. Soon I was completely entangled by the creepers. With me tied up secure, the dragon finally took courage to come and face me. It let out a ball of fire at me. But I think in spite being tied up, I must have inspired so much fear that even at such a short range, in its nervousness, it missed me. Then I summoned all my strength and snapped free from the creepers that entangled me. I leapt in front of the dragon brandishing my sword. The shock must have been too much for it. It stood frozen to the spot for a while. Then the princess emerged. I was enchanted by her beauty. The dragon made good the distraction to evade me and escape into the recesses of the cave. My mission was accomplished. I had rescued the maiden. In spite of my fearful appearance, I am soft at heart. I did not want to torment the poor frightened creature any further. So I set out on my journey back to deliver the lady back safely at her home. “
A slight incredulousness had crept into the otherwise impassive look on the peasants’ face. It seemed like they were finding it tough to reconcile idea of fearfulness of appearance with this youth dressed in clothes like a dandy, baby face and neatly combed golden hair. He clearly did not seem to have read their reaction or if he had read chose to ignore and prodded on with his narrative.
“But the return journey proved to be as arduous as the battle with the dragon if not more. Within moments of emerging from the dragon’s lair, we were attacked by a werewolf. I now had not only my own safety to think of but I had in my care a flower of the glade. So in such circumstances, I considered discretion the best part of valor and decided to avoid conflict. But my exit route was blocked by a huge shape changing troll in the form of a tree. Taking advantage of my preoccupation with the werewolf, the tree got through my guard and dealt me a massive blow. Before I could recover from the blow, I was faced with a third foe: a Minotaur! I realized I could not avoid conflict anymore and decided to literally take the bull by its horns. The bull headed monster tried to run but I held on firm till it finally yielded. Seeing me deal sternly with one monster was enough to scare the other two monsters into submission.”
He bowed before the group of peasants as if he had just given a performance.
“And here I stand before you badly bruised but with not a scratch allowed to be afflicted upon the person of the lovely angel Helena here.”
The lovely angel ‘Helena’ came out to serve ale to the gathered peasants as the knight finished his tale with a flourish. The only catch was that angel did not look even remotely like an angel, a princess, a fair maiden or any of the other descriptions he had used for her. The girl in question turned out to be regular country lass, homely in appearance, plump around the waist, and a plain round freckled face. She was dressed in a dirty working gown and an overall. Even her name was not the fancy ‘Helena’ but plain old ‘Helga’.
But that was by no means the only aspect where there seemed an apparent disconnect between appearances and words. The knight’s ‘loyal steed’ for instance looked more like a famished beast that seemed to be struggling hard to keep itself from dropping dead. An animal the butcher would find more useful than a knight! On a similar note, the ‘Excalibur’ looked like something the iron smith would find greater use for than a knight. Or possibly not! For in its rusted dilapidated condition, it’s utility as scrap metal was also doubtful.
The peasants however did not give any indications of having noticed these discrepancies. They just sat quietly and sipped their ale. For one Helga was a nice girl, good at heart and had done a good turn to each one of the villagers at one time or the other. She had supposedly been part of the adventures and she seemed to corroborate the knight’s account by her silence. If it was good enough for her, it was good enough for them as well as they were quite fond of her and trusted her.
The other point was that the peasants considered the gentry in general a bit loose in the head. The peasants never really understood their fancy ways, their fancy dressing and their fancy talk. What they understood was that theirs was the hand that held the whip. So it was better to agree to whatever a member of the gentry said and avoid a confrontation.
Helga smiled to herself as she thought about the events of the day the way she remembered them. Most of what the knight had said had indeed been true. Knights were after all honor bound to tell the truth, weren't they? In some sense, yes! But then with respect to some of the details, some bardic license had been taken. Possibly it was a matter of perspective.
To start with, it was true that he had seen a dragon flying with her on its back. But the dragon in question was by no means fierce or deadly. Nor was it trying to abduct her. In fact it was still almost a baby, a real darling. Helga had found the abandoned dragon egg a few years back. She had managed to get it hatched and had ever since been caring for the little dragon ‘Lizzie’. Lizzie had only recently learnt how to fly and was only too glad to proudly display her newly learnt skills to her best friend.
The Devils Snare at the entrance to the dragon’s cave was indeed a genuine peril. It was a carnivorous creeper that grew in dark moist places like caves. It ensnared innocent victims into its coils and strangled them to death. Any struggle on the part of the victim only made things worse. The only way to destroy it was through exposure to heat and light, for both of which dragon fire was an excellent source. So Lizzie had to be called to the rescue. The ball of fire had been for destroying the creepers. So it was intentionally not aimed at the knight as no harm was intended to his person. The minute he was free, the crazy knight had foolishly waved his sword in front of Lizzie’s snout. Lizzie was allergic to the smell of rusted metal and Helga had feared it might trigger a sneezing fit? The poor knight would have been badly scalded.
Then there was the matter of the fox that had come to sniff at the bacon and cheese in the knight’s knapsack. He had startled the poor thing by jumping up so violently at its sight. She was not sure who was more frightened, the fox or the knight. In his fright, he had gone and run headlong into a whomping willow, a vicious tree species that hit out at anyone who was careless enough to venture within range of its branches. A nasty whack it had given him which had sent him flying. He had gone and landed right on top of a poor cow grazing nearby. The poor creature must have thought the sky had fallen on her back and she had run for her life. He had held on tightly to her horns for his dear life. Finally when the tired cow came to a halt, she was in such a poor state of nerves. After the molestation at the hands of the knight it had taken Helga lot of effort to soothe her. Even then she suspected if the poor farmer who owned her would be never be able to get any milk out of her. Such a trauma this incident must have caused her! It would have scarred her for life!
She had found him in a real bad shape from his encounter with the Whomping Willow when they had reached home. She had cared for him and nursed his wounds. He had meantime told her all about himself. He was the second son of Lord Lockhart, an unimportant courtier in the court of King Arthur. No wonder he had been given lands in the outskirts close to the glades and the jungles. And being the second son, the knight, ‘Gilderoy’ or ‘Gilly’ as he was called at home would inherit neither title nor estate. Unless he took initiative he was doomed to live at the mercy of scraps from his father’s table and later his brother’s. He only had two sources of salvation; either take service under a knight as a squire, serve him and work his way up or go on a quest and perform feats of glory to build a reputation for himself. Hard work and patience were not among Gilly’s qualities. So for the second option it had to be.
She realized how much a successful quest meant to him. He desperately wanted to believe he was on his way to become a knight. She did not have the heart to disabuse his notions of what he had supposedly achieved that day. Why ruin his happiness? She had a soft corner for underdogs and routed strongly for them. She knew from experience how it felt to be an underdog for she had always been one.
The thought of being an underdog took her back in time to the days of her early childhood. She had then had a friend ‘Rowena’, who had been everything she was not: pretty, smart, witty, creative etc. How she had wished she could be like her friend. To make worse people always compared her with Rowena and she always came out unfavorably in every aspect in such comparisons. She hated the comparison and it had begun to strain her relations with Rowena. The strain had kept building up and finally one fine day, unable to take it any longer, she had shouted at Rowena in a fit of rage, “As long as you are there, I would always appear bad. I wish you just disappear from my life for good.”
Rowena had run away crying. As if her wish had come true, Rowena had just disappeared the following day and was never seen again. Different people had different theories regarding her disappearance. Some said she must have wandered off too far and fallen off the edge of the world which they believed existed just beyond the hills. Some said she had run into a vampire. Others said she had been kidnapped by gypsies.
But Helga could not help connecting Rowena’s disappearance to her wish and always felt guilty about it.
Whenever she thought about Rowena, it upset her entire day. Why spoil the day, she thought. She tried to move her thoughts to more pleasant things. Like Gilly! In addition to feeling pity for him as an underdog, she rather liked him. He was kind of cute in his own way. And she liked the way he referred to her as angel, princess, fair maiden etc. Even the boy who tended the pigs on the neighborhood farm had not given maker her a second look. And here was this handsome, educated man of noble descent calling her all these lovely names. Even though she suspected it was not true, hearing someone say such things did her feel happy.
Her reverie was interrupted as Gilly came up behind her, “My fair maiden, we are having a dinner and ball at our castle this Saturday evening. I would like you to join and meet my family. “
Her heart skipped a beat.
Click for other Chapters: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8
Click for other Chapters: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8
Picture credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Face_in_the_Pool-Knight_Fighting_Dragon.jpg