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| The tale of a young boy in a medieval land where Fantasy is nothing more than fiction, and the dreams that come of it. |
Okay. Here it goes: This is a first draft, again, and hasn't been edited on account that it is fresh off the block, again. It's based on a character that I play, and although I had an oh-so-great idea of what was going to happen in this thing, I don't think that it is coming out quite so gloriously. Heh. Isn't that always how it works out?
A long time ago, in a far-away land, there was a brave and valiant knight...
Ma, why is it always 'far-away?' Doesn't any of this ever happen close by?
Because it's the way it is, Jonathan. I did not write the story.
But it doesn't make any sense. A knight wouldn't just stay in one place! He'd want to help everyone. And everyone doesn't live 'far-away.' People live here, too, like us.
But there are no dragons and monsters here, not like they are in the stories.
How do you know?
Because I am your mother.
But Ma, we have problems too! Kale and Jakob locked me in the shed yesterday-
And I really could have used a knight then!
You don't need a knight, Jonathan. You need to tell me these things.
It doesn't matter. They would have done it anyway, and I got out when Old Mister Sams opened the door to borrow a hoe. But a knight would have broken the lock for me earlier, and you wouldn't have yelled at him like you would have at me if I did it instead.
I certainly would have scolded you, no matter what your brothers may have done! Those padlocks are expensive! The house isn't too far; you could have easily called for me!
A knight wouldn't call for his mother!
A knight doesn't know better.
Maybe. If they knew better they would be here and not there.
Well, this particular knight was far-away for a reason. He was on a great Journey, as all knights must face in their lifetime, seeking adventure and places to spread their good will. It was on this day when Sir Lindenlyre was crossing the Forest of the Seven Devils in the name of his Good Lady Katerin...
This was it. This was the end.
The young knight threw himself to the earth. His soft belly pounded against it, and his breath seemed to do the opposite, knocking upward and jarring from his lungs into his spine with the force of a blow. He had no armor, nothing but the mud-caked tunic on his back. It seemed pathetic, but still he resorted to clasping his little fingers over the back of his head, as if that would stop the monster from crushing it with the stomp of one foot, or a grinding snap of its jaws. Even his hair seemed to be a mockery of this - dirty brown strands snaked upward from between his knuckles in mad disarray, a cruel betrayal to his cover.
This was it. It was all over
The creature was enormous, even at the distance between them the knight could feel the ground vibrating heavily beneath him. The pulse was slow and rhythmic at first in the manner of a languid predator, but it then quickened considerably in approach. It had seen him, it must have! Gone was the playfulness, it was now a matter of closing off the space between them. And after that...
And...And...And after that...
Jonathan Treville peeked one wary brown eye out from beneath the sanctuary of his tousled locks. His lips were twisted into a coil at one side and pressed into the dirt, he was beginning to taste it there. It was awful, chalky and coarse, almost worse than eating--
Well, dirt. Jonathan lifted his face and spat a fascinating little pale glob into the furrow his nose had made in the ground, and with that he twisted his tiny form into a seated position. The sun was glaring overhead, and he peered up at it in a manner that was almost indignant. Did monsters chase knights in the daytime? The stories his mother always told him never seemed to mention that.
No, no. They probably don't. The day just isn't scary enough, Jonathan thought. And, being the Wisest seven-year-old that ever lived, he declared that as fact with a pointed rise and fall of his chin. Of course they don't. However, that was very unfortunate for him -- he wasn't allowed to play at night. That was when he had to go to bed. Maybe when he was eight. He could stay up a little later then, assuredly.
Jonathan brushed off a sleeve and looked to the edge of the forest, which was at his back. Sunlight filtered through the trees, and although it was considerably more intimidating than his yard, he had tired of fighting there. It had been at least an hour, and that was a continued battle from the day before.
Yes, the great Sir Jonathan has conquered the Forest of Backyid, the boy thought with a bright and proud grin on his face. He wiped mud from the corner of his lips and pushed himself to his feet then, which wasn't much of a feat at all. He didn't have to rise very far.
With a glance over one shoulder--nothing there, too bad!--Jonathan grudgingly set off toward the small cottage he called home. Beyond it was the glorious backdrop of his village, a myriad of straw-thatched roofs set against streets of packed earth, straight and narrow and yet far from geometric. On the contrary, it seemed as if each and every line and shape before him had slipped into something organic. Fluid.
Summer had fallen, and everything was at its peak. The trees glowed, the grass was almost as bright as the sun, and the pleasantly warm weather seemed to have brought with it a good mood. It was wonderful to go into the center square - everyone there, even when they were hard at work, seemed happier than they did during any other season of the year. Perhaps it was the lightweight cotton clothes they wore, Jonathan had figured. Things were different with less weight on your shoulders, even though the boy was aching for a set of armor to wear. He could not do battle without it, and was sure that he was strong enough to don a suit of iron! He would sleep in it, gladly!
Are they made of Iron? Or is it steel, or maybe gold...? His mother seemed to have left out those details, as well.
At the thought of his mother Jonathan felt a pang of hunger rise into his stomach and wind around it a few times, drawing tight and prominently. Horrible! With the taste of dirt on his tongue a surge of panic swirled within him, and with that came a contrasting backflow of heroic purpose. Poison! The Brave Knight had been poisoned by one of his enemies!
Could this be it? Could this be the end?
Jonathan buckled over and clenched his belly with a stiff, claw-like hand. His eyes forced themselves to be wide, so wide that the corners felt as if they would strain and pop. As a result the landscape around him blurred and swam. Everything became too green all of a sudden, too bright and too sunny. The boy's head went limp on his neck, and without sight or balance he urged a foot forward. He had to go forward. The realm was unexplored, yes, but there was no other option. Sir Jonathan had to find help.
He croaked and knelt onto the ground, propping himself up with one shaky, splayed palm. With a wince and a sputter he squeezed his eyes shut, and counted to the number three. At that he tried his vision again, and although everything was still warped, he found himself a little more in control. Poison! Of all the cheap, dirty tricks!
The enemy must be close by, Jonathan thought. I had better be careful. He knows that the Lady of the House can make a magic porridge that can cure all ailments. He will not want me to get there. But I must.
The boy scanned the carpet of grass beneath him hurriedly. He had left his Great Blade behind in the forest, Jonathan realized, and with a surge of panic he pat around him, as if his trusty weapon had found a way to follow him somehow. But it did not, and he realized that he was unarmed. Some knight! The monster had frightened him so much that he had forgotten his sword!
His tiny fingers found something, and he shakily charged them around it and clasped with fearful hope. Could it be? Jonathan's eyes closed again, and with the urging tickle of his hair against his eyelids he prayed, warily lifting his prize in order to get a better look. He opened them to find a gnarled but relatively straight branch of a maple, and felt his shoulders sag in disappointment.
No, it was not the Great Blade. This sword was much smaller, and not even half as sturdy as his last. But it would do. He had no choice. There was no time to journey back to the forest. Jonathan stood and swung his weapon about once-wearily so, however, for he was still Ailed-but with some degree of proficiency. Yes, this would do. Jonathan reverently slid the stick through the leather cord wrapped about his middle, between tunic and belt, and left it sheathed there.
He buckled over, almost falling again, but managed to keep his balance. The poison was getting stronger. He was running out of time. Clenching his side, Jonathan staggered across his backyard and toward his family's cottage. Each step seemed to grow only slower.
That pace became stillness when he found himself swallowed up by the shadow of the storage shed. It was only seven or so yards from his front door, but the looming presence of it seemed to turn his feet to ice. The Dungeons of Rake... Jonathan swallowed back the barb in his throat, and set his hand onto the hilt of his Lesser Blade. If he flopped onto his stomach and stretched his hands, he would have been able to get his palms out of that shadow, the building was that narrow... but still he stared, in terror-laced awe.
"Heh. Nice stick kiddo." The voice came from behind, broad and booming. Jonathan felt his back stiffen and align into a rigid line. No, not now! Not with the cottage so close! But the Brave Knight would not flee, for it was not honorable to flee.
Well, except from monsters. And only when you're supposed to go inside and your mother is calling you to come eat or go to bed. Or if it's too cold outside and you're bored or something. Then you can run...
Kale was twelve. He stood a good four heads taller than Jonathan did, and his eyes were closer to yellow than they were brown. Hence, when Jonathan turned to face him, he ended up spinning into the defensive with just one glance. The Dungeon Keeper of Rake! Oh, the look on the older boy's face brought terror into Jonathan's own, and he tugged at his Lesser Blade--the knots in the wood kept snagging on his belt--with a wary step backwards.
Kale crossed his hands over his chest and raised a chestnut-hued eyebrow in his younger brother's direction. There was a smug look on his face, even in question, although it was not this that Jonathan noticed. Perhaps it was because of the boy's height, but it was the way Kale's feet were confidently planted that caught Jonathan's eye above everything else.
He finally freed his Lesser Blade from its sheath and extended it in what he hoped to be a fighter's stance. Oh, the Dungeon Keeper laughed now. Just wait! Jonathan's features contorted in a Serious expression, complete with a twisted mouth and one squinting eye. Oh, he was sure if he saw himself he would have turned white in fear! What an opponent he was to contend with!
Sir Jonathan took a step forward to make up for the one he had lost, and then two more. With the sharp up-tilt of his soft chin he snapped the end of his Lesser Blade into the ground. On guard-en, he thought. The Brave Knight was, naturally, unafraid. He was on the side of good, the side of the calm and ready, and would never fail.
"Ow! Ow-ow-ow! Stop! Stop! Stoppit!"
Fifteen-year-old Jakob Treville stepped out from around the shed from where he had been walking home from the village, a heavy coil of rope thrown over his shoulder. It had been a weary day, a stressful day, and this sight was... well, just that. A sight.
Jonathan was thrown over his brother's shoulder, his chest against Kale's back, wielding a maple-branch with vengeful purpose. Kale was obviously trying to go somewhere, but it seemed that each step only took him in another circle, that being punctuated by a smart-sounding whack here and there. The little boy's fingers were pressed inward by a painful-looking contortion of his arm, and aimed cruelly toward his brother's eyes. The bridge of Kale's nose was bright red.
"Stop hitting me with that thing!"
"Let me down!"
"I can't let you down when you keep hitting me!"
"So what if I am!? Ow! Stoppit! My eyes, you little rat!"
"I'm a knight!"
"A knight?! You still wet the bed! Ow!"
Jakob was able to reach them by then, and Jonathan's response was cut short by a sharp pain in his wrist. His eldest brother had gotten a hold of it, graciously ending the battering from his side of the spectrum, and Jakob was just as quick to stop Kale from retaliating with his free hand and a sharp glare. His siblings returned that look with equal fervor, although that soon shifted into a pair of guilty who-me? stares.
"Gods! The two of you! This is no time to be bickering." Jakob released Jonathan, and Kale grudgingly set the boy to his feet - a little forcibly, yes, but back on the ground nonetheless. The Brave Knight brushed himself off and looked at the two taller men with an indignant huff. The Dungeon Keeper of Rake simply rubbed his face and frowned at no one in particular.
"No time to be bickering," He scoffed, patting his eye and then checking his hand for blood. "The irony sets my heart aflutter, Jakob. Simply amusing."
"There is nothing to be amused about." Jakob said stiffly, and Kale looked as if he wished that his older brother would turn his back, if only for the purpose of making faces at it. He resorted to crossing his arms over his chest and deepening his frown, although this was more in his eyes than in his mouth.
Jonathan looked from one to the other, fingering his maple branch and allowing himself to grow curious for a brief moment. Jakob was actually the more unruly of the two, and to see him so serious was a little unnerving, if anything. However, it was more the fact that his adventure had ended that struck Jonathan than anything else. Never mind the fact that he had been saved from an inevitable score of bruises - his fun had been spoiled!
Victory! The Brave Sir Jonathan has conquered the Dungeon Keeper of Rake and... and... the Duke of Boredom with his mighty sword skills. Jonathan stuck out his chest and sheathed the Lesser Blade with a flourish. There is now nothing between him and the Healing Cottage.
This, of course, was a perfect opening for something to happen. And, naturally, that opening was taken. Kale and Jakob argued behind him as he walked away, the wind rustled through the trees and brought good smells into the boy's nostrils, lacing there and drawing him forward. His maple bough kept slipping, and he in turn would tuck it back into its haphazard hold. No monster fell from the sky, but no one had ever said anything about excitement.
Besides, lunch was ready! He could smell it, oh Gods, he could smell it!
The young knight reached up for the rope handle of his front door and tugged with all of his weight. His Lesser Blade smacked against the wood loudly and pinned the door shut until the maple branch was pushed out from his belt and clattered to the ground - Jonathan hissed and strained with the door, and upon finally heaving it open he put his foot in the crack and managed to strain for his weapon. He tugged it into the cottage with him, and as an addition to insult it clacked sideways, turned-around-quickly-and-sideways-again, and finally was squeezed through after him vertically.
His mother was at the kitchen table at the other side, and staring at him with wide eyes. The sound of the door closing behind him filled the silence, and Jonathan took that opportunity to scan his seven-year-old collection of witticisms for a greeting.
Ah well. Maybe when he was eight.
Her eyes crinkled at the corners, and her smile was strained. But Jonathan only saw the smile, and offered a toothy grin in return. His mother seemed to soften considerably at that, and she gave the tabletop a quick and beckoning pat before she turned back to the fire. "I've made vegetable soup - I know that it's not your favorite, but I've been too busy to do anything more."
Jonathan frowned a little, but heaved himself up onto a large wooden chair at the table all the same. It was where his father always sat, but the man was not home and Jonathan took advantage of this... although he did not do so without payment. When his mother turned back to look at him, the little boy was huffing with flushed cheeks from the effort.
She set the bowl before him with a clack and cling, the latter being his spoon. With a downward kink in the corner of her lips she took note of the maple branch that the boy had set on the table at his side, and put her hands on her hips in a gesture that was stereotypically intimidating. It was quite a contrast, actually - her hands were still thin and slender, although the knuckles were beginning to swell and crack from labor. They were set against the backdrop of her waist and sides, which had thickened considerably in her age, although she was not in the least bit out of shape. She could not afford to be, not with this lifestyle.
Her eyes were as brown as Jonathan's own, although her hair tone was much darker. Jonathan always remembered the story she told him when he saw her tresses down - he could not remember what it was called, but there was a woman in the tale that had hair long enough for her knight to use it as a rope to climb a tower! And it was still attached to her head!
Jonathan had tried this himself one night soon after he had first heard the story, while his mother was knitting. She had let her hair down, and it was running down the back of the chair like a banner. Who wouldn't have tried? His mother had not gotten too angry with him, although he did notice that she grew quite fond of buns after that affair.
It was done up then, a tight braid that was coiled about the back of her head. Jonathan was watching it when his mother spoke, counting grey spots because there were few enough there for him to be able to do so within the realm his current numerical education, and seemed a little surprised that they were not thinking on the same subject.
"I want it off."
Jonathan blinked with a flutter. Frankly his gaze shifted downward in order to meet her own, and he immediately responded to her demand with a touch of surprise in his voice. "Your hair?"
Her thin hand went to the back of her head, almost reflexively, and she snapped back a response. "The stick, Jonathan. I asked you three times already. Get it off the table. Who knows what kind of things are crawling around on it?"
"Maa..." Jonathan whined uselessly.
Jonathan's mouth set into a line and he grudgingly pulled the stick into his lap, taking up his spoon in that same sweep - obviously trying to ignore the cock-eyed stare that his mother was continuing to offer him. He hadn't even gotten the utensil into the bowl before he crumbled under her gaze and snatched up his Lesser Blade again, extending it to her without looking in that direction.
His mother took it with a turn of her heel and fluidly moved over to the wood-box. Jonathan watched from the corner of one eye as she deposited it there among split-logs and kindling. Although he only gave a secretive half-glance, she still read it perfectly and replied with great nonchalance, "You can pick it up after you eat."
Jonathan fidgeted in his seat, huffed, frowned, and picked up his spoon again. Oh, of all the painful trials that he had to endure!
Trials! Jonathan thought with a start. The poison! Under his mother's puzzled glance Jonathan abruptly re-animated and thrust his spoon into his bowl - which was almost pointless, actually, the way his chin was lowered to the point of dipping into the soup as it was. He took three quick, noisy slurps and swallowed with the almost sickening sound that a half-filled water jug made when shaken from one side to the other.
"I'm glad that you like it," His mother said dryly, although there was a small smile lacing her features.
"What kind of things crawl around on swords?" Jonathan asked in response, and this was really quite out of the blue. His mother, however, was blatantly unaware of his maple branch's part in the scheme of things, and could only look at him blankly. She would have replied to him, as she most always did, but the sound of boots clomping against the partially opened door brought them both to attention.
His head was lowered, and it was only the jagged hairline of dirty brown locks that was visible. From there, when he looked up, was a pair of hazel eyes and a handsomely crooked nose, a strong jaw and very expressive eyebrows. Both were heavenward, and the man scratched at his hairline, having finished knocking the mud from his boots. A full moment of silence passed, and within that there must have been an unspoken exchange in which Jonathan was excluded, for his mother whirled to fill a bowl without a word.
His name was Johan, but to Jonathan he was simply Father - a man that the boy greatly admired, but was unable to touch. The man was good, and the man was gentle, but there was a great strength around him, and that power seemed to act as a barrier at times. The boy watched him with undying awe as he crossed the room and approached the table. The quiet room picked up the sound of his soup dribbling from his chin into his bowl again, reclaimed, and then came the sound of his father unclipping his long-sword from his belt and the heavy crack of him laying it across the tabletop.
Never mind the fact that his mother had just deprived him of that honor with his own Lesser Blade. It was the sword itself that piqued the boy's jealousy. His father was not a knight, for knights existed only in storybooks, but this beautiful, beautiful blade was real. It was not gleaming and shiny, not like his mother often described at bedtime. The boy could not see his reflection in it. But the smudges and dents in the sheath and handle seemed to make it seem all the more powerful, as if it had endured many battles.
Jonathan had never seen it unsheathed.
"Meghann," His father said. He looked tired. "I won't be at dinner tonight. Pack me something, will you?" It sounded so bland, so lifeless. Johan wasn't necessarily an openly affectionate man, but he was not without love, either. Jonathan shifted a glance from the sword to the man looming over it, and watched him wearily push his oily locks back from his forehead with one hand.
His mother stiffened a little, but was quick to nod a response and slide the man a bowl. Johan gave Jonathan his first glance then, taking note of the fact that the boy had taken his chair, and without a word in his direction he pulled up a much smaller seat and straddled it, not looking at all awkward there as he began to eat with a quickness that was almost frightening - not so much quick and rushed as efficient. There was little skip in the rhythm, and he took time for nothing else but the task.
Jonathan looked to his mother, but her back was turned to him. Even when she brought him a glass of milk her eyes were downcast, and when he glanced to his father in turn, that gaze was the same. The room felt empty, and he idly wondered if the mood would improve if his father replaced his heavy leather shirt for something more summery and lightweight.
His heels clicked against the underside and legs of his chair, and he soon busied himself with thickening his soup with his milk - entertaining for a moment, although he certainly could not eat anything after that. It was just getting interesting, watching those creamy clouds billow and expand, when his mother suddenly had enough of that infernal tapping-which had never ceased-and jabbed her finger toward the door.
"Go outside! Out! I can't hear myself think!"
Jonathan had personally never heard himself think. He'd always been inclined to reason that thoughts were always silent, except when they were spoken... but then they weren't thoughts anymore then, they were words. Now, words could be heard, quite clearly at times-
The exasperated look on her face told Jonathan not to argue, and her index finger never faltered from its locked position toward the doorway. He followed the trail of her arm, to the tip of her fingernail, and looked back to her eyes with the touch of a frown there. Who, me? "Please. You're done eating-" She had motioned over his shoulder and toward his bowl, which was fuller than it had been when she served him, and considerably creamier. Her lips twisted at the sight. "Jonathan! Don't waste your milk like that! The rations are getting smaller these days! You can't just waste things like this! What on earth were you thinking?!" From her throat came a twisted and exasperated mixture between a sigh and a cry, and it was enough to urge Jonathan to his feet. <i>Outside</i> suddenly seemed extremely desirable to the boy. <P> "Wait a moment," The man's rich baritone sank into his belly just before Jonathan reached the door, and it was enough to stop him in his tracks. His mother, who had been taking up his bowl to empty it outside, cast Johan a glance at his words, and Jonathan found himself missing another unspoken conversation. <P> "Stay close to the house, son." His father said over his bowl of soup. He did not turn around to speak to the boy, but to simply talk was enough. Jonathan was at full attention. "Don't go beyond the yard. I want you to be able to see the front door at all times." <P> "Why?" <P> "Because he <i>said</i> so," His mother interjected, before Johan had even a chance to reply, although his own would probably have been the same. She too did not look at him directly, for she had busied herself with disposing of Jonathan's slaughtered meal. "That is reason enough. Don't argue." <P> Jonathan had left the doorway in order to rummage through the wood-box, avoiding the pursed lips his mother pushed in his direction. Lifting his head a little, he tucked his maple branch into his belt and gave it a pat. It was a decent companion, although he yearned to carry his father's sword. <P> Maybe in a year or so... <P> His parents didn't call their farewells when he stumbled outside. Why should they have? He was, really, only going as far as the yard allowed. And that wasn't very far at all. Jonathan regained his balance in front of the cottage as the door closed behind him, and he scanned the area with a cocked eye. <P> <i>The Great Sir Jonathan, having regained his strength, is ready for adventure. But is adventure ready for him? . . . No, probably not. For the evil King and Queen have confined the Great Sir Jonathan to the Kingdom of Yard, and they cannot be conquered, for the King carries the Mighty Sword of Hope.</i> <P> The sun was still up, although it was considerably bleaker than it had been when he first entered the cottage. It had been close to late afternoon then, and was now much nearer to dusk. Oh, dusk! It was when the excitement would start, the excitement always started when the sun went down... and he had to sleep, forced to end his travels and be put to bed. <P> Jonathan rest his hand on the hilt of his Lesser Blade and made his way into the Kingdom of Yard while the daylight still allowed. <P>
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