All I was supposed to do was feed the horses.
It was my turn to do the barnwork chores. Telia smirked at me as I got up from the breakfast table. Last week she had done the barn work; this week she was helping Mother with the house chores. It was cold and wet outside; it had been snowing all night, and that made the upcoming trip to the barn look even worse. I don’t think I would have minded so much if she wouldn’t have made a face at me as I took my cape from the hook. She stuck her tongue out at me, and I replied with the same. As usual, I was the one who was caught by my father, who clouted me in the head and yelled and promised more punishment if I didn’t tend to my chores “right this minute.” As I made a hasty exit from the house into the cold morning air, I vowed that someday, very soon, she’d get what was she had coming to her.
Just because she’s seen five summers less than my fifteen, Mother and Father treat her like a queen and me like a slave. It’s not fair.
The snow that had fallen the night before had mixed with enough rain to make the ground a slushy, sloppy mess. It was too warm for the snow to stay frozen for long, and between the snow, the puddles and the mud, my feet felt frozen by the time I reached the barn.
One of these days, when no one else is around, I’ll get her good.
I grabbed the old, wooden pitchfork and started cleaning the one empty stall in the barn. Father still hadn’t replaced the gelding that had broken it’s foreleg in the fields last year, but I didn’t care. With an empty stall to move horses into, I didn’t have to clean a stall that was occupied by a huge, smelly beast.
I should take some of these horse cookies and put them in Telia’s bed. That’d get her.
As I pushed the first stall’s waste out the barn’s back door into the pit, I thought I saw a couple of horses at the edge of the woods. They were probably neighbors headed to our house, to talk to Father or to invite themselves in for some of Ma’s elderberry pie. I went back into the barn and closed the door.
They’ll stop and I’ll have to take care of their horses. They’ll be all wet and need to be brushed down and bedded in the empty stall. I’ll smell like a horse for days.
I transferred Steos, our stallion, into the bare stall. I began to clean the now empty stall, moving as fast as I could, so that I could be done before those stupid neighbors arrived. Several field mice, who probably came in to get out of the rain, scurried quickly away when I disturbed their home in the straw. I finished the stall quickly, and pushed the refuse to the back door of the barn. When I opened the door, I could see that the horses were closer, and more! There weren’t a couple of horses; there were at least twenty or more! I stood there and watched for a moment, but they were still too far away to see anything, so I pushed the dirty straw into the pit and went back into the barn. There had been rumors of war spreading among the farmers in the area, but Father always answered the neighbors’ fearful musings with “There ain’t nothin’ here worth fightin’ for, so calm yourselves.”
I moved the old mare, Yonda, into the clean stall and moved Seh, the other mare, out of her stall. I put a halter on her and tethered her to a barn post. Now I could clean both stalls at the same time. If Father came out and saw the mare out of her stall, I would get a whipping, but I hoped that the weather would keep him in the house. I desperately wanted to get the stalls cleaned and the horses fed before the men and the horses got here.
Maybe they are soldiers heading for a battle, dressed in armor and carrying huge swords and crossbows and pikes. Maybe they will stay the night, and tell us stories of storming castles and skirmish lines. That way I won’t have to sit and listen to Telia practice on her stupid harp. She sounds like a wounded cat when she sings, and her harp playing is horrible. She’ll never become a bard like Mother and Father say she will.
When I was pushing the last of the dirty straw to the back door, I thought I heard the sound of horses. The travellers must have arrived more quickly than I had hoped. I kicked open the door and pushed the straw out toward the pit. As the manure fell into the open hole, I saw the knight for the first time. I knew he was a knight, dressed in his magnificent armor. His shield hung from the saddle, as did his sword and scabbard. A second horse held a smaller man, also armored, but by his face I could tell that he was younger. A third horse was ridden by an ugly man, who had thick black hair and a scowling face. The rest of the horses were still a good distance from the barn. My eyes were drawn back to the knight.
A real knight!
Father used to tell us stories about knights. Telia didn’t pay much attention, but I did. Father used to say how knights were chosen by the king to defend him and his people against evil wherever it was found. He said that knights were the greatest fighters in the land; that they fought with flashing swords and shining armor, and that the best knights were chosen to defend the king himself!
I want to run up and beg to see his sword and his armor and plead with him to tell stories, but that wouldn’t be polite. Oh, admit it, you’re scared of him…
The young man saw me first, turned toward the knight and spoke. The knight immediately looked in my direction and, raising his hand, brought the men to a stop. Then he and the young man turned their horses and rode toward me.
“Boy,” the knight spoke as he reigned his horse to a stop in front of me, “I would speak to your father. Take me to him.”
His voice rang with authority. It almost felt like his voice had the power to control my very actions. It was thick with an accent that I had never heard before. I found myself leading his horse around the barn by the bridle, followed by the younger man. I turned to look back at the knight, and saw him sitting straight in his saddle, looking directly forward. The youth was looking around, as if he were watching for something to jump out from behind every tree and building. I don’t know what he expected to find, since our closest neighbors were a long ways off, and Mother, Father, and Telia were all in the house.
I held the horse’s halter while the knight dismounted, assisted by the youth that I finally realized must be his squire. Father said that squires were knights-in-training and that they had to do all the chores for the knight and that I could never be a squire because I hated chores so much. The squire helped straighten the knight’s tabbard once the knight was on the ground, then accompanied him to the door of the house . The knight turned before he knocked and looked right at me:
“You had better return to your chores, son. I wouldn’t want your Father to be angry with me for taking you away from them.”
I turned and ran back toward the barn. I don’t know why I ran; it was as if my legs just decided that they had seen enough and really wanted to get away from there. I looked back before entering the barn, the knight had already gone into the house. I stood there at the barn door, looking toward the house, straining to hear what was being said.
The house is too far way for you to hear anything, you dummy! Besides, he’s a knight. What use would he have for you? You can’t even talk!
When you live way out here, away from other people, it’s easy to forget that you’re not like other people. Mother and Father and Telia are used to seeing what I wanted to say in my gestures. When I made the trip into town with Father a while back, people laughed when they realized that I couldn’t talk. They acted like I was a dunce and made fun of me. So I just don’t go into town anymore.
They wouldn’t dare laugh if I was a knight. They would stand and admire my armor and my sword and my horse. It wouldn’t matter that I couldn’t talk. I could just imagine myself on the knight’s horse, riding into battle beside my squire and fighting the enemy, swords flashing and armor shining in the sun. The battlefield would be filled with the shouts of victory as we fought our way from one end to the other, dispatching our foes with ease. Other knights and their squires would be fighting, too; and soon all of the enemy would be gone and we would triumphantly ride into the city, to the cheers and admiration of all of the people…
“Derrio, come here! Now!” My Father stood at the door and shouted at me.
Great. There’s a knight in the house and my Father is standing outside the door and yelling at me like a little child!
I ran back across the yard, thinking that perhaps the knight needed something and that I was to run and get it for him.
“Derrio, go out to the barn and move the horses into the lower pen. Then make sure that each stall is bedded with fresh straw. After you’ve done that, make sure that the loft ladder is up so that the men in there can use the loft to rest. Go!”
Boy, does he look scared! Why is he so afraid of the knight?
Seeing the fear in his face made me run all the faster back to the barn. I can’t remember ever seeing his eyes so big or hearing his voice shake so much. That knight must have said something that really frightened him. I wonder what he said…
Maybe he needs another squire. Maybe he just told Father that he is going to take me along with him and that Father would have to manage the farm on his own.
I heard men inside the barn even before I managed to open the door. I guessed that they must be the men that I saw far behind the knight, near the woods. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it didn’t matter. All of a sudden I was scared; I mean REALLY scared. I couldn’t figure out why, but I knew that I didn’t really want to be anywhere near them. Father’s orders were clear, though, so I knew that I had to go in, no matter what I wanted to do or how I felt. So in I went…
The men were scattered all over the barn and many had already taken to the loft. Most of them were busy taking off their armor, but there were several by each door and a couple were in Steos’ stall, checking him over like I had seen Father do when the horse threw a shoe. The two by the front door watched me as I went past them and headed for the stalls. I quickly untied Seh from where I had left her tethered, then opened Yonda’s stall and led her out. I grabbed Seh’s halter as I passed her and led them both toward the front door. The men that were there opened the door for me without saying a word, and soon I had both of the horses in the lower corral. I turned and was surprised to see two other men leading Steos out of the barn. They turned to come toward me, but I pointed toward the upper pen. Putting the stallion in with the mares was just asking for trouble, so I decided to put Steos in the other pen. As I closed the gate, I nodded to the men in thanks, but they ignored me and went back into the barn.
Rude. And mean-looking. These men give me the creeps. Boy, I wish Telia were out here doing this instead of me. These guys would scare her silly. That would serve her right for making fun of me this morning at breakfast.
I re-entered the barn and headed for the loft ladder. I still had to throw straw into the stalls, so I grabbed the pitchfork on my way. It wasn’t until I was heaving straw into the empty stalls that I realized how much these men stank! They were all in the process of removing their armor, and with each piece that came off, the stench got worse. I never thought that men could smell worse than horses, but these men…
“Derrio, Mother and Father want you to hurry an’ get done so you can come into the house.” Telia’s voice seemed a little higher than usual, like she was scared.
“And Father said to make sure that you put Steos in the upper pen and not in the lower pen with Seh and Yonda or they’ll be fighting all day.”
Great. Now he’ll think that I put Steos in the upper stall because he told me to instead of remembering it myself. Why doesn’t he ever let me do things myself?!
I heard several of the men start to laugh and one of them said something about “having some fun with the young lady.”
Tickle her. She hates that. Oh, if these smelly, ugly men start tickling her…
I may not like my sister very much sometimes, and I’ve made her scream myself plenty of times; but I can tell the difference between an “I don’t like this” scream of displeasure and a scream of sheer terror.
I ran to the edge of the loft and saw several of the men around her, and one was reaching under her skirt! She was screaming and trying to get away, but two other men were holding her down.
Hey! What are you doing!? Leave her alone!
I ran for the loft ladder. I still had the pitchfork in my hand, so I couldn’t climb down very fast. I jumped the last few rungs and ran toward the men. I heard one of the men still in the loft yell something, but I was too busy running and hoping I could get my sister out of there before they could catch me. I turned the pitchfork around so that the prongs curved up; that way it wouldn’t stick the man that I hit. I ran right toward the kneeling man, looking right at the back of his head.
You will be first.
When I swung, he moved forward slightly, so that I hit him in the back instead of in the head. He groaned and slumped sideways, falling into another of the kneeling men. I raised the fork and turned toward another man. Suddenly the fork was torn out of my hands. The ugly man that I had seen riding the horse earlier had run up beside me and grabbed it. He clouted me in the head with his fist and sent me sprawling.
Telia screamed harder.
I tried to get up but the ugly man swung the fork at me and hit me in the legs. Both legs buckled and felt like they were on fire.
A man knelt over Telia and yelled at her, shaking his fist.
Telia, get out of here!
I rolled over but I couldn’t stand because my right leg had cramped. The ugly man swung the fork again and hit me in the back.
The man hit Telia across the face with his hand.
Leave her alone, you bastard!!
I was trying to crawl backwards, but I found that I was against a stall and I couldn’t go anywhere.
The man hit Telia again, harder this time, and she stopped screaming.
Come on, Telia, fight! FIGHT AND SCREAM!!!
The ugly man raised the fork again, then a hand came from behind him and grabbed it. He looked and saw another man, in horribly dented and tarnished armor, take the fork away from the ugly man and hit him once with it, hard. The ugly man fell to the floor groaning and holding his head. The armored man turned toward me, but I couldn’t see his face because of his helm. He dropped the fork toward me, then turned and ran toward Telia.
The barn door flew open and the Knight came in, sword drawn. As soon as he saw the men around Telia, he sheathed his sword and ran toward them. The armor-clad man who had saved me from a beating ran towards Telia also, and got there first. One of the kneeling men saw the Knight coming and tried to stand, but the man that saved me kicked him away from Telia while he swung his sword at the man who had hit my sister.
The knight roared something in a language that I couldn’t understand. All of the men, including the one that helped me, stopped instantly.
I wanted to get back to my feet, to run over and help Telia, but my legs still felt numb and didn’t seem to want to do what I wanted them to do.
Come on, legs. I’ve got to get to Telia!
I finally managed to get back to my feet, and I staggered over to where Telia lay. The armored man pushed the dead man off Telia and knelt beside her, but I managed to squeeze past him.
Her head was twisted all wrong!
She was lying on her back. Her skirt had been torn away and there was blood all over her legs and on the ground. The armored man slid his hand over her face, then stood back and I knelt beside her.
“I’m sorry, kid,” the man said as I lifted her head into my lap.
You’re sorry?! YOU’RE sorry! They’ve killed her! She’s dead and they’ve killed her! Kill them all! KILL thEM ALL! I’m sorry, Telia. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t want them to hurt you. I didn’t want this to happen. Why did you come in here? Why? Why did Father have to send you out here? It’s not fair. Damn them ALL! I didn’t really want you to get hurt. I wished for it but I didn’t mean it. WHY DID I WISH FOR IT AT ALL?!? IT’S ALL MY FAULT!!
I knelt there and cried, not knowing or caring what went on around me. Nothing else mattered except the fact that I had, somehow, caused my sister’s death by the stupid wishes that I had made. I was finally drawn from my self-pity by a hand on my shoulder. I looked around and saw my Father kneeling beside me.
“Derrio, I will take her into the house.” That was all he said. I could tell that he was almost crying himself, and for once I was glad that I couldn’t speak; it saved me from having to say something to him. I rose and removed my cloak, draping it over Telia’s body as Father picked her up. He walked to the door, then out into the yard, but I couldn’t follow.
How can I face them? It was what I said; those things that I wished for caused Telia to die. I never wanted her to get hurt. I didn’t want her to die. I was angry and I thought some mean things and I wanted for revenge. Now she’s dead and I’m to blame. And they will know; Mother and Father will know the minute that they look at me. They can always tell my thoughts, even when I try to hide them. They will take one look at my face and they will know. How can I face them? What am I going to do?….
Many different thoughts ran through my head as I wandered around aimlessly in the strangely deserted barn.
I could run out the back of the barn and into the woods and as far away from here as I can go…, but where would I go? I could jump off of the loft or out of the upper window…, but Mother and Father have already lost one child today.
My mind ran wild with possibilities, each too scary or noo hard or too stupid to consider. At the end of it all, I realized that the only thing that I could do was to go and confront them; tell them that it was my fault.
They will hate me. Mother will scream and cry and Father will stand there and quietly tell me to leave and never come back.
As I walked toward the door, one of the knight’s men came back into the barn. He ran past me without looking at me at all, and went directly to the ladder. I stepped through the door and headed for the house. It was then that I saw the knight and the armored man that saved me. They were standing in the yard, swords drawn, facing each other.
They are going to fight each other!
I stopped dead in my tracks. They were the two that had tried to save Telia. Now they were going to fight!? It didn’t make sense.
I heard the loft door open and I looked up. The man that had passed me must have opened it, but I couldn’t see him, standing where I was almost directly beneath the door. I stepped back into the barn and walked into the first stall so I could see him. He appeared to be bending over, tugging at something. He turned back toward the window and I saw that he held a crossbow!
He meant to shoot someone! The knight!! Or the other one! Damn this stupid tongue! How can I warn them? If I try to run out there I’ll be too late!
I saw the pitchfork lying near the stall where the armored man had dropped it. I ran and grabbed it, then ran for the door. Once outside, I saw the two fighting. They couldn’t know about the man in the loft. I turned and hit the barn with the fork, again and again. When I finally stopped to look, the armored man was lowering his shield, which now had a crossbow bolt imbedded in it! The knight was pointing to the barn and shouting. Several men came running toward the barn. I stepped out of the way, hoping that they were coming for the man in the loft and not for me. I was right, for they ran past me and into the barn. Very soon they emerged, dragging the man from the loft with them. They took him to the knight, who slapped the man’s face, spoke to him, then waved his hand in dismissal. The crossbowman was dragged to one side and thrown to the ground, his captors standing beside him. He didn’t even try to get up.
The knight and the other man resumed their fighting. I didn’t understand why they were fighting, but I knew that they were serious. Several times I saw the second man falter, but he recovered each time. Then I saw the knight almost fall in the mud, but he recovered, too.
I was so enthralled by the battle that I almost missed the movement out of the corner of my eye. Looking past the house, I saw something moving just inside the forest’s edge. When I looked harder, I saw that there were men all along the forest border. Several men on horseback emerged and galloped toward the house. I had tried to warn the two armored men, but several of the other men grabbed me and held me back. I tried to tell the other men, but they were too interested in the fight before them.
Then again, so was I.
I turned back toward the fighting men and saw that they were no longer fighting. Much to my amazement, it was the man in the tarnished armor that was standing over the knight, who was kneeling on a muddy patch of ground. The knight held out his sword to the mysterious man, who shook his head. The knight stood and removed his helm as his opponent removed his own. I had gotten close enough to hear what was being said…
“… You promised me that, should I conquer. I have. You are an honorable man, and you will keep your word.”
I looked for the first time at the speaker, the man who had saved me. His face was drawn and haggard and his hair was disheveled by the helm; he was almost as sorry a sight as the tarnished armor that he wore. The voice, however, was strong and rich; like the knight’s — a voice of authority.
“I have what I want. I won’t kill an honorable enemy without need, sir. Return to your home.”
The knight stared at the man who had just defeated him and spoke:
“Whoever your teacher was, he trained you well in the ways of fighting; and in the Knightly Code. Would to God we weren’t enemies, Luthias Connall; this day, you would have your Knighthood from me.” The knight offered his hand to the man named “Luthias Connall.”
Luthias’ smile grew, and content calm flooded his eyes. “I have never been so honored, Sir Lawrence,” he said, and he shook the Knight’s hand.
“I believe, Sir Lawrence, that I can fulfill that office.” A mighty voice boomed from behind me. I turned to see ANOthER knight, who was dismounting from his horse. He was accompanied by an older man, much too old to be a squire, climbing down from a horse as well.
“Honor given by an enemy is a high compliment, one that Luthias has well earned. Count Connall, kneel.”
A COUNT!! Knights and Counts?! What is going on here?
Count Connall knelt in the mud, and the knight who had just arrived walked over to him, drew his sword, and spoke:
“I, Edward Sothos….”
Luthias lunged forward and grabbed the speaking man’s arm. “Sir Edward, you can’t! You know what I need!” There was a desperate look in Luthias’ eyes, one which I have seen in the eyes of frightened animals. There was so much going on here that I didn’t understand.
“You no longer need it.” The older man, who now walked past me to stand near Sir Edward, spoke for the first time. His voice is strange; soft and soothing, yet there is something about it that was out of the ordinary. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. “The drink I gave you… I cured you. By accident, I cured you.”
The look on Luthias’ face changed to a look of confusion. “I don’t believe it.”
“How long since the last time, then?” The older man, who wore red robes, was smiling.
Luthias’ face changed. He eyes went blank for a moment, like he was trying to remember something. Then his eyes slowly widened and a smile took over his face.
The knight named Sothos began once again, as if taking the smile on Luthias’ face as a cue. “I, Edward Sothos, Knight of Baranur, have been called upon to convey upon Luthias of Connall the office of Knighthood…”
A Knighting Ceremony!! This is a real knighting ceremony, just like father described!
“Who asks this charge for him?”
The red-robed man started to speak, but the other knight spoke first.
“I so ask.” This seemed to surprise Luthias.
“You know him worthy?” Sir Edward asked.
“I so know.”
“So be it. I, Edward Sothos, Knight of Baranur, charge you, Luthias of Connall, to take up the office of Knighthood. Do you accept the charge, with all its honors and obligations?”
“I so accept,” Luthias answered, his voice now stronger and more confident.
“Do you vow to protect and serve your homeland, your lady, and your King?”
“I so vow.”
“Do you vow to be in and above all things, a Knight, a follower of Chivalry and Honor?”
“I so vow.”
“How do you so vow?”
“Upon my honor, my sword, and my life.”
“Then I, Edward Sothos, Knight of Baranur, with this silver chain do convey upon you, Luthias of Connall, that office.” Sir Edward turned toward the older man, who mumbled something, then handed the knight a silver chain. Edward turned back toward Luthias and draped the chain across Luthias’ shoulders. He then slapped Luthias on the cheek with the flat of his sword. “Let that be your last unrequited blow.” Sheathing his sword, Sir Edward spoke loudly, for all to hear. “Rise, Sir Luthias, Count Connall.”
Sir Luthias began laughing as he got to his feet.
In a quieter voice, Sir Edward said “I am proud of you.”
Strange. I know that there are enemies here, but at this moment, I can’t tell who is friend and who is foe.
Sir Luthias turned toward the knight that he had been fighting only moments before. “Return now, Sir Lawrence. You will have safe passage out of the country. You have my word, as a Knight.”
Sir Lawrence grinned. “Thank you, Sir Luthias. May you and I live to laugh about this someday.”
“I’ll treat you to a drink,” Sir Luthias said.
“I drink to you now,” Sir Lawrence answered, taking a silver horn from his belt. Without putting anything into it, he raised it and pretended to drink. When he was finished, he held the horn out to Sir Luthias, who repeated the action.
I wonder what is meant by this ritual; or even if it is a ritual?
“Thank you,” Sir Luthias said, handing the horn back to Sir Lawrence. He hesitated, then held out his sword to Sir Lawrence. “Again, thank you.”
Sir Lawrence took it from him. “This sword was given to me by my master when I was made a Knight. Today I took the place of your master; today you became a Knight.” He held out the sword to Luthias. “I have had no student more worthy than you.”
“I am deeply honored.” Luthias took the sword from Lawrence once again.
Sir Lawrence bowed to the other two knights and the old man, then turned to the main group of men that had come with him. “Let us ride!” Lawrence’s squire brought the knight his horse. Sir Lawrence mounted and rode around his men, shouting orders to hasten their progress. When they appeared to be ready to leave, Lawrence turned back toward the other two knights, who still stood near the muddy patch of ground where the duel took place. He drew his sword and saluted Edward and Luthias, who returned the gesture.
While Sir Lawrence gathered his men, I stood near the older man who had arrived with Sir Edward. He was dressed in robes, much like the local Vicar, but he smiled at me when he noticed that I was looking at him, which is something that the Vicar would never do. His gaze felt strange, though, like he was looking inside me. I turned toward Luthias, who was watching the departure of Sir Lawrence and his men.
How can I thank him for saving me and for trying to save Telia? He is a stranger. He will not understand me.
I felt compelled to speak, yet I knew that the only sounds that would come from my mouth would be groans and grunts. I approached the two knights and caught Luthias’ attention.
I put my hand over my heart, touched my lips, then extended my hand toward him. Mother had taught me a few symbols that could, hopefully, be understood by others.
He looked at me questioningly.
I knew it. He doesn’t understand!
I pointed toward the barn. I swung my arms as if I were swinging the pitchfork, then pointed to my legs.
He looked at the barn, then back at me. He nodded, but the confused look remained in his eyes.
How can I make you understand. You saved me! You tried to save Telia!
I clasped both hands over my heart, then extended them toward him once again.
“He is trying to thank you, Luthias.” The older man’s words startled me, but I nodded and made the signs once again.
“You are welcome. I am truly sorry about your sister. Had I only arrived a few moments sooner, I might have been able to save her….” An old, haunting look crossed his face. “But I couldn’t save Roisart, either.”
Your eyes are so sad. Are you going to cry for my sister, even though you didn’t know her? I wish I could be like you.
I hesitated for a moment, then knew what I wanted more than anything else in the world. I wanted to become a knight; a knight like Luthias. Perhaps by becoming a knight, I could clear my conscience of my sister’s death. I approached Luthias and reached toward him. He didn’t back away. I touched the chain upon his chest, the chain that had been placed on his shoulders by Sir Edward, then I touched my own chest, tracing a line where the chain would fall across it.
Please. Teach me. Show me how to become a knight. Please.
Luthias seemed to understand immediately. He smiled; a warm and genuine smile which told of compassion and kindness and, strangely enough, of sorrow.
He turned, grinning, to Sir Edward. “Since I am now a knight, I will have need of a squire, won’t I?”
“At least one,” Sir Edward replied.
Sir Luthias turned toward me. “Will you become my squire?”
Sir Edward’s eyes seemed ready to fall from their sockets. “Luthias, you cannot make this boy your squire! He is not of noble descent; he is just a farmer’s son.
“What difference does that make?” Luthias argued. “I know ‘noble’ sons who are dishonorable cowards. This ‘farmer’s son’ was brave enough to try to rescue his sister from twenty armed men — alone! This display of bravery by itself is an indication of this lad’s worthiness. Social class has nothing to do with it.”
Sir Edward frowned. “I see your point, Luthias, but still, it is quite rare to make a peasant into a Knight. You do realize that he will have to be Knighted someday if he becomes your squire.”
“That is the general idea,” the robed man observed dryly.
“He’s already displayed Knightly qualities,” Sir Luthias reminded Sir Edward. “He tried to rescue a lady and defend her. He bravely faced the danger.” He paused. “Look, Edward, I’d rather Knight a peasant with a noble heart than a coward with a noble name.”
“Again, you have a point,” Sir Edward admitted. “I’m not certain I approve, but I can’t stop you. To a point, I even agree with you.”
“So,” Sir Luthias began, “would you like to squire to me?”
Yes! YES! I’ll learn, I promise. I’ll do all of the chores that you ask me to do, and I won’t complain. Thank you! THANK YOU!
“We’ll have the ceremony later this week. I cannot keep calling you ‘boy’, though. What is your name?” Then he winced, remembering that I couldn’t talk.
“His name is Derrio.” My father’s voice startled me, although I should have seen Mother and him approaching. “Is it true? Is there a war coming?”
The grim Sir Edward nodded. “It is already here. The Beinison men that were here were an advance scouting force sent to find the locations of our forces. As it appears, they will invade through this area, so your farm is no longer safe.”
“Let us leave this place,” my mother said to my father, holding back the tears that must be for Telia. “I no longer have a desire to stay.”
“Could your armies use another archer?” Father’s voice wavered slightly. “I may not be a good as your regulars, but I have won the county’s archery contest for the last two years in a row. And my wife could cook and care for the wounded.”
Sir Edward smiled. “We can always use archers.” He then looked at mother, who stood looking at the ground.
Sir Luthias laughed loudly. “And a cook, a REAL cook, would probably boost morale more than anything else!”
The robed man looked over his shoulder. “Come. We should be getting back to Pyridain. Another storm is coming.” He approached me. “And I find myself curious as to why this boy is unable to talk.”
I suddenly remembered Sir Lawrence’s silver horn. He wore that horn like a symbol; something that set him apart from the rest of the knights. I broke and ran for the house. I knew what I needed to do. I burst into the house and headed straight for Telia’s room.
When I entered, I saw Telia on the bed. She was lying there, under the quilts, as if she were asleep. On the other side of the room I saw what I had come for. Her tiny harp stood on a table by itself. I picked it up carefully. This was the first time I had ever held it.
You will never sing again, little harp. The fingers that coaxed you to play are gone. Your strings are silent, angry over what has happened. No, you will never sing again, but you will speak. You will speak to me every night when I lay you aside before I sleep. You will remind me of what has happened here, and of what I have done. You will remind me when I forget about her. Her voice is stilled forever, so now I must be that voice. And I will speak for you, Telia; I promise you. I will speak through my actions; through my deeds and through my presence. One day, I will be a knight, and on that day, this harp will become my symbol. It will become a symbol of … of …”
I had run out of words, but not tears. I watched as a tear ran slowly down one of the strings of the little harp. I knew that it was one of mine, but for that moment, the harp wept.