Worthy of Knighthood

WORTHY OF KNIGHTHOOD

 BY EDWARD DRAKE

 

Warning: This story contains scenes of violence.

Thankful for any shelter a young orphan boy rests at an abandoned cottage. The arrival of a wounded soldier plunges him into worse danger than starvation, especially when the soldier’s enemies arrive searching for him.

 

He awoke to see that the sun had risen and the day had begun. Looking around his surroundings he did not hurry, just glad to be in the warm and dry. Rain continued to hammer down on the thatched roof as it had the previous night when he had found the abandoned cottage. Running inside, soaked through, he had collapsed on the old bed and drifted instantly to sleep.

It had been years since he had celebrated a birthday, but if he had to guess he would say he was thirteen years old. Both parents had died when he was very little and his torn, ragged clothes were stained with the mud from the previous day, the mud from digging his brother’s grave. The sweating sickness had taken him and despite their best efforts he had fallen into a feverish sleep which he failed to awaken from. Now, within that worn-down cottage, he was alone.

Wiping the long scruffy brown hair away from his eyes, he looked closer at the few rooms around him and saw several buckets covering the floor, the gaps in the roof allowing rain water to drip down through. He yawned loudly, rubbing his eyes before finally rising up. Pacing to a window the boy pushed open the broken shutters and grimaced at the storm clouds that still hung overhead. It would be some time before he could set out again. He did not want to risk falling ill as his brother had and he had no idea when he would find a shelter like the cottage again. That was especially troublesome as he had no idea where on earth he was or where the nearest village or town was.

With a sigh as his stomach groaned he turned back to the interior of the lodging and searched through the cupboards for any signs of food. It had been days since he had eaten, having given everything to his brother, and he felt so tired and weak. Standing under one of the worst holes in the roof the boy tilted his head back and opened his mouth, swallowing the falling rain water. It was then that he heard the neighing.

Hurrying to the broken window he looked out, keeping low so that he would not be seen. Outside, near to the stables with the collapsed roof and walls, was a grey horse. Upon its saddle, slumped forward, was a man. He wore armour, a coat of chainmail, but the scabbard at his side was empty with no sword in place. His armaments showed that he was a soldier though, a man-at-arms. The man’s eyes were closed but the boy could see that he was still breathing. Most alarming though was the blood dripping down from the man’s saddle.

The boy was uncertain of what to do. He could stay in the cottage and just hide, he could try to help the wounded soldier or he could flee into the pouring rain. The boy knew, deep down, what he would do. It was not in him to leave anyone to suffer, especially alone. He crossed himself with the holy sign, a habit he had learned from his brother, and pulling on the filthy sheet from his bed headed out into the rain.

The young lad walked towards the horse, slowly as the mount pulled away. He grabbed onto the reins and stroked the horse, calming it. He then looked to the soldier. The man was slumped forward upon the horse’s neck, blood covering his torso and his right leg where his armour had been torn open. He looked to be in his thirties, a strong face marked with battle scars and a thick beard. The soldier still breathed shallowly but then his eyes shot open.

‘Hide….me….’ he managed to murmur.

‘Who are you?’ the boy asked, worry and doubt clear in his voice.

‘Sir….sir….’ he was lost in a daze, barely staying conscious.

Leading the horse towards the cottage, the orphan then helped the man-at-arms down, although it was more like a fall. Soaked through and covered in mud and blood they staggered inside, the boy helping the man to stand. The floor was already filthy but he wiped the tracks or blood and mud away with a broken broom.

‘Hide…’ the soldier uttered. ‘Need…to hide…’

At the back of the cottage was a door that revealed steps down into the cellar. The boy helped the soldier down, although near the bottom they lost balance and fell to the stone floor, the man crying out in pain as he landed. Hurrying back up the stairs, the boy heard others outside, riders who came to a stop just outside the cottage, inspecting the horse. He knew they would search the ruined building and pulled the door shut, locking it with a basic key that had been left in the hole.

Praying that they did not search further inside, knowing that the door would not hold them back, the boy walked down slowly, trying to not make a sound. Laying in the same spot he was when he fell, the man had drifted again into unconsciousness, oblivious of the danger they were in.

Footsteps could be heard above, the floorboards creaking loudly. The men were talking but the boy could not tell what they were saying. He then heard the door rattle. Somebody was trying to get in. The orphan did not know who the soldier was, nor who the others were, but he somehow knew what would happen if he was found. Torture and maybe even death. Fear gripped the boy and his whole body began to shake, his breath caught in his throat. He tried again and again to calm himself but he could not. It was only when the door ceased to move and the footsteps died that he finally felt he was able to breathe normally.

After several hours in that cellar, waiting to make sure that the intruders had gone, the boy emerged. The cottage looked in an even worse state than it had before. The cupboards had been searched through and pulled down, the bed smashed to bits and the buckets kicked aside. The horse was gone from outside too, as were the riders thankfully. From their tracks he could see that there had been four of them.

Returning inside, the boy saw that he was still shaking with fear. Ignoring the tremors he walked down into the cellar. The soldier was still there, still asleep, but now he seemed to be shaking also, although unlike the boy, the man was covered in sweat. A fever, similar to that which had taken the boy’s brother. The orphan pulled the man-at-arms soaked armour, surcoat and tunic off and covered him in the torn blankets and sheets from the bed. There were no symbols of coat-of-arms on the armour or clothes, nothing to explain who this man was or who he served.

The boy then looked to the man’s wounds and cuts, most likely caused by swords, one to his right leg upon the thigh, the other through the flesh on his left side by the ribs. Neither looked fatal, but he had likely lost a lot of blood. The boy washed the wounds with water, cleaning them of any muck and mud. Bandaging the wounds in more of the torn sheets, the boy left the soldier alone, unable to do more and knowing that he had to fight and overcome the fever himself. He did not know who the man was, but for some reason he knew he had to help him.

By evening the man had still not woken, but continued to shudder and shake, occasionally calling out in mumbles. The boy gave him mouthfuls of rain water and changed the bandages repeatedly, the wounds beginning to close. As night fell the rain finally began to cease. The orphan’s stomach grumbled again and he kept feeling dizzy. He was starving and needed to eat if he was to continue.

Taking a rusted knife from the kitchen of the cottage he set out into the nearby woods. Setting traps the way his brother had showed him, but repeatedly keeping an eye out for the return of the riders, the boy waited. After a long time he finally heard the sound in the distance, the sound of his prey caught. Stumbling through the dark he eventually found it, a rabbit caught, hanging by its leg. He ended the creature’s suffering and carried it inside, his hunger driving him on, not willing to wait and see whether he caught anything else.             

Skinning and gutting the animal, the boy cooked it on a small fire made of bundles of twigs. There was not much meat but it was better than nothing. He took some down to the soldier, but he still had not woken, still struggling with the illness that had claimed him. Sleep then claimed the boy too, slumped against the cold stone wall of the cellar.

The next morning the boy awoke and although his hunger had abated for now, his body ached from sleeping uncomfortably in the cellar. The soldier was still unconscious, but his fever seemed to have gone, no longer shaking nor sweating. Changing the bandages, the orphan was glad to see that the wounds were still clean and had not festered. He then walked back upstairs, still wary of any intruders or riders, and saw that the sun had begun to rise in the distance, any clouds thankfully still far away.

He remembered the traps he had left out in the woods, and so did his stomach that rumbled at the thought. Taking the rusted knife with him again he set out and not far into the woods he found another of his prey had been caught. In the distance though he thought he heard something. Staying completely still he listened, but heard nothing. A dread began to fill him though and he yearned for the shelter and protection of the cottage.

Leaving his catch behind and walking slowly to make as little noise as possible, he stalked back towards the cottage. Just as he was outside the shelter though he saw them, two riders hurtling towards him. The boy then froze, routed to the spot. He knew they had seen him and did not know what to do. Panicking, he ran into the cottage and shut the door to the cellar, leaving it unlocked as the key was still at the stairs bottom. Turning, he saw the two men pull their steads to a halt and dismount. Alongside their horses was the soldier’s grey steed. Both the men looked filthy and weary, as if they had travelled for days. They were unshaved and ghastly, their faces a maze of scars and missing teeth.

‘Where is he?!’ demanded the first man, who had a large scar across his left eye that was completely white.

‘Wh..who?’ the boy managed to stammer.

‘The man who came here yesterday!’ said the second man, smiling foully through rotten teeth. Both men paced inside, drawing blood-stained swords as they paced closer.

‘I don’t know who you mean!’ the orphan pleaded as he slowly backed towards the cellar door. ‘I live here on my own!’

‘No one lives here boy!’ laughed both men. ‘Tell us where he is and we’ll spare your life. Besides you don’t stand a chance against us!’

‘You’ll kill me whatever I say,’ stated the young boy as he pulled the knife from his pocket.

‘Enough of this!’ roared the one-eyed thug as he lunged forward with his sword. The boy ducked low, the blade hitting only the wall behind. He took his chance and rammed the rusted knife up and into the man’s arm, cutting deeply. The brute howled in pain, dropping his sword and tried to hit the boy with his fist. Rolling away, the orphan yanked the knife free, just as the second man approached.

Grabbing the broken remnants of a chair, the boy threw them at his attacker who stumbled and fell to the floor as he lost balance. The orphan then hurled a discarded bucket at him which smashed upon his twisted head, dazing the fiend on the floor. Then the one-eyed rogue turned, kicking his companion for being so weak.

‘You’re gonna die here boy!’ spat the brute.

‘I have nothing to live for anyway!’ the boy swore, although even he was surprised by his words.

The man lunged forward, quicker than the orphan could react, and grabbed his hand that held the knife, crushing it. The small blade fell to the floor just as the intruder’s fist slammed into the boy’s face. It felt like being hit by a giant and he fell over, seeing stars.

‘Not so tough now are you!’ laughed the brute as he stood over his fallen foe before brutally beating him again and again. The boy spat onto the floor, bleeding from his mouth, before the bandit leant down, close to the boy’s face, still laughing.

‘Now you’ve reached your end you pathetic fool!’ he roared. The orphan spat in his face though, sending a mouthful of blood forth, straight towards the one good eye. Screaming in pain the man pulled back as he tried to wipe the fluid from his face and clear his vision. Taking his chance, the boy reached out grabbing the knife, and rose up, ramming the blade up into his attacker’s throat.

The man staggered back, clawing at the blade to pull it free, but it was already too late as a fountain of blood streamed from the fatal wound. He collapsed, gasping out in agony before falling silent, dead. Covered in the blood of the deceased and his own, the boy staggered forward, one of the fallen swords in his hands.

‘Get out!’ he ordered the remaining man who was only just beginning to rise up to his feet. ‘Get out!!!’ he repeated, louder and angrier this time.

The fear was clear in the man’s eyes, seeing this demonic boy, coated in blood, like a fiend risen from hell itself. He hurried up and ran out of the ruined cottage, mounting his horse and charging with all haste into the distance. The boy leant back against a wall and slumped down, in pain and feeling exhausted. His hands shook but he knew it was not from fear.

‘Ya did well lad,’ called out a voice, startling the boy. He tried to rise up to defend himself, but he simply did not have the strength. Looking to the cellar door he saw that it was the soldier, the wounded man-at-arms. He walked over with a heavy limp and inspected the body of the dead bandit.

‘Not bad for a boy of what, thirteen, fourteen years?’ he asked. The orphan did not answer simply too weary and shaken.

‘And I’m guessing from the state of you you’ve never received any proper training,’ the soldier continued as he walked closer and picked up the other fallen sword. ‘Never served as a squire or a lord’s aide?’ The boy shook his head.

‘What’s ya name lad?’

‘Gawain,’ the boy managed to state. Looking out of the window, the man-at-arms saw that his horse and another still waited.

‘That man who ran from you,’ the soldier began to explain. ‘He will return with others. They are bandits who attacked me. Why I have no idea. What I do know though is that you cannot stay here. Do you have family you can go to?’

‘No, I am alone,’ replied the orphan.

‘You have a strength about you,’ the soldier said as he took the sword from the boy’s hands. ‘There’s also a fire in your heart. Why did you help me?’

‘You needed help,’ the boy said simply. The soldier was silent for a few moments, deep in thought before coming to a decision.

‘Get up!’ he ordered.

‘Why?’ the orphan asked.

‘Because you are coming with me,’ answered the man-at-arms as he strode outside towards the horses. The boy followed him, completely confused and lost. Still moaning from the pain of his wounds, the soldier prepared both steeds before pulling himself up onto the saddle of his grey mount.

‘You protected me when you did not even know me,’ explained the man, ‘so now I am going to save you. Come with me and I will feed you, clothe you and provide a roof over your head. Better than this, I will train you to be an even better fighter than you already are.’

‘Who are you?’ Gawain asked as he eventually pulled himself up onto the remaining horse.

‘I am Sir Kay, loyal knight of our Lord Uther Pendragon,’ said the soldier. ‘Now we will go home, on to Camelot.’

Copyright. Edward Drake. 2011

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Comments
  1. Jackie M says:

    Very good, especially the fight scene. Do you have any plans to do any more King Arthur tales / origins?

    • Edward Drake says:

      No plans yet as have enough other short stories and ideas to keep me going for a while.

      Having said that I have always wanted to write a full novel on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Maybe one day after I’ve finished The Warrior’s Journey series I will give it a go.

      I may do a few origins tales as short fiction though. Any requests on characters?

  2. TomSaxon says:

    The tale of the boy who would be the best of Arthur’s knights. I really enjoyed it and would love to read more on the other Knights of the Round Table.

    • Edward Drake says:

      Thanks Tom. No plans yet but with King Arthur, Robin Hood and so many other legends there is always a longing to tell more of the tales of mighty heroes, princesses in distress, terrible villains and horrifying monsters. Keep tuned in as I’m sure I will write and post more in the coming weeks.

  3. Matt says:

    That’s a really good origins tale and more gritty take on the dark ages myth.
    As others have stated it would be great if you did more on other characters like Galahad, Lancelot and maybe even Merlin!

  4. As soon as I discovered this website I went on reddit to share some of the love with them. “The result justifies the deed.” by Ovid.

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