(Who’d have thought we’d make it this far?)
The following morning brought no sunshine. Instead it had found a real good offer on torrential downpours, and had bought the lot. It was the noise of the rain that woke the Knight – the noise rain makes as it falls through the roof of the tavern with a load of sodden timbers and wet thatch. The Knight had a lucky escape, as a piece of timber crashed down missing his head by inches. Having a piece of timber fall through the ceiling and hit you with full force in the stomach, making you sit bolt upright and vomit up last night’s meal, might not seem like a lucky escape to many – but it was luckier than being smacked in the face by it.
The Knight felt that it was not a good omen. Gregory Peck was rubbish. He managed to get himself out from under the timber and the soaking wet bed clothes, and dried himself off with the complimentary sheep that was in his room. At least, that’s his story if anyone asked. Once he had finished ‘drying’ himself, he got dressed and went downstairs. To his surprise, the tavern was still jam packed from the previous evening – mainly because of the rain outside, which was now inside too.
To the surprise of the people in the tavern, the Knight was still here and had not done a runner in the early hours as many had them had predicted.
A hundred pairs of eyes watched the Knight walk out of the tavern – which was concerning, as there were only 38 people in the place, including the dog. The Knight made his way to the blacksmiths through the rivers of mud which now made up the streets. When he got there, he found his horse waiting outside with a seriously pissed off look on its face. It had obviously been left out there all night, and its rain soaked mane was stuck to its neck. The lengths of hair looked more like mascara running down a crying woman’s face than fine horse hair. The Knight called for the blacksmith, who shortly came out into his workshop.
‘I’ve sharpened your sword, sir Knight’, said the blacksmith. The Knight, remembering the lack of knowledge shown by the blacksmith regarding the shoeing of his horse, was instinctively sceptical of this new claim. ‘How sharp is it?’ the Knight asked, ‘How sharp?’ repeated the blacksmith, ‘Let me go and get it, and I’ll show you’. With that he scurried off through a curtain into the back of his workshop. Suddenly there was an anguished scream from behind the curtain, followed by the sound of something metallic hitting the floor. A few moments passed, and the blacksmith returned – with his right hand heavily bandaged and bleeding, whilst carrying the Knights sword in the crook of his left arm.
‘What happened?’ asked the Knight. ‘Well sir’ replied the Blacksmith, ‘I went out back to see how sharp you sword was, and I managed to cut off the fingers on my left hand with it.’
‘How on earth did you do that?’ cried the Knight. ‘Oh it was quite simple sir, I did it like this’ said the Blacksmith, who then decided to re-enact the whole incident, and promptly cut all the fingers off on his left hand. ‘Bugger me – not again!!’ cried the blacksmith as he dropped the sword for the second time.
The Knight rushed to the Blacksmith’s aid and bandaged his left hand as best he could. He then picked up the Blacksmiths fingers – but could only find three of them. However, he did find a very guilty looking pig standing quite nearby that had wandered in out of the rain.
Leaving the blacksmith bleeding and fingerless, the Knight picked up his sword (Very carefully), and went outside to saddle his horse. Once saddled (is that the correct term?) the Knight mounted his horse, and waved farewell to the blacksmith.
The blacksmith cheerily waved his two bloodied and bandaged remains of hands – and then passed out from loss of blood. The pig, sensing an opportunity, cackled evilly and started walking slowly to where the unconscious blacksmith lay.
The Knight set off at a gentle pace. He could had made the horse run faster, but he remembered the old woman’s words, and didn’t want to end up with a knackered horse half a mile from the edge of town. The rain fell steadily, and the ‘plink, plink’ sound it made as it hit the Knights armour became as monotonous as the journey itself. The sky above was bruised black and grey and everywhere the Knight looked the trees and plants were bent as if in submission under the relentless onslaught of the rain. Muddy puddles filled the road, and the horse stamped through them angrily. It hated the rain, it hated puddles, and it hated the fact that it had the Knight sat on his back soaking wet and sounding like a xylophone with only one working note. As fed up animals went, this was one unhappy horse.
The Knight too, was not in a very good mood. Suits of armour by design are not very good at keeping water out, nor good at keeping warmth in, so not only was he slowly getting soaked to the skin, he was also getting colder by the minute. The Knight saw a huge oak tree up ahead with branches that spread out over the road, offering at least some shelter from the rain. The Knight decided to stop there a while and hopefully wait for the rain to ease off.
After about four hours, the Knight began to get the feeling that the rain might not ease off just yet. However, the majestic Oak tree under which he and his grumpy steed were stood did at least provide a decent degree of shelter. It didn’t stop the rain coming through completely, but halted it enough for both of them to at least start to dry out. The only problem now was the cold – the Knight realised that he would need to get a fire going to warm them up. The Horse had realised this about four hours earlier, but short of scraping the words ‘make a fire you idiot!’ in the dirt with his hooves (which it couldn’t be asked to do), he had no way of passing this idea on to the Knight. Who did people think he was – Black Beauty?
The Knight looked around him. There were a few fagots lying around, and some leaves which appeared to be quite dry, so the Knight gathered them up and made them into a pile.
‘You missed a golden opportunity for a crap joke there Writer’, said the Knight.
‘What do you mean?’ asked the Writer.
‘Well – a few fagots lying around – surely you could have made some joke up about homosexuals or something?’
‘Yes, I could have done – EXCEPT ‘FAGOT’ DOESN’T MEAN SLANG FOR HOMOSEXUAL, IT MEANS BITS OF DRIED WOOD AND STICKS ETC.!!! YOU WERE THINKING OF ‘FAGGOT’!!!’
The Writer growled in frustration, and hurled a dictionary at the Knight.
‘BEFORE YOU START TRYING TO GIVE ME ADVICE ON HOW TO WRITE, CHECK YOUR SPELLING!!!’
‘Alright, alright!’ said the Knight, ‘It was just a suggestion – anyway, thanks for this’. He was tearing the pages out of the dictionary to use as kindling for the fire. The Writer couldn’t believe his eyes. ‘Hey! I didn’t give that to you for you to destroy’, he cried. The Knight, still tearing pages out of the dictionary didn’t look up, but did reply ‘well, I have to use everything I’ve got to help me get through this, so if you don’t like, don’t help’.
The Writer was at a loss. Turning his gaze skywards he said ‘Dear God, I’m not a bad person. I know I make mistakes – you know I make mistakes, but I hope you also know that I am trying my best. But it’s difficult in these circumstances (gesturing towards the Knight), you know? I just need a little help, that’s all – a little sign to show me that I shouldn’t give up, and that everything will be alright in the end. Any chance you can do something?’ The Writer closed his eyes, and bowed his head in silence for a moment. The horse and the Knight both looked at the Writer in silence.
‘Ask and you shall receive!!!’ An unfortunately familiar voice broke the silence.
The Writer, the Knight, and the Horse all turned towards the direction of the voice, and saw the Friar strolling towards them. He was bathed in a shaft of light which had appeared out of the blackened sky above, and the rain seemed to be falling around him, but not actually on him.
‘Not him again’ thought the Knight.
‘I hate my life’ thought the Writer
‘Who the hell is this?’ thought the Horse, who was still in a bad mood.
‘Hello my friends!’ said the Friar in his usual cheery voice ‘I’m here to help’.
‘We don’t need your help’, said the Knight rudely. The Friar paused to take in the scene: The Knight and the horse sheltering from the rain under the oak tree, both looking miserable, and the rain hammering down relentlessly. He didn’t even need to look at the Writer to know how he was doing.
‘Oh, I think you do’ said the Friar, and with that he pulled out a sack of oats which he gave to the horse to eat. The horse started to munch away eagerly whilst giving the Friar a look that clearly said ‘This doesn’t make us buddies’. The friar then pulled out a flint and a tinder box and gave it to the Knight so he could light his fire. The Knight accepted this quickly, and made a spark which he ignited some kindling with. The Knight was about to place the kindling into the pile of leaves, fagots and paper when the Friar cried ‘Wait! Allow me to bless the fire first – for good luck’
‘Good idea’ said the Knight, cupping the kindling in his hands to prevent it going out.
The Friar pulled a small vial of holy water out from his habit, and walked over to where the Knight was knelt with the kindling in his hands. Un-corking the vial, the Friar made the sign of the cross with the vial and then sprinkled holy water over the Knights hands whilst reciting the blessing ‘Sancti Apostoli Petrus et Paulus: de quorum potestate et auctoritate confidimus ipsi intercedant pro nobis ad Dominum’
Which is an actual honest to goodness blessing – you can look it up if you like.
As the Friar spoke these words, a feeling of hope filled the hearts of the Knight, the Writer, and even the horse (though he would swear it was heartburn if asked). The torrential rain suddenly stopped, and the sun broke through the clouds.
A feeling of calm seemed to descended over the land. At the same time the tiny flame in the kindling seemed to burst into life – just before being completely extinguished by a large drop of holy water which splashed down onto the Knights hands, saturatring them.
For a moment, the Knight was motionless - staring down at the wet kindling which was hissing slightly as the holy water drowned all embers within it. The Friar stood there transfixed by the Knights hands and their soggy contents. The Writer looked at both the Knight and the Friar – both looking like they were waxworks of themselves positioned in a scene. The Horse looked mournfully into the now empty sack that the oats had once been in.
No-one spoke. Then the Friar summed it all up single word.
This utterance sparked an explosion of activity. The Knight leaped to his feet roaring in anger at the Friar. He drew his sword, fully intending to cleave the Friar in two. The Friar backed away instinctively, saying repeatedly ‘you wouldn’t hurt a man of the cloth would you? Come on – love your fellow man and all that?’ The Knight had to be restrained by the horse, who was neighing constantly in a ‘leave it – he’s not worth it’ kind of way. The Writer was furiously writing down horrible ways for the Friar to meet his end, pausing only to snarl at the Friar and make unpleasant gestures towards him. The Friar, deciding that simply saying sorry was likely to make things worse for him, ran off into the distance.
Eventually, everyone calmed down.
Actually, that’s not true. Surprisingly, the Writer calmed down first. Perhaps it was the fact that the weather (which had ultimately put everyone in a dodgy mood in the first place) had improved dramatically; it had stopped raining, the sun was shining, and it was really quite warm. Or maybe it was because he was trying to adopt a more philosophical outlook on life – you know the-glass-is-half-full type of thing. It could just be that he wanted to get on with this story, and hope that it developed as he dreamed it would.
The Knight took a little longer to simmer down. Remember; he was in a heavy, damp, wet suit of armour – which was starting to rust a little in some embarrassing places (so much so that from distance he looked like a naked Ginger robot) – and he was totally fed up. Yet again the hands of fate had wedgied him firmly and without concern, leaving him feeling constricted and uncomfortable. But he too started to feel better when he had dried out and warmed up a little.
The Horse - who you will remember had been grumpy right from the word go – showed no sign of calming down, and seemed to take some of his anger out on a poor unsuspecting rabbit that had hopped out of the undergrowth to find some lunch now that the rain had stopped. The horse waited for the rabbit to hop within reach, and then it mercilessly kicked it over the hedge of the nearest field and out of sight.
The Knight decided to eat. He had been given a small bag of provisions by the town merchant, in which there was a small loaf of bread, some berries, some local cheese, and a small flagon of ale. The Knight, although wary of eating the food from such a disgusting town, was very hungry and tucked in to the food eagerly.
After eating what the Knight would later describe as an ‘interesting’ meal of stale bread, semi-poisonous berries, and cheese which tasted like it had been made from the milk of an elderly cat – all washed down with ale that tasted like the sweat from the apron of the Tavern’s barman – the Knight decided it was time to get moving.
‘It’s time to get moving’, said the Knight (see, I was right).
The Knight, sensing the mood of his steed, decided against riding it for the moment. Instead, he simply untied it and lead it out from under the tree and on down the path. The horse – its mood improved by punting the rabbit – allowed itself to be lead.
The road kept its course due east, except for the odd occasion when it turned North, or South, or even westward for a bit. But apart from that, it carried on East. By now it was late afternoon, and thoughts about making a camp for the night had entered the mind of the Knight and the Writer. They had dried out completely now, and it didn’t look like it would rain again that night. The rest of their journey that afternoon was uneventful, and as night began to fall, they found themselves at the foot of a hill whose summit overlooked the surrounding countryside. The Knight decided that this would be a good place to make a camp, so they walked up to the top and made their camp for the night.