(Is it me, or are these chapters getting longer and longer?)
It was late. It couldn’t help it, the traffic was horrendous.
The sun by now had set, and was replaced by a pale, full moon. It was a clear evening, and the Knight looked up at the countless stars glittering overhead. Somewhere not too far off, an owl hooted. A little further off a dog barked, as if in answer. Even further off, a Pig hiccupped, a Horse farted, and three Hamsters giggled as they played Twister in their cage – but the Knight didn’t hear any of these.
‘It’s a beautiful evening, isn’t it?’ said the Writer.
‘It is,’ said the Knight, ‘but I’m still in a bit of pain – you know, ‘down there.’’ He pointed to the piece of armour covering his….’you know’, which had a tiny dent in the shape of a squirrels foot in it.
‘Still painful, eh?’ said the Writer, with a sympathetic look on his face. ‘What you need is a good meal, and about eight hours sleep – that’ll get you back to your old self.’
‘I think it will take more than that – more like reconstructive surgery’ said the Knight, grimacing.
‘Oh come on, don’t be so dramatic – look, aren’t those lights in the distance? I think that’s a town over there.’ The Writer was pointing to a cluster of yellow lights that shone out in the distance, defying the darkness that surrounded them. As they stood there looking, a gentle breeze carried the faint sounds of music and laughter to the Knights ears. Unfortunately, a not so gentle breeze punched the Knight in the nose with the smell of raw sewage and rotting animals too.
‘Phew!’ exclaimed the Knight waving his hand in front of his face in an attempt to disperse the awful niff that engulfed his senses. ‘Are you sure that’s a town, and not just a dirty smelly hole in the ground?’
‘Of course not!’ said the Writer – a little indignant at the Knights lack of faith. ‘It will be a town, as I said – not some stinking filth hole that you expect to find. Give me some credit!’
As it turned out, they were both right. The signs were there to be seen before they reached the entrance to the town; the road of yellow bricks got dirtier and dirtier the closer they got, until it wasn’t yellow at all – and it stopped being a road altogether. It was now a dirty track littered with droppings and other nastiness.
At the outskirts of the town, they found a crude sign which said:
‘Charming’, The Knight said.
Ignoring that one, they carried on and soon found a better sign which said:
Welcome To the Town of Stinky-Under-Foot
(No, seriously – you’re welcome to it!)
Please wipe your feet
‘Sounds delightful’, the Knight said sarcastically.
‘Well you’re here now,’ Said the Writer, ‘might as well give it a try’.
‘You mean ‘might as well get a disease off some scabby peasant’’. And with that, he turned and stepped straight into a huge pile of cow dung. Without saying a word, he carried on walking – pausing at every other step to scrape some of the dung off his foot.
The Knight followed his ears and his nose, and headed towards the centre of the town. He eventually caught up to his ears and nose next to the fountain by the town square, and gave them a stern lecture about running off when they were in an unfamiliar location. This was a waste of time however, as his ears weren’t listening, and his nose just kept snivelling pathetically.
By now it was very late and, apart from the noises coming from the tavern on the far side of the square, there was no sign of life. The Knight crossed the square, opened the heavy oak door, and walked into the Tavern.
The brightness of the light inside forced the Knight to shield his eyes momentarily – but as they grew accustomed to it, the Knight got a better look at the place – and regretted it instantly.
It was an old building, and its better days had not been seen for a very long time. It had a few rickety tables and chairs, and straw littered the stone floor in random piles. Dirty torn rags hung at the wooden framed windows. Each window had four panes, divided by a simple cross of wood. On one window, one of the panes was missing – but a live chicken had been stuffed into the hole to stop any draught getting in. As an old building, it was perfectly suited for the inhabitants, judging by the customers. If there was anyone in the tavern under thirty, they’d had a very hard life indeed. The candle light bounced off countless balding heads, and the wrinkles and liver spots were too many to count. The Knight doubted that there was a complete set of teeth between the entire clientele in tonight. The faces were tired – testaments to the hardships of a disadvantaged life. The smell of uncontrollable bladders hung in the air, and in one corner a scrawny mongrel of a dog was trapped in an apparent unending routine of vomiting, sniffing what it had brought up, eating it, and then vomiting again. The Knight watched this repulsive cycle, with morbid fascination, until a strange gruff voice brought him back to reality.
‘What’ll it be?’ said the voice. The Knight looked up and saw the barman looking at him questioningly.
The barman – a large fat man with an apron two sizes to small on, spattered with stains whose origin the Knight did not want to discover – spoke again. ‘I said what’ll it be?’
The barman was clearly not a patient man, so the Knight decided not to keep him waiting.
‘Do you do bitter?’ asked the Knight in as cheerful tone as possible.
The Barman picked up a filthy glass, spat a huge lump of greenish-yellowy phlegm into it and started to wipe a brown stained cloth round inside to clean it, all the while never taking his eyes off the Knight. When he finished, he put the glass on the bar and leaned towards the Knight.
‘Bitter? Yeah, I do bitter.’ The Barman said, ‘I also do resentful, jealous, sour, unpleasant, scheming, conniving, and down-right nasty, but what the hell has that got to do with you buying a drink?’
‘No – you misunderstand. What’s your local speciality?’ said the Knight.
‘Typhoid’, said the Barman curtly. ‘What’s your point?’
‘Never mind’ said the Knight – not wishing to get involved in any sort of physical discussion -, ‘Just give me a drink of ale’.
The Barman snorted, grabbed the phlegm smeared glass off the bar and poured some brown coloured liquid into the glass, and slammed it down in front of the Knight. The Knight looked down at the liquid in the glass, and saw several dead flies floating on the surface. ‘Three Groats’, the barman snarled.
‘I get the dead bugs for free do I?’ asked the Knight.
‘Oh – sorry’, said the Barman, ‘Five Groats.’
The Knight reached into his pocket – and then stopped. He realised that he didn’t have a pocket, as he was in a suit of armour. He then realised that even if he had got a pocket, he didn’t have any money to keep in it. A nervous smile crept onto the Knights face. However, it took one look at the expression of disgust on the Barman’s, dirty, sweaty face and promptly crept out of sight again.
‘Ahem, you see it’s like this,’ the Knight began nervously, ‘it’s a little embarrassing….’
‘It’ll be more than embarrassing if you don’t pay up’ growled the Barman, rolling his sleeves up to reveal two massive, muscle bound hairy arms. ‘It’ll be very, very painful’.
The Knight looked at the Writer with a look that simply said ‘Help?’
The Writer, who had been stuck for sometime on where this story was going, was only too pleased for some distraction, and came to the rescue at once. A small pile of money appeared on the bar in front of the Knight. ‘I think you’ll find it’s all there’, said the Writer.
The Barman - who was not impressed in any way, grabbed the money off the bar and stuffed it into his apron pocket and returned to hacking up phlegm into his patron’s glasses. The Knight looked around the tavern for a place to sit, and saw a space at a corner table where a few mysterious figures sat. He decided that he was better off in the company of mysterious strangers, than an unsociable Barman with a mucus problem.
As he sat at the table he found that the mysterious strangers were actually, an old man, and younger man, and a goat.
The Goat had a piece of string round its neck which the old man was holding on to, but the Knight noticed that every time the Goat bleated, the younger man would roar with laughter. The Knight also noticed that the old man, although not speaking to the younger man, was getting more and more agitated, as the younger man laughed at the goat.
‘You don’t mind if I join you, do you?’ asked the Knight.
‘It don’t bother me, none’, said the old man.
‘Meehhh!’ Bleated the Goat.
‘Ha ha ha – good one!’ said the younger man, laughing out loud.
The Knight saw the old man grimace at the sound of the younger mans laughter, but carried on. ‘Anyway’, said the Knight, ‘It’s good to be able to rest for a while – it’s been a long and strange journey.’
‘You’ll want a bed for the night, I bet,’ said the old man.
‘I would,’ said the Knight ‘are the rooms here any good?’
‘Nope’ the old man answered.
‘Why’s that?’ the Knight asked.
‘Cos ee hasn’t got any.’ Answered the old man.
‘Meehhh!’ the Goat bleated loudly.
‘Ha ha, you’re right about that!!!’ said the younger man, in apparent response to the Goat.
The old man grimaced again, and turned his back on the younger man. The younger man didn’t seem to notice, as he appeared to be engrossed in conversation with the old man’s goat. The Knight watched this for a while - the Goat bleating every now and then, and the younger man responding with such comments as ‘ooh, you’re not wrong there!’, and ‘I think the same!’ Eventually, the Knight leant towards the old man and said ‘what is it with that younger guy – is he mad?’
‘Oh no,’ answered the old man, ‘he’s not mad – he’s perfectly normal. In fact, he’s the best farmhand I’ve got – without him, I’d be stuck.’
The Knight was confused. ‘But if he’s such a wonderful help to you, why do you seem to dislike him so much?’ At this point the old man shuddered as the goat bleated loudly again, and the younger man answered by saying ‘I know exactly what you mean.’
‘I don’t know what it is,’ said the old man, ‘except…’
‘What?’ said the Knight.
‘Well……… he just gets my goat’ said the old man.
‘Right that’s it – I’m leaving.’ The Knight said, as he stood up. ‘All of that for another crappy little joke – I’ve had enough of it, do you hear?’
‘Whoa!’ said the Writer, ‘it’s not that bad – come on, don’t be hasty’.
The Knight was in no mood for being reasonable. ‘No I will be hasty if I want to – you’ve written absolute garbage from the moment this story started, and I’m the one doing all the walking and getting all the unpleasantness.’ The Knight moved his hands to cover the area of his armour attacked by the squirrel as he said this – it was almost an involuntary movement. ‘Look, I know you are trying to write something from scratch, and I applaud you for doing so, and I appreciate the fact that you are trying to inject some humour into it – but you’re just trying too hard I think. It feels like the story is being sacrificed for the sake of a few jokesmake people like the story. If you want to write jokes for people, write a joke book, if you’re trying to write a story, write a story.’
‘I have written a joke book’ The Writer said, ‘Well, it’s not actually finished yet – and to be honest I haven’t been back to it in ages, which I should do because there are loads of jokes I know that I haven’t put in it’
The Knight was losing patience. ‘I don’t really care about your other writing – I care about this writing, because I’m in it, and if you don’t do a good job, no one will read it, and find out about me and my adventures – and I don’t want to be forgotten!’
‘You’re right – I’m sorry’ said the Writer. ‘I’m just not too happy with how this whole thing is going – nothing has really happened yet, each chapter is ending up longer than the previous one, and to be honest I’m struggling with it.’
‘Maybe you are just trying too hard’ said the Goat. ‘When you started this story, you just typed without thinking too much about where it was going. As a result, the words flowed on to the page easily and it was good stuff. Now, you’re too busy trying to think how to develop it, and because of that the story is suffering, and it’s not as funny.’
The younger man looked at the Goat, then looked at the Knight and said ‘what ee say?’
The Writer thought for a moment, and then realised that thinking was most of the problem, and so stopped.
‘So you’re saying I should just type away, and then come back and tweak bits – if needed – later on?’
‘Exactly’ said the Knight. ‘Or if you want me to say that in a West Country accent – ‘zackly’’
The Writer laughed ‘ha ha ha!’
See? I told you he laughed.
‘I feel much better – thank you Knight.’ The Writer said, ‘right, let’s see if we can’t improve things – where were we up to?’
‘Well, I need somewhere to sleep tonight, and then I need to find some adventure.’ The Knight said.
‘Ok,’ the Writer said, ‘I’ve sorted you a room out upstairs – I know the old man said he didn’t have any rooms here, but he was part of a rubbish joke and so doesn’t count.
You go and have a good sleep and something to eat; I’ve arranged some food in your room, and in the morning we’ll go and find some adventure.’
‘Cool’ said the Knight, ‘see you in the morning. And with that, he went upstairs.
As soon as the Knight was out of sight, the Writer turned to the Old Man and said ‘I didn’t mean what I said about you being part of a rubbish joke and therefore not counting – I just had to tell him something’.
The Old man gave the Writer a hard stare as he spoke to him. ‘It doesn’t matter how you pretty it up – you ain’t got any respect for us elders, that’s for sure. That’s a bad way to go about things.’
The Writer bowed his head a little and said ‘I know – I’m ashamed and I’m sorry’
The goat bleated angrily, and the younger man said ‘ee says stuff your apology.’
The Writer ignored the younger man, and finished the chapter.