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Jack had readied the cart, and after helping the Writer – who was still crying quietly – up into his seat, the Knight took the reigns and encouraged the horses to start moving. Before long the village was lost from sight, although the smell of burning death would linger on their clothes for many days.
It soon became obvious that the road they were on was the same road travelled by the Evil ones. There were several horse tracks, as well as the tracks from some sort of cart. Following these tracks were several pairs of footprints in two parallel lines. And every now and then there were signs of violence; sometimes it would just be a area of flattened ground where someone had been laying, others had pieces of torn clothing and blood splatters, and on a couple of occasions they passed a corpse lying face down. The three friends passed all of these in silence; no-one needed to speak. At one point they did come across a villager who was barely alive – but the cart failed to stop in time, and ran over him, killing him outright.
The sky hung grey and brooding over their heads, and there was an overwhelming sense of gloominess all around. This wasn’t surprising, given the circumstances. To try and change the mood a little, the Writer tried to start a conversation with the Knight. ‘So, tell me about your parents – what are they like?’
The Knight sighed, and said ‘well, my Father works as a blacksmith, and my mother died when I was seventeen.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry – how did it happen?’ the Writer asked gently.
‘I guess he just went round to the Blacksmiths one day and said “Got any jobs going?’, said the Knight in a matter-of-fact way.
‘Not your father!’ cried the Writer, ‘I meant how did your Mother die?’
‘Aah’ said the Knight, pausing, ‘My mother was killed by wholemeal bread’
‘Wholemeal Bread!?’ exclaimed the writer and Jack (who’d had been listening) together – except that Jack sang his exclamation, but you know that. The Writer asked, ‘How did Wholemeal bread cause your mother to die? Was it an allergic reaction? Did she choke?’
‘No’, said the Knight, ‘She was run down by a baker’s cart.’
The Writer and Jack didn’t know what to say – well, you wouldn’t, would you? However, the questioning had sparked curiosity within the Knight, so he asked both Jack and the Writer about their Parentage. The moment the question had been asked, the Writer started babbling on about his Mother and Father. It was as if he had been bursting to tell someone for ages, and had finally been asked.
‘My mother and father were much respected in our village – even though we were poor. Daddy worked as a farmhand up at the big estate, and mummy gave special advice to lots of different visitors that came to our house’.
‘Visitors?’ asked the Knight, ‘what sort of Visitors? And what advice did she give?’
‘Oh I don’t know what sort of advice mummy gave – but I think she was some sort of therapist. Whenever a visitor came to the house, mummy would take them upstairs into the spare room, and shut the door. They always seemed to have emotional problems, because I often heard them groaning and crying out. It must have upset mummy too because sometimes I would hear her groaning too. The poor Milkman must have been in a terrible state for many months, because he was always coming to our door.’
The Knight and Jack exchanged a look that simply said “okay then”.
The Writer continued, ‘We were so poor I couldn’t afford to keep our own dog, so I had to share a dog with a neighbour.
The Neighbour would take Scruffy – that was his name – for walks, and would play with him and all that, and I would clean up his mess, whenever he went…you know, number two’s”. I loved that dog – but one day my neighbour told me that Scruffy had run away to join the Circus. I was very sad – especially as I could have sworn Scruffy being given to strange man who gave my neighbour some money – but they said that was a different dog.’ The Writer then stopped talking, and turned away for a moment to wipe his eye.
The Knight then decided it was time to hear from Jack about his Mother and Father. However, Jack was less eager to talk. Eventually, he was persuaded to divulge his family details.
♫” I never knew my father; or my Mother since you ask.
I was dumped outside an orphanage strapped to a tin hip-flask.
A note inside said “Take him on – ‘cos we don’t want him, see?”
And from that day on,
’s Orphanage became my family” ♫ St Thomas
♫” Life was hard inside those walls, if you were weak, you’d die.
And I grew up tough and mean, as the long years trickled by.
I’d get in fights; I’d bully those who were skinner or small
But secretly I yearned to leave the prison of those walls.” ♫
♫”And then one day, my dream came true – it was time for me to leave
They weren’t sad to see me go; and I didn’t exactly grieve.
So I set out to make my fortune, though in truth I never have
But I never spare a second thought to those called “Mum” and “Dad”
The Knight thought that Jack’s tale was a very sad one. He was about to say so, when he saw Jack pointing at something up ahead. He turned to look at what Jack was pointing at and saw a sign at the side of the road. The sign said:
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BEWARE OF CARTS TRAVELLNG BOTH WAYS AT ONCE
The cart pulled up to the crossroads and stopped. Everyone looked left, and then right. To the left, somewhere down that road lay Jack’s home, and perhaps his family. No-one had bothered to ask Jack whether he was married or had children – and now would be a little late. To the right, the road led away, and everyone know that it would eventually lead to the Evil ones.
For a long time, no-one spoke. Then, when he could bear the silence no longer, the Knight said ‘Come with us, Jack – we need you.’
Jack looked down the road that led to home, then down the road that led to the Evil ones. Then he looked at the Writer, and then at the Knight. Then he looked back at the Writer, and then jumped down and stood in front of the cart, looking at the two horses. The two horses looked straight back at him and then at each other. Jack then jumped back onto the cart, and looked at the Knight again. The Knight looked at Jack, and then at the writer. The writer looked at the Knight, and then looked down at the two horses.
The two horses, uneasy at the feeling they were being watched twitched their ears and flicked their manes nervously.
Then, Jack spoke:
♫” I cannot go back down that path, although I know I should
I’m not strong enough to face the horror that lurks within those woods.
I wish I was brave like you sir Knight – I wish I had your heart.
But alas I was not gifted thus; and so it’s here we part.” ♫
Jack would not be persuaded; no mater how the Knight and the Writer tried to convince him, he would not go with them. They tried to reason with his conscience, they begged and pleaded – but it was no use. Jack’s mind was made up.
With a heavy heart, the Knight and the Writer jumped off the cart, and took what provisions could be spared. Jack, deeply ashamed could not even look at them. When he knew it was time he spurred the horses on, and started down the path to his home. As he slowly went away from them, the Writer and the Knight heard Jack sing this song:
♫ “I’m Jack, I’m Jack – my name is Jack the Coward
Deserter of his friends, just when times are getting hard.
I have no spine, no backbone – I’m useless in a fight
Don’t look at me as I go by – I’m not worthy of your sight”♫
Jack continued to sing this one verse over and over until he was out of sight. Even then, he continued to sing it, though neither the Writer nor the Knight could have known this.
The Knight stood staring at the right road which now lay out before him. He took a deep intake of breath, and then without looking at the Writer said ‘Ready?’
The Writer, who was starting to hyperventilate a little replied, ‘not quite – I need a few moments’
‘How long?’ asked the Knight, growing a little impatient.
‘Oh, about forty or fifty years?’ the Writer smiled nervously, trying to catch the knights eye. The Knight almost caught the Writer’s eye as he shot out an armoured gauntlet and grabbed the Writer by the collar. “Come on” he growled, and started marching forwards. The writer had no choice but to move with him.
‘Do we have to go this way? Can’t we follow Jack – perhaps we’ll meet some other folk who want to help us?’ The writer was beginning to whine a little, which wasn’t improving the Knight’s mood. ‘We’re not following Jack, and we’re not looking for others to help – it’s you and me, but mainly me, as you’re obviously no use.’
The Writer stopped dead in his tracks. ‘No wait just a minute’ he said, ‘of no use am I? What about all of the scene setting I’ve done, and wonderful story telling? You haven’t made it this far all by yourself you know!’ The Writer was feeling rather unappreciated.
The Knight couldn’t have cared less. ‘It’s a miracle I’ve mad this far at all!’ The Knight shouted angrily, ‘you’ve put me through god-knows-what perils and misfortune, and it’s down to the good grace of a higher being than you, that I’m still here!. So don’t start giving it the you-can’t-do-without-me routine, because let’s face it – without you would have been a lot less hassle!’
The pair of them were silent for a long time. Eventually, the Writer spoke. ‘Look, I know I’m not like you – brave and all that, but I must be here for a reason. I’ve just been given the gift of great writing too, and I haven’t really tried it out. I won’t deny that I’m scared, after all, who wouldn’t be? But I’ll play my part yet, you’ll see.’
The Knight came face to face with the Writer, and said ‘where we are going, is not a happy place. I don’t know what we’ll find, but it won’t be fun. You’d better be prepared to face your nightmares.’
‘My nightmares always involve me being naked in the woods, and having an elephant come up to me and say “you’ll never pick anything up with that!” – will there be elephants there?’
‘Knowing my luck – yes.’ The Knight turned and continued down the road. The writer said to himself ‘I really don’t like elephants’ and then followed after the Knight.
As they marched along the road, they noticed that often the foliage on either side appeared to have been mindlessly hacked at. In some places there was no foliage at all, only blackened ground where a fire had destroyed everything. Torches lay on the ground, where they had been thrown into the trees and bushes. There was no evidence of a camp around these fires – they had apparently been started for fun.
A grim feeling of determination was growing steadily in the night’s stomach.
A damp feeling of “I’m really scared” was growing steadily in the Writer’s trousers.
The day was beginning to wane, so the Knight decided to make camp. He didn’t want to risk a fire, in case they were discovered, so they left the road and walked a few paced into the undergrowth. They found a hollow under a fallen tree trunk, and decided that was a good a place as any to spend the night. They gathered leaves and ferns to act as both camouflage and as covering, and crawled into the hollow.The night came cold and quiet – it was as if nothing dared to make a sound, not even the wind. It took a long time for the Writer and the Knight to fall asleep, both their minds were troubled with what peril awaited them the following day.