(Was that last chapter was a bit too serious? – come on, be honest)
The Knight woke with a start. It was mid morning, and the sun was shining. The camp fire was just a smouldering pile of ash and stones – and the body of the wolf general had mysteriously disappeared. The only trace of where it had lain was a black stain on the ground, where no grass now grew. The Writer was also missing, but there too was a stain on the grass which showed where he had slept – only this one was brown.
The Knight sat up – and then winced. He was still in pain, and had to move very carefully. He managed to get up, and looked around him. His gaze was drawn to the body of his horse – well, what was left of it anyway. The events of the night came flooding back vividly, and the Knight staggered as he fought to keep his composure. As bad tempered as it had been, the Knight couldn’t bear to leave the horse like that. So he went off and gathered up as many stones and rocks as he could find, and he covered the horse as best he could. It took him a good hour to find enough stones to cover the horse, but eventually he did it. The Knight stood looking over the pile of stones, and in silence he bowed his head and said a prayer.
When he had finished, he turned – and saw the Writer standing before him. It was clear that he had been down to a river to wash his…..well you can imagine.
‘Morning’ said the Writer sheepishly, ‘how are you?’
‘Sore, bruised, bloodied, burnt – marvellous really’ said the Knight angrily.
The Writer finished straightening his clothes, and looked at the Knight. ‘You do look pretty bad actually – but you saved us all last night.’
‘Couldn’t save the horse though’, said the Knight looking away.
‘Pardon?’ said the Writer.
The Knight turned back to face the Writer. ‘I said I couldn’t save the horse though, could I?!’ The Knight shouted, angry that he had to repeat his admission of failure.
‘Oh, right’, said the Writer, ‘I didn’t hear what you said because you had turned away. Don’t beat yourself up about the horse – there was nothing you could have done. If you had managed to get to him, you too would now be dead. It’s true that the horse was killed by creatures that had no mercy, and didn’t care anything for anyone else – but if you think about it, they were exactly like him, exactly his sort of creatures. So that would have been comforting for him.’
‘Oh yes!’ cried the Knight, ‘I’m sure he had a nice warm feeling inside as he was killed – or maybe THAT WAS HIS INNARDS BEING RIPPED OUT! Sometimes Writer, you say the most ridiculously stupid things.’ With that the Knight set about gathering his things.
The Writer, sensing that he had ‘done it again’ gathered up his things in silence.
A short while later, without really saying anything to each other, both the Knight and the Writer set off down the other side of the hill on the Eastward road. The air was still as they walked, neither of them saying anything to the other.
Each of them was content with their own thoughts for the moment. The sun was out, and though there was little or no wind, the day was developing nicely which helped to raise both their spirits a little.
The road was now running parallel to a small river – a brook really – which babbled along over stones, and through reeds. The river water was clear enough and shallow enough to see a few fish swimming along together in harmony. Suddenly the fish darted away as a pair of red polka dot y-fronts with an unfortunate smear on them came floating by, followed in its wake by a line of dead fish floating on the surface. The y-fronts themselves were quite happy floating along – it made a nice change been stuffed halfway up the crevice of the Writer and his unspeakable bowels. Little did they know that the little river would ultimately lead to larger rivers, and then eventually the sea itself - and then onto who knows where?
The Writer had seen his y-fronts in the river, but decided against fishing them out. The Knight had not seen them, and bringing them to his attention now was probably not the best idea. The Writer just held his right hand close to his side and gave one of those waves where you hold the palm still and just wiggle the fingers to the y-fronts, and wished them a safe journey.
Suddenly the sound of approaching hooves was heard – along with what sounded like music and singing.
‘Quick! Get off the road – hide!’ said the Knight, and both he and the Writer slipped into the gully at the side of the road and hid behind some bushes to wait for whoever – or whatever was coming.
The sounds got louder, and then around the corner into view came an ornately decorated gypsy style cart being pulled by two Shire horses. At the reigns sat a slim, fresh faced fellow with blonde hair and a tattered but multi-coloured tunic. In his hands was a battered old Lute. The horses were happy to trundle along without their reigns being held, and so the owner of the Lute merrily played and sang. As he got closer to where the Knight and Writer lay hidden, this song was audible:
♫ ‘I travel the road from East to West;
From North to South I go.
And on the way my Lute I’ll play
Singing all the songs I know.
Yes singing all the songs I know,
Except when I really need to go…you know!
I travel the road from East to West
The travelling life is the life that’s best.
Apart from a life with a great big wife
With a great big heart, and a great big chest!!
Yes - Big wife, big heart, big chest is best
Stretching the fabric of her vest!!!’ ♫
♫ ‘I travel the road from North to South
Singing the words right out of my mouth
When I’m not singing I’m stuffing my face
I’m looking for food all over the place!!
♫”Yes, looking for food whenever I can
I don’t have much luck, I’m a skinny man!!!’ ♫
Just as he was about to start another verse, his cart came alongside the bushes where the Knight and the Writer lay hidden. Without warning, the Knight leapt up onto the road right next to the cart and quick as a flash held his sword at the slim man’s throat.
‘Who are you!!? Tell me, quick!’ said the Knight in a menacing tone.
Startled and terrified, the man on the cart burst into another song:
♫ ‘My heart! My heart! I think you’ve stopped my heart!
My pulse will stop, my blood will clot, and my whole world will fall apart
Leaving my poor horses and this cart
Alone because you’ve done your part
By giving me such a frightful start….
That I think you’ve stopped my heart!!!’ ♫
The Knight was in no mood for being messed about. ‘Stop that bloody singing, and tell me who you are, and where you are going!!’
The man, visibly shaking, started another song:
♫ ‘I’m jack, I’m Jack – my name is Jack the Bard
But please don’t tell me not to sing
To do so would be very hard
For I have been cursed, so I must sing
My first, my last, my everything.
I travel around from town to town
To entertain, and earn some pay.
Beneath my smile I wear a frown
Struggling to live from day to day.
No matter how hard I try
How many times I’ve wept and cried
Whenever I have something to say
My curse is that I sing this way’ ♫
Tears were filling up in Jacks eyes as he sang. Composing himself quickly, he wiped the tears from his face, and gave a broad smile to the Knight.
Just then, the Writer came out from behind the bushes where he had been waiting to ambush any other possible assailants (that would be his story anyway, should anyone ask). He walked over to where the Knight was standing, and looked up at Jack.
‘Hello there!’ said the Writer, ‘I’m the Writer. ‘
Automatically Jack responded in song:
♫ ‘Hello! My friend! And may I say well met!
This has to be the strangest day I’ve ever had I’d bet!
The two of you behind a bush as I come along this way?
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the pair of you was….’♫
‘We’re not.’ The Knight snapped, interrupting jack before he could finish his sentence. ‘It’s just that we’ve had many perils on our journey thus far, and so we are wary of any new people that we may run into. ‘That’s true’ added the Writer, ‘we’ve been in grave peril almost from the off’.
‘We have, haven’t we?’ said the Knight, looking hard at the Writer. He went on, ‘and we are heading into further peril with every step we take.’
♫ ‘You’re walking into peril with every step you take?
That can’t be right – it sounds so wrong; there must be some mistake!
Pray tell – where are you heading? To what doom do you tread?
You can’t be doing this willingly – you must be off your head!’ ♫
The Knight replied solemnly, ‘We’re heading fro the great forest, to fight the evil ones.’ Upon hearing this, Jacks jaw dropped in shock. Before he could speak, the Knight went on. ‘We know about the danger – we’ve heard the stories. But I made a promise, and I intend to keep it.
The Writer added, ‘a whole town had its men folk taken. Hundreds of people are relying on us to help them. What would you expect us to say to them? What would you have said?
♫ ‘Goodbye, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu!!
To you, and you, and you and you and you-oo!’ ♫
As he sang, Jack took hold of the reigns and pretended to by galloping away from something. He even looked back over his shoulder and waved.
‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ said the Knight angrily, ‘how can you say that? Especially after what happened to you!?’ Jack looked at the Knight and the Writer and replied:
♫ ‘It’s because of what happened, that I’d run away
Because of what happened I’m chicken.
The evil ones gave me this curse on that day
So this wouldn’t be a fight I’d be picking.’ ♫
♫’They’re nasty and horrible – they eat with their hands
There’s dirt under their fingernails, and they’ve got swollen glands;
They’re always farting and belching, and coughing up phlegm
And they kill you straight off just for looking at them.’ ♫
♫’they maim for pure pleasure; they kill just for fun
They’d put nettles down your pants and keep kicking your bum.
They’d say it’s your birthday – and then say it’s not
And they bake you a cake made from dead rats and snot.’ ♫
♫’They’d pretend to release you – but not let you go
And keep dropping heavy stuff right on your big toe
They’d poke you in the eye with a dirty old twig
Then shave off your hair and give you a mouldy old wig.’ ♫
♫’so don’t tell me about it – I already know;
They gave me this curse, and then let me go.
I’m a permanent reminder to all that I meet
That if you hear the evil ones coming
You’d best be quick on your feet’ ♫
The Knight had listened to this intently, and once jack had finished, he spoke. ‘I understand your pain, and I will not ask you to join us if you feel you cannot. But be aware that we are on this road for one reason: to go to The Great Forest and defeat the evil ones. Will you at least travel with us a while longer? It has been good to meet a friendly face’.
Jack’s face remained serious – although inside he had already taken a liking to these two new friends he had made – as he answered once again in song:
♫ ‘It has been good to meet you two, and I’ll travel with you a while
But soon our paths will turn aside, in maybe no more than a mile.
And at that point I’ll wish you well, and all the luck in travel and health
For I dare not go back to that place – lest I simply mess myself’ ♫
At these words, the Writer went a slight pink-ish colour, and coughed nervously. The Knight said nothing. Jack invited his two new friends to sit up with him on his cart, and with a flick of the reigns he set his two horses into a steady pace, and the cart trundled on down the road.