(If you’re expecting the quality of writing to improve, don’t hold your breath;
I don’t have a magic quill.)
Montague Fripp offered the three companions the hospitality of his tents overnight, and they agreed – albeit reluctantly on the Knight’s part. He was still more than a little aggrieved a having to lose his sword and, to be honest, would have been quite happy to leave Montague Fripp and his travelling rubbish heap (as he had secretly named it) there and then. However, in the morning even the knight had to agree that he had had a good rest, and felt revitalised.
They were preparing to leave, when Maurizio came out of nowhere and said to the three friends ‘you must come and see my eye-catching gifts section!’ The three followed Maurizio to a smaller tent hidden away in a corner. There was a small sign on the tent which said ‘NEW! Eye-catching gifts – limited offer!!’
They all entered the tent (just about – it was very small), but were instantly disappointed and confused by what they found inside. All there appeared to be inside the tent was a load of rusty old hooks, lengths of barbed wire, and bits of wood with rusty nails poking out of them.
‘I thought you said there were eye-catching gifts in here?’ said the Writer, confused.
‘I did’ Maurizio replied proudly, ‘and here they all are’.
The Knight looked around the tent and said ‘but you can hardly call these gifts – or eye-catching.’
Maurizio replied, ‘I’d call them gifts sir – and they most certainly are eye-catching.’
The Writer replied, ‘How can you call these eye-catching?’ He gestured to a row of rusty hooks hanging nearby.
A disconcerting smile appeared on Maurizio’s face as he replied, ‘Well sir, if you catch your eye on one of these you’d certainly know about it – ha ha ha ha!’
None of the three companions found this funny. It’s a fair bet that you didn’t either. Without saying a word, they turned and left the tent, leaving Maurizio inside, still laughing. They returned to their cart, which they found to have been cleaned and tidied, and the two horses were looking rested and well fed. Montague Fripp appeared from out of the main tent, and came to bid them farewell.
‘Farewell!’ Montague cried.
See? I’m not making this up.
The three companions said their goodbye’s, and returned to the path. Jack was in fine form – his voice was a joy to behold, and he found that he needed almost no effort to produce both the range of scale and power in his voice that he had never been able to do previously. As the cart trundled along the path, Jack sang a new song that he had just made up.
♫’I’ll just met a man named Montague Fripp
He’ll blow you away – he’s an absolute trip!
A seller of things both strange and profound
There’s no-one else like him for miles around!’ ♫
♫ ‘He’s tall and he’s charming,
Both suave and debonair
He’s impeccably dressed, with immaculate hair
His welcome is warming, like a rich roaring fire
And his speaks with such feeling
That you cannot help be inspired’
‘He sold me a powder which transformed my song
I can now sing the high notes and hold them so long.
The curse I was given, seems a curse no more
I can sing! I can sing! Like never before!’♫
The writer was scribbling furiously with his new quill, but tapped his foot in time with Jacks song. He too was enjoying the object sold to him by Montague. Words seemed to flow from his hands almost faster than he could write them, and ideas were exploding in his brain like fireworks illuminating a dark sky.
Even the Knight was merrily blowing into the small golden whistle, in tune to Jack’s song.
Actually, that’s a lie. The Knight was sitting in silence. Not one muscle on his entire body was moving. He was completely motionless. He just sat and stared into space, his mind focused on the danger that drew ever closer, as each second passed. And he certainly had no desire to even touch the whistle that remained stuffed inside the sleeve of his armour. It was a useless object, one that he refused to believe could ever be of any use to him – no matter what Montague Fripp had said. And it certainly could never be as useful to him as a sword.
So, the Knight sat in silence as the cart made its way along the path.
It was one of those ‘in-between’ types of day; it wasn’t sunny, but it wasn’t cold. A blanket of cloud covered the sky, but it wasn’t a dark threatening cloud – just a light grey sort of nothing colour which wouldn’t inspire a reaction either way. The air seemed thick, as if it was waiting for something.
After Jack had finished his song, he continued to hum its tune for a while. The writer continued to write, only pausing occasionally to re-read a paragraph or two and then say ‘oh, that’s good’, or ‘yeah that’s works well’. With Knight still in silence, the mood was one of reflection.
The reflective mood didn’t last long. It was soon replaced by a sniff-sniff-can-you-smell-something-burning? Type of mood. At first each of the three started sniffing involuntarily – each still humming, writing, and brooding respectively. Then, almost in unison, they all said ‘can you smell something burning?’ and then all replied in unison, ‘yes.’
The Knight stopped the cart. The horses were restless. Each of the three companions turned their heads in the direction of the burning smell, and saw a column of black smoke rising up in the distance.
‘I don’t like the look of this’ said the Knight, with a grim look on his face.
‘Maybe it’s a farmer burning some wood’, the writer said with a hopeful tone.
Without looking at him, the Knight replied to the Writer, ‘does that smell like burning wood to you? Because it doesn’t to me, it smells…..wrong. We’re going to investigate.’
Before anyone had a chance to argue, the Knight took the reigns and spurred the horses forward. They weren’t too keen, but the Knight’s grim determination seemed to transfer to them and they steadied themselves as they walked.
The path disappeared round a corner past a collection of oak trees. As the cart followed the path, a sign came into view, lying face down at the side of the path. The Knight stopped the cart alongside where the sign lay, and jumped down to the ground.
As Jack and the Writer looked on, the Knight reached down and turned the sign over. It was soaked in mud, but with a few wipes of his hand the Knight was able to clear enough away to make the sign readable:
We hope you enjoy your stay!
However, what was also visible on the sign was a large, dirty boot print where the sign had been kicked over by someone. The Knight laid the sign face up on the ground and turned to his on-looking friends.
‘Are you two thinking what I’m thinking?’ asked the Knight.
The writer replied, ‘Yes – jump on, and I’ll turn the cart around. If we’re lucky we can be far away from here by nightfall.’
‘Touch those reigns and I’ll cut your arms off’ snarled the Knight, ‘we are not leaving.’
The Writer, his ego and bravado expanded by his new found writing skills, wasn’t scared. ‘Cut off my arms? With what? Your whistle?’
The Knight, who had for a moment forgotten that he had given his sword in payment, was infuriated to be reminded of the fact. He leapt up onto the cart, grabbed the Writer by the front his tunic, and roared at him, ‘NO!! I WON’T CUT YOUR ARMS OFF WITH MY WHISTLE. BUT IT’S LIKELY THAT I’LL RIP THEM OUT OF THEIR SOCKETS WITH MY BARE HANDS – UNDERSTOOD!?’
At that moment the Writer realised that being good at writing, and being tough were two very different things. His entire body went limp in the Knights hands, and all he could do was whimper ‘Un-understood. S-s-sorry.’
Jack hated seeing his friends fighting (well, he hated seeing one of his friends get beaten to a pulp by the other one), and tried to calm things down:
♫’My friends! My friends – don’t fall out please, I pray!
We have danger all around us, and it gets greater every day!
The Evil ones have cursed this place and defiled the very ground
I fear that what you hope to find, may never yet be found’
‘Don’t judge us for being fearful – we are not trained like you
And though your duty spurs you on, terror fills us two.
We’ll travel with you wherever you go, to whatever end may be
But don’t forget, it’s a fair bet, that we’ll get so scared we’ll pee’♫
When jack had finished, he saw the Knight and the Writer staring at him, transfixed. “Whoa – your voice is amazing!’ said the Writer, ‘it’s beautiful’, agreed the Knight. It looked liked his song had done the trick, and Jack went a very slight shade of pink.
Without any more delays, they continued onto the
. Well, what they reached was the remains of the village. village of Merkin
Every building was a burnt out shell, and dead livestock littered the paths between the houses. The majority of the animals appeared to have suffered terrible wounds, which were struck randomly and without precision. They obviously were left to suffer, and blood had stained the ground red in large areas.
There was evidence of destruction everywhere – pots had been smashed, food trampled under foot, tables and chairs upturned and broken. Every house had been systematically entered, ransacked, and burnt.
There was no sign of human life at first, and the three companions were sickened to know that their worst fears had been realised. Then, the soft sound of crying could be heard.
The three friends followed the sound, and saw that it was coming from an upturned cart that had been partially buried by a collapsed roof. As they approached, the crying stopped. They rushed to clear the debris, and together lifted the cart up. As they did, two women rushed out from their hiding place, screaming in terror in an attempt to run away. Immediately, The Knight and the Writer rushed after them, leaving Jack to struggle with the weight of the cart alone.
They soon caught up with the women, who by now were hysterical. The Knight grabbed hold of the nearest woman, and tried to calm them down by talking gently, but the woman was out of her mind with fear.
The Knight had no option but to slap her across the face, to snap her out of it. This had the desired effect, and the woman simply leant against the Knight and sobbed gently.
The Writer has caught up with the other woman, but was having similar trouble. Unfortunately for him, she was quite a bit taller and stronger than him, and when she got going, she took some stopping (what with momentum and all). Despite his best efforts to convince her that they meant her no harm, and that they were there to help, the woman kicked and bucked wildly to try and get away, all the while still screaming like a banshee. He decided to take a leaf out of the Knight’s book, so with some effort turned her to face him, and then slapped her hard across the face.
The women became silent immediately. She stopped writhing about, and just stood there for a second staring at the Writer. Tears ran silently down her face, and she had a bewildered look on her face. The Writer started to apologise for having to hit her, but as soon as he spoke the look on the woman’s face went from one of bewilderment to one of unbridled fury and she let out a bestial roar and punched the Writer squarely on the jaw.
The writer fell to the floor – and the woman leapt on him to continue the assault. Both of them were now screaming – the woman in rage, and the Writer in abject terror. The woman reigned punches and kicks down on the poor Writer, who was curled in the foetal position to try and minimise the damage he was receiving.
The Knight rolled his eyes in an if-you-want-a-job-done-properly-do-it-yourself kind of way and rushed over to pull the enraged woman of the writer. It took quite some effort on his part, but eventually he managed to pull her away from the Writer still kicking and snarling in his general direction. He led her over to the other woman, where between them they managed to calm the woman down.
The Knight went back to the Writer, who was now crying uncontrollably like a small girl. He helped him to his feet, and then they returned to the two women.
‘Can you tell me what happened?’ the Knight said gently.
‘Erm…..what about your friend?’ said the first woman.
‘What?’ said the Knight, and then suddenly ‘oh no! Jack!’
The Knight and the Writer rushed back over to the cart. They found Jack buried up to his waist in the mud, where the weight of the cart had pushed him downwards. His arms were held up above his head where he was still gripping the cart.
His upper body was trembling with the effort it took to keep the cart from dropping on his head.
Jack, as you can imagine, was not a happy bunny.
♫’Well, don’t just stand there like two twits!
I’m almost buried up to my pits!
I can’t keep doing this for much longer –
Oh why didn’t the curse make me stronger?’
‘For god’s sake come and get me out!
I’m sinking lower and lower!
This is something I could do without,
Could you be moving any slower!?’♫
The Knight and the Writer took the weight of the cart from Jack, and lifted it clear. Then they went back, and taking an arm each they pulled Jack out of the mud. As Jack was pulled clear, their was the unmistakable slurping sound that is made when ever something is pulled from the mud – think Wellington boot but about 20 times louder.
Once Jack was out, his mood did not improve. He was very cold, and looked like he had been dipped in chocolate. What was worse was that as he stood in front of a burning building to warm up, the mud began to harden into a thick crust on his lower half. Jack was so glad to be out of the mud that he didn’t care. Little did he know that soon he would be forced to walk around like a zombie, and would end up chipping away at his lower limbs with a piece of broken chair leg.
While Jack was warming himself up, the Knight decided that he needed to find out just what had happened – although he had an idea already.
The writer decided that this was a good idea – just as long as that woman kept away from him.