Leryn, the bard, darkly handsome, but singularly unlucky with women, had been in Bleakbourne on Heath for nearly two months, collecting folk tales. During those weeks he’d had several adventures, and had even met a demon knight.
Had he been telling this tale, he’d have made one thing clear: that particular meeting was not a high point in his tenure there.
He had just left the tailor’s shop, where he had so far gotten his best tales, carrying several fine shirts Tom had made him. He was nearly home when a horse’s clopping along the cobbles behind him alerted him to a stranger in town.
A fine white stallion neared, bearing a young, impossibly handsome knight with golden hair and blue eyes. “Lancelyn Reynfrey, Knight at Large,” he said, halting beside Leryn.
“Leryn, the bard. How may I help you?”
“We seek lodgings.” The knight offered him a sunny, if rather vacant, smile.
Leryn directed him to the Ploughman’s Inn, saying, “But you’ll have to tend to your own horse sir. Polcock has no stableman.”
“Galahad is used to my caring for him,” replied the knight. “In fact he’s used to sleeping under shrubs, as we are currently between situations. But I’m tired of bathing in streams and eating my own cooking, and Galahad would like a nice, warm barn to sleep in.” The horse chose that moment to nod, vigorously.
Looking askance at the large warhorse, Leryn said, “Polcock will require some coins, sir, but his food is good and his premises clean.”
“Coins I have, in abundance. It’s a challenge that I lack—boredom is killing me.”
Leryn could have sworn Galahad sighed and rolled his emerald green…eyes. The bard stared, first at the horse, and then the knight. “I’ve never seen a horse with such green eyes.”
The knight looked uncomfortable. “Yes…well…he’s an unusual steed. Um, possibly an albino?” His horse snorted and Sir Lancelyn winced, looking slightly guilty. “In any case, it was lovely meeting you. I’m sure we’ll see you at the inn.”
That evening, the whole town had gathered in the Ploughman’s Inn. Several days of good weather after the long, miserable winter, along with news of an exceedingly handsome stranger in town had brought everyone out. Polcock struggled to serve them all as, much to Leryn’s regret, only the week before, the innkeeper’s comely daughter had married a baker in the town of Littlebridge. Polcock had yet to replace her.
The crowd was in the mood for music, and Leryn played all evening with no rest. Women vied for the handsome knight’s attention and he did dance well, but mostly he sat in deep conversation with Tom Tailor and William Smith.
Leryn sang every ballad and comic song he knew, and also told three epic sagas. By the end of the evening his throat was tired and dry, but his hat was full of coppers. At last Polcock shooed everyone home. Leryn was finally able to wet his throat, sharing several tankards with Polcock and Sir Lancelyn.
Lancelyn said, “The tailor told me of an enchanted tower just west of town. He claims a warlock-dwarf keeps a maiden imprisoned there.”
Leryn’s ears perked up. “Really? A warlock-dwarf?”
Polcock shuddered. “Bramblestein—what a pain in the arse.”
Lancelyn’s innocent blue eyes were alight, thoughts of a noble mission having fired his ambition. “But an innocent maid, imprisoned against her will—no nobleman with a shred of honor can allow that to go unanswered. It’s exactly the sort of quest I came here looking for.”
“I’d stay out of it, if I were you. It’s not what it appears to be, and you’ve trouble enough lodged in the stable.” Polcock shook his head, seeing the knight would not be dissuaded.
Eyes narrowed, Leryn looked from his landlord to the knight, sensing mystery concerning the emerald-eyed warhorse. Leryn had begun to wonder about Polcock. The man knew things.
Refusing to meet the innkeeper’s gaze, the knight muttered, “Galahad may not be as enthusiastic as I am about these things, but he’ll get into the swing of it once we’re on the road.”
“Sure, he will.” Polcock grinned mirthlessly. “You’d best take some help. Leryn will go with you. He can ride Applecore.” Applecore was Polcock’s donkey.
Leryn glared at his landlord. “I’ve no intention of riding a borrowed donkey to some enchanted tower just to pick a fight with a warlock, dwarf or not.”
“I said last week you should buy a horse instead of wasting your coins on fancy shirts.” Polcock was not taking no for an answer. “William Smith has a horse he’ll gladly sell—oxen are more useful for pulling a dray full of iron. Anyway, you won’t be battling the dwarf. This fine knight will do that. You’re only going along to record it for posterity.”
Lancelyn brightened up. “Think what a saga it will make. Simply heroic!” Nothing resembling intelligence could be found in his perfect, chiseled features and joyous smile.
“Yes.” Leryn looked ill. “It’s likely to be just wonderful.” He turned to Polcock. “If I buy this horse, he stays here for free, since I’ll be doing the work caring for him.”
The next morning William Smith agreed to part with his gelding and its tack at a fair price. Leryn and his new acquisition, a roan named Elsinore, followed the knight and his “albino” charger out of Bleakbourne.
After traveling some distance they came to a crossroads, and taking the track west into the forest, they came at last to a tower made of gleaming white stones, standing in a clearing. Two large, wooden doors at the top of the steps appeared to be the only entry.
Remaining well back, Leryn dismounted, holding Elsinore’s reins. “How do you intend to do this?” He’d been unable to stifle his doubts about the whole thing. “I assume you have some kind of plan?”
Galahad pawed the ground and blew a raspberry. “That’s not fair.” Lancelyn gazed at his horse, with a hurt expression. “I’m sure you’re exaggerating, as usual.” He dismounted and strode into the clearing.
Drawing his massive blade, the knight shouted, “Ho! Warlock! Send out the maiden, and no harm will come to you.”
Leryn and Galahad both rolled their eyes. “Well, that was subtle,” said Leryn. “What next? Are you going to charge the front door?”
A window was thrown open upstairs. A gnarled little man wearing a yellow cap leaned out. “Go away, if you know what’s good for you!”
One floor above the dwarf, another window opened. A delicate, dark-haired beauty leaned out, showing a lot more cleavage than strictly necessary. “Thank god! Save me, Sir Knight!”
“Fear not, fair maid! Your torment is over.” He turned back to Leryn. “I’ll have to charge the front door. Keep an eye on Galahad?”
Grinning widely, Leryn said, “Of course.”
Lancelyn raced toward the front doors and slammed into them with his heavily armored shoulder. The doors shattered and the knight disappeared into the keep.
The dwarf shouted, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” He ducked back inside, apparently to meet the house-breaking knight.
Several minutes later, a series of strange hissing noises, followed by an abrupt squeal and several loud thumps were emitted from the tower. Lancelyn came racing out, carrying the girl, who clung to his neck sobbing. “Mount up. Let’s go!”
Leryn climbed aboard his horse, while the knight flung the girl up to his saddle and mounted behind her. The two horses shot out of the clearing, galloping back down the forested lane. “What did you just do?” asked the bard.
“No time to talk!” Lancelyn pulled up beside a thick stand of firs and dismounted. “Here! Duck under here!”
Bursting with unasked questions, Leryn obeyed, hiding beneath the sweeping fir boughs.
A squealing noise sounded from the direction they had come. With much commotion, a large pig wearing a yellow cap raced past them, pounding down the lane. “We’ll have to avoid the road. Once he’s been a pig for a while he’ll forget what happened, but I don’t know how good his spells are, or how long they’ll last. Better safe than sorry.”
At last they arrived back at the Ploughman’s Inn. Polcock met them and escorted the girl, whose name was Gwenevere, to a room, bringing her hot water to bathe in. Leryn and the knight groomed their horses and made sure they were settled before going inside.
Finally they sat in the midday quiet of the public room. Leryn sat opposite of Sir Lancelyn, demanding the story. “Tell me what happened. And don’t lie to me.”
“It was simple. I ran in and up the stairs, and he cast a spell at me. Somehow it backfired on him, and you know the rest.” Lancelyn didn’t quite meet the bard’s eyes. “Nothing to get excited about.”
Polcock sat down with them. “Tell him the truth, knight. All of it. Start with Galahad.”
Sir Lancelyn looked ill. “You know about that?” At the landlord’s nod, he said, “Well, I have this little…um…curse, I suppose you’d call it.”
“I’m sure Galahad thinks so,” said Polcock.
Lancelyn cleared his throat. “Until about six months ago Galahad was a knight, and we were…very close. We were happy the way things were, but somehow, I found myself sort of married. To Morgause.”
“You’re married to Morgause, the Sorceress of Tyrwyddn?” Leryn could barely write.
“You’re thick as a brick today, bard. How many other women named Morgause can there be?” Polcock refilled their tankards. “How did a knight who prefers knights end up married to Morgause?”
Lancelyn shrugged. “You know how these things go. Your family doesn’t like your close relationship with the neighbor’s son and calls in a matchmaker and the next thing you know, you’re in bed with a witch.”
“Well, no,” Leryn replied. “I don’t know how things like that go.”
“Anyway, Galahad and I had planned a good long quest, which I thought would be perfect as it would get me out of Morgause’s hair for at least a few years, but she didn’t quite see it that way.”
Leryn shook his head. “What happened?”
“She cast a spell so all magic rebounds off me.”
Leryn looked confused. “How is that a curse?”
Polcock rolled his eyes. “Ask Galahad.”
“I see.” Leryn glared at his landlord. “And you sent me out with him? What if I had been caught by that spell? I could have been the pig!”
They looked up, seeing Gwenevere scowling at Lancelyn. “I suppose this means we won’t be married.”
The knight squirmed just a little. “Well, no. Not legally, anyway.”
“What will I do now? My dwarf was evil, but he did at least keep a roof over my head.”
Leryn thought she was even lovelier when she was angry.
Polcock beamed. “I do have need of a barmaid. You’ll get room and board, and can keep all your tips.”
“Well. That’s better than nothing. But I was hoping for a knight in shining armor.” She sighed.
Leryn tore his eyes from her plump, heaving bosom. “What about your family?”
“My stepfather stole my inheritance, and then insisted I marry Bramblestein. That would have been a hell of a wedding night, but at least I’d have had a home and security. But now, thanks to the least intelligent man in the world, even that’s off, since I can’t marry a pig.” She poked Lancelyn’s armored chest. “And you need to buy me some clothes, as you gave me no chance to pack.”
Unable to meet her eyes, Lancelyn stood up. “I should see how Galahad is doing.” He left through the side door.
Leryn’s head ached as he wrote everything down. “I swear this town is insane.”
Polcock agreed, “Seems that way at times.”
© Connie J. Jasperson 2015-2017, All Rights Reserved
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Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.