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A Hard Knight's Day

The noble knight pranced on his charger through the town. He stared straight ahead. though with eyes cast wide in case of evil deeds that would need his valorous hand. He was hungry and needed work, but passed by the shop where an 'assistant needed' sign hung in the window. He was startled when he first saw it as he thought it had said 'assistance needed' and was about to charge in, sword at the ready. He grimaced at the near indignity. Now that would give the townsfolk something to talk about.

He felt dismally misunderstood. It took years of training to become a knight, yet nobody told you that getting work would be so hard. The silly thing was that being a knight disqualified you from most jobs. Whoever saw a knight serving behind a counter or herding sheep? Yet his growling stomach nagged at his upright dignity.

A scream somewhere ahead interrupted his reverie and he broke into an immediate gallop. Racing down the street, splattering unfortunate pedestrians with the fruits of recent rains, he pulled up short in a small square where a sight for sore eyes met his stately gaze.

A beautiful young maiden stood, perspiring in fear, in front of a pawing bull whilst a baying crowd egged it on and blocked the maiden's escape. With no space for a horse to get through he leapt from his steed and thrust his way through the crowd. Racing towards the pending disaster he tripped, spun and crashed to the ground, right in front of the charging bull. Closing his eyes as the ground thundered his ignominious doom he heard another terrible shriek. Peering out through the slits in his visor he was astounded to see the maiden dancing daintily off to the side, waving a small, red cloak at the bull, who responded by charging towards it. Sighing, he closed his eyes. It was not turning out to be a good day.

He jerked suddenly as a small boot kicked him. 'Get up' said the maiden. He got up. 'Bow!' He bowed and the crowd whistled, applauded and tossed coins at him as he stood, still perplexed, wondering what would happen next. It was most definitely a very strange day.

The woman turned out to be a travelling entertainer and adventurer who would sometimes take on a local bull 'just for kicks'. And coins, of course. Ruefully, the knight noted that she had little difficulty in making a living. He also could not help but noticed her lithe body, though chivalry prevented anything more. Oh, it was so hard being an honourable knight.

She offered him a cut of the takings, which he declined, so she got feed for his horse which he accepted and a beer which, as it would be rude to refuse, he drank. And so they parted friends and the knight rode on.

As dusk was falling and he neared the edge of the village, another cry met his ears. Cautious now, because it had been one of those days, he trotted around the corner to find a struggling young maiden being dragged towards an open carriage door by two swarthy men. She seems to be putting up a good fight, he thought. Perhaps they are acting. He looked around but saw no audience and so decided to intervene with caution.

'Ahem.' This felt like a good start.

The small group froze, like a tableau on a stage. Their heads all swung around in unison towards him. He also stopped, hypnotized by the moment.

The maiden broke the spell. 'Help me!' she cried, and tried to pull free, but the men retained their grip.

'Er, what's going on?' queried the knight.

The men looked at one another. 'She's run away. We're taking her back to her father.' said one.

'No! They're kidnapping me!' wailed the maiden.

'Quiet, my little one,' said the second man, 'Your Daddy is waiting for you.'

'Look,' said the knight, dismounting and walking forward with open, pleading hands whilst feeling somewhat uncertain, 'I'm duty bound to do something here. Do you think you could let her go until I can check this out?'

One of the men smiled and stepped forward, grabbing a nasty-looking cudgel from the carriage on the way and suddenly swinging it at the knight who ducked and grinned. This is what he had trained for. Sadly, as the other man did not have a sword he felt it unfair to use his own, so stepped back and circled, a beatific smile on his face. The man swung again. He dodged and stepped in. A mailed fist connected with an unshaven face and the man crumpled like a sack of potatoes.

The knight stepped back and placed his hands on his waist. 'Let that be a lesson...' he began, but was rudely interrupted by a scream of 'Look out', followed by a deafening clang as something heavy connected with the back of his helmet.

Dazed, he staggered back and reached for his sword as the second man raised a cudgel to strike him again. Right, the gloves are off now, he thought, through the ringing in his ears. But he had no chance to respond as a dagger suddenly appeared, as if by magic, in his assailant's eye. Blood briefly spurted but the man was dead before he hit the ground.

Looking around, he saw the woman from the bull incident walking forward. She coolly pulled the dagger out of the man's eye, wiped it on the ground and put it back in a belt sheath.

'You ok?' she glanced at the knight and walked up to the maiden. 'And you look like you need to get back to your family!'

The maiden nodded, dumbly. 'There'll be a big reward!' she blurted as the woman guided her into the coach and climbed onto the driver's bench.

The knight just stood, open-mouthed, as they disappeared around a corner. He sighed and looked at the bodies on the floor. This was indeed a hard day.

As he wondered what to do next, a voice spoke behind him. 'Well, well, well. What do we have here?' He turned around and there stood the local sheriff and two burly deputies.
 

***

 

~by David Straker~

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