Gail the Gallant
by Val Gryphin
Table of Contents|
parts: I, II, III, IV
“Bart, get away from the fire; you’re gonna burn off your wings.” The little half-fairy, half-gnome rolled his eyes at me and continued dancing around the flames. Granted, it was a little piss-ass fire, but it was a fire nonetheless. I groaned and pulled my blanket up.
I had run away from the knight training school about thirteen days before, and it seemed like no one had come after me. I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing. I had a lot less confidence in myself now than when I left, which hadn’t been a lot to begin with. Bart and my horse Quixotic seemed to be having a good time, though, and that aggravated me a bit.
A sudden squeal from Bart made me look up, and I saw him beating out a spark that had landed his wing. I rolled my eyes. “I told you so.”
Bart made a rude noise and crawled inside his slipper bed. Quixotic made a sound that could have been horsie laughter and went back to grazing. As it quieted down, all of the doubts in my head came rushing forward full force. At the forefront was What the hell am I doing? I didn’t know where I was going, or what I was going to do, or even where I was. At that moment I felt girlishly close to crying.
“Stop that,” I ordered myself. I brushed my hand over my eyes and glared at the fire. Okay, I had a horse, I had training, although I still couldn’t shoot an arrow, and I had an ornery little gnome-fairy who was a pain in the ass. Not that he’d be any help.
I was on my way. I just needed to find a knight to apprentice to. Not as a squire; no, I was too fully into my training for that. I needed to find someone who would let me just kinda follow him around and teach me the tricks of the trade. And I would have to get a sword — a real one, not a wooden one. They hadn’t let me practice with the real ones, on account of the fact they said I needed to master the bow and arrow first. Not like that would ever happen.
I needed to find the nearest castle. Or stronghold. Or anywhere where a knight might be. First though, I needed to find the nearest town. This thought in mind, I pulled my blanket up over my head and promptly fell asleep.
The next morning I felt much more confident in the daylight. I packed up my saddlebags, hopped on Quixotic, and headed out of the woods. I came to a place where my trail intersected with another, more worn path. I figured that there had to be a town in either direction. I turned left, keeping the sun at my back.
The town I came to was little more than a few houses and shacks scattered around in a haphazard circle. In the middle of the village was one big house with bars on its windows, that looked like it might have been important. At one time. It kinda leaned towards the side, as if it really wanted to fall over and take a nap.
“Ho, sir,” I called to a man drawing water from a small well, “who lives in that keep there?”
He looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “’Tis the keep of Sir Gastophobia, young knight.”
My chest puffed out at being called a knight, and I nodded at him. “Many thanks, good sir, I shall go pay the knight a visit.”
The man grinned and snickered. “Very good, sir knight, I’m sure he’ll enjoy the company.”
I looked at him questioningly, but he was focused on getting his water. Although I swore I could hear him chuckling under his breath, I didn’t want to be drawn into a conversation I couldn’t control, and I continued on towards the house.
As I reached the door, I noticed that it had a lock. And as if that wasn’t odd enough, there were three of them. And it was braced with several large boards. I took a deep breath and pounded on the door.
“Go away!” came a creaky voice from inside. I pounded again.
“Sir Gastophobia! I’m a knight in training and would like to speak to you!”
“Go the hell away!”
I pounded again, harder, and heard it echo inside.
The locks started snapping. “I’ll make you sorry! You’ll wish you’d never bothered me!”
The door opened a crack and a very shiny, and very sharp, sword poked out and hit my nose. I jumped back with a yelp, feeling the blood trickling down to my lip, but tried to regain my composure.
“Sir Gastophobia, I am a knight in training and looking for someone to apprentice to. I have heard of you” — nothing like a little flattery — “and would like very much for you to show me the ropes of the trade, so to speak.”
The door opened wider, and a very little, very wizened, very old man glared at me. His face was so red with anger that I thought he was going to explode.
“Show you? Show you? I’ll show you!” The door swung open and the old man charged out, holding his sword with both hands over his head. He swung it in my face and I lunged to the ground, feeling it split a few hairs as I did so. The villagers, the whole dozen of them, were gathering around to watch.
Sir Gastophobia swung the sword around again. “All right, whelp, I’ll show you some tricks and, when I use them to kick your ass, you’ll be my indentured servant, not my knight in training. Got it?”
I ducked again and looked for an opening. “And if I win?”
He started laughing, a horrid, rusty, barking laugh. “Ha, if you win, whelp, you can have old Bessie.”
“Bessie?” I noticed he seemed to have a blind spot on his left side and edged around.
He snorted and rolled his eyes. “Yes, idiot! My sword, Bessie!”
I spied my chance and darted in, but somehow he hopped out of the way. His face turned purple, and he stopped swinging. Then he keeled over onto the ground.
All of the villagers stared at me. I shrugged my shoulders, and then, ignoring his horrible body odor, put my ear to his chest. Nothing. Trying to look solemn and noble, I closed his eyes and crossed his arms over his body.
Several of the villagers started edging towards his house, no doubt to see if he had owned anything valuable. I glanced around and then took the sword belt off of the old man. Why had he been wearing it in the house? I strapped it on, then slid the sword into its sheath. The man from the well eyed me, and I shrugged. “I won.”
He looked at the sword and then at me. I decided it was time to move on while the majority of the people were distracted, and climbed back on Quixotic. I decided to keep on going the same way I had been, and soon left the village behind. Bart popped out of my bag and examined the sword carefully. He chattered something I took to be approval and gave me a wise nod.
I had a sword and a horse. I was a real knight now, I told myself, at least for all intents and purposes.
Copyright © 2010 by Val Gryphin