Gail the Gallant
by Val Gryphin
Table of Contents|
parts: I, II, III, IV
Now that I could call myself a knight, I figured all I needed was a quest to cement my status. However, I had no idea how to find a quest. Right now., I was riding Quixotic down a road in the middle of nowhere, between who knew what towns, with no idea where I was going. Bart was snoozing in my bag behind me, and his snores were seriously distracting me.
I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched, although every time I looked around I didn’t see anyone, and given that the trees weren’t all that thick, and the sun was out and hot — I was sweating through; I felt like I was sitting in a puddle — it wouldn’t be all that hard to see if someone was following me. But I didn’t see anyone. I kept riding.
About noon-ish I came upon a little stream and decided to stop for a break. It was way too hot to be wearing the long undershirt I was used to wearing, so I decided to take it off, knight’s code of dress be damned. I let Quixotic drink and I hung my bare feet in the water, instantly feeling cooler.
Bart rolled out of my bag and, with a chortle, stripped bare and jumped in the water. I didn’t have time to cover my eyes, but he moved so fast, with clothes flying everywhere, that I didn’t have to see any exposed gnome-fairy bits. He made much more of a splash than I would have thought and soon he was swimming, humming happily.
Again I thought I felt eyes, and I looked around. Then I looked straight up and saw eyes. A bunch of them. Teeny tiny eyes. Fairy eyes. And they didn’t look too happy.
One of them flew down and started chattering at me with a scowl. I had no clue what it was saying but, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bart was way down in the water, only eyes and nose peeping out.
After a minute of being yelled at, I interrupted. “I’m sorry, but I have no clue what you are saying.” I gave a shrug and reached for my socks.
The fairy heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Stupid human, not knowing magic speak!” It rolled its eyes at me, then shook its finger at me. “Stupid human, Fairy wouldn’t even speak to you if Fairy didn’t need you do do something for it.”
I made a rude gesture and picked up my socks. They were soaked through with sweat, so I decided I would ride barefoot for a while and let them dry; again, knight’s dress code be damned.
The fairy narrowed its eyes and then hopped onto the rock in front of me. “Human, you will do a job for fairies.”
I flicked it with my finger off the rock. Bart looked over at me with wide eyes and then back at the fairy. The fairy was picking itself up and cursing. I grabbed Bart’s clothes and then, with one of my sweaty socks, grabbed Bart and stuck everything in my bag. I expected him at least to whimper, but he was quiet.
Apparently, this disrespect was just too much for the fairy, and it started flying around in front of my face. I expected to get a thorough chewing out, but instead it spoke in a wheedling voice. “Please, mister knight, faeries need the help of big strong knight.”
I didn’t believe it suddenly liked me, but it was nice to be addressed so properly. I spoke magnanimously. “What is it you need my services for?”
The fairy suddenly blushed. “Queen Fairy, sir knight. Queen Fairy is stuck and fairies are unable to free Queen Fairy. Queen Fairy is behind iron bars. Fairies need great knight’s help to free Queen Fairy.”
Obviously, fairies saw no use for pronouns. Still, it was a quest. Rescuing a maiden in distress was high up on the ranking of quests, and I supposed a fairy maiden would count as well. I didn’t actually have to tell anyone it was a fairy maiden I rescued and, as long as she gave me a token of her affection, it would count. I nodded regally and mounted Quixotic. “Lead on then.”
We arrived on the outskirts of a village.“There, great knight, there Queen Fairy is.”
In the window of a hovel on the edge of the village was a cage filled with birds of many colors. I could just make out a glint of fairy glitter between the feathers. Obviously, the fairy queen was trying to stay hidden, but I couldn’t figure out why the owner hadn’t seen her and captured her. Fairies’ anatomical parts were rumored to have magical properties, and even if one didn’t believe that, they brought a great price on the market.
An old woman appeared in the window and crooned to the birds. While the birds seemed to recognize her, she turned her face to each one as it chirped, rather than when it approached her, and I soon realized she was blind.
“How did your fairy queen get stuck in there?” I whispered.
The fairy looked somewhat abashed. “Old woman was feeding birds some very nice fruit, and Fairy Queen wanted some. Old woman heard wings and thought Fairy Queen was bird, and put Fairy Queen in cage. Cage has iron bars and Fairy Queen can’t get out.” It shook its head sadly.
I tried to look wise as I thought. I could always sneak in at night, but that wasn’t a very knight-like thing to do. Using stealth, while not totally knight-like, would be somewhat better. “Come with me, but I don’t want you to do anything but signal to your queen that whatever I do is okay. Got it?” I looked at the fairy sternly.
“Fairy understands.” It nodded solemnly.
“Good.” I walked up to the old woman’s door and knocked. A creaky old voice bade me to come in.
“Greetings, kind woman. I am a poor traveling knight, desperately in need of a drink. May I perhaps stop and rest a bit?”
“Of course, good knight.” The old woman nodded to her rocking chair and made me a cup of tea. I was impressed with how confidently she moved around the kitchen, only occasionally touching things to keep her bearings. I took the offered cup with thanks, and gazed around the hovel.
“My, grandmother, what a lovely cage of birds. Do you mind if I take a closer look?”
The woman smiled proudly. “Of course, dear. My grandson is a sailor, and he brings me back birds from all over the world.”
I got up and walked over to the cage. “Ah, am I near the sea then, grandmother?” I felt the fairy in my pocket pop out and nod to the queen fairy.
“Ah, you are not far at all, my child,” she smiled. “It is a half a day’s ride to the east.”
The latch on the cage was very simple, and I grasped it. The queen fairy hovered near the door, but unfortunately so did a few of the birds. The queen fairy swatted at them, hissing under her breath.
“The colors are wonderful, grandmother.” As I spoke, I flipped the latch, and the birds all started clamoring. The queen fairy darted out and up my sleeve, and I quickly latched the cage door. “My, grandmother, they can raise quite a racket.”
The old woman darted over. “Sometimes they do that when they think the cage is about to be opened.” I could hear the suspicion in her voice, and I casually sat down in the rocking chair with my tea. The old woman felt the latch and called out to each of her birds, and to my surprise each responded to their name. Reassured, she went back over to her tea pot. “More tea, good sir?”
I shook my head before I remembered she couldn’t see. “No, but my thanks, grandmother. I feel much refreshed now. It was delicious tea, and I enjoyed looking at the birds.”
The old woman smiled and bobbed her head. “It was my pleasure.”
Outside I felt the fairy moving in my sleeve, but I kept it firmly closed until we had ridden out of the village. Once I released her, she would have bolted off, but I had a hold of her dress and she gave me an evil look. Not standard practice when dealing with a lady, but this was a fairy lady.
“I need a token, my lady, for saving your life.”
She glared at me and then laughed. She stripped off her petticoat and threw it in my face. Then she pulled herself free and was gone. I studied the lacy underthing and decided I could claim it was a hair bauble from the maiden I had saved. I tucked it into my bag and headed for the sea.
Copyright © 2010 by Val Gryphin