A True Knight
by Cameron Craig
Cameron Craig is a writer based in the Boston area. He wrote screenplays for nearly a decade before deciding to make the switch over to novels. When he’s not writing fiction, he can be found likely watching movies, playing video games or cheering or on his hometown team the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The crowd erupted into cheer as the jouster’s wooden lance splintered off his opponent’s shield. Danlor, a young boy, sat in the stands next to his father, Barwen. Danlor watched the tournament in awe. It was a spectacle he had never seen before. They were from the farmlands and only took a trip into the city once every few years. He had never seen knights or jousting before. He had only heard about them in the stories his mother read to him or the songs the farmworkers would sing during a hard day’s labor.
“I want to be just like them. I want to be a royal knight someday,” Danlor said, his gaze transfixed on the knight’s shining armor and long blonde hair draping down the back of his helmet and down his breastplate.
“These aren’t knights,” Barwen dismissed, interrupting Danlor’s fantasy. “What’s the quote I told you?”
“A knight in shining armor,” Danlor reluctantly recited, “is a knight who has never had his armor tested.” He hated when his father brought up this quote. He brought it up every time his mother read him a story about a knight.
“You don’t want to be a knight,” Barwen said.
These discussions were routine. He knew his father wanted the best for him, but even at his young age he knew his father wasn’t a learned man. Barwen was illiterate and had spent the vast majority of his life on farms or in small fishing villages. Barwen was never trained or participated in combat. How could he know anything about knighthood? Danlor listened to him and valued the wisdom that naturally came with age, but he still planned to be a knight-errant as soon as he was of age. Nothing would stop that.
“These are not knights, Danlor. They’re no different than bards playing for a show. They just use lances instead of lutes. Do you see him over there?” Barwen pointed to an elderly man in another section of the stands. The man had bags under his eyes and scars on his withered and sunken face. He wore cheap and dirty linens beneath rusted armor littered with dents and nicks.
“That’s a knight,” Barwen said. “You don’t want to be a knight.”
Danlor took notice but his eyes quickly shifted back toward the decorations and engravings on the jouster’s shiny armor as his horse charged toward his opponent. The wood burst into a dozen pieces as the jouster drove the lance into his opponent’s shield. The crowd cheered again as the jouster took off his helmet and waved to his lady in victory. Danlor wanted that. He wanted the thrill, prestige and the courting of women that came with it. He wanted it all.
Danlor, now older with a stocky frame and broader shoulders, was wearing shiny armor. A purple tunic laid over his breastplate, a signature for all knight-errants. He was accompanied by two knights as they rode on horseback down a dirt path that partes a sea of trees. To his left, the knight had a crude red stripe across his breastplate. On Danlor’s right, the knight had a faded green stripe. Both of the knight’s armors were battle worn and dull, covered in scratches and dents. Danlor kept his helmet on and left the visor down, hiding his face. He sat uptight and proper, trying to maintain composure and control over his mount. The two other knights rode with ease and didn’t wear helmets, their graying hair flowed in the bitter wind.
“Relax, ease your shoulders. You are wasting energy,” the red knight said. “Let the horse guide you, don’t guide the horse.”
“I know what I’m doing,” Danlor snapped back.
“Look at Danlor, the greatest fighter and rider to have ever lived,” the green knight mocked with a hearty laugh.
“With his bright and shiny armor he will blind his enemies,” the red knight joined in, kicking Danlor’s horse, sending it into a strut. The mare bucked and sped up, causing Danlor’s pauldrons to bounce and clash against his breastplate as he struggled to stay upright until eventually the horse calmed down.
The knights laughed as their horses passed Danlor. Danlor drew his sword and pointed it at the red knight. “You think you’re funny?” he threatened as he stopped his mount. Unfazed, the knights stopped their horses and turned around. The green knight instructed his horse to move closer to Danlor, who stood block-like atop his horse with his helmet’s cage still hiding his face. Danlor pointed the tip of his newly crafted sword toward the green knight’s throat. “I said, you think you’re funny?” Danlor repeated to the green knight.
The green knight stared at him silently for a moment before offering his waterskin of wine. “Drink. You need it.”
“No,” Danlor quickly declined. “I will not drink.”
“Then you must laugh with us,” the red knight said.
“No. I’m not playing your games,” Danlor said. “We have a task to complete. It is my duty as a knight-errant to see to it that we complete that task.”
“You are so eager,” the green knight said. “You remind me of myself. What do you think a life as a knight is like?”
Danlor lowered his sword. “A life of duty,” he said proudly. “A life of honor. Living to the chivalric codes. Serving my king or baron so that justice is served.” Danlor had rehearsed that answer as he’d been asked that question many times before. The glory, fame and women that came with knighthood were an always pleasant bonus, it just wasn’t a knightly thing to admit it.
The green knight cracked a sympathetic smile. “I suppose after your knight-errant assignment you could take up a career as a jester.”
“You are a funny man. That’s not what a knight’s life is. A knight’s life is one of long travels with terrible pay and awful meals. The royal knights born into wealthy families will joust for show and court women. But for the other knights, the real knights…we get stuck out here with people like you.”
Danlor’s demeanor changed. His shoulders sank and he sheathed his sword.
“Have you ever taken a life?” the green knight asked.
“Then drink,” the green knight offered the waterskin again.
“No. I need to be of my best mind.”
“It’s two elderly farmers, Danlor,” the red knight said, trying to persuade him, holding out his waterskin. “It’s not a darkbeast or a werewolf.”
“Your drunken games and jesting are all for show. You’re no better than a bard, except you have swords instead of lutes. I’m going to be a better knight than both of you.”
The red knight’s cadence became serious as he studied Danlor’s shiny armor. “Part of being a knight is knowing the importance of having fun,” he refuted. “If you can’t then you won’t last as a knight. This profession eats those who can’t have fun.”
Danlor didn’t answer. He felt he was being hazed and didn’t want to give in to their antics.
“We will test your worthiness soon enough,” The red night said. “We’re almost there. You see that light ahead?” he asked, pointing to a faint fire in the ruins of an abandoned vine-covered church.
“Aye. I see it.”
“That’s where you’ll become a true knight.”
The task grew more serious for Danlor now that they could see the fire’s light of where they were headed. He hadn’t taken a life before but felt he would be able to if ordered. He didn’t know what the elderly couple was accused of, but it wasn’t a knight’s job to know. At least that’s what he told himself. There was a certain level of pride and honor he felt for following orders without question. Hopefully that would make it easier.
Danlor and the two knights stood before a wooden door next to a small torch resting in a wall-mounted bracket.
“Don’t be nervous,” assured the green knight. “Just as we taught you. Remember, only do what was instructed, nothing more.”
“I know why we’re here. I’m not nervous or scared,” Danlor insisted. He was trying to convince himself more than them. “I’m going in a man, and coming out a knight,” he said, knocking on the door.
Danlor had his helmet’s visor up so he could see the frail elderly farmer and his wife who sat in front of him. The two other knights stood by the door, their hands resting on their pommels of their sheathed swords.
“I’m sure you’ve had a long trip,” the farmer said. “Could I get you some ale?” he asked with trembling hands. It’s brutally cold out there.
“That is beautifully crafted armor,” the farmer’s wife said to Danlor. “We don’t get many visitors out here,” she continued, attempting to break the tension. “So, it’s not often we get to see men wearing armor.” What can we do for you? she asked pleasantly.
Danlor turned behind him to the two other knights. They nodded to Danlor and exited the room. The elderly couple sat in confusion, staring at Danlor. He turned back to them and took a deep breath. The farmer and his wife clasped each others’ hands in an embrace.
Catching his breath, Danlor closed the wooden door behind him as he exited the ruined church. He poured water on the wall-mounted torch, extinguishing it. He wiped the blood from his blade, his eyes welling and chin quivering. With petrified eyes twenty years beyond his age, Danlor walked toward the two other knights who were waiting with their horses. The red knight offered him his waterskin full of wine. Danlor took a sip and looked down at the sole nick in his breastplate.