The tale of a bold knight, a valiant steed, an innocent maiden and a cunning dragon…
His name was Barney and he kept body and soul together, barely, as chucker-outer and general dogsbody at the ‘Ferret and Flagon’ down a malodorous back alley in the city. His father and grandfather had been master smiths and he had expected to follow in their footsteps, but the plague had killed his family before he finished his apprenticeship, leaving him destitute and meaning that he was grateful to work for his bed and board – neither of which amounted to much.
His fortunes changed again on a filthy afternoon when he was mucking out the stable, while trying to avoid the huge iron-banded feet of Salazar, the bad tempered stallion the innkeeper had taken in payment for a bad debt. As he worked the ground beneath his feet shuddered and the world seemed to take a lurching tilt. A feeling of vertigo almost brought him to his knees. ‘Oops’ he thought, ‘earthquake.’ He didn’t have leisure to think much more as all his attention was taken up by calming a freaked-out stallion – and keeping his own stomach where it belonged.
When the earth stopped moving he led Salazar out of the wreckage of the stable…
Into bright sunlight, brightly-coloured flags waving in the breeze, and silken pavilions where lords and ladies toyed with marchpane and sweet wine.
A cadaverous character, in a costume he somehow knew indicated a steward from a high-status household, hurried towards him. He awaited the storm of abuse with which upper servants always greeted the likes of him. But it never came. Instead the steward bowed so low his nose all but touched his skinny knees.
“Sir Barnabas. Be welcome. Are we to expect the pleasure of watching you in the tourney?”
Before he could open his mouth and mess things up properly, Salazar stepped firmly on his toe. Barney clamped his lips shut and inclined his head. This seemed a satisfactory response and the steward bowed some more.
“Would you do me the honour of following me?”
Barney inclined his head again. The sardonic laughter in his head somehow lightened the load. Salazar, for it was he who was so amused by this turn of events, spoke slowly and clearly in Barney’s head.
“Right, stable boy. Seems as if you’ve gone up in the world and brought me with you. Know anything about the tourney?”
Barney shook his head.
“I thought not. Can you just sit still and let me do the work I’m trained for?”
“Let’s give it a shot then shall we? It’s not me risking broken limbs.”
This time it was Barney who laughed.
By this time they had reached an ornate pavilion flying a positive forest of exceedingly ugly pennons. The Steward opened the door flap and bowed once more.
“Your servants await within.”
Barney smiled his thanks. before leading Salazar into the pavilion. Inside, it was excessively noisy and totally disorganised. This annoyed Barney.
“Quiet,” he bellowed in an awful voice.
The silence that followed was quite pleasing. Barney studied the assembled company from beneath his sandy brows.
“Better,” he said. “Now. Will somebody please fetch my armour. It appears I have a tourney to attend.”
And that was all the direction his minions needed. They separated into two groups. One crew began stripping and re-dressing Barney as though he was a two-metre tall doll. The other set approached Salazar – with rather more respect and a great deal of care for the whereabouts of his long yellow teeth and his huge iron-shod feet.
In the end, though, the horse was gaudily caparisoned, saddled and bridled before the knight dressing crew was through. Once encased from toes to neck in steel Barney was draped in a blindingly white surcoat emblazoned with the same gaudy and crudely drawn motif as adorned the pennons snapping in the wind above the pavilion. Barney stared down at his chest in some disbelief.
“The Queen’s Royal Majesty designed your coat of arms with her very own hand.” The servant who spoke appeared to be having trouble keeping his face straight.
“Using her very own wax crayon, by the looks of it,” Salazar’s voice in Barney’s head sounded about as disgusted as Barney felt.
Barney himself thought discretion a good idea and kept his counsel.
This adventure of Barney and Salazar will continue next week…