The tale of a bold knight, a valiant steed, an innocent maiden and a cunning dragon…
The voice in Barney’s head was a thought breathless. “The old bastard likes a head shot. Can you trust me enough to sit absolutely still and let go of your lance at my word?”
“Right. Couch your lance.”
Barney did as he was bid, although he couldn’t help noticing that the king was a giant of a man astride a horse that made Salazar look like a Shetland Pony. The lance pointing unerringly at his eyes bore a barbed head, and if it hadn’t been for his trust in Salazar’s wisdom, Barney rather thought he might have either soiled his underwear, or fainted. Or both. Just as he though the king’s lance might be about to take off his head, Salazar swerved subtly towards the oncoming juggernaut, and the point of the king’s lance bypassed Barney’s helmet and went over his right shoulder. Even His Majesty wasn’t strong enough to keep a hold of a lance that was being dragged away by his opponent’s body. As soon as the king let go of his weapon Salazar spoke.
“Fumble your lance now.”
Barney allowed his lance to fall to the ground and spoke urgently.
“Salazar. Could you possibly come up lame right about now?”
“Oh yes. Very good. Why did I not think of that. I come up lame and we have to retire. His Majesty wins and everyone is happy.”
As soon as Barney felt the big horse begin to favour his right foreleg he started waving his arms as theatrically as possible. He took off his helmet and sat bareheaded in the late afternoon sunlight. Salazar turned around slowly, and as though in pain. The king, mounted on his land leviathan, came to where they waited. He removed his golden helm and spoke formally.
“Do you say you cannot carry on, sir knight?”
Barney bent his head and hoped his mouth wouldn’t get him into trouble.
“I do so aver, my liege. The noble beast upon whose back I ride has somehow incurred injury at the lists, and I would not cause further pain to him by continuing. I cede this contest to the better man.”
He felt Salazar’s approval, so assumed he must have got the thing approximately right.
The king threw back his head and laughed long and loud. Then he stroked his coarse black beard with one huge hand. “Very well, I accept your offer and retire from the lists undefeated.” He turned his horse and headed for the largest and gaudiest of the pavilions where a female figure in a brightly purple dress stood holding a gauzy scarf in her hands. She looked a bit odd to Barney, at one second she was as beautiful and carefree as a May morning, the next dumpy and hard of feature and pushing out of her gown in much the manner of a sausage bursting from its skin.
“Don’t look,” Salazar spoke bracingly, “the Lady has some problems with her chosen appearance. She can’t sustain it.”
“No indeed. But now.”
At that point a crowd of servants arrived bringing a portable mounting block. Barney heaved himself to the ground and led the limping stallion back to their own pavilion. While the valets removed Barney’s armour piece by piece the grooms dealt with Salazar’s needs.
Barney was dressed in a loose woollen robe and Salazar sported an unnecessary (but entirely necessary in another sense) bandage on his right hock, when the ‘door’ opened to admit an expensively-dressed middle-aged man with a high-bridged nose – and a high opinion of his own consequence by the way he peered down that nose.
“His name’s Marplot and he’s a sort of a fixer for knights errant. Knows where the dragons and small wars are to be found. You outrank him, so no need to be polite.”
Barney decided that politeness, at least at the outset, was a better notion, but he also thought he should be cool and a bit lofty. Accordingly, he raised one eyebrow at the unannounced visitor and remained seated on the only chair in the tent.
“Ah, Marplot. Do come in. Did I send for you?”
The man looked uneasy. “Umm. No. But the Queen’s Majesty… She… Umm.. Well… She sent me to…”
Then he stopped speaking.
Barney sighed inwardly. He might not have been used to kings and queens and knights and tournaments, but he was an expert in bored wives. He turned his best manly smile on Marplot.
“Thank you. I’m sure you will know precisely what to say to the Queen’s Majesty.”
Marplot looked uneasy. “You don’t seem too worried that she won’t be able to keep your tryst for this evening.”
“It doesn’t,” Barney dropped his voice to a stage whisper, “behove any gentleman to question the word of any lady, leave alone the Queen’s Majesty. So you just trot along and say that Sir Barnabas was, of course, cut to the quick, but he understands that affairs of state must take precedence over affairs of the heart.”
This adventure of Barney and Salazar will continue next week…