"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pelean's Jewel, Part III

"BOY!" bellowed the cook in charge of pastries, a surly ogre who could make a pie crust so light only the fruit filling kept it from floating off into the wilderness. Tallow, who had been carefully cracking eggs into a bowl, jumped and dropped the egg he had been holding. He faced the furious cook with yolk spattered over his shoes.

"Sir?" Tallow squeaked.

"Don't know what you've done, but it must be bad," the ogre rumbled. "Captain of Knights himself wants to see you. Now. His office."

"I haven't done anything!"

"Humph. Tell it to the Captain, if that's your story. Off with you, now! Don't keep him waiting!" The cook shooed Tallow out of the kitchens.

The fields where the knights honed their skills lay just behind the palace, next to the stables and a stately blue stone building where the unmarried knights made their homes in peacetime, and where all knights would live should the kingdom be at war. Just inside the front door was a small office with a large window overlooking the jousting field, and inside the office was Sir Brennan.

He sat at his desk signing orders for supplies like wooden practice swords and new saddles. Knights destroy an astonishing number of things on a daily basis as they prepare to destroy other people should the need arise, so Sir Brennan spent nearly as much time with a pen in his hand as he did with a sword. (In addition to war, illness and death, Faerie also suffers the curse of paperwork. They do not, however, have celebrities or fast food, and are much happier for it.) When the kitchen-boy appeared in the doorway, he was glad to set down the pen and put the papers aside for a while.

"Sir Brennan, Captain, sir," Tallow babbled. "You wanted to see me? Has something happened? I didn't do anything, I swear!"

"I didn't think you had," the captain replied. He smiled reassuringly and beckoned the boy forward. "Come in, come in. You are not in any trouble."

Tallow inched forward and Sir Brennan stood, striding around the boy to shut the door. He turned and looked down at Tallow, who craned his neck to look up at the captain.

Nobles are tall, as a rule—tall and slender, supple and unbreakable as reeds. They have fine, even features, pointed ears, pleasing voices and eyes like gemstones in the moonlight. If you were to meet them, you would probably call them elves. I would advise you not to do so aloud, however. They would be insulted and might turn you into something slimy and unpleasant. In Faerie they are called nobles, or fair folk, and that is all.

Sir Brennan was tall, even for a noble. His hair was the color of ripe wheat, his face browned by the sun. His eyes were the color of garnets, his hands scarred from a thousand small training injuries. He was one of the younger knights, but he was captain because the queen believed—and she was not alone in this—that he was the bravest of them all. Tallow believed it, too. He had been a tiny child when it all happened, but the story was already legend in Sanmeara.

Sir Brennan was only seventeen that summer. He had been a knight for less than a year when the king and queen returned from a diplomatic visit to a neighboring kingdom, bringing with them the Captain of Knights, four other knights, and, though they did not yet know it, the fever that would kill them.

One of the knights was the first to fall ill, then another, then the king, the captain, the queen and finally the other two knights. Two servants who tended the royal couple became sick within days, as did the royal physician. The king ordered himself and all the others who were ill to be removed from the palace, to prevent the fever from spreading farther. It was the last order he would ever give; he died hours after being moved.

One of the knights died the next day, followed by both the royal physician and a servant in the night. The physicians and healers who had been caring for the sick fled in fear of their own lives. One of the two knights guarding the doors to the sick-house helped the doctors leave and slipped away himself when no one was looking.

There are as many kinds of bravery as there are kinds of honor, or duty, or love. It is one thing to face an enemy with a sword, another to face an enemy hanging invisible in the very air you breathe.

Standing guard at the front, unaware of the exodus which had taken place through the back door, young Sir Brennan did not at first respond to the cries for water that reached his ears through the open windows. The healers would take care of them, he thought. But the pleas continued and, his suspicions raised, he entered that house of illness and death to find no one but the sick.

The physicians and healers would not return, and no others could be persuaded to take their places. New guards were found for the doors, but only Sir Brennan was willing to enter the house. For the next week he tended the sick as best he could, giving them water and broth and putting cold cloths on their heated brows. The Captain of Knights died, as did one of his remaining men.

One of the healers who had fled was brought back after contracting the fever. He lived, as did the only other knight and the servant. The queen closed her eyes late one afternoon and never opened them again. She had asked him to make sure her daughter received the jewel if she should die, so Sir Brennan personally took it from about her neck and put it in a kettle of boiling water for an hour before having it sent back to the palace for the little princess.

When it became clear that the danger had passed, he left the sick-house expecting to be hated for having allowed the queen to die. Instead, he was surprised to find himself hailed as a hero.

Lilias was only ten and had been queen for less than a week when she rewarded his bravery by making him Captain of Knights. In the five years since, she had never had cause to regret it. Most days, he did not regret it, either. He hoped he would not come to regret this day.

He lowered himself into a crouch so the poor child wouldn't snap his neck from bending it back so far. "Tallow, isn't it? I have seen you at our drills."

"I keep out of the way, Captain, sir," Tallow defended himself.

"Yes, you do. But I thought that if you enjoy watching us so much, maybe you would be willing to help us? We need a shifter to do something that none of us can."

"Anything, sir!" His eyes were as wide as saucers.

Sir Brennan laughed. "Always know what you are being asked before you agree. That is something a knight told me when I was only a squire." He glanced out the window, toward the palace. "You have heard about the queen's lost jewel, I assume?"

"Yes, Captain, sir. The water-dragon took it, and now it's hiding in a cave because it's afraid of you."

"Hmm. I wonder if it is. There are many things I wonder about that dragon, Tallow, but I can't find out for myself."

"Why not?" Tallow wondered, amazed that brave Sir Brennan might find anything impossible.

"Because I cannot talk to the other creatures that live in the stream, and ask them about the dragon," Sir Brennan confided.

"But I can!" Tallow exclaimed.

"Yes, you can. Would you be willing to help me? I only want you to find out about the dragon—what its habits are, whether it is afraid of anything, maybe even where it keeps the jewel."

"If I find out where the jewel is, maybe I can go there as a fish and steal it back!"

"No!" Sir Brennan said sharply, and the boy jumped. He forced himself to speak more kindly. "I need information, in order to discover how best to handle this dragon. I do not want anyone, not you, not me, not my men, going anywhere near that creature until we understand it better."

Always in his thoughts was the queen's desire that no one be hurt in seeking her jewel. That was why she had called off the search, but Sir Brennan still hoped to find a way to get it back.

Tallow thought about that. "That makes sense. I guess I was just hoping for something more exciting than talking to fish," he confessed.

"I will tell you a secret." He leaned forward and dropped his voice to a whisper. "Most of the time, beign a knight is just doing drills and polishing your armor. Talking to fish sounds pretty interesting to me."

"Can you let me be a knight?" Tallow asked. "You're the Captain, can't you just say it's so?"

Sir Brennan shook his head. "No. I'm sorry, but you are not one of us. There are many common folk in the army," he offered, "and even a few in the palace guard. If it's a military career you have in mind, I can help you into either of those."

"I'm not sure what I want to do if I can't be a knight," he admitted. "But I know I don't want to work in the kitchens."

"Help me now, and you will not have to go back. We can put you to work in the stables while you decide what you want to do," Sir Brennan offered.

Tallow smiled. "Deal."

© 2007 by the author. All rights reserved.

2 rejoinders:

Baseball_Lipgloss sounded off...

I hope you don't mind but I have been reading your Pelean's entries. You know I normally come here for baseball gossip but I really got sucked into your story.


Third Base Line sounded off...

Mind? I'm glad you are! (And that you're enjoying it!) I'm posting it on these here innernets so anyone who's interested can read it. :)