How Knight Gareth made a detour
Berthold the Court Jester had been in King’s service from the time he discovered he had a gift of the gab. His loquaciousness however hit a hiatus whenever the talk got personal. His jabs were not as bad as his jokes. He had his license to poke fun at anything and spare nobody. He became more circumspect with such power that made the king think he was only playing the fool and his heart was not in his job.
The king was right as usual. Only that king being busy marauding neighboring kingdoms let him dither. Much less he thought of his fool when he had to provide his knight at arms with a squire to hold his shield.
The king agreed to let Bertie, as he was known in the intimate circle, to find the right candidate. There were three peasants who had thrown their caps into the ring.
By sundown they came.
The king and the nobles were at supper. The king motioned the fool to start.
The jester roughly caught the nearest by his collar,” Hey Willie, please keep your finger from your nose at least when you are spoken to.’
“But nobody spoke to me” mumbled Wilfred wiping his offending finger on his trouser.
Bertie the fool grimaced and said, “oh heavens, and deaf too.” He gave a kick on his shins and told the king,’ He will not do master.” Bertie didn’t mind the merriment he caused and he stood a little far from the second.
“ Fall out!” he barked.
The second promptly did as he was told. The Court jester looked at him and winced. “I said fall out. Not your dingle!” he turned to his master to say, “Any fellow who forgets to fix his codpiece is not fit for the job.”
The third peasant stood ramrod and said ‘At your service, master’ Berthold the Jester farted and barked, ”Catch it!”
The Fool threw up his hands in despair and asked the tittering court, “I fart and he can only say ‘what?’. What kind of service can you expect from him?”
With a straight face he said,These three will not do.”
The king said, “Now you tell us who can do the job.”
Approaching the kings table he said,” Put your cup down. I don’t want you to spill your wine.” The king seriously obeyed. The courtiers who were chomping their viands swallowed hard to hear the fool.
“I Berthold of Pipsquak Corner will be the squire.” The king paused seriously and said it was impossible since he didn’t want a fool to distract the serious business of bloodletting. The fool stood on his hands and walked to wards the king. Knight Gareth said “Please sire, I will vouch for him. Let him be my squire.” The king thought over and asked the fool,’Do you have a horse?’
The jester said, ‘ I will show it to you.” He quickly ran inside and brought a wooden rocking horse. “Whatever was good for the king is good for me.”
By the time the army set out Squire Berthold was on a nag that kept her pace with his knight.
Berthold knew he was on the right side and the knight knew he found a friend for life.
The King’s army camped for the night on the plains. There were three more days journey beyond which was fraught with danger. King Eric had kept the army march in secrecy. Every village and town were hotspots where the spies could have known and slipped into cover and warn the Palatinates. Knights were put in ranks each one supervising mobs who carried pitchforks, lances, bows and arrows. Some had shields made from most bizarre utensils patched up to do the job. Knight Gareth kept pace with the mules that had drovers bearing scythes and flails tipped with iron balls. In between they spoke of their farm life and hopes, and Knight Gareth had difficulty in holding back his home-sickness. The party crossed the postern gate that barred fields that led them to the town of Fidelis. By late in the evening they broke up their ranks and made their beds under a clear cloudless summer sky. Tomorrow they were to strike towards east along the grove of cypresses to the hills that girt around Palatine. The Prince-Elector of Ghoulish Palatine lorded over his kingdom lulled into a belief that the hills of Malvern was beyond the pale of mortals. Knight Gareth heard the name Malvern witch a couple of times and he asked his squire for news.
“A sorceress who cannot be approached,” Bertie the fool explained,’for praise or for money.”
‘No it is a wizard’, the miller was certain.
The knight mulled over it. The witch’s lair was close to the Palatinate. He could understand why Queen Mother sent her agent to Fidelis than to Malvern. The sorceress or wizard, what matter is it of gender, the one who lorded over Malvern didn’t bend house rules even a trifle to accommodate a queen.
The knight went over to the king to report this piece of news. The king flatly refused to take his army through the domain of a sorceress. ‘I have sent my spies already to find a weak spot from which we may attack the Palatinate from the rear’.
The kingdom of Prince-Elector of Ghoulish Palatine was situated around the bend of the river Ghoul with Malvern Spits on the rear. Knight Gareth said he was not afraid of witches, man or woman. He offered his services to reconnaitre. King Eric smiled at his loyalty and slapping on his back he asked the knight to get a good night’s rest.
On his return he found the squire had already seen to his comfort. Eating his meal he confided in Berthold of his plans.
He also said he missed his wife and his baby terribly. The squire assured him he was ready for an escapade and would help in whatever way he could.
By the time they reached the door of his cottage the entire town was asleep. No soul was in sight. Only a stream that didn’t distinguish between day or night. It went on gurgling and wheezing around the pebbles on shallow bed. Leaving his squire to care for the horses he quietly slipped in. Greta was fast asleep and the baby lay in his cot blissfully unaware of his father. He could not help trembling. He felt strange as though he were intruding on Greta’s dreams. Her gentle breathing went on its steady pace. He lit a candle that stood on a table by her head.
He quietly sat on the side and leaned across, enfolding her in his arms. She stirred and slowly adjusted her eyes. She gasped. Edgar was back! She sat up and they hugged each other. They spoke no words but laughed and looked at each other in wonder. She touseled his hair and took out a straw. Casting it silently away she caressed his face and kissed. They made love silently all their senses engaged into it as though it made the months of absence go away. Only after they satiated themselves in each others warmth she followed him as he scooped Rudy in his hands. “Now he can turn himself over and is busy trying to sit up.” She pointed to the bump on his forehead that was nothing serious. He kissed him and also kissed her with feeling. She stared at him for a trifle long sensing that he was not going to stay. She looked into his eyes searching while he said,’I am the king’s knight at arms.’
She didn’t understand what he meant. She reached out and took his finger and drew him closer, “Edgar, I could want you more but.” She smiled at her silliness to say,’I wait for the day you are free.’ She would have thrown herself into her arms but for hurried steps. Their neighbor Agathe huffed and puffed into the parlor. Seeing the man she quickly caught the shoulder of Greta and blubbered,’I see spirits blue and white hairs like tendrils. The ghostdreamer is here!”
“Hold it woman,” Edgar said with authority while pouring a generous shot of barley wine. He explained that he had just dropped in to visit his wife. He didn’t explain further. Greta knew he wanted his new position to be kept a secret.
As he stepped into the darkness he heard Agathe anxiously asking, “I hope you came alone?” He chose not to answer.
He walked a little further and he saw his squire stepping out from the shadow of an old yew tree. He still held on to horse. Knight Gareth knew the squire didn’t want to be seen by Agathe.
He said casually,’Fine time to leave me in the lurch.’ he also added that he would appreciate it greatly if he were open about it. ‘I wont hold your secret against you.’ Court jester Berthold said, “ I just met my mother. She is a witch.”
Knight Gareth thought he would fall off from his horse. So it was she who helped the Queen Mother. He was in a fix.