|Three is Company
Author: Tirra Lirra PM
A short Arthurian tale of a young boy named Martyn and his chance encounter with Camelot's greatest knight, Sir Gawain... Partially inspired by Gerald Morris' The Squire's Tales series. COMPLETE. Boy, is this OLD...Rated: Fiction K - English - Drama/Humor - Words: 3,215 - Reviews: 3 - Published: 01-13-05 - Status: Complete - id: 1807237
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Note: This was originally written about a year ago for a short story contest. I ended up exceeding the word limit (by about 1000 words...), but after much chopping I did get it to fit within the regulations. However, it didn't win anyway, so I returned to the longer, original version and tweaked it a little. But that was a year ago, and my writing has improved quite a bit since then (or at least so I like to think), so this remains only a rough version. I plan to expand and refine it as soon as I manage to get a break from my current WIPs.
That being said, I have a certain fondness for this, my first original short story, so I have opted to post the rough version. Hopefully it will be enjoyed, and I would greatly appreciate any and all constructive criticism, which will help me in reworking it in the future.
Thanks, please enjoy! :)
Three is Company
by Taryn McKay
Dawn rose softly over the Wildwood, stretching out its pale fingers to dispel the night-mists and illuminate the beauty of late spring with a gentle golden glow. The slim, agile figure that crept noiselessly through the underbrush did nothing to disturb the quiet serenity of the morning; Martyn had spent most of his fifteen years within the forest, and he had learned to move as silently as the woodland creatures themselves.
Martyn carried his small hunting bow in his hand as he glided through the brush. The Wildwood abounded with deer, rabbits and fowl, and Martyn had to be ready for the first creature that came within bowshot: his father depended on it. Bedridden with fever, Alun had not been able to hunt for several days now, and relied on Martyn to do so. Fortunately, at this time of year there was no lack of game to be found, and Martyn's hunting forays were almost always successful.
Finding a likely hiding place amongst a clump of bushes that surrounded a small clearing, Martyn settled himself down beneath the bush, notched an arrow to his bowstring, and readied himself for a possibly long wait. The deer of the Wildwood, well-fed and thriving, were late risers; it might be several hours before he spotted the buck he hoped for. Patience was learned young among the woodsmen, but on this occasion Martyn had difficulty in curbing his excitement and remaining still beneath the bush, imagining the days of large meals a full-grown buck would provide for him and his father.
By mid-morning, the forest was filled with birdsong and bright with sunlight. Martyn sat in a small clearing: not the one where he'd waited in vain for a deer to approach, but another one, with a merrily babbling stream flowing through it. Sunlight filled the clearing, threading Martyn's dark chestnut hair with gold as he bent over his work, tying together three coneys that he'd brought down.
Finishing the task, Martyn sat back on his heels with a sigh. The three rabbits would feed himself and his father for a day or two, but they were a disappointing catch compared to his hope of a full-grown deer. "Oh, well," he said aloud to himself. "Such is a woodsman's lot."
Glancing up at the sun, Martyn decided that this would have to do for today; there were more chores to be done back at the small cottage he and his father shared. Picking up the coneys, he slung them over his shoulder and began making his way back home.
Martyn had not gone far when his sharp ears detected movement behind him. Feigning unconcern, he did not stop, but continued to listen until he was able to identify the sound: someone was following him. It was no woodland animal, but a person, moving clumsily some ten yards behind.
Martyn stopped, and turned around, briefly loosening his dagger in its sheath at his hip; the forest could be a dangerous place. He waited until his follower was a few yards away—though he still could not see the person through the trees and thick underbrush—and then raised his voice and called, "Halt, stranger! Who are you, and what is your business with me?"
The clumsy footsteps stopped, and a voice, somewhat gruff but friendly, called back. "I mean you no harm, friend. I injured my ankle when my horse threw me and bolted, and I followed you in the hopes of finding a house somewhere nearby; all my supplies were in my saddlebags, and I have no hunting-bow. The only weapon I carry with me is my sword, and it is fairly useless in hunting."
Martyn, like his father, did not have the innate distrust of strangers that most woodsmen possessed, though he'd learned to be careful. As the stranger spoke, his disarming frankness touched Martyn's open and friendly nature, and before the man was finished he had made up his mind to aid him.
"Forgive me, friend," he said, using the same title the stranger had used before. "Wanderers in the Wildwood are not always to be trusted, and my father has taught me to be cautious when meeting them."
Deciding that it was safe now, the stranger began making his way towards Martyn. "No need to apologize for that, lad," he said good-naturedly. "Your father is right: it is always best to be careful."
A few seconds later the traveler stood before him, and Martyn was hard-put not to gape in astonishment. The man was a knight! He was dressed simply, and wore no armor, but his great sword was proof enough. No ordinary yeoman would own such a weapon!
Seeing the boy's wide eyes fixed upon the black, unjeweled hilt of his sword, the knight smiled. "A beauty, isn't she?" he asked. Martyn nodded speechlessly. "Galatine, she is called. She was gifted to me by a friend, and has saved my life more than once."
Martyn looked up at the knight. He was very tall, powerfully built and broad-shouldered. He could have been intimidating, were it not for his face: friendliness and good humor were evident in the rugged features, and his blue eyes twinkled. His red beard was not yet thick enough to hide the dimples that appeared in his cheeks when he smiled.
Martyn bowed low, overcome. "M-my father's cottage is not far from here, milord," he stammered. Somehow a simple sir did not seem enough. "You can share a meal or two with us, or stay the night if you like."
The knight gave a broad smile and patted the boy's shoulder. "Thank you, lad," he said. "I'd be very much obliged, if you're sure I won't be a nuisance there."
Martyn shook his head. "Oh, not at all, milord!" he assured him hastily. "It's only me and my father there, and he'll be honored to have you, I'm sure."
"Lead on, then, my lad," said the knight. Favoring his left foot, he limped slightly and Martyn hurriedly moved to his side to aid him. The knight first took the coneys from the boy and carried them himself, and then he draped his other strong arm around Martyn's shoulders and smiled gratefully, thanking him.
Together, they made their way through the forest and reached the cottage some fifteen minutes later. It was a modest little thatch-roofed structure, and though Martyn had never considered it before, it suddenly seemed impossibly small and rustic for a great knight to be lodging. But the knight did not seemed disappointed at all; in fact he smiled delightedly when he saw the cottage. "Lovely!" he said. "Your father had the right idea, building it in this quiet little wood, away from the noise and bustle of towns and villages. Just the kind of place to come home to after a long journey."
Martyn was warmed by the knight's words, and his embarrassment was quickly forgotten. "You were on a journey, milord?" he asked curiously.
The knight nodded. "Been out questing, in fact," he said. Seeing the boy's puzzled expression, he explained with a grin. "With the peace of the last few years, we knights haven't had much to do. And every so often, King Arthur gets tired of all of us hanging about Camelot, and he sends us out questing so he can get some peace and quiet for a while."
Martyn's eyes widened. "You are a knight of Camelot?" he breathed. Even in the solitude of his forest home, he had heard of the great King Arthur and his knights of Camelot.
"I am indeed," said the knight, bowing slightly. "Sir Gawain, at your service, my lad."
This time Martyn's mouth did drop open, and he couldn't help but stare speechlessly at the tall, friendly man. Sir Gawain himself! Arthur's greatest knight!
Chuckling, Sir Gawain reached down and gently pushed the boy's lower jaw back up. "I know I look more like an outlaw than a knight at the moment, but I assure you I do not lie." Martyn shook his head vehemently, starting to protest that he didn't doubt him at all, but Sir Gawain winked at him. "Now that I've told you my name, might you tell me yours? If you are to be my host, I should like to address you properly—unless you prefer to be called 'lad.'"
Martyn's laughter at the knight's remark kept him from feeling embarrassed forgetting proper courtesy. "If you prefer to call me 'lad', I do not object," he said, bringing a hearty laugh from Sir Gawain. "But otherwise," he bowed again, "my name is Martyn, son of Alun of the Wildwood."
"Alun of the Wildwood," repeated Sir Gawain thoughtfully. "Might he also be known as Alun the Bowman?"
Martyn's eyes widened. "Yes, milord!" he exclaimed. "You have heard of him?"
"Of course I have, young Martyn," replied Sir Gawain. "Your father was once well-known as one of the greatest archers in England."
Martyn opened his mouth to say more, but just then, the door to his cottage was opened, and his father stood there in the doorway. He was unsteady, and immediately Martyn detached himself from Gawain and raced to his father's side to support him. "Father, what are you doing?" he chided. "You are too weak to be getting up by yourself."
"Nonsense," retorted his father, even as he allowed Martyn to lead him inside to sit down in a rocking chair by the hearth. "The fever is gone, and I'm on the mend. I'll never get better if I don't get out of bed and stretch me legs a bit."
Martyn shook his head, but did not argue, and hurried back outside to where Sir Gawain waited patiently. "I'm sorry, milord," he began, taking his place at the knight's side and helping him inside.
Gawain shook his head. "Nothing to be sorry for, lad," he said. "You're a good son to your father." Turning to Alun, who sat staring at him in astonishment, he bowed and said, "It is an honor to meet you, Bowman. I did not know that you were unwell, else I would not have troubled you. But I shall not disturb you long."
Martyn showed Gawain to a chair across from his father's, and Alun shook his head. "Ye're welcome here, sir knight," he said. "It is we who are honored. Please, stay as long as you like. We're not rich, but what we have we will gladly share with you."
Gawain was obviously touched by Alun's generosity. "I thank you," he said. "You and your son are kind; I will be glad to stay here for today."
That afternoon, the three of them sat around the hearth exchanging tales. Of course, living in so secluded a place, Martyn and his father did not know much of Camelot and the knights, and delighted in hearing Gawain's stories. But Gawain was equally curious about their simple lives, and he seemed to enjoy their own stories just as much.
During a lull in the storytelling, Martyn went outside to draw some water from the well behind the cottage, and he was surprised to find a large black horse tied to a tree beside it, placidly cropping grass. It was fully tacked, and a shield hung from the saddle—a knight's horse!
Just as Martyn turned to go tell Sir Gawain, strong arms seized him from behind, and before he could utter a cry or make the slightest struggle, a hand was pressed tightly over his mouth and he was dragged back toward the well. "Be still," hissed a voice in his ear. "If you value your life be still."
The coldness in the voice paralyzed Martyn with fear for a moment; but then he fought back, managing to jab one elbow sharply into his captor's stomach. A satisfactory grunt of pain rewarded his effort, and he pressed his advantage, kicking the man in the shin with all his strength.
This was enough to gain him a moment of freedom, and he pulled the hand from his mouth and shouted at the top of his voice. "Sir Gawain!"
The captor recovered quickly and Martyn was grabbed again, and struck roughly once or twice as he was all but smothered into submission within the man's powerful arms. They wrapped with bruising force around his waist and across his throat, and he had to bring both hands up to keep from choking.
"Make this easier on us both, boy," hissed his captor. "All I want is the horse—give me your word that you will make no noise, and I will take it and be gone."
Martyn's reply was an increase in his struggles, until the man hit him, hard, in the stomach, effectively stilling him. He would have doubled over with pain, but the man's arm was still across his throat, and the slightest movement on his part would get him strangled.
All this had passed in only a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity to Martyn before he saw Gawain rounding the corner of the house, sword drawn and ready. He took in the scene swiftly, and started forward. But a quick jerk of the captor's arm against Martyn's throat stilled him immediately.
"Make no further move, sir knight," the man called. "Or the boy dies."
Meeting Martyn's wide, fearful green eyes, Gawain swallowed hard. "What is it you wish, villain?" he asked, the underlying threat in his voice unmistakable.
"I only wish to take yonder horse, and your word that I will be allowed to leave with it in safety."
Gawain slowly lowered his sword. "Give me the boy first," he said. "Then we will discuss the horse."
The captor tightened his arm across Martyn's throat, drawing a pained gasp from the boy and forcing his head up further. "How may I be sure that you will not slay me the moment I release the brat?" he questioned. "Place your sword on the ground, and then I will let him go."
Slowly, Gawain obeyed, without taking his eyes from Martyn's. Martyn managed with difficulty to free one hand from where it kept his captor's arm from his throat, and though the pressure increased and his breath caught, he brought the free hand down to the dagger at his hip. Gawain did not miss the movement, and he made a great show of laying Galatine flat on the ground.
The outlaw heard the sound of metal being drawn out of its sheath too late. Twisting quickly, and being near-strangled in the process, Martyn brought the dagger up. His captor dodged a moment too late, and the blade sliced across his side. Gawain retrieved his sword from the ground and charged forward. Releasing Martyn with a push that sent him to the ground, the man pressed a hand to his wound and fled.
Once the man was out of sight, Gawain dropped his sword and knelt at Martyn's side, supporting the boy as he coughed. Then he raised Martyn carefully, hastily looking him over for injuries. "Are you much hurt?" he asked anxiously, touching a red mark on Martyn's cheek that was already beginning to bruise.
Before Martyn could answer a shout was heard, and Alun appeared coming towards them at an unsteady run. "Father!" Martyn cried hoarsely, getting to his feet and running into Alun's arms. "You should not be—"
Alun hushed him, holding him close for a moment and then pulling back to examine him. "What happened?" he demanded. "I heard shouts and the sounds of a scuffle…" He trailed off as he gently touched the cut on Martyn's lip and the bruises across his throat, made by the outlaw's arm. His normally gentle face filled with fury, and he looked up at Gawain.
The knight sheathed his sword and joined them. "It seems that I was not the only traveler in search of a horse," he said ruefully. "Some villainous brigand was about to steal my horse"—he pointed to the black stallion—"when your son came out here and interfered."
Alun's anger was quickly replaced by concern as he peered down at his son. "Are you hurt, Martyn? Did he hurt you badly?"
Martyn shook his head, and leaned against his father a little; now that the encounter was over, he felt shaken. "I'm all right, father," he said reassuringly. "Just a few bruises and a cut or two. Sir Gawain came just in time." He turned to smile gratefully at the knight.
"If you hadn't managed to call me, and had you not thought of your dagger, things might not have ended so fortunately," said Gawain soberly. "You were the true hero of the evening, Martyn." He grinned suddenly. "You should be knighted for a deed like that, lad. Alun, your Martyn would make a fine knight, you know," he added half-jokingly. "I would be happy to take him back to Camelot with me."
Martyn smiled and shook his head. "I think not, Sir Gawain," he said. "Much as I enjoy your tales of King Arthur's knights, the Wildwood is my home. I desire no other life."
Gawain laughed. "Well spoken, lad, though it will be Camelot's loss." He unsheathed his sword and moved around to stand in front of Martyn. "However, in recognition of the courage and quick thinking displayed today, I dub thee Sir Martyn, knight of the Wildwood." Martyn and his father grinned as Gawain, with a great show of solemnity, touched each of the boy's shoulders with his sword, then sheathed it and stepped back. "Honor always your God; protect always your neighbor; serve always your king."
The sun was setting, its last fiery glow illuminating the Wildwood as they draped arms about each other's shoulders and headed inside while the night-mists began to rise.