The Serf's Dream, By PaladinFox
The clip-clopping sound of approaching hoofbeats was heard, breaking the stillness of the early morning air. Along the side of the dusty path, a ragged-looking serf looked up, his youthful face caked with mud, his brown eyes filled with alarm, his heart pounding rapidly, fearing the approach of yet another raiding party. His eyes stared at the mist-shrouded entrance into the nearby forest, his right hand clasped around his pitchfork in a death grip. If it was indeed a brigand who was bearing down on him, he would be prepared this time. The previous attack had left him homeless and an orphan after the senseless murder of his parents and the burning of his home, which had been little more than a hovel at the time. Now it was a pile of ashes scattered across his master's field.
The mists suddenly parted and a knight burst from the forest, the bright sun gleaming off his silver armor as his white horse rushed along the path. The serf relaxed, noticing that the armor was indeed silver, not black. This knight was from Lord Davenport's castle, judging by the blue and gold shield resting in his right hand and the direction he was taking. The knight didn't bother pausing as he passed the serf, which didn't surprise the boy at all. After all, why would a nobleman take notice of a peasant?
It was October 12, 1185 AD, and London was at war. The knight, Sir Tomhas Nickerson of York, had moved from his family's home in York to serve Lord Davenport at his castle in London. His childhood as a page and a squire had been filled with visions of London's beautiful castles and breathtaking scenery, but he had come to realize that these visions were false. Davenports' "castle" was more like a fortress and the scenery had been blackened by the ravages of war.
As he urged his steed toward the castle, Tomhas mentally kicked himself for not acknowledging the serf who had stood beside the path. The people of London didn't have the same values as the people in the small village, a province of York, where Tomhas had grown up did, and the oppressive social class order here was starting to aggravate him.
And the nobles wonder why we are at war, Tomhas thought bitterly.
The trouble had started several months ago when a small army of black knights had ridden up from the south, inciting the serfs into a revolt. The serfs who had resisted this movement had been killed and London's economy was thrown into turmoil. Knights had been called in from all over England to calm the rebellion and Tomhas had been asked to find the black knights' headquarters. If he hadn't had been in such a dark mood because of his failure to find any leads to the headquarters, he would have said something to the serf, or at least have given him a wave.
Starbright, Tomhas' horse, automatically came to a stop outside of the main gate of Davenport's fortress and waited. The sudden halt snapped Tomhas out of his reverie and he looked up at the battlements, waiting for the familiar face to appear.
After a full minute, Sir Peter of London poked his head over the battlements and shouted unnecessarily, "Halt!"
Tomhas rolled his eyes. Peter was a good friend of his, but the knight had been socked in the head one too many times with a morning star. Who in their right mind would assault a fortress bristling with knights on his own, and why did the knights always say, "Halt," when no one was moving?
"Who goest there?" Peter demanded.
"Sir Tomhas of York," was the reply.
"By the grace of God! Thou hast returned safely!"
"Aye, my friend, and for good reason. The most dangerous creature I saw in the west was a chipmunk." As soon as the words had left his mouth, Tomhas groaned, knowing what Peter's answer would be.
"Hast thou been out too long, Tomhas? A chipmunk is not-"
"Merely a jest, I assure thee, Peter. Mayest I pass?"
"For what reason?"
"I must report to Lord Davenport post haste."
"I believe that-"
Tomhas sighed and waved his left hand through the air to stop Peter from speaking. "Yes, I will visit Father Talbot at the abbey first." Under his breath, he grumbled, "Those bloody Catholics are everywhere, and they have more power than the king himself!"
"Open the gate!" Peter bellowed.
"I shall speakest with thee at another time," Tomhas promised and urged Starbright forward.
Once inside, Tomhas dismounted and handed Starbright's reins to a young stableboy. As always, Tomhas greeted him with a cheery, "How art thou?" and the stableboy's face brightened. His good mood once again in place, Tomhas rushed across the courtyard, heading for the abbey, when an almost musical voice called, "Sir Tomhas!"
Tomhas allowed a broad grin to spread across his face as he turned to face the princess who had addressed him. He bowed deeply and replied, "My lady?"
The princess's bright blue eyes danced merrily as she asked, "May I have a word with thou, Sir Knight?"
As was his usual habit while speaking to the beautiful princess, he slipped out of the archaic form of speech that was the current fad of this time period. He quickly glanced around to make sure no one was listening to him and then he replied, "That was nine words right there, your Highness."
Princess Joy laughed merrily. "Counting my words again, Tomhas? It's yet another one of your many irritating habits."
"That makes three, I believe?"
"Add two zeroes to that and you'll come fairly close."
"You've been keeping track? How cute."
Joy let that pass. "And where are you off to this morning, Tomhas?"
"The abbey to visit Talbot . . . and then to your father."
A troubled look crossed her face. "May I accompany you?"
"Shouldn't it be the other way around?"
"Only if I was speaking backwards."
Tomhas laughed. "I meant that I should ask to accompany you, seeing as how chivalry is the practice in this day and time."
"It's overrated," she countered and fell into step beside her friend.
They walked across the courtyard and Tomhas allowed his eyes to drift up to the large crucifix hanging over the abbey's doorway. They walked on in silence since Tomhas had learned from experience that Joy would speak only when she was ready to.
Joy sighed heavily. "There are times when I feel like we're the only intelligent people in this accursed country!"
"Such venom in your voice, Joy! You're only saying this because your name is so easy to remember."
A look of pain crossed her troubled expression and Tomhas sighed. He had done it yet again; made a stupid comment and hit the root of the problem on the head.
Joy gritted her teeth and muttered, "My father has taken to calling me 'Susan' now, of all things."
Tomhas smiled understandingly. "Lord Davenport seems to have become a little odd with the untimely death of your mother and all. I think Susan's death upset him even more than these black knights."
Joy brightened, taking Tomhas's bait and changing the subject. "How did your search go?"
"Not well. I ride on to Canterbury in the morning. Perhaps I can find some clues in that direction."
"Will I ever see you again?"
"Oh, undoubtably. I'll be back as soon as I finish my business at Canterbury, and if not . . . Well then, I guess I'll just see you at another time."
Joy smiled at Tomhas's pun. They paused outside of the abbey doorway and she said, "Then I shall speak with thee upon thy return, Sir Tomhas."
"As thou requests of me, your Highness," Tomhas agreed and turned around to face the newcomer. "Good morrow, Father Talbot."
The elderly priest nodded solemnly (Tomhas couldn't recall if he had ever seen Talbot smile) and motioned the knight inside. "Your Highness, if it doth suit thy purpose, wouldst thou inform thy father that Sir Tomhas will join him within the hour?"
Unseen by Talbot, Tomhas gritted his teeth and Joy stifled a laugh. They both knew that when Talbot got started praying, nothing could make him stop unless he keeled over from hunger or oxygen depravation, whichever came last.
"I shall do so, Father, with thy blessing," she informed him.
"Thou dost have it. Depart from this place."
"You read like a King James Bible," Tomhas quipped from inside.
Talbot tried to not slam the door in her face as he rushed into the dark interior of his abbey.
* * * *
The serf went back to his work in the fields, slowly making his way toward Davenport's castle. As the sun reached its midday peak, the stableboy left the castle and approached the serf.
"What news hast thou?" the serf asked excitedly.
"Thy guess was correct, my friend," the stableboy replied. "I overheard Sir Tomhas of York tell the Princess Joy that he doth depart for Canterbury on the morrow. Dost thou truly plan to follow?"
"Crazy, is it not? But yes, I do. I tire of the toil of my life. Mine heart doth long for the adventure of knighthood. Mayhaps Sir Tomhas will allow me to be his squire!"
"Thou dost need to become a page first."
"Thou art correct. I always have allowed mine dreams to fly ahead of mine feet."
"And what noble dreams thou hast!"
* * * *
Talbot finally stopped blessing Tomhas and the knight left the abbey to see Lord Davenport. The noble didn't have time to see Tomhas by then, but he had left orders for him to ride on to Canterbury, as Tomhas had planned on doing anyway. His exhausting day finally drew to a close, and Tomhas entered his quarters to prepare himself for the next day's activities. A squire helped him in taking off his armor when he was through with his prayers and Tomhas happily went to bed. His search for the black knights would continue in the morning.
* * * *
The sun had not yet peeked over the horizon when the serf awoke and began his journey along the road to Canterbury. He carried with him a pack of rations and a stave, his only weapon besides the unwieldy pitchfork. He had decided to leave early for two reasons: One, he needed a head start on Tomhas, who would be on horseback and Two, he didn't want his master to realize that he was gone until it was too late. This little trip was going to earn him some severe lashings when he returned, but he pressed on anyway.
* * * *
Tomhas was delighted that Starbright was already harnessed when he awoke the next morning. He raced out of the gate, quickly took his bearings, and then took off for Canterbury, the sun burning its way through the sky on his left.
* * * *
The serf paused. What was the noise? "Hello?" the serf called. "Who goest there?"
Before he could blink, a dozen black knights had surrounded him. The serf was amazed. How could they move so fast in their heavy armor?
"Halt!" their leader cried. "Do not moveth!"
"I shall not," the serf promised, "for if I doth even sneeze, mine body shalt be impaled upon thy blades which art even now poking at mine sides."
The knight hadn't thought of a reply to that before Tomhas suddenly appeared, his blue eyes and Starbright's brown orbs drinking in the situation.
"Here now!" Tomhas called. "Who doth blocketh mine path?"
"Tis I!" The leader answered in a roar. "Morbin, leader of this wretched crew!"
"Well met! I am Sir Tomhas of York, and I doth notice thy 'wretched crew.' Twelve black knights and a serf. Tis striking fear in mine heart just to look upon thee."
"Art thou poking fun at me? I wilt not hesitate to slay thee!"
"Slay away, Morbin, but be warned. If thou dost drawest any closer, mine horse will trample thee, spurned to anger by thy repulsive breath."
"Here now! That was uncalled for!"
"Oh, really? Thy mother owns a brothel!"
Morbin stamped his foot in rage. "Thou has wronged me and my mother, Sir Tomhas! Now thou must be slain!"
"Nay, Morbin. Thou shalt not slay me upon this morrow nor another. Thou hast already made thy tragic error."
"Oh? And what wouldst that be?"
"Thou hast allowed me to dismount and draw mine sword."
The battle was mercifully quick and before Morbin realized it, his eleven knights had been killed. Tomhas cleaned the blood from his blade and grinned at Morbin.
"Thou hast made mine job easier, Morbin. Mayhaps thou canst answer some questions of mine."
"Over mine dead body!"
Tomhas shrugged. "However thou wouldst like it, although I find it much easier to draw information out of a live body."
Morbin paled. "What wouldst thou like to know?" he asked pleasantly.
"Where is the rest of thy company?"
"On the ground at thy feet."
Tomhas smiled. So that's why he had had such an unnerving time trying to find the knights. A dozen warriors could hide quite well in the forest. "Why didst thou incite this rebellion?"
A shrug. "It didst seem like a good idea at the time. Mine companions and I wert bored with our lives as they wert."
"So thou fashioned black armor out of . . . silk?" Thomas shook his head, marveling at the ease with which his blade had slashed through the formidable looking armor.
"The ruse worked for a time. We wert never attacked."
Tomhas rolled his eyes. "Depart from this region, Morbin. I have no conflict with thee."
That being said, Tomhas turned his back on Morbin and prepared to mount Starbright.
"Insolent cur!" Morbin snarled and surged forward, knocking Tomhas to the ground. Then Morbin was on top of the fallen knight, a dagger in his hand. "Thy stupidity shalt be the death of thee!"
Surprisingly, Tomhas laughed. "Mine stupidity? Hast thou not gazed into a mirror? Thou hast made yet another tragic error!"
"Oh? And what wouldst that be?"
"Thou hast turned thy back upon the one who carries a big stick."
The serf gave Morbin a stiff rap on the back of his head and the villain was knocked out. Tomhas pushed Morbin off his chest and the serf helped him to his feet.
"Good save, lad!" Tomhas praised him. "Thou hast done well!"
"Many thanks, my lord," the serf replied.
"If I am not mistaken, thou art the lad I passed upon the road yesterday. Now I have the chance to meet thee. Who art thou?"
"Benji, my lord. Benji Wood, a common serf."
Tomhas smiled. "I am Tomhas Nickerson of York, and thou art not a common serf. Nay, thou hast the potential to do much more with thyself. Come, mine page. Let us return to London."
"Page, my lord?"
"Of course! Hast thou not wanted to become a knight?" Tomhas waited for Benji to nod in agreement. "Then thou must first be a page. Let us depart."
Tomhas and Benji walked along the path back to London, side by side, and the sun began to set on another day.