To Ride In Service Of The King

by Mikal Trimm

The stranger, ancient, battle-scarred,
Trod slowly toward the market square.
Unweaponed, unencumbered, he
Wore nothing but an aketon --
Threadbare and filthy, bloodstained on
Its front below the heart -- along
With mud-specked chausses. Still, his stare
Shone with the life-force of a Knight.

He stopped before the central font,
Yet struck no pose to still the crowd.
Nor did he trump, with silvered tongue,
Of all his triumphs, all his woes.
Instead he sat and wet his toes
In water spilt from someone's cup,
Then sighed his thanks -- not bold, not proud,
More like a peasant than a Knight.

"A painted jester," voices cried,
"A mindless fool, this misgot knave."
He sat and washed his feet and smiled,
Ignoring all who passed his way.
Not once did his blank mien betray
A hint of malice, nor of threat --
No sign of aught but comfort, save
The patience of a well-bred Knight.

"Be still!" An ancient weathered form
Pushed through the crowd. His twisted staff
And time-grayed robe both spoke of years
Of wisdom earned through painful trials
And boundless grief. He wore the miles
He'd wandered etched across his face,
His life thus mapped. He did not laugh,
As some did, at this errant Knight.

"A fool, you say? The fool, it seems,
Is he who cannot mind his speech
When, like a child, he finds himself
Within the company of men.
Wag not your malformed tongues again
But, like a chastised infant, hush
Your mindless prattle. Hist, enough!
Then for forgiveness, pray beseech
This honorable, battered Knight."

A silent pause, a lowered gaze --
Then, with a strangled sob, one man
Who spoke so rough against the Knight
Fell to his knees and, with his shirt,
Began to clean the blood and dirt
That caked the wet and calloused feet
Of that brave worthy -- with his tears
He bathed the cracked soles of the Knight.

The ageless sage stood tall, his staff
Clutched tightly in his fist. "Attend,
Good people of this town! You laugh
And jape like petty bullies, while
This poppycock, for once servile,
Gives of himself, devoid of shame
For this low task. You watch him bend
And humble self to serve a Knight.

"I tell you, in this filthy task
He proves himself your better; he
Has found the fault within himself,
That dreadful Pride that goes before
The Fall. He's gained great wisdom, more
Than any of you choose to show
When faced with such nobility
As evidenced in this sooth Knight."

The sage's words struck true, stabbed deep --
One woman, crying, dashed away
And gathered up a makeshift feast.
Another took her finest cloak and,
With a practiced seamstress' hand
Reformed the cloth into a robe
And fastened it in bold array
Around the scarred neck of the Knight.

More women acted, then the men --
The smiths broke out their finest tools,
While merchants offered goods and coin,
Each finding, in their shuttered hearts
The need to give, in fits and starts
At first; but soon, with smiles and tears
Surrendered precious gifts and jewels
In honor of the steadfast Knight.

They bathed and fed him, dressed his wounds
With soothing salves; they armored him
In golden plate and silver chain.
The young girls combed his knotted hair
Then bowed beneath his piercing stare,
Each hoping in their lovestruck hearts
That he would soon come back for them,
This gallant, handsome, worthy Knight.

At last, a hostler from the inn
Brought forth his Master's finest horse --
A massive beast, full eighteen hands
And trained for battle. Mane and tail
Were braided tight, and combat mail
Shone bright beneath its polished tack.
No longer shrift of all recourse,
He bowed his thanks, that regal Knight.

With bridle tight in hand, he turned
And led his fresh mount from the square
Into the dwindling daylight. Mists
Appeared around his feet, then rose
To cloak him from the sight of those
Who, proud and humbled by their work
Sent him, recovered, from their care.
Godspeed, they cheered, our valiant Knight!

They waved him into evening; then,
With fervent breath and rampant tongue
They spoke of their own charity
In voices full of prideful boasts --
"My gift, I'm sure, he loved the most!"
"Your gift? A bit of help, I'm sure,
But mine, I think, will more become
The gentle puissance of our Knight."

Some argued then. Some tipped a drink
To mark the day, but only one --
The sage, ignored now by the crowd --
Took notice of the weary gait,
The shoulders slumped by heavy fate,
The pain-bowed head; in all, the marks
Of far more years beneath the sun
Than could be borne by this young Knight.

The worthy sage, though slow with age,
Picked up his staff and forced his feet
To shamble at their quickest pace.
He reached the Knight as sunset fell
With brutal reds more suiting Hell
Than mundane sky. The horse stood still,
Hooves silent on the cobbled street,
Awaiting orders from the Knight.

The young man raised his head and stared
With eyes much older than the stars
Into the wise man's own. Within
That gaze the sage discovered more
Of pain and loss, of death and war
Than any man should ever learn.
"So many towns, so many scars,"
Whispered the nameless, timeless Knight.

"They offer everything and naught;
Mere fripperies, these gaudy things
They thrust upon me. Useless wealth
From those who have too much to spare.
They give their overstock, they share
Their plenitude as sacrifice
To one in service of the King.
They feed their pride to aid a Knight."

No bitterness defiled the words --
The sage heard only wisdom sought
And earned by one who paid a price
Too great by far. "I ask too much."
His hand came up as if to touch
The sinking sun. He held it so
Upon his palm, one last bright thought
Before grave darkness swallowed Knight.

The once-was sage, no longer wise,
But now an humble, bent old fool
With no more answers, heard these words:
"I ask for what they cannot face --
I search for one to take my place."
And then the horse and rider slipped
Into a world grown far too cruel
To grant rest to one brave, tired Knight.


Mikal Trimm has sold well over one hundred pieces of speculative fiction and poetry. He has been published in a wide and bewildering number of venues, both print and online, including recent (or forthcoming) appearances in Weird Tales, Black Gate, Postscripts, and Polyphony 6. His favourite fruit is the pomegranate.

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