Knight Errant

  • 24 Jul - 30 Jul, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

It was my father who first told me about Sir Lancelot and King Arthur and all the rest of them, and I was just a little boy the first time that Sir Lancelot came to visit me. I was in bed, in the big bedroom at the top of the stairs, and he rode right up the staircase on his horse, with his lance and his armour and everything, and stood at the end of the bed, with the horse rearing up every now and then, and making that kind of gargling sound that horses make, while he talked to me. He kept his visor down so that I couldn't see his face, but his voice was very clear and powerful. He said I was never going to see his face, and he was right, I never have. He said he would always be there to help me or any maiden in distress that I might happen to hear about, and that if I liked I could come along with him on some of his adventures.

Well, you can imagine how I felt about that! I couldn't wait! I said I wanted to go and have an adventure right away, and we did! We went to Camelot first and he showed me the castle and the moat and the drawbridge and the round table, and I met Merlin and Guinevere and Sir Galahad and I watched them practising sword-fighting and jousting and having feasts, and Sir Lancelot introduced me to some of the maidens in distress that he had rescued. They had all fallen in love with him of course and would never leave him, but his heart belonged to Guinevere and so he wouldn't let them give him a hug or a kiss. I said they could hug me instead, but they didn't seem very interested in that.

After we'd been in Camelot for a while we went riding, with me sitting behind Sir Lancelot on the back of the saddle, and we found a maiden who was being kept prisoner in a tower by a horrible one-eyed giant about ten feet tall. Sir Lancelot told him he had better let her go if he didn't want to be put to the sword. That's what knights do to you if you're bad; they put you to the sword. Needless to say, the giant wouldn't let the maiden go, so Sir Lancelot had to put him to the sword. Then the maiden fell in love with Sir Lancelot and wanted to stay with him forever. He didn't want her, of course. He didn't seem to want to live with maidens, just rescue them.

Like I said, his heart belonged to Guinevere. Speaking for myself, I would have been content with one or two of the maidens.

Even though we'd been away for days and days we were able to get back to my bedroom by morning.

That was because Merlin could do magic, of course.

My parents never knew that I had been away.

He came back other nights and we went on other adventures. Sometimes he rode right up the stairs like he did on the first night and sometimes he would leave the horse out on the driveway.

I used to look down at it in the moonlight, a beautiful pure-white stallion, nibbling the lawn and making that little gargling sound again.

We fought and killed a dragon - put it to the sword because it had been eating virgins, which are a kind of maiden.

It was a very big dragon, bigger than a red London bus. Another time we found a witch who was casting evil spells that made women give birth to dead babies, and stopped the cows giving any milk. We had to burn her at the stake, like on Bonfire Night; because that's the only way you can kill a witch. If you put them to the sword they just come back to life again.

Even after my father left my mother. Sir Lancelot kept coming to pick me up at night and taking me out on adventures. In fact I think he came even more often after Dad left. He never wakened my mother; she never heard the armour rattling or the feet on the stairs or the horse making that little gargling sound. And I was always back in my bed before the morning.

Then Larry came, and started visiting my mother. He had a very loud voice and didn't treat her very nicely, but she seemed to like him nevertheless. They used to go out drinking, and they would come back, him talking loudly and laughing quite a lot, and sometimes he would stay until the morning.

I noticed that he used to hold her quite tightly by the shoulder, and once I saw him throw her down on the sofa very roughly. And he wasn't laughing that night. Dad was never rough with Mum like that. He knew how you were supposed to treat maidens.

I was worried about Larry.

I didn't like him.

The next time I saw Sir Lancelot I asked him about my mum and Larry. He agreed with me. He said that Larry sounded like the kind of man who deserved to be put to the sword. So I reminded him that he had said he would help me if ever I needed help, or if ever I came across a maiden in distress, and this seemed to fit both descriptions. I know my mother was a bit old to be a maiden, but Sir Lancelot said that that didn't matter and it was definitely a case for putting to the sword. But he couldn't use Excalibur because that was a special sacred sword.

He would need an ordinary sword for Larry. I had a look in the kitchen and found a small sword, about nine or ten inches long. Sir Lancelot said that would be all right. So we waited for them just inside the door that night and Sir Lancelot did what had to be done.

My mum didn't see Sir Lancelot putting Larry to the sword because it was so dark, and she just ran out screaming and screaming. She couldn't really remember anything about it afterwards, and because of this people seemed to get the idea that it had been my dad who had put Larry to the sword. I told them it wasn't, that it had been Sir Lancelot, but they wouldn't listen to me. They said I had just been in bed and had dreamt about Sir Lancelot. So there was nothing I could do. I couldn't stop them from putting Dad in prison.

My mum started to cry quite a bit after that and she let me sleep in her bed a lot of the time. I didn't like it when my mum cried. Sir Lancelot couldn't come of course while I was in her bed.

My mum and I went to visit Dad in prison about once a month. I sometimes managed to get a few minutes on my own with him while she went to the toilet or something, and when I did I tried to explain to him about Sir Lancelot. It was no good trying to talk about Sir Lancelot while Mum was there because she didn't approve of me talking about Larry's death. She thought it was too upsetting for me and I should try to forget about it. But Dad listened, and as time went by I think he began to understand more about what I was trying to explain to him.

He made some kind of arrangement with the people in the prison, for me to explain about Sir Lancelot to a woman named Dr. Sherman. Dr. Sherman was the first adult who really listened properly to what I was saying about Sir Lancelot. She asked a lot of questions and she wrote everything down. I had several talks with Dr. Sherman, and then she sent me to another doctor, a man-doctor named Nigel Barry. He asked me to call him Nigel, which was strange for a doctor. Nigel believed me about Sir Lancelot. So did Dr. Sherman. They were like Sir Lancelot; they rescued Dad from the prison. He was allowed to go home to Mum, and they're still together, living happily ever after.

But they haven't let me go home. At least not so far. They've put me in prison instead, in a tower in a big house, a kind of castle, where they have a torture chamber in the cellar, and lots of people, both men and maidens, in little cells like this one.

I've been here a very long time now. Longer than any of the others I think. I can remember a lot of Christmas dinners, so that must mean I've been here a lot of years. Five or a hundred years. Something like that. Mum and Dad used to visit me a lot at the beginning, but I don't see much of them now.

The people here have told me that I may be allowed to go home some day, but it doesn't sound to me like they think it's going to be very soon. There's something extremely odd going on in this place. Nobody's allowed to leave, and the doctors and nurses torture them all day long, so that some of them have gone completely crazy. My mum and dad say that they're trying to help me, but I can't see it. The only help I need is help to get out of here. You'd think Dad would understand, having been imprisoned himself. Of course what they don't know is that I can get out of here any time I like, because there's someone who really will help me - Sir Lancelot! He can come and visit me again now, because I have a bedroom all to myself. It's just one floor down from the very top of the tower. But he says it isn't time just yet. He wants me to spy for him first, find out what's going on here, what the doctors are doing to people. That's all right with me. I'm a very good spy.

The Head doctor, Dr, Karl Leeman, is an evil wizard who scares everybody and and makes them go mad sometimes. He made Cecil kill himself by cutting his wrists while he was having a bath, and he made Lorraine have a fit and crack her head on the wall of the laundry room. Lots of stuff like that happens here. Nurse Gunn, the one who talks with a funny accent, she's a witch and she's in charge of the torture chamber in the cellar. There's a maiden named Judith who lives just above me - in the top room in the tower - and Nurse Gunn takes her down to the torture chamber every time she cries. And Judith cries a lot. They tie her up and chain her to a table and then they give her electric shocks. After she's been down there you don't see her for a while. You don't hear her either. She's probably too frightened to do anything but lie in bed after she's been down there. I've told Judith that if she doesn't cry then maybe they won't give her electric shocks, but she doesn't want to talk about it. Judith has long brown hair and big dark eyes and she's very pretty. She's so pretty I think she might be a princess instead of a maiden. Yes, I'm certain she's a princess. Maybe that's why she won't let me kiss her. I've tried and she doesn't like it. Not everybody is allowed to kiss a princess. Just princes,

I think, and knights. I'm sure she'll kiss Sir Lancelot all right.

I've got a whole list of people now that Sir Lancelot is going to have to put to the sword. There's Dr. Leeman of course, and Dr. Patel and Charge Nurse Robinson and Nurse Fowler and Nurse Gunn.... Of course Nurse Gunn is a witch so she'll have to be burned at the stake. Maybe some of the others as well, it's hard to be sure.

Sir Lancelot will know the right thing to do.

When the men were here painting the corridors I stole this little plastic container of something called "turpentine substitute". It says on the label that it's "highly inflammable" and there's a little picture of a flame, and a stake.

I have it hidden in my secret compartment. Behind the piece of white stuff that they used to block off the old fireplace in my room.

If you know where to pull it it comes right out and there's

a space behind it like a little cupboard. I'm the only one who knows about it.

I've got other things in there as well.

There's a sword that I made for Sir Lancelot so that he wouldn't have to use Excalibur.

I made it out of an iron bar that the workmen left behind the time that they had the scaffolding at the back of the main building. I got a hard black stone as well and I've been sharpening it with that. Both edges. It took a very long time, but it's ready now.

It's ready for Sir Lancelot when he needs it. And I've got matches, and old newspapers and dry twigs and bits of wood. Things that Sir Lancelot will need for burning witches. I think it might be best for him to burn everyone here after he's put them to the sword, just to be on the safe side.

He'll rescue Princess Judith of course. I'm not sure if he's rescued any princesses before, but he probably has. That's even better than rescuing maidens. After she's rescued, Princess Judith won't have to cry any more. Maybe Sir Lancelot will marry her instead of Guinevere.

I think she's prettier than Guinevere.

Hey! Guess what! I've just heard Sir Lancelot's armour rattling somewhere nearby and I've had a look out the window. His horse is down in the car park, chewing at some of the leaves in the flower-bed.

You can see it by the light of the big lamp in the middle.

Sir Lancelot must be just outside on the stairs, waiting for me. I'd better get the sword, and the turpentine substitute, and all the other things... he's got a lot of work to do.

Don't worry Princess Judith! Don't cry anymore! It's almost over now. We're going to be free! And happy ever after.

I'm ready, Sir Lancelot!

It's time for all this evil to be swept away!!