Upon a Wicked Time
Once upon a hill, a breeze danced merrily. Brushing through blades of grass and bright green leaf, it was a song of joy, nature’s wind chime. A wizened oak stood sentinel against such foolishness — it’s hundred – year – old trunk broad support for spreading branches. The grass beneath the tree was emerald, the shadows welcoming. The sun had passed behind a white, fluffy cloud, and the resultant haze imbued the hill with a soft, glowing radiance.
Beneath the hill, perched halfway to the floor of the valley, was a large house. The frenetic activity of its occupants could not be seen from here. Orders rang out, summons were answered, wheels clattered upon the gravel road, guests were welcome — all these sounds were silenced by distance and by a curious serenity present beneath the spreading oak.
Time seemed to slow, the breeze altered character, seemed evocative. Fate clapped its hands in glee and summoned the players upon this magical stage. The first of these, a young girl, sixteen years of age, sat upon a blanket beneath the spreading branches of the tree, reading to her youngest brother.
“Harry, do you not wish to find out what happens Sir Bethune?”
“But I’m hungry.”
“You are forever hungry. Why is that, Harry? You eat as much as the other boys.” She kept her book marked with one finger as she reached over and brushed his knees clean. “And how do you get dirty so quickly?”
“I don’t care if I’m dirty. I’m hungry.”
“We can have tea and biscuits as soon as the duke arrives.”
“Why do we have to wait?”
“Because we are to be presented to the duke, that’s why. And must be on our very best behavior,” she said, smiling. She combed back a lock of his hair with her fingers.
“Don’t want to be presented, Tessa.”
“You must resign your itself to it, I’m afraid, Harry, and in the meantime, we can discover how Sir Bethune slays the dragon. How do you think he will?”
“He’ll cut out his liver!” Harry drew an imaginary sword and thrust it into the air.
Tessa pretended to shiver. “Sir Bethune is about to ride down into the valley where the dragon has its lair. Can you not wonder how afraid he must be?”
“Knights aren’t afraid, Tessa.”
“I would be, if I were about to confront a dragon, Harry.” She smiled over at him. “’The shadows lengthened as if earth and sky darkened together,’” she read “‘a most peculiar gloom, almost a presentiment of evil. There was the scent of it in the air, a stench of old dragon. Another odor, that of rotten meat. Sir Bethune sat straighter in his saddle.’” She put down the book, stared off into the distance. “He is about to venture into the most important battle of his life, Harry. Armed with nothing more than his sword and his honor.”
“And a helmet and armor, Tessa,” Harry contributed.
She smiled. “All polished to a shine, Harry.” And beneath that armor, he would be tall, his chest broad, his shoulders wide. His eyes would be silver gray and his hair black and thick, worn too long for a knight. He would have even features and a decidedly aristocratic nose. His mouth was full, his lips almost always quirked in a smile. What did his laugh sound like?
“Tessa?” She blinked. Gone was the night with the appearance of Jered Mandeville, Duke of Kittridge.
She picked up the book again. “’Fog relative to the most noxious steam, lay antidote to invader. Sir Bethune raised his sword high, brought his arm down in arc, and cut it clean through, creating a path for his destrier.’” She glanced at Harry. “Knights must be especially brave, Harry. More so than other men. Do you think it’s because they are honored so?”
Instead of answering her, Harry and looked up with an expression of slack – jawed astonishment on his face.
She turned her head and he was there. The knight. The duke.