Chapter 20: In Which Night Falls and Fear Grows

The Sort-of Knight rubbed a large bump on the back of his head as he and the Princess walked in silence along the bottom of the valley toward the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains, which didn’t seem to be imaginary anymore. It was still bright, but the shadows were long as the sun fell toward the mountain range, great streaks of grey and blue and black blanketing ten thousand shades of green. Madison had seen the mountains in the sunsets of her childhood, and saw paintings in her home, but never experienced them so close, and so immense.

“That’ll do,” a man’s voice spoke out of the shadows, startling the travelers. Westley drew his sword and jumped in front of the frightened princess.

“We mean no harm,” Westley said carefully and softly, but his eyes were fierce.

The hidden man stepped out of the shadows. He was short, quite short, with a deep red beard and hard crusty skin. His clothing was made of animal skins like the old tribes. His long sword nearly met his length and his belt had several other weapons. He faced them without his weapon drawn, arms casually at his side, but Madison suspected that they were still not safe.

“We mean not to threaten you,” Westley repeated. The stranger nodded.

“Mean’ll know what treading show,” the man responded, looking at the pair of travelers with such intensity that Madison forgot her confusion over his strange words and tightened her grip on Westley’s arm.

But something changed in Westley as the bearded man spoke. When she first put her hand on his arm, she felt like he was tense and ready to jump into battle. But when the bearded man spoke the strange words just now, her protector breathed deeply and seemed to relax. Without lowering his sword, he spoke to the stranger.

“Treading spares where sundown’s friend’s gallop.”

The unknowable words that Westley spoke hung between the two men. There was a long silence, and with each second Madison wondered when the other man would attack. She had always read about adventures, thinking they were a fun and romantic kind of story. But now she was thinking that adventures were filled with danger and she would really prefer not to be in one anymore.

I must say, that as a narrator of many adventures, Princess Madison is quite right to feel this way. I cannot even begin to recall how many stories were never written down because the hero met a dreadful end. One hero made it all the way to the dragon’s lair only to sneeze loudly—a sneeze that echoed through the lair and told every dragon that he was there. Poor fellow. Another hero stepped out of the door of his house to begin his adventure and was immediately run over by stampeding ostriches. Adventures are dangerous things.

But as Madison’s ridiculous hero faced their riddling enemy, this particular adventure began to change. Westley lowered his sword, walked up to the bearded little man, and embraced him with a hearty hug. They began to speak to each other excitedly, babbling in a strange language in un-understandable stories. Madison knew that un-understandable was not a real word, but it seemed like Westley and her stranger only spoke in unreal words.

“What’s going on?” Madison demanded when she had recovered from the surprise. Westley turned to her and smiled.

“Oh, Little One, I am truly sorry. This is Sandar.”

“Ack, lil galloping friend,” Sandar said to Madison. She decided he was saying hello.

“Um, pleased to meet you,” Madison responded with a little curtsey, as she had been taught.

“Fires brill at nutling hill, think ye?”

“Ay,” Westley responded with a nod and a smile. The men began walking further down the valley, leaving Madison behind, her mouth open in puzzlement.

“Westley!” she cried, frustrated. “What’s going on?” If she had not been taught that it was quite rude to stamp her foot when she was angry, the Princess would have done just that.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Princess. I forgot that you don’t speak Mischmasch. Sandar has invited us to supper.”

“Are we safe?” Madison asked. She didn’t care that the strange man was watching their conversation.

“I would bet my life on it,” Sir Westley Cummerbund, III responded seriously. His eyes turned from their light glow to a dark seriousness behind his mask. She knew that he was telling the truth.

The three of them walked down the valley floor toward the mountains: Madison in a dirty pink dress with an old brown travel bag; a red-bearded stranger in animal skins and clanking weapons; and the tall, lanky, be-cloaked Westley. To anyone watching, it seemed a strange trio.

And, indeed, there was someone watching.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Even a little bit ominous: someone actually is watching our young Princess and her brave knight walking down the valley. It is exactly the kind of thing that happens in adventure books and leads to great danger for the heroes.

But, as it turned out, the person watching was not an enemy at all, but a magic bean seller looking for customers. He decided this strange, ragged little group would not have enough money to buy magic beans.

Little did he know, Westley had already bought magic beans that same day.

And little did he know, that Sandar was so rich he could have purchased the entire kingdom if had wanted to. His home, where the trio were heading, was deep within the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains, where dragons keep their lairs and great mysteries await within. Madison would have been truly frightened if she had known that many brave knights had walked down the very path that she was walking down, but they had never returned with the fortune they hoped to find. In fact, they never returned at all.

The mountains were a strange, deadly place. As the sun set and the valley grew dark, Madison felt the fear rise within her. Her stomach twisted in a painful knot. Her heart pounded in her chest. She felt her throat tighten in anxiety. Yet she followed Westley into the dark pass ahead, having no choice but to trust this ridiculous knight she had met just the day before.


Published in: on November 19, 2010 at 9:03 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Brenton,
    This is entertaining and I saw everything so clearly! Last strong light, with first lengthening shadows, etc. Like this and its unlikely, likable people.

    • Thanks so much, Maria! It is a story I started for my niece (Madison) that I’d like to finish this summer. Your comments are quite encouraging.

      • So glad! Funny and engaging! She should love it.

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