When King Arthur spoke his Code of Conduct to the Knights of the Round Table, he said, in part, …ever be courteous and never refuse mercy to him that asketh mercy. Keep thy word to all and be of good faith.
As was his custom, every night before he went to sleep, Arthur read his King Arthur book. He’d memorized the entire Code of Conduct. The rest was about being courteous, keeping damsels safe, fighting noble battles, and protecting the weak.
He laid his book on the nightstand. “Good words to live by,” he whispered.
Mom knocked on his door, “Arthur! Turn out that light and go to sleep!”
“Aw, Mom. It’s Friday night.” Arthur clicked out the light and pulled the covers up to his neck.
Mom didn’t understand why he read the same book over and over and never tired of King Arthur, Lady Guinevere and Camelot. If he could live in another time, more than anything, he wished he could be King Arthur… If he could…
“My Lord. The mayor of Yorkshire awaits in yonder chamber. Shall I send him away?”
King Arthur scowled at the maid. “I have no time to listen to his complaints. How can I make him understand? I must raise taxes again, if I’m to feed an army and keep our enemies from storming the city gates. Lord knows he tries my patience.”
“Yes, my Lord. The hour is late. You must prepare for tonight’s royal banquet. Perhaps you can speak to the mayor after dinner. Already, Lady Guinevere and her ladies are in her chamber, dressing. She is most excited about this evening’s entertainment.”
King Arthur sighed. He shoved his papers aside. “I’ll go now. Has Sir Lancelot returned? I expected him yesterday.”
A rosy blush crept across the maid’s cheeks. “Yes, my Lord. He awaits your command…”
“Arthur. Time to get up, sweetheart. Hurry and dress. I’m fixing waffles.”
Arthur threw back the covers. Waffles! Yum! Bet they didn’t have waffles in King Arthur’s court. Guess breakfast is better in the good ole USA in 2014.
Arthur attached his King Arthur satin cape to the back of his shirt. Mom said he could dress like King Arthur on Saturdays, just not a school day. Today, he and his best friend, Vera, were riding their two mares, Lady Elaine and Morgana, to Uncle Percivale’s ranch where the horses would spend the winter.
For the first time, Mom allowed him to take the horses to Uncle Percivale without an adult tagging along. Just like King Arthur said, Should anyone require ye of any quest, so that it is not to thy shame, thou shouldst fulfill the desire. Just like King Arthur, he would fulfill the task with glory and honor.
Spending the day with Vera wasn’t exactly hard time, either. Vera loved Camelot as much as he did. She was his Lady Guinevere to his King Arthur and would wear a long veil attached to her flaxen hair. Today, they would take the horses on a royal quest together. He would prove himself worthy...
Even on the country road, the passing cars made the horses nervous. Arthur tugged on Lady Elaine’s reins, keeping her steady. Maybe Mom was right. Riding two horses four miles on a country road wasn’t a job for 12-year-old kids.
Vera had her hands full with skittish Morgana. Every time a car passed, it took several minutes to get her back under control. Arthur thought he should have let Vera ride Lady Elaine, the gentler of the two horses.
“My Lady. Perchance we should dismount and walk a while. Or exchange horses? Morgana appears unnerved. I fear for your safety.”
“Never fear, my Lord Arthur. Morgana is always spirited. The abundance of carriages on the road frightens her. Never fear. I’m an experienced rider.”
Arthur turned. A hot rod barreled down the road, engine roaring, teenagers hanging from the windows, waving and screaming.
Arthur pulled Lady Elaine off to the shoulder and gestured for Vera and Morgana to follow. His heart raced. Perhaps Uncle Percival should have fetched the horses in his trailer, after all. Morgana reared as the car raced past.
“Vera, hold her!” Arthur jumped off Lady Elaine. Holding the reins in one hand, he grabbed for Morgana’s bridle. She pulled away, her eyes wild, tossing her mane as she side-stepped. She reared onto her hind legs.
Vera lost her grip and fell, her ankle twisted under her, tears streaming down her face.
With her rider unseated, Morgana turned and raced back down the road toward home.
Arthur’s horse shied. “Whoa, Lady Elaine.” The horse yanked the reins from his hand and raced after Morgana. Arthur knelt beside Vera and straightened her leg.
King Arthur had admonished his Knights. By no means be cruel, and always render aid to ladies, damsels, and gentle women in distress.
“Are you okay?” Arthur took Vera’s hand.
She shook her head. “It hurts.”
King Arthur knelt beside his beloved. “Guinevere, my dear, are you injured?” He drew off his cape and laid it across her body. “The horses have fled, my dear. I’m afraid we’re on our own.”
Guinevere’s lips trembled. “I have no fear. I trust, you’ll care for me, my Lord.”
Like in his Round Table storybook, Arthur must render aid to a real damsel in distress. But, with both horses gone and Vera injured, how was he to do that?
“Vera. Give me your cell phone. I’ll call Mom!” Arthur put his hands under Vera’s arms and scooted her into the grass beside the road.
Vera pulled her phone from her pocket. “I think it’s broken.”
“Now what?” Arthur gazed up and down the road. Now that they needed one, there wasn’t a car in sight. What would King Arthur do? “Can you walk?” Arthur tried to help Vera to her feet.
With pressure on her left foot, she sank back to the ground. “Oww! I can’t.” New tears flowed down her cheeks.
“Okay. We’ll just wait for someone to come by.”
“Here comes a car.” Arthur ran into the road and waved. “Stop! We need help!”
The window rolled down as the car slowed and stopped. An old man leaned across the seat. Grey whiskers sprinkled his cheeks. His wrinkled shirt and greasy slacks looked like he’d slept in them. “Johnny? Is that you? What’s wrong? Is Shelly alright?”
Johnny? Shelly? Arthur shook his head. “I’m Arthur and this is Vera. She fell off her horse and sprained her ankle. Can you drive us back into Avalon?”
“Get in the car, Johnny. I’ll take you home to Mother.”
Arthur helped Vera to the car and into the back seat. Arthur leaned over the front seat. “Thank you, sir. If you’re in a hurry, if you’ll lend me your cellphone, I’ll call my mother to come and pick us up.”
The old man turned and smiled. “Now, Johnny, you know Mother is holding dinner.” The car surged forward.
Chill bumps raced up Arthur’s arm. He put his hand to Vera’s ear. “I don’t think this guy is all there.” Arthur wound his finger in a circle by his ear. “He’s headed the wrong way.”
Vera spoke up. “Excuse me, sir. Avalon is the other way. Could you just stop and let us out? We’ll catch a ride with someone headed back to town.”
Instead of slowing, the engine revved. Trees and fences flashed past the speeding car.
Vera plucked Arthur’s arm. “Make him stop. I want to go home.” She began to cry.
Thou shouldst never hold a lady or gentle woman against her will.
This old man wasn’t upholding King Arthur’s Code of Conduct at all. How could Arthur right this wrong? He shook the old man’s shoulder again. “You have to stop. You can’t keep us here. You’ve made a mistake. We’re not Johnny and Shelly. Stop the car!”
“Now, Johnny. You never came home from school. I’ve been looking for you for two days. Your grandma is very upset.” He leaned forward and began to hum, as though he’d forgotten the children in the back seat.
“Don’t cry, Vera. He’s not going to hurt us,” Arthur whispered. “He thinks we’re his kids. He’ll run out of gas pretty soon. When he stops the car, we’ll jump out and scream for help. The poor guy is sick.”
The car slowed as it entered the Westershire, a small town ten miles south of Avalon.
“I have an idea.” Arthur leaned forward again. “Father? Thanks for the ride to school. You can drop us off here. We’ll walk the rest of the way.”
The old man’s eyes squinted, and then a frown crept over his face. “No, Johnny. Not this time. I should never have let you walk that day. I knew something terrible…” The old man’s voice trailed off to a mumble. His head nodded as the car swerved toward a parked car on the curb.
Arthur threw his body across Vera. “Hold on Vera! We’re going to−”
A pain shot across Arthur’s head. Sirens sounded in the distance. Blurred faces appeared and disappeared. The trees and bushes of an English countryside replaced the street and city sidewalk…
“Arthur! Arthur! Can you hear me?” Lady Guinevere’s words ended with a sob. “My Lord has fallen in battle. I fear he lies now he may die.” Her cool hand touched his face. “My Lord, return to me, for my life has no meaning without thee.”
“Fear not, gentle lady. The wound is not grave.” Sir Lancelot! Once again, he’d come to aid his King.
Arthur lifted his hand. “My good knight, Sir Lancelot. Take care of Lady Guinevere. I fear…I may die…” His hand fell back onto his chest.
“Arthur. Wake up now. It’s Mother. You’re in the hospital. Everything’s alright. Vera’s right here beside me. Wake up, Arthur.”
Arthur struggled to open his eyes. “Mom? Vera? What happened?” He gazed at the colored balloons floating over his bed and the potted plant across the room. A nurse in a crisp white uniform came through the door.
“I see our young man is awake. I’ll let the doctor know.” She backed out and closed the door.
He remembered! The horses running away−Vera’s injured ankle−the old man picking them up and crashing the car. “Mom! Did the horses get home okay? And your ankle?” He glanced down at Vera’s bandaged foot.
“The horses and I are all fine. See? I’ve got crutches. My ankle’s not broken.”
“And the old man? He was sick or something. He thought we were his kids. Is he okay, Mom?” Arthur grabbed his mother’s arm.
Mom shook her head. “He’s in the hospital in Derbyshire, near his hometown. I spoke to his daughter. It’s very sad.
“Mr. Merlin has Alzheimer’s dementia. Apparently, several years ago, he was taking care of his grandson while the parents were on vacation. One day, the boy walked to school with a girl in the neighborhood. The children were struck by a drunk driver and the boy was killed. Mr. Merlin blamed himself for not driving the children to school. Poor man has never been the same since.
“Several days ago, he found the car keys and took the car. He’s been missing for two days. When he saw Vera and you, he thought you were his grandson. He didn’t mean to hurt you. They’re taking good care of him now.”
“I knew something was wrong when he called me Johnny. “
Vera leaned forward. “You’re my hero Arthur. You protected me from hitting the front seat when we crashed. That’s when you hurt your head.”
Ever it is a worshipful knight’s deed to help another worshipful knight when he seeth him in great danger…
“I only did what King Arthur said I should do. I protected my lady when she was in danger.” Arthur squeezed Vera’s hand.”
“Here. I brought you a present.” Vera pulled a book from a bag on the floor. “It’s an English translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, originally written in Latin in 1718. It’s one of the earliest accounts of King Arthur and his adventures.”
“Oh, Vera! It’s beautiful. I’ve been trying to get this from the library for over a year. Where did you find it?”
“From my grandfather’s library. When I told him how much you loved stories about King Arthur, he said I should give you his book. Do you like it?”
“I love it. Thank you so much.” Arthur laid his head back on the pillow. “Do you mind if talk to my Mom for a minute?”
“Of course. I should be going. My mother’s right outside.” Vera picked up her crutches. She turned and waved at the door. “See ya.”
Should anyone require ye of any quest, so that it is not to thy shame, thou shouldst fulfill the desire.”
Arthur knuckled his eyes. “I didn’t do a good job, Mom. You trusted me with the horses. I thought I was old enough, but I did everything wrong. I should have let Vera ride Lady Elaine. It’s my fault that Morgana spooked and threw her. Vera’s sprained ankle, the horses running away, and getting into the car with Mr. Merlin... I should have known better…”
“Sometimes things are beyond our control even when we do our best, Arthur. It doesn’t mean you did everything wrong. When Vera hurt her ankle, you tried to get her home as quickly as possible. And, you protected her when the car crashed. Now, stop worrying and go to sleep. Doctor says you can go home in the morning. If you’re feeling better tomorrow, you can ride Morgana to Uncle Percivale’s ranch. I’ll ride Lady Elaine.”
“You mean, you still want me to help even after all that’s happened?” Arthur’s eyes opened wide.
“Indeed I do. I can’t do it without you. ”
For a knight that is courteous and kind and gentle will find favor in every place…
Good words to live by.
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Black Cat's Legacy and Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer