This is my NaNoWriMo project for August 2012.  I’m posting one chapter at a time however many words I’ve written.  To see earlier chapters click here.  All comments welcome.  Story copyright Jemima Pett.

Chapter 9: Mind and Body

In which we meet the King of White Horse and he nearly meets with an accident

High up in one of the castle’s towers, King Benson looked out over the activities beneath him.

“What’s happening in the outer courtyard at present?” he asked, still looking from the window.

“The poetry festival, sire,” replied his steward, Bartleby, “Lady Margaret of Wark should be on stage at present.”

“Will she be coming to dinner?”

“Yes, sire.”

“And outside, that must be the Strong Men throwing those tree stumps around.”

“Yes, sire.”

“Anyone we know participating?”

“In the Open class Harrison and Crimp are both there.  Harrison should do well.  There are six youngsters trying their luck in the home competition.  Able, the smith’s son, should win but Princeling Louis should perform creditably.”  Bartleby summarised the prospects of all of them without reference to any schedule.

The king sighed. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance I could watch without causing a stir?”

“I doubt it, sire,” Bartleby replied, in a discouraging tone, as if the king was likely to attempt to visit without firm guidance.

“I hear Lupin gets away with these things at Buckmore, moving among the public and so on.”

“Yes, sire,” Bartleby said disapprovingly.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Bartleby,” the king said as he moved away from the window and started towards the door. “It’s time I set my own agenda for this castle.  I will not be a prisoner in it, bound by old-fashioned protocols.”

Bartleby said nothing, just followed his king out of the door and down the many flights of stairs that led to the inner courtyard.

The outer courtyard was packed to the gunwales as Daph of White Horse stepped up to the stage and prepared to give his recital.  Cheers rang out as soon as the crowd saw him, and the king stopped at the top of the last flight of steps, unnoticed, since all eyes were on the popular poet who was best known for checking them through their breakfast every day.

“Silence, please, for Daph of White Horse!” The announcer tried two or three times since the crowd was determined to show their appreciation for him – rather more than most of them appreciated his poetry.

“Friends, neighbours and guests,” started Daph, to more cheers.

“I know you are fed up with my long and rambling epic poems… ”

Cries of “no, more” or was it “no more!” interrupted him, but he carried on.

“… so I will only tell you one of those today.  First, I thought I would try a new verse form on you, and set you a challenge!”  There was a smattering of applause at this.  At the back on the stairs, the king settled down behind a group of people sitting right on the edge, determined to mingle with the crowd much as he had when he was a princeling.

“This verse form is called haiku.  It comes from the east and takes a very simple form, but is a challenge to be accurate and witty, or pithy if you prefer.” Murmurs greeted this; people were interested.

“The verse has three lines: the first line has five syllables, the second seven and the third five syllables again.  As I said it is a challenge, but also I think you will enjoy it.  Here is an example I made up during breakfast this morning:

The day dawns bright for

The Poetry Festival

Of White Horse Castle.”

He looked around and a few people applauded.  Most people were counting on their toes.

“Why isn’t it four, seven, four,” asked Freya as she counted syllables carefully.  “That would be much easier.”

“Maybe the people in the East have five toes,” laughed Hywel.

“It sounds easy enough to make them up, though,” said Betty.

Behind them the king smiled, enjoying the gossip around him.

“Here’s another!” called Daph, drawing the focus of the crowd back to him.

“The people arise

To welcome the presence of

Our glorious king!”

The people laughed and applauded, but Daph bowed in the king’s direction and a few people turned or craned their necks.

“I’ve been rumbled,” muttered King Benson to Bartleby.

“No matter, sire, Daph has their attention,” he murmured back.

“These things are fun, though,” the king added.  “We must introduce them at dinner.”

Bartleby inclined his head in acknowledgement that he had taken the request in hand.

“One more then, before I start my epic poem for today – and I warn you that unless you get bored it will take us through to the break.” Daph had the audience in his hand.

“Showers and sunshine:

Both in their part bring harvest.

Breakfast is assured!”

Cheers and applause rang out for this popular and appropriate haiku. Daph being the ledger clerk in the dining hall, most people associated him with breakfast.

“Now, if you want to go, go now,” he said.  “I hate seeing people leave in the middle of an epic; it makes me think you’re bored!”

People laughed, but a few people did indeed leave, among them King Benson and Bartleby, moving through to watch the Strong Man competition.  Betty muttered to the others that they might do the same, so they left their places on the wall and followed the people down the steps and through the main gate, unaware that they were in the presence of royalty.  By the time they reached the competition though, Freya and Hywel had strong suspicions, due to the number of bows they saw made to the group in front of them.

“Let’s go this way,” hissed Freya as they reached the competition ground.  The king had taken the left hand turn.  The four turned to the right and wandered along to find some space where they could watch some huge persons hurling large objects through the air.

There was a pause in the proceedings as six persons moved together to roll the objects out of the way and introduce two horse drawn wagons into the arena. The horses were unhitched and led away while the commentator announced the current standings.  In the Open competition Harrison led by four points from Mr T and Crimp, who were separated by just one point. Three other competitors were lagging behind and one had retired injured. In the local competition, Able led by ten points from Princeling Louis, who was tied with persons called Walnut and Hazel, while the other two competitors lagged behind.

Humphrey was enjoying himself immensely.  He had never seen anything like this, although he had searched some of his books to find some similar ideas.  He looked around at the outside of the castle, working out how they had got there, was it only two days ago?  It seemed to him he had been there forever.  The place they had entered the castle must be around the other side, he thought.  He watched the local competitors try to lift the wagons up by the shafts and wondered why it seemed so hard.  Then he noticed that the weight was forward and the wheels were at the back.  That would make things very heavy, he thought.  Their own cart had the wheels in the middle so the load was on the wheels, not the pusher.  The competitors had to lift the wagon and lower it again as many times as they could in sixty seconds.  The first two or three lifts were easy enough, but the weight tired them as time went on.  One only lifted twice, the next two lifted four times, but Princeling Louis made it to five, and Able and Walnut both managed seven.  Then more weight was put on the wagons for the Open Competition, and Humphrey noticed some wedges were put behind the wheels of one of the wagons.

They cheered as Harrison and Mr T went first, each of them lifting and lowering it an amazing twelve times.  Then came Crimp and a huge person named Wall.  They started lifting and lowering, but suddenly Wall’s wagon started to move, and with Wall’s own movement, it reacted against him and shot away towards the crowd behind it.  Humphrey felt a rush of air beside him and thought he saw Betty flying high overhead, landing on King Benson and pushing him out of the way.  People screamed as the heavily laden wagon charged towards them down an incline towards the castle moat.

“Let it go, save yourselves!” cried the announcer, but people quickly scrambled back to assess the damage and attend to two people who had been in the direct line of the wagon.

Wall, the bewildered competitor who had set the wagon in motion, sat on the ground looking at the trail of destruction the wagon had left behind it. “It just moved,” he was saying to one of the judges. “I didn’t do anything.”

Crimp was looking at the ground where the wagon had been, pointing out something to one of the officials and then pointing to his own wagon, which was still securely wedged.

“Ladies and Gentleman,” cried the commentator, “please stay where you are while we sort this out. There will just be a short delay until we start the final trial.  This round will be aborted for the remaining contestants.  Sorry, Harrison and Mr T but your efforts will not count.”

Both Harrison and Mr T were over by the side of the competition area looking at the path of the wagon, discussing something in earnest.  They looked over at the commentator and waved, then shrugged at each other. Humphrey looked across the ring to the place where Betty had jumped.  He couldn’t understand how she had leapt so far so fast, but he was glad she had as she had saved the king from being crushed.  He had been in the direct line of the runaway wagon.  Hywel and Freya didn’t seem to have noticed her.  They were busy arguing about whether the competitor, Wall, had pushed the wagon deliberately.  Hywel maintained that he couldn’t have pushed it so hard from where he was standing.

A party of people in white coats rushed from the castle and started tending the two people still lying on the ground.  The king got to his feet, having sat there for a few minutes.  He brushed himself down, waving away some attendants who were trying to do the same.  One attendant held Betty by the arm.  Humphrey listened to what was going on, and could only make out that Betty was to be taken up to the castle to be interviewed by Bartleby.  There were so many people talking at once he couldn’t work out who was talking to whom.  He swapped his listening to those tending the two people on the ground, to hear that one had a lucky escape and just squished two toes, which were bruised but not broken.  The other person had been badly injured and the white coated people were preparing to strap him to a board to carry him to the medical centre.

“Shall we wait, do you think, or go back to the poetry?” asked Freya, looking a little shaken.

Hywel looked at her before answering, “I think we’ll go back, don’t you?  But where’s Betty?” he added, looking behind him as if he’d lost something.

Humphrey wondered why he didn’t see her over with the king’s party, but didn’t say anything.

“Are you okay, Humphrey?” Freya asked.  “That was a bit shocking, wasn’t it?”

Humphrey nodded at her, and looked at Hywel.

“She must have gone off,” Hywel said.  “She does that sometimes.  Let’s go back then” and he turned and led them back up into the square.

Go to Chapter 10

The Way West #9
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