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 7: Festival of White Horse
In which Humphrey learns to summarise things and ends up in the place of his dreams
Betty was worried about leaving Hywel alone in the evening, but she and Freya wanted to find out more about life at White Horse so didn’t want to simply return to the hostel after they eaten.
“Would you like to look after Hywel this evening, Humphrey?” Betty asked.
Humphrey straightened his back in pride at being given such responsibility. “Yes, Betty,” he said. “Can you get a schedule for the festival for me?” he added, since he didn’t have much idea of what it was, and although he’d seen some little books on a table that might have been a schedule he hadn’t been close enough to ask for one. He was happy to sit quietly with Hywel though. So much went on at Castle White Horse he was feeling very tired through watching everything. He’d turned off his special hearing entirely as there was so much noise.
Hywel seemed glad of his company. He was still lying on the bed, looking miserable. Humphrey made sure he got plenty to drink as Betty had asked him. He went to the end of the hall to refill the jug with water from a fountain in the corner. There were a number of small books on a shelf nearby. He looked at their titles. Things To Do in the White Horse Realm had a picture of the castle in the centre and a number of small pictures in circles around it. They were all taken in sunshine, which proved to Humphrey that the sun did exist here, since he hadn’t seen in since he left the forest. Opportunities For Craftspeople At White Horsehad pictures of weavers, basket makers and smiths on the cover; it sounded like something Betty might be interested in, he thought. Guidance for Visitors to the Castle has a black and white sketch of the castle underneath the title, then moved straight into its introduction. White Horse Festival 2010 seemed as if it might be the elusive schedule Humphrey had been hoping to see. There were others including Common Wildlife of the Realm and Code of Practice for Business in White Horse Realm, which Humphrey passed over quickly. Looking round, he decided no-one would mind if he picked them up and brought them back to his bunk. Jug in one hand, leaflets in the other, he made his way back to Hywel.
“I found these,” he said. Hywel opened his eyes and closed them again.
“Are they interesting?”
“I haven’t read them yet. Shall I read them to you?”
“No,” Hywel said. “Just tell me what they say.”
Humphrey frowned. If Hywel wanted him to tell him what they said he would have to read them to him. He sat on the bunk for a few minutes trying to work out what this meant. He made up his mind, turned the pages of Guidance for Visitors, scanning them in his usual way, closed it and started reciting:
“Castle White Horse welcomes visitors from all parts of the realms. In order to get the most from your stay, we advise you to study this booklet and use the tips and suggestions in it to ease your passage….”
“Humphrey,” Hywel called.
“When visiting the castle, you should ensure you have your visitor’s pass with you at all times. This is your …”
“Humphrey!” called Hywel, a little louder.
“Hywel?” asked Humphrey.
“Have you learnt that by heart or something?”
“Yes. I read it.”
Hywel lay back, digesting this information. “That’s very clever,” he said, staring at the ceiling.
“Do you want me to continue?” Humphrey asked.
“No… Have you ever heard of summarising?”
“Is that making a summary of something?”
“Yes, that’s right. When I said, tell me what they say, I was asking for a summary.”
“Oh,” Humphrey looked mournful again.
“So, what are the most important things in the Guidance for Visitors?” prompted Hywel after a pause.
“Um… keep your pass on you at all times. Register with the hostel . Meal times are 6 till 10 and 5 till 8. Curfew is 9.30 except on holidays. Meetings with the steward by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Medical Centre is free to visitors. Visitors to the School of Agriculture must register with the school office. Visitors to the library are welcome but may not remove books from the premises. It’s open 8 till 7 daily…”
“Does it say why visitors can have meetings with the steward?”
“Yes there was a long list of reasons. Do you want me to tell you them?”
“Was there anything about application for citizenship?”
“Oh.” Hywel sounded dejected.
“It does say ‘persons wishing to apply to be subjects of the King of White Horse’.” Humphrey said after a short pause while he applied some logic to Hywel’s question and came up with something of a similar nature.
“Ah!” said Hywel, sounding more satisfied.
“Shall I carry on?”
“No,” Hywel sighed. “I think I’ll sleep for a bit. Do you mind staying with me?”
“I like staying with you. I shall read the Festival schedule and do some thinking.”
“That’s good,” said Hywel, turning over then turning back, trying to find a comfortable position for his arm.
“Sleep well,” said Humphrey, and he buried his nose in the schedule. It listed all sorts of interesting events that happened on each of the three days, some of which had details of how to enter. This was going to keep Humphrey busy for a bit as he cross-referenced the different activities with reference books in his memory. Having read the schedule, he settled down in his bunk comfortably while his brain sorted everything out for him.
“On the first day, tomorrow, there is an opening ceremony in the inner courtyard at 10. Then a race round the inner courtyard for foot runners, then one for wall runners. You have to put your name down for those by 9 tonight. Those are followed by story-telling by Narrators all afternoon, and children’s games. In the outer courtyard there is a poetry festival starting at 1. Some people are named. From 4 anyone can read poems. There is a prize for the best recital and the best original poem. Outside there is a Strong Man competition, the All-Comers section entries closed last week, the White Horse section entries by 9 tonight.” Humphrey finished his summary of Day One and looked at Hywel.
“Good summary,” Hywel nodded at him.
“Wall running!” Betty said, eyes shining. “I used to love that!”
“Watching or doing?” asked Freya. “I love watching, but there aren’t many females who take part.”
“No, it’s not allowed in some castles. Mine didn’t mind when you were young, but not for grown-ups. Pass me the schedule, please, Humphrey.” Betty looked at the Day One page, then turned to the entry conditions near the back.
“Any well-known poets speaking, Humphrey?” Freya asked.
“One o’clock, Benjamin of Slough; half past, William of Sowerby; two o’clock, Sherston of Fortune; half past, Cuthbert of Palatinate; three o’clock, Lady Margaret of Wark; half past, Daph of White Horse.”
“It’s like having your own personal encyclopaedia, isn’t it!” laughed Freya.
“Is it a Narrathon in the inner courtyard?” asked Hywel, looking over at Betty’s schedule. He was looking less pale and Betty had approved his progress when they woke up that morning. He had insisted on accompanying them to breakfast even though Betty had wanted him to rest more.
“The Narrathon is on Day Two in the outer courtyard,” said Humphrey. “Are the poets well-known?” he added.
“Some are,” Freya replied. “I’m sure I’ve heard of Benjamin, Cuthbert and Lady Margaret. Will this Sherston of Fortune find us out?”
She looked at Hywel then Betty, who exchanged glances of their own.
“We’ll have to make sure he doesn’t meet us.” Betty said firmly. “I’m going to enter the wall run,” she added.
“Really? Is that wise?” asked Freya.
“Who will you enter as?” asked Hywel. “Betty of Fortune might attract unwanted attention.”
“Oh, I think I can manage that.”
“What, even if you win?” Hywel pressed her.
“I won’t win. I’m going for the fun of it. To stretch those muscles I haven’t used for years. I’ll fall off if it’s a real problem,” she added.
“What else is happening in this Festival, Humphrey – just the main thing each day?” asked Hywel.
“Day two is the Narrathon. There is a craft show in the Great Hall. Day Three is the horse race out on the Cursus.”
“The what?” asked Freya.
“That’s what it said. I didn’t know it wasn’t a normal word,” said Humphrey.
“Could be the local name for the racecourse,” said Betty.
“There’s a Grand Banquet and prize-giving in the Great Hall in the evening.” Humphrey continued, finishing his summary.
“Well, I don’t suppose that’ll be something we’ll go to,” said Freya, reaching out for the schedule that Betty had put on the table in front of her.
“Maybe we should consider slipping out during that, or just before,” mused Betty.
“Unless we decide to stay here and apply for citizenship,” added Hywel, making Humphrey frown at the term.
“Well, we have three days to decide our futures,” said Betty, “What are we going to do today?”
“I think I’ll rest some more this morning,” said Hywel, gaining looks of approval from both Freya and Betty.
“I want to look around some more,” said Freya, “maybe I’ll meet you back here at lunchtime.”
“That’s fine. I want to look at the wall running course and maybe see if I can have an appointment with the steward. Do you want to look at the Library, Humphrey?”
Humphrey’s eyes lit up. He had thought of little else.
“Well,” Betty said, smothering a grin at his reaction, “let’s you and I escort Hywel back to the hostel, then we’ll go to the inner court and get you settled there.”
Less than half an hour later, Humphrey was in the possession of a yellow pass enabling him to visit all public sections of the Library, with a special endorsement for the Natural Philosophy and Research sections. He could hardly contain his excitement as Betty left him at the huge double wooden doors that stretched up to the ceiling and met in an arch above him. His dream was about to come true.