The main character of my current project is named Will. Will lives in Camelot under the rule of the royal Penndragon family. This week’s post is a piece of Will’s history – part of why he is the way he is.
I had been eight years old, half my age now. Even then, I had chores around the castle and our small home inside the walls. I was sweeping dirt out the front door when they came.
No one moved as the men trickled in. Seventy, maybe eighty. Of more than two hundred. They walked slowly, supporting one another and weighed down under armor and packs. A few stumbled and were helped up by their comrades. Bystanders eventually began helping, taking over the support of the wounded so the exhausted could have a break.
I and a few other children dropped whatever we had been doing and ran to the group as they went to the Great Hall. We darted through the men, each looking for a different face. A few gave cries of delight and hugged their fathers in a grip that said they wouldn’t let go. When they were strong enough, the men smiled and picked up their children. Others winced from the pain and carefully pushed their children away, tears on their faces, but joy in their eyes.
The last of us kept looking. Every face, every soldier. Some of the men shook their heads when they saw me. Others looked away and some smiled faintly.
I searched the whole group. Where was he? Where was he? I started running through them, looking at everyone twice, three times.
The last of them shut the door to the castle and I stared up at the wall of wood. No. I had just missed him. There wasn’t any other explanation. There couldn’t be.
I tried to convince myself of that, but I couldn’t quite do it. So I ran to my secret cave, a crevice in the outer wall of the castle that I believed was all my own. Once wedged inside, it was difficult for anyone outside to see me. Those who did ignored me, unconcerned with what a little boy was doing.
When I woke up, Sir Manchmal sat just outside my cave, back against the wall. His eyes were closed, but I could tell he wasn’t sleeping. Something seemed different about my uncle though. He didn’t look happy any more and he cradled his right hand against his chest.
He opened his eyes at my movement. “Will.”
The gentleness in his voice was too much and I looked away, swiping the tears from my eyes.
“When is he getting home?” I asked in a flat voice.
Sir Manchmal ran his left hand over his face, sighing hard. “We both know he won’t, Will. I’m sorry.”
I curled up into a tight ball on the ground and didn’t answer.
“He fought like a man, just like he taught you to be. The officers made sure he was buried with honor.” We both knew the words didn’t matter.
A half hour passed and I cried silently. The tears slid down my nose and dropped into the dirt. I wouldn’t let Sir Manchmal see me like that though, so I stayed in my cave.
“Your mother needs you, Will. She’s sad too.”
“Now that your father is gone, you’re the man of the house. Can you be that?”
I sat up. “Yes.”
“Good. Then I also want you to be my squire. I’ll train you up to be a great knight and a great man, just like your father. Alright?”
“He wasn’t a knight.”
“No, but he lived like one.”