This is our first story, so there are a couple of things that I want to clear up before we get started. First I want to define fantasy and by extension what we are looking for here at The Cove , because even though this story does fit squarely into the fantasy definition, there is much more that we are looking for.
So in the interest of full disclosure, here is a definition of what we call fantasy:
Fantasy is anything that is fantastic, if it is Elves , and Dwarves, or just an Elvish impersonator we want it. If it is King Arthur, Robin Hood, gods and goddess, nymphs, and fawns, we want it. If your writing really looks like SciFi but has these guys with semi magical powers, or the starship that can go faster than light, we want it. If it goes bump in the night, but does not scare you out of your wits, we want it.
Now that you have a bit of an idea of what we are looking for, let’s get on with the good stuff. With no further adieu:
“Theodora, get that door open before I swat you!”
Bit pulled her blonde hair out of her eyes, and pushed the door open with her hip. Lord in Heaven, she hated serving food. The trays were heavy and she was always afraid she would drop the soup in someone’s lap. Taking orders from Claire was not easy either. Claire always called her by her given name and she hated it!
“Don’t call me that! I won’t answer if you do! You know to call me Bit.”
Theodora. Her mom laid that name on her. “Your father never cared, he didn’t stick around long enough to even see you born, so I thought about the best name I could find and there it was, Theodore, but I couldn’t name you that, could I, you’re a girl aren’t you?” As if she were confirming that for herself. So all the adults around her called her Theodora. And she hated it.
“Well, I wouldn’t have to call you anything if you’d keep up with what you are supposed to be doin’, and not always day-dreamin’ , silly girl,” Claire whispered as they got closer to the table filled with giggling women.
She had thought long and hard about her name, ever since she realized it was her name. She used to get teased, but as soon as she got old enough to fight, the teasing stopped.
Bit’s mother had died when she was six and Claire, her aunt, brought her into the kitchen and started her peeling vegetables and serving. That was six years ago.
One day when she was helping Edward carry in a bucket of mead that was beginning to slop all over the floor and her, he, the King, stood, walked to her and easily took it from her, setting it on the table for his knights and guests to start dipping from.
“That was a big load for a little bit like you.” And then he ruffled her hair.
After that she started insisting everyone call her Bit. It was easy to convince her pals but others were more resistant. Again, after some minor tussles, no one wanted to get hurt just because she wanted to change her name, more of the people her age started calling her Bit. But the adults were different, she was not old enough yet to demand respect from them. Someday, she told herself, someday.
She and Claire were placing the loaves of bread on the table when the lady of the castle, Guinevere, spoke. “I do hope you have a special meal planned for this evening meal. He will be riding in about that time, according to the boy he sent ahead this morning.”
“Oh yes, m’Lady. We are having roasted boar. The hunters shot a big one and brought it in three days ago. We dressed it and I started preparing it last night. It will be ready to fall apart on his plate when he arrives, m’Lady.”
“That is perfect. His favorite and I am sure he has not had time to do much hunting on this trip. He will be pleased. Would you please bring out some mare’s milk? I have a desire for that today.”
“Oh yes, m’lady. Right away. I’ll send Theodora right away.”
Bit winced at hearing her name. She had been day-dreaming again. When she heard that he was coming home today, the procession that accompanied his return came to her mind. There would be people in the road welcoming him, his knights riding in before and after him and his protectors on either side of his mount, swords at hand.
She wanted nothing more than to be a part of it.
She hated being a girl. The only time she had seen women ride with him they were dressed in their finest riding clothes, never a sword or knife to be seen. Bit wanted to dress in armor and protect him, not serve him his cheese.
Back in the kitchen, Claire turned to her. “Now off as fast as you can to the stables. Find James and tell him to milk a mare for the lady. If you get back here before she leaves the table, you can have a few minutes free before we have to set up for the evening meal.”
“I’ll do it but I’ll hold you to my free time when I get back.” Claire had not always kept her promises.
Bit ran out the kitchen door, down the path to the stables. The main door was not open as most of the horses kept in the stables were all gone on this journey with the King. Bit knew it had been an important journey. There had been talk of his visit to his sister’s holdings at the evening meals for many nights before they left. Something about his sister and her son causing trouble in the land was what the servants had talked about. Bit didn’t understand how it could be but she had also heard that the boy was the King’s son. “How can he be the King’s son and not live here?” Bit wondered this to herself because when she asked she’d had her ears boxed by Claire.
Bit ducked under the fenced corral and slipped into the stable. There were windows way up high but coming in from the bright sun, it seemed to be as dark as full night inside.
“Whatcha doin’ here, girl?” boomed a voice right next to her.
She jumped and let out a small screech.
“James, you scared me! I’ll be lucky to have enough strength to get back to the kitchen after that!”
A deep throated chuckle was his response.
“Here, I brought you a sweet roll. The ladies just had their meal and we made honey bread for them today. There was some left, they hardly seem to eat anything.”
“Thank thee,” he said, bit off half the roll and started chewing. Bit had known him for as long as she could remember. He used to visit her mother before she died and would tell Bit about all the colts born in the spring and training the huge horses the knights used to fight. The knight counted on his horse to know where he wanted to go without using the reins because with all his armor on, sword in one hand and shield in the other, all he could do was lean and press with his knees to give direction. That took a lot of training of the horses and James seemed to be able to train them without breaking their spirit, or so he said the King said.
“James, I’m in a hurry. The Lady G wants some mare’s milk. Do you have a mare here that can give up some?”
“More milk? Oh yes, the King is due home tonight. I swear, I’d never heard of such a thing before she came. Mare’s milk to help produce a baby. She especially always wants some mare’s milk the night he comes home from a trip. All our ladies before her and around her seem to get pregnant without mare’s milk and it doesn’t seem to be helping her. Well, its not my place to question her. I am just lucky I have had mares feeding most times she asks. Edward! Come here!”
Bit’s best friend Edward walked over from the shadows. “Hi.”
“Did he send you in this morning?” Bit asked.
“Yes, he wanted me to let the Lady know he was coming.”
Bit heard James gruffly whisper, “Probably to make sure her bed is empty.” Bit didn’t understand what he meant. He turned to Edward and continued, “Go to Faerie’s stall and milk her for the Lady. Only take a cupful. Her foal needs it more than the Lady.”
Bit’s eyes were used to the dim light now and she followed Edward back to the stall where a mare and colt stood. “Stay outside until I get settled. She should be good, but with these feet, she only needs to shuffle and I will be maimed.”
Edward talked to the huge horse and moved slowly. He was fourteen years old and tall for his age. He managed her well and she let him have a cup of milk without too much trouble. “Here Bit, cover it and take it to her as fast as you can, if you get it to her while it is still warm, she will thank you.”
“How do you know?”
“I brought the last one in the middle of the night before he left.”
“Edward, I will have some time free after, will you, since he is not here?”
Edward was now a page to the King but had been Bit’s friend since they both started working in the kitchen. They still got to see each other sometimes around mealtime. He would often sneak into the kitchen when the King was eating.
“Yes, I will meet you at the steps to the tower. I have something I went to show you.”
“Good. Until later.
“Yes, until later.”
Bit walked as quickly as she could and not spill all the milk out of the cup. The kitchen was filling with the smell of the roasting boar filled with onions.
The door to the dining room was open and Bit heard Claire. “I’m sure she will be right here, m’lady. Here she is!” Bit sat the cloth-covered mug in front of her and the Lady smiled, reached into her pocket and pulled out a small quartz stone. “I found this on my walk yesterday, Theodora. It carries the color of the wild rose deep inside. It might bring you luck.”
Bit took the small offering, still warm from the Lady’s hand and curtsied, speechless.
“Say thank you, you ungrateful girl!” whispered Claire.
Th-th-thank you m’Lady! It is beautiful!” Bit’s fingers wrapped tight around her gift.
Claire waved her hand and Bit took off to the steps to meet Edward. It was just a few minutes later that he arrived.
“I have something to show you,” he said.” We have to climb all the way up.”
“All the way? How long will that take? I have to be back down here to set up for the evening meal before he comes.”
“We have time, he will not be here until close to sunset.”
Bit and Edward climbed the first three flights of stairs with no problem. The stairs at that level were crafted to be used by everyone gaining access to the other floors of the castle. The last set of stairs were the narrow, spiral stairs to the very top, the tower room. Bit had never been up this high. She started to wonder if they should be this high.
“Edward, wait. Are we supposed to go up there?”
“I have been up there several times. I don’t think anyone else but the king goes up there. But he is not here and I want you to see something.”
“Then let’s go on,” Bit said and started climbing the gray, stone steps again.
The thick-planked door was heavy. Edward had to lean, full body, into it to open it. Bit walked into a very sparse room. A chest against one wall, a tiny table with a small oil lamp and a cot were all that furnished the room. Everything seemed to disappear into the curved walls yet there was not much room to walk. Bit made her way to the cot, placed just under the only window in the room, climbed up and looked out. She could just see the road below. Farmers and vendors were haggling but she could barely hear them. A bird flew by and Bit reached out as if she could touch it. A rattle next to her drew her attention, she turned and Edward was on his knees in front of the plain, wooden chest. He lifted the latch and she saw several colors of folded cloth.
She climbed down, and joined him on the floor. He reached in and brought out a piece of very worn blue and yellow cloth. When she touched it, she was afraid that it was going to fall apart, it was so old.
“What is this?” she asked.
“He didn’t tell me what the cloth was from but he showed me this.”
Edward laid the bundle on the floor and unfolded it. The small sword was uncovered when the last layer was laid aside. Bit stared at it. It was very small. A man’s hand would cover the hilt and part of the blade. As she looked closer she could see that it had been used and the blade was scratched and pitted. Bit turned her head up to look at Edward.
“Who does this belong to?”
Bit could not believe that, she could not see the King with any sword except Excalibur. His hand was never small enough to fit this sword.
“I don’t believe you.”
“It’s true. He brought me up here one night, just before we left on this journey.” He said he wanted to think but wanted me to see this and remember where it is.”
“But why? This is his private room. Why would he bring you up here?”
“I don’t know, I just know he told me that this was his when he was little, before he found Excalibur. And he told me his son played with it, too.”
“His son? Who is his son?”
“The man living with his sister is the King’s son. I overheard them all arguing. Even Merlin was there. She was screaming that the kingdom was their son’s to inherit and the King was yelling that he would have to take it by force. Merlin was trying to quiet them and I heard a laughing in the background that must have been Mordred, The King’s son. The King stomped out of the room, with Merlin on his tail, saying ‘Remember the prophecy, remember!’ The King answered back, ‘I remember but I do not believe it. I will not believe it! Leave me alone now, old man.'”
Bit watched Edward’s face as he told the story. He did not look at her as he told it, but his mouth was lined with white and his cheeks flushed.
“I followed him out of the hall, and ran up to him outside. He asked me if I’d heard. I told him, yes, I had.”
“Edward, I have tried my hardest to do my best with this land. You are the hope of the land, all you of your age. I charge you to remember what your life was like while I was King. Remember the good times we have had, the grain our land gave us and the peace we lived under. It has been good. Remember the small sword? That sword was part of my life before my responsibilities, before I had to worry about the lives of others. I want you to keep it safe. Take it to the crystal caves and hide it. I will come back to get it. “
“But you will be home and can take it to the caves yourself.”
“No, I will not have time. The council will gather and plan our future. I am charging you to do it.”
“I will take it Sire, I told him.”
Bit saw tears fall from Edward’s eyes. “Bit, he was crying! He had tears on his cheeks! He told me to go get some bread, meat and water, get on my horse, go home and tell the Lady he was coming. I came as fast as I could. Bit, I think there is going to be a battle. What I am worried about is Merlin’s warning. The King has been in battles before but this all seems so different.” Edward shook his head from side to side, his tears falling from his cheeks spotting Bit’s dress.
She scooted closer and hugged him. They both heard the commotion through the window at the same time. She watched as he picked up the sword. It fit right into his hand. He looked at it, felt its balance and nodded his head as if he had made a decision.
The cot was just big enough for both of them to stand on and watch the parade of horses and men. There were many more than had gone from the castle two weeks ago. The King had called in his warriors from their fields and farms. They walked behind him, behind all the knights in armor on horseback. Bit had never seen so many men on the castle grounds.
“Oh no, these are the men he gathers before battle,” said Edward. “His farmer soldiers he calls them. The battle must be soon. I have to go tonight and hide this sword. I have to go.”
“Then I am going with you,” she said.
“I knew you would,” Edward said. “We can both ride my horse.”
They both watched as Arthur rode home, holding Excalibur unsheathed, laid across the pommel of his saddle. Bit reached into her pocket and touched the pink stone the Lady had given her. It was cold.
Theadora by Arlene Radasky is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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