(If you have not read “The Last Dragon: The Tale of Sir Dennis” (that’s Episode 1), you should do that first. It will make this one a bit more entertaining)
After Sir Dennis bade his heartfelt farewells to princess Alonwin, assuring her that no further thanks from freeing her from her enchantment were necessary, and that no, really, he couldn’t possibly accept her offer of matrimony, due to his having taken a vow of…poverty—no—uh….. not marrying anyone until he had…umm…. made a crusade to the Holy Land!—yes, that was it—he had vowed to make a crusade, and could NOT stay with her, tempting though it was…
The princess was sorely grieved at his departure, and in point of fact, so aggrieved was she that, had she not been freed from the spell which made her a fearsome dragon, she may well have charbroiled him and bitten his head off. As it was, she only wept profusely and bade him to “Clear off, you ungrateful b*stard!”
Sir Dennis sped away, back along the path through the forest. He thought himself very lucky to have dodged the arrow, and was beginning to reconsider his career path of knight errantry. For one thing, it paid terribly-- he had been at it for almost a month and had nothing to show for it. For another thing, the prospect of being pursued by foul she-dragons and eaten (or worse, married to one!) was not very attractive either. And, he had lost the sword he found in the marsh: it was now a shapeless lump of metal lying in front of the ex-dragon’s lair. How could he become a knight without a sword?
He passed the wooden sign warning about the way to the dragon and the rabbit, after having decided firmly against going to investigate whatever that rabbit business was without a weapon. After some time, he reached the crossroads in the middle of the countryside. He wasn’t sure where to go, so he sat down and began musing on the prospect of becoming a sewage attendant, or a rat-catcher.
Suddenly, he heard the creaking of cartwheels. Approaching from the east road was a small wagon, pulled by a pair of donkeys. The driver wore a faded black cloak with a hood over his head. If it were not for the rickety old cart and the donkeys, the figure could have seemed rather frightening. The driver slowed the cart as it approached the crossroads, and the driver halted at the fork in the road. As the cart stopped, a small metal pot fell out of the back, and rolled off the road into the field not far from Dennis. One of the donkeys brayed, and shook itself. The hooded driver dismounted and began searching the field for whatever had fallen out.
Dennis decided it was better to be pleasant and just send the hooded figure on his way, so he picked up the pot and offered it back to its owner.
“This yours, mate?”
The hooded figure didn’t reply at first, hesitating as if he were afraid Dennis might be a highway robber.
“Did it fall out of my cart? Oh, yeah, that’s mine, for sure. That's Betty, one of my best cooking pots. Thanks!”
“Betty? You name your pots?” Dennis said confusedly.
“No, just the good ones. They heat better that way.” replied the black, hooded figure.
“Really? What are you then, a loony? Wait- you’re not a witch or something, are you?”
“Something. Mainly, I’m a cook.” The figure lifted his hood to reveal a tanned face with dark, shaggy hair the covered his eyes and a goatee. He examined the pot intensely, turning it around in his calloused hands.
“Well, it’s good it didn’t get dented or anything. Some of the magic recipes won’t work right if the pot is too badly dented.”
“Magic recipes! I thought you said you weren’t a witch?”
“I’m not. Women are witches, and I’m a guy, so therefore, not a witch. And anyways, I’m a cook. And an alchemist.”
“Oh, alright. A cook and an alchem- wait, you really know how to turn lead into gold then?” Dennis asked incredulously.
“Kind of. Anyway, thanks for getting my pot. ” The man replied, quickly heading back towards his wagon and donkeys. He climbed back onto the wooden board the served as driver’s seat, and began rummaging behind him in the covered part of the wagon. Various sound of metal clinking could be heard.
Dennis was thinking of how useful it could be to find out more about that turning-lead-into-gold thing. And, since he had no particular destination in mind, maybe traveling on a cart to wherever this man was going would be better than walking aimlessly.
“Could you, maybe, give me a lift in your cart, mate?” Dennis asked hopefully.
“Sure, I guess. Where are you going to?”
“Umm, no place in particular…. Just up the road, you know.”
“Well, I’m going there. Climb up.” The man motioned to Dennis and moved over to make room on the driving-board.
“I’m Erick, and this is Betty,” the man said, pointing to one of the donkeys, then pointing to the other one, “and that’s Betty-Two.”
“Your donkeys are called Betty too?”
“No, this one’s Betty, and that one’s Betty-Two.”
Dennis felt sure this co-called alchemist was very likely a lunatic, but he was still glad to be going somewhere in a cart instead of walking.
About 20 minutes passed in rather awkward silence, before Erick spoke again. “Well, let’s have some music. Hold this.”
He gave Dennis the ropes that served as reins for the donkeys, while he rummaged in the back of the cart again. He retrieved a small wooden box with a metal piece bent at a right-angle sticking out of it . He handed the box to Dennis, then took the reins back. Dennis turned the box over I his hands, feeling its strange weight. The metal stuck out of one side though a hole, and another side had several long cuts carved into it. Dennis shook the box in puzzlement.
“Don’t do that! Turn the metal around, and it makes music.” Erick said, his eyes remaining straight ahead on the empty road.
Dennis did as he was told, and the strangest plinking melody he had ever heard came from inside it. He quickly stopped turning in surprise, and the sound stopped.
“You have to keep turning,” Erick said, “Yeah, like that. You have to turn it or it stops. I’ve tried doing it while I drive, but I almost hit a stag in the woods once. And I can’t afford to be taken by the King’s men at the moment — some of my books are a bit heretical, and I haven’t got the lead proportions right yet. Anyway, go ahead and turn it.”
Dennis began turning the metal handle again and the same strange melody came from the box. The car rolled along accompanied by metal tinkling sounds, and the donkeys, far from being frightened, seemed to nod their heads along to the tune. At first, Dennis was both frightened and fascinated: he enjoyed the sound, but he was more convinced than ever that his companion was some kind of witch / warlock, or whatever. Still, he had never heard music without a fiddle player, and it was very nice going along the country road with the sun shining and a merry (if bizarre) tune playing in the fields.
However, after several miles he began to tire of the tune and wondered what other sorceries this alchemist might know about. Furthermore, his arm was beginning to get sore from turning the metal handle. Erick too, seemed to have lost interest in the music. Suddenly, as if he had forgotten Dennis was there for a while, he said, “Oh, by the way, if you turn it the other way for a bit, it will play something else.”
Dennis obediently turned the metal the other way round, and was astonished as the wooden box began to play another, different melody from the last. “You are a witch!” He gasped in amazement.
“Nah, I’m an alchemist. A witch might have made that though. But don’t worry— it just makes music. I don’t touch that black-magic stuff anymore. This is just cool — whenever you turn it the other way, it plays something different.”
Dennis played several different songs as they went along. Eventually, he could not longer contain his anxiety and curiosity.
“Tell me truly, do you practice the dark arts? I… I wouldn’t want to get mixed up in anything like that.”
“No! I told you, I don’t do that sh*t anymore. I cook, I solve riddles, and I’m learning alchemy. What more do you want to know? And anyway, I let you ride on my cart without so much as asking who you are.” Erick retorted. “So, what are you? A robber? One of the lord’s tax-collectors?” he sneered.
Dennis looked sheepish. “Well, I’m going to be knight soon.”
“A knight? You don’t even have a sword or armor or anything!”
“I did have a sword!” Dennis replied, “The dragon melted it. And, anyway, a knight is a knight, even if he doesn’t have sword.”
“You’re pulling my leg…” Erick said, “But whatever. If you identify as a knight, then I suppose maybe you are one. But won’t you need another sword soon?”
“Yes, I suppose so. Why? Do you know anybody who wants to get rid of one?”
“No, not exactly. But I bet the Master Swordsman will have one.”
“The Master Swordsman? Who’s he when he’s at home?”
“He’s an ironsmith that got magic powers after he fell in a lake with a naked lady in it. He made swords for King Arthur, I think. He lives somewhere in Kent now.”
“You are a looney — Arthur lived long ago!”
“Hey— I dunno about that, but it’s what the Master Swordsman told me when I saw him last.”
“You’ve seen him? What’s he like?”
“Old. Grouchy. Likes heavy metal music. But he’s got all kinds of cool sh*t for sale.”
“Never-mind.” Erick shook his head. “If you want a new sword, I’d go to him first, that’s all I’m saying….”
Dennis thought it over for a few minutes.
“Where did you say this Master Swordsman lived again?”
“Is that anywhere along the way?” Dennis asked.
“Not really. But I could go that way. I need to get some more ominous-ore from him anyway. It comes from the mines in Mt. Misery.”
“Well, I’ll ride along then.”
“Sure. Keep turning the box though, will you?”
So Dennis did.
They journeyed along the dirt road, past many miles of countryside, accompanied by strange tinkling metal tunes. Dennis told Erick about his adventure with the dragon. Erick told Dennis about working in the kitchens for the noble lords' feasts, and all the tasty tidbits he was able to sample. Occasionally, Betty or Betty-Two veered to the left or the right to munch clover, and brayed loudly when Eric turned them back towards the path.
As the day went on, Dennis was pleased to discover that the cook-turned-alchemist, although a bit mysterious and silent at times, was a pleasant sort of fellow. And Dennis had hope that maybe, if he befriended the alchemist, he might be able to get a sword —or even some gold— for his trouble.
--to be continued---
About the Creator
Eternal Student: literature, poetry, history, art, and philosophy. English Teacher. Writer & painter. Traveller & skier (when there's $$$). I'm young enough to be foolish, yet old enough to know better. Lover of dark & beautiful things.