Sir Jaired and His Most Glorious Steed
Ho, good sir! I see you have an excellent steed. Not so the famed Sir Jaired. If you turn aside here and tarry anon, I shall recount the tale. Ah, you will? I am pleased.
It all started on what had seemed to be a very grand morning (it turned out to be a lazy afternoon—he had slept in too late) when Sir Jaired locked up his small castle gate, tucked the black key away, and rode away on his small gallant steed to seek a single fair lady in distress (however, the in distress part was negotiable).
He rode through water thick and thin, through forests big and small, forded rivers large and tiny, over hills large and not so large, and through dells and dales. At last he saw what he sought to see (or so he thought). A dastardly large knave attacking a helpless small lady (or so it appeared to Sir Jaired, who was anxious to save a helpless single fair lady from dire danger), and so Sir Jaired spurred his gallant steed onward, shouting, “Heigh, ho! Forward, glorious jack-ass!”
Sir Jaired rode down the not-so-large hill at full speed (which was not particularly fast, as the donkey was not able to reach greater speeds than that at which he was now traveling) at the large and intimidating knave. At first, Sir Jaired struggled to get his thin sword out of its sheath, but due to using it last night to cut his mince pie into pieces, it was not firmly stuck in the scabbard. The donkey reached the knave while Sir Jaired still struggled with the sword. Sir Jaired was planning on dismounting anyway, but his boot caught in the stirrup, and he landed on the cold hard ground in a disgraceful pile with much clanking and groaning. As, unfortunately, feeble knights in armor (he was wearing helmet and breastplate and carrying a shield on top of which he landed) have some troublesome quandaries in rising from the ground when they fall, Sir Jaired was forced to ask the dastardly intimidating knave to help lift him up off the cold hard ground.
“Can you lend me a furthering hand?” Sir Jaired asked.
“Nay, rather,” the largely intimidating knave answered, “I’d much prefer keeping it to myself, especially as some blokes have a rather annoying habit of not returning borrowed items until after they’ve broken them.”
“I was not of the mind of borrowing it (I have two of them as it is),” Sir Jaired said, “I was thinking more along the lines of requesting your help to get me off this cold hard ground. That would be my humble request, Sire, if you would be kind enough to fulfill it.”
“If you simply want my furthering hand and not my hearty heart,” the impressive knave replied, “I’ll willingly give some lofty lift.”
Thereupon, the helpful knave with his large hands seized Sir Jaired by the shoulder and hoisted him by brute strength (in which the peasant had more than enough to share) into the air. Once Sir Jaired was lifted (rather roughly, I must admit: the peasant was not conversant in softer grips) above his feet, then dropped to his feet, (and after he recovered his balance) he pleasantly bowed to the peasant (as Sir Jaired made a practice of being courteous to those who lent a hand to his profit).
“Might I inquire,” Sir Jaired asked graciously, “what dire business brings you to a misunderstanding with this fair lady? I happen to be a knight-on-errant, and if your dire business is awry to the standards of chivalry, I would be obliged to meddle with the metal.”
“This fair lady,” the knave answered, “happens to have two crowns and six pence on her head, for she ruthlessly murdered her unfortunate husband, and as she was not quiescent to go with me peacefully, I was, rather against my noble inclinations, forced to lay my large (Yes, I do admit that they are large) hands on the lady. But I think now that she will be more than willing to come gently.”
“If not,” Sir Jaired said, “I might be willing to help you in one small way.”
“Monetary or pecuniary?” was the reply.
“Um, rather not,” Sir Jaired answered, “my purse has become rather small to the point of non-existence. I was more of the thought that I could possibly render assistance in inveigling the fair lady to be of a more cooperative demeanor.”
While Sir Jaired and the knave had been conversing thus, deciding whether or no Sir Jaired should confer funds to the noble cause, the lady had risen from the ground and had been standing aloof from the two men with offended expression on her lovely face. At this point the peasant turned to her.
“Will you come peacefully?” he asked.
The lady did not answer. The large knave gently but firmly took her arm and started towards the city of Dundain. The lady didn’t resist much.
Sir Jaired mounted his most gallant donkey, and again rode forth to seek a fair lady in distress. Again he rode through water thick and thin, and he rode through forests big and small, and forded rivers large and tiny. At last he saw what he sought (again, so he thought)—a single lady in distress. He galloped (if it may be called such, as the donkey had some trouble in achieving such speed) towards the fair lady. She was all by herself in the middle of a wood.
“She must be lost,” thought Sir Jaired to himself. “Thus I can save her from distress of mind.”
Sir Jaired rode up to the fair lady, and then dismounted. He strode over to her, and bowed deeply.
“May I relieve you, fair lady,” he said, “of your distress?”
“What distress, fair sir,” she replied, looking up at him, “have I to be relieved of?”
“I perceive that you are in the middle of the wood, and perhaps know not your way,” Sir Jaired answered.
“I know my way right well,” the lady replied, “my home is only beyond yon hill.”
Sir Jaired bowed again, and said reluctantly, “Then perhaps I must be on my way.”
“Stay, good sir,” the lady said, holding up her hand. “I would talk to you for a little while.”
Sir Jaired bowed quickly. “I am at your service for as long as you wish, fair lady,” he said.
“What is your name, fair sir?” she asked.
“My name is Sir Jaired, but please use it carefully. My name is one thing that still remains mine after that dastardly incident when my creditors caught up to me.”
“Then, Sir Jaired,” the lady said, “what is your business riding through woods disturbing fair ladies in their meditations?”
“I seek single fair ladies in distress,” Sir Jaired said boldly, “and I thought perchance that you had lost your way, and thus I placed my esteemed services at the very slightest beckon of your hand.”
“But since I have no need of that service…” the lady said.
“Then perhaps you desire that I leave you to these dangerous woods?” Sir Jaired asked.
“Perhaps it would be best,” the fair lady said. “I acquired a dangerous disease a few months ago. That is why I remain in these woods—to keep the contagion from spreading to others.”
“Is there any cure?” Sir Jaired asked.
“None that have offered themselves have any merit with this disease,” the lady replied.
“Perhaps a kiss from a gallant knight-errant?” Sir Jaired asked.
“Perhaps,” said the lady with a laugh. “Perhaps not.”
“Perhaps it is worth a try?”
“If you wish to share the contagion with me,” the lady replied. “I have been told this disease spreads easily.”
Sir Jaired hesitated for a split second. Then he flipped up his face guard. He leaned closer to her.
He was abruptly knocked over.
“Hey, I say,” said a rough voice.
Sir Jaired looked up to see a burly man-at-arms.
“Why are you romancing my sister?”
Sir Jaired got up sheepishly. “I was relieving her of her distress.”
“Relieve her indeed!” the man-at-arms said sharply. “As soon as I separate her from society so she doesn’t break the hearts of the army, you come in spite of me to try breaking her poor heart.”
Sir Jaired eyed the man-at-arm’s burly frame and bulging muscles that rippled whenever the man moved. He didn’t particularly want to tangle with this guy. After all, this lady wasn’t as fair as some. “As you wish,” Sir Jaired said, shrugging.
He strolled nonchalantly over to his prepossessing donkey, swung up into the saddle, and promptly fell off the other side. He landed on the ground with much clanking and groaning (the groaning because he had crimped his arm between the shield and his armor). He was again forced to ask help from a dastardly knave.
But the dastardly knave (ever so much more dastardly, Sir Jaired told himself) refused to give Sir Jaired his hand. Whereupon Sir Jaired lost his temper (and I am told, never found it again).
“You das-dastardly-ly knave,” he said in what was meant to be a threatening voice, but came out as a shivering st-t-tuter, which by no means alarmed the man-at-arms.
Instead, the man-at-arms grabbed his sister’s arm and disappeared into the surrounding forest.
Sir Jaired remained on the ground in disgraceful silence until the donkey stepped on his toe.
“Ouch!” he yelled, “Get off, ye dumbbell!”
The donkey remaining standing on his toe.
“Git ye gone!” Sir Jaired yelled at the poor dumb beast.
The donkey ground his hoof into Sir Jaired’s little toe.
Sir Jaired, at this point, (since he couldn’t find his temper), lost his cool (and, I am told, from that point on, always wore a sweater).
The donkey brayed. “Bray-hay-hay-heh-hay. Bray-heh-heh-heh-hay.”
Then the donkey leisurely slid his hoof off Sir Jaired’s little toe (which, by the way, is a painful operation and always necessitates a good hearty yell to accompany it).
Sir Jaired sighed in relief. But then the donkey, out of spite (and revenge for all Sir Jaired had done to him), kicked him heartily, until Sir Jaired could not find a place without a bruise.
But, fortunately, one of the harder kicks broke Jaired’s shield, and so he was able to rise with the help of the donkey’s tail (for which he was paid handsomely in the form of a couple of kicks in the face).
Sir Jaired slowly mounted the donkey and rode off again. This time, he rode over mountains high and low, and under cliffs tall and short, looking for the lady in distress. Finally he found what he sought (and hoped that this time, it was the real thing). A fair lady hung on the face of a cliff, screaming for help.
Sir Jaired stopped some little distance away.
“Help me!” she screamed.
Sir Jaired sat for a second in contemplation. Then he called up, “How can I be sure you really need help?”
“Isn’t it rather obvious, you dumbbell!” the lady screamed in terror as her grip loosened slightly and she slid down a few inches, sending some pebbles flying, one of which smacked Sir Jaired smartly on the nose.
Sir Jaired deliberated on the fact that he had just been called a dumbbell—a rather ignominious name, it must be admitted, while rubbing his nose ruefully.
“Are you only feigning to be in great danger so that a knight-errant will be forced out of the kindness of his heart to rescue you?” he called up.
“Help!” the lady screamed again. “I can’t hold on much longer!”
Sir Jaired looked at his donkey. “My heart’s too soft for this kind of work, you know,” he told the donkey.
The donkey snorted, then bucked Sir Jaired off with ease born of experience. Sir Jaired managed to land on his two feet (such as they were), but promptly fell back against the cliff and nearly broke his skull, aye, and would have had he not been wearing his helmet. He stood up stiffly.
“Help!” the fair lady screamed again.
“You know,” Sir Jaired said to the donkey. “I think I’ll go up and save her, even if it’s only to stop that infernal screaming.”
The donkey gave him a well-aimed kick in the shins. With that incentive, Sir Jaired hurriedly began scrambling up the face of the cliff.
Fortunately for him (if it be called fortune), the lady was only about thirty feet off the ground. Unfortunately (if it be called unfortune), a knight in full armor has some difficulty in climbing. And a matter that relates not to fortune but to bad temper is that his gallant steed, the donkey, kicked up his heels and took off galloping, faster than Sir Jaired had even seen the donkey do before.
Sir Jaired set his teeth together, grated them a bit to ease his mind (as it always seems to do for the heroes of modern-day books), then continued scrambling up. He paused when he was about twenty feet off the ground (after time had passed, and his ears had grown well nigh deaf), and considered taking his armor off. But the difficulty presented itself to him in this manner: in what manner was he to take off the armor while clinging to the face of the cliff for dear life? Aye, that stumped him. He didn’t know what to do next. It was a real cliffhanger, too. But on a cliff, if you don’t want to fall down, it doesn’t give you much direction to go but up. So Sir Jaired continued to scramble up the face of the cliff. Then he heard a noise below, just as he almost touched the fair lady’s foot. A hay wagon pulled up right below them, and the peasant who was driving sat gawking at him, like any old nincompoop would.
Sir Jaired let out a short gasp of impatience and anger and continued to climb. However, he accidentally (he never would have done such a thing on purpose, I assure you—well...on the other hand…) grabbed the fair lady’s foot instead of the cliff. That served to unbalance the lady, and she fell, right into Sir Jaired’s arms. And that served to sever Sir Jaired from the cliff, and the two plunged downward. Sir Jaired thought he was in heaven for a moment, with the lady firmly clutched in his arms. Thoughts rarely last long, and this one was no exception.
Fortunately (again, if it be called fortune), the hay wagon still stood below, and served as a none-too-soft cushion to soften the impact.
Nevertheless, a knight in full armor does not land lightly. In fact, his fall served to sever the wagon in two. It didn’t help that the lady fell on top of him, and I must admit, Sir Jaired was put rather out of humor for a bit.
When Sir Jaired finally rose to his feet (after the lady had risen, the peasant had kicked him viciously in the shins, and he had broken up the rest of the wagon while pulling himself upright), he looked around for his most gallant steed. The peasant just disappeared from sight on the horse that had been pulling the hay wagon, the wreckage of which lay in pieces around him.
The donkey, his faithful (or –less, depending on the way you wish to look at it) steed, was gone. Only the lady, carefully brushing the dirt off her dress, remained in sight.
“My fair lady,” Sir Jaired said, “do you happen to live around here?”
“Yes,” the lady replied, rather coolly, pointing to the top of the cliff, “I live over there.”
Sir Jaired gazed at the top of the cliff. “You should have said, ‘I live up there.’”
His gaze slowly came back to earth (and, I might add, the face of the lady). “Is there any way to get up there without climbing the cliff?”
“No,” the lady replied. Then she hastily added, as Sir Jaired sighed deeply, “I mean, yes.”
“Over there is the path that leads up.”
Sir Jaired followed the lady to the path, then helped her climb it. It was rather steep, but manageable with the help of the lady—I mean the knight, of course. When they reached the top, the lady was huffing and puffing from the effort of helping Sir Jaired…did I say something wrong? Oh, I meant that Sir Jaired was huffing and puffing from the effort of helping the lady up the steep path.
Well, anyway, the lady led the way to the cottage wherein she lived. “This is the miserable hovel,” Sir Jaired said, “that you have to live in?”
“One and the same,” the lady replied.
“What a shame!” Sir Jaired exclaimed. “Why, you could live in my stable with greater comfort than that miserable hut that you live in now.”
“I don’t fancy living in your stable,” the lady replied, somewhat graciously, but with a certain edge in her voice reminiscent of family pride.
“Did I say ‘stable?’” Sir Jaired inquired with the most humble attitude. “I said the wrong thing, most certainly. I meant of course, my noble castle, which resides on a noble island, which—”
“You do say,” the lady interrupted—a rude thing to do by the way, but excusable when dealing with Sir Jaired. You insist otherwise? I disagree. I know Sir Jaired. “Some people do run on and on…”
“Yes,” Sir Jaired said sympathetically. “I know exactly what you mean. I’ve several friends who are prime examples of that very thing. Why, just the other day—”
“Your point, sir?” the lady said with dignity.
“Ah, yes, the point,” Sir Jaired mumbled. “Ah, yes, hrrumph! The point, m’lady, is that I offer my humble services on your behalf.”
“And for that I most humbly thank you,” the lady said, “But I must inform you that I already have services. Excellent services, in fact. Never had a better butler in my life. On those grounds do I bid you farewell.”
And she slammed the door in Sir Jaired’s face—not an original touch, by the way, and rather overdone, in my opinion.
Sir Jaired sighed, and shrugged his shoulders. In his opinion (at least at that moment), ladies weren’t terribly grateful. He set out to look for the donkey. It would have been much too far to walk all the way home. He wandered for hours before he finally found the steed grazing beside a small stream.
“There you are,” he grumbled. “We must be getting home—it’s getting dark.”
He went over to grab the donkey’s bridle, but got a hoof instead.
Sir Jaired retreated to a safe vantage point, rubbed his hand, and talked volubly with the donkey, cautioning him of his evil ways, and where they would lead him. He’d never thought that the steed was capable of such wickedness until today.
The donkey ate grass, his ears laid back along his neck, his eye fixed on Sir Jaired (I say eye, because he was standing sideways to Sir Jaired, so only one eye was visible).
Sir Jaired moved a bit closer to the donkey. The donkey brayed warningly, did a handstand, and kicked his legs with a rapidity and force that rather kept Sir Jaired back about twenty feet—a distance that Sir Jaired judged was safe.
Sir Jaired lectured the donkey. Now, on lecturing, Sir Jaired simply can’t be held back. He never passed up an opportunity to lecture, and he had a peculiar knack for knowing just how to stretch a five-minute remark into a weeklong seminar. Words are not an endangered specie when Sir Jaired uses them...or rather, perhaps they are, due to the reckless nature with which he bestrews the air.
However, the donkey had a particular disliking for lectures (even when made by such a one as Sir Jaired himself), and so he decided to take a brisk walk to improve his circulation. Sir Jaired lectured on for half-an-hour before he noticed his noble audience had vanished (Sir Jaired gets rather caught up in the eloquence of making a speech, and loses track of time). The only reason Sir Jaired noticed the lack of attendees was because he had made a rather good point (at least in his eyes), and he had paused for applause (at which points good-natured audiences politely clap for good manners’ sake). No applause for Sir Jaired. No audience, either.
Sir Jaired sighed. This recalcitrant donkey was giving him a rather bad sort of headache. At least now he was rid of the donkey—a thought that gave him some comfort in those dark hours. He straightened his shoulders in the freedom in which he now reveled.
He straggled along a path, hoping that it was the road that led home—or at least somewhere with a warm bed, hot food, and a bath, and—well, he couldn’t be too picky.
Darkness slowly settled over the land as Sir Jaired wearily climbed a hill. At the top was a house with a bright cheery light inside. Sir Jaired knocked on the door.
An old man came to the door and ushered him in, ignoring all Sir Jaired’s carefully phrased explanations and excuses and thank yous.
“Food’s on the table,” the old man grunted, rapidly disappearing into the depths of the house, leaving Sir Jaired in the kitchen. “Help yourself.”
And he was gone.
The table was not full, but there was still a good portion of meat, a jug of cider, two sandwiches, half of a mince pie, and other sundry goodies.
Sir Jaired fell to with a will (as I surmise, any real man would have done under the circumstances), and soon cleared the table of all its eatables. He sat back with a sigh. A young woman came in and cleared the plates. Sir Jaired noticed she had a pretty face.
“Go through that door,” she told Sir Jaired, her cheeks quite red. “My father is waiting for you.”
Sir Jaired rose from his chair with a grunt, and went through the door, forgetting until the last feasible moment to say thank you to the young lady, who was, rather obviously, the authority in the house when it came to eatables. “Oh, thanks.”
“Close the door,” grunted the old man. He was sitting on a chair that probably grew up with him. “You’ve lost a donkey?”
“My daughter caught him about half-an-hour ago,” said the old man. “Tomorrow, after a good night’s rest and a good breakfast, I imagine you and he will be rearing to go.”
Sir Jaired sighed. Evidently that donkey was not so easily gotten rid of. His shoulders bowed as the responsibility of the donkey dropped upon him again with renewed force.
“But passing right along to the topic of lasting importance and of great interest to me,” said the old man, “what, precisely, are your qualifications?”
“I have the right to know a few things about a man before he marries my daughter.”
“What makes you think I want to marry your daughter?”
“Are you married?”
“Are you not the knight who has been seeking fair ladies in distress?”
“Then what, precisely, do you not understand?”
Sir Jaired spluttered. “Your daughter—”
“Do you think she’s not worthy of you? I assure you, if anything, the opposite is to be feared.”
“No, no,” Sir Jaired said hastily. “It’s just—”
“Why don’t you give me one good reason for letting you marry my daughter?.”
Sir Jaired spluttered. He gasped. He muttered unintelligible things.
“Wonderful! You have my permission.”
The old man sighed. “You are rather dull, Sir—er, I’m afraid I didn’t quite catch your name.”
“Sir Jaired—er, you can—um, marry my daughter. In short, you have my blessing.”
“But I didn’t ask!”
“I can’t waste time on young men who neglect to ask questions. My daughter is in the kitchen, I believe.”
Sir Jaired opened his mouth, then closed it again. He couldn’t think of a thing to say, so he didn’t say a thing (which, I think, is a wise thing to do).
“Her name is Agnes.”
The old man got up, put a hand on the young man’s shoulder, and guided him to the kitchen, and left him to stare at Agnes, who was blushing in the corner of the room.
Once alone with the lady, Sir Jaired, with his customary eloquence, soon extracted some acceptable words from Agnes (though I imagine it was with little difficulty—that peculiar shine in her eye as her father ushered Sir Jaired in was distinctly a dead—I mean wedding—giveaway).
Sir Jaired soon had himself a wife, and so had no further cause to depart from his castle, and so (graciously) gave his noble steed to his father-in-law. I will not try to divine with what motive Sir Jaired bestowed the gift. All I know is that his father-in-law, according to all the reports (but which he vigorously denied), the donkey had become the base for a stew, which, according to the most wildly optimistic, was “tough.” According to the critics—well, maybe it’s better not to repeat the rubbish they said.
But, fortunately for Sir Jaired, he was no more plagued by the steed. Instead, he found that he had traded the responsibilities of the wayward steed for the responsibilities of a wife (which, according to the reports I have heard, is not to be underestimated at any cost).
So, good sir, as you see from my tale, it is fortunate that you have a good steed. The responsibility is light, and there is not any great probability that the sort of thing that happened to Sir Jaired will happen to you. Just think about that as you ride on your way. Ah, you would give me a coin? Many thanks. Would you listen to the tale of Sir John and his misadventures with a noble dragon? Not? Ah, well, not all of us have time to sit around and gab all day. Good day to you sir, and a pleasant journey.
© 2007-2017 Zack Reynolds. All rights reserved.