He paid not a hint of care to the foreign lands to his right or left, minding only the path which lay ahead and the familiar, steady hoof beats of the white steed beneath him.
She looked up from the emerald fields she played in to see a silver man on a horse. Her older sisters fled, but she was not afraid for she had seen these strange metal men before though none so shiny as this one. On his right he bore a lance called Mighty One and on his left he carried a great shield emblazoned with the rune of Justice.
The knight slowed as he saw the child stand fully erect, not even as high as his steed’s knee.
“Strange Sir, by whose welcome do you come to our lands?”
He regarded the child with amusement, “Justice needs no invitation. Tell me where the beast is, so that I might free your land from its scourge.”
This gray-eyed child, a daughter of the land answered: “Pray thee sir Knight: if thou seekest the ancient beast, Surgash, do not go alone.”
From behind his steel helm the knight looked down upon her, not with anger, but with pity. For she, in the land of eternal summer, was acquainted not with his strength nor the might of his arms, forged and tested as they were in kingdoms far away.
“Would you have one so powerful stand idly by while innocents are harmed?”
To this the child answered, “Dost thou think only the beast can do harm?”
The knight recoiled at this rebuke. Turning aside, he took to the road once more.
Glade and hillock, field and lake passed him by till at last he arrived in the Midnight Vale, a shadow-filled gorge in which grew neither that which draws breath, nor any green thing. This dark ravine had no outlet, save for one which none dared name aloud.
The path ahead was deserted, but well-kept. For men both great and small would venture this way, having business at road’s end. But those who came and went did so always in secret, keeping no records themselves, nor allowing any to be maintained.
At the end of the valley, he halted before a voluminous cavern. Its gaping maw could be penetrated by no light. The knight dismounted and prepared himself.
“Let Surgash come forth. Let Justice be done. Let the captive be freed!”
The dark swallowed his challenge.
Seconds passed into minutes.
The knight’s grip on his lance and shield remained steadfast.
Finally, from the dark grew two green orbs, each split in the middle by a slit of fathomless dark. Scales, horns and wicked teeth followed.
“My name thou knowest, but what of thine?
“Knight Christoph, of York I am. For Justice, and the maiden have I come.”
“Thou art not the first noble knight, nor will thou be the last. Treat with me lest thine spear shatters against mine hide and thou return to thy land bereft of honor or head.”
“I will parlay with no evil: let our battle commence!”
With a smile, the dragon drew itself partway out of the cave. Claws sharp as diamond and black as obsidian flashed through the air. Dark flames spewed from its jaws, charring all in their wake.
Knight Christoph plunged in with lance and shield, dodging, thrusting, pushed to the very limits of his strength and skill.
The battle raged for days without end until finally Christoph collapsed against a rock, his spear shattered, his shield melted, its proud symbol blackened beyond recognition. Try as he might, he could not prick the beast deeply enough to kill it.
Christoph awoke to find Surgash standing over him, still partially veiled by the cave’s perpetual gloom. But Knight Christoph now sensed something that he had not seen before. Behind those orbs of immeasurable malice was something else: an ancient cunning more ominous than any spine or flame.
It was then that Surgash spoke, not in thunder but with a whisper.
“Noble knight. Thine spear is broken, sword notched, shield spent.”
Christoph shuddered at the beast’s toothy smile and steeled himself for Surgash’s killing blow.
“But if thou seeketh a princess, thou hast not failed–yet.”
The knight looked up, an angry stare his only remaining weapon.
“Thou desireth to free her? Here she is.”
Stumbling from the cavern came a maiden of springtime youth, but dirty and wretched, having been put to hard labor and unnatural uses.
“How is this Justice?” questioned the defiant knight.
“Doth thou ask me what Justice is?” The dragon bellowed with sincere laughter, “Art thou not the Avatar of Justice? In the name of justice art thou prepared to slay mercy?”
Sugash pushed the maiden forward, “Thou shalt decide how this tale be told in far off lands. In her place, leave only 1000 gold pieces and begone.”
Knight Christoph looked upon Surgash’s captive. His exhausted heart failed from pity. Christoph’s eyes fell upon his ruined weapons and armor: he had come too far and been seen by too many to return empty-handed.
Tears cut canyons in the dust on her face. The daughter of the land sat in ash, waiting by the side of the road.
From afar she saw a Metal Man, his armor scorched black. Behind him sat a girl scarcely older than herself.
Knight Christoph slowed again as he came near.
The grey-eyed child glanced first to Christoph’s maiden-prize, in whose eyes she saw reflected the sorrow of one who sees another’s doom, but has not the power to lift death’s clutches.
As she beheld the knight’s shield, familiar but charred and disfigured, her heart fell and her hands clenched.
“Blacker than thine shield are your deeds this day Sir Knight. Didst I not say that alone, thou could not best Surgash? What hast thou done?”
Enraged, Knight Christoph drew his sword and pointed it at the child, “You know naught of my battle or sacrifice. How dare you challenge me! For I have saved this one while you did nothing.”
Undaunted the girl met his gaze with eyes aflame, “If only thou had done the same–” she pointed her finger back at him, uttering words keener than any blade, “–now thine gold has purchased my sisters for Surgash. What shall I tell the next noble fool whose gold saves my sister but purchases for Surgash myself and four others?”
To this Knight Christoph had no answer. His prize looked away, weeping. He foresaw that if he permitted them to take root, the child’s words would trouble him more than all the wiles and assaults of Surgash. And so he rode on, eager to put this strange land and the grey-eyed child behind him.
Knight Christoph set his mind only to return across the great sea, to his realm of alabaster and silver, and to once again to be hailed as Justice Triumphant. In time, the troubles of this strange green land would cling to him no more, polished from his tales with each retelling as easily as dust wiped from the chalice.
But in the land of eternal summer Surgash endured, and the grey-eyed child trembled at both the sight of his shadow and the sound of nearing hoofbeats.
For the reader’s consideration:
Which character is most like you?
Why did the grey-eyed child tell the knight not to go alone?
Did Knight Christoph’s actions result in good? Evil?