The Retired Knight and the Young Baron. By Martin Green.
The door opened a crack and an old woman eyed Jack suspiciously. Jack gave her his most winning smile and said, Im Jack, squire to Sir Landry, retired knight. Were on our way to Camelot. Can you perhaps spare some food and water, and water for our horses? We can pay you for your trouble.
The old woman scowled. I have nothing to spare. Nobody in this parish has anything to spare. The Young Baron has taken it all. If you know whats good for you youll get away from here as fast as you can before the Young Baron finds you, too. The door closed.
Jack turned to Sir Landry, who was waiting on his black steed, Midnight. (Jacks own horse was short and small; hed named her Betsy). Should I break down the door? he asked.
No, let her be. We can survive a while longer. Lets see if theres a village nearby.
They continued through farmland that looked as if a blight had descended on it. The fields were empty or nearly empty. Few peasants were about; those who were glared at them as they rode by. Since the passing of King Arthur, Britain had fallen into near anarchy, but this was the worst theyd seen yet.
Look, Jack cried. There is a village.
Yes, and that looks like an inn.
Ill be glad to see a real bed, said Jack. Theyd been sleeping outside on the ground since leaving Jacks village.
They entered a yard in front of the inn. A stable boy came out and said hed tend to their horses. Jack noticed that two of the yards fences were partially down. The inn itself looked shabby, as if not kept up for a long time. The entered and were greeted by a middle-aged man who also looked shabby. Can you put us up for the night? Sir Landry asked.
Thatll be no trouble. We have no other customers at the moment.
This area seems to be in sorry condition. Was it the Plague?
Yes, the Plague in the person of the Young Baron.
Weve heard of the Young Baron. Who is he and what has he done?
The old Baron passed away last year. He left his son under the care of his uncle, Sir Henry. But like many of the youth today, the Young Baron is arrogant and soon pushed his uncle aside, assumed control and assembled a group of other young knights, more like hooligans, Id say. Since then hes seized the farmers crops, raised taxes and crushed the peasants and merchants. Anyone who tries to stand up to him gets put into his dungeon.
At that moment, two burly young men in armor came through the front door and confronted the innkeeper. Were here for your taxes, the larger of the two said.
But I paid my taxes last month, the innkeeper protested.
This is a new, added tax.
But youve taken all I have. I cant pay any more.
The large knight turned to his friend. It looks the dungeon for our friend here, doesnt it?
Thats the law. Of course, his inn and any other property will be become the property of the Young Baron.
The large knight grabbed the innkeeper by the neck. Sir Landry said, Just a minute, please.
The large knight glanced at Sir Landry as if hed just noticed him. Stay out of this, old man. Its no business of yours.
Later on Jack thought that he shouldnt have been surprised but even he was amazed that in what seemed like a second Sir Landry had his sword, which he called Jenny, out and pressed to the large knights throat. I beg to differ, said Sir Landry. We intend to stay the night here and we want no harm to come to our host.
Youll pay for this, said the other knight, whod drawn his sword but stood uncertainly, not knowing what to do.
Possibly, said Sir Landry. Now, the two of you go back and tell the Young Baron that Ill be paying a visit to him tomorrow to discuss this. And, by the way A lightning move with Jenny and the other knights sword went flying in the air where Sir Landry deftly caught it. Now go.
By all means, pay us a visit, said the large knight. Well be waiting for you.
Sir Landry raised his sword and the two quickly scurried out. When they were gone, the innkeeper said, I thank you, but Im afraid it wont do much good. If you go to the Young Barons castle, they will be waiting for you, and however skilled you are with the sword you are just one man.
Ill be there, too, put in Jack. And Ive been learning how to use my sword.
The innkeeper shook his head. Sir Landry smiled and said, Maybe we wont be the only ones to pay the Young Baron a visit. Now, heres my plan.
* * *
The next morning Sir Landry stood outside the gate of the castle. It was a cloudy day. All was quiet, as if this barren area was waiting for something to happen. Im Sir Landry, here to see the Young Baron, called out the Retired Knight.
The gate swung open and two dozen armored men marched out. There was another person, an older man dressed in a courtly robe. The knight next to this man lifted his visor, revealing a handsome face which would have been suitable for a movie star, had there been movie stars at the time. I am the Young Baron. My two tax collectors have told me about you. Youve interfered with the laws of my land and must be punished.
That remains to be seen. Perhaps the laws of the land must be changed.
The older man spoke: You look familiar, Sir Landry. Have me met, possibly in King Arthurs time?
Enough of this talk, said the Young Baron. Seize
Before he could finish, the Retired Knight had jumped off his horse and, before anyone could react, held his sword against the Young Barons throat. Dont move, said Sir Landry, or Ill cheerfully dispose of your master.
Dont move, the Young Baron gasped out.
Good. Now hear me out. You have mismanaged your land. Youve raised taxes so much the people have nothing left. Youve taken all the crops so the farmers are starving. If I hadnt come along, your people would have revolted on their own. If you want to retain your position, youll return to the policies of your father, reasonable taxes and a only enough of the crops to sustain your men in return for protection against outlaws and other threats. He pressed his sword into the Young Barons throat.
Yes, yes, I agree, said the Young Baron. Ill do everything you say.
Sir Landry withdrew his sword. As soon as he did, the Young Baron cried, I disavow everything. Seize him. Hes just one man.
The armed men moved forward, but the Retired Knight said, I advise you to look around.
The Young Baron and his men looked. There, arrayed around the castle, were dozens of peasants, also a number of merchants, plus the innkeeper, armed with a variety of weapons---scythes, hammers, logs, poles, even a few rusty spears. They looked menacing, more than ready to attack the armed men and overwhelm them with their numbers. Sir Henry stepped forward. We accept your terms, Sir Landry, he said.
The Retired Knight looked at the Young Baron, who nodded.
Watch out, called Jack. One of the knights, the burly tax collector was running at Sir Landry, his sword raised. Two of the other knights stopped him and wrestled him to the ground. It was clear they wanted nothing to do with the mob surrounding them.
Sir Henry, said the Retired Knight, I appoint you regent until you think the Young Baron is capable of ruling in a just way, as did his father. Empty your dungeon and return to the people whats theirs. Now its time for me and my young alert squire to be moving on.
Im sure weve met before, said Sir Henry. This is the bane of becoming old. I cant quite remember.
The Retired Knight smiled. Maybe one day you will. In the meantime, treat your people well. Jack, lets be off. As Sir Landry and his squire rode off, a little sunshine pierced through the gray clouds.
* * * *
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