The Retired Knight and the Princess by Martin Green
I dont like this dungeon, I said. The straw is prickly. Its damp and cold and it stinks.
Youre not supposed to like it, Jack, said Sir Landry, the Retired Knight, whose squire Id become.
What are we going to do? When the Prince gets crowned tomorrow hell probably have us killed.
Its a long way until tomorrow. Be patient.
Let me go back a little. After leaving the land where Sir Landry had displaced the Young Baron who was abusing his people and put the Barons sensible uncle in charge we had entered another small kingdom. I know the ruler here, Sir Landry had said. I believe hell be more hospitable than the Young Baron. I had faith in the Retired Knight, but in this instance he had proved to be mistaken.
We could see the castle ahead. As we rode there scores of peasants were also on the pathway, carrying pigs, hens and baskets of fruit. Whats going on? I asked.
Dont you know? The old king has died. His son the Prince is receiving the crown tomorrow. Therell be a feast tonight. Weve been ordered to bring all of our goods to the castle.
Wont that be hard on you? said Sir Landry.
It will, but we dare not disobey.
We rode through the gate. A knight came out. Who are you? he demanded.
Im Sir Landry. I was a friend of your king. I was coming to see him but now I hear he is dead and his son the Prince will become king tomorrow. Can we have an audience with the Prince?
Wait here. The knight left and returned some minutes later. Follow me, he said.
We followed him into a large banquet hall. People were scurrying about loading wares on long tables. From the looks of things, the feast being prepared would be enormous. At the head of the hall two figures were seated on thrones. One, I assumed, was the Prince. He was a handsome man with a petulant mouth. He wore a red robe set with many jewels But my eyes were immediately drawn to the woman next to him, in a blue robe, the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, with sparkling emerald eyes and long blonde hair. Sir Landry spoke: Im sorry about your father. I had hoped to see him.
He was an old man, the Prince said dismissively.
I dont know if you remember me. I am Sir Landry. You were a small boy when I was here last.
I think I do remember you, but I recall you under a somewhat different name. No matter. This is my sister, the Princess Anne.
A princess. I should have known. I remember you well, Sir Landry, she said.
You may stay for the feast, said the Prince.
* * *
Id expected an enormous feast but this exceeded my expectations. The hall was filled with knights, eating and drinking. We sat at the table with the Prince and Princess. I could not take my eyes off her.
What are your plans when you become King? asked Sir Landry.
I plan to have a good time, said the Prince. My father was a stick-in-the-mud. Would you believe it, he cared for the welfare of the peasants, as if they didnt exist to serve us?
I see. And what do you think of that, Princess Anne.
Oh, my brothers word is law. After all, Im just a woman.
My sister knows her place, said the Prince. I shall have to marry her off.
Princess Anne looked down at her plate and blushed.
The feast went on. The hall became noisier as the knights became drunker. It was evident that the Prince was also drunk. Go on, he said to the Princess, lets see you dance. Let the men see your legs.
The Retired Knight stood up. I dont think that is necessary, he said.
The Princess will do as I tell her, wont you?
Youve had too much to drink, Sir Landry told the Prince.
You dare speak to me like that, said the Prince, pointing to Sir Landry. Guards, seize that man. He pointed to me. And that one, too.
We were immediately surrounded. To my surprise, the Retired Knight didnt attempt to draw his sword. When he saw me looking at him he made a gesture for me to be still. Its all right, he said.
So thats how we landed in the dungeon.
* * *
I was dozing off when I heard a sound. It was a key in the door to the dungeon. I was immediately awake. The door creaked open. It was the beautiful Princess. Good evening, said Sir Landry.
You were expecting me, werent you?
Yes, I was. I thought that the little hellion I knew couldnt have possibly turned into that simpering maiden you were pretending to be.
I had no choice. My brother took command of the Palace Guard after our father died. It would be a disaster if he took the crown tomorrow. Hes already tormenting the peasants and there are rumblings of discontent. And hes a drunken fool.
I seem to recall him as an unpleasant child.
Can you help me? I do have my followers among the knights.
How did you get past the guards? I blurted out.
That was no problem. They were passed out from drinking.
And the Palace Guard? said Sir Landry.
Then now is the time to strike. Lead us to the Princes chamber.
As the Princess had said, the guards in front of the Princes chamber were passed out. One of them stirred and opened his eyes. Sir Landry knocked him unconscious with his sword hilt. We entered the chamber. The Prince was sprawled on his bed, snoring loudly. A young woman, clad only in a shift, was half on top of him. She screamed when she saw us and ran out. The Prince sat upright. What are you doing here? You should be in the dungeon.
Sorry to disappoint you.
The Prince reached for his sword by the side of his bed. Sir Landrys sword was instantly at his throat. Dont make a sound. Do you wish to live?
The Prince nodded. Good. You would not make a good king. Get dressed. Ill escort you to the castle gate. You can have your steed. Ride it to the next kingdom. Possibly you can reform and start a new life.
All right. I will. The Prince stood up, then he suddenly dove for the Princess. He had his arms around her and I didnt know what we would do, then he let out a moan and sank to the floor. The Princess held a knife in her hand. It was an accident, she said. He ran into my knife.
Sir Landry examined the Prince. Hes dead.
I didnt mean to kill him, said the Princess.
Of course not. No matter. We must prepare for tomorrow.
The next morning the hall was packed with even more people than the night before. The peasants had been allowed in to witness the coronation of their new ruler. Sir Landry stepped forward. The Prince has suffered an unfortunate accident, he said. He is dead. The Princess, as the Kings remaining child, will rule instead.
The peasants, whod looked sullen at the prospect of the Prince reigning over them, broke into a cheer The ceremony went on, only with the Princess receiving the crown. That night there was once again feasting but the Princesss followers did not get drunk. I ate and drank my fill. I looked at the head of the table but didnt see the Princess, nor Sir Landry.
Early the next morning the Retired Knight shook me awake and said wed be leaving. Where have you been? I asked.
Thats of no consequence.
But why are we leaving? We can stay for a while. The Princess likes you.
Yes, but she likes ruling more.
But shes so beautiful. You dont think she killed her brother on purpose, do you?
Sir Landry smiled. She is beautiful, he said. And its best we move on.
Id learned that the Retired Knight was wise. We packed our things and, before anyone else was awake, were on our way.
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