The Retired Knight in Camelot by Martin Green.
The Retired Knight and I, Jack, his squire, stood on the hill and looked down upon the city. We had finally reached Camelot. From our vantage point, Camelot looked impressive, its towers dazzling in the sun, its many flags and banners flapping in the breeze. But when we descended and went through the city gates we could see that many of the towers were old and crumbling. The crowded streets were strewn with refuse. Gangs of young people roamed about. Two of them approached us but when the Retired Knight put his hand on his sword Jenny and gave them his cold glare they moved away. Most of the older people looked pale and malnourished. This is what had happened to King Arthurs proud capital since his reign had ended and England had descended into anarchy.
Where are we going? I asked.
To an inn I know of, if its still open. Yes, there it is, and seemingly guarded, too.
An armed knight blocked the entrance. Where are you from, he asked. And what is your business in Camelot?
Weve come a long ways across England, and we are here to find an old friend of mine.
Thats all right. I know this man. Another knight had ridden up. Hello, Sir Lan---
Landry. Im fine, Sir Gaw---
Gantry. Its been a long time.
Yes, I thought that when the Round Table was disbanded Id be a retired knight. But events have dictated otherwise. So we have journeyed to Camelot. This young lad is Jack, my squire.
You could not have found a better master, young Jack. And Sir, er Landry, you could not have arrived at a better time. Camelot is now ruled by street gangs who demand they be paid for protection. Innkeepers, artisans, merchants, anyone who tries to run a legitimate enterprise is at risk. Most have elected to comply. Edward, the innkeeper here, is one of the few whos chosen in resist. Hes hired me and my men to keep off the predators. Weve already fought off several attacks. Thats the reason for our precaution. The rumor on the street is that a number of the worst gangs have banded together and will attack us shortly. They want to make an example of us. They boast they will burn down the inn and kill anyone trying to defend it.
Your man was right to be suspicious of strangers. Well have to consider this, and I have other questions, too.
Of course. But you and your squire must be tired from your journey.
And hungry, I put in.
Lets attend to your needs then.
We had stabled our horses, washed off the dust of the road and eaten. Now the two knights sat at a table in the inns dining hall. First of all, asked Sir Landry, what has become of the other knights of the Round Table?
Scattered to the winds. The knights provided law and order. I believe most of the people still want this, but they are cowed by the gangs.
Yes, the same is true for the rest of the country, upstart barons ruling their own little fiefs. And the Queen, what has become of her?
There are rumors that she fled to France, but most believe she is dead.
No, I will never accept that she is dead. And Merlin, what of him?
No one has seen him in ages.
I see. All right, about this imminent attack.
The knights continued their discussion in lowered voices. The food had made me sleepy and I must have dozed off. I was awakened by Sir Landry. Come, Jack. You and the stable boys are to fill pails with water and douse any fires that may be caused.
Then the attack is coming.
This night, we are told.
But I want to fight. Youve told me my swordsmanship has been getting better.
You may well get your chance. But if the inn is burned down then we will have lost the fight.
It was after midnight. Outside it was dark, and quiet. Every now and then an owl hooted, then quiet again. Everyone stood by. Then there was a wild yelling, the sounds of hoof beats and of men running, with ringing oaths. The invaders ran through the gate, which had deliberately been left open. Our men, led by the two knights, attacked them from both sides. I watched as Sir Landry quickly dispatched several horsemen. Sir Gantry did almost as well. Then several of the invaders used their torches to set off fires in the yard and in one corner of the inn. We rushed around like madmen trying to put them out.
When I was able to observe the battle again I could see that the sheer number of the gang members were overwhelming the defenders. I unsheathed my sword and ran at the closest invader I could see, a burly ruffian who sneered at me and said, Come, boy, you will not be getting any older. But I parried his thrust as Sir Landry had taught me and pierced his chest with my sword. As he went down, I felt a blow on the side of my head and another ruffian, a large bearded fellow, stood over me with his a battle ax. I could not raise my own sword in time ro deflect the ax. I prepared to meet my death.
There was a loud noise and a bright light, then what looked like a ball of fire appeared over the inn. Everyone looked up. A man stood in the center of the ball of fire. He was tall, made to seem even taller by his conical hat, had a white beard and piercing blue eyes. He wore a dark robe emblazoned by moons and stars. Begone, villains, he bellowed. I looked up and saw that the ax raised over my head was melting. I looked around; the same was true of all the invaders weapons. They stood open-mouthed, not believing what was happening. Our own men looked ready to move in for the kill.
Hello, Merlin, said Sir Landry, looking at the tall man who stood unharmed in the ball of fire. I was hoping to see you.
So I had heard. And I seem to have come in good time.
Now Sir Landry, with a quick stroke, sent the melting sword of the foe hed been battling flying into the air. He put his own sword to the ruffians throat. You heard, Merlin, he said. Begone. The invaders all turned and ran. The battle was over. The gangs had been routed.
Later we all assembled in the dining hall to celebrate the victory, Merlin among us. To my surprise, he now looked like an ordinary man, but he was still an imposing figure. I dont think even the strongest knight would have dared cross him. They were talking about what to do now that the gangs had been defeated. I propose we call a meeting of all the citizens, said Sir Landry. You said the people want law and order but were cowed by the gangs. Now that weve defeated the gangs they can re-establish a government.
The gangs may have been defeated for now, but what if they try to come back? asked Sir Gantry.
Sir Landry looked at Merlin. Will you stay and appear with us at the meeting. With your presence there, I doubt if the gangs will dare to cause any trouble.
I will be there, said Merlin. I will also stay until a new government has been established.
I will send word throughout the kingdom for all Knights of the Round Table to return to Camelot, said Sir Gantry. They will enforce law and order.
And you, Sir, er, Landry, said Merlin. Will you stay in Camelot?
No, Ive had enough of England. I believe I need a change of scenery. I think Ill travel to France. He looked at me. What do you say, young Jack?
Youd be lost without me. Besides, Ive always wanted to meet a queen.
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