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The Adventures Of Henry Auburn

by J.M. PLEDGE

It was a morning just like any other for that time of year. There was a chilly mist in the air and the dead leaves were white with hoary frost of fall. They crunched under Sir Henry's iron boots on the frozen ground. He stroked Lancer's velvet nose before climbing into the saddle. The heavy horse, a warrior like himself, shivered and snorted a nose full of steam as Henry's heavy suit clanked into place.

But this was no ordinary day. Today, Henry was to defend his lands and honour in mortal combat with his neighbour, the evil baron, Sir Dwain Blackthorn. Sombre thoughts filled his mind as he walked Lancer through the thickets into the peaceful meadow that was soon to be a grisly field of honour, a sacred contest sanctioned by the law of the realm to decide who would administer these lands for the King, A chance for the two knights to settle their private differences in an affair of state as befitted men I of their stature; single combat to the death.

Henry paused to savour the silence, the calm before the storm. He pulled up at the edge of the trees to survey the empty meadow, still shrouded in mist; the deathly silence broken only by the clink of his armour and Lancer's heavy breathing.
"Peasant," he muttered. "Afraid to show himself."

He called out in a loud voice, “Dwain Blackthorn! I say you are a coward and a knave! Show yourself and meet my sword!”
There was no reply. Even the echoes were swallowed by the shroud of mist. Henry gathered his breath for another insult, anxious to get on with it lest he lose his nerve, for evil as he was, Dwain Blackthorn was a mighty warrior. But even as he was preparing to let go his speech, the air was rent by a blood curdling scream, the battle cry of the Blackthorns.

For an instant Henry's blood froze. He could feel the knight but he couldn't see him. Then, as if by magic, Dwain is bearing down from behind, dealt Henry a mighty blow and then was gone in a shower of turf flying up from the ground behind Dwain's charger they dashed out into the meadow and turned with lowered lance challenge Henry and Lancer. Remembering all that hung in the balance, Henry threw off the first blow, found his lost courage and raised his lance to meet Dwain in the meadow.
The first pass shattered both lances and unhorsed both knights, but even as he sat on the ground gathering his wits, Sir Dwain was upon him with the two handed sword.

All morning long the valley rang with the song of combat, axe on shield, sword on armour. The dead brown grass turned blood red and steamed.

Dwain was clever and strong for there was power in his evil, but Henry wasn't called the first knight of the land for idle reasons. He wielded the strength of good with the courage of the righteous and eventually Dwain's strength ebbed and with it, his power.

Time and again Henry scored telling blows until Dwain battered black armour glistened with his blood. Then, suddenly, Henry found Dwain's knee and brought the villain to the ground. It was all over but the killing. Henry raised his sword and shouted, "Yield, Dwain Blackthorn or I will take your worthless life!”

"Never!" hissed Dwain, his lips swollen and bloody. "I will never yield to you!”

Henry gathered strength for the blow, one true stroke to sever Dwain's head from his body. His anger spent, it was the act of a technician practicing a trade. He had no doubt of the kill, but was concerned that the blow should be perfect. Angle and force calculated, Henry prepared to strike when the call came on the wind, the call of Jessica, the Enchantress, the one he loved and hated, the one he could not defy.

The call was irresistible, compelling. He dropped his sword and Dwain took the opportunity to escape, his mind a turmoil of what might have been, Henry caught Lancer and started home.

Jessica stood at the castle gate waving the sceptre of plenty. The sight of her filled him with terror and longing, she had complete power over him. He could not resist her.

With a wave of her sceptre, his dagger became a twig, his armour, an old cardboard box, and Lancer, Trusty Rusty the bicycle. Jessica surveyed him disapprovingly. "You’re filthy. Go inside this instant and wash your face and hands. Dinner is on the table.”

Inside, Dad tousled his hair. "How's it going cowboy?"

"I'm a knight, Daddy! See? Armour!"

"Oh, sorry. Been out killing dragons?”

"Naw, Dwain Blackthorn and I almost had him but Ma said I had to come in! What's for dinner?”

While Henry inhaled his supper, Jessica complained. "Honestly, John, I don't know what's got into him. Did you see what he did to his new tee shirt?”

"Jess... Leave it.”

"And he's still walking on the bottom of those new jeans!"

"Jessica...”

While this was happening, Henry excused himself and managed to slip away before Jessica could object.
"Henry Aurburn! You come back here this instant and brush your teeth!”

"Come on, Jessica. What do you expect? He's an intelligent nine year old boy with a vivid imagination. Cut him some slack.”

Outside, the hot Texas sun beat down on the prairie. Marshall Henry Auburn pulled on the brim of his hat and mounted Old Ben. He pointed the paint down the road out of town pausing at a tree to rip down a poster for the outlaw kid Blackthorn, wanted dead or alive...

THE END