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In the castle courtyard, King Mewkus and Edwart had assembled the royal court to receive the Knights of Boo’Gar as they marched majestically through the gates. Brightly colored flags hung from the castle walls, and a small band of flutes and drums played the Mewkus family overture. It was a bouncy tune called “A Hasty Retreat.”
The lords and ladies of the royal court had been advised of the tragic kidnapping, so they had gathered in their most solemn attire, their puffy red faces looking damp and concerned under a hot morning sun.
The king had changed into his formal crown, and Princess Phlema stood tall in her tiara, dressed in her favorite blue velvet jumper and wearing her favorite tool belt. She was the picture of composure now, and no one would ever guess that she’d been crying earlier. Now she stood, proud and determined.
The two monks of the Green Order, Pik and Flik, lingered behind the king and princess, wearing their stiff ceremonial robes. Pik nervously fingered the cuff of his sleeve.
Edwart the wizard stood calmly, his fingertips touching as he surveyed the festive scene, nodding to the assembled nobility and trying to look extra magical.
King Mewkus looked around the courtyard. It had been years since he felt so important and in charge. Perhaps this kidnapping was just the thing he needed to get his kingdom back on track and to start ruling like a king again—more like his father.
He pictured the scene to come. Perhaps five hundred knights would ride into the courtyard and bow to him. He’d say something inspirational and the crowd would cheer. It was going to be grand.
Perhaps he would lead the knights into battle against the evil kidnappers and ride back into the castle carrying Babycakes. His daughter would be so proud of him.
“A rider approaches!” shouted a teenage girl perched high up on the castle wall.
A ripple of movement went through the crowd as they moved toward the gate to see the gleaming armor of the imposing champions riding under their colorful banners. The atmosphere was charged with excitement and everyone held their breath and waited for that moment—the moment they’d tell their grandchildren about.
Princess Phlema stood on tiptoes to see over the crowd. “Who is it? How many are there? How handsome are they on a scale from one to ten?” she bobbed her head to see. “Um, is that an ostrich?”
Sir Rowland rode alone through the gate to the triumphant blare of the royal trumpets. The Mewkus overture reached a thundering crescendo, which unfortunately spooked Rowland’s timid ostrich. Tulip jumped back, throwing Rowland into the air and landing him in a coop full of chickens.
The royal court looked on in horror as chickens flew everywhere. Rowland’s ostrich squawked and then pooped right in the courtyard.
“I’m fine. Not a problem!” shouted Sir Rowland from beneath twenty chickens. He jumped up pulling feathers from his hair and walked over to the king. The musicians stopped playing.
“Your Majesty!” Sir Rowland squeaked.
He pulled a small, tattered card out of his pocket and read aloud so that the crowd could hear him. “I am Sir Rowland Pockmyer, son of Rufus. I have come in answer to your call. How can the Knights of Boo’Gar assist you?”
Everyone stood in stunned silence. Princess Phlema frowned and looked back at the gate. King Mewkus plucked a chicken feather out of his teeth.
The wizard Edwart spoke up first. “Uh, good Sir Knight. Shouldn’t we wait for the other knights to show up?”
Sir Rowland looked back at the gate, hopefully. “Umm, actually, I think I’m pretty much it, Your Wizardship.”
More silence. Somewhere, a chicken squawked.
“You gotta be kidding me!” cried Princess Phlema. She turned to look at her father.
“Good Sir Rowland,” asked the king. “Are there not hundreds of you under my command?”
Sir Rowland cleared his throat. “Actually—ahem—there’s a funny story behind that. See, most of them have retired. I’m the only one left,” said Rowland uncomfortably.
“What about Sir Winston?” asked Edwart.
“Oh, he started a weasel stand in Sneezix.”
“I think I remember a Sir Justin?” asked the king.
“Yes, unfortunately Justin quit to start a boy band,” said Rowland.
Princess Phlema stepped forward. “How old are you, kid?”
“I am almost fourteen, Your Ladyship.”
The royals turned to look at each other. Edwart shrugged his shoulders. The princess crossed her arms and scowled. The king’s dreams of leading a brave army evaporated before his eyes as he looked Rowland up and down.
King Mewkus thought to himself, “Has my kingdom finally come to this? A thirteen-year-old ragamuffin is my only knight?”
The king sighed. “Well, perhaps I should bring you up to speed on the situation then,” he said with solemn emphasis. “You see, there’s been a kidnapping.”
“A what?” said Sir Rowland.
“A kidnapping,” said the king. “One of our royal goats has been taken.”
“And you think bees are responsible?”
“Bees? No, no—a person took the goat. It’s a kidnapping,” said the king with irritation. “Didn’t you hear me?”
“Oh . . . I see, well,” said Rowland slowly. “We mostly deal with bees. At least, that’s what I was trained for.”
“You mean all you do is practice battling bees all day?” asked the wizard.
Rowland continued with confidence. “Yes, it made sense since that’s what we were asked to do last time. We developed a number of very effective . . .”
“Look, this doesn’t have anything to do with bees, you silly child!” interrupted Princess Phlema.
“My goat has been taken and we need you to go get it back,” cried the princess. “And kick someone’s behind. You guys are supposed to be so terrifying and efficient.”
“Your Highness,” called Pik the monk. “This young boy can’t possibly hope to rescue a goat from dangerous captors all by himself.”
“I was actually going to say the same thing,” said Rowland. “I have no weapons. Only my bee-handling equipment,” he continued. “Perhaps I could use one of my nets to . . .”
“Will you drop the bee thing!” shouted Phlema. “There are no bees!”
The king tried to diffuse the situation. “Look, everyone calm down, OK? Can you at least look into this kidnapping for us? We’d really appreciate it.”
Suddenly, the wizard turned around and thoughtfully walked back toward the castle door. The king called out to him.
“Where are you going, Edwart?” he asked.
“I have an idea,” said Edwart. “I’ll be right back.”
The king turned back to Rowland. “We received this note. We need you to venture into the forest and track down these kidnappers. Can you at least try?” He handed the note to Rowland.
Sir Rowland looked at the note, then at Princess Phlema. Her lip trembled with emotion again. She feared she would never see her lovely Babycakes ever again. It was all too much.
Sir Rowland felt a surge of bravery. “I will do my best, Your Majesty. It will be my honor to track down these bees . . . uh . . . I mean these kidnappers.”
He paused in thought. “Are they called kidnappers because baby goats are called kids?”
The king looked at him like he was crazy. “No! They are called kidnappers because they abducted someone against their will. Look, are you sure you’re up for this?”
Some of the nobles in the crowd exchanged concerned glances.
“Ah, of course. Yes, Your Majesty. This will be a piece of cake. Yes,” stammered Rowland.
The wizard returned to the group carrying a long object covered in fine green velvet. He stopped in front of Sir Rowland and, with great ceremony, unwrapped the object.
“Good Sir Rowland,” intoned Edwart. “May I present to you your weapon. Passed down through generations of wizards. Enchanted by the elves of Highmark, and blessed by the friars of Vallejo. I present to you the Staff of Slumber.”
The crowd of lords and ladies recoiled with a gasp.
“Jiminy jaguars,” whispered Princess Phlema.
The wizard held a long, gnarled wooden shaft out to Rowland. Rowland took the staff and looked at it. The wood had a blue-green tint to it. It was carved from top to bottom with ancient symbols, and it felt very heavy and well balanced in his hands. Rowland thought he felt a tingle run through his fingers.
“This will make a fine weapon. Thank you, wizard.”
“Use it wisely, good knight,” said Edwart. “For the Staff of Slumber has great power. All who are touched by its magic will fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.”
“Cool,” said Sir Rowland. He held the staff in both hands, making swiping gestures right and left to get the feel of it.
The princess thought he looked rather knightly after all.
With this, the crowd of lords and ladies erupted in a loud cheer.
“Hooray!” said the crowd.
The band struck up the Mewkus overture again. Three maidens came out of the crowd and threw rose petals on Rowland, and the king and his court clapped enthusiastically.
“Well then,” smiled the king. “It looks like we have our champion after all. Good luck, Sir Rowland!”
Tulip was led into the center of the courtyard wearing a finely crafted new saddle. It was packed with a mountain of fresh supplies. Rowland took his new weapon and climbed up onto the saddle. He looked down at the stable boy holding the reins.
“Uh, sorry about the mess,” said Sir Rowland.
Everyone glanced down at the “deposit” that Tulip had left on the ground. The lords and ladies held lace hankies to their nose. Tulip blushed a deep red.
The monks, Pik and Flik, approached Rowland and called up to him. “Start your search in the Dark Woods.”
“I will do as you say,” Rowland replied. He gave the princess a self-assured look and raised one eyebrow for effect. The princess looked at him and shrugged.
With that, Sir Rowland turned Tulip around and headed out the gates of Castle Boo’Gar to the cheers of a grateful crowd. The band played joyously, and Tulip walked with extra snap in her stride as they marched off into their first great adventure.
“Yo! Sir Rowland!” cried Princess Phlema. “Bring me back my goat!”
The princess then tossed him a single white rose. It floated through the air to the brave knight, rolling against a cruel blue sky. Time seemed to slow down as Rowland reached . . . out . . . to . . . grab . . . it . . . and . . . he totally missed.
There was an audible groan of disappointment from the crowd, as the rose landed in the mud in front of the gate. Rowland chose not to see this as a bad omen and waved enthusiastically to the crowd.
King Mewkus took a step closer to his trusted wizard. “We are in deep doo-doo,” muttered the king.
END OF EXCERPT
The Knights of Boo’Gar
By Art Roche