The Black Knight
By Skyla Blazewright
Once upon a time there was a young shepherd boy named Black who dreamed of becoming a knight. Every day, with his sheep out to graze, he’d practice slinging rocks at targets and he would wield sticks like swords against scarecrows. When the knights would ride by, he would always watch the men on horseback with a dreamy sigh.
When he was old enough to become a page, he ran to his closest friend, a shepherdess who, sadly, always lost her sheep on a regular basis and he asked her, “Bo, I need your help. I want to go see the knights today and ask if I can be a knight, but my sheep need to go to pasture. Can you watch my sheep?”
Bo gave Black an airy smile and waved him off. “Go find your dream, Black! Go be a knight! I shall look after your sheep.”
Black had never run faster, even when he was running from the Red Hood Wolf Bandits. He waited in the road for the knights to appear and they did, as always, riding atop majestic steeds with their armor clattering and their flag billowing in the wind.
“Excuse me, Sir Knights!” he said, and they stopped their horses to look down at him. He wore ragged clothes, covered in stains and mud, and his feet were bare. His hair was as black as the darkest night.
“What is it, boy?” the knight in the lead asked him. “Has some vile creature terrorized your village?”
“Well, no,” Black said in reply.
“Then why do you stop the knights? We are very busy,” the knight said.
“I want to be busy too! Can I join the knights? I’ll work hard!” Black bubbled with excitement, but that excitement faded fast as the knights burst out laughing.
“You? Be a knight?” the knight guffawed. “You have nothing that could make you a good knight. You have no noble blood. You have no armor. You have a stick instead of a sword, and a sling instead of a bow. You have no fine horse to ride, and you cannot even afford shoes to wear. You will never be a good knight, so go back to tending your goats and making cheese for the king’s table. Don’t bother to dream. Be at peace with your peasanthood.”
With that, the knights rode off down the road and Black clenched his fists. He felt a bubble of anger and he shouted, “You’ll see! I’ll be a knight without your help!”
The next day, while he was tending his sheep, Black led them to the river. When he was there, he saw a small figure clinging to a floating branch as it went down the river. The figure was small enough to fit in his palm and it had wet wings. He swam out into the water to save it. It turned out to be a tiny, little fairy. Black set her on top of a rock. “Are you okay?” he asked the fairy.
“Thanks to you, I am.” The fairy gave him a warm smile. “It was brave of you to rescue me. No one has ever done that before.”
“You needed help. I did what was right,” Black determined.
“Even at the risk of yourself?” she asked.
“Sometimes the risk is worth the reward,” he pointed out.
“Oh?” the fairy looked curious. “And what is your reward?”
“Knowing that you are going to live long and prosper because I saved you,” Black told her. “Do you want to warm up? I know a shepherdess who carries clean kerchiefs. And I can get you some bread and cheese from my sack.”
“No need.” The fairy cast magic which swirled around both of them and dried them off. Black even became quite clean. “Because you have shown me such kindness, I, too, will show you the same. I can sense your heart’s desire. You want to be a knight. So for your gift, I will have you journey to knighthood.”
Black sadly looked at his hands. “But I cannot… I’m a peasant, and peasant boys can’t be knights. The knights said so.”
The fairy laughed, “And what makes a knight? A knight quests, and battles monsters, and saves the distressed. You just did all of this. You journeyed through the treacherous river, and battled fearsome tides, to save me in my distress. What more do you need to be a knight, when you are already well on your way?” she magicked up a list, and on that list were quests for him to embark upon. “When you have finished all of these quests, you will be a full fledged knight. No one will be able to say you are not.”
He took the list from where it floated in the air. “What do these say?” he asked, but when he looked for her, she was already gone.
His first quest, he supposed, would have to be finding someone to teach him to read. But he was quite excited because the fairy had given him hope. He could be a knight after all! He could not wait to start on his quests.
First he ran to his friend Bo for advice. She was on the next hill over from where his sheep grazed, and, once again, her own sheep were missing. “Bo, where are your sheep?” he asked her.
“Oh, don’t worry. If I leave them alone, they’ll make their way home, tails a-wagging. They always do,” she said, going back to daydreaming until he poked her and showed her the paper he got from the fairy. “What is this?” she asked.
“It’s a list of quests for me to do in order to become a knight!” Black replied.
“Can you even read it?” Bo asked.
He shook his head. “No, but since it’s from a fairy, it’s sure to help me be a knight if I learn to read it. Who do I go to in order to learn to read?”
“Well, the tax collector knows how. And the local Sheriff of Nottingham might know how, but who knows how well that would go if you tried to ask? I heard he’s not a very nice man since he hired Robin Hood and his very unmerry men to help him collect Sherwood’s taxes and keep it from the Red Hood Wolf Bandits.” Bo tapped her chin in thought before she said, “Ah ha! The wizard! Why not go to the wizard in the tower in Sherwood Forest?”
“Sherwood Forest is haunted, though!” Black said.
“And a knight would never be afraid of a simple haunted forest,” Bo said. “I’ll watch your sheep for you.”
“Don’t leave my sheep alone like you do yours, please. Last time, I had to gather my sheep up. They don’t come home like yours do,” Black requested.
Bo waved him off. “Black sheep are so contrary.” It was her way of agreeing.
Black said, “Thank you, Bo! I’ll be back soon.”
Soon, Black stood in front of Sherwood Forest. He was very nervous. Sherwood Forest was once home to Robin Hood and his Merry Men, who robbed rich travelers to give to the poor. But then, Robin Hood and his gang became the Unmerry Men, and joined the Sheriff of Nottingham. Now, Sherwood Forest was haunted by ghosts, and other scary creature lurked there. The Red Hood Wolf Bandits were among the scary things in residence in Sherwood Forest now. They took anything they wanted from anyone. When people stopped traveling through Sherwood Forest, the Red Hood Wolf Bandits started coming out of the forest, and they had chased after Black’s sheep many times.
Bravely, Black stepped into the darkened forest. This was his next quest! First he saved the fairy, and now he had to brave Sherwood Forest.