The Boy Who Would Be Hero
by James L. Secor
“Stevie-boy!” called Donald the Dragon Killer.
And like magic, as if he’d known beforehand, Stevie-boy was there, in the room, just inside the door. His hulking frame, his head cocked to one side, blocked much of the light. Donald had not yet opened or had opened for him his shuttered windows, whence the two streaks of light that tore across the floor and up the opposite walls.
“Saddle my horse. I’m going out and I’m going farther than before.”
“Whatever for, Sir Donald?”
“A hero’s job is never done, Stevie-boy.”
“Yes, sir. And what of breakfast?”
“I’m a hero, Stevie-boy.”
“As you say, sir. But even heroes must eat.”
“Oh, alright. Have me a tankard of ale and a loaf of black bread sent in. That’ll do me.”
“As you say, sir.” And Stevie-boy suddenly disappeared.
For the umpteenth time, Donald wondered how Stevie-boy did these appearing and disappearing things but it was no use trying to figure it out–the workings of these lower-downs was really quite beyond him.
Candy-girl brought Donald his breakfast and stood demurely against the wall til he had finished. Then, she took the plate and tankard away. Donald belched and rose from his table. His stomach rumbled a little and he was reminded of how long it had been since he’d had a decent meal. He liked black bread and ale but the sameness of the routine bothered him. It was, in truth, wearing on is nerves. As was the idleness–or, rather, the lack of encountering heroic situations. Surely it was not possible to have swept the world clean.
Sir Donald strode out into the bare courtyard, where even the grass refused to grow. He had his mighty bow and quiver full of arrows. Sean-boy stood by his horse’s head with his trusty golden lance, never broken during battle. But it did not gleam in the pale sunlight. Donald looked up into the washed out bluish sky with its straggly, used up clouds and wondered again at what had happened to the world.
Sean-boy watched from bland eyes as his master mounted his golden gelding. He handed Sir Donald his lance and stepped back. The horse groaned a bit under Donald’s weight but stood its ground. It took Donald several kicks in the animal’s side to get the beast moving. Off they went at a leisurely walk. Although Donald grimaced slightly, perhaps this pace was better until he’d passed through his demesne.
Once again, as he had for uncountable mornings, Sir Donald The Dragon Killer rode tall through fields of emptiness. Stubble there was and an occasional sorry stalk of some grain or other, but otherwise nothing. Not even vermin or insects roamed the dry earth. The trees scattered around, dotting the hazy horizon here and there, showed dull, dusted green leaves on branches that sagged earthward.
How long had the world around him been barren? Donald could not recall. A long time, that was for sure. Why it was this way was a conundrum the hero could not get his mind around. He consoled himself by telling himself that it was his job to do, not to think. That is what a hero did. A hero acted. He killed problems and since he had to eat, he killed his food as well. When there had been game, he’d been good at it. Unsurpassed. For his aim was unerring. After all, he was a hero. Sometimes he used his hunting as an excuse to keep his skills sharp. Sir Donald The Dragon Killer was proud of himself. His abilities never atrophied.
Yes. All in all, despite the lack of game, Donald had a good life, he thought.
It wasn’t til after passing through the once fecund now fallen fallow cropland that his horse began to canter. Donald felt better at this pace and so was not bothered so much by the lack of a view. But he did pull his steed up short upon spying a forest up ahead. This was a sure sign he’d gone farther than he’d ever gone before. It was a lush green forest with tall-standing trees and dancing foliage, for there was a breeze. That brought his head around: a breeze! He could feel the breeze. He could smell the air. He felt invigorated. Surely there was life here and he’d eat well tonight. Sir Donald’s mouth watered. He kicked his trusty charger into a gallop. Unlike earlier in the morning, this did not take much effort.
The forest was much farther away than it appeared and by the time they entered its cool shade, the horse was sweating and snorting and foaming at the mouth. Horse and rider slowed to a walk, savoring the smell and the feel. Donald’s exceptional hearing picked up the sounds of stirrings amongst the trees and in the underbrush. He knew, though, that it was small stuff so he didn’t bother to look. He was after bigger game.
It would be nice, too, if there were a stream or a well.
The time passed almost unnoticed and then Donald spotted a clearing ahead. And in that clearing, his keen eyesight espied a fowl. A partridge. A very fat partridge. He moved a little closer, steadied his mount and took aim. His arrow flew silently and swiftly through the fresh air and sank itself into its target. The bird keeled over without a sound. But as Donald was cantering in to gather up his kill, a keening cleft the air.
When Donald broke into the clearing, a skinny old lady dressed in rags stood over the fallen fowl howling her grief, hands raised in the air, a look of horror on her gnarled and crinkled face. The door to her lean-to stood open and her spinning wheel lay spilled on the ground, thread sprawled everywhere. She looked up at Donald’s approach.
“You bastard!” she cursed. “Look what you’ve done.”
Donald looked. “Yes! I’ve just shot my dinner. Excellent marksmanship, don’t you think?”
“It was my only laying hen you shot!”
Donald dismounted. He looked closely at the dead bird.
“Yes. You’re right. It is a hen,” he said.
“Damn right I’m right. What are you going to do about it?”
“Do? I’m going to take it home and eat it.” And Donald reached for the dead thing.
The old woman sprang between him and his goal. “Over my dead body!”
“Surely you jest. I’m a hero. I always get what I want.”
“Not this time, buster.”
“Who the hell are you to challenge me?”
“I’m the old lady of the woods and this is my bird.”
“Life’s tough, honey. Tell me about it.”
“You want to take my hen and leave me to starve to death. Is that it?”
“Well, that isn’t it. . .unless you pay me first.”
“Pay you? With what?”
“You haven’t got anything on you?”
“What good’s money when you’re out hunting?”
“You haven’t got anything on you?”
“What good’s money out here in the woods?”
“Well, then. You have to kill me to get the bird.” She pulled her scrawny self up to her full height, perhaps her head came up to Sir Donald’s nose, so she was not too terribly intimidating.
“Okay,” shrugged Donald The Dragon Killer and he drew his sword and cut off her head in one fell swoop. “Evil old lady,” he muttered as her head plopped onto the ground and rolled around, staining the spun thread red. “Dinner and one less witch in the world,” Sir Donald The Dragon Killer said to himself. He was quite satisfied. It had been a good day.
Sir Donald carried the arrowed trophy-hen proudly over his shoulder.
“Zippity-doo-dah, zippity-ay,” he sang.
He turned to look back at the forest before the long journey home. The color was not so green and the leaves did not rustle. Somehow, the woods had sunk in on itself, it wasn’t so big any more. Like all the life had been taken out of it.
Sir Donald the hero wondered why it is this happened wherever he went. He shook his head. And then he turned round and headed home.
“My, oh my, what a wonderful day,” he sang.
(c) James L. Secor, 2017