Stewart the Reluctant Knight

by Doug Mitchell

The man sat in the large vaulted chamber
head hanging in his hands, quiet and all alone.
The courtiers stood around him,
vexed for poor King Henry, sitting upon his throne.

Henry looked about them
missing the one that turned his life.
His only daughter, Penelope,
who had come from his only wife.

The king then raised his head, coughed,
and roared in a disquieting voice.
"My daughter has been spirited away,
and we must now make a hero choice.

"For the dragon sneaked upon us
and took her away in fright.
I need someone to give a name
to rid me of my plight."

All the courtiers stood with gasps,
for Penelope had been a beacon of light
And in unison they all replied,
"Sire, you need Stewart the Reluctant Knight."

The king then looked �round his vaulted chamber,
from the floor to the ceiling high above.
Then he nodded and said to all,
"Bring Sir Knight to me, so he may retrieve my dove."

Then a squire spoke up,
just returned from a festive journey,
"Sire, the knight you seek is here,
matching skills in the gentlemen tourney."

The king nodded to the squire,
his voice now a triumphant smash.
"Take this linen that is my daughter�s
to Stewart in a flash."

The squire clutched the prize
and headed for the door.
Turned his head, nodded once,
and ran across the marble floor.

So fast as lightning the squire flew
and saw sir knight making his final stand.
His horse thundered fell  his opponent
and now victory was at hand.

Gasping through breaths the squire came
and stumbled to sir knight.
He told Stewart of the king�s summons
but of the story gave no light.

Stewart had not the time to accept his laurels
though the other knights milled around.
He turned his heels, thanked the squire 
and left with a fearless bound.

He rumbled into the throne room,
where the king was holding court.
Such a weary group of people Stewart  thought,
they all look so out of sort.

So then Stewart came to the king,
bowed and removed his helm
"I have come to fulfill thy summons sire,
to the goodly king of this realm."

The king looked at him, nodded,
his eyes a mournful blue.
"Good Sir Stewart, you are my hope
in this task I set for you."

King Henry recounted the story
of the theft of Penelope.
And once finished the king asked one question,
"Will you take this task I set to thee?"

Stewart rose and bowed once more,
his face serious and undoubtedly alert.
"Good King Henry, I will return her ,
and give the thief an awful hurt."

With that  Stewart turned on heel
and bound for the still open door.
Oh how he hated leaving a chamber,
the center of attention, and well adored.

Riding across the countryside his only companion Bob the horse, Stewart searched for hints of the dragon upon which he would plot his course. Broken trees scattered the landscape pointing to no particular direction. There has to be something here, Stewart thought, something to make the connection. So he sat up, closed his eyes, and muttered to himself a little prayer. With the rumbling of his incantations came the name Irving the Dragon Slayer. Now Stewart thought long and hard for Irving was one not easily found. He might be in the east fighting his nemesis or curled up asleep, making not a sound. Perplexed beyond imagination, Stewart knew not what to do. For the words rumored that Stewart was slow witted, turned out to be true. Sitting upon his horse no clue where to go, Stewart turned his eyes to a nearby tree, upon it�s utmost branch sat a lovely crow. "That crow will be my guide." Stewart spoke to any that could hear. But then again if anyone were around, they would think his speaking quite queer. "Come little crow, I am lost on my quest, and need help on my way. Mayhaps you can join me, and brighten up my day?" With a flash of feathers the crow took off and landed squarely on Stewart�s shoulder. Then cawed once in the right direction towards an enormous boulder. So slowly Bob ambled on, plodding with every step. Stewart hopped down, the crow took off and landed on the rock with pep. Circling the boulder clockwise, it�s mass huge and round. He found dozing in the afternoon sun, Irving peacefully on the ground. Waking slowly and regretfully, Irving left a dreamful sleep. He looked at Stewart, then the crow, who didn't say a peep. Stewart took off his gloves, and extended his hand. "You are Irving The Dragon Slayer, known well throughout the land." "I see my reputation has preceded me, but also I know you. You're the Reluctant Knight who hates the nickname Stew" "Good man Irving, I have a question to pose. I am on this quest I have a dragon I need disposed, are you up to the Test" So Stewart told Irving his plan, the intricacies of the story. Irving, being somewhat an ego maniac, dreamt of future glories. "So you want my help, to join you on this road? If that�s the case then I say yes." Irving�s eyes just glowed. With a sudden cackle and a slow grin Irving began again with a start. "And is this crow your companion? Does she play a part?" The crow turned slowly to Stewart, and Stewart looked back at the crow, "I'm pretty sure," he said "that her true feathers will show." "Fine," said Irving with an exasperated sigh, "But mark my words little birdie, get too close to the dragon and you�ll surely fry." So the group swelled from three to four, and the journey continued on. Not knowing whether the distance ahead be short or be long.
They traveled many days, and pushed hard through most nights, but the thing Stewart most remembered was King Henry talking of his plight. It troubled his waking, it troubled his dreams. But from the sounds of his snoring, it didn't trouble Irving it seems. So the road grew ever on spreading to the horizon afar, their feet growing weary, the crow�s wings like leaden bars. And the longer they traveled, the quicker their tempers flamed. There was quite a nasty thunderstorm, and on the crow Irving placed the blame. Then they came to a vast prairie, rolling and undulating with grass. Scorch marks here, and scorch marks there, showing the dragon had recently passed. "AH!," cried a jubilant Irving, "We are now on the right track. Because look at the scorch marks, they�re all so fresh and black!" Stewart ambled over to the spot for his own investigation. Just to make sure Irving had made the correct summation. Satisfied with what Irving said, Stewart turned on heel and looked up at the sky. But what would before his eyes appear, but the dragon flying ever so high! The crow cawed once and flew off as a gust of wind. Following the dragon carefully, so as to appear a nonchalant peregrine. Irving and Stewart watched the flight trailing away to the west. The crow has brought us much luck, he thought, on this harrowing quest. Irving shook his head amusingly and muttered through his breath, "I hope the dragon doesn�t catch her, and give her a fiery death!" Stewart glared at Irving, and yelled in a loud bass, "Will you be quiet you ninny, or I�ll smack you in the face!" Irving blinked, was stunned, visually taken aback. Stewart stood at the ready, a whip prepared to crack. The tension was palpable, electricity was in the air. And unaware of all around them, stood this ghastly pair. "Stewart my friend," Irving began, taking a step away. "Do not take me seriously, twas a bad joke I made this day." Then he took two steps back again, his voice it did not quake, "I apologize, I meant no harm, and as a man I offer my hand to shake." Irving slowly extended his hand, relaxing from fist to loose. Stewart just stared at him, his body full of adrenaline juice. So he just stood there sullen, then his mouth let forth a boisterous howl, "The pressure must be getting to me, look at how much I scowl!� They then shook hands and smiled, the tension there now gone. Through this all, Bob the horse, was munching on the lawn. "Now that�s over, done and done, let us here make camp." Stewart finished with a flourish, he looked quite the scamp.. They went to Bob, took down the bedrolls, relieving him of this burden. Today there�d be no more traveling, that much was for certain. So they laid down and dozed off, Stewart the first to slip under. He dreamt a peaceful sleep that day of all the knights he�d plundered. And still the crow ranged further on following the dragon west. Using cunning skills and elusiveness to hide herself best. The sun went down, the stars came out, quiet reigned from high above. But far away King Henry still vexed, for he still missed his dove.
Dawn broke bright, the sky was clear, and Stewart thought a nice one to begin anew. The grass next to their bedrolls was glistening with dew. He began to rise, but changed his mind, a weight on his chest did show. Sleeping ever so peacefully was his one and only crow. Her black feathers so delicate, he pondered, such a wonderful sight. So strong but with a certain fragility, for you I shall always fight. Irving stirred from his slumber, rolled over onto his side. He just watched Stewart watching the crow, his grin a mile wide. To disrupt the peace and quiet, along trampled Bob. Bent down, licked Irving's face, leaving pieces of grass in gobs. Stewart witnessed the incident and he couldn�t keep it in, he started laughing boisterously when all he tried to do was grin. Stewart tried to stop his laughter, only causing tears. "Thank you good friend Bob, I�ve not laughed like that in years!" "Back to the question at hand Stew." said Irving, quite red faced. "Let�s hope your pet there can show where the big nasty is placed." So though she came back to them but an hour before dawn, Stewart spoke softly to her, "Arise my lovely swan." Her eyes opened slowly, wings still so very tired. Much more of this stuff she thought, and I�ll be ready to retire. "Now, my sweet bird, can you lead us to the dragon�s lair?" Stewart now was sitting up, the crow his only care. "Why of course I can," retorted the crow, "you silly fools." Stewart�s mouth hung open, being careful not to drool. "What did you think? I could only caw and peep? I�ve never had occasion to talk before, your conversations aren�t very deep." Stewart still sat stunned, Irving par for the course. The only one not surprised was good old Bob the horse. "So little black birdie," said Irving, finally regaining his wits. "Can you find the words now, to lead us this next bit?" "Oh don�t be so surprised Irving, I am no normal bird. Have you ever heard another talk? Try no to be absurd." With that Irving sat quiet, and Stewart tried to speak, "But..uh...why not before now, we�ve been traveling for weeks." "Stewart my friend, I now see the rumors about you have came true. And even though you are the brightest star, I still indeed like you." The silence hung heavy among them, the sun moved up in the sky. They all moved about so quietly readying to ride till night. "Now excuse me fair pigeon," Irving said, "do you really know? Or were you really too busy to keep your feathers for show?" "Look here you horses ass," said the crow, "No offense Bob. Of course I know where to go, and I can do the job." Irving smiled ruefully, and gave a smashing laugh. "Take my quill my friend, so that you can draw a graph." "Oh, where we�re going, to Penelope�s cell, you already know this wicked name. Tis the Evil Temple of Baal, the only one and the same." Stewart had heard of this place, and the tricks they used to deceive. And like everyone else had heard of the evil high priest Steve. Now their readying for the road ahead into a deep silence fell. Of the temple they�d all heard stories making it a veritable hell. Bustling to busy, thinking silence golden, Stewart made himself prepared, made himself emboldened. Finally the group left their camp under the sky at high noon. They started at a run, they wanted to get there soon. They moved steadily throughout the day, time passing by. The temple would be so much closer as the crow would fly. The prairie came to a sudden halt, ahead were thickening woods. "Here we rest the night," said Stewart, "and ready our goods." Off in the distance, but a mile distance from their spot, lay the ruins of a farm and barn, the crops left to rot. Stewart walked over solemnly, looking at the old charred timber. This place held much for him, many memories to remember. The crow fluttered over listlessly, her black camouflaged against the wood. She gave a deep sigh, Stewart drew up his hood. "Once upon a time, "Stewart started, "Lived the family Crowe. They were a good people, the daughter, Raven, had a radiant glow. "I work here 10 years ago, and promised my return. But when I returned it was as this, everything was burned." He got on his knees slowly, bowed and kissed the ground. The vastness of the prairie made him feel like the only one around. "Oh my Raven, where are you now, my return was delayed. I tried to come back, but my road was waylaid." He halted his speech, drew up to stand tall. Stared up overhead, looking for stars to fall. He hastened himself together, and walked back to Irving and Bob. Head hung down and praying, making sounds of little sobs. So there on the final edges of the prairie, the moon overhead beginning to revolve, Stewart lay anticipating the next day, and his problem to solve.
At first light the next dawn they began the final stage. Stewart sat contemplating, Irving worked up his rage. "Now the temple is about a mile distant," said the crow, turning her head her and there. They all on occasion looked up to check for the dragon in the air. "I shall lead us to the door, and give a polite knock." started Stewart, reigning in Bob, "Maybe it�s unlocked!" Irving gave a chuckle, the crow a muffled laugh. Stewart, sniffing, added, "And one thing for sure, oh how I need a bath." The tension was broken, as the group let out one last sigh. To the left the path led to the temple on high. The two men walked together, the crow sat perched. Bob strolled idly behind, lumbering while he lurched. They entered the temple courtyard, all lay quiet and still. The only thing they noticed, was a flower pot on a high window sill. But their calm was broken before they got within 50 feet of the door. Straddling high atop the temple, the dragon let out a great roar. Doors flew open, gates crashed wide, temple guards ran out in throngs, there was nowhere to run to, they would battle before long. Irving and Stewart stood back to back, Bob bared his teeth. A voice boomed from a high window, "Let me be quite brief. "You came here to my temple to rescue the princess this day. But I expected this to happen, and your quest has run astray." Stewart looked high above, and of course you can guess what he saw. There stood Steve, the evil high priest, with Penelope in his claws. Penelope shrieked something they couldn�t quite attest. But giving the benefit of the doubt, she was the damsel in distress. She threw her arms wide, behind trailed her rippling gown. One hand hit the flower pot, and sent it crashing to the ground. Steve cackled roughly, a sound grating to their ears. "Two great warriors slain in one day, I�ve not had this much fun in years." Stewart finally, through much fortitude, regained the majority of his wits. He screamed to all who could hear, "Steve, I give you this last opportunity to quit." "HA you silly fool, do you think me scared? It�s two against 100, your deaths have been prepared." With those finals words, the guards moved into place. The crow leapt from Stewart�s shoulder and flew off into space. Irving whispered to Stewart, "So tell me what�s the plan?" Stewart whispered back, "We kill as many as we can." "Wait", cried Steve, "Let me be gracious, you can beg for mercy. But here�s the problem, you give up, and old Henry will most definitely curse thee." "Hmmmmm, what lovely choices, you sure can cut a deal." Irving then went on to add "And your toupee looks so real!" "GRRRR! Kill them both, kill them all, and the horse they rode in on. Grind their bones into a powder, we�ll make a heroes balm." Stewart pulled his visor up, and stared thru the window at Steve. He started to get angrier, his reluctance taking a reprieve. The guards then rushed the heroes, coming in one gigantic wave. A huge cloud of dust descended to cover the sight of anyone sent to the grave. "Dragon!" yelled Steve, "Flap your wings real hard! With all this dust settling, I can�t see what happened in the yard!" The dragon, tired of all the happenings did as it was told. Steve was a rabid fool, his following actions bold. He ran down the stairs to get a better look at the two dead. But what he did get to see upon opening the door was something he would ever after dread. Stewart and Irving still stood back to back, their armor and their person unscathed. Stewart thought about all this blood, and gave him another reason to bathe. "But how could you kill all my men!?!", screamed Steve, in a whiny little voice. "I mean, there are just the two of you, oh this kidnapping business was an awful choice!" "Well", started Stewart, "You�re problem lies all within me. Once you insisted on going on with this fiasco I lost my reluctantcy. When aroused my blade sings through the air, my shield destroys all blows. So you honestly had no chance, unless you had instead 100 trolls." "AH, but I have better than 100 trolls, I have a fire-breathing dragon. You have your chance now before she comes to take a last drink out of that flagon." Steve looked up and still perched above, the dragon sat with a tiny figure on it�s shoulder. The crow solemnly talked to the dragon, she acting the older. "DRAGON! Do you hear me? It�s your lord and master. Get down here now and make an inferno blaster!" Another roar and a great beating of wings, and the dragon landed squarely on the earth. The crow landed once again on Stewart, in a strange state of mirth. Steve looked at the heroes, then pointed at them for effect. "On those two idiots I want your fire to direct!" The dragon looked at the pair, it�s head tilted to the side. Looked as if pondering, "Either grilled or fried?" Steve�s eyes were ravenous, he took everything into view. The dragon inhaled deeply, his fire ready to spew. The dragon had fire in it�s eyes, it�s voice began to roar. The decision was easy for it, the evil high priest would get to soar. So head held back and aim locked in, Steve finally began to realize. "That dragon is looking at me! Directly into my eyes." "Dragon, stop! I forbid you, or did you forget what I have in check? You�re lovely family will die if you attack me by a chopping of the neck." "Oh Steve you silly man," said the crow, urging the dragon on. "Your powers will mean nothing when you�re dead, for you will be long gone." Steve began to worry, because he knew this to be true. He just hoped to Baal that this rumor hadn�t gotten through. "Who shall you listen to dragon? Me or this worthless crow? I gave you everything you have today, now please let your fire show." The dragon lowered its� head and out came a hellacious blast. But not upon our heroes was this fatal fire cast. Steve began to smolder, then proceeded to burn. Then all that was left of him got put into an urn. With this combustion, all the ills he�d committed quickly came undone. Stewart felt like the weight on his shoulder had suddenly become a ton. Sitting there on his shoulder peacefully, was a woman of unmatched beauty. Stewart couldn�t think what to do, didn�t know his duty. She jumped down from his shoulder; landing squarely on her feet. In front of the duo stood a site with whom Penelope couldn�t compete. The only problem with the sudden transformation, came when Irving made a growl quite rude. Losing your feathers, thought Stewart, makes you oh so nude. The crow looked at her body and dove behind Bob who stood still. "Give me a robe you boobs, I�m gonna catch a chill!" "Uh there in my packs, right on Bob�s flank." said Irving with a smile on his face. "But you must come around on this side, the other�s not the place." She growled loudly at Irving making his smile only more wide. She thought that embarrassment would not be the way she died. Bob gave a whinny, when she reached into the pack. Slipped some clothes over her head, her hair trailing down her back. She walked up, petted the dragon on the snout, gave it a soft cooing sound. The dragon just lowered it�s head, just like an obedient hound. Stewart closed his mouth, which was hanging in the breeze. "Why, you�re a woman! A beauty mine eyes have seized." "Well don�t just stand there gawking" said the woman, "You�ve seen me without clothes. "I�m no longer the crow, but a woman, and what you�re thinking only God knows." "Ah, but my fair lady," started Irving with a dignified reply. "Your hair is dark and beautiful, your eyes like stars in the night sky." The woman just laughed, and shook her head, stared at Irving in the face. "Irving, worry not, with you there�ll be neither time nor place." Irving was flabbergasted, he thought he was a great lover. From this blow it would take time for his ego to recover. But time was short it seems, for high above their collected heads, stood Princess Penelope, who was still screaming with great dread. Irving saw his chance it seems, and hollered to the princess on high. "Might I have to climb these stairs, until they reach the sky." Penelope swooned, when she heard his cry, Irving ran off in a blur of motion. Bob slurped from a trough, immune to all the commotion. The woman and Stewart stood quietly, not sure what to say. Stewart had always been tongue tied around women, to this very day. "Well say something you silly fool, this silence is worse than death. I know you still aren�t standing there, trying to catch your breath." Stewart just looked at the woman, not sure of the words to speak. When it comes to women he thought, to me it�s all Greek. Finally he worked up the courage to speak a few words. "So, what was it like, living with the birds?" The crow just stood there patiently, trying to figure out his direction. "You couldn�t think of anything else? Not even a better question?" Stewart shook his head slowly, and gave a heart felt reply. "With beauty like yours I get confused when looking at you with my eyes." "What�s so confusing?" she asked roughly, "Why do I so confuse? I�m still the same person you met, but instead of feathers I wear shoes." "Before you were a crow, and now this woman is one and the same." Stewart just tried to figure things out. "I don�t even know your name!" "Hmmmm, " said the woman, grinding the wheels of her mind. "It seems to escape me at the moment, we�re in a small bind. "But you can call me Crow still, that has quite a nice ring. To me it rolls off the tongue, and to me it sings." "Crow it is, and ever shall be, if I need to shout it upon high. Everyone shall know your name, and worship it by and by." "I have one more thing to do, " Crow said. "It really must be done. This dragon must be released from here, it�s freedom has been won." So she turned to face the beast, their eyes locked together. Stewart still couldn�t get over the fact that recently she wore feathers. Crow raised her hand slowly, petting the dragon on the snout. Way up in the tower, the echoes came to them of Irving and all his shouts. "Friend dragon", Crow said, "Your family is free and so are you. Steve�s reign over you and yours is gone like yesterday�s news." The dragon gave what might be considered a smile, turning to the tower high. Leapt from the ground with a beat of wings, and flew away to his family in the sky. As it faded further into the horizon, Irving reappeared with Penelope in tow. Stewart thought Irving was in love, oh how his eyes just glowed. Penelope took her linen, and placed it in Irving�s hand. "You are my hero now, and my marrying man." Then a strange thing came over Irving, his cheeks becoming red. Stewart couldn�t pick out whether it was joy or dread. "Bob! Come here!" Irving roared, "The Princess needs a mount, for we have many steps ahead of us, far too many to count." Bob ambled over, the pack had indeed gotten slack. He thought of the glory he�d receive, bearing Penelope upon his back. Irving took Bob�s reins and led him away from the now defunct Temple of Baal. "On this quest m�lady, we came for you and we did not fail." Penelope blushed a deep pink, her eyes twinkling a glitz. Crow whispered to Stewart, "Now that is quite a ditz." Stewart chuckled to himself, then took Crow by the hand. "What a motley crew we make, what a lovely band." So the story goes ever on, they went down the long road home. Through the prairie and over the hill, where ever they happened to roam. Then the journey came near the end, the castle in the distance near. Penelope cried for joy, slapped Bob on his rear. Bob turned to look at her, giving her a quizzing look. His pace quickened a little, but not near enough by her book. "Come on you stupid horse, the castle is within our view! Now hurry up or I�ll tell daddy, and you�ll be a vat of glue!" Stewart was taken aback, but Crow was there for Bob�s defense. "Look here you little twit, this horse has carried you hence. "Now if you don�t like it, we can go back and make you walk. Oh I didn�t think so, so please, think before you talk." Penelope had never been talked to like this before, a princess in every sense of the word. "Just wait until we get to daddy, and every word of this is heard!" Irving finally tried his best to interject, give Penelope a little piece of his mind. "My dear, you have been carried many miles without walking, try to be more kind." With that she shut up, a few words from her hero and she sat mute. From then on all she�d do was give Bob a nudge with her boot.
The doors to the Throne room flung open, the king had heard of the party�s approach. He went to the treasury vault, and retrieved his daughter�s favorite broach. "Welcome back my friend Stewart, but I see your expedition added more. No matter to me, in this kingdom they shall ever be adored. "You have returned to my lands from far away and brought back my lovely dove. Tell me what you want, and I shall produce it with a clap of my glove." Stewart cleared his throat, and said but a short speech. "Your majesty I want nothing but your satisfaction, on this deal I didn�t breach. "But thank you, I require no award, just to be on my merry way. I hear there is a tourney not too far from here in but a few short days." "Stewart, very well, but what of your companions, surely they must want some reward. Speak up you two, and let me loot my hoard." Irving spoke next and he wanted the thing most precious to the king. "Sire there is but one thing I desire, and that is your daughters hand with a wedding ring." The king was visibly shaken, then thought the idea alright. He figured it might not be all that bad, a son in law as a knight. "So be it!" declared Henry, "I grant you this wish with great joy." Then he turned to Crow, smiling like a devious little boy. "Now only you are left pretty lady, what shall I place in your hand? Your beauty stuns me, marry me and I�ll give you a wedding band!" Crow smiled sweetly, dropped in a deep bow. "Sire you offer is gracious, but I am spoken for as of now. "The only thing I ask is this, a small castle in the hills. There I can live my life peacefully, without all these damned thrills." Stewart began to slip away, reining with him Bob. They walked out through the courtyard, cheered at by the mob. Crow came running after, as fast as she possibly could. "Wait for me you idiot, I�m doing what I should. "I want to travel with you, until the end of days. We can grow old together until our hair turns gray." Stewart looked stunned at her and in a shaky voice. "My beautiful lady it seems, you�ve made your hero choice." He pulled her up behind him, readying for the trip. He turned around, looked at her, and kissed her on the lips. Bob carried the pair, parting the milling crowd. Mane flowing, head held high, never had a horse been so proud. And so here the story ends now, but where does the story go? The best guess that I can make is somewhere over the rainbow.