A Knight to Remember
By: Matthew B. Johnson

Sir Rodney sat on his brown and white speckled pony, shield on his arm, sword at his side. He sat, chin tilted upward, his battle helm under his arm, as the knock–kneed beast walked, head down, to the edge of town.

Time to greet my adoring public, he thought.

When he reached the main road, however, no one was there, save a lone sheepherder.

"Where is everyone?" Rodney asked.

"Ah, Rodney. Where are you off to now?" the man said, scrunching up his wizened face.

"Sir Rodney," he replied. "I'm told a dragon has taken up residence in a cave two leagues southeast of here. As the greatest knight in all of lower West Essex, it's my duty to slay it." He puffed his chest under his dull and dented breastplate.

"Oh?" The shepherd puckered his lips behind his curly white beard. Rodney couldn't help but be reminded of a sheep's ass. "A dragon you say. Sounds fearsome. Is it a big dragon?"

"So I hear."

"With big teeth?"

"Each one as long as a broadsword."

"And it breathes flames?"

"Like the fires of Hell."

The shepherd fought back a derisive snicker. "What kind of daft tit would willingly try to kill such a beast?"

"It's my knightly duty to slay all threats to the people under my protection." He fixed a condescending expression on the shepherd. "You can thank me when your family isn't incinerated or crushed by a pile of dragon dung bigger than your house."

The shepherd stared at him for a long moment, his face beginning to tremble. Finally, he erupted in laughter.

Rodney harrumphed. "Do tell me, Sirrah, what is so funny?"

The old shepherd, tears streaming down his red cheeks, gasped for air between belly laughs. "Oh, wait until the lads down at the tavern hear this one," he said, still shaking with laughter. "This is better than the time you killed that giant hamster!"

Rodney's face flushed with embarrassment and anger. "The Beast of Coggeshall was not a hamster," he said, unable to keep the bitterness from his voice.

"Of course, of course," the shepherd said, still chuckling. "Good luck, Sir Rodney." He headed back the way Rodney had come, nearly stumbling with renewed laughter. "The great Sir Rodney…off to slay a wee lizard," he chortled to himself.

Rodney felt a burning in his chest as he watched the shepherd walk away. "Come on, boy," he said urging his horse forward. "We'll see who's laughing when we return with a mighty dragon's head."


Centuries later…

Rodney adjusted himself in his seat as he waited, his armor clanking as he fidgeted. He looked over at the sign which read, "Welcome to the Afterlife," for the 3087th time since he'd been in the small, square room. He sighed loudly as he inspected the curious walls which looked like smooth stone covered in rough, cream–colored parchment. While his chair wasn't uncomfortable, he found its make strange. Soft, perhaps covered in coarse animal hide? High arms like a throne, but a deep seat into which he sank. The whole thing was like a cube with a section cut out. He feared it might swallow him if he sat in it for too much longer. Impractical as it is ugly, he thought.

He glanced up when the door on the far wall opened. A woman wearing a heavy wool skirt and a strange, snug–fitting tunic with little flowers sewn on it stepped into the room holding a thin stack of papers.

"Mr. Rodney?"

"Sir Rodney, the greatest knight in all of lower West Essex," he said.

"Uh–huh," she said flatly. "This way, please."

His eyes lingered on her curious clothes. Her skirt, cut short at the knees, was an oddity to him. How does she stay warm in such a thing? Not to mention the indecency of it. Has she no shame?

Not that it was particularly cold in the room. Still, he felt there was far too much leg on display. No God–fearing woman would wear such a short skirt…unless she was a woman of ill–repute. Her matter–of–fact demeanor didn't lead him to believe that was the case, however.

He also took note of her shoes. Much of her foot was exposed due to an elongated, oval–shaped opening. Made of a curious, shiny leather, little balls of reflected light slid around her shoes as she stepped. With a slim, pronounced heel, they were most impractical for working or walking long distances, nor would they keep out rain, snow, or the cold of an English winter.

"See something you like?" she said. Her voice indicated her rising irritation.

His face went warm as his skin tingled with embarrassment. "Forgive my rudeness, my lady. I don't mean to stare." He kept his eyes down, refusing to meet her gaze lest his apology seem insincere. "Where I come from, women dress…differently."

"Where I come from, they dress like this," she said. "Now if we can get on with it…"

"Of course." Rodney attempted to stand but stumbled and fell backward into his seat.

She watched without comment as he struggled to stand. A series of grunts and low curses accompanied the loud clanking of his armor as he flailed.

"Confound it," Sir Rodney said, once he was upright. He glared down at the chair. "Why in the Lord's name do you have such infuriating furniture?"

The woman shrugged. "I imagine they were on sale. The boss doesn't like to spend a lot on interior decorating for the waiting rooms."

"Well, I should like to voice my complaints to this ‘boss' person, whomever he may be," Rodney said.

"That's a different department," she said. "And the wait is much, much longer." She turned sideways and gestured back to the room behind her. "If you'll step into our meeting room, we can go over your appeal."

Rodney took his shield in one hand, his battle helm in the other, and strode into the meeting room.

"Take a seat," she said as she sat down on the other side of a rectangular oak table.

Much to his relief, a simple wooden chair with minimal padding awaited Rodney. He sat down with noticeably less clanking than before.

"My Lady, I'm pondering, where is the scribe who will hear my appeal?"

She looked at him with mild disdain. "My name is Suzanna, and I'll be handling your appeal."

"Oh? I didn't realize there were female scribes now," he said, with an intrigued expression.

Suzanna turned an unblinking stare on him. "I'm not a scribe, I'm a case manager. And I assure you, Sir Rodney, women perform all the same jobs as men these days."

"Truly? Are there female knights as well?"

"Women engage in active military service, yes."

Rodney shifted in his seat, tilting his head to the side as he processed such revelatory information. "How long have I been waiting?"

"Quite a long time," Suzanna said. She flipped through Rodney's file. "So, Sir Rodney…it says here you claim that your death was premature and unjustified, and that you wish to be restored to life. Is that correct?"

"Yes, my Lady."

"‘Suzanna' will suffice," she said, glancing up from her papers.

"Apologies, my La– um, Suzanna," Rodney said.

She turned the page. "According to your paperwork, you perished in an altercation with a Mr. Edwards?"

Rodney scrunched up his face. "What? No! I was fighting a dragon, rather valiantly I might add."

"Yes, the dragon's name was Tom Edwards."

"I, er…had no idea."

"I see. What were your grounds for attempting to kill Mr. Edwards?"

Rodney stared at her, bug–eyed. "He was a dragon."

"And?" Suzanna gazed back at him expectantly.

"And what?"

"What had Mr. Edwards done that warranted your attempt to end his life?"

"He was a dragon," Rodney said. "It was my knightly duty to slay him."

Suzanna took a deep breath. "As a knight, you were sworn to defend the innocent and protect those who could not protect themselves, correct?"

"Those were some of the vows I swore when I was knighted, yes."

"Was Mr. Edwards posing a threat to the innocent? Was he endangering harmless civilians?"

"He was a dragon," Rodney repeated.

"Yes, we've established that," Suzanna said, letting out a long sigh. "Had he hurt anyone or not?"

Rodney thought for a moment. "No, I do not believe so. But, if left alive, he could have."

Suzanna turned to one of the pages near the back of the file. "It says here that Mr. Edwards was a law–abiding dragon in good standing."

"Good standing?"

"No history of violence, was current on the payments for his cave, happily married with a family…"

"Married? Family?"

"Yes. To a Margaret Edwards. They had three dragonlings: Julia, Eleanor, and little Tommy Jr."

Rodney's mouth moved, but he couldn't form words. He finally managed an "Oh."

"Based on our file and your own admission," Suzanna began, "you went to confront Mr. Edwards with the intention of murdering him, even though he had committed no offense against you or those you were charged with protecting, unaware that you would make a widow of his wife and leave his children fatherless? Would you say that is accurate, Sir Rodney?"

Rodney reddened and in a sheepish voice, unbefitting of a knight, all he mustered was, "He was a dragon."

Suzanna selected a page from the file and held it up in front of her. "A dragon, yes. Tell me something, Sir Rodney, how tall are you?"

He tilted his head sideways and looked at her like a confused dog. "Forgive me, but I fail to see the relevance of my height."

"I promise you, I'm going somewhere with this," she said, offering him an encouraging smile.

"As you wish. I am five feet, ten inches tall," he said with a self–satisfied grin.


"Something the matter?" he asked, his smile gone.

"How much do you weigh?"

"Why is that–"

"I'm getting to that," she said holding up a hand. "Your weight, please."

"I am approximately eleven–and–a–half stone," Rodney said, crossing his arms.

"That's about 160 pounds," Suzanna said more to herself than to Rodney. "Mr. Edwards was 132 feet long from snout to tail and weighed over 32 tons."

"32 tons?" Rodney said, cocking his head to the side.

"That's roughly 4600 stone," she replied. "That's quite a massive size difference between you and Mr. Edwards. Not to mention, his whole body was covered in four–inch–thick, overlapping scales, each one as hard and heavy as granite." She looked down to Rodney's side where his sword rested in its sheath. "Your sword is what, three feet long?"

"About that, yes."

"Given Mr. Edwards' size, if you had managed to pierce his scales, which seems highly unlikely, your blade would not have penetrated his flesh deeply enough to do any significant damage. It would be like if I stabbed you with a sewing needle."

Rodney stood up and gestured to his sword. "This is the blade that felled the Beast of Coggeshall! Surely it was sufficient to bring down a dragon!"

Suzanna shuffled through Rodney's file. "Ah, here it is. The Beast of Coggeshall. It was later confirmed that the so–called ‘Beast of Coggeshall' was nothing more than a capybara which had escaped from a merchant ship retuning from the Americas."


"Capybara. The largest member of the rodent family."

"A rodent?" Rodney said in disbelief. "The beast was enormous! It must have weighed fifteen stone!"

"Which is only 4585 stone less than Mr. Edwards," Suzanna said. "There's a big difference between a dragon and an overgrown guinea pig."

"Overgrown guinea pig…you didn't see the teeth on the monster!"

"I imagine they were much smaller and far less deadly than dragon's teeth." She gave his armor a quick glance. "I'm guessing your armor is plate steel?"

"Of course. Made by the best smith in all of Witham."

"At its strongest points, plate steel armor can withstand approximately 5000 pounds of pressure per square inch," Suzanna said. She flipped back to the page with Mr. Edwards' information. "Dragon jaws can produce over 100,000 psi. Even in that armor, you'd be like a tin can under a bulldozer."

Rodney shook his head. "I am afraid I don't understand."

Suzanna paused to think for a moment. "Like a person stepping on a beetle."

Rodney tossed his head back and said, "Ah. I understand completely."

"Moreover, steel has a melting point of around 2500 degrees Fahrenheit," Suzanna continued. "Dragons, like Mr. Edwards, can breathe fire at temperatures upwards of 10,000 degrees. More than enough to turn that shiny suit of yours into silver soup."

"I have a shield," Rodney said, raising it toward her. "Surely that would have helped stop the dragon's breath."

Suzanna looked down her nose at him.

"Or not," he replied, setting his shield down again.

"Of course, all of this is moot, as the ‘battle' ended when Mr. Edwards picked you up in his claws, flew you five miles high, and dropped you to your death, which, in turn, brought you here to my desk."

Rodney sat silently for a long moment.

"Before I make a decision on your appeal, I have to ask, were you sent by your liege lord or someone to attack Mr. Edwards?" Suzanna asked.

Rodney looked up, one eyebrow raised at the sudden gentleness in her voice. "I went of my own accord. He was a dragon. It was my duty…"

"And you wanted to be a hero," she said quietly.

Rodney looked down at the floor, his cheeks growing red. "Was it so much to ask?" He looked up, meeting her sympathetic gaze. "Growing up, I heard stories of all the great heroes who had been immortalized in song and verse. I thought that maybe, if I could return to my village with a dragon's head, perhaps my name would be remembered with the likes of Arthur, Lancelot, Gawain, Leondegrance…or at the least, no one would think I was a joke." His head drooped and he cast his gaze toward the floor. "Maybe someone would have even attended my funeral."

"No one went to your funeral?" she asked, her tone going soft and sympathetic.

He shook his head. "It was just the vicar and the undertaker. The vicar didn't even perform a proper funeral. Just said a handful of hastily uttered prayers as the undertaker buried me."

They sat in heavy silence for a moment.

"I'm so sorry," Suzanna said, closing the file folder. "I'm sorry you lost your life. I'm also sorry that, given the fact that your own ill–informed actions directly led to your death, I must deny your appeal."

"But–" Sir Rodney began to protest. He stopped as he contemplated her words. "Being a knight is all I know. It's what I was born to do. I worked my whole life to be the best knight that I could." He looked away, focusing on some imaginary vision of his idealized self. "Seems it was all for naught."

"Perhaps not," Suzanna said. "According to your file, you were a capable knight. While you weren't widely known, you upheld your vows and served your lord and land admirably. While I can't give you're your old life back, there is something I can do. It may take a little getting used to, but it's the best I can offer."


Six months later…

Rodney sat on the back of his black stallion, enjoying the feel of the shield on his arm, the lance in his hand. His horse shifted under him as they waited in a short, darkened hallway. Square beams of yellow light streamed through an iron portcullis, leaving an elongated, diamond–shaped pattern on his new steel armor. With his balance restored thanks to several weeks of training, he was able to master the stallion with ease. He smiled, gratified that the muscle memory and instincts he'd spent years building were once more at his command.

"My lords and ladies, it is time for our main event!" a booming voice echoed from down the hallway. "Who is ready for the joust?"

An uproarious crowd thundered their excitement. The arena shook with anticipation of seeing the best knights ride.

Rodney closed his eyes and focused his concentration as his opponent was introduced, something about a blue knight.

"And now, put your hands together for our reigning champion," the voice continued. "A man deadly with his lance. A man who is a walking fortress of steel. A man who remains undefeated in this arena. I give you…"

The announcer paused as a deep drumroll filled the anticipatory silence.

"Sir Rodney, the Red Knight!"

The Medieval Times Dinner Theater in Atlanta exploded with cheers as the portcullis was raised and Sir Rodney rode out into the dirt arena. Though he still wasn't quite used to the way people dressed or spoke, or how they operated their horseless carriages, he smiled under his battle helm as they chanted his name. He raised his lance as he brought the stallion into a canter, completing a lap around the outer perimeter of the arena in front of the stands of spectators.

"Rod–ney! Rod–ney!" the people shouted in rhythmic unison.

It wasn't saving damsels in distress or slaying dragons, fighting for God and St. George, or even slaying beasts with funny names.

But it was better than another century in the afterlife's waiting room. He silently thanked Suzanna as the crowd cheered for him. They would go home with his name on their lips, remembering the skill with which he fought, and how he stood proud and unbeaten.

And that was enough.

The End


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