By Alan Klapperich – Branch Manager GIG of East Central Wisconsin
The knight climbed atop his favorite palfrey horse, Chaser. Chaser was selected because his smooth gait would be more comfortable on this long journey. Horses played an important role in everyday life in the kingdom. They were used for transportation, farming, hunting, and of course carrying knights into battle. Wealthy knights often owned several different types of horses; each one used for a specific task. For riding and travel, the best and most expensive were palfrey horses, like Chaser. Destrier horses are best known for their strength, speed and agility, which made them perfect warhorses. As he settled in, Alcher couldn’t help but notice how good it felt to be back in the saddle again. Indeed, he was starting feel like himself again. His strength was greater and his mind was sharper than it was when he arrived on Roderick the Wizard’s doorstep.
With a gentle nudge of his heels into Chaser’s sides, Sir Alcher started his journey back home. A soft rain started to fall as he turned back one last time to wave goodbye to his wise new friend. Roderick waved and shouted “Stay well my friend! Remember, every mouth full matters.”
Alcher smiled, responded with a “thumbs up” and disappeared into the woods.
Castle-Sweet-Castle was a several day ride away. This quiet time would allow Alcher to think about all that he had experienced during his stay with Roderick. It had been a time of great change and upset. His entire life has now been turned upside down. So many details, so many rules. There was so much knowledge that Roderick tried to cram into his brain, Alcher thought for sure his head was going to explode! The flood of thoughts and emotions were all very overwhelming and frustrating. Alcher wondered, what if the wizard was wrong about all of this? Maybe gluten wasn’t really the reason for his sickness? If it really was a problem, why him, why now? He was angry because this was going to change life as he knew it – nothing would ever be the same again. Had he really won against gluten like Roderick said? Alcher stopped mid-thought and realized that Roderick told him he’d experience these thoughts and feelings. The knight was grieving; he was upset and saddened by what gluten was doing to his body and his life.
Feeling sad, angry, happy, frustrated, confused; sometimes all at once; was to be expected and quite normal. Roderick cautioned Alcher not to ignore these feelings. For if he did, he’d have a demon living inside him far more dangerous than a three-headed, fire breathing dragon. Deep down, Alcher knew that he needed to reach out to someone he trusted; someone he could talk to about his feelings. A shiver ran wildly up and down his spine.
Following in his father’s footstep, Alcher had been in training to be a knight since the age of 7. However, absolutely none of this would prepare him for the most difficult task asked of any knight, in any kingdom – talking about his feelings. He gagged and thought, Better to be thrown into a pit of a thousand hungry rats! Alcher’s training did prepare him for doing the right and “knightly” thing. He knew that he must deal with this; so he committed himself to doing it right.
Everyone grieves at some point in their life; kings, queens, peasants, adults, children and yes even brave and powerful knights; each in a way that is as unique as their fingerprint. Grief comes from realizing that the way things used to be are different from the way things are now. Talking about those feelings with a trusted person is a way to let go of the past and prepare for the future. Since Alcher had been so sick, letting go of that sickness in order to prepare for better health was very welcomed. Yes, it meant his ‘old normal’ way of life would be no more but regaining his health and creating a ‘new normal’ would be worthy of the effort. It would be hard work, but the knight was no stranger to hard work. After all, one does not get to be a knight without commitment, dedication and hard work; the same applies to being gluten-free. Sir Alcher made a promise. Knights always keep their promises, no matter what.
By now Alcher and Chaser were a half a day closer to home. The rain stopped, the clouds were breaking up and the sun was streaming down in bright, unbroken beams. It was a glorious sight to behold. Surely this must be a sign that Alcher’s life was on the right path. Up ahead in the distance, he could see a shimmering light. It was a reflection of the sun off of something shiny, but what? A quick tug on Chaser’s reins brought them to a halt. Out of instinct the knight checked to make sure his sword was still by his side. Since he
did not feel at full strength yet, Alcher must be cautious as he did not know what lay ahead. If it was a band of raiders, his current fighting abilities might not be able to save him. It was also likely, he’d be out numbered. An outright confrontation wouldn’t be the wisest plan that this point. There was a fine line between bravery and stupidity and this situation required more brains than brawn.
The road they were on was the only one through this area – no other way in, no other way out – their paths would cross. Surveying the landscape and his location, he saw a large clearing was just ahead. The clearing would offer no protection or place to hide, he would be out in the open and vulnerable. The element of surprise is an important tactic in warfare; something that Alcher knew all too well. The smartest option is to stay in the forest where cover is plentiful. Hiding a human is one thing, but hiding a human and an entire horse is of course, a horse of another color.
Jumping down, Alcher lead Chaser into the woods along side the road. He wanted to go in far enough to blend in, but not so far he couldn’t see the road. The underbrush was thick, but not thick enough to properly conceal a horse that was 16 hands tall [one hand equals four inches]. Since nature had not supplied the proper cover, Alcher would have to create it – and quickly. They found a stand of shrubs that required the least amount of work for full coverage. Grabbing a hatchet from his saddlebag, he started chopping down suitable branches to add to the existing bushes.
After some creative and strategic arrangement, he had something that would work. After leading Chaser behind the curtain of leaves, he walked back towards the road to see how well they would be hidden. He was quite impressed with his work. Someday when he was too old to perform knightly tasks, perhaps he could sell floral arrangements to the town folk. Laughing at himself, he headed back to Chaser to wait. Even though he didn’t want to do it, he removed the heavy saddle bags from Chaser. They needed to be ready for anything, being weighed down by precious cargo from Roderick would not allow them optimal speed and agility. Should they get through this alive, they could always return for it. After climbing atop Chaser, he pruned just a few select branches so he’d have a better view of the road.
He finished just in time as the silence of the forest was broken by the faint sound of hoof beats. Rather fast hoof beats at that; they were traveling at an accelerated pace and getting louder. Alcher’s heart was now beating almost as fast as those hooves. Eyes closed, listening carefully, he tried to determine how many were in the party. His ears told him one, but wanted visual confirmation before he made any decisions. It didn’t take long for his eyes to see what his ears already heard – one horse, one rider. Alcher breathed a sigh of relief – one on one is much better odds. Studying the horse and the rider, they seemed oddly familiar. The markings on the horse, the dress and posture of the rider looked a lot like his squire Cavalon! A closer, unobstructed look was needed. Why would his knight-in-training be out here?
Alcher and Chaser started making their way through the brush as quickly as possible. Once on the road, Chaser would once again live up to his name; he would quickly chase down the target ahead of him. Before long they were up to a full gallop and closing in. The wind was whipping through Alcher’s hair and the adrenalin was pulsing through his veins; all of his senses were in overdrive; feeling more alive than he had during the past year.
Chaser was in perfect form. It was as if rider and horse were one; both moving and working together in perfect harmony. Perfect examples of an excellent horse and expert horsemanship. They were now tasting the brown, gritty powder that was kicked up by the other horse. Alcher started yelling in hopes the rider would turn around, see him and stop. He was positive it was Cavalon, in fact he was betting his life on it. As Alcher pulled within a few yards and the rider turned to his left and looked back. Cavalon was surprised to see Sir Alcher chasing him! Cavalon pulled back on reins and came to complete stop.
“Sir Alcher!” exclaimed Cavalon, “The king needs you. Princess Cristiana has fallen ill and believes you can help.”
Alcher could not believe his ears. He wasn’t sure exactly how he was able to help as he was not a doctor, but if the king asked for his help, it shall be so. “I will do whatever I can; to the best of my abilities,” Alcher replied. He turned Chaser around to head back the way they came. “We best get moving. We need to pick up my saddle bags. I have a feeling I’ll be needing what’s in them.”
“Exactly where did you come from? asked Cavalon. “You appeared out of nowhere!”
Alcher smirked, “Ahhh, my good and faithful student, I haven’t taught you all of my tricks yet. All in good time. By the way, excellent riding. We had to chase pretty hard to catch you”
Puffing out his chest, Cavalon grinned from ear to ear and bowed at the waist, “Thank you, you have taught me well Sir Alcher! Were you expecting it to be easy? You really should have more faith in your teaching skills.” Together they laughed.
“Well done,” commended Alcher. “We also need to do something about that shiny metal object you have on your saddle.”
The knight and his squire raced back to pick up the precious cargo contained in the saddlebags so they can continue homeward.