Alcher and Cavalon pushed the limits of man and horse. They rode day and night, stopping just long enough to rest and feed the horses. At night, the light of a full moon allowed them to safely navigate their path. The pale blue night slowly gave way to dawn’s early light.
The sun broke over the horizon as Alcher and Cavalon reached the top of the ridge. A sigh of relief could be heard from each of the riders and their horses. They were almost home, they could smell it in the air. The light blue sky was filled with fluffy cotton candy-like clouds of orange, pink, and purple. The crisp morning air and the warmth of mother-earth created a silky frosting of low lying fog that flowed over everything.
Their village was just on the other side of the valley. In fact, if they looked closely through the trees, they could see one of the castle’s towers. After a brief rest, they continued their homeward trek. The trail snaked down the side of the ridge and onto the valley floor until it met up with the Vita River. Several hours had passed and the sun was riding higher in a cloudless sky. It would be a perfect day for a ride, had they not been in the saddle for what seemed like an eternity.
The entire trip homeward, Alcher spoke very little. Buried deep in thought, he was concerned about the health of Princess Cristiana. Saving her from the claws of a dragon a few years earlier created a special connection between them. Even Lady Pechal had drawn close to her. With a wink and a smile, Pechal would secretly sneak her a fresh baked cookie, causing Cristiana to let out the cutest giggle. It melted Pechal’s heart.
The faint squeak of the mill’s water wheel in the distance was enough to snap Alcher out of his trance. Surprised, he noticed they were already at the village’s edge. Alongside them were fields of amber waves of grain.
With the bright sun and a gentle breeze, the crops of barley and wheat looked like a sea of gold. Alcher knew those fields of gold were making many in the kingdom very sick. Wheat, barley, and rye had to go because of gluten, but he hadn’t figured out exactly how that was going to happen.
Farming was the main source of food for the kingdom. It was difficult, backbreaking work that was performed by the lowest class of people in the kingdom. Peasants were the poorest of the poor and often the sickest of the sick. Their living conditions were less than ideal. Homes with dirt floors were made with mud bricks and roofs of wheat straw. They slept on piles of wheat straw with wooden logs for pillows. At night, their animals would be brought inside so their body heat would provide warmth.
The king would allow the peasants to live on his land in return for goods and services. Wheat, barley, rye, corn and a variety of vegetables were grown not only to feed themselves, but also the nobles like Sir Alcher, Lady Pechal, as well as the king and his family.
The squeaking was now full volume as they passed by the mill. This is where all wheat, barley, rye and corn were brought to be ground into flour. The water from the river turned the water wheel; the wheel turned the millstone; the millstone ground the grains into flour; the flours were used to make a number of foods like breads, cookies, cakes, and doughnuts. Like the change “gluten crops” to “crops with gluten” gluten crops, the mill will have to be dealt with. Grinding flour made a lot of dust that floated in the air for hours. Breathing in and swallowing the dust is no different than eating it. Any corn ground in the mill will be covered with gluten making something that was safe, now off-limits.
As they neared the center of the village, the marketplace buzzed with activity. Villagers bought, sold and traded any additional food they grew, animals they raised, household items they had made. You name it – it was there. The merchants shouted wildly to get shoppers to look at their items for sale; the shoppers haggled with merchants to get the best prices. One of the most popular merchants was the village baker, whose baked goods filled the marketplace with wonderful and tempting smells. The sights, sounds, and smells were overwhelming Alcher’s senses.
“Oh that smells so good! I am hungry as a wild beast!” shouted Cavalon. “We need to get some of that bread.”
Alcher could not force himself to disagree. After almost two days of limited food, his stomach growled like a bear. He felt as if that bread reached out to pull him closer. His mouth watered as he thought about that warm, crusty bread.
“Here, be quick about it,” said Alcher, frowning as he flipped Cavalon a coin. As Cavalon got off his horse and ran towards the baker, Alcher looked around to see if anyone was watching, expecting that someone would catch him cheating.
Cavalon returned with a large loaf of bread. Before getting back on his horse, he held out the bread for Alcher. Alcher paused. Cavalon shoved the bread at him again. Alcher finally grabbed it.
“Well, are you going to look at it or eat it? Come on, I’m hungry!” cried Cavalon.
He tore off a small chunk and handed the rest to Cavalon. Cavalon grabbed the bread and quickly stuffed pieces into his mouth. Alcher stared at the piece of bread a bit longer and slowly raised it to his mouth. Just as he was about to take a bite, Chaser started bucking. As Alcher was jolted out of the saddle, the piece of bread went flying through the air. As soon as it fell to the ground, one of the village dogs gobbled it up.
“What was that all about?” mumbled Cavalon through a mouth full of bread, spitting crumbs everywhere.
“I’m not sure, but I think someone is watching over for me,” replied Alcher. “We need to get to the castle, now!”
Even though he had been home for only a short amount of time, the reality of daily gluten-free life had slapped him in the face. It certainly was not like the gluten-free home of Roderick the Wizard. So many places that gluten hides; so very many temptations! Alcher then realized that if he cheats, he not only hurts himself, but also those around him. Many people counted on him to always be at his best. If he had eaten that bread, he would have been too sick to care for Princess Cristiana. His own behavior made him angry.
Ahead was the castle. A sight for sore eyes and sore behinds. As far as castles go, it was an average castle. Not too big, not too small, it was just right. Like most, it was built upon a hill which made it easier to see approaching attackers. The four tall towers were round, not square.
This gave the guards a clear line of sight all the way around them because there were no corners to hide behind. No castle would be complete without a drawbridge and mote filled with man-eating dragon fish and deep dark dungeons.
Everyone passed through the hallway-like Gatehouse to enter the castle grounds. The main entrance was the weakest part of the castle, change comma after “castle” to semi-colon this meant it must be well defended and cleverly built. It must allow family, friends and staff to pass easily, but it must also keep out would be attackers. Many traps and obstacles were used to stop unwanted guests. Big, heavy metal gates blocked the entry and exit of the Gatehouse. If attackers were caught in between the gates, heavy rocks and boiling water could be dropped down upon them. Also, archers could shoot arrows through a number of slots that lined the walls.
Alcher and Cavalon passed through the Gatehouse into the outer courtyard. They headed straight for the stable so the horses could get proper food, attention and rest. Relieved to be home, Chaser snorted his approval. Alcher ever so gently climbed out of his saddle and stretched. His knees and bottom were sore from the extended riding time. In order to show his appreciation, Alcher reached up to scratch behind both of Chaser’s ears. Chaser lowered his head and leaned into Alcher as if to say “Ahhh, please don’t stop.” If there was one thing Chaser loved, it was getting scratched.
“Well done my four legged friend. You have served me well yet again. Thank you,” whispered Alcher, as he fed Chaser the last two carrots.
Handing the reins over to the stable boy, he said, “Please check Chaser over carefully, he has had a hard couple of days. He’s earned an extra good brushing as well.” Alcher made his way over to Cavalon.
“Well done my faithful squire, your performance was excellent,” praised Alcher, as he put his hand on Cavalon’s shoulder.
“Thank you Sir Alcher, coming from you, that means a lot,” Cavalon grinned and nodded. There was an awkward moment of silence. Cavalon nervously fidgeted with his saddle. “I can tell you’ve been worried about Princess Cristiana. I know that she means a lot to you and I know you will do your best to help her. I wish you luck.”
“Thank you Cavalon. Yes, I am worried,” replied Alcher. “I have been asked to help, but what if I do not have what it takes this time? I fear not for myself, but for the Princess. It is she that must pay the price should I fail. I’m not sure I can live with that.”
Alcher walked over to the saddle bags filled with all the items from Roderick. A groan escaped as he bent down to gather them up. Somehow they seemed heavier than when he first loaded them. Lord, knowledge is heavy, he thought. Tired and aching, he headed off to find his hearts, Lady Pechal and Princess Cristiana.