Secrets of the Squire

Katie tried her best to keep up with Florien as they made their way to Castle Hope. The fairy moved quickly, flapping her tiny wings, stopping every now and then so Katie could catch up. They were very close to the inner edge of Hopewell Forest, a large forest circling the entire castle.

When they finally reached the inner edge of the forest, Katie paused for a moment, amazed at the sight of the ancient structure ahead. She’d never seen a real castle before, at least not one like this. It stood smack in the center of the forest, it’s white banners billowing in the wind.

“Come on!” said Florien. “I want to introduce you to my friend.”

“This is a beautiful castle,” said Katie. “It looks just like the castle’s in my Terridia book!”

“That’s great,” continued Florien, hovering around Katie’s head. “But we best keep moving. I’m not sure how long Welyam will be working in the courtyard.”

“Who’s Welyam?” Katie asked. She followed Florien down a narrow path, leading to the Gatehouse of the castle.

“He’s a dear friend of mine, a young lad training to be a knight. He’s very popular around here. All the knights want him as their own personal squire.”

“Oh cool, a real squire?” Katie’s eyes lit up. “Can’t wait to meet him.”

The Gatehouse towered above most of the castle, and two sitting guards, covered in armor and carrying swords, immediately stood up when they saw Katie and Florien approaching them. From the look on their faces, they didn’t seem too friendly, or at least that’s how Katie felt. They both gave her dirty looks.

“Florien!” shouted one of the guards. “You can’t just bring anyone here whenever you feel like it.” He glanced down at Katie, giving her a cold stare. "Who is this girl?"

“Oh she’s harmless,” said Florien, rolling her eyes. “The poor child is lost and frightened. I believe she’s one of them distant travelers.”

“What do you mean?” asked the other guard, also giving Katie a cold stare.

“I found her after she slipped through a portal,” mumbled Florien. “Seems like these portals are opening all over the place, even here in our very own land! ” She flew closer to the guard, and looked him in the eyes. “Can you please let us in now? I assure you, the girl is no threat!”

“You should’ve warned us first before bringing her here.” The guard shook his head. “If it turns out she’s a spy for Oranthuz, or anyone else for that matter, it’s on you. We clear?”

Florien sighed. “Yes, yes, whatever you say. Now please let us in.”

The guards shouted for the gate to be open, and Katie and Florien quickly passed through. When they reached the outer courtyard of the castle, they saw a group of twelve knights practicing their sword skills.

The clanging of metal on metal echoed in the air, and when the knights noticed Florien and Katie heading in their direction, they lowered their swords and bowed.

“Why are they bowing?” asked Katie. “Are they more friendly than those grumpy guards?”

Florien giggled. “Well, those grumpy guards work long shifts. But these men are some of the best knights in Terridia—the one and only Knights of the Faithful.” A hint of pride was in her tone. “And,” she went on, “us Fairies are one of the oldest races in Terridia. The knights have always treated us with the utmost respect because of that. That’s why they’re bowing. They think of me as some kind of ancient queen.”

“Cool!” Katie smiled back. “Maybe I can be a princess.”

Florien giggled again. “Not so fast young lady. Right now let’s focus on keeping you safe, till we figure out a way to get you home.”

Moments later, one of the knights approached them. “Good day to you Lady Florien,” he said. He gazed down at Katie. “And who are you, little lass?”

“Huh?” Katie didn’t understand.

“He means ‘who are you, young lady,’” said Florien. “Tell him your name.”

“I’m Katie Jensen...from Columbus Ohio.” She smiled up at him. “And you’re?”

“I’m Lord Jhorruk, Captain Commander of this group, son of the late Lord Jurron. My father was also Captain Commander of Barnoria’s Knight of the Faithful. What brings you here if I may ask?”

“I can answer that,” chimed in Florien. “She slipped through a portal, and ended up here.”

“Oh?” Jhorruk raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, my lord. I found her in the woods, and brought her here where she’ll be safe. I hope it’s no burden on you.”

“Of course not.” Jhorruk smiled. “And speaking of these so called portals, I sent Arthandus and a few others to the border mountains, so they can investigate all these strange and sudden appearances." He glanced down at Katie. "But now I see it’s happening closer to home as well.” A troubled look came over his face.

"It appears that way," said Florien. "I'll be doing my own investigation soon enough."

"Very good," said Jhorruk. "Have you seen Arthandus by any chance? I haven’t heard a word from him since he left.”

“No, my Lord, I haven't heard anything either,” said Florien. “But you know how he is; he’s always wondering off doing his own thing. I’m sure he’s okay.” She buzzed over to Kaite. “In the meantime, I’d like to speak with Welyam if that’s alright with you.”

“Sure,” said Jhorruk. “He’s over at the stables, feeding the horses.”

“Thank you, Captain Commander.” Florien flew away, and beckoned Katie to follow her.

***

Welyam of Himlon had just about had it with feeding horses for the day. He was disappointed that he couldn't participate in today’s sword training class, but being a squire for the Knights of the Faithful meant doing your chores first. Unfortunately, swordplay wasn’t on his list of things to do for the day.

The orphan from Himlon, as they referred to him, was one of the favorite squires among the knights, and it wasn’t unusual for a knight to teach him new sword fighting tricks whenever they had a free moment. But no such luck for that today. Today was horse feeding and stable cleaning only, as well as polishing the knights armor.

After feeding a all the horses, Welyam set out to clean the rest of the stables, when suddenly he noticed a redheaded girl, roughly the same age as him, heading in his direction. And Florien the fairy was soaring above her.

“Hello, Welyam,” said Florien, flapping her wings before landing on a horse’s head. “How are you today?”

Welyam bowed, then said, “Hello Lady Florien. I’m fine thank you...just a bit tired is all. Fed all the horses already, cleaned a few stables, and even polished some of the knights armor.”

“Busy boy indeed!” said Florien. She motioned to Katie, who was a few yards behind. “Katie, come meet Welyam of Himlon, one of the finest squires of Castle Hope.”

Katie, feeling a bit shy, walked over to meet him. “Hello...Sir Welyam. I’m Katie.”

Welyam smiled. “Hello, Katie. There’s no need to call me Sir...I’m just a squire. But someday I’m going to be a Knight of The Faithful... and someone else will have to feed these horses!”

“These horses are beautiful,” said Katie, reaching out her hand to pet one. “Wish I knew how to ride one.”

“Well,” said Welyam, “if you stick around long enough, someone will teach you to ride. And by the way, where are you from?”

Katie glanced at Florien as if asking for approval to answer.

“It’s okay, you can tell him,” said the Fairy, as she folded her wings and leaned back to rest on the horse’s ear. “Welyam’s a trustworthy lad.”

“I’m from Columbus Ohio...kinda far from here.”

For some reason, Welyam’s eyes lit up when she mentioned Ohio, and Katie thought it was strange.

“Oh,” continued William. “I...um...never heard of any Ohio.” He forced a fake smile. “Is that a small village in central Barnoria? Or maybe one of those towns along the coast of Dragon’s Bay?”

“No.” Katie narrowed her eyes. “I’m from a place called Earth. After reading books about this world, I’ve somehow ended up here!”

Welyam was silent for a moment, as though he were keeping a secret.

“Something wrong?”Katie asked.

“No.” Welyam’s tone was defensive. “Anyway, I’ve got to get back to work. Was nice meeting you, Katie of Ohio.” He bowed his head and quickly walked away.

“Is it something I said?” Katie asked Florien.

“Never seen him act like that before,” said the Fairy. She stood up, and flapped her wings again. “I’m going to see what’s wrong with him. Stay here for a moment. Nobody will bother you.”

***
Later that evening, Katie was invited to dinner in the great hall, where servants rushed around to get things ready. The Lord Commander had made arrangements for her to stay in one of the guest rooms, until they figured out a safe way to get her back home.

Aside from all the chaos, Katie was thrilled to be wearing a dress that resembled that of a medieval princess. The servants insisted on washing her muddy clothes, and found a nice, blue dress for her. But she was no doubt weary of the whole situation, and hoped she'd be able to go home as soon as possible.

“You're still here?” Welyam, asked, after sneaking up on Katie and startling her. He was
also washed and dressed nicely. “Why haven’t you left yet?”

“Why don’t you like me?” Katie frowned. “I don’t recall being rude to you when we met. All I said was my name and where I’m from...then you rushed off.”

“I apologize for my rudeness,” said Welyam. “I had a busy day, as you witnessed at the stables. But I finally get to relax with my fellow squires and enjoy supper.” He looked around the hall for a second. “They should be here soon.”

“Something’s seems different about you,” said Katie, giving him a quizzical stare.

“Whatever do you mean?” Welyam narrowed his eyes, and Katie sensed he was nervous about something.

“Just by the way you talk,” she responded. "Sometimes you sound like a real medieval Prince...but other times you sound like any other boy from my neighborhood."

“I see.” Welyam smiled nervously. “I apologize for any confusion, Katie of Ohio. It’s been a long day and I’m starving.” He tried to change the subject. “Wait to you see all the food and the cool entertainment the servants provide for us.”

“Cool entertainment?” Katie raised an eyebrow. "People from Terridia say 'cool' when describing something?"

“I..I... meant...wonderful activities the servants have planned for us, my lady.” He bowed his head again. “But I must depart from thee, for my fellow squires shall make my acquaintance soon, henceforth I must move yonder to—”

“Oh knock it off!” Katie glared at him. “You’re not fooling anyone “Welyam of Himlon” squire of Castle Hope.” She shook her head. “Tell me who you really are.”

Welyam let out a deep sigh, troubled by the whole mess he just got himself into. He glanced around the hall again to see if anyone was eavesdropping. When he felt safe, he pulled Katie to the side to explain.

“Okay, you have to promise not to say anything,” he said, anxiety etched all over his face. “Deal?”

Katie nodded her head. “Deal.”

“I’m not really Welyam from Himlon. But the place I ended up in is called Himlon. It’s a small village west of here.”

“Who are you then?” Katie tilted her head.

“I’m William...of Chicago…”

Katie busted out laughing, but William wasn’t amused..

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

“Oh nothing.” Katie couldn’t control her laughter. “Nothing at all...Sir Welyam of Chicago.”

“Knock it off!” he snapped. “We’re both in great danger, and possibly trapped here for the rest of our lives. It’s no laughing matter. I’ve been here for a year now, searching for ways to get back home, but so far nothing.”

“Really?’’ Katie finally stopped laughing. “Does the fairy know your secret?”

“No, of course not. As far as Florien's concerned, I’m just an orphan boy from Himlon. Same with the knights. They have no idea who I really am. They took me in, and have been feeding me ever since. I don’t want to ruin a good thing; I wouldn’t have survived without them. But I’m sick of feeding horses, and cleaning up after them! I just want to go home.”

“Why don’t you just tell Florian the truth?” asked Katie. “She knows I’m a portal traveler, and she didn’t make a big deal out of it. Why would she care if you're one too?”

“Because lying to a fairy is a big crime in Barnoria. They take lying very serious around here, especially lying to some of the ancient races. Had I known this, I would’ve told her the truth when we first met, but I was scared. I wanted everyone to think I'm really from Terridia."

“Scared of what?”

“Well,” William sighed, “they’re very weary about this whole portal thing. I know they’ve been nice to you so far, and that’s great...but who knows how long the kindness will last? There are other forces at work in this world, using dark portals. I’m not trying to scare you, Katie, but don’t be surprised if some of the knights start accusing you of being a spy for some warlock dude. They don’t take kindly to spies.”

“I’m no spy!” Katie shouted.

“Shhhhh!” William scowled at her. “Keep it down, will ya?” He shook his head. “I know you’re not a spy, but it doesn’t matter what I know or think. Luckily, you're in a safe place now, so that’s a good thing. But if they become suspicious of you, and there's a good chance they will, I suggest you leave.”

“What am I supposed to do in the meantime?”

“They’ll probably put you to work in the kitchen or something. Just do whatever they tell you to do for now, until we figure out a way to get back home.”

“William?”

“Yeah?”

“I’ll do everything you just said...but if it turns out they think I’m a spy, and I have to leave ...would you come with me?”

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