In which we meet Michael Donnington, his dog Biff, his girlfriend Thessaly Rose, and the people who influenced his life.
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A Fine Day
It was lovely mid summer afternoon in the village of Gard. The air was warm with a cool breeze and the sun shined Michael Donnington was wandering through the forest outside of the lake tracking a boar that had been seen no less then a few hours ago.
Michael was a tall boy with dirty blond hair aged 17 years with light blue eyes. His father was Arthur Donnington, a former soldier and the village gardener. Arthur had a strong build which tends to come from living his entire life as a gardener. He wanted his son to follow in his footsteps but the simple life of gardening didn’t excite the boy too much. Michael wanted to join the Durosian army and see the rest of Mid-Land. He favored far more the thrill of a game of pigskin, cooking a good meal, and the thrill of a good hunt.
Michael had been following the trail left by the footprints of the boar but as any good hunter knows that can only do so much. Fortunately for Michael he had his best friend by his side, his dog Biff. Biff was a medium sized black dog whose ears pointed up and despite his size was very powerful. In addition to his strength Biff also possesses a “nose” for danger. This came in handy for Michael, especially whenever he went hunting, and it was a fine day for hunting.
Michael and Biff had been tracking the boar for a good two hours. Biff followed the scent and Michael followed him. Suddenly Biff paused at the top of a hill.
“What is it boy?” Michael asked.
“Woof!” Biff answered and scampered off in another direction.
“Have you found it?” Michael asked.
The dog dashed down the rocky path with Michael in tow. The path was steep, Michael, despite being really good on his feet, nearly tripped over a couple of rocks on the way.
“Biff, where are we going?” he asked
Biff stopped at a clearing by the lake at the bottom of the hill. Michael arrived a few seconds later, puzzled as to what the dog found.
“Why are we down here? Did you find the boar or something else? Don’t tell me you want to go chasing after squirrels again because you do that enough at…the…oh no.” Michael gasped for indeed Biff did find someone familiar, someone Michael wanted to see but who probably wouldn’t want to see him under such circumstances.
Rising out of the lake was Thessaly Rose. Thessaly was the daughter of Gard’s blacksmith, Justin Rose, a strong and powerful man, and was widely regarded as being the most beautiful girl in all of Gard. She had golden blond hair that glistened in the sun with eyes so blue they were a reflection of the sky. Michael looked away but Biff started barking and running towards her. Michael could only mutter an “oh no” at his cover being blown and crept up the path hoping Thessaly wouldn’t see him. Thessaly was putting her clothes back on when she heard the yelps of Biff in the distance.
“Biff?” she wondered quietly until the dog got closer. “Biff!” she shouted joyfully as the dog jumped into her arms and licked her. “What are you doing out here? You’re never anywhere without your…master. Where is he?”
“This is it” Michael thought to himself, wishing he would be torn apart be wolves rather than face the fate that awaited him. It was no use hiding anymore Michael would now have to come out and face Thessaly “like a man” according to his father.
“Michael Donnington, are you peeping?” She shouted.
“Too late for an escape.” He told himself. “Hey Thessy” he slowly approached her. “How did you know it was me?”
“Come on Mikey you know that wherever that dog is you can’t be far behind” she turned to Biff, “or vice-versa” she winked. “Let me guess you were out hunting that boar everyone was talking about and you got side tracked” she scolded while drying off.
“It was the dogs fault?” he smiled and looked back at Biff.
“And, let me guess, the beast got away.”
“Don’t blame me, he saw something better.”
Thessaly laughed at Michael’s remark and leapt into his arms. While Thessaly didn’t like Michael sneaking up on her while she was swimming, she actually kind of enjoyed it. She and Michael had been seeing each other for sometime now. The two had known each other since childhood and had grown up together. Both of their parents liked the two of them together but Thessaly’s father and mother felt it would be better if she married Christopher, the son of Gard’s mayor, Horus Glassman.
“So I saw Christopher come by your house the other day when you were out.” Michael told Thessaly jumping on top of a stray branch. Michael and Christopher did not get along. Although there was always tension between children from the Hill and the Valley in Gard, the rivalry between the two got personal when Christopher asked Thessaly, to the Spring Cotillion. When the young in the village come of age a cotillion is thrown in celebration where the sons of Gard bring their crushes. Each youth has to take the first person to ask them and while it always assumed Michael was going with Thessaly, Christopher swooped in and asked her first. Thessaly’s parents were overjoyed. Christopher was wealthy and would be able to take care of her if they married. But Thessaly wasn’t. Michael wound up going with his friend Jessica, who agreed that his proper place was with Thessaly. She encouraged Michael to ask Thessaly for a dance at the Cotillion. He did and it was the first time two guests danced with someone other then their dates. Christopher was humiliated and the feud began.
“And what were you doing at my place?” She asked coyly.
“Trimming your weeds, your Mom makes a mean lemonade.” He answered balancing himself as he walked across the stray branch.
“Christopher didn’t try to hurt you or anything? Because if he did…”
“Don’t worry, we all remember the last time he tried that.” Michael answered jumping off the branch and taking her hand (which she gladly gave him).
“You both wound up wrestling in the mud and accidentally threw mud in my fathers face.” Thessaly told him. “He nearly killed you that day”.
“It’s a good thing our parents are such good friends.” Michael responded. “Otherwise he’d have smashed my head in with his hammer”
“It’s a very good thing because I don’t date boys with flat heads.” She teased as the wind rustled her hair. “So, are you going to Sir Francis’ wedding tonight?”
“Of course, my fathers the best man. He and Sir Francis fought together in the Barbarian Wars before I was born. He also teaches me swordsmanship so I kind of have to go. Plus the whole village is invited anyway.” Michael told Thessaly continuing their afternoon stroll.
“Tell me about it. My dad was up all night making the swords the militia’s using when they present arms. Oh, Michael you have to see my dress for tonight its blue like my eyes and has white roses all over the waist. Its so pretty.” Thessaly jumped giddily.
“I can’t wait to see it.” Michael smiled. Meanwhile Biff began barking at something in the distance.
“What is it boy?” Michael asked peering over a nearby ledge “Wait, is that who I think it is?” Michael asked referring to the sight of an old man cheerfully singing in the distance. He took Thessaly by the wrist and started ran with Biff in toward the old man. Off in the distance old man merrily drove his wagon into town while humming a merry tune. Suddenly the old man was caught off guard and nearly lost his white pointed hat trying to prevent his horses from running into the surprise roadblock of Michael, Thessaly, and Biff.
“Losing your wits old man?” Michael asked jokingly.
“A wizard never loses his wits Michael Donnington, he merely gets too enraptured by his surroundings he forgets to look at what’s in front of him.” The old man told Michael with a sharp stare. “However a young man such as yourself should know never to play in traffic.” The old man reprimanded poking Michael with his staff.
“Hello Geldolf” Thessaly greeted the old man with her pearly white smile.
“And Thessaly Rose” the wizard greeted gently “what sort of mischief has this hooligan gotten you into this time?”
“Oh Michael was spying on me while I took a swim” she kid. Michael was at a loss for words. He knew that Thessaly was kidding, but Geldolf obviously didn’t know, earning Michael a couple whacks from Geldolf’s staff and a small lecture on peeping. Thessaly laughed uncontrollably at Geldolf’s disciplining of Michael. Once he was finished he offered them a ride to town. They along with Biff hoped in the wagon and the four of them were off.
“So, what brings you back to Gard this time Geldolf? Michael asked the wizard “it’s been a couple of years since the last time you were here.”
“If you’re referring to incident with Lady Doris and the vampire then it has been awhile” the Wizard told the inquisitive young man “this time however the tidings are far more pleasant.”
“What do you mean by that?” Michael asked suspiciously
“He’s talking about the wedding silly” Thessaly interrupted Michael “that is why you’re here isn’t it Geldolf?”
“You could learn a thing or to from this girl” Geldolf told Michael “Of course I’m here for the wedding as a matter of fact I’m performing the ceremony. Sir Francis is a very close friend of mine not to mention one of the finest swordsmen I’ve ever met. Speaking of which” he turned to Michael “I understand somebody in this wagon is turning out to be a very good swordsman himself.”
“Oh Mikey’s the best swordsman in town!” Thessaly chimed in “Sir Francis is always telling daddy about how skilled he is. He says that he could best some of the best soldiers in the Durosian army.”
“Indeed” Geldolf smiled. They rolled into the center of town about ten minutes later and the town was bustling with activity. Everybody was busy with the last minute preparations for the wedding between Sir Francis and Lady Madeline.
Sir Francis and Lady Madeline had been engaged for roughly twenty years and would’ve tied the knot sooner had Sir Francis not been called away for adventures or helping out the army of the neighboring kingdom of Duros, located just on the other side of Gard. Arriving, the townsfolk began to take notice of their unique guest for it had been awhile since Geldolf had visited them, the last time he did the circumstances were quite unpleasant. Geldolf noticed all the people looking at him and while he enjoyed the attention it bothered him somewhat because there were always rumors traveling that if he was around trouble could not be far behind. Geldolf decided to alleviate their fears and snapped his fingers causing fireworks to explode behind him. The children were overjoyed at the sight. Geldolf’s drove his wagon past the jousting field before he finally stopped at the Inn of the Valiant Stallion.
“Well here’s where I get off my friends but have no fear I shall see you tonight. It will be a fine ceremony…ah,” Geldolf gasped while falling from his wagon. Michael and Thessaly immediately helped him up with smiles on their faces. “Its all right its all right. Just a little slip nothing more” Geldolf frantically tried to explain to the two of them, trying to hide the fact that he was clumsy. “Thank you again.” he told the two of them as he walked off into the inn.
“Watch your step” Michael told Geldolf sarcastically. Geldolf gave him an amused dirty look and continued walking. Thessaly wrapped her arm around Michael’s escorting her to their respective houses.
“Thessaly. Thessaly.” Thessaly’s mother Alexandra Rose called. She was a middle-aged woman with very dirty blond hair who was still trying to cling to her youth. “Thess…oh they’re you are” she smiled with relief “We don’t have much time, you need to get ready for the wedding. You can’t go in your daytime rags. Come on in, I’ve already started up a bath.” Alexandra pestered.
“I have to go.” she told Michael detaching herself from his arm. He nodded to her and she kissed him softly on the cheek. Thessaly went inside.
“Oh Michael” Ms. Rose remembered, “My husband is finished with the swords your father requested, he’s over in his forgery.”
Alexandra Rose was a nice but difficult woman. She had very high standards for just about everything, especially men. In her younger days men used to refer to her as the siren, in that she would lure men in with her beauty then break their hearts with her ice cold personality if they didn’t meet her standards; and what high standards they were. This was the woman who tamed Justin Rose after all, and Michael, though she thought of him as a nice boy, didn’t meet those standards. Sure he was a great playmate when they were children and a mother’s dream of a first kiss or first romance but he was just that and nothing more. He had no future in her mind. Christopher Glassman, the mayor’s son, on the other hand there was someone who had the whole world in his hand and would always be there for Thessaly until the end of her days. Not like Michael who was likely to follow Sir Francis with his friends (don’t get her started on them) on some foolish crusade.
“Thank You” Michael answered and ran a short distance with Biff to the forgery. The forgery was sweltering, the aroma of smelt metal around every corner. It took Michael a minute to get used to.
“ Is that you Arthur?” A gruff yet kind voice called out.
“No it’s Michael.”
“Oh it’s you.” he responded sounding a little disappointed. “I suppose you’re here for those swords then.” Thessaly’s father Justin Rose emerged from the back of his shop where he was finishing off a pair of horseshoes for another villager. He was an enormous man whose arms looked like they could’ve been boulders and a chest to match. He had reddish hair and a scruffy beard that stretched down to his chest and legs the size of tree trunks.
People wondered how Justin, a gruff working man, wound up with such a woman well the answer was simple; being in the right place at the right time. One night outside of the River ‘Ale one of Alexandra’s many suitors had forgotten the meaning of the word ‘no’ and in a drunken stupor decided to confront her outside. Things got a little ugly when Alexandra refused him so he decided to take her. Justin, after a hard day of hammering horseshoes, decided to join his friends for a pint. Out of the corner of his eye Alexandra in trouble and without thinking about it punched the man so hard that he was knocked for three days straight, according to some.
Although he had a reputation as being one of the roughest men in town for obvious reasons he was also known as one of the kindest men in town (leaving many to wonder why he ended up with Alexandra) either way Michael was always intimidated by him. The reasons for this are as obvious as Michael was trying to court his daughter or that he hadn’t gotten over the infamous mudslinging incident. Whatever the reason Mr. Rose still liked Michael; he reminded him of a younger version of himself, the way he always got into trouble even though he didn’t mean to. He liked the kid he just had an odd way of showing it.
“So I saw you with my daughter earlier today. I trust you took care of her well.” He asked.
“Yes sir. Of course sir.” Michael stuttered. Justin brought out the swords wrapped in a bundle.
“Here you go son. I trust that you won’t damage them before tonight am I not correct?”
“You are correct sir.” Michael thanked him and shook his hand. Justin grip was so strong that he initially hurt Michael’s hand but then he loosened it. Once again it was Justin’s odd way of showing Michael he liked him. Michael left the shop and went back to his house bringing the swords inside. His mother Margaret was in the kitchen preparing a stew. Margaret, like Mrs. Rose, was a middle-aged woman, with brown hair and face that was still pretty though she was passed her prime.
“Oh, Michael there you are and you’ve got the swords your father requested from Mr. Rose.” She gave her son a kiss and laid the swords out on a table near the fireplace.
“Mom. Why are you cooking? Isn’t there going to be a big feast after the ceremony?” Michael asked his Mother.
“Oh that. I’ve been asked to prepare a stew. After all what is a feast if there is no food?” She told her son. In Gard whenever there was an event or a feast the villagers were always expected to contribute some sort of dish, to not do so was very frowned upon.
“Can I taste it?” Michael asked his mother.
“I don’t know,” she said to him questionably “Only if you promise to not be harsh on old mum’s cooking like last time. You know how harsh of a food critic you are.”
“I’m never harsh Mom. I just like to give suggestions to make it more delicious.” He reassured his kind Mother with a smile. She smiled and allowed him to take a taste. Cooking was one of Michael’s hobbies so he has very high standards for food. His reputation as a chef was starting to grow especially whenever his family had dinners. A lot of the time Michael would help out his mother in the kitchen, and the results were always good. “And this is delicious” he told his mother with a thumbs up.
“Thank goodness. I was starting to think that my baby boy had lost all faith in his mothers ability to prepare a meal.”
“Well…” Michael began with a smile that immediately got his mothers finger pressed to his lips.
“Don’t even think of finishing that sentence.” She warned him with a smile.
“I was just going to say that it’s better than dad’s cooking. Speaking of which do you know where he is?”
“He’s in the backyard finishing up with the weeds if you want to catch him. But don’t dilly dally you both need to get ready for tonight.”
“I won’t Mom” Michael reassured his mother and gave her a kiss on the cheek before going out the back door to see his father, Arthur Donnington, the brave and fearless knight of Duros turned humble gardener.
“So where’s the boar?” Arthur asked his son, while pulling out weeds.
“We didn’t catch it. Something came up”
“Did this ‘something’ you speak of happen to have golden hair and a smile that gleams like pearls?” His father continued.
“Yes, sir.” Michael answered his father melancholically.
“I knew it. I saw her leave this morning about twenty minutes after you did. You didn’t find her swimming did you?”
“Um, actually sir…I…was…” Michael stuttered
“You weren’t spying on her were you?” his father pressed.
“Oh Heaven’s no sir!” Michael answered in defense “Actually it was Biff who found her first.”
Biff gave Michael a grrr of disapproval amusing both Arthur and Michael. Arthur put his arm around his son and gave him a headlock.
“My boy. I remember when I was your age and in love. She had brown hair…”
“Is there anyway I can get out of you telling this story?” Michael interrupted
“Only you pointing me in the direction of those swords Mr. Rose prepared.” Arthur assured his son as they went inside the house. They walked through the kitchen into the living room where on the table laid the sixteen swords prepared by Mr. Rose for the wedding. Arthur took a sword out of the pile and held it aloft. He then picked up another sword and laid it across the blade. The sword balanced itself on the blade perfectly. He removed the sword from the blade and raised it into his guard position and parried a couple of times. The sword glided smoothly against the wind and its weight was not light enough that it would easily break yet not heavy enough that it presented a strain on the wrist.
“Arthur! How many times do I have to tell you no swordsmanship in the house!” Margaret nagged. “You could poke someone’s eye out!”
“Yes dear” Arthur apologized with a chuckle and sheathed the sword.
“You boys and your toys” she said to herself. “By the way I think it would be a good idea for both of you to get cleaned up and dressed.” Michael and Arthur nodded and went to their respective rooms to prepare themselves for a wedding like no other.
(Image is Charles Vess’ cover to “Stardust” and a shot from “Old Yeller”. They may be from different eras but I thought they’d fit the chapter’s mood.)
Copyright ã 2008 Todd Matthy