There comes a time once every so often when, as a writer, I feel the need to write something that is a little different to my normal work. Usually, it’s prompted by a newspaper article or something like that but – considering the news seems so dire and negative lately – you won’t be surprised to know that I sourced my inspiration from somewhere else this time.
When I was a child, one of my favourite books was a lovely little children’s book called Gideon Gander Solves the World’s Greatest Mysteries by David Henry Wilson (if you happen to come across, I thoroughly recommend it). I suppose, in a small way, this book is responsible for my descent into crime writing – it follows the story of a gander who thinks he is a detective and goes around solving crimes inspired by well-known nursery rhymes and tales (Georgie Porgie, Black Sheep, Solomon Grundy to name a few examples).
Anyway, I found this book online lately and had to buy it – one of my lasting regrets up to this point had been that I ever got rid of that book. And, although I haven’t actually had the time to sit and read it yet, it got me thinking about the stories I tell. And I ended up writing this short character introduction. It might be the start of something, it might just end up being one of those fun oddities that I engaged with one afternoon. But for the time being it is just the start of a story.
As you’ll see – the dark doesn’t have to corrupt everything…
Sir Tendeth – A Detective
It can be said that the oddest things may occur in the most unexpected of circumstances. Never had this been truer than of the unexpected set of events that followed the arrival of Sir Tendeth at the court of King Wilhelm.
Sir Tendeth had left the court of King Arthur of Camelot under something of a cloud. Despite all his passion and ambition, he had never felt truly appreciated for his skills nor did he feel that he had been given the right conditions in which to flourish.
‘A mighty oak tree cannot be expected to reach its true height if it is planted in a desolate and rocky outcropping,’ he would say to himself. ‘Nor can you expect to build a great cathedral from nothing but leaves, or weave gold from silk.’
It had thus been, on a rather dull and uninspiring day, that Sir Tendeth had approached King Arthur and demanded he be released from his duties so that he could pursue his own destiny. He had every reason to expect the good King to be delighted with this wonderful display of initiative – after all, this was the same Arthur who had been so supportive of Sir Gawain’s expedition against the Green Knight and Sir Galahad’s quest to find the Holy Grail.
However, the response that Sir Tendeth got was entirely unexpected. After several hours of shouting and marching back and forth, Sir Tendeth found himself on the receiving end of a long lecture about duty and courage. At the end of this argument, in which Sir Tendeth was not allowed to speak, he found himself ejected through the front gates with strict instructions never to return to the hallowed walls of Camelot ever again.
Sir Tendeth couldn’t understand it himself. Arthur has said something about his timing being inappropriate – but what was inappropriate about venturing out on a personal quest?
It took him a while to make his way through the massive army that stood outside the gates. In fact, it was only after he explained the exact layout of the city to the army’s general that he was eventually allowed to go free.
A few days later, he arrived in a small village where an old beggar woman told him that Camelot had been destroyed by the army of Prince Mordred. The name rang a bell in Sir Tendeth’s mind, although he couldn’t rightly place it. For a little while, he thought it might have been the name of the general he’d spoken to, but he soon decided he was wrong:
‘It can’t have been him,’ he muttered to himself. ‘He was such a nice man.’
And so he continued on his journey, not knowing in which direction he was going or how far he might be expected to travel. All he knew was that an adventure was waiting for him somewhere on the horizon and he was going to find it.
It was a little over a week later that he finally spotted the walls of Caeredon. The city was smaller than Camelot and a little shabbier, but it was nestled high up in a mountain pass and commanded a great view of the surrounding fields and marshlands.
‘If ever I am to find a quest, this place will be it,’ Sir Tendeth announced proudly as he began the long trudge across the watery land. ‘In this place, I will finally make a name for myself.’
And a name for himself, he made.
Arriving at the gates, Sir Tendeth found the gates closed and barred. As he pressed against the hard wood, he found that they wouldn’t budge even an inch and, cursing his bad fortune, he proceeded to shout up to the deserted ramparts above him.
‘Hallo,’ he called out. ‘Is anyone there?’
‘Hallo,’ came the reply. ‘Is anyone there?’
That’s odd, thought the knight. That fellow sounds like me.
He clapped his hands over his mouth and yelled as loudly as he could.
‘Greetings. Whom am I speaking to?’
‘Greetings,’ came the faint reply. ‘Whom am I speaking to?’
Under normal circumstances, Sir Tendeth might have thought the fellow’s manner to be impudent but, given that he was very much locked outside the walls, he felt he had little choice but to answer:
‘I am Sir Tendeth of Camelot.’
There was a brief pause before the faint voice replied:
‘I am Sir Tendeth of Camelot.’
The ruddy cheek, the knight thought, trying desperately to control his temper.
‘No, I am Sir Tendeth of Camelot.’
‘No, I am Sir Tendeth of Camelot.’
‘Now look here,’ Sir Tendeth replied, beginning to feel more than a little frustrated by now. ‘If you are going to play such silly games, I demand that you come down here this instant…’
No sooner had he spoken, there was a scuffled of sound behind the heavy gates followed by scraping of wood as a small slat moved aside revealing a pair of green, beady-looking eyes.
‘What’s your game then?’ the beady eyes asked.
‘I could ask the same of you,’ Sir Tendeth replied, stepping forward towards the gate. ‘What’s the idea of keeping me waiting out here?’
‘I dunno,’ beady eyes replied. ‘Why? What’s so special about out there?’
Sir Tendeth thought for a moment. ‘I’m not sure really. It’s where I ended up I suppose. But now I want to come in.’
The beady eyes blinked and quickly scanned him up and down.
‘We don’t accept cold-callers.’
‘I’m only cold because you’re keeping me out here,’ replied Sir Tendeth. ‘If you would only let me in…’
‘Why? What are you selling?’
‘Nothing,’ Sir Tendeth replied. ‘I am on a quest and wish to come in.’
At this, the beady eyes widened. For the first time, they seemed to take in Sir Tendeth’s battered armour and the knobbly sword that hung from his belt. They scanned him for a good minute before they blinked once more and said:
‘You’ve been sent here to help us?’
‘Yes,’ Sir Tendeth replied confidently.
The eyes disappeared for a moment. Behind the door, Sir Tendeth could hear the sound of muffled conversation before a new set of eyes appeared at the opening – bright blue, and friendlier than the first pair.
‘Where did you say you came from?’
‘From Camelot,’ the knight replied. ‘I am Sir Tendeth of the Knights of the Round Table.’
The blue eyes widened:
With that, the opening snap shut. Not really sure what to do, Sir Tendeth waited as he heard the scurry of quick feet racing back and forth behind the gate. After a minute or so, the sound stopped and Sir Tendeth could hear the massive wooden bars being lifted out of the lock. In the next instant, the door creaked and puffed out a small gust of yellow dust before slowly swinging open to reveal the city within.
Sir Tendeth had been right – it was shabbier than Camelot. Where Camelot had great marble fountains and immaculately white-paved roads, Caeredon had a couple of grubby stone wells and a muddy lane that weaved in and out of the wooden, thatched houses of the city. Even the keep tower, which towered over the rest of the city, looked like it hadn’t been repaired in several centuries and was ridden with ivy and bright green moss.
He stepped in through the gate, staring at his new surroundings. Now that he was inside, he was sure that his quest was leading him here. Perhaps it was his destiny to become the governor so that he might make this place more habitable. Or maybe his quest would be to establish some sort of working sewage network. Whatever his fate, it would be inextricably linked to this city and Sir Tendeth would prove himself at last.
He felt a small tug on his tunic as the beady eyes cleared his throat. Turning towards it, Sir Tendeth almost jumped out of his skin as he found himself staring down at two of the most awful-looking creatures he had ever seen. About the size of a child, each one had green, rippled skin, long sagging ears and fat, pudgy noses. Where their toenails should be, these creatures had long claws that tapped excitedly on the floor whilst their great bellies wobbled, exposed from beneath their pale orange tunics.
‘What the devil?’
‘No, sir,’ the one on the left replied. ‘Not devils. Goblins.’
The one on the right sniffed with irritation, his beady eyes staring angrily up at Sir Tendeth. ‘Not as bad as devils. Nowhere near as bad…’
‘I apologise,’ Sir Tendeth replied, glancing back and forth at these two beasts as his hand gripped hold of the hilt of his sword. ‘I have never seen a goblin before.’
‘Well,’ replied beady eyes. ‘Now you have.’
‘Yes, indeed,’ Sir Tendeth replied, glancing back at the deserted city behind him. ‘Are all of the people here like you?’
‘Oh no, sir,’ replied the one on the left, his blue eyes shining eagerly up at Sir Tendeth. ‘We are the last two – fated to serve King Wilhelm for the rest of our lives as compensation for the Goblin War…’
‘Though I don’t see why it was our fault,’ muttered beady eyes. ‘It wasn’t us who burned his library…’
‘Indeed, brother,’ replied the other, giving his companion a short nod. ‘My name is Gob and this is my brother Bog.’
Sir Tendeth nodded to each in turn. ‘Very pleased to meet you,’ he replied. ‘Now, if you don’t mind, I have a quest to fulfil…’
‘Oh yes, of course,’ replied Gob. ‘We are to take you to the King immediately…’
‘Although I don’t see the point,’ added Bog. ‘No one else has managed it – why should he?’
‘Hush brother,’ Gob said with a snap, before turning to Sir Tendeth. ‘Will you follow me, sir?’
Gob and Bog led Sir Tendeth up the sludgy street, making their way towards the keep in the centre of the city. As Sir Tendeth slipped and slid on the wet, muddy ground, he imagined that he caught sight of faces peering out through the windows as he past by, although – as soon as he turned to look – they seemed to vanish in a flash as though they were never there at all.
Arriving at the keep, Gob scuttled forward and leapt up into the air, grabbing hold of a large iron knocker. He placed his feet firmly on the door and kicked off, somersaulting through the air and landing gracefully on the floor as the knocker smashed against the wood. They waited for a few moments before the door opened up a crack and another set of eyes peered out at the two goblins.
‘Well? What is it Gob?’
Gob pointed excitedly towards the knight. ‘He’s here. He’s come.’
Sir Tendeth stepped forward and cleared his throat.
‘I am Sir Tendeth of the Knights of…’
The door slammed shut.
Sir Tendeth turned towards the two goblins:
‘Was it something I said?’
Before they could answer, the rattling of a large chain could be heard behind the door and, before Sir Tendeth could react, it swung open to reveal a rather normal looking guard, dressed in fine armour and a clean tunic. He stared at Sir Tendeth for a moment before gesturing for them to follow him inside.
The guard led the party through the next courtyard, up a set of winding and unnecessarily thin stairs, along a dark corridor, up another set of stairs and into a large room. Without stopping, the guard led them through this room to another set of stairs that, to Sir Tendeth’s surprise, seemed to head back down again until it reached a large set of thick, oak, double doors guarded by two very alert and – in Sir Tendeth’s opinion – terrified guards.
‘Who goes there?’ One asked, raising his spear towards the party.
‘Shut up, Kevin,’ replied the first guard. ‘It’s only me.’
‘Oh,’ Kevin replied, lowering his spear a fraction as he peered up at Sir Tendeth. ‘And who is this unsightly thug?’
‘I am Sir Tendeth of…’
‘I wasn’t asking you,’ replied Kevin, snarling menacingly.
‘He is from Camelot,’ explained Gob. ‘He’s going to solve our little problem.’
Kevin considered this for a moment before gently lowering his spear. ‘Well, good luck to him, I say.’
He nodded to his companion and, together, they pushed open the doors.
The room beyond was magnificent. A long, red carpet led from the door straight down the centre of the room that towered high above them. Two large stained glass windows adorned the walls on either side and, at the far end of the room, a large, golden throne overlooked the entire space.
As the party entered the room, Sir Tendeth watched as a mass of people stopped and turned to face towards them. As Gob and Bog led the way towards the throne, the crowd stepped back, staring at Sir Tendeth with a mixture of excitement, trepidation and wonder. As the last of them retreated, Sir Tendeth’s eyes fell on the elderly – but no less regal looking – king who slouched in the throne. His dull eyes watched Sir Tendeth with disinterest as Gob rushed forward and jumped up on to the arm rest to whisper in his ear. Only then did his eyes widen and his wrinkled face broaden into a large smile.
‘You are from Camelot?’ he bellowed, his voice echoing around the cavernous room.
The knight stepped forward.
‘I am Sir Tendeth of the Knights of the Round Table. I have come to complete a great quest…’
The king’s smile grew even wider. His hand slammed hard on the arm rest, causing Gob to jump backwards and land awkwardly on the stone floor. King Wilhelm’s eyes glistened mischievously as he looked down at Sir Tendeth before he let out a loud, heart filled laugh that was nervously imitated by the surrounding crowd.
‘You are here to solve our mystery, are you?’
‘Yes, your Majesty,’ replied Sir Tendeth, placing a proud hand above his heart – well, at least it would have been his heart, but he wasn’t entirely sure where the heart was, so instead he placed it proudly on his stomach.
The King beamed about the room with what seemed to be an odd mixture of pride and relief.
‘So, you are the detective,’ he announced.
Sir Tendeth wasn’t really sure what he meant. He’d never heard the word before – at least he didn’t think he had. He was about to reply when his mind wandered to the last thing that King Arthur had said about him:
‘You are a traitor, Tendeth. A coward. A defector…’
At the time he hadn’t been sure what King Arthur had meant, but it seemed obvious to him that the king must have sent word ahead that Sir Tendeth was on his way – perhaps Arthur hadn’t been disappointed after all.
In the next moment, Sir Tendeth’s mind wandered to a comment his old nurse-maid used to say about him when he was a small child. He’d always thought that she’d been talking about the way he walked for, as a child, his legs had been malnourished and under-formed, but now that he heard King Wilhelm use a similar word, he began to wonder whether the nurse had secretly known he’d be destined for greatness.
He used that word now – it seemed like the right time.
With a great swagger of pride, he took a single step forward and, with his clearest and most impressive-sounding voice, he declared:
‘Yes, your Worshipfullness. I am defective…’
It’s hard to say whether the king heard what Sir Tendeth had said, or simply what he wanted the knight to have said. Either way, he beamed once again, levered himself off his throne and waddled over to the knight, clapping him hard on the shoulder.
‘Very good,’ he replied, giving Sir Tendeth’s shoulder and uncomfortable squeeze. ‘Then you had best get to work. For you, my boy, have a lot of it to do…’