By Kevin Hopson
“What’s your business here, young lady?” a male asked, blocking the girl’s way.
Dismounting her horse and standing in front of an archway that led to the inner kingdom, she inspected the man. His metal helmet covered both head and nose, and the girl looked into the man’s narrow, brown eyes before answering.
“I would like to see Lord Foster,” she said.
A chuckle followed, the man’s gray beard barely moving as he contained his laughter. “Is that all?” He paused. “You and everyone else in this land.” Holding the butt of a spear against the ground and resting his other hand on top of a sheathed sword anchored to his waist belt, the man’s posture began to ease. “And your name?”
“Candace.” She hesitated. “I’m no ordinary person either.”
The man grinned. “Clearly.”
“No, really. I’m a knight.” Candace wore pants, boots, and a leather top. While it was uncommon for a girl to dress like this, it still didn’t make her look the part of a knight.
“Is that so?” Candace detected a heavy dose of sarcasm in his voice. “I didn’t realize female knights existed… and such young ones at that.”
Several roosters and hens darted behind Candace, temporarily distracting her. “I’m not that young,” she said, facing him again. “I’m thirteen, and I come from the town of Tortosa. Several of us defended the town against a Moor attack earlier in the spring. In honor of our actions, Count Berenger knighted us.”
The man’s eyes tightened, and he lifted a hand to his chin. “I recall hearing about that.”
“Then you’ll let me in?”
He shook his head. “Any outsider could lay claim to your story. Even if you’re telling the truth, no one sees Lord Foster without an appointment.”
Looking back in the direction from which she had come, Candace noticed two trails of dirt. Left by the constant coming and going of wagon wheels, the path eventually disappeared into a nearby forest. She stared out into the trees, contemplating her next words.
“Can you give him a message?” she asked.
“I’m a guard,” he said, “not a messenger.” Candace gazed at him, refusing to flinch, and the man eventually shrugged. “I can’t guarantee anything, but what would you have me say to him?”
Candace kept her mouth closed, afraid to speak her mind. She wondered if there was a more delicate way of phrasing it. After further debate, she decided to remain silent.
“I wouldn’t want to insult him,” she said.
“He’s not easily offended. If you wish to say something, say it now. My willingness to help is quickly dwindling.”
“What’s your name?”
The guard seemed confused, and he took some time before answering. “Why do you ask?”
“I feel it’s only courteous to get the name of the man who is kind enough in assisting me.”
He stuttered for a few seconds. “Delmer,” he finally said.
“Thank you for helping me, Delmer.”
His face stiffened. “That’s still in doubt.”
Candace nodded. “My apologies.”
“Your apology is accepted, but please get on with it. My patience is wearing thin.”
Though continuing to fear the impact of her words, Candace spit them out before Delmer could grow more irritated. “Why does he ignore the people of Tortosa?”
“That might have been a poor choice of words.”
“I would agree,” Delmer said.
“He offers help to many towns.”
“The entire land,” he specified.
“Yet our town sees very little of this.”
“How do you mean?”
“While others receive food, water, and shelter, Tortosa does not.”
“Lord Foster does not neglect anyone. He provides what is necessary for each town to survive.”
“You’re saying we don’t need any of these things?”
“Not at all, but perhaps you already have them.”
Candace pondered. What does he mean by that?
“I can see you’re puzzled,” Delmer said. “Do you know what Tortosa has that most of the remaining land does not?” Candace shook her head. “Think.” She tried, but nothing came to mind. “Fertile soil,” he said. “An abundance of trees and water sources as well. Why do you think the Moors tried to attack you?”
It made sense to her, but outside of her home, Candace knew very little of the land other than what she had heard from others. “I see your point, but aren’t we entitled to something? Even with our resources, we have many challenges. Instead of sending us barrels of earthworms, why not send us something useful?”
“What do your people do with them?”
Candace shrugged. “How should I know?”
“Tell me this then. What is your family’s profession?”
“My father is a blacksmith.”
“Do you know anything of farming?”
“A little,” Candace said. “We have a small plot of land but typically buy food from others… the larger landowners who run the farms.”
“Then you depend on these people?”
“And they rely heavily on the earthworms.”
She had no idea what Delmer was talking about. “They do?”
Delmer nodded. “The worms enrich the soil, making it easier for plants and crops to grow.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“But now you do. Next time you see a farmer, ask them how important the worms are to their land. I bet you’ll think differently about Lord Foster’s contribution to your town.”
Candace blushed, wanting to eat her words. She climbed atop her horse and looked back, saying one last thing to Delmer before riding off.
“Tell Lord Foster that the town of Tortosa thanks him.”
© Kevin Hopson 2015