A long, long time ago, in the countryside that surrounded Smallvillage in Britain, there was a young boy named James. This happened upon a time when knights rescued fair maids from the wrath of horrid dragons, upon a time when there were kings and princesses and glorious castles, when Robin Hood and his men made the woods of Sherwood dangerous for the rich, and when the world was full of Heroes.
Heroes and knights were all chivalrous, brave and kind-hearted. These men had noble names like Richard, Edward, George and Wilfried, while men christened to Benjamin, Matthew, Thomas and James practised farming, trade or fishing.
James's father, grandfather and great grandfather had plowed the earth and bred sheep. James's brothers would all follow in their ancestors' footsteps whilst James's sisters connected themselves to the neighbour farms through marriage.
James, however, had always been different. A Hero hid underneath his outer appearance of dutiful farmer's son. Great deeds awaited him out there, and he was ready to follow the demands of his heart at any time. But he needed money. Money to armour and horse. And he needed a knighthood, for to what good would it otherwise do to defeat monsters, rescue young ladies from named monsters or gain awesome victories over evil men? It would only result in somebody else's taking the credit, somebody baptised Richard, Edward, George or Wilfried.
Alas, that he had been named something other than James! Had but his name been noble and of ancient line, the difficulties had never arisen. He would have been on top of the world.
Time passed. One day, not long after he had celebrated his fourteenth birthday with his family, James' father had sent him to Smallvillage with the old cart to buy seed. A small notice on the door of the village tavern then caught his attention. James halted the stout mare and approached the board.
James carefully read the placard twice. Squire... mused he. As squire he would gain both experience of knighting and money to buy his own knight equipment when that became necessary. Of course, his title was still troubling him, as he did not have it. But, thought he optimistically, that would probably sort itself out too.
The following day he took leave of his family, and begun the walk to Bigcity with a bundle on his back.
Sir Roderick W. Knightley lowered his visor, and took the shield and the lance that his new squire offered him. James was a fine sort of boy and the knight had hired him on the spot. Maybe he was somewhat uncultivated and rustic, but both strong and able. He had a good way with horses too, thought the knight satisfied. Taking employees from the country always turned out successful, they were simple, hardworking people.
Time passed. One day, not long after he had celebrated his sixteenth birthday, James knew the time had come. He had learnt all he could use from Sir Roderick, and the purse had a reassuring weight to it. He had saved every penny. He had also practised fencing and riding every day in his small lodge on the master's attic. Of course, he had to put up with a stick for sword and a stool as horse, but he was convinced that, whenever he could get his hands on the genuine article, he would be able to complete his knowledge speedily.
The following day he took leave of Sir Roderick Wilfried Knightley and went out among all the shops and stands of Bigcity.
James proudly straightened in the saddle. His image was now complete. The picture was perfect! It had not cost much money either. He had obtained the second hand armour almost for free from Matthew, the smith, and the dents on the breastplate and on the shoulder were scarcely visible if he pulled his cloak together. He had painted the shield in blue and gold with a great dragon in the middle. The horse was very important, and had cost a lot more, but this was an extraordinarily fine mount with the best of pedigrees. What its name, Evil, suggested was a minor and quite insignificant detail, thought James.
In spite of all beginner's difficulties, like mounting a biting horse that refuses to stay still, fully armoured and without the aid of a squire, did the resolute young man improve continually. The dents in his armour were accompanied by more, some that came from the countless somersaults he made from horseback height during exercise (he had heard, however, that you must fall off the horse at least a hundred times before you are a good rider, so he did not worry too much), others that were oddly horseshoe shaped.
Time passed. One day, not long after he had celebrated his eighteenth birthday in the small room he rented, James happened to see a notice when he passed the tavern The Mean Mount. He halted Evil and dismounted.
James' face brightened. This was his opportunity! He only had to win the tournament. The knighthood was almost in his grasp! He immediately went to the arrangers' office on King Street and made an application with the last of his savings.
The big day arrived. James sat straight and proud on his mount. He was not nervous, for he knew he would succeed. He had exercised so much!
The signal sounded. A herald solemnly read the rules for the first part, which chiefly consisted in picking rings off the ground with the lance. James smiled inwardly. He could do this with folded eyes. When it was his turn everything went smooth, his performance was both fast and flawless.
Next part was similar to the first one, though this time you picked the rings from a tree arm attached to a pole. The rings hung in a row and you had to catch the one painted in your own colours. James spurred Evil and easily caught the blue ring on the tip of his lance. With an elegant gesture he threw it to the cheering audience.
The tournament lasted five days. The knights' contests were accompanied by comic jesters, agile acrobats, skilful archery performances and both a competition in crossbow and one in longbow, shouting traders, solemn announcements and other things that could catch the interest of the audience. James did well. On the last day he was among the few who had been selected to the grand finale, where the chosen ones were to compete man to man.
Evil snorted and tramped nervously. He chewed on the bit and sprinkles of white foam gleamed like stars on his black, muscular chest. James calmly observed the wooden fence through the apertures in the visor. On each sides of it would the both opponents chase towards each other at a gallop and try to push the other off the horse with their lances. Although he had never encountered another knight before, James confidently believed he would do all right in that too.
The signal sounded and he pressed his heels in Evil's ribs. He aimed at his opponent. Then the lances hit the shields with a crash. The force was enormous, greater than James ever could have imagined. He was thrown out of the saddle head over heels, while his opponent expertly parried the strike and rode away unharmed.
It was a miserable young man who slowly rode home that evening. He had lost his first encounter. He still had no title. His purse was empty. He had to accept fact: you cannot be a knight if you are named Benjamin, Matthew, Thomas or James.
The following day old Ben, the butcher, hired him as errand-boy.
Time passed. One day, not long after he had celebrated his twentieth birthday in the small chamber in the inner regions of the butchery where he lived, he decided to return home. He had not become a knight, but nevertheless earned some money, probably more than most people in Smallvillage would ever own. He was now assistant butcher and very popular both among the customers and the butcher's other employees.
The following day he took leave of old Ben. He put on his armour, mounted the mean horse and turned towards home.
A couple of hours later he heard a scream. He looked about in all directions, but could not see anything unusual, and continued ahead. Then he heard it again. It sounded as if it came from the forest on the right side of the road. Irresolutely he turned the horse around and nudged it to a reluctant trot. After riding through the forest a short while he entered a crest. Ahead of him was a vale and the view was terrific. He could distinguish the ocean far away if he strained his eyes. For the third time the sound echoed, much closer this time, and closer features caught his attention. In the middle of the vale was a lake, in the middle of the lake was an island and in the middle of the island stood a tower made of stone. A white face could scarcely be seen in a window far up in the tower.
Without hesitation he galloped down toward the tower. It was a beautiful girl that was trapped! He was just about to rip off his armour, throw himself into the lake and swim across it when he heard a dreadful roar immediately behind him, followed by a hissing noise and an unpleasant heat. Smoke poured on the ground when he slowly turned around. It was a huge dragon, a scaly, fire-breathing beast! It flapped its wings menacingly and stared at him with eyes as large as teacups.
James held the reins with a steady hand and lowered the lance. He shut the visor with a final click. He spurred Evil. Now there was no turning back...
The battle was short and nasty. The dragon was large and powerful, but James was small and fast and the horse was mean. While the horse bit the dragon in a wing, James thrust his lance straight into its heart. Then he removed his armour, tied his wicked horse to a tree and swam to the tower with quickness and ease. He picked the lock and the fair maiden fell in his strong arms. She turned out to be no less than a real princess! James set out toward the castle in a cheerful mood and with the princess in front of him in the saddle.
The king was very grateful.|
"Yes, er... James... it was nice of you to get rid of that dragon. Thanks a lot!" The king pressed his hand warmly. "Here is 20 pounds as a token of my gratitude, dear... er... James."
Baffled, and very rich, James continued his disrupted travel home. Why had he not been dubbed knight? What happened to the princess and half of the kingdom as other doers of heroic deeds received? Once again he learned the lesson: were you not named Richard, Edward, George or Wilfried it did not matter what you did. He was a James and got payed accordingly.
He was in Smallvillage once again. Matthew Baker, the baker, hired him and he bought himself a small cottage in the village's centre with the money the king had bestowed on him.
Time passed. James worked hard in the bakery shop and had soon worked himself up to the baker assistant position. Everybody liked him, both the customers and the Baker family. One in particular was never far away from the capable young man, that was Amy, the baker's plump little daughter. But James was engrossed by his work and noticed nothing. He constantly mourned the Sir that was missing in his name.
Miserably Amy confided in her friend, the bakery helper Jane. Jane, who was a woman of action, immediately went to the huge oven, grabbed James and pressed him against the wall.
"Get your head down from the clouds!" yelled she. "You're no knight and will never become one, but the entire village loves you and most of them all Amy! So you'd better marry her and inherit the bakery from your father-in-law when that day comes. And that's final!"
James blinked twice. He confusedly tried to focus on the angry young lady in front of him.
"A-Amy?" he stuttered. He slowly realised the meaning of what Jane had told him. He thought about Amy's behaviour lately and it all begun to fit together.
Maybe he should ask her to dance with him next weekend's village feast... The thought gave him butterflies in the stomach and the corners of his lips were drawn to a smile for the first time in ages.
It had taken a while but finally it had come to him. It does not matter what your name is, and titles are of no importance. The difference between the knight and the baker lies in their tasks, not in the possibility of their finding happiness.