The Invitation- Kate Gardner ’16

"A knight's tale" Dominik Bartsch

When Sir Sickelby jumped out of Sarah’s mirror that afternoon to declare his ardent love for her, Sarah wasn’t surprised. It seemed to be a trend these days.

“Dear, fine lady,” Sickelby said, kneeling on her oriental rug, wearing a full suit of armor, “your hair is softer than silk, brighter than gold. Your eyes shine like the stars in the milky sky, your heart is more pure than an angel’s.”

Twenty-six-year-old Sarah put her hands on her hips. “And my lips?” she asked. “Are you going to mention those?”

Sickelby blinked. “Your lips, my lady?”

“Yes, my lips,” Sarah crossed her arms, “What’s next – your kingdom for a horse?”

“I don’t understand, my lady,” Sickelby spluttered.

“Of course you don’t,” Sarah said, “Neither did the nine other knights who have fallen out of this mirror since Wednesday.”

It was Friday. Sarah’s New York City apartment was now completely packed with life-size guests who seemed to have teleported from Medieval England or an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. The greatest problem, however, wasn’t their sleeping arrangements or strange taste for mutton (who knew they sold it in Australian grocery stores?). Sarah’s successful (and perpetually unavailable) parents had bequeathed her a spacious apartment overlooking Central Park with plenty of room to house the visitors. No, the greatest trouble was the knights’ constant declarations of love, and insistent insistings to fight over her.

“I insist,” Sir Edgar pronounced, “that we must duel. Whoever stands the winner will win a seat beside the princess.”

Whoa, princess? Sarah stood in her kitchen cutting up some strawberries while she eavesdropped on the meeting of the Round Table in the dining room. She had never felt pretty. Sure, she had blondish-ish hair and sparkling-ish eyes, but never pretty enough to be asked out on a date in high school. Let alone be called a princess.

“Name the weapon and I will fight to the death!”

That was Sir Mallory. He seemed the feistiest of all the knights. He had even used the adjective comely to describe her.

“But my good men,” – Sir Hufflepod – “our swords dissolved when we crossed the path into this world. We have no weapons with which to do battle.”

A fair amount of gruffling and grumbling ensued. Sir Boarstooth, the beefiest of the knights, wailed, “O curse the day!”

Sarah let out a deep breath, chopping her strawberries into a pulp. Of course she had thought to call the authorities. But how would she explain? They slept in her house, ate her cooking, used her toothpicks to fence – all under her watch for two days. They hadn’t tried to hurt her, and in fact apart from their constant neediness seemed intent on respecting her. Would she be arrested on kidnapping charges?

Kidnapped from where? Sarah thought. She stole a glance into the dining room. The knights were busy forking down the mutton, after having been erstwhile distracted by her pronged iron utensils. (Erstwhile, uh-oh, she was beginning to talk like them.) Sickelby had joined the group after his arrival, and quickly gotten acquainted. But he remained a little more aloof than the rest, a little more pensive. What he thought about, she had no idea. She didn’t know what she would think about if she found herself blasted into a world 700 years her senior.

“Sir Luke,” Sir Demetrius said in a loud voice, “I must compliment you on the polish of your breastplate. It shines like a diamond in the sun.”

“Or Sarah’s eyes,” Sir Mallory added.

“Here, here!” they all chimed in, raising their wine glasses for the fiftieth toast (twenty secondth to her beauty).

Sarah let out a deep breath. She arranged the strawberries around the base of the pie, placed the crust on top, and then slid it into the oven. All this chatter about her was really grating on her nerves. Although some part of her relished the unexpected events of the past two days as a distraction to her consistently dull life, she was irked by how they spoke of her. She had had her own share of broken hearts and failed relationships these past four years since college. Will had been the last one. She had loved him deeply for two years. Two years. Until she found out who “Claire” was on his phone. Sister, I think not.

“The wine in this foreign land is quite impeccable,” Sir Hufflepod announced. “It reminds me of the western brew from Arcadia.”

“Quite, quite,” Sir Folger added (he only ever added these two words).

“But sirs,” Sir Sickelby cut in, “I think we are quite over-thinking the matter. There must be weapons in this strange land with which we could contend.”

“Quite, quite,” – Sir Folger again.

Arcadia was the mystical land to which the knights claimed their allegiance. With the arrival of the first (Sir Luke, 6 pm Wednesday night) Sarah had spent plenty of time interrogating him, threatening to call the police or shoot him with her concealed gun (much to the confusion of Sir Luke), demanding he explain the means of his arrival — but to no avail. Sir Luke, along with the rest of the bunch, hailed “Arcadia.” Although Sarah had tried to get him out of the apartment building, Luke had refused to leave her side, asserting that she couldn’t be left unprotected. Her unprotected, as if his presence was the most natural thing in the world. She had acquiesced out of exasperation, content to lock him up in her living room on a blow-up mattress and decide what to do in the morning. But she never got the chance because the rest of the knights had bumbled in at all hours of the day and night since. Sir Hufflepod was next, followed by Sir Folger, Sir Mallory, Sir Demetrius, Sir Boarstooth, Sir Mirth, Sir Peddley, Sir Edgar, and most recently, Sir Sickelby. Her four-roomed apartment had turned into a medieval slumber party, complete with talking, laughing, and her personal sleep nemesis: armor clinking. But despite her unfortunate task of playing innkeeper to gothic knights, it was nice she was a journalist and stayed home to write most days, else Sir D, Sir H, and Sir Mirth (who all arrived around 2 pm) might have burned the place down with their incessant efforts to kill Hermit, Sarah’s pet bearded dragon. To her dismay, the legend of Saint George was known to Arcadians.

In minutes, the strawberry rhubarb pie began to simmer and ooze in the oven. Sarah took it out and cut eleven even pieces for eleven of her grandmother’s china plates. Her dishwasher was thoroughly exhausted from all the company, and she knew she’d be up late washing more. Sighing, she walked toward the dining room, balancing four small plates on her arms.

As she walked through the doorway of the dining room, the chatter suddenly stopped. All ten knights stood up. They bowed their heads. Sir Mallory even got down on one knee.

Sarah froze. “What?” she said. “Are we praying?”

“Beloved princess,” Sir Demetrius, who seemed to have taken on the role of leader, said, “we are honored that you join us.” All ten heads bobbed affirmingly.

“Hold your horses,” Sarah said with a smirk, “I’m only bringing dessert.”

“The princess cooks!” Sir Mirth exclaimed.

“Eyes like the moon, hair like flax,” Sir Mallory gushed.

Sarah shifted the plates around awkwardly. “Yes, well, in our world, women do a lot of cooking.”

“Even the princesses?” Sir Boarstooth burst out.

“Even me,” Sarah replied. She stepped forward toward her mahogany dining table, and placed a plate in front of Sir Peddley.

“How noble!” Sir Hufflepod declared. “It is we who should be serving you.”

A “quite, quite,” floated from across the table.

“I don’t think that’d be a good idea,” Sarah said, smirking, “I would bet Arcadian kitchens work a little differently than ours.”

“What is it that you call this place?” Sir Sickelby asked as she slipped a plate of pie in front of him.

“Earth, I suppose,” Sarah replied, “Or New York City.”

New York,” Sir Edgar said, “Where is Old York?”

Sarah placed the last of the plates in front of Sir Demetrius. “England. Now if you will excuse me–”

“Where does the princess go?” Sir Demetrius asked, his eyebrows furrowed, his eyes alight. All the knights drew in a deep breath. “Will she not sup with us?”

Sarah looked around the room. All ten pairs of eyes were riveted on her, as if her departure merited a grand toothpick battle.

“I usually eat in the kitchen,” Sarah said.

“THE KITCHEN?” Sir Mallory exclaimed. “Like a common peasant?”

“No, not in my world,” Sarah cut in, “In New York City we don’t have peasants.”

“No peasants?!” Sir Mirth blurted out. “Then whoever bakes the bread?”

Sarah put a hand to her forehead and let out a deep breath. This was going nowhere.

“Alright,” she clapped her hands in front of her, “Dessert is served.”

A hearty cheer arose from the crowd of knights. Sir Demetrius held his pie with his bare hands to eat, and the rest of the group followed suit. The room was quiet as everyone munched, but a peaceful quiet. Sighing, Sarah plopped down on a chair besides Sir Peddley, who reddened at her presence. She picked up her fork, scooped a bite of pie, and then looked around the table. Sir Sickelby was eyeing her with peaked interest as she held it, staring from her to the prongs. She looked back at him, staring into his strikingly blue eyes, and he held her gaze for a moment. Then his eyes shifted to her fork again, where a whole lump of pie had fallen onto the table. Sarah blushed and set the fork down. She felt strangely embarrassed wiping up the pie with a napkin, and saw Sir Sickelby still watching her with a gleam in his eyes. If no one else was using a fork, why should she? She smiled back at him, held her pie in her bare hands, and took a large bite, savoring the tart, sweet taste. Letting out a deep breath, she looked around the table again. As most of the knights were already finishing, Sarah passed around napkins and stood to start collecting the china plates.

“So,” she said, stacking the plates, “do you guys have any plans for tomorrow? Another falconry attempt?” She smiled, remembering how the first sight of a bird out the window in Central Park had sent Sir Mirth absolutely mad with the thought of falconry. He had begged her to go outside and allow him to slay some duck for the dinner, but Sarah wasn’t letting anyone near the door, let alone the open air. There had been much protest over this, as the Sirs had apparently begun making a wooden bow out of one of Sarah’s table legs for this very occasion. But, to her relief, their toothpicks hadn’t gotten them very far.

Suddenly, the table became very quiet. “My lady,” Sir Demetrius began, “earlier this eve, these fine men and I came into agreement that tonight is the time that we must present our quest.”

“Your quest,” Sarah repeated, setting the plates down on the table and raising an eyebrow. “I see. I hope this does not involve my bearded dragon.”

“So you admit the beast is a dragon!” Sir Peddley cried, but was quickly shushed by Sir Hufflepod. Sir Demetrius gave him a stern look.

“No, my lady, our plan involves much greater things,” he continued. “Perhaps many dragons to come. Valleys, mountains, kingdoms, and seas.”

“Well this sounds interesting,” Sarah said in a flat tone, “I expect you’ll just roam around the world through the mirrors of baffled twenty-six-year-olds?”

“The mirrors are barred to us now,” Sir Demetrius replied, his face downcast. Sarah took her hand off her hip. The knight’s eyes were fierce, his jaw tightened. Could he mean what he said?

“The magic of the mirrors works once,” Sir Edgar spoke up, “and once alone. Now that we have crossed the barrier into your world, we cannot return until we complete our quest.”

“Alright,” Sarah said, “What’s the quest?”

“To return to Arcadia of course!” Sir Mallory exclaimed. “To meet the King!”

Suddenly, the knights burst into overt whispering, and the name of ‘the King’ travelled around the table. The mood of the table had changed, and the whole room seemed brighter. Sarah blinked, absorbing the sirs’ bright eyes, smiles, and hushed tones. She felt suddenly more buoyant herself, but she glanced behind her into the kitchen, where a tower of soup bowls leaned precariously. She didn’t have time for this, not with her article for the New York Post due tomorrow morning.

“My lady,” Sir Demetrius said again, “Our allegiance remains to our good and faithful King. In fact, we are here at his bidding.”

Sarah’s ears perked, and she focused on Sir Demetrius again. “Your king sent you here?” she asked as the whispering died off. “What’s he got to do with me?”

“Everything,” Sir Mirth said with an edge to his voice, “Everything in the world.”

“What Sir Mirth means is that the King has much to do with you, my lady, because you are,” his bowed his head, “the princess.”

Our princess!” Sir Mallory exclaimed, at the fervent nodding of the rest.

“That’s impossible,” Sarah retorted, “he doesn’t even know me.”

“He adores you, his daughter,” Sir Edgar said pointedly, as if Sarah had said something offensive, “He yearns for the day of your return to Arcadia. Else we wouldn’t have ventured to this foreign place.”

“I’m sorry, guys,” Sarah said, “but I’m not sure if you understand how incredibly and indescribably strange this is. You come through my mirror dressed like a cavalier out of Monty Python, call me a princess with a father in a made-up land, and serenade my beauty like I’m some sort of Audrey Hepburn, or something.”

“It’s quite common in Arcadia,” Sir Boarstooth muttered.

“Princess Sarah,” Sir Sickelby said and stood up, “You have been a kinder host to these lords and I than we could have asked for. We are forever indebted to you. But,” he said, the gleam in his eyes returning, “we haven’t come here with the purpose of thieving your time. We have come with a question.”

— “An ardent question,” Sir Mallory added. –

“Will you join us?”

Silence filled the dining room, silence except the calls of birds outside. Sarah peered around the table, at each of the ten knights who dined. The sun was setting, the light dimming on their faces. Out her window, Sarah watched a leafy branch ruffle in the wind.

“You mean out?” she asked, “Away? From here?”

“Certainly,” Sir Demetrius replied, “Perhaps far, far away. We do not yet know what the journey holds in store. Only that it ends in the palace of our King.”

Sarah brushed a lock of hair out of her face. This was ridiculous. She didn’t know these men, these strange, confused beings who had dropped themselves into her life. She let out a deep breath, peering at their shining armor, their plumed helmets. And yet, she did know them. Hadn’t they shown her kindness, respect, honor, and courtesy? There was a strange simplicity to them, an innocence that appealed to her. Perhaps that was why she never had the strength to call the cops. They were clumsy, loud, unsophisticated, and even annoying, but they made her feel safe, and not just because of their obvious swordsmanship. They made her feel alive.

“And if,” Sarah said, “If I were to come with you, out,” she pointed, vaguely, “what’s in it for me? ‘Course you get to meet your king, but what would I do in Arcadia? Assuming it exists and I’m not in a super-long and pointless dream,” she added, quickly.

“My lady,” Sir Peddley began, “You would be welcomed home in Arcadia with the grandest party our world has e’er beheld. The King has stressed to us the importance of this quest. We have come that you might have safe passage to your native land to be reunited with your King-Father. Arcadia is his country, the world of our dreams. Of our deepest longings, in fact. You would find there…” he looked around, struggling for the words, “life. Abundant life.”

“Life,” Sarah repeated. She glanced back into the kitchen, at the dirty plates, the scribbled notes for her article on NYC department stores. She hated department stores. The journalism job got her enough to live comfortably and distract her from her loneliness, but she didn’t love it. It wasn’t life. She turned back to the table, aware that all ten of the knights were waiting on her every move.

“I’ll come,” she said, and smiled. She figured it might have been the brightest smile of her entire life.

The knights renewed their cheering, and sung a new cacophonous serenade reminiscent of the early nun chorus in the musical Sister Act. But this time, Sarah didn’t mind.

“There’s just one problem,” she said, and the knights quieted down, “what will I do with Hermit?”

“That can be quickly arranged!” Sir Peddley interjected, but was immediately conked on the head by Sir Hufflepod.

“He shall journey with us!” Sir Demetrius declared. “I am sure he will prove to play a role.”

“Then that settles it,” Sarah said, letting out a deep breath, “We’re off to Arcadia.”

“To the Palace of the King!” Sir Mallory exclaimed.

With the princess,” Sir Sickelby added. He gave Sarah a quiet smile.

“Quite, quite,” Sir Folger fittingly said.

And with armor clanging, mutton roasting, and Sir Peddley isolated from the cage of poor Hermit – eleven Arcadians set off.

Image Source: “A knight’s tale” Dominik Bartsch