Rowland 2: Rowland at the Inn

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Read by Jana
Written by Bertie

Hello, and welcome to Storynory.
This is Jana and I’m back with another episode of Childe Rowland.

In a recent episode of Storynory we told you the Story of Childe Rowland, a son of King Arthur, who rescued his two elder brothers and his sister from the King of the Elves.

It’s a very old story that is mentioned in the play, King Lear, by William Shakespeare, when his character, Edgar, says:

Childe Rowland to the dark tower came.
His word was still "Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum,
I smell the blood of a British man."

And the poet Robert Browning wrote a poem called Childe Rowland to the Dark Tower Came.

The word “Childe” with an “e” on the end means the son of a noble who is yet to win his spurs as a knight. The tale does not tell us how old Rowland is, but we do know that he is the youngest of the children.

The traditional story ends with Rowland defeating the Elfin King in a sword fight and rescuing his siblings. We wondered what happened next to the children of King Arthur. Tradition does not tell us - so we decided to use a little imagination to fill out some of the blanks.

The four Children of Arthur departed from the dark castle. They had three horses between them. Ellen, who had arrived at the castle by the king’s elfin magic, did not have her own mount. She sat sideways behind Rowland on his palfrey. A palfrey is a kind of aristocratic horse, used in the Middle Ages. It does not trot, but ambles with a long smooth step.

The way home led them along a high pass between two crooked mountains. Dark clouds hung not far above them threatening a cold drenching of rain.

Ellen hung onto Rowland’s belt made of metal chain that was wrapped twice around his scrawny waist. Their father’s heavy sword, Excalibur, hung from the same belt, inside a scabbard studded with jewels. On his left arm, he carried a battered shield, filled with dents, the marks of their father’s many battles and encounters. Under the mud, grime, and blood spatters, it still bore the family symbol of a dragon.

Rowland was even younger, and more puny, than his father, Arthur had been when he first drew the sword from the stone. He was just 13 years old.

The eldest of the brothers was called Benedict, and he was the son who looked most like their father. He had the same strong brow, thick chin, and blazing eyes. Naturally, he thought that their father’s sword and shield belonged to him. But Rowland told him:

“Merlin entrusted them to me and gave me the title Childe to denote that I shall be a knight one day.”

“But the weapons look all wrong on you. You’re too young and weak to be a knight.” insisted Benedict.

“So? I defeated the Elfin King did I not?”

And so they rode on. They came across the stone hut of an elfin shepherd who looked after sheep and goats. The middle brother, Edmond, said:

“Wait here. I am going to buy some milk and cheese off this elf.”

But Rowland rode in front of him saying: “Stop! We must not eat anything until we leave the land of the elves!”

“I’m weak with hunger. Who says we can’t eat?”

“Merlin. He gave me instructions. We must leave this land first/ So the faster we go, the sooner we’ll eat.”

At least the sun came out when they reached the lower slopes. They stopped to drink from a spring, and looked enviously at the horses as they nibbled the grass without any ill effects. At night they slept under the stars, feeling sharp hunger pains, and in the morning they rose early and continued.

“I’m so hungry, I’m not sure I can go on much longer,” complained Edmond.

“How will we know when we’ve left the Land of the Elves?” asked Ellen.

“When we start to see people who don’t look like they’re elves,” said Rowland.

They rode on into the evening. All of them were weary and saddle sore. “Ow, my buttocks hurt!” complained Rowland.

“How do you think your horse feels carrying the two of us? ” asked Ellen

It was late in the evening when they rode into a village with an inn. Through the window, they could see a blazing fire and people - or were they people? Elves were not so different from humans at a distance. In general, they were tall and slim, with delicate skin and fine features. They often sported a mass of lustrous blond hair.

“I don’t care if they are elves, I’m going inside,” said Edmond.

“If I see another elf, I’m going to go crazy,” said Ellen.

Edmond dismounted from his horse, and walked on wobbly legs into the inn. The others waited swaying in their saddles with faintness. A few minutes later Edmond came back and said:

“What are you waiting for? They’re people inside and the kitchen is working. Not an elf insight. I’ve paid for four beds”

Almost every muscle ached as they dismounted, tied up their horses, and walked the short distance to the door of the inn - but once they were inside they immediately felt revived. The mixture of warmth, human chatter, and smells of food, was the best medicine. The Innkeeper who welcomed them was no elf - he was round and red haired with freckles on his nose.

“Come in, young strangers,” he said. “My daughter is preparing your room. Will you be eating before you settle down?”

“Yes, we’ll eat a lot!” said Edmond, putting a silver coin on the bar. “We’re really, really hungry.”

“We’ve just come from the Land of the Elves where we could not eat,” added Ellen.

“Well young noble lords, and young lady, sit down, and we’ll bring you a feast fit for royalty. You can put your things down here. I’ll take them upstairs for you.”

But when he offered to take Rowland’s sword and shield, the boy said: “These never leave my sight.”

‘They are fine weapons,” said the innkeeper admiring the golden sword hilt and the jeweled scabbard, “but a little unusual on one so young, if I may say so.”

“Can we sit near the fire?” asked Ellen, who was feeling frozen.

“Yes, my dear, I’ll move a table over for you.” said the innkeeper. And while he was doing that, Rowland propped Excalibur and the shield against either side of the fireplace.

One of the guests at the inn looked up from his drink and said: “If I’m not mistaken, that’s the ensign of Uther Pendragon.”

And the eldest brother told him, “I am Benedict Pendragon and these are my brothers and my sister.”

The man raised his glass, as if making a toast, and then said:

“You children are on the young side to be riding out alone. The forests around here are thick with bandits who will be glad to take those fine weapons off you.”

“Thank you for the warning, but we can look after ourselves,” Benedict told him.

The man still could not take his eyes off the magnificent sword. Eventually, he stood up and went over to the fire to admire it closer up. He reached out to touch the hilt of Excalibur and Rowland sprang over, upsetting a tankard and spilling drink on one of the guests.. But he need not have worried, when the man’s fingers touched the hilt of the sword, he recoiled,

“UGGGH!” he groaned, the fire has made it red hot”

His friends roared with laughter.

However Rowland had no trouble picking up the sword and propping it against the table where they were sitting.

The Innkeeper brought a hearty meal, but it turned out that the four young Pendragons could not eat as much as they had anticipated. They were so starved that their stomachs had shrunk! So they asked the Innkeeper to save the left-overs for the morning. They all slept solidly and then ate a hearty breakfast which was served by his daughter. The horses were also refreshed and they set out in a northerly direction, taking provisions with them so that they would not be hungry on the way. After they had ridden for about half an hour, the track entered a wood.
“Everyone be on your guard for bandits,” commanded Benedict, who rode on ahead to check that the way was safe. For a while he disappeared from view, and then the others heard a kerfuffle and the clash of metal.
“Ben’s in trouble,” declared Edmond, and he spurred his horse onward to help. Rowland wondered what to do. His sister was riding side-saddle behind him, and he knew that if he charged into the fray, she would be vulnerable to falling off or worse.
“Ellen, you wait here,” he said.
“No,” she said, “I don’t want to be separated from you all”.
“All right then,” he said, drawing Excalibur from its jeweled scabbard. And he charged on ahead, only to be met by his two brothers, riding full tilt back towards them with five bandits in hot pursuit. Rowland held out Excalibur in front of him and yelled at the top of his voice.
“AAAAAAAAAH” Excalibur crashed into the shield of the first briggand, and he went flying from his horse. Rowland soon engaged the second villain in a sword fight. A third brigand tried to grab Ellen, but he leaned out too far and seeing that he was off balance, she grabbed his sleeve and yanked him off his horse. She was not a daughter of King Arthur for nothing. Meanwhile, their two elder brothers returned to the fray - and together they saw off the bandits who fled on horseback and foot as best as they could, leaving one of their number wounded and moaning on the ground. Ellen pulled back the visa of his helmet and saw a reddish face they all recognised - none other than their host of the previous evening, the innkeeper.
“They came in the night and took me prisoner,” he groaned.
“A likely story!” said Benedict.
“Ahhh, have mercy, help me,” said the innkeeper.
“We can’t leave him here to die,” said Ellen.
“Yes we can,” said Edmond.
“We’ll bind his wounds and take him back to the inn,” said Rowland.
“How?” asked Ellen. “He’s not fit to ride.”
“We shall see,” said Rowland who took a sheet out of his bag and started to cut it with his knife to make bandages.
“If there are any healing plants in the forest, now would be a good time to gather them,” he said.
“The sap from pine trees can be good for wounds,” said Ellen, who had learned many healing remedies from Merlin. “But first we need to clean the wound.”
“Here,” groaned the Innkeeper, touching his jacket pocket, which it turned out contained a flask of spirit.
‘That will do nicely,” said Ellen, who used it to clean out his wounds. Of course the alcohol stung dreadfully, but the pain was worth it. Then Ellen and Edmund went to collect pine sap, which they used to seal up the worst wound before binding it with the torn sheet. Merlin had taught them well - not just to inflict wounds, but to heal them up. When all was done, the innkeeper was just about strong enough to clamber onto Rowland’s horse, with some help from the boys. They walked the horse back to the inn, with many a groan and moan from the innkeeper. Occasionally he let out a blood-curdling oath.
“I think he’s going to live,’ said Ellen with a wink.
When they reached the inn, Rowland went inside to break the news to the innkeeper’s daughter.
“Father!” she screamed, and came running out. He was propped up by Benedict and Edmond on either side, and managed to limp inside. Fortunately, there was a bed room at the back of the Inn where he could lie down without having to tackle the stairs.
The boys stood outside the room. “We’re helping the man who tried to rob us,” complained Benedict.
“A true knight shows compassion, even for his enemies,” declared Rowland.
“Well I think we’ve done enough. We should leave now,” said Edmond.
But Ellen came out of the sick room and gave the boys a list of plants to buy in the market. She needed them for medicine: Radish, bishopwort, garlic, wormwood, and hollow leek .
They boys stored some of their valuables - including their shields, and helmets, in their room.
“I feel uneasy. don’t trust this place,” said Benedict, as he closed the door.
“Don’t you remember?” asked Rowland. “Merlin taught us a locking spell.” He took out his dagger, and with its sharp edge, he cut a lock of hair off his brother’s head. He used it to tie the door latch.
“Only you can open it now,” he said.
“I hope so,” said Benedict.

And that was the second episode in our new series, Childe Rowland, which carries on where the traditional story leaves off. It was written for Storynory by Bertie, and read by me Jana. We’ll be back very soon to tell you what happened next. I can’t wait. And don’t forget you can support Storynory on Patreon. From me Jana, at storynory.com, bye for now!