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Escort Duty – Part 22

Olo, the sergeant of the gate, watched as the brightly painted wagon rattled to a halt on the paving stones in front of him. He waved his oaken rod at the flies humming around his head, which bothered him almost as much as the rivulets of sweat which ran down through his beard.

“Where’re you going with that rolling calamity?” he called sarcastically to the driver.

“We’re the entertainment for the festival next weekend!” the rotund man with a pointed beard replied, “His lordship wants to hear the finest music in the world when he celebrates the first day of summer!”

“Entertainers?” said the sergeant, motioning to his men, who moved to surround the wagon.

“Yes,” the man said nervously, “Singers, jugglers, you know, entertainers.”

“And what’s in the wagon?”

“Just our costumes and instruments. The rest of the troop will be here tomorrow. We’re just here to get things set up.”

“We’ll see what that means when you pull it all out, now won’t we?”

The driver clambered down from his perch behind the horses.

“Please, sir, it’s all packed in there good and tight! It’ll take hours to put it all back without breaking something!”

“Well, that’s too bad, because I didn’t see you on any list to be exempt from searches, now did I?”

The driver considered the soldier for a moment, then said quietly, “And what would it take to be put on such a list, my good sir?”

The sergeant’s face broke into a knowing grin. “Why, a little donation to his lordship’s budget might suffice to make that happen,” he replied.

The driver reached into his pouch and pulled out two silver coins. The sergeant flushed at that, and pointed to the guards.

“Haul all of that junk out so I can inspect it, and be quick about it! Two silvers! I’ve never been so insulted!”

The driver took three more coins from his purse and held them up. The sergeant cocked his head and thought for a moment, then smiled again as he took all five coins.

“Nice to meet someone in the service of the duke, sir,” he said, “Enjoy your stay in Booda.”

The driver said nothing as he remounted the wagon and snapped the reins at his mules. The wagon started with a rattle and made its way through the gates. After they crossed the plaza beyond the gates, he turned into a side street, reining his horses to a stop. He handed the reins to his wife, and climbed down, looking about for soldiers and anyone curious about the strange wagon on their street.

Walking to the back of the cart, he pulled up the canvas cover and hissed, “We’re inside!”

Simon and Hollo slipped out from under the cover and onto the cobblestoned street. Hollo immediately started looking around for danger, while Simon reached back into the cart and removed a couple of items.

Handing the driver a sack that jingled with coins, Simon said, “Thank you, good sir. You’ve done us a great service today.”

“Just mind that you forget how you got in here and where you got those things, and I’ll call it even,” the driver said, snatching the purse from Simon and climbing back onto the wagon. While it clattered down the street, Simon and Hollo hurried down a narrow side street toward the first tower.

“So, what’s the plan?” Hollo asked.

“First we have to figure out which tower the princess is in.”

The two men approached the first tower. The courtyard in front of its gates was deserted, and only a pair of bored guards stood watch.

“Probably not here,” Simon said, “but it never hurts to check.”

He pulled the cloak he had taken from the cart on over his armor, then put a large, floppy straw hat on his head. He strode out into the courtyard and sat down near the gate.

Leaning his head back, he began to sing.

In Nottingham there lives a jolly tanner,

With a hey down down a down down

His name is Arthur a Bland;

There is nere a squire in Nottinghamshire

Dare bid bold Arthur stand.


He continued with the ballad as the guards watched him, but neither made any move to stop him. After he had finished, he began it again. The larger of the two guards looked to the other, shrugged, and stuck his arm through the gates. He pitched a bronze coin at Simon’s feet.

“Here, now, take that and be off with you,” he said gruffly.

Simon stood and bowed, saying “Thank ye, sir, thank ye” in his best country accent.

The guard watched him walk back to the alley, then resumed his post.

“She’s not there,” Simon said as he rejoined Hollo, “Let’s go to the next one.”

They approached the second tower, which had a courtyard bustling with merchants and people buying their wares. All of this was watched by black-garbed guards, both at the gate and from within.

“More guards here,” Hollo said, “this must be the place.”

“Your turn,” Simon said, taking the hat off and handing it to his companion.

“Me?” Hollo replied, “I can’t sing.”

“Someone might notice if the same man sat in the courtyard of all three towers and sang the same song.”

“But I don’t know that song!”

“Nonsense, you listened to it for a month while you perched on top of that hut. Now go on. I’ll watch the tower while you sing.”

Hollo sighed and put on the hat. He kept his head down as he walked to the gate, then sat down with his back to the guards and began to sing.

In Nottingham there lives a, uh, holly fanner,

With a hey down down a down, uh, down

His name is Walter, uh, Brand;

There is nere a flyer in Nottinghamshire

Dare bid old Walter stand.


Simon winced as he listened to his friend stumble through the verse, his voice a loud croak which seemed to carry and fill the entire courtyard. All of the merchants and their customers stopped to gawk at him, and after a moment, a clod from inside the gates landed next to Hollo.

“Get out of here, ya idiot!” one of the guards boomed, “Before I have my men come out there and kick your ass between your ears!”

Hollo quickly stood up and scurried back to the alley. Every eye followed him, and the noise of the market did not resume until after he disappeared into the shadows. Simon met him a few yards back from the plaza, trying to suppress a smile.

“Yeah, laugh,” Hollo hissed sarcastically, pulling the hat from his head, “I told you I can’t sing.”

“It was good enough,” Simon said, “Only one tower left.”

The last tower’s courtyard had but a few people in it, most of them either buying vegetables from one of the carts and stalls ringing its perimeter or drawing water from the well at its center.

Simon put on the hat as he walked casually to take a seat next to one of the stalls. After a moment, he began to sing.

In Nottingham there lives a jolly tanner,

With a hey down down a down down

His name is Arthur a Bland;

There is nere a squire in Nottinghamshire

Dare bid bold Arthur stand.



Erika sat on the windowsill, looking down on the gates and the courtyard beyond. She was not dressed in the fine gown and jewelry the duke had sent for her, but it was a constant reminder that eventually she would be taken into his odious presence once again.

As she sat in the light of the setting sun, the sounds of someone singing down in the courtyard came to her. She began to hum along to the familiar tune as she idly ran a silver comb through her hair.

Soon, she realized that she recognized the song and the voice singing it, and her heart skipped a beat. She opened her mouth and began to sing along, her voice ringing down into the courtyard below.

“Marry gep with a wenion!” quoth Arthur a Bland,
“Art thou such a goodly man?
I care not a fig for thy looking so big;
Mend thou thyself where thou can.”

Then Robin Hood he unbuckled his belt,
He laid down his bow so long;
He took up a staff of another oke graff,
That was both stiff and strong.


Simon heard the sweet sound of Erika’s voice, and a smile came to his face. He continued to sing, finishing the song with a bow to the crowd that gathered to hear him. The guard on the other side of the gate tossed a couple of copper coins to him, as did several of the onlookers.

“Thank you, good people, thank you,” he said as he backed into the alley. Hollo waited there for him.

“This is the place. I knew she’d hear me and answer if she was in any of the towers,” Simon said, taking the hat off, but leaving on the cloak.

“Where is she?” Hollo said.

“Somewhere up in that tower, near the top, I think. Not sure how we’re going to get up there, but at least we know where she is.”

Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

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