Geraint made camp in a vacant lot; a half-acre parody of the grasslands. A great empty building with broken windows stood nearby. His horse grazed on the long grass, not a hundred paces from the bestial roars of traffic, and the prying eyes of the city-dwellers.
Night fell. He built a fire from grass and sticks, and watched the sparks fly up into the sky. The stars were few, and the sky was not truly dark: there was a sickly glow in the direction of the city. What manner of devilry is this, he thought, that the stars themselves flee the sky?
Yet even as he asked the question, he knew. It was the devilry of the land of towers, the many towers of glass and steel, which wound the sky and cloud the air and turn the earth to stone.
He rose before the dawn, breaking his fast with waybread and salted beef from his saddlebags. Three prayers he made: to God, to St. Michael, and to St. George, that they bless his journey and grant it success. The horse was brushed and saddled. Then he donned his armor, piece by piece: hauberk of chain-mail, coif, helm, sword and dagger, and the thick woolen cloak over all. The shield he slung over one shoulder, and the lance rested at his stirrup.
He set out along the road of asphalt, the stallion’s shoes sending out a steady clip-clop-clip-clop. Breath steamed in the morning air. The horseless chariots rushed past him, sometimes sounding their horns as though challenging him to battle, their drivers jeering and shouting. He ignored them all. They were not his quarry: his quarry lay within the city of towers.
As he approached, the chariots of the city-dwellers grew more numerous, until they filled the entire road. The buildings grew taller, and yet taller. Again and again Geraint came to crossroads, with great green signs bearing nonsensical directions and strange devices. At last there was only the tunnel, the dark tunnel of stone that passed beneath the river, lit by jaundiced lamps. He made the sign of the cross as he entered, and his fist clenched on his lance-haft until he saw daylight again.
“Yo! Galahad!” cried a young man as he rode past. “Aint you a little far from the Renn Faire?” He laughed as though he had made a joke.
Geraint did not know how to respond, and so he said nothing.
The city was truly a place of wonders, and of sights that sent the young knight agape. Above the squares hung tapestries of light, which moved and spoke as though they were alive. There were many chariots of a golden hue, which stopped at a gesture from the city-dwellers, and which weaved between the others as though racing for the Queen’s favor. There were large waggons, which went by the uncouth name of busses, and cast much noxious smoke behind them. And everywhere stood the towers, tall towers, gleaming in the sun, reaching into the sky, taller than anything Geraint had seen before.
He came across a struggle in the narrow space between buildings. A woman stood with her back against the wall, clutching a bag to her chest. Three youths stood around her. They had knives in their hands, and were reaching for the bag.
The hoofbeats were loud in the alley.
“Stand aside from the maid,” declared Geraint, “and I shall not harm thee. Yet if thou persist, or draw thine arms, I shall show thee no quarter.”
“Holy shit,” said one of the youths, looking first at the horse, then at Geraint, and finally at the glittering spearpoint that lowered toward him. He fled, and his companions followed, vaulting the fence at the end of the alleyway.
For a moment it seemed that the woman would join them in flight. At last she said, “Um… thank you.”
“There is no call for thanks, m’lady,” said Geraint, bowing as low as he could while on horseback. “If thou wouldst permit me, my mount shall carry thee to thy abode.” He reached out his free hand.
“No, um, that’s okay. I can walk. Thank you again.”
She started for the mouth of the alley, and Geraint nudged his horse to follow. “I shall escort thee on thy journey, then, to see that thou are not waylaid.”
“You really don’t have to,” said the woman, walking a little faster. “In fact, I’d rather you didn’t. Um. It was very nice of you, what you did, but I’ll be fine. Really.”
He watched her go, until she turned the corner and vanished, a puzzled frown on his face. The city-dwellers were strange, and not at all like the people of his village.
Back off Baby! Copyright Chris Russo © 2005 All rights reserved