Long ago, in the days of the knights, good King Frederic of Knox passed away after a grievous illness that lasted for many years. Sadly, when a king becomes sick and slowly worsens over a long period of time, the same thing may happen to the country he rules. And when a good king dies, it may be that a part of his country dies too.
The part of Knox that sickened and died along with the king was called chivalry. Knights are expected to show chivalry, because that is what makes an ordinary knight become a great knight. A chivalrous knight helps other people and shows honor, courage, respect, kindness, and loyalty through his knightly deeds.
But by the time the king died, most of the knights of Knox had already forgotten what chivalry was.
King Frederic left no children to rule after him, and so his young niece Vianne was forced to become the new queen of a country she had never even seen. At nineteen years old, she packed up her things and left her childhood home in the sunny, song-filled country of Vinland. She moved to a new country full of sad-faced strangers and worthless knights who refused to help her make Knox a country to be proud of.
Despite these troubles, Vianne found unexpected help as she tried to rule her difficult kingdom of Knox. One of her first friends was a boy named Kaye, the youngest knight in the history of Knox, and my best friend. My name is Reginald Stork, and this is our story.
I slammed the door and rushed out into the crooked streets of the city. Usually I watched where I stepped, because the city streets were dirty with garbage and wandering pigs and terrible-smelling puddles, but today I just ran. I dashed through the twisting maze of dark, narrow alleys until I burst through the gate in the city wall and threw myself down to rest in the shade. Taking deep breaths of the fresh air helped me start to calm down.
I had run out of our house that morning with my father’s voice thundering in my ears, saying, “I’ve had enough of you, Reggie. Get out of my sight. Go work in the fields for two weeks with the peasants. Maybe that will make you grateful for the education I’m trying to give you.”
At the same time, my mum had called out, “Be careful, Reggie, and watch out for thieves. They’ll bump against you and steal your things. You won’t know what’s happened until it’s too late.”
I didn’t have anything worth stealing, which made me laugh a little. My mum had a funny habit of warning me to be careful about everything, but she didn’t bother me.
It was my father who caused all my trouble. He thought I was mad because he was getting me a new tutor, and I let him believe that. I hadn’t told him about the real problem—my terrible secret. He would never understand.
My father was a wool merchant in the city of Crofton. He bought wool from farmers and shepherds and other people who owned sheep and then he sold the wool to other merchants in Tellingham, an even larger city by the sea. From there the wool was sold to many other countries. Wool from Knox was famous.
My father loved his job. He planned for me to love it too. As a boy, my father had studied in a monastery with monks, and he was grateful for that education, because it made him a better merchant. Now he was going to give me the finest education from the best tutors and after that he was going to teach me the wool business himself. My future was all planned out for me.
Last week my father decided I needed a second tutor right after he learned that a very important man named Arnold Corson was about to come visit him. Arnold was a very powerful man, the head of the wool merchant’s guild in Tellingham. If he liked my father, business was good. If he didn’t like my father, business wasn’t so good.
My father really wanted Arnold to like him, and he always gave Arnold gifts and tried to impress him with stupid things, like paying two fancy tutors to teach his son.
When I complained about having a new tutor, my father was angry. First he threatened to send me away to learn from the monks. Later he decided that hard work in the fields outside the city would teach me to appreciate the good future and easy life I would have as a wool merchant.
That’s why I was now sitting outside the city wall, staring across the fields and thinking about my terrible secret: I hated wool. I never wanted to become a wool merchant.
I liked exploring and collecting things. I liked being where things were happening. I wanted to get away and go somewhere exciting.
The men working in the fields were so far away I could hardly see them. Then I started to grin. That meant that they couldn’t see me either. They weren’t expecting me. They didn’t even know me.
I turned my head to the right. The immense shadows of the Knotted Woods loomed nearby. This gigantic forest stretched across half of Knox. My mum had always warned me that it was full of wild animals and bandits and other dangers. No one had ever told me not to go in there, but I knew that my parents wanted me to stay out of it.
However, I now had two free weeks ahead of me when no one would know where I was, and the Knotted Woods was the perfect place to start exploring. I picked myself up and headed for the edge of the forest.
The Knotted Woods surprised me. I thought it would be full of dark shadows and wild glowing animal eyes glaring at me through the gloom. I expected pits and traps and snakes and bandits waving knives, but instead, I could hear a stream flowing and birds chirping. Squirrels raced through the tree branches and sunlight fell in patches onto the forest floor. It looked like a friendly place to me.
I decided to start exploring by following the stream so I wouldn’t get lost. I followed it for a long time until I came to a clearing in the trees. A long-legged fox sat waiting with his tail wrapped neatly around his feet. He started walking slowly away when he saw me, but then he glanced back at me like he wanted me to follow him. So I did.
That was my first mistake.
The fox started moving faster and faster. Soon I was dodging around tree trunks and jumping over little bushes. Every time I thought I was losing the fox, he’d slow down and let me catch up with him. Then he would speed up again.
We reached another clearing and the fox streaked across it, low to the ground. I was close behind him when he darted under a fallen log, made a sudden sharp turnaround, and dashed back the way we had come. I had already leapt into the air and was sailing over the log. I couldn’t change direction in the air, and I landed with both feet right in the middle of one of the Knotted Woods’ most deadly traps—quicksand!
I tried pulling my feet out, but that only made me sink faster and deeper into the murky porridge. Then I tried keeping still. That slowed down the sinking a little bit, but I didn’t know what else to try. The forest didn’t feel very friendly anymore.
I was afraid to shout for help. If the stories about quicksand in the Knotted Woods were true, then the stories about bloodthirsty bandits were true too. I didn’t want any bandits to find me here, because I didn’t know what they would do to me. However, I knew exactly what the quicksand would do to me. It would suck me down and bury me. I didn’t have any choice. I drew in a deep breath, ready to yell for help as loudly as I could, but as I did so, I glanced to the side.
Peering through the bushes was a very interested-looking, ginger-haired, short-nosed, green-eyed boy about my age. My heart almost jumped out of my chest and landed in the quicksand next to me. All my breath came out in a big whuff.
“Hello. You look like you’re in over your head,” said the boy.
I wasn’t sure if I liked his sense of humor.
“Can’t you see I need help?” I cried. “Don’t make jokes. Please help me.”
“Of course I’ll help you. Give me a minute and I’ll think of something. Don’t go anywhere.”
I definitely didn’t like his sense of humor.
He put his hand on his pointy chin for a second and said, “I’ll need a rope of some sort.”
Instead of running off to bring back a rope like a normal person, he reached into a small bag he carried and pulled out two short sticks and some gray yarn. He sat cross-legged on the ground and started knitting.
I hoped he was helping me in some way and hadn’t just decided to make himself a new pair of socks, but as I watched him I realized he was knitting incredibly fast. It was amazing. Not many people knew how to knit in Knox. Knitting came from the south countries, but I didn’t think anyone anywhere could knit like this.
The quicksand was up to my waist now. I put my hands on top of my head to keep them out of the sand. This boy seemed a little crazy, making terrible jokes and sitting at the edge of a pit of quicksand, knitting away as fast as a squirrel climbs a tree. I didn’t really trust him to save my life, but I had no choice.
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