The Dishboy’s Quest

Today’s Throwback Thursday story is one that I started writing for my college writing group, way back in March of 2012. The prompt was “love,” I think, and though this story doesn’t fit the theme, once I started writing it I could hardly stop. It’s not finished, but glancing over it again I remember how it felt to have this story spilling out without my really knowing what I was doing.


I stood in the shadowy corner of the great hall, watching as servingmen laid the table for the feast. The darkness hid my dirty apron and the filth smudged across my cheek. Yet my hands were clean, for the water and suds of countless days had kept them clean. They were unlike the hands of most kitchen boys, long and slender of finger and whiter than most. They made fun of me because of it. So I hid them in the holey pockets of my pants and took them out only to wash.

The king sat at the head of the long table, his rings glinting in the sun and his eyes twinkling with a brightness I rarely saw in him. It was only on these sorts of days that he looked so. For today was the Feast of the New Year, and he expected an adventure. He always expected an adventure on feast days. I knew for a fact it often annoyed the servingmen to have to wait so long. They whispered about it in the kitchen when they thought I wasn’t listening or was too daft to hear. Little do they know I hear most of what they say, more than they would like to know.

“Hsst! Boy! Get over here and stop yer gawkin’! You’ll be seen!” The cook’s voice sounded like a snake in my left ear, and I cringed automatically.

“No! I want to hear this,” I insisted, and stayed where I was. The cook, for some reason, didn’t say anything again, and I was able to hear the king’s clear voice as he began.

“People of the court!” His voice sounded like molten sunshine through the great hall. All conversation stopped, all faces lifted towards the king’s own. “Good knights and ladies! ‘Tis the Feast of the New Year!”

In one accord a cheer rushed through the hall with a flourish of feathered hats and handkerchiefs. I added my pitiful contribution in the way of a mumbled “hurray” which sounded awful as I said it.

Sir Kay leaned down toward the king’s ear and muttered, his eyes twinkling, “And you won’t eat until an adventure comes your way, my lord!”

The king laughed, in the way that only Arthur could. “You’re right, Kay. How did you guess?”

He stepped forward. “And by my troth,” he swore, his arms spread wide, “I will not eat until an adventure or a tale of marvelous deeds may befall us!”

The court cheered again, and all sat. Behind me, I heard one of the servingmen groan and curse. I had half a mind to turn around and cuff him, but knew well that would be a dangerous idea. Dishboys had no place cuffing servingmen, even if they were complaining about their king. Sighing I turned and head back to the sink where everyone decided I belonged, and where I knew I didn’t.

The minutes were melting into hours with every dish I washed, when a shout broke the stillness of the kitchen. A shout from the great hall. And it was a woman’s shout. A shudder ran over me, and it was not from the water, I can tell you. Dropping my dish in the sink I ran. I had to see what was happening, even if the cook killed me.

My feet halted just inside the stone arch where I had stood earlier. There was not much different at first; the knights all sat at their usual places, the king at this place and the queen by his side. They all looked a little confused, but besides that, all looked the same.

Except for her.

She stood right in the center of the hall, before the king’s seat, and her hair caught the light as I watched. Her eyes shot anger, and her cheeks were red with a fury over something. I hadn’t heard what yet. Carefully I inched a little closer, like a dog about to snatch a morsel from his master’s plate.

“… pleading for a worthy knight to rescue her, and yet I get none? Where is your bravery? Where are the knights I have heard tell of?” The woman gestured furiously, and her voice rose. But as it did, I could see that she was no woman. She was only a couple of years younger than me, and that made her about eighteen. I tried to make myself invisible so I could get closer.

“My lady, my lady,” the king cut in, his voice calm and level. “I hear your request. You have not given my knights a chance yet. Such a need cannot be taken up lightly, you know.”

The lady lapsed into a subdued silence, and Sir Kay turned his sharp black eyes on the rows of knights and courtiers in the great hall. Without thinking I looked up, and his eyes caught mine. Something flashed in his, and sparked inside me. That same shudder ran through me. Me. I was the one. I had to go. Somehow her request was for me. But how?

“I will go, my lord.” Gawain stood, his hand on his sword hilt. “Let me go. I will slay this knight and rescue her sister.”

A murmur of approval ran through the rows of men and ladies. I clenched my fists in my apron.

“Well met, Gawain, well met.” Arthur rose and beckoned. Gawain started forward, his hand outstretched to meet the king’s own—

I rushed forward. My heart pounded as it never had in all the times I had been boxed or struck. My feet pounded swiftly on the stone. I didn’t care that my arms were bare or that my hair hung straggle-edged in my eyes.

“My lord.” The voice that came out of me was strange and detached and made my stomach jerk. But I wanted to. I had to. “Let me. I must do this. Please, my lord. I must.”

“What kind of blithering idiot—” someone shouted.

“How dare he—”

“Who are you, boy?” Arthur looked down at me, at all of me. Sir Kay’s black eyes were stony. And the girl—well, I knew without looking that she was not at all pleased.

“Just—a kitchen boy.” That was as accurate as I could be. Everyone knew that kitchen boys weren’t worth much, but what else could I say?

“A kitchen boy? And you, you of all people, want to take up this maiden’s challenge?” The gravity in the king’s tone made me freeze for a minute. Did I? Yes, I did.

“I do, my lord.”

“What?” the maiden exclaimed, stamping her foot. “You would allow a sniveling dirty dishboy to accompany me? What can he do? He’s nothing! Just a lot of filthy apron!”

“My lady, calm yourself,” Arthur entreated. “I haven’t said anything yet. Kay, what do you think?” He turned to his seneschal and cousin at this side.

Sir Kay bent and regarded me from the corner of his eye. I knelt on a pedestal of eyes, exposed and waiting. I had never waited so long in my life.

At last Kay whispered his answer. “My lord, he deserves the chance. He is more than you or I think, I’m sure of it. Let him go.”

I could see the sigh written across Arthur’s face. “Very well, then, Kay, he will.” And to me—“Come here, boy.”

I did. The king bade me kneel, and placed his hand on my shoulder. “You shall go with the Lady Lynet, boy. You will rescue her sister and slay this knight that has so oppressed their castle. And may the blessing of our Lord be on you.”

Lynet. So that was her name.

“My lord, I thank you. I will do my best,” I swore. The king released me. The maiden—Lynet,  I now knew—seethed behind me but didn’t say a word. She was too angry, I supposed. That would be pleasant when we rode, whenever that was. Slowly, fearing I was caught in some dream that would pop if I breathed too hard, I went back to the archway and to the kitchen.  A mountain of dishes awaited me, as usual. But who knew when I would be washing dishes again?
I awakened before dawn the next morning, as I knew I would. Not a dish entered my mind as I threw on my clothes (or what I had of them) and paced the tiny room. There were still a few hours before the maiden and I left. Trying not to wake anyone I tiptoed down the stairs and out into the inner courtyard where I could breathe a bit and think. I sank down, dropping my chin in my hands.

By the time the castle had come to life, my feet were warm with the sun and my stomach growled. The maiden, I noticed as I travelled through the great hall on my way to the kitchen, was up and reprimanding a serving man who had done something wrong. She must have already eaten. She would be ready to leave soon and I dreaded getting on the wrong side of her. My glance caught hers and she scowled darkly at me. I thought I had better get used to it.

“Come boy! The lady wants you!”

The half-eaten slice of bread nearly fell from my hands. My strange white and red hands, red from all the washing I had done, hands that would soon be gripping a horse’s reins and handling a sword.

“Coming,” I answered. I couldn’t keep someone like that waiting.

My horse—my horse—was waiting ready for me. I mounted, watching the lady from the corner of my eye. She still scowled, but thankfully her attention was focused elsewhere than me. At least I hadn’t put on the old sack I wore in the kitchen.

Arthur himself stepped from the gateway into the courtyard and grasped the lady’s hand.

“My lady, I bid you godspeed. And may this man aid you well.” He glanced at me and smiled. Sir Kay followed him and his black gaze penetrated me again. I looked away.

Then with a jingle of bridles and a great whinnying and neighing from our horses we set out.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s