FFWC #5

Theodore Matthews was a rather unconventional young man. With his fancy British accent, he’d never fit into the into the rustic  villages that lined the coast of Ireland. He never stayed in one small town for more than two weeks; Theodore was constantly traveling up and down the seaside. And the old, faded leather satchel that was always by his side was an object of mystery. By the fireside at night, families often wondered what would be found if one lifted the flap.

* * *

Theo had left the tidy village of Dann that morning just after dawn, and now, near lunchtime, he was stumbling into Niaveth. Tall chartreuse grass swayed in the salty sea breeze, as if waving to the traveler. Petite cottages built out of gray moss-covered stone, with grass-thatched roofs, were clustered around a central well. Theo rested his hand atop his satchel and marched into the village. The hard-working peasants froze as he entered the town. They had heard of a tall young man with shaggy brown hair and sun-kissed skin that was hiking the coast of Ireland; this was surely him.

Amidst the kind, welcoming villagers was an old man with white hair and a sharp mind. He eyed Theo’s leather bag and began constructing a plan. He slipped into his ramshackle barn and leapt aboard his chestnut horse, pounding toward the Kingdom of Keravia.

Back in Niaveth, a chubby young girl with rust-red hair and freckles covering her whole body invited Theodore to stay with her family. He gratefully excepted, much to the dismay of the lass’s mother. The girl (“I’m Sinead!” she exclaimed with a gap-toothed smile) lead him over to the largest cottage in the village.

“This is the Potatoes ‘n Porridge Inn!” Sinead proclaimed proudly, placing her hands on her hips. “I named the place myself.” She creaked open the wooden door, stamped her bare feet on a worn mat, and beckoned Theo to follow. Sinead set up a makeshift bed for him in front of the fireplace, and before she could serve him a meal of potatoes and porridge, he was fast asleep.

The next morning, shortly after dawn, the front door of the inn was shoved open, and an elderly man burst inside. He rushed over to where Theo was sleeping by the glowing embers. “Theodore! Wake up, lad!” He shook the young man violently until he bolted straight up.

Theo didn’t recognize the old man, with his thin, veiny arms and shock of white hair. Although Theo had no way of knowing it, this was the man who had ridden off to Keravia the night before. “Hello . . . Can I help you?” Theo asked, brushing the tangled brown curls off his forehead.

With a shaking hand, the man pulled an official-looking letter out of his patched coat pocket. “I received this letter this mornin’ . . . ya see, I was a brave saver of damsels in distress in my youth. This letter says that Princess Estelle of Keravia is in danger. But I am old, and you are young . . . Please, Princess Estelle needs ya!” He jiggled the letter out of the envelope and handed it to Theo.

Theo quickly scanned the letter. It was addressed to Sir Darragh Walsh, and was a plea for help. Princess Estelle had been kidnapped, they needed Darragh to save her . . . exactly what the old man had just told him. Theo returned the letter, and with a sigh, said, “Alright, Sir Darragh Walsh, I will help. Would you please escort me to Keravia?”

* * *

Two hours later, Walsh’s chestnut horse pounded into Keravia’s main square. Peasants, members of the nobility, and even the royal family itself were gathered there. Everyone let out an enormous cheer  when Sir Darragh and Theodore arrived.

The two men slipped off the horse, and Walsh bowed while Theo waited uncomfortably beside him. “Hello!” Walsh called, waving grandly. He turned to the royal family and said, “I have answered your summons, Your Royal Highnesses. Unfortunately, I am too old to perform the daring stunts that I used to, but I have brought someone to take my place!”

Theo stepped forward and bowed. “I am Theodore Matthews.”

The king nodded at him before pointing to a tall building just beyond the town square. “That is the flour mill. My darling Estelle has been kidnapped, and is being held hostage inside of it. The Royal Guard would have been happy to storm the mill and rescue her, but the captain has a wheat allergy; he can’t go near the mill.” The king wrung his hands and peered anxiously at Theodore. “You don’t have a wheat allergy, do you?”

Theo steeled his gaze as he stared at the flour mill. “No, sir; no allergies,” he replied.

“Excellent!” The plump queen clapped her gloved hands. She was flanked by members of the Royal Guard, and she ordered one to help Theodore find armor. The guard whisked Theo away to the armory, where he picked out a set of cumbersome armor.

The guard, who announced himself as Reynard Forde, strapped the armor over Theo’s clothes. He attached a long red cape to Theo’s shoulders, then shoved a rectangular shield and a sheathed broadsword into his arms. He pushed a boxy helmet over the boy’s head. Reynard clapped Theo on his metal shoulder and grinned. “You’ll be fine, lad. You’ve got a youthful spring in your step.”

The guard curled his fingers around the strap of Theo’s satchel, ready to rid him of it. Theo wrapped his arms protectively around the bag and said coolly, “Thank you, but I’d really rather keep it with me.”

Reynard shrugged skeptically, but took his hand off the strap.

Theo left the armory, crossed the hushed square, and stood before the flour mill. Early morning light glinted off his armor. He took a deep breath. “It’s time to save a princess, then.”

And he entered the mill.

Flour swirled up around him with every footfall. Sunlight slanted in through the windows, exposing the dust particles dancing through the air. “Princess Estelle?” he called, and his voice sounded tinny through the helmet. “M’lady?”

He headed deeper into the mill. A wooden staircase wound its way around the circular room to the next level. He climbed it, his metal-clad feet clanking against the steps. There was no princess being held captive on the second floor. No luck on floor number three, either. Finally, in the attic of the mill, he found her.

Princess Estelle was tied to a beam, with rope biting into her wrists and a cloth gag in her mouth. Her silk off-the-shoulder blue-gray dress was torn and dusted with flour. Estelle’s white-blonde hair was tussled and falling out of its elaborate, curly updo. She looked pale and frightened.

“Don’t worry, I’m here to help,” Theo murmured in a comforting tone. He rushed forward and sliced her bonds with his broadsword, pulling the gag out of her mouth. “Princess Estelle, are you alright?”

She nodded. “Thank you, Sir . . .?”

“Just Theo, if you please.” He tugged off his helmet, and his sweaty brown curls tumbled down into his face. “Hurry, Princess!” He took her hand and lead her down the steps of the flour mill, silently congratulating himself on rescuing someone so important. It had been far easier than he’d expected.

By the time they’d descended to the second floor, Theo had gotten the princess to talk. She had a melodious voice, with just a hint of a soft Irish accent. Estelle was telling him about the horrors of being kidnapped, and the wonderstruck young man had let his guard down. As the Princess of Keravia and the British traveler neared the steps to the first floor, someone jumped out of the shadows.

A hunched back. Veiny hands. A shock of white hair. The tall old man leering at them was Sir Darragh Walsh. He sneered, showing off his crooked yellow teeth.

Estelle darted behind Theo. He warily pointed his sword at Walsh. “Sir Darragh, what are you doing in here?” Theo asked. “You should be waiting outside with the others.”

Walsh’s wicked grin grew wider as he slunk toward them. “I don’t mean to let ya leave this mill, lad. An’ the princess won’t be leavin’, either.”

Theo and Estelle backed away from Walsh, until they were pressed up against the far wall. The princess cowered behind him, trembling. “Why are you hiding behind me?” Theo whispered to her, raising his shield.

Her cheeks flushed guiltily.

Theo croaked, “Estelle, what did you do?”

Walsh crept toward them. He hissed, “Theodore, where is the princess’s kidnapper? Why was she left unguarded? She was helping me, lad! I kidnapped her, I tied her up in the attic.” He smiled nastily at Estelle, and she whimpered. “Quite a convincing actress, isn’t she? She knows everything about my plan. Although I suppose I forgot to tell her that she would get to die alongside you.”

Theo’s throat was dry. This was all an act? “It takes a very broken, twisted soul to do what you did.”

Walsh’s cunning eyes light up sinisterly. “You’re too kind; thanks for noticin’!”

“When did you get a chance to kidnap her?” Theo wondered aloud.

“Last night.” Walsh was a foot away from them now. “When you came to Niaveth, I recognized you. You’re the wandering lad from England. Well, I knew I needed to get my hands on that satchel of yours. Everyone wants to know what’s in it. So I came up with an ingenious plan, rode off to Keravia, and enlisted the help of my favorite little actress, the princess.” He was so close that Theo could see the crumbs from breakfast stuck in Walsh’s stringy mustache. “Now, if you would hand over the satchel, I’ll make your death quick.”

Theo didn’t move.

Walsh’s hand snapped out and ripped the bag off of Theo. The enraged young traveler leapt forward and tackled the old man to the floor. The bag flew out of Walsh’s grasp and skidded away.

While the men fought and rolled around on the floor, Estelle scampered over to the satchel. She leaned down to pick it up, and a volume fell out of it and thumped against the ground. Estelle scooped the shabby leather-bound book off the floor. It fell open in her hand, and before she could stop herself, her eyes flitted over the writing on the first page. She read it aloud:

The Journal of Theodore Matthews

Entry One, 1309.

Today, my life was destroyed. Fire devoured our cottage. No one escaped. I was only spared because I was working in the fields when it caught fire. I remember saying goodbye to Mother this morning at dawn before I left for work. I didn’t know it was the last time I would see her. If I had, I would have held her tight and never let go.

I’ve decided that I can’t stay here in England. Everything is a painful memory of my family; their memories haunt me. I need to leave, to start over somewhere new. I will go to Ireland. 

— Theo

Estelle’s gray eyes gleamed with tears as she read the entry. Carefully, she shut the journal and slipped it into Theo’s bag. The men had become very still. She whispered, “I didn’t know.”

A single tear had snaked down Theo’s cheek as she read. He climbed to his feet and took the satchel from her. “No one does.”

Walsh whimpered on the floor. His tussle with Theo had left him battered and bruised. Theo shouldered his bag and marched over to Walsh. He glared down at him. “I’m going to escort Princess Estelle back to her parents, and them I’m going to lead the Royal Guard into this mill and have them take you to the dungeons.”

Theo marched down the stairs, and Estelle scurried over to Walsh’s side. He held onto her wrist with an iron grip and snarled something into her ear. With a terrified expression, she darted after Theo.

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When Theo and Estelle emerged from the flour mill, the people gathered in the square burst into cheers. Those who had hats tossed them high into the air. Theo ripped off his red cape and draped it around Estelle’s shoulders, urging her to go to her parents. She planted a kiss on her rescuer’s cheek — much to the delight of the onlookers — before joining the King and Queen of Keravia.

As Theo had promised Walsh, several guards stormed the mill and captured the princess’s kidnapper. Sir Darragh Walsh was sentenced to a life in prison. Just days after he had moved into his cell, he received a letter from Estelle which had only two words: He’s alive.

Walsh gritted his teeth and tore the letter into shreds. When he had grabbed the princess after his fight with the traveler, he had whispered something in her ear. “Kill Theodore, or else,” he had ordered her.

But despite all of his attempts, Theo Matthews was alive.