“Right, who’s off pub then?”
“Not me lad, wife’s got parents over so gotta go fa’ tea at new Italian place in town.”
Steve watched his workmates get in their van and disappear into the misty November evening. I hate my wife, he thought to himself. They’d been working at the old mill renovation, rewiring one of the new businesses – a holistic medicine and spiritual centre. What a load of old bollocks, who believes in that crap?
Growing up in the small Yorkshire town of Thrones had instilled Steve with a healthy cynicism for what he considered wishy-washy alternative nonsense. He liked the finer things in life, cold lager, hard graft and big tits. Thrones was your average former textile town, long since stripped of the industry that once made it a thriving hub people got by as they could. Drinking was a popular pastime and there were some good pubs, but not much else. When he wasn’t working Steve was usually in one of these pubs, getting proper pissed and stumbling home to his wife as late as possible.
Steve thought ahead to the weekend and what he had planned – watching football down the pub with the lads – and wished he was there now instead of on his way to meet the in-laws. Bloody nuisance, he thought, as he pulled out of the car park and made his way back towards town.
Driving through the looming woods that separated Thrones from the mill he saw Gully Bridge stretching out over the river, and remembered the rumours about this place. People said that back in black and white times – Steve forgot when – a group of witches had lived in a shack deep in the woods. One day a local child had gone missing, and the blacksmith swore he’d seen the girl walking past his smithy and into the woods with one of the women from the shack. Later that day a mob of villagers stormed into the woods, torches flaming, to confront them.
Accounts differ about what they saw when they got there. Whatever it was it must have horrified the villagers, as the women were dragged from their shack and hung from the bridge. Afterwards their bodies were burnt in a clearing nearby. Just before they were pushed from the bridge one of the women had swore vengeance upon the villagers, decreeing that the inhabitants of Thrones would forever be cursed to endure strange happenings that couldn’t be explained. It was said that the ghosts of the women haunted the area near the bridge, and a lot of the locals were afraid to go there after dark.
Nowt but stupid rumours and nonsense, no such thing as ghosts and fairies and all that bollocks. No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than a huge white horse stormed out in front of the van, bedecked in leather, steel and a green silk banner emblazoned with a golden frog. The horse was being ridden by some idiot dressed up as a medieval knight. Steve swerved to avoid him, but the roads were slippery with winter frost and he lost control of the van. Veering into a lamppost he lost consciousness.
He started coming round. The hazy memory of a gold frog kept leaping around his head. Then he remembered some tool dressed in full mediaeval armour on a massive bloody horse. Daft bugger, he thought, who does historical reenactment in’t dark?
The van was fucked. Its front was crumpled in with smoke billowing out of the engine, the windscreen was smashed and he saw what looked like one of his front wheels next to a tree five metres away. He calmly noted that a fairly large fragment of the windscreen was sticking out of his shoulder. Stumbling out into the crisp winter air everything looked a bit different, the lamppost had disappeared and in its place stood a huge oak tree. Losing his footing he looked down to see that the concrete road was also gone, replaced by a muddy track decorated with hoof prints.
Out of the darkness of the trees came a loud ‘HYYAAHHH’, and a huge white horse leapt onto the path, its long front legs crashing down in front of Steve. It was the same idiot that had caused the crash.
“HALT! What business do you have in the Rivermiddlelands?” shouted the stranger. The man was head to toe in armour, tinged with an aquamarine glow. Satisfied Steve posed him no immediate threat he took his helmet off, revealing long brown hair, a chiselled jawline and well-kempt goatee. Steve thought he looked like Orlando Bloom, but a lot more bitter and resentful. Large gold hoop earrings dangled from his ears. He looked a bit fruity to Steve, who’d heard about this type of thing from Gary down at the pub.
“I said, what business do you have in the Rivermiddlelands? If you disdain to answer me I shall be forced to take you to the dungeon and cast you in chains as a vagabond, or worse still a raider.”
Steve had heard enough, “Who do’ya think you are, demanding me business? You owe me a new bloody van, this one’s fucked cos you stormed out in front o’ me like a big prancing dickhead. Could’a killed me, look, got big bastard wedge o’ glass sticking out of me shoulder now.”
The man looked at the electrician, studying him carefully.
“And why’a dressed like a prat?” interjected Steve.
“You’re a fine one to talk about dress, ser, with that strange, flimsy clothing I would make light work of you with my long sword,” the man retorted.
Noting the stranger’s flamboyant mannerisms and immaculate dress Steve thought he knew what was going on here. “Ey, you’ve got wrong end o’ stick pal, I’m not interested in ya bloody long sword, got wife at ‘ome. I’ve been told about what ‘appens round here in’t woods, lads coming out for a bum n that. Look pal what you get up to is none o’ my business, but if you think I’m gonna let you chain me up in your ‘dungeon’ you’ve got another thing coming. I’m not into medieval role-play fantasy stuff, ask me missus.”
“You speak with the accent of the North, I will not ask again, what business do you have in the Rivermiddlelands?”
Bugger this, thought Steve, I’m calling AA. As he moved towards his van to inspect the damage the stranger noticed the weird metal contraption. “What smithy hath created such a monstrosity, what witchcraft breathed life into it? How does light emit from its eyes?”
“Just me work van pal, got it off some Polish shyster on AutoTrader. 500 miles on the clock my arse.”
“Auto Trader. Po-lish. You speak strange words, who are you?”
“I’m Steve, electrician from down Thrones. Who the bloody hell are you?”
“I am Ser Dayv Gully of House Gully, first of my name and second son of Lord Gavyn Gully of Riverbundem, warden of the Rivermiddlelands.”
“Right then, Sir Dave, you big weirdo.”
“It is pronounced ‘Ser Dayv’.”
“That’s what I said pal – Sir Dave.”
“No, you are getting it wrong. Ah never mind. We’ve had reports of raiders coming down from the mountains to the east, I’ve been ordered to investigate with a small sortie of men. You don’t look like a raider, but as you refuse to divulge your business on my father’s lands you must come with me,” as he said this Ser Dayv moved his hand to the hilt of his sword.
“I don’t want any trouble mate, I just need to fix me van and get into town. Goin’ fa tea wit’ wife’s parents and she’s gonna be wondering where I am. Let me phone her quickly.”
The bright flashing light of his iPhone startled the knight. “Pho-ne? What is this magic, you are a sorcerer indeed, ser!” The knight pulled out his sword and whistled, a group of armoured men came charging down the track on horseback.
“Jon, Andiy, take this man in chains and ride him back to Riverbundem. The rest of you, attach this odd, metal chariot to the horses and drag it back to the castle, perchance Shyster Izzlebad can tell me what it is.” Steve was quickly overpowered and chained, a bag was placed over his head and he was bundled onto the back of a horse. As they galloped off one of the men whispered in his ear, “You’re in for a treat back at the castle, The Coin’s back from the capital and it’s not good news. I’ll wager he’ll be in the mood for a spot of torture, heh, heh.”
Fuck’s sake, this is just like in that Hostel film. Bloody foreign nutters, Steve thought to himself.
To be continued…
Story by Jamie Roberts – @VincenzoJRezwah
Illustration by Oliver Smith – @oliverlancaster