Follow the Flying Fish

Chapter 1

Extrinsic Egression


          Along a road that followed the forest edge a young boy dressed in green walked alone. His name was Sir Thomas the Young, though Thomas was the only part of that name he was accustom to, the titles being added recently.
          Hands shoved in pockets, Sir Thomas stared at the ground and the occasional rock he kicked to the roadside with his soft brown boots. Hunched over as he was, the rumpled green tunic he wore seemed distressed with disappointment. Even the beautiful blue feather sailing along behind his green hat seemed to droop.
          Half covering his ears, ragged tufts of blond hair stuck out from under Sir Thomas the Young’s green hat, the way a scarecrow decorates his head. Long and narrow, Sir Thomas’s face wore lines with the determination of old generals at land or admirals at sea. Determination betrayed by misery in eyes the kind of blue that glows even in shadows, but eyes lost in sadness, dark with the disappointment youth can have for itself.
          Coming to the top of a hill Sir Thomas the Young stopped to survey the country. Twenty miles ahead the road continued along between forest and rolling grassland. To the left twenty miles of wild grain whispered and swayed in waves of wind, and to the right, sunlight fell through, sturdy trees to a forest floor of soft green moss.
          Exactly like the twenty miles behind him. Exactly like the rest of Essex Kingdome, all beautiful, all safe, and all completely vacant of adventures. A land perfect for making a young knight feel useless.
          Sir Thomas the Young looked at the lines of light falling through trees onto the road. It was already after noon and Sir Thomas had not yet eaten that day, he had not even seen any people.
          It may have been three days since he saw anyone. Sir Thomas the Young counted the days on his left hand, one, two, three. Yes, three days, but even as he held up the three fingers Sir Thomas continued counting, four, five. Holding up the right hand, six, seven.
          Sir Thomas the Young stood in amazement, the seven fingers held out before him.
          “Seven days,” Sir Thomas said to no one, his voice soft and even. “A week has passed on this road since the day I became a knight.”
          Sir Thomas the Young’s memory returned to his coronation. The surprise of being carried from his home at the head of a parade leading through happy cottages and glistening white stone buildings of Castle Essex.
          Sir Thomas remembered his father, his mother, all the knights, and all the people of Essex gathered to see Thomas knighted by the King, and given his new name, Sir Thomas the Young.
          Then there was the presenting of gifts. Confusing gifts Sir Thomas carried with him on that lonely road as he imagined a knight would carry equipment, though he found it hard to call that strange collection equipment.
          Hanging from his back pocket, the Whispering Scarf, a luxurious, extravagant scarf he could not imagine any use for.
          Tied by a string to his belt and hanging inside Sir Thomas the Young’s pant leg, The wooden Mixing Spoon, so hidden to keep people from asking if the spoon was his weapon.
          In his left pocket, a roll of Sticky Grey Ribbon, in his right, a worn and stained Washing Rag.
          Atop his head, the Hat of Broad Smiles, long and narrow with a point at front and a blue feather hanging beside.
          The plain brown Bag of Simple Things Sir Thomas carried tucked under his belt on his right hip, and under the belt on his left hip, the strange sword entrusted to Sir Thomas by his father.
          A sword of perfect balance in design with long scrollwork engravings swirling and curling as grass in the wind, right up until the abrupt, broken edge of the blade. Broken where the sword met some horrible tragedy, a tragedy Sir Thomas the Young did not even have time to wonder about before his family and friends and everyone in all Castle Essex slammed the gates closed at his back, forcing Sir Thomas out into his adventures the moment his coronation was done, on the day of his seventh birthday.
          “A week ago,” Sir Thomas the Young said again to himself.
          Shoving his hands back in his pockets Sir Thomas the young slouched and frowned and continued down the other side of the hill.
          “Kingdom Essex must be huge!” Sir Thomas grumbled now used to talking alone. “How will I ever find my way out of this kingdom before I am old?”
          “Why do you talk to yourself?” a voice like joy and wind chimes sang from Sir Thomas the Young’s side.
          Sir Thomas turned to see from whence the sweet voice came, but instead of a fluttering fairy, he faced the knee of a huge black ox just inches from his nose. With a jump he ran to the side of the road.
          Standing in the tall grass of the roadside, Sir Thomas the Young saw not the ox cart and merchants he expected, but a little girl with warm brown skin sitting upon the head of a giant black ox with her legs dangling about its horns.
          The ox had a big wooden trunk on its back with ropes and pots hanging here and there. It was an enormous animal, as large as could be. And although it is not usual for them to do so, it seemed that somehow the ox was smiling.
          The little girl had brown shoes with tarnished buckles and blue stockings with holes. Her brown dress was made of plain material and patches and she wore a shawl over her shoulders, pinned in front with two silver knitting needles.
          Smooth black braids stuck out on either side of her head, coarse, flat hair knotted at the ends with little red ribbons.
          In Kingdome Essex, Sir Thomas the Young had seen dolls made for little girls, dolls with the round chubby faces of babies.
          Sir Thomas the Young had also seen dolls made for adult women; those were dolls of a different sort. Amazing little figures crafted by expert workmen. Dolls of beauty enough to cast a room into shadow, with only that one face glowing at center. Breathtaking artifacts, lean of line with curved lips and little noses turned just up at the end.
          There in front of Sir Thomas the Young, sitting atop the head of a giant black ox, was a little girl with the face those artists of perfect dolls see in their dreams.
          The same face, all but for her eyes, and perhaps, he thought, it was because there could be no other eyes like those of the little girl. Eyes from which the world is reflected in sparkling wonders, where warmth becomes joy and joy becomes love.
          “Do not be afraid,” the little girl said, her face a gleaming smile. “He is a gentle ox.”
          “I was not afraid of your ox.” Sir Thomas the Young stepped from the grass, a huff in his voice. The strange girl, her strange ox and her strange sparkling eyes were not enough for him to forget that he was a knight, and knights should not fear oxen. “I was afraid of being run over by the cart he might be pulling.”
          “But there is no cart,” the small girl motioned behind with an open arm, her smile somehow growing even brighter.
          “I can see that now.” Sir Thomas the Young was a little angry and set his hands on his hips to give an interrogation. “How is it that your ox can sneak up without sound? I have never seen nor heard of such a thing.”
          “Oh, that is simple!” the plainly dressed girl cheered, sitting taller with excitement. “This ox was not raised by noisy oxen, but by fish; trout to be precise. Trout do not make any noise but an occasional splashing.”
          “Trout?” asked Sir Thomas.
          “Yes, in fact Trout is his name.” The little girl patted Trout’s neck. “Say hello, Trout.”
          Trout the Ox lifted his hoof and Sir Thomas the Young, not wanting to be rude, and being too young to know if a knight should shake an ox’s hoof or not, shook it.
          “My name is Sir Thomas the Young, son of Sir Thomas the Magnificent,” Sir Thomas the Young fell into a boast. “I am a knight of this kingdom, or perhaps I am not. I am to find a kingdom to be knight in and protect it. I think I am supposed to find a kingdom to protect. I am not sure. But I do know I am in search of adventure.”

“My name is Tomato.” The small girl slid from her perch to hang on Trout the Ox’s horn. With a graceful movement Trout the Ox lowered her to the ground where Tomato shook Sir Thomas the Young’s hand. Sir Thomas the Young and Tomato were exactly the same height and both of them came only up to Trout the Ox’s knee.

“And were you raised by tomatoes?” Sir Thomas the Young asked with a smile, trying to be funny and smart.

“Why, yes!” Tomato jumped. “You are a very clever knight. But as to adventures there are none near here, not in this kingdom.”

Tomato tapped her lips with thought, looking about the countryside in case an adventure should peek out. “But,” she continued, “If you follow this road and in a while take a fork to the right, into the woods, in a day you will come to another kingdom and there are sure to be adventures there.”

“Then I thank you, Tomato and Trout the Ox.” Sir Thomas the Young’s heart filled with joy. Finally he had a direction, and an end to the dreadful boredom of searching for adventure. “Perhaps we will meet again some day.” And with that Sir Thomas the Young ran off down the road.

“Wait!” Tomato yelled after him, but Sir Thomas the Young continued running. The little girl raised her hand and the great Ox lowered his head. Tomato grabbed a horn and was lifted back to her perch atop Trout the Ox’s head. With a gentle pat to Trout’s neck, Tomato urged him forward and they quickly caught up with Sir Thomas the Young.

“I want to go with you!” Tomato said with a shout.

Sir Thomas the Young was startled all over again and he almost fell flat on his face as he stumbled into the tall grass by the roadside.

“Do not be afraid, clever knight,” said Tomato.

“I was not afraid, I was startled,” Sir Thomas the Young huffed, straightening his green shirt as he stepped out of the grass. “And I do not think you should come with me because adventures are dangerous and only knights should have them.”

“Can we come and watch? Would that be okay?” Tomato begged. “We will not be any trouble and we are oh so quiet as you have seen, or heard, I suppose.”

Sir Thomas the Young folded his arms and shook his head no.

“We are great company,” Tomato pleaded on. “I can cook and sew, you can ride on Trout the Ox and I can teach him to make some noise!”

“Knights do not ride oxen,” said Sir Thomas the Young, and of this he was fairly certain.

“But knights do have a page!” Tomato stood atop Trout the Ox’s head pointing a triumphant finger at Sir Thomas the Young. “I will be your page, Sir Thomas the Clever! I will cook for you and mend your clothes. I will announce your arrival and I can even knit a disguise for Trout the Ox to make him look like a horse so you can ride him! Oh, will it not be grand, Sir Thomas the Marvelous? You must have a page and steed when you enter a new kingdom and arrive at court!”

As Tomato chattered, Sir Thomas the Young felt proud to have a page so early in his adventures. Even if she was a small girl named after a fruit and rode an ox named after a fish. Sir Thomas the Young did not quite know what sort of things a knight would have a page do, but Tomato seemed to know enough for them both.

“And you will be so proud of us, Sir Thomas the Wonderful!” Tomato rambled on from atop Trout the Ox’s head, her hands clutched into little excited fists against her chest. “You will wonder how you ever got along without a page! And you will have nothing to do but have adventures all day because we will do everything else!”

“All right,” Sir Thomas the Young held a noble hand out to the little girl. “You may be my page, Tomato. Come on down here and I will page you.”

Tomato was so overjoyed she leapt from Trout the Ox’s head to land kneeling before Sir Thomas the Young. With his Broken Sword, Sir Thomas the Young touched Tomato on each shoulder, as he had seen the King of Essex do.

“I, Sir Thomas the Young of… the countryside around Essex, proclaim this Tomato to be my page, and entitled to all of the things pages are entitled to. Let it be known this day in the witness of Trout the Ox.” Sir Thomas the Young stepped back. “Arise Tomato, Page of the royal court.”

Tomato rose from the ground with the resolve and dignity of the morning sun. She was reborn as the image of her pagely duties. The title was visible upon her and though a king in plain clothes might look common, little Tomato dressed in any garment would still instantly be known as a person bearing great responsibility. Arms bowed, jaw locked, her eyes gleamed with the glint of metal.

“Very well then,” Tomato’s voice burned with heat and determination. “Let us to the adventures.”

Tomato pulled at one of the many cords hanging from the wooden trunk on Trout the Ox’s back and a rope ladder rolled down to the ground. “Come on, Sir Thomas the Splendid,” Tomato said as she climbed the ladder.

“Knights do not ride oxen,” Sir Thomas the Young said again.

“And why?” asked Tomato standing on Trout the Ox’s back.

Sir Thomas had to think for a moment. “Because it would be unsightly.”

“Well, no one is here to see,” said Tomato. “And if anyone comes, you can climb back down and walk.”

Sir Thomas the Young looked at his tired feet. A week of walking is hard on a young knight.

“All right,” said Sir Thomas climbing the ladder. Once he was safely atop Trout the Ox, Tomato rolled up the ladder and they were off.

For the next hour Tomato rambled on about how wonderful it was to be a page and how glorious the adventures they would have should be.

Sir Thomas sat on top of the huge trunk, looking past his new page at the countryside in case an adventure should happen upon them.

Little attention was given to his page, though Sir Thomas did notice Tomato knitting with the huge silver knitting needles that previously stuck in the brown shawl she wore over her shoulders.

Sir Thomas the Young could see that while the yarns were plain grey and brown, as they came together over the knitting needles they would surely turn a luxurious and radiant silvery kind of white. Sir Thomas the Young marveled at the transformation and tried to see how it happened, but the change was so subtle, or perhaps sudden, or perhaps hidden, that he could never figure out how it worked.

In a short time Trout the Ox came to the fork in the road spoken of by Tomato. Along the edge of the forest the main road continued to go, the new road lead straight into the woods and down a hill. Following the new road was as entering a new world, sunlight exchanged for leaves above, waving grass for rustling branches, even the earth seemed new and strange as it lead down hill.

The whole process was a marvelous transformation for the young knight. So disappointing was his search for adventure that entering a new world was exactly his need at the moment.

Tomato continued to talk and Sir Thomas continued to ignore her. Often Sir Thomas caught himself lost in thought and sudden silence, and every time the silence was caused by Tomato looking up at him from her place between Trout the Ox’s horns.

Surprised and embarrassed at being caught ignoring his new companion, Sir Thomas the Young smiled at her, ready to give an apology, but every time Tomato would blush and turn quickly away.

Sir Thomas the Young began to wonder if Tomato was simply staring at him because he was ignoring her, because, perhaps, she could look upon him without him knowing. But every time he began to think such things Tomato would interrupt his thoughts with stories about the trees and the rocks and the wind and all the things in the world that interested her, which was everything.

Through the treetops bright blue sky still shone above, but in the forest shadows began to mingle until all was grey and the air grew soft with the coming of night.

Tomato chose a campsite in a grove of trees near a stream that Sir Thomas the Young admired for he never could have chosen such a fine spot. Trees grew neatly and the ground was clear and soft. There were just enough rocks and not too many weeds. Sir Thomas the Young saw right away the advantages of having a page. Had he been alone, Sir Thomas would have slept under a bush or on the hard ground by the road.

Tomato and Trout the Ox were clearly skilled in selecting campsites and went about preparing for the night without the need even to discuss what to do.

Though he wanted to help, Sir Thomas the Young felt completely useless as Tomato and Trout the Ox were so efficient at setting camp. Every step he took was a step in the wrong direction, Sir Thomas always found himself in the way, so he stood aside.

As quickly as they started, Tomato and Trout the Ox were done. Trout lay down and Tomato unhooked the straps holding the trunk to his back. The big box slid softly to the ground and Trout the Ox went into the stream, eating with the fish whatever it is fish eat.

Tomato set a small fire and fixed supper in a big pot. When it was ready, Tomato handed Sir Thomas the Young a bowl of steaming stew.

“What is this?” Sir Thomas the Young asked looking into the bowl.

“Cucumber, avocado, cabbage, tomato, dried banana,” Tomato counted on her fingers, “coconut, seaweed, green beans, black beans, kidney beans, red beans, blueberries, alder berries, shavings of birch bark, oak leaf and blue spruce root...” Tomato paused in thought. “With pepper and oregano.”

“There is no meat in it!” Sir Thomas the Young said with urgency, because he had not eaten in a whole day and was quite hungry. “I need meat for energy if I am to have adventures!”

“If someone told you that, you have been deceived, Sir Thomas the Needless Meat Eater!” Tomato kicked her feet happily. “I have never eaten meat and neither has Trout the Ox. Trout the Ox is fifty times your size and has walked all day and have you heard him demanding meat? No, you have not, because to get meat, you must kill things. A good person would not kill, and are not knights the best of people? So you should be glad, Sir Thomas the Hasty Carnivore, that you have such a dedicated page as me to assist you in these matters. Eat up.”

And Tomato scarfed down her stew. Still, Sir Thomas the Young remembered all the knights and even the King and Queen eating meat every day in Kingdom Essex. They were most certainly very kind and good people. So Sir Thomas the Young decided that his page was a person of strong opinions.

Nonetheless, it was true that Trout the Ox ate nothing but grass and whatever it is trout eat. Sir Thomas the Young wanted very much to be as strong as Trout the Ox, but he was not entirely convinced.

“Why is it then, if you were raised by tomatoes,” Sir Thomas the Young held a tomato on his spoon, “that you eat tomatoes now?”

“Oh, I was not raised by tomatoes, I was raised on tomatoes,” Tomato laughed. “Silly knight!”

Sir Thomas the Young looked at Trout the Ox playing in the river. “So Trout the Ox was raised on Trout, and not the other way?”

“No!” Tomato screamed with delight. “He was raised by trout! Do you not see how well he swims? Silly knight.”

Sir Thomas the Young wondered, all of a sudden, where this little girl came from, but he said nothing, and ate his stew.

After all the eating was done Tomato cleaned up even more quickly then she set camp, and again Sir Thomas the Young found himself a nuisance, so he stayed out of the way.

Taking some blankets from the big trunk Tomato made a little bed on the most even spot of ground, just beside the fire.

“Hardly fitting a knight as grand as yourself Sir Thomas the Sleepy,” Tomato folded her hands together, somehow inventing a new smile for Sir Thomas. “Unfortunately I have nothing more. We may soon find better bedding for you, until then I hope this is not too humble for your comfort.”

“Tomato, it is more then I deserve, I am very grateful.” Sir Thomas the Young gave a small bow. “But is this not your bed? Where will you sleep?”

“Worry not for me Sir Thomas the Kind, for my duty as a page is to think of my knight and myself. That is what a page is for, to remove common concerns and free the mind of a knight for adventurous ponderings. But, if you really wish to know, I will sleep with Trout the Ox.”

Just then Trout the Ox came up out of the river, shook himself vigorously to dry, and lay down on the opposite side of the fire.

“Your bed is prepared noble knight, I will sit here ready to assist until you see fit to sleep.” And with that Tomato settled herself on the ground, perfectly content, staring at Sir Thomas with joy.

Sir Thomas the Young found himself again unprepared and confused. He did not want to steal Tomato’s bed, but it seemed simpler to follow her wishes then to insist otherwise.

“Very well then, good page, I am ready for bed.” Sir Thomas the Young lay down on the blankets. “Please feel free to do as you wish now Tomato, I am sure I shall not need your assistance again tonight.”

Tomato stood and curtsied to Sir Thomas the Young. “May all good dreams never dreamt find you tonight my amazing knight.” With that Tomato curled up against the neck of Trout the Ox and closed her eyes.

What a remarkable little girl! thought Sir Thomas the Young. To be so instantly devoted! To be so good at so many things! Truly Sir Thomas must be the most fortunate of knights to have such a girl at his service!

Sir Thomas the Young felt his cheeks warm, and realized he was blushing. Blushing because he did not deserve a page of this quality.

Tomorrow, Sir Thomas the Young thought to himself, tomorrow he will make himself the kind of knight that deserves such a page.

Stars began to show through leaves above and the forest had grown very dark. As Sir Thomas the Young lay on his back looking at the stars a fragrance somehow familiar yet foreign came to his nose. A sweet smell, without the sweetness of sugar, a smell with the interesting character but none of the harshness of cinnamon. A smell that made Sir Thomas think of cookies and holidays with his family back in Essex.

It was not a smell from the forest, the smell was coming from below him. Sir Thomas the Young pressed his nose into the blankets and found the smell there.

Could it be, thought Sir Thomas the Young, that this is the smell of Tomato? Could the little girl smell like cookies and holidays?

Sir Thomas the Young looked again at Tomato. Reduced to embers, the fire gave red light to the trees and the Ox and the little girl lying against him. Sir Thomas the Young was surprised to find her already asleep! Laid down only a moment ago, Tomato fell instantly to sleep!

Head pressed tight against Trout the Ox, eyes softly closed, hands still folded together, lips parted, her body moving slowly with the rhythm of sleeping breath, as kittens sleep.

What kind of person can sleep so? wondered Sir Thomas the Young. Once, long ago, Sir Thomas the Young’s mother told him that people with a free conscious sleep best. It occurred to Sir Thomas that this little girl might have a conscious clean as swan feathers, perhaps such angelic sleep was her reward.

All at once Sir Thomas noticed the big eye of Trout the Ox staring right at him. Laying down, Tomato against his neck, the giant black ox seemed himself to be sleeping, but for one eye, open just a bit, watching Sir Thomas, unflinching as a statue.

Startled, Sir Thomas the Young sat up, the eye of Trout the Ox followed him, still almost closed. Though Sir Thomas had not spent much time in the company of oxen before, or any other bovine for that matter, he was certain this ox was making an evaluation of him.

What was more, Sir Thomas was fully aware that Trout the Ox had every right to be suspicious of him. Though Tomato placed herself in the service of Sir Thomas, Trout the Ox made no such decision.

“I will endeavor, Trout the Ox, to prove myself to you,” said Sir Thomas the Young in a whisper, as not to wake Tomato.

Tomato sat bolt upright, completely awake. “Are you in need of assistance Sir Thomas the Night Owl?”

“No I am not,” said Sir Thomas in surprise. “Why did you wake up just now Tomato?”

“Because your voice was in my dreams, fabulous knight,” Tomato bounced and her braids seemed to stand out sideways with happiness. “And if you are in need I would rather spend my time awake with you then dreaming of you!”

“You were dreaming of me?” Asked Sir Thomas the Young.

Tomato turned red then turned away.

“I dreamt of tomorrow,” Tomato said with the voice of a mouse, looking at Sir Thomas out of the corner of her eye, trying hard to cover her blushing face. “I dreamt of adventures and other wonderful things.”

“But you slept only a moment!” Sir Thomas the Young smiled almost as big as his page, the thought was so funny.

“A moment awake is a lifetime in sleep, my knight of dreams,” Tomato turned back, her face having recovered its warm brown texture.

“An entire lifetime Tomato?” asked Sir Thomas the Young. “What did you see in this dream?”

Tomato blushed and turned again away, this time her braids seemed to bristle with embarrassment.

“As it was a lifetime, it may take a lifetime to tell, Sir Thomas the Curious. And I do not wish to take your time of sleep with silly stories.”

Sir Thomas the Young decided it better to let Tomato keep her dreams secret if she chose. Embarrassed as she was, Tomato struggled to answer any question Sir Thomas asked, which must be an affect of her commitment to him. It would be unfitting a grateful knight to ask embarrassing questions of a person devoted to perfect honesty.

What was more important, Sir Thomas the Young saw that if he did not insist, poor Tomato might wake up all night long just to check on him, and that would not do.

“Then sleep well good page,” said Sir Thomas the Young. “Please do not wake for me Tomato, I will do well enough on my own until morning. Sleep will be poor for me if I think my actions may wake you again, so stay in your dreams until the sun takes them away. That is my wish.”

“Good night then Sir Thomas the Wonderful!” Tomato cheered, then dove against Trout the Ox’s neck and fell instantly to sleep.

Slowly the eyelid of Trout the Ox slid shut and Sir Thomas the Young was alone. Not completely alone though, for it was clear from the presence of the great ox that he was not the kind of animal to ever fully loose awareness of his surroundings.

Sir Thomas the Young sat motionless for several minutes trying to remember where before he felt that kind of consciousness and presence.

It was back in Castle Essex, when old warriors came to visit. Old warriors hardened by battle. Warriors who had perhaps seen too much battle. Warriors who somehow learned to know what is behind them without looking. That giant black ox, with the little girl sleeping against his neck, had the presence of such a warrior.

Only then did it occur to Sir Thomas the Young that he was in rather amazing company.

 

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