Follow the Flying Fish
The next morning, before the sun climbed out from behind the trees, Tomato prepared a small breakfast and had them on their way as she thought a good page should. Though he was still tired, Sir Thomas the Young did not argue for knights should not snooze all day.
They rode on through the countryside, Tomato chattering about roots and herbs and knitting the entire time with the huge silver knitting needles that usually stuck in the brown shawl she wore over her shoulders.
Sir Thomas the Young noticed 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.
At lunch they stopped in a clearing by the road and Tomato fixed a small meal of vegetables, fruit and bread. Trout the Ox ate grass along the roadway.
“You do not dress like a knight,” Tomato said so suddenly that Sir Thomas the Young jumped and almost dropped his bowl. “Knights wear armor that shines like mirrors and carry jousting lances with flags on them. You are wearing green pants and a green shirt and a green hat like a gravy boat. Your boots are not big black knight boots, but brown and small. Though your sword is very elegant and very beautiful, it is also very broken and hardly longer than a dagger. You look more like an elf to me than a knight.”
Sir Thomas the Young sat in silence, staring at the jagged edge of his Very Broken Sword. He thought of noble reasons for a knight to have simple clothes and a broken sword, but none of them sounded very noble to lie about, so he told the truth.
“I have no armor,” Sir Thomas the Young said with a sigh. “I only have this Broken Sword given to me by my father. A knight must come about his armor through adventures and such. I have not earned any as of yet.”
And Sir Thomas the Young believed this to be the case because he had never heard a knight speak of armor if the knight was not telling a story of how he had won the armor from a dragon or other such beast.
“Do not be sad, Sir Thomas the Gloomy,” Tomato smiled and Sir Thomas the Young realized he had been looking gloomy. “A knight as grand as you could not go long without conquering some great monsters that are sure to have armor.”
Sir Thomas the Young doubted very much that he would find a monster with armor suited for a small boy, but his page’s confidence made him smile. “I am sure I shall.”
“Sir Thomas,” Tomato went on, “why did your father give you a broken sword? Your kingdom must have been full of unbroken swords your father could have given you.”
Sir Thomas the Young set his Very Broken Sword on the ground between them. The hilt was superbly crafted and the subtle confidence of its design showed that it was an artifact of great importance. Strange etched markings, like words from a forgotten language decorated what remained of the blade. Like fragrant songs carried on a spring breeze the words danced, but came to an abrupt end at the swords jagged tip.
“Stories told to children are filled with heroes and triumph and incredible things,” said Sir Thomas the Young. “Some stories tell tales of a sword with unimaginable power, a sword that brought about the rise and fall of entire civilizations.” Sir Thomas shook his head. “I always thought that sword was a myth, but here it lies between us.”
“Amazing,” whispered Tomato looking at the Broken Sword in awe. “That such wonders could come from such a broken sword!”
“No,” said Sir Thomas quickly. “It was not broken in the stories. And how this sword became broken, or why my father never told anyone he had it, or why it was given to me, I do not know.”
“Simple!” Tomato smiled straight into Sir Thomas the Young’s face. “It is because only a knight of your quality and character could fully appreciate such a wonderful object! A big headed, pompous knight all filled to the top with conceit and braggartly words would not remember stories he had heard as a child. He would cast this magnificent sword to the side in favor of one that is covered in gold and jewels and so long he can hardly hold it up.” Tomato leaned close to Sir Thomas the Young so she could whisper. “You see, Sir Thomas the Humble, there are advantages to remembering the stories told to children.”
Though Sir Thomas the Young doubted he could find any use for such a broken sword, Tomato’s reassurance gave him hope that some good could come of the Broken Sword.
“But I must admit,” continued Tomato, “I do not approve of weapons of any sort. I think all situations can be handled with kindness instead of violence. But,” Tomato quickly added, “as a page, I exist to serve, so I will not argue, at least not right now. And on top of that I believe you to be a knight of exceptional integrity and kind heart, so I trust you will carry the responsibility that comes with a sword such as this with prudence.”
Sir Thomas the Young was quite surprised by the confidence his page held in him, she had only met him the day before after all. But it was clear that Tomato was a person who lived by her heart, and no amount of arguing will alter the opinions of someone who thinks with their heart.
“Swords and objects meant for being mean to one another are not among the things I prefer to talk about.” Tomato sat up with attention and her big, dark eyes sparkled, “But I would love to talk about that beautiful scarf you carry so carelessly in your pocket.” Tomato pointed at the Whispering Scarf. “That is the scarf of a person like a queen, at the least, and though the weather is not cold, you should wear that scarf with pride.”
Sir Thomas the Young pulled the scarf from his pocket. “This scarf was in fact given to me by a queen, but why, I could not tell you, Tomato. The Queen said that it is a Whispering Scarf, but of what good a scarf that whispers is, has puzzled me for days. If you enjoy it so much,” Sir Thomas the Young handed the scarf to Tomato, “you may wear it.”
Tomato’s heart swelled up to her throat she was so overjoyed at being entrusted with such an exquisite item. Her eyes filled with tears of happiness and she gasped for words.
“It is the most luxurious garment my plain fingers have ever touched.” Tomato stroked the Whispering Scarf. “None could compare, but a few I have crafted, and always the creator’s view is tainted in her favor. But this!” Tomato held the scarf up to the sky and the trees rustled in a breeze that seemed to come from the scarf’s magnificence. “This is simply so gorgeous I could not fully enjoy seeing it if I wore it. So here.”
Tomato tied the Whispering Scarf around Sir Thomas the Young’s left wrist in marvelous windings. All the most beautiful details of the scarf somehow aligned around coils of braids and a long open piece in between that reached half way to Sir Thomas the Young’s elbow. Tomato had taken something beautiful beyond belief, and in her simple way, made it better.
“There,” said Tomato. “A fitting place for the gift of a queen to a knight, tied round the wrist of the hand that defends rather then the one that holds swords. It is very secure, so not to be lost. If you disagree with the appearance of it in the moment, pull down your sleeve and it is hidden. But in honor of your queen and for the benefit of all those of good taste, I hope you will allow it to be seen.”
Sir Thomas the Young inspected the work. It held tight, without binding, and lent warmth without heat. Never would it interfere with anything, it was perfectly functional.
“I must admit Tomato, I have never worn decorations on myself and had never thought I would. But you have done such an amazing thing with this Whispering Scarf, I think I will wear it.”
Tomato clutched her hands in her lap, wiggling her legs with excitement and pride.
Sir Thomas admired the Whispering Scarf a moment longer, then turned to the strange clutter of items given to him in Essex. A wooden Mixing Spoon, a Never Ending Roll of Sticky Ribbon, a Washing Rag, a Bag of Simple Things, and a hat for making him smile when he could not smile on his own.
Sir Thomas the Young shook his head and wondered what kind of adventures awaited him if people thought that odd pile of goods would be of any use. Sir Thomas held his Broken Sword and was happy that at least his father had given him some sort of weapon, even if it was a broken one.
Packing up their things, Sir Thomas the Young, Tomato and Trout the Ox continued down the road. It was not long before clouds began to gather in the sky and block out the sun. The trees had not so many leaves and the ground was uneven. The road had great big rocks on it and the wind seemed to moan for no reason at all.
“We are close,” said Tomato.
“Close to what?” asked Sir Thomas the Young.
“To the Kingdom of Trolls,” said Tomato, cautiously watching the road ahead as if one could never tell when a troll might jump out.
“Is it a kingdom peopled entirely by trolls?” asked Sir Thomas the Young with a shiver.
“No,” Tomato shook her head gravely and her braids with their little red bows seemed to droop. “There are as many people there as in Essex Kingdom. Only in the Troll Kingdom there is no one to defend the people from the trolls. In the Troll Kingdom, the trolls steal and break things and do everything they can to be bad. They eat up the farmers’ crops and scare the animals so they run away. And when the trolls are done doing that, they laugh and point at the humans to make them feel bad until the humans run around in circles and do not know what to do.” Tomato pursed her lips. “It is a sad place.” Then she turned to Sir Thomas the Young with a smile. “Just ripe with adventures!”
Onward they rode and before long, Sir Thomas, Tomato and Trout the Ox could feel a rumbling on the ground like the march of two thousand horses. A cloud of dust rose in the distance and the moaning wind began to sound like angry shouts.
All the while, Sir Thomas the Young grew more uneasy and, all the while, Tomato would knit. Tomato only put down her knitting when they came over a hill and stood in a patch of trees. From there, they could see two Giant Trolls wrestling back and forth, crushing several farms as they went.
“They are gigantic!” Sir Thomas the Young shrieked. “They are as tall as towers! I know this is an adventure but what ever shall we do about them?”
Tomato tucked away her knitting in a safe place, pinned her shawl with the silver knitting needles, and sat facing Sir Thomas the Young.
“It is good you have such a page as me, my knight, for I know about trolls. Trolls are nothing more than people who are so mean and angry that they change into those green-skinned, red-eyed, pickle-nosed, big-eared creatures. As for Giant Trolls, they are trolls who are not only mean and angry, but spiteful and vicious as well. Their size grows to match their viciousness. Then they have a grand time stomping on things and shouting a lot. They go around eating people’s houses, trees and horses, being sure to remind everyone that they are big meanies. But even with their great size, Giant Trolls are not very strong, for none can be strong on a diet of houses, trees and horses.”
“So how are we to stop them from destroying those farms?” asked Sir Thomas the Young, his forehead wrinkled with worry.
“That is for you to say, Sir Thomas the Clever!” Tomato’s eyes twinkled with joy.
Sir Thomas the Young set his head in his hand and thought. He tapped his fingers and wrinkled his mouth, scrunched his nose and squinted his eyes.
“Well, I suppose the whole matter should be handled quite legally,” Sir Thomas said, looking up from his hands. “They should be asked to leave and if they do so, nothing else need happen.”
“Fantastic!” Tomato clapped her hands with joy, then let down the rope ladder. “You had better walk from here so the trolls do not see a clever knight such as you riding an ox.”
So with Sir Thomas the Young just in front of them, for both knew a page or ox never walks abreast of their knight, they approached the trolls.
“Halt there!” shouted Sir Thomas the Young, but the trolls did not hear him. “I said halt there!” Sir Thomas shouted at the top of his voice, but again the Giant Trolls did not hear and he and Tomato and Trout the Ox had to jump out of the way as the trolls rolled wrestling past.
Frustrated and angry that he could not make himself heard, Sir Thomas the Young drew his Very Broken Sword. Holding it with skill that lay more in his heart than in his mind, Sir Thomas the Young screamed, “Halt!”
Instantly the Broken Sword shook with a humming vibration and some of the strange etchings on the blade glowed pale blue. Sir Thomas the Young’s voice was magnified by the pulse of the blade to be the voice of three cyclones side by side. The word boomed through the countryside, and for miles around, even back in the castle of Essex, all the people turned to see who, in such a loud voice, had demanded they halt.
As for the two Giant Trolls, they leapt immediately to their feet and stood very still, moving only their eyes to try and gain a view of the dragon they supposed had snuck up on them.
Tomato squeezed Trout the Ox with her legs in excitement.
“All right, then,” Sir Thomas the Young spoke more calmly and the sword did not vibrate or magnify his voice. “You two know you should not be here causing this trouble.” Sir Thomas the Young felt bold and brave because of his loud shout. “So you had better apologize to those farmers and be on your way before you bring any trouble upon yourselves. And be careful not to trample anything as you go.”
Hearing the unmagnified small voice, the Giant Trolls were confused and looked about to see from where it had come. Looking at their feet, they saw a black spot but quickly realized it was only a large ox and oxen no more speak than swim or climb trees. Squinting and kneeling down, they managed to see the tiny speck of a human standing just in front of the ox.
“You got a problem with that?” the speck spoke.
The howl of the Giant Troll’s laughter was heard through half the Troll Kingdom. They laughed so hard, their stomachs ached and they held their sides.
“It is only a human!” sneered one of the Giant Trolls.
“Shall we eat him?” asked the other troll.
“He is too small. I say we tie a string around his neck and make him clean our belly buttons every day.”
“And our ears!”
“And between our toes!”
“And our noses!”
And the two Giant Trolls reached for Sir Thomas the Young.
With a flick of his Broken Sword, Sir Thomas the Young held it at them with a shout. “Stand back!” The sword hummed, the etchings glowed and the words boomed. The Giant Trolls held back their hands with surprise.
“Beware, foolhardy monsters of bad.” Tomato stood atop Trout the Ox with a shout, for a page’s happiest task is to announce their master. “Before you this day is the courageous knight Sir Thomas the Bold. And unless you want to be pounded into little green trolly bits, you had best open wide your squinted eyes and see the horrendous danger that is now before you. Fall at his feet and cry for pity! Down upon your knees and beg forgiveness, vile, reproachable creatures! Darkness looms nigh to collect you!”
Now the Giant Trolls could not see anything so small as Tomato on Trout’s back so it seemed to them that the black ox had spoken these words. While neither of the Giant Trolls had ever heard of a talking ox, it seemed obvious that only one adventurer would have the company of such an unusual animal.
“It must be Sir Thomas the Magnificent!” one troll screamed in terror. “He has changed his name again and is in search of adventure to let all know of it!”
The Giant Trolls ran away smashing huge footprints into the fields of the farms. As they ran, they shrunk ninety-four feet and turned back into humans because they had the fight so scared out of them.
“Hurray for Sir Thomas the Clever!” Tomato cheered and Trout the Ox jumped with his forelegs. “You are a hero among knights, oh bold and brave one!”
With a proud smile resting sideways on his mouth, Sir Thomas the Young put his Broken Sword back under his belt. “Perhaps trolls are not as frightening as I had thought,” he said to Tomato and Trout the Ox.
“Did you know that your Broken Sword could give you a loud voice Sir Thomas of Loud Shouts?” asked Tomato.
“No, it did not do that in any of the stories I heard,” said Sir Thomas. “But the markings on the blade did glow when it performed some of its amazing feats. Perhaps it functions differently because it is broken.”
“Perhaps in being broken the sword realized that violence is painful and as a result it has become a gentler sword that less likes to cause harm,” said Tomato. “What a wise sword.”
Sir Thomas was about to dispute the idea of a sword that does not like to cause harm, but the farmers who had been hiding from the Giant Trolls came running toward the little band of adventurers.
“Hello, farmers!” Tomato was about to herald her master, but the farmers spoke louder.
“And who will pay for all of this damage?” a farmer snipped.
“What?” asked Tomato in surprise.
“Do not answer a question with a question!” another farmer scolded and the group of angry farmers circled around them. “You two will have to pay for all this damage!”
“I do not want to hear anything more about it!” a farmer cut into Tomato’s speech. “Damage has been done and you will have to pay for it.”
“But we are the ones who chased the trolls away.” Sir Thomas the Young’s voice faltered and he sounded very unsure.
“We do not care about trolls,” a farmer snapped. “They are gone. You are here now and our destroyed farms are here.”
“And why did you not show up sooner?” demanded a farmer.
“And why did you not instruct the trolls to run along the road instead of stomping our fields as they fled?” said another farmer.
“And why did you not instruct them to apologize to us for destroying our farms?” said still another farmer.
And on and on the farmers went until Sir Thomas the Young and Tomato were quite convinced that it was in fact their fault.
“But we have nothing to give you,” Sir Thomas the Young pleaded, pulling his left sleeve down to cover the Whispering Scarf.
“That is a fine strong ox there, he would help rebuild our farms,” said a farmer with a lustful eye on Trout the Ox.
“No!” Tomato screamed wrapping her arms around Trout the Ox’s head. “You cannot take him!”
Then Sir Thomas the Young had an idea. “Would a good plow aid in rebuilding your farms and help you forgive us?”
The farmer nearest Sir Thomas thought for a moment. The farmer did not really think he could pry any money out of the two children, so a good plow was better than nothing.
“Yes,” the farmer grumbled, “for a good plow I will make my peace.”
Sir Thomas the Young took his Bag of Simple Things from his belt. It was a plain brown bag worn and stained from years of use. It was limp like an empty bag and seemed only large enough to carry a pot or a couple of books or a chicken.
Sir Thomas the Young looked at Tomato clinging to Trout the Ox in fear, then at the angry farmers with clenched fists standing around him, then back down at the simple bag. “Hope this works,” Sir Thomas the Young said with doubt as he reached into his Bag of Simple Things.
Much to his surprise as well as to the surprise of Tomato, Trout the Ox and the farmers, out from the simple bag came a sturdy plow. Sir Thomas the Young was so startled and the plow was so heavy that he dropped it on the ground and everyone stared in amazement. The plow was easily ten times bigger than the simple bag, but they had all watched it come out of the bag so none could deny it.
The greed of the farmers quickly shadowed over their amazement and they formed a line in front of Sir Thomas and the bag. One asked for a set of pots, one a good ax, one an oven and one a strong horse, but while the horse was strong, it was simple and not good for anything smart such as riding.
Then the farmer’s wives and children climbed into line. And some would have gotten in line twice had they not told on each other every time. At every person the requests grew more elegant until the thing they wanted was no longer simple and could not be gotten from a simple bag, so they had to try again.
Returning to their homes, the farmers grumbled about how their neighbors received better simple things than they had. The farmers tried to think of ways they could sell the simple things for money.
To a heavily wooded stretch of road Sir Thomas the Young, Tomato and Trout the Ox fled. Sir Thomas the Young sat behind the pile of supplies on Trout the Ox’s back keeping watch in case a farmer should give chase and demand more gifts.
Trout the Ox lumbered sadly down the road and Tomato’s legs dangled about his horns. Tomato rubbed her hands in the black hair of Trout’s head to calm his frazzled nerves. A broad frown pulled down on Tomato’s whole face and her braids with their little red bows seemed to droop in sadness. Though she had plenty of things to say, Tomato did her best to keep quiet and not disturb whatever it is thinking knights think about.
“I do not believe very much of that was our fault!” Sir Thomas the Young shouted pointing in the direction of the mean farmers. Tomato remained silent. “In fact, I do not believe that any of it was!” Sir Thomas the Young’s forehead was wrinkled with so much anger he looked like a grumpy old man. “I think that those farmers were crazy people and it is better for Giant Trolls to destroy the farms of mean, crazy people than the farms of nice, sane people.” Sir Thomas the Young wanted to stick his tongue out in the direction of the farmers but he thought it not fitting a knight to do so. “Page, stick your tongue out at those farmers.”
Trout the Ox turned his head toward the farms and he and Tomato stuck out their tongues.
“May that simple horse stomp on their simple heads!” Sir Thomas the Young yelled.
“Now, Sir Thomas,” Tomato soothed, “you know you should not wish harm on them.”
“May a thousand stinkbugs build homes in their cupboards!” Sir Thomas the Young yelled again.
“Now, Sir Thomas-”
But Sir Thomas the Young interrupted her. “May their foundations tilt so that they cannot close their doors and they all get colds in the winter!”
Tomato jumped to her feet shaking her fist in the direction of the farmers. “May they all stub their little toes in the middle of the night on an emergency potty run!”
“Yeah!” Sir Thomas the Young shook his fist with his page.
Tomato sat down and Sir Thomas the Young turned to face her. “Are all people of this kingdom as mean as those?”
“I have never been here before,” Tomato shrugged.
And suddenly Sir Thomas the Young was very nervous about where the road might lead.