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Gareth – by Megan
The sun rose golden over the glen that morning, and set the clouds glowing silver and the grass glowing green. Gareth leaned against the doorpost and watched the slanting sunrays chase the mist away. He strained his ears to catch the jingling of Gawain’s harness, the clumsy trampling of Mordred’s horse through the brush; but the forest had swallowed them up along with the shadows of the night. Even the shadows of the night were fleeing deeper into the trees, and the only sound was the trilling of the carefree birds.
Those birds irked Gareth, as did the sunshine. Why did the whole world have to be happy when he was miserable?
His mother’s voice drifted in from the kitchen. “Gareth!”
He sighed, took one last longing look at the forest and the path that led to Camelot, and trudged back inside with slumped shoulders. Mother was sitting by the fire, spinning wool. She glanced at him and smiled, then turned her attention back to her work. It was marvelous how quickly and flawlessly she did it – how at the touch of her hand the formless cloud of fleece spun itself into a skein of yarn on the spindle. Mother had a way of doing that – of taking wild bunches of things, like wool or boys, and taming them into something new and neat and useful. Now she was even trying to do it with his dreams. Gareth scowled.
“Gareth, have you fed the chickens yet?”
He’d only been up a few minutes. “No.”
“What have you been doing?”
“I was seeing Gawain and Mordred off, Mother.”
“Ah.” She smiled again, her worry-lined face breaking, for a moment, into a shadow of long-lost beauty. She must have been perfectly breathtaking when she was a young woman – as lovely as Guinevere, perhaps.
Of course, it would be much easier to decide whether or not she had been if he knew what Guinevere looked like.
“Hey, Mother,” he began, and paused.
Her dark eyes twinkled up at him for a moment, then turned back to the distaff. “I thought you were going to go feed the chickens.”
“I will – I will.” The words tumbled from his mouth almost without his permission, but the ones he really wanted to say refused to come.
Twigs crackled in the fireplace. Mother looked up again, that knowing smile still in her eyes, her mouth tensed as though to keep from laughing. “Is there something you wanted to ask me, dear?”
Gareth bit his lip. She would be irritated with him. But then, nothing worse could happen then another “no.”
“Can I go to Camelot?” he burst out.
The smile straightened into a frown. “Gareth.”
Oh, not that tone. Gareth squirmed inside. Didn’t she understand he wasn’t a little boy anymore? “Mother, I can’t stay here any longer! I’ll pine away and die if I can’t become a knight!”
The distaff and spindle were set aside. Mother stood up and walked toward the fireplace, the old floorboards creaking under her steps. “Now you’re just being dramatic.” She plucked a basket from the mantelpiece and brought it over to him. She still smiled; but now it seemed harder for her to keep the smile there than to keep it in check. Her eyes sparkled – with tears?
“There.” She pushed the basket into his hands and closed his grasp around it, her cool palm resting for a moment on his itching knuckles. The expression in her eyes softened. “Gareth..”
Gareth looked down. That tone was worse than the other one, because it was impossible to protest against it in good conscience. He gave a rough sigh. “You’ll keep me here until I’m an old man.”
“A little good honest farm work never hurt anybody.” She took his head between her hands and kissed his forehead, then laid hold of his shoulders and gently pushed him out the door. “Now go. Those chickens are waiting.”
They were always waiting. The chickens, the garden, the scullery – everything was always waiting. Gareth kicked the ground and tramped towards the chicken coop.
It wasn’t fair. It really wasn’t fair. Everyone else got to be a knight – everyone but him. Nothing had kept Gawain from entering King Arthur’s service. Mother had been happy to see him go. It was the same thing with Mordred. Mordred got to ride around on his big black horse with a big steel sword just like some hero from a legend, even though he hadn’t done anything heroic in his life. Even Father had been a knight. But Gareth? Ha! Gareth scoffed and walked faster. Mother had to keep him at home to feed chickens and plant gardens, and even – he made a face – wash dishes.
He was probably the only boy in England who got treated like a girl.
The chickens saw him coming and came running, their short legs sticking out with every eager step and their clumsy wings spread out stiff and thick for balance. They acted as though they hadn’t had anything to eat for years. Gareth rolled his eyes, dumped a bucket of corn in the dirt, and trudged for the coop.
He jerked at the door, but it was rusted and wouldn’t budge. Stupid thing. He jerked again. It only groaned a little. With a grunt, he heaved with all his might.
The next thing he knew, he was sitting on the filthy ground, staring at the coop door as it swung wildly on one hinge. Hens clucked in surprise, and a downy gray feather which had been whirled from the coop drifted complacently down in front of his nose.
Gareth made a face. That did it – his life was utterly terrible. He stood up, brushed the damp straw and dust and chicken droppings from the seat of his pants, and tramped into the coop.
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