Yule Quest, p.1
Copyright 2012 A.M. Gray
Cover by V.Webster
Cover images are from wikicommons. Bayard is from a medieval French manuscript dating from 1470. The shot of the Cliffs of Moher, Photograph Tobias Helfrich, March 27th, 2004. Modified by Pumbaa, and used under the creative commons licence.
Christmas. In one sense he hated it. He always spent too much money on lunches and drinks with people he probably wouldn’t spend time with at any other time of the year. Was it an injection of Christmas spirit? Christmas spirits maybe. Too much scotch and vodka, and everyone was supposed to be so happy and so perfect. It was nauseating.
This afternoon, he had had a little too much Christmas spirit at lunch and he fell out of the pub door and into the back alley. Fuck, wrong exit. He was never going to make it back to work in time.
“Andrew!” He heard his name called.
He tried to turn quickly and staggered a little, grabbing at the wall, before he fell over on his butt in the alley. Double fuck.
There was nobody in the alley. However, there was a bloody great horse. It seemed to be talking to him.
“What the fuck?” he asked.
“Andrew Maugris…” intoned the voice, ponderously. “Descendant of Maugris, the necromancer and fighter with the twelve paladins of Charlemagne. Pray, grant me a boon.”
“Thou art he?
“Thou art addle-pated?” the horse asked, looking down at him with a worried expression.
Andrew decided the best way to deal with this, was to decide it was all a figment of his imagination. He burst into laughter. He pulled himself up to standing, by hanging onto a drainpipe against the wall.
The horse, a huge bay stallion with a reddish brown coat and a black mane and tail, sniffed at him and reared back.
“Nay,” he said. “You are in your cups.”
“You said ‘nay’,” giggled Andrew and promptly fell over again.
The horse rolled its eyes; well at least, it did a passable imitation of it.
“Fool!” it cried. “The time draws near … we must away.” And then it stamped its foot.
Andrew collapsed into giggles again. He was rolling in the muck of the alley, when the horse gingerly locked its teeth around the butt of his jeans and lifted him to his feet. Andrew grabbed at the horse around the front leg and leant against it for balance. It felt real enough and it certainly smelt like a horse.
“Whass your name?” he asked it, drunkenly.
“I am Bayard.”
“Pleased to meetch you.”
“We must make haste, the time of the winter solstice approaches. Forsooth, thou art vexing.”
“They tell me that all the time at the office,” Andrew mumbled. “I’m in advertishing.”
“Pray take seat.”
“Oh…I get it… you want me to ride you.” Andrew’s drunken brain cells were trying very hard.
“Ay,” agreed Bayard.
Andrew attempted to climb up onto the horse, but it was laughable. Eventually the horse moved closer to a garbage bin against the wall. Andrew climbed onto the bin and Bayard bodily lifted Andrew, as well as he could within the limitations of bending his neck around that far.
“Ha, we did it!” crowed Andrew. But then, he seemed to realise what he had actually achieved and he looked a little confused. “Wait a sec…” he managed to say, before the horse wheeled around and galloped out of the alley. Andrew clutched at his mane and tried hard not to throw up.
Bayard did not waste any more time on talk, as they galloped across fields and through forests. It was certainly a different way of touring Ireland. The pounding of the hooves was thundering through Andrew’s head and he was groaning now. He had leant forward and was clinging like a limpet around the neck of the animal.
When the horse finally dug its hooves in and skidded to a halt, Andrew promptly fell off again. Luckily, he landed in soft grass. It was late afternoon now and he could smell the sea.
“Where the fuck are we?” he grunted out. “It’s bloody freezing.”
“The cliffs of Moher,” stated the horse.
The horse looked confused.
Andrew staggered to his feet. “Is that O’Brien’s tower?”
Bayard ignored him.
“We must wait for the sunset. At which time, the light wilt hit the standing stone and show us the hiding place of the next clue.”
Andrew laughed again. “Oh, my God, it’s the dahorsey code.”
The dahorsey in question looked less than amused.
“So if you know all this, what do you need me for?” Andrew asked.
Bayard gave him another look.
“Oh right,” Andrew answered his own question, “opposable thumbs.” He wriggled them at the horse for effect. Then he thought that perhaps he ought to put away his opposable thumbs before the horse in question bit them off. He tucked them safely into his jeans pockets.
He stood there blinking at the incredible view and tried to process everything that had happened to him so far.
“What did you say… in the alley… about paladins? And Charlemagne?”
“Maugris the necromancer,” said Bayard, “was your ancestor. We rode with Charlemagne.”
“Get the fuck out.”
“I speak the truth.” The horse sounded offended.
“No way! Charlemagne was like the twelfth century…its 2011 buddy. That would make you like…” he frowned as he tried to do the math. He failed. “Really, really old… like older than 800 years old.”
“Oh, come on… it is just not possible. Unless you are a magic horse. No, don’t tell me… you are a disguised unicorn.”
“Unicorns are creatures of myth and legend,” said Bayard.
“And you’re not?”
Andrew snorted but managed to control himself. “Seriously a horse can live to be twenty to thirty years old. You cannot be over 800 years old.”
“Nor shouldest I speak English.”
“Well, it’s not good English.”
Bayard pulled his head back and gave Andrew the eye.
“Okay, I apologise. You speak very well, for a horse.”
“French is my mother tongue.”
“I suppose that it would be, what with the paladins and all. I’m guessing you learnt English in the time of Shakespeare.”
There was silence for a minute or two while they watched the sun sink towards the horizon.
“Were they really irritating prats?”
“The paladins… I mean, when you are playing Dungeons and Dragons, you have to send your paladin around the other side of the hill, so that you can loot corpses, without them getting all whiny about stealing from the dead.” Andrew caught sight of the look the horse was giving him and decided he ought to let that question go.
“Looting the dead,” he thought he heard the horse mumble.
“So how many paladins were there?”
“Always but a dozen.”
“Twelve. Like the apostles? Like who? I mean, what are some of their names?”
“Oliver, the Archbishop Turpin, Ogier the Dane, Huon of Bordeaux, Fierabras, Renaud de Montauban and Ganelon the traitor and of course, Roland and Maugris.”
Some memory cells of Andrews were functioning now; perhaps it was the bracing sea air. “Ganelon betrayed Roland, didn’t he? I remember that from that epic poem ‘The song of Roland.’” He looked excited. “…and the horn… it had a name didn’t it?”
“Olifant and the swo
“Whoa! Eat your heart out, Tolkien.” Andrew paused. “Not that you would know who that is…”
“The time of the sunset approaches,” reminded Bayard. “Thou must stand here.” He stamped a hoof into the ground and Andrew made sure he stood right on the mark. He had sobered up a bit in the last hour or so, and he tried his best to stand straight and tall.
The sun sank below the horizon and as it did so, the light was concentrated through some standing stones on the cliff. The now concentrated, beam of red light struck out like a laser light and hit a spot on the cliff face opposite them.
“Quickly!” shouted Bayard.
Andrew grabbed his mane and pulled himself up onto the horse’s back. They galloped over to the site. Andrew slid off and landed on his feet.
“It’s a two hundred metre drop here,” he warned the horse.
He lay flat on his stomach and peered over the edge of the cliff. The light was illuminating a small cave in the cliff face. It was only about ten metres down, but he hadn’t actually anticipated that rock climbing, would be on his list of things to do today, and he was not prepared.
His face must have held all his doubts.
“Tis better it were done quickly,” said Bayard.
“Easy for you to say, mate. I need a rope or something like it. A hose! Can you get a garden hose from one of the houses nearby? You can run faster than I can.”
The horse wheeled and galloped away. Andrew tried to memorise the