Chapter 2:

The Boy, Anselm

The Knight of the Golden Rose


The first time I saw him was when I burned the bread my father trusted me with, and I wanted to forget about my mother's disappointment and my brother's mockery.Bookmark here

He was wearing an oversized tunic and a couple of scrapes on his knees, really a scrawny little thing — I was surprised he could even hold up the sword. His cheeks still showed remnants of baby fat, somehow unmarred from the famine.Bookmark here

I didn't want to disturb that rhythmic swing, so I stared at him from a distance until the sun's rays no longer reached us. After he left, I ran my fingers through the neat grooves on the tree, in awe of how each precise stroke was able to reach its target.Bookmark here

After a couple of weeks, I approached him. He looked at me for a little bit before saying that his name was Anselm and that he was training under Sir Hector.Bookmark here

"Sir Hector? The one who my father always complained about?"Bookmark here

Anselm shrugged.Bookmark here

"He means well," he said simply.Bookmark here

I asked if I could play with the sword. He didn't let me.Bookmark here

"I'll keep watching you whether you like it or not," I said.Bookmark here

Anselm shrugged again and got back into his stance.Bookmark here

I eventually discovered a couple of things about him, even if he wasn't much a fan of talking. First, his parents were farmers. Second, he had nine siblings, all younger. Third, he was going to be the greatest knight in the world. When he said that, I was shocked. It was the most emotion he had ever displayed. Bookmark here

"What kind of knight would you like to be?"Bookmark here

"The most famous one, Lancelot." Anselm flashed a rare smile. His teeth were almost too big for his mouth, for he had yet to grow into them.Bookmark here

"But everyone says that. Wasn't the greatest knight actually his son, Galahad?"Bookmark here

"I don't want to be like Galahad. He was always everyone else's perfect little knight, but he never lived as himself."Bookmark here

"How do you know that? He might've been a prude by nature." I edged closer, hoping to get a better view of his youthful face furrowed in deep concentration.Bookmark here

"I want more than that. Maybe I'm just too worldly, but I think Lancelot was the one who took full advantage of his life. Even if it meant making mistakes." A loud thwack echoed from his blade meeting the trunk.Bookmark here

"I agree. You can't know what real love is like without messing it up." I twirled a leaf and blew it away.Bookmark here

Anselm stopped his swing. "I'm glad you get it."Bookmark here

"It's not all about the spiritual, right? I'll die when I feel like it!"Bookmark here

Anselm laughed. He laughed so hard he dropped his sword and plopped down next to me. I resisted the sudden urge to ruffle his tawny hair.Bookmark here

"You're a funny little kid," he said.Bookmark here

"I'm bigger than you," I held my hand flat on top of my head and moved it down to his in comparison.Bookmark here

"Not for long you're not. I'll hit my growth spurt any time now. Plus my dad's super tall."Bookmark here

He stood on his tiptoes and threw his arms up.Bookmark here

I giggled. "Fine. We'll see about that in a couple of years."Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Anselm won the bet. Soon enough, his head shot way above mine, and his oversized tunic became comically small. I started noticing his broad chest and prominent muscles. His Adam's apple. A hushed, sonorous voice filled with gentleness without any hint of the pitchiness of youth.Bookmark here

"Will you leave this town?"Bookmark here

We sat in our usual positions in the forest by my house. Me lying in the willowy grass and him in the perfect battle-ready posture. By this time, Anselm had graduated to a much larger sword whose blows were almost enough to fell the tree.Bookmark here

"I don't know," he finally said. "Maybe one day."Bookmark here

"I will!" I jumped up. "I've been talking to Lawrence. You know Brother Lawrence from the monastery? He says magic still exists, and we just have to find it outside of here."Bookmark here

"I believe it. Everyone around here is obsessed with farming."Bookmark here

"Will you help me then?" I grabbed his hands. "I don't want to be a farmer! Let's go on a quest together! You'll be Lancelot, and I'll be the Lady of the Lake!"Bookmark here

Anselm patted my head. "You're getting a little ahead of yourself. Where would we go? What would we do? Lawrence never said where the magic was, did he?"Bookmark here

"We'll find it if we're the heroes of the story."Bookmark here

"We might not be," Anselm said with a frown.Bookmark here

"I'll make it so that we are!" I twirled around, letting the hems of my dress fly out.Bookmark here

"You should head home now. It's dark. Here, I'll come with you." He took a step forward.Bookmark here

"I thought you'd understand..." I said sadly.Bookmark here

"I do, I promise," Anselm said while holding out his hand. "Let's go."Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

When I told my mother my plans, she said I was sure to die. She told me to think about how much she had done for me, and how absurd it was that I would throw it all away. For some stupid stories?Bookmark here

I know she loved those stories as much as me. The only difference was that she didn't think Camelot was ever real. Or maybe I never talked to her enough to know whether she ever thought Camelot was real.Bookmark here

I don't remember the last time I saw my mother happy. When I was little, she used to sing songs while she worked, but she stopped after we buried my little brother. Gone in twenty days after she named him. I didn't see her shed a single tear.Bookmark here

"For you, a nice husband," she always said after that.Bookmark here

A nice little family and a nice little house. It's not like she hated my father. She was always quite pleased with him. But never anything more. He never sought her out except when he needed her help. He never went so far as to love her, but he liked her well enough, which was really all you could ask for. She was a good wife; she did as she was told, and we were a respected family. It wasn't a bad life, but I was stupid and hated listening to those who wanted the best for me.Bookmark here

"Sleep on it," my mother finally said. "You'll understand soon enough."Bookmark here

But I knew that Anselm was the hero of the story. He proved me right the next time I went to the town square and five bodies instantly blocked my view. I could hardly see the houses and shops littered with cracks from the heat and lack of water.Bookmark here

There was shouting and cheering and jeering, and at the center of it all was Anselm, tall and handsome. He was flanked by his parents and siblings, the youngest of which were crying to go back inside.Bookmark here

"Hurry up with your announcement!" An angry fist waved in the air.Bookmark here

"We're waiting!"Bookmark here

"Let us see the brooch closer!"Bookmark here

Anselm held up a golden rose. Even from a distance, I could see the cool metallic glint of the delicate engravings that surrounded the brilliant petals that shimmered under the blaze of the afternoon sun.Bookmark here

"This is my birthright. It was with me when my parents found me in the basket."Bookmark here

On his right, his mother said, "Almost two decades ago, a beautiful baby boy was entrusted to us. We have raised him as our own until now, but it is time to let him go."Bookmark here

A hazy cloud settled over all my memories with him. Here was a boy whose very birth I could not confirm. Did the Anselm in my mind bear any resemblance to the Anselm before me? I wiped the doubts from my mind. If the Anselm I knew was a plain but hardworking boy with big dreams, then how much more amazing could the real one be?Bookmark here

A tall and imposing figure stood up. It was the goldsmith. "The brooch is genuine. I verified it. Only a craftsman from the royal family could produce jewelry this beautiful."Bookmark here

The shock silenced the crowd. Then it erupted. The king's symbol! No one but the king's very closest could have a brooch of that quality! Royalty? In the backwaters of England? What other secrets did Anselm hold?Bookmark here

"My apologies for waiting this long to tell everyone."Bookmark here

His father stepped forward. "He wasn't ready before. But it's the right time now. Anselm has just completed his training."Bookmark here

"I will be going on a quest to find the king of England. I will find out my real identity and become his knight," Anselm declared with premature royal authority.Bookmark here

A real knight in my midst. I knew the legends were still alive. I let out a breath I didn't realize I had been holding.Bookmark here

I sat on a log braiding my hair until the crowd eventually lost their interest and dispersed for dinner. It was just Anselm and me and a dying sun retreating behind the horizon. We were bathed in a warm orange glow.Bookmark here

"I guess you are Lancelot after all," I said.Bookmark here

"I guess so," he murmured.Bookmark here

Anselm's face was long and dark. He looked at the ground, eyes half-closed with an emotion I didn't recognize..Bookmark here

"Aren't you excited?"Bookmark here

"I am. But it's a huge responsibility. To my family and the village."Bookmark here

"Now you can take me with you!" I jumped up and down, creating small dirt clouds above my feet.Bookmark here

"No, I cannot do that," he said solemnly.Bookmark here

My face fell. "Why not? A knight must have a lady to protect."Bookmark here

"It is my mission to undertake alone. A lady should wait back at the castle."Bookmark here

"I'll be a witch then! Not a princess!"Bookmark here

"Careful with those words now." Anselm smirked. With a wave of his hand, he turned and left.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

With enough gossip, I was able to determine the knight-in-training's date of departure. No secrets lasted longer than a couple of months in this village where mouths were loose and midwives were bored.Bookmark here

To stay in the village was to stagnate; to go with Anselm was to discover the world, to live a life of excitement! Plus, it had to be him. For some inexplicable reason, I knew that Anselm was the partner I needed for this journey. Not Lawrence or any potential husband that my mother picked out. Anselm was the guiding star that would lead me to my destination, the one that shone brightest in the entire night sky.Bookmark here

At the crack of dawn, I parked myself at the first tree past the village entrance and waited. I packed a couple of my most favorite books (stolen from the monastery), a change of clothes, a leather flask, and a knife for emergencies. I watched the leaves sway and the honeybees buzz and the ants gather. The sun grew hot in the sky and wilted again as I reread the tales of Lancelot and Guinevere's forbidden love.Bookmark here

Finally, I heard the clop clop of a horse's hooves and the jingle jangle of a full saddle. A foreboding outline of a rider emerged. I darted out like a shadow.Bookmark here

"Take me with you!"Bookmark here

The glow of the full moon illuminated the ridges of Anselm's taut face. Fireflies blinked in and out of the black air. His eyes narrowed. "This will be extremely dangerous."Bookmark here

"I'm ready for it."Bookmark here

"Do your parents know?"Bookmark here

"No."Bookmark here

Anselm sighed. "You should probably go back."Bookmark here

"Maybe. But I'll let you decide. If you tell me to go back, I'll go back. But if you tell me to come with you, I'll come with you."Bookmark here

I crossed my arms and stood up as tall as I could. The wind howled in the distance. Anselm's horse whinnied. I thought about how that figure in front of me looked nothing like the boy I once knew.Bookmark here

I waited, heart pounding.Bookmark here

"Come with me," he said, barely above a whisper. "It'll be an adventure."Bookmark here

With the village behind us, we started our quest.Bookmark here

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