“Indeed, writing a description is harder than writing the book itself. Have you thought of anything as yet, lad?”
“Well, Dragon, I have, but it still needs more work, and seems rather incomplete to me. Goes like this: The Enchanted Shield is the sequel to The Quest of the Golden Apple, and once again follows the adventure of Geoffrey and the Dragon.”
“No, that won’t do at all. Certainly needs more work, but I suppose it’s all right for a start.”
“Sure I can. Let me think. On the other hand, we can’t just give away the whole plot: that would spoil the book. I think it’s better if the reader didn’t know all that much about the tale before reading it.”
“Could be, Dragon. Could be.”
About half a year had passed since I had got back from my adventure. I heard of quests and proclamations, but heeded them not. I took delight in simple things, and my work kept me busy and healthy. When I returned to Newstead the previous year, it had been the middle of autumn. Winter was now drawing to an end, and the first beginnings of spring were creeping over the land. The air still possessed a bracing chill; but each day the weather grew warmer and milder, and often got rather hot towards noon. The whole of Newstead seemed to be spring cleaning their homes, and that yielded a great deal of dust to the air. There were days when it felt as if it were summer (as much as there were days when it felt as if it were winter still).
Morning broke fair and bright upon Newstead. The sun was out, the mists had cleared, and the sound of birds’ tuning their notes could be heard throughout the land. I left home for the morning, and passing through the gates of Newstead, directed my steps towards Farmer Woodbine’s farmstead, which stood just outside the town. As I noted in the previous adventure, I worked as a cowherd. When I reached the farmstead, I greeted everyone I saw; and though it was only about half past eight, yet much work was already being done at the farm. Taking the cows, I led them to the fields so that they could graze.
What I found that morning was strange, or at least unprecedented, for the fields I always took the cows to—East-Fields being their name—appeared more yellow than ordinary, when only the day before they had been quite green. Odd, thought I; but not thinking too much about it, I decided to walk the cows to the other fields, of which there were several, that stretched round Newstead. When I got to them, I found the grass there was richer and greener, and so I let the cows graze in those fields, and the hours passed lazily enough. This week had been a drowsy succession of hot days, and that morning was no exception. Round about noon I wiped my forehead and had lunch. The cows relished both the grass and the weather, and wandered aimlessly hither and thither. “Cows,” said I, not that they could understand me, “stay in one spot.” Later, I took shelter beneath a giant tree in the field; and whether it was the food, or the heat, or the haziness of the air; or perhaps all these things together—which, I suppose, is nearer to the mark—I found I fell fast asleep against the tree. This had scarcely ever happened to me before. But that day, as we shall see, was an evil one, and I fell asleep. Upon awakening, I found a couple of guards standing near me. I recognised them from Newstead: the town-guard.
“Good morning,” said one of them, who seemed to be the leader. “Do you know where you are?”
“Yes, I’m in Newstead. You recognise me? I live here. How do you do?”
“This is Newstead,” continued the man; “but you have been very unfortunate in your choice of field, where you’ve let your cows graze. You’re in big trouble, and you’re coming with us, to the Council.”
“Council?” said I, getting up from the tree and standing before them. “What are you talking about? This is a Newstead field, and I can graze my cows anywhere I like.”
“East-Fields are for common grazing,” said the guard; “but you’ve entered fields out of bounds to the Common Folk.”
“Out of bounds?” said I, getting rather angered, not to mention alarmed, by all this talk. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Oh, ridiculous is it? You’ll see how ridiculous it is when we take you before the Council. These fields are forbidden, and that’s the law.”
“I knew no such thing,” said I, “and there wasn’t any such thing before. That new Council has been putting together its own laws.”
“That’s it! Let’s go! Keep your wit for the Council! Come with us!”
“I won’t go anywhere,” said I. “Besides, I’ve got to take the cows back to Farmer Woodbine. It’s getting late.”
“Very well,” said the guard. “You may take them back, but we’ll be waiting for you at the gates. Don’t think of going off; for we know who you are, Mr. Geoffrey, and have all your documents at Home Office. That’s right. Everyone’s documents are kept there, and there they shall remain. Once the cows have been returned, you shall be taken before the Council.”
I tried disputing a little further with them, but try as I might, they would not budge. At length I agreed, so as to put an end to the argument; for it was growing late, and the farmer’s cows had to be returned to his farmstead. I got the cows together and proceeded thither, reaching it in a quarter of an hour. As it turned out, Farmer Woodbine was not there, being on a visit to his family at Montford, and thus I could not tell him about the incident; I sighed, for he might have aided me. The cows being returned to their places, I left and reached the gates of Newstead in half an hour; and there the guards stood waiting for me. We passed through the gates, while the light of the afternoon was fading round us, and then headed for the Council Chambers, as it was known. Once again I tried disputing with them, saying that I should not do that again, but the guards turned a deaf ear to me, and hauled me before the Council.
I stood in the centre of a circular room. Ahead of, and higher than me, sitting behind imposing wooden desks, were the members of the Council. My heart sank within me, as I threw round my gaze. “We have been told by the town-guard—excellent guard they are—that you have committed a grave transgression,” said one of the members. “There are certain fields which are forbidden to the public.”
“Sir,” said I, “I knew no such thing. All the grass in East-Fields looked rather yellow to me, rather more yellow than ordinary; and so I took my cows to graze in better fields. I did no crime. I’m an honest citizen of Newstead. I do hard work, and never harm anyone.”
“Still, you committed a crime. Those fields are forbidden, and are not to be entered.”
“All right, sir,” answered I; “I won’t enter those fields ever again. I promise. I will keep to East-Fields and not stray from there.”
“It is too late. The deed has been done, and a punishment must be allotted to you.”
“This isn’t fair. I’m innocent. I did nothing wrong.”
“What is the punishment?” continued the man, paging through a thick book, from which dust issued into the air of the gloomy chamber. “Banishment it is. That is what the books of law say.”
“Banishment? But this is my home. I’ve lived here all my life.”
“You ought to have thought of that before. You are exiled from Newstead for ever. You are to leave the town by the morning. There is nothing that we can do. That is what the law says.”
“No,” said I, “this can’t be. I can’t be exiled from Newstead.”
“Whether you like it or not, you are exiled for ever.”
“Have mercy!” said I. “Please, sirs, is there no way that I can stay?”
The chief member of the Council, who had been talking to me, looked into the book again, and flipped through the pages for a while. “There seems to be a caveat,” said the man at length.
“What is it?” asked I.
“It is said,” answered the man, “of one who is sentenced to lifelong exile that, if he were to bring back from a distant land a strange heirloom, he shall be restored to his home.”
“What that heirloom is,” said another member of the Council, “is not stated; but custom prescribes that the Council shall determine what it is to be. We will decide.”
“Heirloom?” said I, rather puzzled.
“Yes,” returned the principal speaker; “we will decide what you shall bring back if you are to return.”
The Council left the chamber, and were gone for about an hour. In the meantime I sat down on a chair that was near, and thought of all the evil that had befallen me. Time passed. At length the members returned, and took their seats again.
“We have decided what the heirloom shall be,” said the chief speaker. “You are to bring back to Newstead an artefact, an artefact known as the Enchanted Shield. Secure the artefact and return with it to Newstead, and your exile shall be dissolved forthwith.”
“The Enchanted Shield?” said I. “I’ve never heard of any such thing. Wait a minute! I’ve got an idea. I could return with the Golden Apple—the Golden Apple of Wealdhall—within less than two weeks.”
“No, the Enchanted Shield it is, and the Enchanted Shield it shall remain. Our meeting with you is over. You are to leave Newstead by the morning and are banished for ever; but if you were to return with the Enchanted Shield, your exile shall be reversed. Let us not find you in Newstead by ten o’clock tomorrow.”
Led out of the chamber by the town-guard, and then left outside the Council Building, I proceeded, with heavy thoughts, home. Already it was night, and my mother was waiting anxiously for me at the door of our house. She had grown quite worried that I had not come home earlier; and upon seeing me walking down the street towards our house, she seemed overjoyed. But when I greeted her, and she saw that all was not well, she asked me what the matter was; and I, once we had gone within, and shut the door, told her all that had happened, and she was astonished, saddened, and angered.
“That Council is evil,” said she, “as everyone in the town will attest. The old Council was never like this, Geoffrey. This Council finds fault with everyone in the town. You aren’t the first to fall prey to them, Geoffrey; and I daresay you won’t be the last. Almost everyone in Newstead has had an encounter with them. Even Farmer Wither, I heard. Just last week he was fined because of taxes or something. Mrs. Wither was telling me all about it just the other day. Even Mrs. Milton, the baker’s wife, was complaining of the ill usage her husband has had at the Council’s hands.”
This was all quite true. About three years ago, the new Council had replaced the old one, which, in contrast to their successors, had been a fair and just Council, listening to the voice of the People, except when the People were in the wrong; but through some kind of political machination, the old Council was taken down and another one set in its place; and it was widely believed across Newstead that the present Council was rather corrupt. In short, I was yet another casualty of the evil new system.
The next morning, after we had all eaten breakfast, my mother went to the Council Chambers, while I, packing what I could, remained at home. I had done much the same the night before, but there was still a great deal of stuff left to pack. My heart was heavy and I felt a burden on my shoulders, not from my pack, but from the troubles that had suddenly fallen on my life. But I remained as cheerful as I could, knowing that my return home would come. An hour later the door opened and then shut; and going to the sitting room I found my mother in tears. I hugged her, and asked her what had passed at the Council Chambers. “They won’t listen,” said she. “They won’t listen to a thing. I don’t think they’ve got hearts, and I told them as much. Oh, Geoffrey! I tried my best to save you, but I’ve failed.”
“So I still have to leave, mother?”
“Yes,” replied she.
“What’s worse, mother, is that Sir Richard is out of town. Had he been here, he might have done something to stop that Council, I think.”
“I doubt whether Sir Richard,” said she, “would have been able to gainsay the Council. The Council do as they wish, and there’s little anyone can do.”
“You’re right, mother.”
It was getting late; the town-clock had just struck nine o’clock; and I thought I had best leave Newstead before I was thrown unceremoniously out of it. Taking a last look at the rooms of our house, and fetching a deep sigh, I stepped out into the brightness of the town, and directed my steps towards the gates, my mother and brother accompanying me. The town-guard was stationed there, and one of them observed that I ought to leave the town (or “well-run Newstead” as he put it). I thanked him for his expressing the obvious, and I was going to say more, but thought the better of it and remained silent. I hugged my mother and brother, and hugged my mother again, assuring her that I should return to Newstead before she knew it, but the tears stood in my eyes, and my mother herself had been weeping since the morning.
“I will return home, mother,” said I, aside to her so that the guards would not hear what we spoke. “I will return to Newstead. You can count on that. And that Council hasn’t heard the last of me! I shall get aid from my friend the Dragon, and together we will find this—Enchanted Shield. I do defy that Council and their villainy. I will come back, mother. I promise.”
My mother wept; and again I assured her that I should return, and that all would be well. I took leave of her; and tightening the pack on my shoulder, as I did once not long ago, setting out to find the Golden Apple, I set forth for Wealdhall. If anyone knew what was to be done, it would be the Dragon.
Geoffrey Angapa was born in Durban, South Africa, on October 4, 1987. He grew up in Chatsworth and then North Beach. He finished high school in 2004; and graduated with a B.Sc. degree from Unisa in 2010. Geoffrey likes computer programming a lot, and C++ is the language that he programs in. He knows a slight bit (that is, not much) about literature, and likes physics too.