By John Thomas Tuft

The sound of pounding hooves echoed through the forest, the moonlight giving the old road through the trees a ghostly pallor. The rider implored the horse to go faster, kicking him in the sides while urging him on with a fierce whisper of “kay-da-lo, kay-da-lo, now sing boy! Kay-da-lo, kay-da-lo now run!” The chant attached to the rhythm of the smooth rocking as the steed’s muscles strained and strove to eat up the ground beneath it, neck stretched out, eyes wild, mane flying as onward they charged. The air was crisp and clear, tinged with the tang of autumn delight. Leaves of fire and gold swirled in the wake of their passing, while high overhead the stars played hide and seek and the clarion call of a loon on the lake echoed the urgency of the message for her beloved.

She leaned close over the horse’s neck, crooning, “C’mon, Whiskey Knight, kay-da-lo, kay-da-lo. Take me home to the morning, let my heart’s fire show.” The black stallion laid his ears back and summoned every ounce of speed and strength that he could find to please his mistress. Finally, she spotted the opening in the trees and wheeled the horse left and into the lane. The row of poplar trees that lined each side flashed past as they charged up the hill, her cloak that had been wrapped around her now streaming out behind as they sailed through the night. They swept beneath the majestic stone archway that marked the gateway to the castle grounds. Etched into the rock surface at its apex were the words: ASYLUM THEOS.

Sleeping swans, necks arched to tuck heads under wings, looked like phantom teacups nestled on the banks of the great pond that sat at the foot of the many terraces that stretched down in velvet steps of green and explosions of mums. She guided the horse past the royal stables and into the great curving drive, slowing Whiskey Knight to a gentle canter as she removed her tricorn and let her auburn hair cascade over her shoulders. At the door, she swung her leg over and lightly jumped to the ground, gathered her cloak, smoothed her leather breeches and adjusted the bright sash at her waist, rested her left hand on the hilt of her sword, and nodded to the groomsman. “Keep him close. Some water, please. We still have to ride the night.”

Before she could raise the boar’s head knocker, the door flew open. “Lady Grace! He awaits you in the crown tower.” The old padre smiled and let her pass, his bald head gleaming in the firelight. She lightly touched his cheek as she stepped inside, grabbed a torch from the wall, held it to the flames and when it flared, she strode quickly through the great hall. At the tower door, she paused and briefly closed her eyes, took a deep breath. Then she thrust open the door and ascended the winding stairs, shadows dancing before the torchlight like a child’s earnest prayers, up and up toward the starry sky. The tip of her sword clinked on the edges, trailing her path like a stream tripping over rocks in soft announcement. She reached the top and stepped out onto the parapet.

“My daughter, Grace, the prodigal pirate returns,” said a bemused voice from the shadows. “Did you find what you sought? All the riches of the world?” Grace stepped forward. “I have sailed the seven seas, seen the wonders of the world. I have battled dragons and kingdoms of evil, father.” He stepped toward her. “Did you find what you were looking for, child?” She placed a hand over her heart, keeping the other on her sword, because…pirates, you know. “Yes. I found it. It is love, my lord. The refuge of all that is worthy, the place for all those seeking, the comfort of all dwelling is none other than love.” He took her in his arms, wetting her hair with his tears. “The asylum of my soul is love,” he whispered. Then he stood back, looked her in the eye and asked a father’s question. “And now what will you do?”

Grace smiled and it made the moon above jealous with its radiance. “Why, what else is there to do? I have found treasure, enough for all. I must be off to the next castle and the next.” And as parents are wont to do, he said, “But eat something first, you look thin.” She laughed and danced back down the stairs and out to where Whiskey Knight waited. She climbed on and set off. At the end of the drive she turned and waved. Then she nudged him with her heels, saying, “C’mon Whiskey Knight, kay-da-lo, kay-da-lo. Take me home to the morning, let my heart’s fire show.” Down the lane they raced as the loons serenaded from afar. At the main road, she kicked his sides and urged him on at a run, leaning low over his neck, whispering, “Kay-da-lo, kay-da-lo, now sing boy. Kay-da-lo, kay-da-lo, now run.”

Words are magic and writers are wizards…and sometimes it’s just for the fun of it.