I Believe in Isaac

A Knight in Suburbia

Posted in Uncategorized by isaacmcphee on November 13, 2010

He made very little stir the day he walked into town.  If anything at all was said about his arrival, it was of his appearance alone, for he ambled along the city’s sidewalks and streets with a severe limp impeding his progress, a back hunched over as if burdened by some great and invisible weight and contorted from some unknown childhood ailment.  The odd shape of his body was covered from the brisk fall air by only a dirty, torn blanket of dark gray and an equally rancid woolen cap pulled down to his eyes.

On that first day and for many to follow, all that was known was that the man appeared to be without direction; a wandering vagrant, his dress and posture providing ample evidence that he had traveled a great distance in order to arrive here; but now that he had arrived, he seemed to have forgotten what he came there to do.

So would the thoughts of the people have remained had the man left town, but he remained there for some time and would be seen on occasion throughout the winter to follow, ambling here and there on his bad leg, never revealing his destination nor making known the secret of whence he had come.  He never allowed any to know his name, though no one ever dared tread close enough to ask.  

The stories told about the man were varied and never held any truth; driven, as the very best stories often are, by the imaginations of children and adults alike.  Tales of the man grew and contorted and  evolved and became over time increasingly far-fetched, though without ever fully crossing over into the truly fantastic.  He was a fugitive, it was said, wanted elsewhere for murder; he was an escaped freak from the circus; he had been raised by animals rather than humans, and had in turn become one of them.  He was ravenous and diseased; he had lost everything gambling; he was a self-immolator, punishing himself for unspeakable sins of his past. 

No one would approach him, even to offer him a glass of water in the heat of the following summer.

**************

When the day finally came for the man to reveal his identity to those fortunate few who were near enough to hear, the word spread as an unstoppable wave across town.  All such gossip was set aside in favor of the truth, which was yet more fantastic than any of the tales, and as a result far easier to believe.  He declared all at once, with some imperceptibly exotic accent and without any evidence of hesitation, that he was and always had been a valiant knight of the highest order; born with a champion’s blood, trained in the chivalrous arts, and sent by some absent but fair ruler to save this tiny town.  He was to be their hero.

The man’s words ought to have meant nothing to these people – their power would easily have been suppressed by the absurd thought of a brave knight with a bad leg, a hunched back and a foul odor.  The very thought might have been ridiculed endlessly and tossed aside as garbage if the man’s actions had not all at once demanded that he be taken seriously; effectively appealing that the people of town either lock him up within a madhouse or lift him upon their shoulders in veneration.

When he explained to them all that he had been sent from a distant king, whose power and riches were superseded only by his magnanimity it was all at once forgotten that the man dressed in rags; it certainly did not occur to them that any such king must have passed from the Earth long ago.  They saw only the invisible presence of freshly minted armor encasing the brave and bold warrior whom they had misunderstood for so long.

When he burst into the taverns and coffee shops of town and promised to all who would hear that he would slay their dragons it was entirely overlooked that he hobbled about with all the burdened mobility of a hermit crab; it never dawned on them that there were no longer any dragons upon Earth to be slain.  They saw instead the promise of a young, swift soldier who would gladly give his life if only to rescue them from their enemies, whether large or small.  

When he promised that he would protect them from the armies of the North they lost all sight of the debilitating curve to his back forcing him to hobble about as an invalid.  They came out in droves to cheer him on when he walked alone into the forest to the north of town and, in a Quixotic flight of the most observable chivalry proceeded to cut down the trees and shrubs as if facing down an army of Visigoths.

He was raised upon the shoulders of the people and held in the greatest esteem by all.  If any dissenters arose to question the man’s stability of mind or his capacity as a warrior they were promptly silenced, for though the illusion had draped them all it did so quite thinly, for though they looked upon the man and saw a knight of such selfless bravery and compassion as they had never before witnessed, there was a part of every man who knew that he was only looking upon a poor, delusional beggar.

Thereafter, the town grasped ever more tightly to the ideal of the brave knight, and held him up ever higher upon the pedestal of adoration.  When he asked town’s mayor (whom he bowed before addressed as “My Liege” in the most flattering display of adulation) for the hand of his only daughter – the fairest princess in the land – as repayment for having saved the town from its enemies, the Mayor at once obliged with the most heartfelt enthusiasm and proceeded to plot the most ostentatious wedding that suburban town had ever witnessed.  It is not often, after all, that a town of this size is called upon to bear witness to such nuptials as that of a princess to a knight.

*******************

The day dawned with such blueness of sky, such greenness of grass and such warmness of air that the morning of the wedding was universally believed to have been stolen from the pages of a fairy-book.  The whole town was to come out and witness the knight being bound at last to their flock by way of their own princess (who had herself gone very much unnoticed until these events took place, but suddenly found herself being treated in every way as royalty, which delighted her greatly) upon a grassy lea past the edge of town, where a stark white gable had been set up, candles lit, hundreds of chairs lined up in rows.

Flowers of all colors and kinds were brought in and were laid about with great fuss while a small band was put together to accompany the service with a popular form of music.  The guests gathered, the priest was in place, audience, friends and family of neither bride nor groom, were seated.  As the ceremony began it seemed that all of nature had gone quiet so as to avoid missing what came next.

The groom himself entered with little fanfare, for in his humility he could not rightfully bear the honor of having any great flourish in his name.  He had taken no steps to alter his appearance, still lost within his vestments of poverty and hidden behind a great beard which had been growing upon his face.  It mattered not, for when the people saw the rags they could picture it quite clearly as a coat of mail atop a very regal and dressy outfit of a great many colors. 

The princess herself entered with a far more tangible beauty – flowing dress of white and hair fancifully prepared, an appearance which had required great effort to perfect that day, and in which she took great pride, even as she came to stand side by side with her mottled betrothed.

The ceremony was set to begin as both Knight and Princess now stood before their rapt audience, awaiting the formalities of matrimony.

No sooner could the elderly priest, blissful at the honor of performing such a rare and coveted ritual, open his holy mouth in an utterance of ceremony than the great illusion was in one moment shattered.  It was not that the town at large had suddenly opened its eyes and saw the slovenly beggar for who he was, for indeed to these people he remained heroic, now more so than ever in his quest for the Princess.  It was not the elders of town who saw him for what he was, for in him they saw an ideal of youth; nor was it the highly educated, for they envied his recklessness and unwavering commitment to the illogical. It was an individual no one could have imagined capable of finally making such an observation; a plain young girl of seventeen.  The daughter of a grocer.  The sister of a scoundrel.

The girl arose from her seat in the midst of the crowd, and as she opened her mouth to speak her delicate, subtle voice was the only sound to be heard, for it seemed that even the breeze had ceased its ceaseless motions so that the words might be heard in their loveliness.

“What are we doing?” She asked. “What are we allowing?  What has become of us?”

Her questions were met with silence.  Not so much as a cough.

“I look upon this couple in great curiosity because I have read in all the papers that I ought to find this a most marvelous occasion.  I am told through rumor and through the tongues of the gossipers what I now take to be not slander, but whatever it is which is the opposite of slander and yet just as profane.  I look upon the alter we have erected in the grass and I see something ugly, but I am told that it is good.  I see a man who has lost all he has ever been given in terms of sanity, and I am told that he is the only truly free thinker among us.  I look upon a town without enemy and I am told that this is the only man who can save us.  What, then, am I missing?”

As she cried out, her voice seemed directed to the heavens themselves and only partially addressing the town.

“Why do I alone see the man standing there – a man no more a knight than I am a baboon!”

She paused, smiling.

“I shall tell you why, for I’ve only now figured it out.  The man being wed today is perhaps the most broken among us all, and for this reason he has become something of an ideal.  He is to all men and to all women precisely what he ought to be.  To the young girls who still possess the imagination of youth he is the knightly prince of whom it is written in fairy books – never mind the rags, for the greatest of princes come often in disguise.  To boys he is the very embodiment of the manhood to which they strive, for it has not yet occurred to them that it is a foolish thing to chop at trees as if it were an invading army.  To the old man he is an ideal of a youth where imagination was not discouraged and to the old woman, he is merely nostalgia.  He is and has become all of the best things.  We have accepted him as a knight and as a hero because we have seen neither but have always longed for both, ready to accept the first that came our way.  I believed at first the situation something similar to the famous story of the Emperor’s clothes, but I now realize that it is something far more tragic.  We are not a town of liars hoping to save face, for we have believed with every fiber in our being that the man is precisely what he claims to be, simply because he is the only one to ever claim it with sincerity.

“We have never  voiced the need for a knight to enter into our midst, and yet when he arrived we could no longer imagine life without one.

“We have never asked for a hero, but we have been given one and accepted him with open arms.

“The madness of but one man,” she concluded, “has given an entire town precisely the lie that they had always desired, but has made us all madder than any ten men.”

It is not clear just which of her words had made their impact upon the hearts of her hearers, but they indeed had their intended effect.  The armor melted from the man’s body and what was left was an unwashed and holey blanket.  The bold athleticism evaporated from his joints and his infirmities were made perfectly clear, as they had been when the man had first wandered into town.  Those handsome and indefinably heroic features drifted from his face and much of what was left was a thin, wiry beard.

The mayor’s daughter was sent into a fit of weeping and the townsfolk at once stood to depart the spectacle, hoping that it would all never be spoken of again.  And indeed it would not be; it would remain nothing more than a hideous truth staining at the hearts of man.

Only one figure remained wholly unaffected by the events of that day.

The gallant Knight had saved a town from utter desolation and was yet rewarded only by the shunning of the people, but he expected no less.  He performed his good and valiant works not to earn the praise of men, but out of allegiance to the demands of his sovereign. 

He at once made off quickly toward the next town, eyes set firmly on the evil that was afoot.

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