Darcy was in residence at Netherfield Park with his close friend, Charles Bingley. He thought of it as a reprieve of sorts, one that served two purposes. First, he needed more than ever a change of scenery, or rather time and distance from his obligations. Secondly, he had the excuse of being there to offer his friend counsel on the management of his new estate.
For the third morning in a row, Darcy set out on horseback. If he were to be of any help to his friend, it was important that he enjoy a strenuous ride. Ideally, he would be too tired upon his return to think of anything beyond the tasks immediately in front of them. Heavy rains the day before had hastened the descent of the magnificent autumn leaves of amber and burnt orange he had so admired his first time out. They carpeted the paths ahead, rendering them a bit slippery. So very different from the pristine lanes of Rosings Park, he pondered. The sharp sting of Darcy’s fine leather riding crop urged the stallion on. It seems I cannot escape that place, no matter where I go.
My life was not supposed to turn out this way. What have I gotten myself into?
Though the lanes were rather foreign to him, Darcy raced along on his fierce stallion with reckless abandon, utterly oblivious of everything around him. His mind was miles and miles away. Suddenly, a figure darted across the path ahead of him. In light of the breakneck speed of his powerful beast, it was all Darcy could do to avoid what might certainly have been a near fatal collision, by wrenchingly jerking its reins, causing the magnificent beast to rear violently.
As a consequence, there was only one injured party, instead of two or even three, counting Darcy’s stallion. Sharp piercing pain flooded his senses, recalling him to the present. Darcy slowly sat upright trying to recover himself fully, whilst nursing what felt like a badly bruised shoulder.
That was not the first time Darcy had taken a bad fall, especially whilst racing about the countryside absent-mindedly. It was the first time, however, he had recovered from a fall whilst finding himself under attack—the blade of a sword aimed squarely at his heart.
If not for the craftsmanship, or rather lack thereof, of his attacker’s weapon, Darcy might have been in some danger. As it was, the weathered and splintered blade would have better served as kindling. From his seated position, Darcy looked his attacker straight in his eyes. He did not even flinch, as the aggressor leaned in nearer.
“Identify yourself, stranger!”
“I beg your pardon?” Darcy replied in righteous indignation.
“I demand that you identify yourself!”
“I am in no mood for games,” said Darcy. “As you see plainly, I am quite indisposed. Step aside.” Darcy braced himself to stand.
“Halt, I say!”
“What is your name? I take it you live amongst the tenants.”
“You, stranger, are mistaken! I am Sir Lancelot du lac. I am merely passing through these lands on my way to Camelot.”
“Sir Lancelot, you say.” What an eager imagination this child possesses. I might as well play along, especially if it means quickly sending him on his way. “Then, surely you forget yourself, young sir. Do you not recognise me? I am King Arthur!”
The child swiftly adopted a deferential demeanour. He lowered his sword and knelt beside it. “A thousand pardons your majesty. I did not expect to find you in these parts.” The child bowed his head in supplication. “I am yours to command.”
“There is no need for all that. Now, if you will pardon me, I must be on my way.” Darcy stood and brushed off his clothes. He spotted his horse twenty yards or so up the lane. Deciding not to signal his horse to his side for fear of startling the child, Darcy started gingerly walking in its direction.
“Where are you going, my King? I have waited long for this moment. There is much to discuss if we are to mount a proper defence against the evil Meleagant.”
“Perhaps you had better run along, child. Your family might soon wonder of your whereabouts.”
“I am on an important mission in defence of my family’s honour.”
“Indeed—why, pray tell, has such a task befallen you? Who is your father?”
“My father is no longer of this world. He was slain by his enemy. Whilst my mother tended to him, I was stolen away by the Lady of the Lake. She carried me off to live with her in her Kingdom. Now that I am all grown up,” the child straightened himself to his full height, “and have learnt of my heritage, I intend to right the wrongs against my family and restore our legacy.”
Darcy stopped in his tracks as he listened to the lad spin his tale. This child is well-versed in the Arthurian legend. Perhaps he is not the son of a tenant after all, but rather he is from a neighbouring estate. “Is it true that you have lost your father, young man?”
The little boy said nothing, instead casting his eyes to the ground as a sign of affirmation.
Darcy continued, “You have my deepest sympathy. I, too, have suffered the loss of my father. What of your mother?”
“The Lady of the Lake?” the child responded in kind.
“Is she your mother, young man?”
Here, the lad paused, as if weighing his next response. Finally, he conceded. “She is no longer my mother. I now belong to my true mother.”
There is justice in that. Even as I doubt a single word he says, I would hate to think of him as an orphan. “I am glad to hear it. Now, run along.” Darcy resumed his long strides. By the time he had closed more than half the distance to his horse, he looked back to see the young child still standing there.
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