The knight’s path to the castle on the rock spire was long, twisted like the branches of dead trees that hung over the road supporting a gray and swollen belly of sky. His lance fought to drag in the ground, the heavy plate about his shoulders and hips grew heavier by the mile, his horse would collapse at any moment, he was sure. He might never reach the castle that he could see in a distance that seemed to grow with every step and had dropped his clarity of purpose by the side of the road like ash knocked from his pipe. He no longer felt sure of what he would do when he reached the castle, but it seemed to happen between blinks that he found himself at the base of the spire and a narrow trail. He dismounted and dropped his lance, patting his horse on the neck and started up without bothering to hitch the animal to anything. He walked against the height and the weight of his armor, against his sword that banged into his legs, the stupid weight of his armored greaves and boots.
The door of the castle was tall and made of scarred wood. A declaration that John loves Stacy existed forever on the door in the center of a carved heart next to the dents from the battering rams of barbarians, black streaks where fire had tried and failed to consume it.
The knight laid a hand against the door and it swung open. There would be a dragon or a demon, a beast in the basement on a horde of gold and a maiden in the highest tower. That was why he had come, wasn’t it? He could not remember anymore.
The castle’s hall was empty and silent. Sand gritted under his steps and piles of it sat in the corners of the room. In one pile was a pail and shovel, baby blue and child-sized. Shaking his head the knight walked past them and chose a corridor at random, and then a set of stairs. Days passed as he searched and he was not hungry, thirsty or tired. He found neither beast nor bounty, no smiling and grateful maiden.
Back in the main hall, he laid down his sword and sat against a pillar. There must be something, he thought, nowhere has nothing. He again noticed the pail and shovel and picked them up, scooping sand into it and then dumping it back onto the floor. He built small piles of sand, making hills and reconstructing from memory the land of his boyhood. Here was his father’s home and here was the hill from which you could look down on the whole province. There was the church spire which was taller than everything else. Consumed with his building, he removed his helmet so that he might see better and his armored gauntlets so that he might carve the suggestions of windows with his fingernails. The skirt of mail and the plates hinged by his hips prevented him from sitting comfortably so he removed them too, followed by his cuirass and backplate because they made it hard to balance. Soon he was without armor, his sword laying some feet away as he began to create worlds that he had never seen, built houses he would like to live in one day. Spreading the sand thin upon the ground he drew the face of a woman that he hoped would love him even though he didn’t know her name.
Time had no meaning absorbed as he was, but it passed and a day arrived when he looked up and saw something outside of the window. Getting to his feet he left his armor and sword where they lay, walking out of the tower in nothing but his rust-stained tunic and leather trousers. A sliver of daylight was visible between the doors as they closed behind him, a bright sliver of breeze and sunlight that carried a hint of spring.