KNIGHT, DEATH, AND THE DEVIL
Once a knight, Death, and the Devil approached the edge of a Dürer engraving. Without looking at his companions, the knight asked, “What do we do now?” “What do you mean ‘we’?” Death responded. “I keep going. Got appointments to keep, don’t you know.” “Same here,” the Devil added, raising his leg to break wind. “Did you have to do that again?” the knight said wearily. “Just lightenin’ the load,” the Devil chuckled, then pointed up through the weathered trees and added, “in case I ever get an invite to that fine city up there on the mountaintop.” “Not likely,” sneered Death. “Speak fer yerself! Fat chance you making it up there ahead a’ me, Ol’ Bag-a-bones. Ha! Get it—‘Ol’ Bag-a-bones’? Okay, yer turn now. Gimme yer best shot.” How had he ended up with this pair of clowns, the knight wondered? They certainly weren’t what he would have chosen as companions for this journey through the dark wood, carrying on with their inane chatter as if anything more serious was a trial for their wits. But why should it be? Who else might the knight have assumed would have something of note to say about matters that counted than Death and the Devil? Instead they’d merely seemed bored by each of the knight’s attempts to ignore them or to raise the level of conversation every now and then: making it obvious they’d heard it all before and took no interest in the fact that life’s questions and answers came to each person in a different way. “Rubbish. It’s all the same,” Death had scoffed, shaking his hourglass at the knight the first time he’d expressed his disappointment. “You’re pushed into this world bawling, you whine your way through a few decades, and then time runs out on you in mid-snivel.” “Yeah. An’ whatya get up to in the meantime ain’t great shakes neither,” the Devil added. “People need a few new routines, if ya ask me.” With this being about the level of every exchange, the knight had eventually given up and fallen silent, which only moved his two companions to more raucous bantering and broader pratfalls in an attempt to reclaim his attention. Even the knight’s faithful dog had tired of barking at their antics and now focused all its attention on the trail. That dog and the knight’s trusted stead would probably have had more of note to say about life than Death and the Devil if they could speak. About all the challenges life posed, the trials it set, the sacrifices and disappointments and wounds it brought, the good intentions it ignored, the hopeful expectations it postponed or dashed. And all that it took to carry on when doing so looked like madness: how much courage was demanded not to retire from the field when everything seemed lost. “So, this is it, what?” Death broke in on the knight’s thoughts. “I imagine you’ll still be stuck at this spot when I pass this way again. Let’s not make it ‘Godspeed,’ then, but ‘Auf Wiedersehen!’” To which the Devil added, “I’m outta here, too, spud. Can’t say it’s been a pleasure, but I’ve known worse. Now don’t do anything I wouldn’t do . . .har, har . . . get it?” Death tucked his serpents back under a tacky crown and lifting the hourglass on high, jerked at the reins of his spavined nag while commanding pompously, “Onward!” The Devil broke wind a final time, smacked himself loudly on the rump, and followed after. Good riddance, the knight thought to himself. What charlatans. At least now he’d be alone with his own fortitude and skill for company. But the knight soon discovered that without his boorish companions, there really was no pressing beyond the edge of the engraving. Spur his horse as he might, call to his dog as he might, no exit from the world he, Death and the Devil had shared awhile presented itself. Was the self-confident prowess he’d staked his life on pointless in the absence of evil and Death? Had they known he wouldn’t be able to get on now without them? It pained the knight to admit, but maybe they had him. Courage in the face of anything short of evil or Death hadn’t seemed worth staking your life on if that life was to have a purpose equal to the challenge. Yet the knight’s companions had proved themselves not to merit even throwing a stone at, let alone wasting his strength to prove his mettle. Weren’t there more noble challenges to seek out? Real challenges to a purposeful life rather than this tiresome duo constantly resorting to bluster or deceit to make themselves appear more imposing than they had any claim to be? Life must still hold tests not cheapened by Death and the Devil’s humbug, the knight had to believe—true measures of one’s dauntless resolve, out beyond the limits of this dark wood somewhere.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans