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by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

The great King James was celebrating a jubilee, a milestone in his family rule. It was time to bestow glories and give a show of virility and strength. A week of feasting and proclamations. Evenings of merriment and fires ablaze. Interest began bubbling up from the masses as to a rumored runners competition.

An invitation spread like wildfire to all the villages and hamlets around the kingdom for the swiftest men to run the race. Before the month’s end banners were raised. Merchants surrounded the castle grounds. Visitors and pilgrims hoping for a look came to scrutinize at all who would run and those who would fail.

The prize to the champion: an evening to dine with Her Highness Princess Elizabeth.

There were two trials to race across the countryside. Each runner had to leave his mark in Duke Bellingham’s account book, then turn around and quickly return to the plaza before midday. This was mandated in order to be counted among the finalists.

The first group were soldiers and adventurers and mighty men who knew the value of being seen in royal company. Their bulk was of no advantage when sprinting to and fro. Time and agility got the best of them. Of all the runners only the tallest and the youngest came back before the midday meal time.

The second group was filled with villagers and late arrivals, some of whom were not known by sight or reputation. Many who knew about the road to the Duke’s gate were light on their feet, and had been accustomed to walking a three mile stretch. It was this return run that did them in, also. So many breaths, so little time.

One young man was faster than the others in this second trial: Milam of Goodrich, the ironworker’s son. His teenaged years were spent distributing his father’s blacksmithy wears in all directions. With ruddy looks he stood out as a dashing young fellow.

The next day brought pomp and jousting, clowns and performances of balance and accuracy. It was just after the midday meal as Duke Bellingham himself announced the final foot race. The group of men declared winners were presented to the King. There was a surprise late contestant. The valiant Príncipe Aumento of Northern Spain was also introduced into final race. This news delighted the ladies in waiting, but not Princess Elizabeth.

“These competitors are taller and younger and more regal than I,” Milam told his father.

“Well, son, remember that Our Lord does not always choose the best for running a race. But, He did choose you. What are you going to do about it?”

“I shall give my all, father, and choose my steps carefully.”

“Aye, son. I am proud of you. No matter the finish.”

The final competitors assembled at the starting line.  The trumpets sounded. Feet stomped to a sprint in an unprecedented pace. Each runner who jolted at the start quickly began to fade behind the pack. By the time the group reached Duke Bellingham’s gate, there were only three runners left. Milam, the Spaniard, and Callas the Archer.

Callas counted aloud in French with military precision at each distance he set with every stride. Príncipe Aumento, every now and then, would sing out some phrase in his home language of Catalan. Milam did not want to seem as if he did not have a powerful growl for himself.

“Forging! ” he cried. Then he decided to pound ahead of the other two. When he took the lead, he cried out again, “Forging!” For a blacksmith, this was simply the process of hammering metal into shape.

The regal Spaniard misunderstood the cry for a boast. The Spaniard thought he heard Fuerte! “Surely he calls on God himself for victory.” The Spaniard fell back.

Callas confused Milam’s cry with a French word Former! Callas thought Milam was criticizing his training. He began to think it had been inadequate. He then fell back.

Soon Milam approached the final turn.  “Forging!” he yelled at the crowd who cheered and gasped as he crossed the finish line just as the Prince and the Archer came into view.

Accolades were given and praise was announced for Milam. Very soon the time came for his dinner with Princess Elizabeth. Príncipe Aumento was generous in his loss. He lent his wardrobe and shoes to Milam. And they spent a few hours, through an interpreter, in tutoring as young Milam received instruction on proper manners for just such an occasion.

“It is my great honor to greet you, Princess Elizabeth,” Milam said with a bow.

“I am charmed, Milam of Goodrich,” said the princess with a warm smile and curtsey.

“How did you manage to defeat the swift-footed Príncipe Aumento and the young Archer?” she insisted. “Are you a trickster or a magician?”

“Your Highness, I used my strength.  And, mm . . .”

“Do tell! ” laughed King James.

“Your Majesty, I sped up my pace in order to be followed. I then led the gentlemen across the groundhog field east of the castle gates. A treacherous walking route. This I have known since my youth,” Milam said, feeling better after confessing his secret.

“You have the worst path for walking, but choose the best path for winning. Splendid!” the King exclaimed,” no doubt you have cunning!”

“At your service, your Majesty,” said Milam as he bowed to the amused monarch.

“Shall we dine, then, Champion Milam?” suggested Princess Elizabeth.

“Princess, the pleasure is mine.”

Copyright © 1960-2016 Lawrence J. J. Leonard  All rights reserved

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