“Lance for hire! Lance for hire!” The man in the burnished armour rode toward the marketplace, proclaiming his availability. The villagers gathered eagerly. The children were especially excited by the diversion. They clamoured to see the stranger and watched with mounting anticipation as the knight dismounted and took up position at the well that marked the centre of the settlement’s only thoroughfare.
He lifted his visor and peered at the faces of the crowd.
“Has no man here employment for me?” he looked from villager to villager. “No daughter in need of rescue? No wrongdoing in need of vengeance?”
The villagers could not meet his eye. They were embarrassed and suddenly their shoes were more interesting.
At last, the reeve stepped forward and cleared his throat. “Actually, there is something,” he said.
“Oh?” said the knight. “Go on.”
“For many moons,” the reeve continued, despite the warning glances of his neighbours, “we have been plagued by a vicious beast. It preys on us; there is not a family here that has not suffered some loss.”
“What manner of beast?” said the knight. “The slaying of beasts in my specialty.”
“Ah, that is the question,” sighed the reeve. “For no one has ever seen it. No one who has survived the sight of it, that is.”
The knight stroked his chin. “Is there aught else you can tell me? At what hour does this beast strike? In what manner does it kill its victims?”
The reeve shook his head and looked sad. “Again, I have no information. There seems to be no pattern to its attacks. It takes the young as well as the old. The women as well as the men. The hale as well as the ailing. There is no warning. It comes to all.”
The knight frowned. “You speak in riddles, friend. You speak of Time.”
The reeve’s eyebrows leapt upward. “Time does indeed take everyone in the end.”
“And you would like me to stop Time for you? Is that my charge?”
The villagers looked at the knight with renewed hope shining in their eyes.
“Will you?” said one child.
“Can you?” said another.
The knight’s gauntleted hand tousled the first child’s hair.
“There is only one way to deal with Time,” he said. “You cannot stop it. You cannot kill it. All you can do is fill it with as much life as you can muster. Spend Time fully, until it runs out. And when it runs out for you, as it surely must do, you may even welcome it. And you may go to your rest satisfied in the knowledge that you made the most of the Time that was given to you.”
The villagers mulled it over. The knight had a point; they hadn’t looked at the matter that way before.
“So you will not help us, Sir Knight?” said the reeve.
“There is no help I can give.”
The knight got back on his horse and rode out of the village. The inhabitants went back to their business.
Half a league on, a fearsome dragon sprang in front of the horse, causing it to rear up with a scream and unseat the knight.
“How do you do?” said the dragon, licking its lips. “My name is Time.”