His armour pinched again. The knight noticed the pain more often now. He did not remember his tender vulnerable parts being jammed by the inflexible metal hinges, as so often happened now.
The armour also clanked. This disturbed his silences. The silences through which he heard the voice of poets, and sometimes the sound of music. In the depth of these silences he imagined a gentle lamp-lit life. A life of whispered conversations, laughter, and peace. The knight was enchanted by the visions that came to him then. His armour pinched and clanked and held him captive, destroying these romantic reveries.
To keep warm and to remind himself of his power, he knew that he must not go unprotected, must never reveal his vulnerability. The old queen who had been his mother had told him many times that a knight without armour lost all influence. How were his people to recognise courage, strength and wisdom if not from polished engraved crests? How could one blind an army to one’s simple human failings if not with the gleam of sun-bright metal shields?
The knight had served his days of battle well. He had observed the rituals, had never cringed from butchery. He had subdued his rivals, and now sought his rewards. He sought warmth in the memory of the old queen’s words that since his father’s death, in dangerous times, he must go armour-clad for safety in a treacherous world.
The castle walls were made of huge stone blocks and were many meters thick. In living memory these walls had kept out all intruders. The boldest bandits did not challenge the knight’s power. Marauders kept well away from this strong fortress and the people of the forest and of all the villages around lived in peace and security.
The knight feared no man and lived alone in his castle. He feared only the cold. When winter came with frost and snow, cruel winds blew into the cracks of the castle walls. The protective stones were cold and glistened with the frozen moisture in the winter air.
For long years the knight lived thus. He ordered huge fires to keep out the cold and resigned himself to the pinch and clank of his armour at all times. He was aware that his vision was restricted by his visor which allowed him to see only straight ahead. Fleetingly he had a sense of shadows playing just beyond the reach of his straight vision. This limitation was a small price to pay for the safety it provided.
Occasionally the knight imagined that he would move with more freedom and grace without his armour. Sometimes he thought he would hear the sound of birds, or music or even gentle summer winds more clearly without the restriction and rattle of his metal joints. None of these vague suspicions was powerful enough to suggest to him that he might set himself free.
In the forest surrounding the castle, deep within the winter snows, lived a million frost fairies. This was an ideal habitat. In the long winters the frost fairy families gleamed and glistened across the tops of all the snow drifts. They slid and bounced from tree-tops to the ground.
They tunneled into snow burrows where they built magical mirrored meeting halls. Here the fairies sang and danced. Here they held long concerts entertaining each other with music and poetry. Here they duelled with long thin icicles for the hands of fairy ladies. They moved without restriction between the stars and the earth and because frost was their element they never feared the cold.
Among the fairies lived a princess who had often heard about the knight. This princess was adventurous and curious. She longed to know more of the outside world; that world that existed beyond the realms of ice and snow. She decided to go out and seek knowledge of the other world.
From the tops of snow clad trees she watched the castle. At that great distance there was very little to be learnt. Some days she played closer to the castle hoping to glimpse life inside. She learnt to climb the glacial walls and often sat on the window ledges watching for the knight. She yearned to learn about his fame and power.
The frost fairy observed the knight as he sat beside his fires while flame reflections danced on his gleaming metal suit. No matter how hard she pressed against the windows, distance prevented her from learning all she desired to know.
One sunny day a careless maid left the back door ajar. The frost fairy quickly slipped inside. She had no trouble finding her way. She skipped along the icy corridors and drifted on the drafts that blew under doors and through the cracks in ancient walls. At last she came to the small room where the knight was sitting.
The frost fairy sat at the feet of the knight and observed. As closely as she looked she could see nothing to explain his power or fame. To her surprise she saw only her own refection in the shining metal surface of his shins. At last the knight creaked and moved and changed his head position slightly so that a little crack revealed itself around his neck. Through this the frost fairy crept into his armour. This closeness must surely reveal his secrets.
She climbed along the jawbone into the knight’s ear. There she lay very still, curled into these crevasses she knew that she would hear the secret sounds of knighthood. She would hear the battle cries, the bold commands, the galloping of hoofs, the steady beat of armies on the march.
As carefully as she listened these sounds came only as the faintest echoes from the past. The fairy felt unsettled, even somewhat afraid, the sounds were not at all what she had expected. Drowning the faint echoes of her expectation she heard music from a flute, the sound of gentle breezes as it sighed between trees. She heard the hum of bees. There was singing and the sound of violins.
The frost fairy sighed with disappointment. These sounds would not lead her to understand anything about power and fame.
Perhaps she needed to know more about what a knight would say. Now she crept down clinging to the slipper slope of his lip. Close by the knight’s mouth she hoped to hear his loud commands and to feel the roar of his great rage as he galloped into battles of the past. However long she listened she heard only gentle words. Occasionally a chuckle and the whispered rhyme of poems, snatches of a song crept out, but not one single battle cry.
Now the Frost fairy was confused. Fear tingles rippled through her as she realised the strangeness of the vast new world she’d entered. Yet she had courage and was determined to explore the source of power and fame. At last she decided to creep down and lie against the knight’s heart to feel his feelings and to understand his thoughts.
Curled against his chest the frost fairy fell asleep and slowly melted. Being melted she soaked into the knight’s skin and sank into his warm red heart. There she found there was no knight at all.
Deep in his heart there was a poet. A poet who dreamt of peace and romance, who loved sunsets and flowers. A poet who longed to dance and smile among his friends.
The frost fairy loved courage and adventure, she longed for the great unlimited universe, she sought romance, chivalry and challenge and so she lay inside the poet’s heart. Staying safe and warm and happy ever after.
The knight began to notice that he no longer felt the cold. He did not need so many fires to keep him warm. His heart now radiated warmth. Soon he began to loosen the stiff clips and nuts that had held him together for so long. He began to move with a new grace.
Gradually the knight lay parts of his protective shell aside till it was strewn about the castle. Soon there was no armour left at all; the remnants were shiny links of chain, small polished disks, bright engraved metal pieces which had become jewellery for ornamentation. Glittering reminders of a time long past when armour was a necessary defence.
At midnight preceding the first day of spring the poet stood at the window of his study. He saw the frost fairies dancing through moon-shadowed snow beneath the stars. He marvelled at the beauty of the world beyond his fortress. The next day he went out …