For my final WeSeWriMo post, we interrupt our normal programming to bring you a glimpse into the early life of one of The UCF Stories' favourite characters, Master Botchett the Gnome. I haven't numbered this as a true instalment of The UCF Stories, though it unofficially forms Episode 20. If you'd like to read The UCF Stories from the beginning, please go here.
As you can see from the WeSeWriMo Progress Meter in my blog's sidebar, with the publication of this post I have achieved the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the month. Yay me! *Ahem.*
Young Botchett sat on the river bank, when round the bend came a knight in full armour, splashing through the shallows. Botchett sighed, the fellow was sure to scare away all the fish, and he'd promised his mother something nice for tea.
'We's thew?' asked Botchett.
'Pardon?' said the knight.
Botchett sighed, 'Who. Are. You. Sir knight?'
'I am Sir John Lambton. My castle is over yonder.'
'Castle?!' Botchett raised an eyebrow. 'Divent kid a kidder, bonny lad, I've seen it.'
Sir John looked crushed. 'Alright, manor house then.'
'That's more like it,' Botchett continued. 'And what brings you down to the river with all them spear heads on your armour, like? You look like a hedgehog.'
'The witch told me to do it.'
'Who? Old Mother Blackett?'
'Yes, that's her.'
'You want to watch her, like.'
'Whatever for? She told me I should cover my armour in spear points and fight the wyrm in the river if I were to kill it.'
Botchett couldn't help his excitement. 'A wyrm, bonny lad? Not the one that's coiled himself round Lambton Hill, over yonder, like?' Botchett pointed.
'Yes, that's the beast. How did you know?'
Botchett tapped the side of his nose. 'You'd be surprised what I know about witches and wyrms, like. My Lord.'
Sir John studied Botchett intently for a few moments. 'And who, pray, are you, good sir, to be speaking to a knight in such a fashion? You don't look like one of my tenants.'
'Ah, well...' Botchett began.
'And what are you doing with that fishing rod? Don't you know I own the fishing rights on this stretch of the river? Not poaching, are you?'
'Now hang on a minute.' Botchett was indignant. 'One question at a time, bonny lad. First, my name is Botchett, a Gnome of these parts. Second,' Botchett looked ruefully at his fishing rod, 'Aye, it is a bit of a cliché I know, like, but I promised my Mam a little fishy on a little dishy when I got home, not that there's much chance of that with you plodging about like you are, bonny lad.'
'Oh,' said Sir John.
Botchett continued before the question of poaching was raised again, 'Anyway, Old Mother Blackett. I bet there was conditions?'
'Yes,' Sir John uncertainly, 'How did you know?'
'Always is with Old Mother Blackett, like.'
'Oh,' said Sir John, again.
'And what are they?'
Sir John hesitated. The fact he was conversing with a Gnome on a riverbank was beginning to sink in. 'She said I'd be sure to be victorious with my armour so adorned,' Sir John indicated the spear points again, 'And once I've killed the wyrm, she said I've to slay the first living thing I see, lest my family be cursed for nine generations.'
'That sounds about right.' Botchett rubbed his chin.
'So my father is going to tether a hound outside our gate,' continued Sir John, warming to his story, 'And I'll slay it on my way home. That ought to take care of the conditions.'
'There is another way.' Botchett looked mysterious.
It was Sir John's turn to raise an eyebrow.
'What if you were to catch the wyrm, not kill it? The bargain is for you to kill the wyrm. If you take it alive, the conditions don't come into it, eh bonny lad?'
Sir John thought for a moment. 'You know, Master Gnome, you may just have something there. But how could such a thing be done?'
'Aha,' chuckled Botchett, 'I might just be able to help you there, bonny lad.'
Botchett and Sir John's discussions lasted long into the night, and both were feeling anything but rested when they returned to the riverbank before dawn. Botchett rigged a large net and some strange apparatus while Sir John kept a close eye on the path to Lambton Hill, from whence the wyrm would come down to the river to drink every morning. Botchett had read the instructions and was sure he knew what he was doing.
The early morning sun was attempting to burn off the mist from the river when Sir John heard slithering approaching from the direction of Lambton Hill.
'It's coming,' hissed Sir John, wading out to a sandbank in the middle of the river.
Botchett rolled his eyes as Sir John splashed and clanked through the water. Unless the wyrm was stone deaf it must surely know someone was waiting for it. So much for the element of surprise. Botchett threw himself flat behind the iron-bound wooden box he'd borrowed from his father, adjusting the drinking horn that stuck out of the top of it from his prone position.
As Botchett remembered things later, none of what followed was his fault. Perhaps the net snagged on a branch, or maybe the wyrm moved faster than he expected, either way it barrelled straight through the trap and into the river once it caught sight of Sir John. The knight had only time to cast a withering look in Botchett's direction before the beast was upon him, and Botchett watched from the riverbank as the fight became more and more vicious.
At one point, Botchett was sure Sir John was done for as the wyrm coiled itself around him, though in so doing it impaled itself on the spear points attached to Sir John's armour and reared up, bellowing in agony as the sharp points dug deep into its flesh. Seizing his opportunity, Sir John lunged and buried his sword blade deep into the beast's brain. The wyrm fell lifeless at his feet.
Sir John waded ashore, muttering something about hanging every Gnome he could get his hands on, and marched purposefully off in the direction of the manor house. Botchett felt obliged to follow at a safe distance, hoping the knight would calm down enough for him to explain.
Nearing the gate of the manor house, Botchett's blood ran cold as there, instead of a hound, stood Sir John's father, wringing his hands. Sir John paused, advanced, raised his sword, paused again, then collapsed to his knees at his father's feet.
'Father,' Sir John wailed, 'Where is the hound?'
His father opened his mouth to speak, paused, then closed it again. Tears ran down the old man's cheeks.
'I cannot kill you, Father,' continued Sir John.
'Then we are cursed, my son.'
'Shit,' muttered Botchett and ran home to start packing.
Author's note: Surprisingly, Botchett's part in the slaying of the Lambton Worm does not appear in the “authorised” versions of events, nor in C.M. Leumane's 1867 folk song of the same name, but we know better, don't we?
For more information on the legend of the Lambton Worm, there is a good article on Wikipedia here, and if you'd like to hear the song, sung more-or-less in the Mother Tongue, I have great pleasure in presenting Mr. Tony Wilson, Storyteller, Writer and Musician of these 'ere parts with his rendition of the song of the Lambton Worm: