Imagination run riot.

Dudley's eyes were glued to the TV. The close observer would have noticed they were getting wider all the time. What no one could see was what was going on inside him. His insides were being repeatedly churned over as the short story unfolded before him. Yet, this was no horror story, Dudley was watching. It was a meagre item about preparations for a ceremony to take place the very next day in his home town at which Jonathan White was to be granted the keys to the city. Dudley had absolutely no idea who Jonathan White was, but he knew all about the key giving ceremony. Miss Walsh had told them all about it in school that morning. Dudley loved history. He loved stories of far away places and far away times and his lively imagination had no trouble in transposing these stories to his own place and time. He could imagine himself riding around the streets of Welwyn on his strong black steed, his polished armour glinting in the sunshine and striking fear into the hearts of all who wished badly on the city. New York may have had Clark Kent and Batman, but Welwyn had Dudley Kimball to protect it.

A theatre group were touring around various schools in their county, performing a play based on a famous siege of a town in France. Miss Walsh explained all about sieges and what happened during them. And Dudley had listened particularly carefully. Sieges were usually awful times as supplies failed to come through and whole families were destined to die a slow and terrible death because they had nothing left to eat. Unless help came from outside in a bid to oust the besiegers, the usual outcome was surrender, but some considered dishonour far worse than starvation and refused to give in. For those who did surrender, a ceremony was arranged during which the gates to the city were opened and the defeated citizens humbled themselves before their conquerors, handing them the keys to the city gates as a token of their submission.

That afternoon, after finishing his homework, Dudley once again visited the grounds of the now ruined castle which stood at the edge of the city. This was one of his favourite haunts and he often tried imagining how the citizens of Welwyn used to live in days gone by. Today, he sat on on the floor and imagined the hefty meeting taking place all around him. Speaker after speaker urged their fellow citizens to resistance. The invading army was not a strong one, they could be resisted for a time, time enough to get word to their allies and enable the siege to be lifted. But who would go? Who would be willing, if necessary, to sacrifice their life for their city.

A deathly silence fell over the assembly. No one came forward. Everyone knew the chances of getting through the enemy lines were, at best, one in two. It had to be done, but no one wanted to do it. It would be best to send a small boy because whoever went would have to leave the fortress by the water conduct. Every mother's heart stood still, hoping and praying that their son would not be sent.

Then a small, high-pitched little voice spoke up. “I'll go.” All heads turned to see Dudley racing to the front of their assembly still shouting, “I'll go, I'll do it. I'll be the one to save our city. Just tell me what I have to do.”

A few hours later some grim-faced meant let Dudley down into the well on a bucket. The moment he came to the passage, he gave the signal and started crawling along the narrow conduct until eventually he saw a speck of daylight up front. Dudley knew from the men that this would be the most dangerous part of his mission. The invaders may well have discovered the exit of the conduct and would certainly be expecting someone to appear in its mouth. Dudley looked around carefully. He was now only a few feet below earth and up above he could imagine the feet of the detested enemy soldiers pounding the earth of their beloved fields. He looked around and found another gap between the rocks. From here he was able to climb to a little alcove from which he could discern another speck of daylight far to the right.

The men had been right. There were other exits to this passage. In no time Dudley was crawling on his hands and knees through the rocks and out into freedom. Carefully, he observed the terrain around him. No soldiers to be seen. He climbed up a hill and hid behind some rocks. His vantage point afforded him a good view of the surrounding terrain, and he was quick to see that the exit to the conduct had indeed been safely guarded. His greatest wish now would have been to show himself to his enemies and taunt them with their inability to let him get out. But that would hardly be the expedient thing to do right now. Instead, he took to his feet and sailed across the fields on his way to the next settlement.

Dudley's news was greeted with excitement and resentment. Word was being sent to the surrounding settlements and soon an angry horde was on its way to relieve the siege at Welwyn, a glorious looking Dudley at their head. The battle was short and sweet and Dudley and his troops were greeted with honour by the citizens of the now liberated fortress. A great banquet was held and there was singing and dancing all round. At the end of the banquet Dudley was asked to state his one wish and the veil of his beloved Miss Walsh was laid at this feet when...

“Dudley, Dudley! Mother said if you don't come home at once, there'll be no dinner for you.”

Why did Kitty always interrupt him just as he was to receive his ultimate accolade. “Bother her!”

But Dudley loved Kitty really, just as he loved the whole of his family. So he raced home, putting off his wedding to Miss Walsh for another day and another adventure.

It was that evening that he saw the news item about Jonathan White on the news. It worried him immensely. Here was this enemy villain coming to claim their city, and the authorities could only bow down to him and surrender. No talk about resisting, no meeting to find that hero who could save them all from the ignominy of surrender. They were just letting this dastardly being take over their city. True, Dudley hadn't seen any other troops come with him, but doubtless they were there somewhere hidden away and ready to pounce and slay them all. His mam, his dad, Kitty, Miss Walsh, all his friends and neighbours. No Dudley couldn't just sit there and let them have their way without putting up a fight. He would slip out of the village and persuade the inhabitants of the neighbouring towns to come to their rescue. He'd wait until it was dark and set off on his deed. He went up to his room and sneaked his dad's atlas with him. Here he spent several minutes, pouring over the roads leading to the nearest towns and villages. He tried to memorise the routes and the direction he would have to take. Of course, he wouldn't take the roads, he was that stupid. He knew full well that the White Knight's forces would be lining the roads, waiting for anyone who tried to get out in advance of their attack upon the city the next day. And he knew they would be ruthless with him, if they caught him.

He went to bed with his clothes on and pretended to be asleep. He heard his mum and dad come up the stairs, open his door and wish him a good night. Will I ever see them again after tonight, he wondered. And Kitty. The though of Kitty gave him the courage he needed. He waited until he was sure his parents were asleep and descended the stairway. The key to the back door was in the lock as usual and he silently turned it and slipped into their back yard. Before long he was racing down the alleyway and out into the street leading to the playing fields and the river beyond. He was in luck, the bridge was not guarded. He raced across and set off on his mission to save the world.

It was about 2.15 that morning when a startled Sergeant Tomkins was accosted by a young boy whose head scarcely reached over the top of the reception counter Newtown police station. The boy was extremely excitable and muttering something about “grave danger to all”. Sergeant Tomkins sat him down in his office and fetched him a cup of warm milk. The poor lad was shivering al over. It took almost two hours for Sergeant Tomkins to figure out the whole story. At first, Dudley had thought this was all a waste of time. It wasn't until the Sergeant had assured him that reinforcements were at hand and would be sent to Welwyn that he started to tell his tale. After all, the new troops would have to know exactly where to go. The sergeant couldn't help but smiling at Dudley's story. He was an adventurous little boy, much the same as he'd been once, out to save single-handedly all he knew. The one problem was that he'd got hold of the wrong end of the stick.

Sergeant Tomkins sat down beside Dudley and poured him out his third cup of warm milk. The shivering was beginning to subside and Tomkins was beginning to suspect that the cold hadn't been its only cause.

“Dudley, you're a hero, a true hero. But you see, times have changed. Today, we no longer hand over the keys of the town to our enemies but to our friends. We do it as a sign of our honour and respect. Jonathan White isn't an enemy spy. In fact, he's one of Welwyn's greatest citizens. He went to school at the local comprehensive and was the first ever pupil to win a place at one of the country's greatest universities; He went on to shine at his studies and soon became one of our country's leading medical researchers. He's discovered cures for several serious illnesses and last week he was awarded the Nobel prize for medicine, the greatest honour any doctor could wish for. He's coming home to Welwyn because he's to be married tomorrow. And the town authorities want to honour him in their own way by giving him the keys to the city.”

Dudley found it hard to take this all in. If the truth were told, he was fighting another battle, not against enemies but against a welcome sleep. Sergeant Tomkins carried him into his inspector's office and laid him on the sofa. The next day when he woke up, he gave Dudley the important news. His parents had been contacted before they realised Dudley had gone missing. They knew he was safe. But something far more important had happened. Welwyn's Mayor had heard all about Dudley's adventure and had been so touched by his willingness to sacrifice his life for the town that he'd given Dudley a front row place on the podium at that morning's ceremony. He would be seated right next to Jonathan White.

Dudley sat on the podium and look down at the cheering crowds. He knew full well that they weren't cheering for him, but one day they would. Oh, he probably wouldn't go to war to save them, but there would be other ways to serve his people. He certainly wouldn't be a doctor, he hated science and biology and all that stuff. He would have to become an explorer or something of that sort. As he looked up, he say Miss Walsh in the front row smiling and waving to him. Then, he sat wide-eyed as she was let through and arms wide raced up the podium steps to the cheering cries of those present, before throwing her arms around her fiancé. The next day she would become Mrs. Jonathan White.

1 comments:

I hung on every word. I could just picture my eldest doing just that. Very interesting perspective from a child's point of view.

17 November 2007 at 17:58  

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