We first noticed something was off when my roommate asked if it was weird to want fish for breakfast. Soon after, he systematically removed the word “beer” from his vocabulary, favouring in its stead, “ale.” We watched The Fisher King one night and he asked, repeatedly, “Why do they accost this knight so?” My other roommate and I looked and each other and laughed, thinking it was a punchline.
His verbiage became somewhat alarming the next day, when, upon the three of us entering his car, he started the car, and said of its rumbling engine, “Ah yes—listen to her whinny.” At the bar, he asked the waitress in this truly awful accent if “sixpence” would cover “an ale and then anotha,” and she looked at him with confusion and concern. He laughed, which relieved my other roommate and I, but he didn’t stop hazarding the same stupid accent, later using it to ask what the “choicest portions of veal and venison” were tonight.
At home, there was a stretch of tense normality. Was he describing the plot of Gladiator almost daily? Did I see him watching that movie trying to imitate Crowe’s combat choreography wearing an old football helmet and using a broom as a sword? Okay, yes. But at least he had cut out the accent and wasn’t referring to actresses as “maidens” and stopped with the horse/car conflations. He seemed weird, sure, but almost normal, as though he was playing an elaborate practical joke on us.
Soon, though, that theory seemed thin. The accent came back. Again, his car became his steed. He announced at breakfast one day that he would now be known by his knight name: Noseworthy—an especially odd choice given that no one in his family, immediate or otherwise, had that name. My other roommate and I nervously laughed and said, “OK, knight Noseworthy,” our tone tenuously testing the joke. But he just closed his eyes as he chewed and smiled warmly. “Aye, aye—that rings true, does it not? Aye.”
We really should have known something was wrong when he returned home one day wearing a solid steel medieval helmet with a pointy beak and only a tiny horizontal slit to see through, but our embarrassed confusion told us it was still just an absurd practical joke. “Good morrow!” knight Noseworthy said, his covered eyes alight.
Things escalated. The helmet became a permanent piece. Before he entered the room, my other roommate and I could hear it, the way it tinkled and clanged around his head. “Hark!” he would say upon entrance, the words barely more than guttural sounds by the time they passed through the helmet. “OK,” we would say back.
“Haha, startled ye,” he would say.
By this point, we suspected serious delusion, but confrontation was tricky, because communication became all but impossible. The last thing we could understand from him came on a Tuesday after an eccentric neighbour had brought our empty trash bin back to our yard, and our roommate said, “Hastow scenest the cherl? He’s pillaged our refuse cart. To the lystes with he, I seye. A sacking might quyken his wit.”
“What?” we said.
By Wednesday that week, he was training in the backyard, employing the Crowe combat he had so studiously practiced. After a hard day of broom-sword training, he hopped into his car, and, leaning toward the dash, squinting through his helmet, turned the corner and drove away. In the evening, he came back, barging through the door. We were astonished to see him wearing a full set of solid metal armor. Over his shoulder was a long, thick sword and in his hand was a bag. He announced his entry—“hark!” probably—but through the helmet and tinkly percussion of his suit, it was garbled. He walked into the kitchen, his steps thunderous and labouring, and, from the bag, he ripped a six-pack of monks’ ale and a dead pike, laughing and cooing, I presumed, at what a lovely breakfast the two would make.
From that point on, we left him alone. My other roommate and I wanted to evict him, but the sword proved a pungent counterpoint, especially now that we couldn’t talk to him. For his part, he stayed mostly out of our way, too. In the backyard, in his full suit of armour and his greatsword, he trained, slowly twirling and then slashing at a poor, wobbling tree.
Today, as I understand it, is the day my neighbour will be getting his sacking. My roommate the knight is currently standing in front of his door in his full suit of armor, with a breakfast of three ales and fish in his belly and a presumably unquenchable desire to sack the ever-loving shit out our neighbour. He’s standing there, banging on our neighbour’s door with the heel of his greatsword, loudly grunting and yelling things I can’t understand.
Through the living room window, I see the door opening and our neighbour, who I’ve never seen before, standing there. He’s wearing a raggedy, colourful tunic, has a complex black and red beanie on, and is holding a short sword with some word emblazoned on it. The man, taking in the greatsword that’s extended toward him, wants to know one thing: “Knight, why do you accost me so?”
My roommate the knight stands upright, lifts his pointy beak shield, and seems to look at my neighbour in a new light. I wonder if something in him has unlocked, or reset. But then, just as quickly, he lowers his shield, raises up his sword, and delivers a tremendous bonk to my neighbour’s head, at which point the two commence sacking the ever-living shit out of each other.
Soon I’ll go lock my front door. But for now, I think I’ll just stand here and watch.
Josiah Nelson is an MFA in Writing student and sessional lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan. His work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in San Antonio Review, Vast Chasm Magazine, Arboreal Literary Magazine, the Culture Crush, spring magazine, and the Rumpus. His story "Hair, Teeth" placed third in Fractured Lit's 2021 Monsters, Mystery, and Mayhem contest. He lives in Saskatoon. Follow on Twitter @josiahhnelson
EDITOR'S SONG PAIRING
FIST FIGHT by CRIMEKILLZ