The city was alive with the King’s Festival when my companions and I arrived. Colorful banners were strung throughout the air. Music lifted spirits so high that my aching feet no longer felt sore. People of varying backgrounds crowded the streets. I can’t remember the last time we came to the city. My companions and I had been in the forest for what feels like forever, cleaning out the monsters that attack innocents on the road. When we heard about the King’s Festival, we thought it would be good to take a break from the nightly terrors and relax within the city’s safe walls.
My name is Naviro. I am a warrior who favors a sword. My companions are Aledon and Dionna. Aledon is a witch doctor. He favors dark magic and has quite the assortment of bones on his outfit. It’s his ram’s skull cane that he uses to cast all his magic. Normally, I wouldn’t be keeping company with a greedy man like him, but he owes me for keeping him out of prison and he can make good use of the remains of the monsters we slay. Dionna is a dragon fanatic. She tags along in the hopes that we’ll run into one someday. She knows all the rumors, all the facts, and all the theories about the great beasts, so I know she’ll be the expert someday. She doesn’t favor any weapon except her mean, right hook and she certainly has the big bones to back her up.
We pause just inside the gate. I usually don’t like coming into town. The people here are coarse, rude, and nobles are often down right arrogant. They see a woman dressed in armor like myself and they scoff. Out in the woods, people don’t care who’s coming as long as you’re coming to the rescue. Yet, I suppose it was the festival that sent all my begrudging’s away. The streets smelled like ale, sweets, and the mingles of people from all over the kingdom. There was a lightness in the air. Maybe this wasn’t a bad idea after all?
“So, where shall we start?” Dionna placed her hands on her hips. There was a twinkle in her eyes as she watched the crowds. “I say, we head to the tavern. I could use a good, right ale instead of that swill we get traded in the forest.”
“I’d prefer stopping by the apothecary’s and alchemist’s myself.” Aledon rested his hand on his cane. A thin smile curled his lips when he eyed the passing people. I couldn’t tell if he was eyeing the coin purses hangings from hips or the potential victims to test his new spells on. “And perhaps the lower market as well.”
“The lower market is off limits,” I cut him off sternly. “There’s nothing but thieves and poachers down there. I refuse to support something so dishonorable.” He rolled his eyes and nodded anyway.
“Well, up toward the castle is the library.” Dionna changed the subject. “I bet we could find some good readin’ to help us along. I could look for any new information on the dragons, Aledon, I’m sure they have a restricted section you could break into, and Naviro, you could check the knights’ records again.”
Aledon rolled his eyes again. “As if she needs to brush up on the Code of Chivalry. What was it again? Fear God. Serve in valor and faith. Protect the weak. Speak truth. Live by honor? Swamp gas! I think I know the whole thing by now!”
I gave him a hard stare. “Do not mock me, Aledon.”
He gave me a toothy smirk. “Be at ease, sweet Naviro. I only jest! I know you’d be a knight if only the noble court would allow it.”
I shook my head to dismiss the conversation. We were here to enjoy the festival, not dwell on forbidden dreams. I’d been a warrior all my life–even as a child. My father was a humble farmer and my mother a kind innkeeper. I saw many a people come through our inn and I learned a lot by observing them: stories from the road, how to fight, even how to cheat and pickpocket. Yet, it was always the knights that came through our inn that earned my admiration. They were always kind to my parents and they defended those wrongfully caught up in the bar fights. And they won. They always won. I remember a night when I was allowed to sit with them as they shared a supper. Sir Duncan, the Defender, knight of this very realm, taught me the Code of Chivalry and what a knight stands for. When I told them I would become a knight, they laughed. Told me a little girl could never be a knight.
But, I’m stubborn and someday I’ll prove them wrong. “Let’s stop by the tavern so Dionna can get her drink then head toward the library,” I told my companions. “We might pass the apothecary and the alchemists on the way. Don’t be surprised if they refuse you, Aledon.”
He easily shrugged. “If they do, Dionna could buy the materials I need for me—with my money!” He added quickly to avoid a hard stare from both of us.
I remembered something else I didn’t like about the city as my companions and I set off. I hate how crowded cities are and with the festival going on, the crowds are much worse. I had people bumping into my pauldrons, cutting in front of me, and screaming into my ear as they hollered for someone across the way. Had I been a real knight, they would be backing out of the way to let me pass, but no. Instead, I’m a woman in ragged, leather armor. I might as well be some rogue, barbarian, huntress to them.
Dionna ended up having to take the lead. With the greatest girth out of the three of us, she could part a crowd with words or muscle. Plus, I don’t think the King himself could keep her from getting that fresh ale.
I tried to dwell more on the festival’s excitement than the suffocating crowd. Fairies played panpipes overhead. A firedancer twirled his flames to the rhythm of pounding drums. Children were sparing with wooden swords. Artisans proudly displayed their crafts of woven wares, pottery, blacksmithing, and leatherwork. We got distracted at nearly every store. Dionna bought herself a metal mug with a dragon engraving the same time she bought her ale, Aledon bought new potion bottles since he broke a few during our last fight, and I was turned down from many leatherworkers when I asked for repairs to my armor. They all believed woman shouldn’t be fighting. It didn’t matter, though. All three of us knew how to repair leather armor. We just needed to purchase the supplies. I gave Aledon the money and he went back into the leatherworker’s shop to buy them.
“The downright disrespect!” Dionna huffed right next to me. We leaned against the side of the shop as we waited for Aledon. “You could best any man in town in a duel and I bet they’d still say you couldn’t fight! Men and they’re burnt pride, I swear!”
“It doesn’t matter.” I kept my arms crossed and just stared into the crowd. Unfortunately, just because you have a sword hanging at your hip, that doesn’t mean people will respect it. “Once we’re done here, we’ll be back in the woods and doing good works. Things will go back to normal. Maybe we could go beyond the woods and towards the mountains. Help you find your dragon?”
“Aye, that’ll be something.” Dionna smirked. “But ye sure ye just ain’t trying to get further away from this place?”
“I’m sure I once promised you I’d help you find a dragon and this is me trying to keep up to that promise.” I hardened my tone so she’d drop the conversation. She took the hint and just shrugged before taking another swig of her ale.
I couldn’t help but drift my gaze up toward the castle of the King. It stood in great, bold majesty against the blue sky. Sentries posed from its walls in vigilant watch of the horizon. The festival definitely livened it up with the banners and colors that billowed in the wind. I was trying to imagine what its insides might look like when a parade of banners cut through the crowded streets. They headed from the castle to the courts. Each bannerman raised their voice so that the crowds would draw their attention to the streamer they carried. The crowd roared with cheers when might of trumpets lifted a fanfare into the air. My heart suddenly soared. “The Royal Joust!” I pulled off the wall. “Dionna, we have to see it!”
“Watch grown men get knocked on their knickers?” Dionna frowned behind her mug. “No thank you.”
“It’s a test of skill in combat,” I argued. “The knights have to practice somehow for potential war against other kingdoms. No one’s going to get hurt.”
“Those horses might with how hard the knights treat them,” Dionna huffed. “Those poor creatures deserve better.”
“The horses are trained to handle a joust.” I clasped my hands together. I wasn’t above begging. “Dionna, please? I’ll get the chance to finally see the knights’ skills up close.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Fine. But I’ll need another ale.”
Aledon wasn’t too pleased when I dragged him from the leatherworker’s shop and toward the list field. The crowds thickened the closer we got. I wanted to find us a good seat with a good view of the whole field. I’ve not had much of a chance to ride a horse, so watching these jousts would be a good way for me to study the horsemanship of real knights and the best techniques in a joust.
Our seats were mediocre. We had witches to the right, faire maidens in front of us, and barbarians behind us. Dionna had her refill of ale and Aledon began chatting with the man on his other side. I had a good view of the entire lists and that’s all I cared about it. The squires were warming up the horses all colored in beautiful caparisons. The Horse Master was directing the ground crew and grooms while a jester distracted the waiting crowd. Up in the noble court, lords were finding their seats and the Ladies Court was like a chittering flock of sparrows swooning over the knights they had favors for. I rolled my eyes and focused on understanding the set up.
Dionna then nudged my arm and motioned to some people around us. She loved to do that: people watch. It honestly surprised me when I saw the people she motioned too. They were wood elves. All covered in foliage and flowers, I’ve never known wood elves to enter a city. That only made me look around even more. There were fauns, satyrs, fairies, and elves of all kinds from all over the realm. Wenches even rallied by the lists posts and the village simpleton was clapping along with the music of violins. It’s amazing how the Royal Joust brings people together.
“Excuse me, m’lady.” My observations were cut off when a squire in black and violet suddenly sat down in front of me. “Would you be so kind as to take this favor?” They held out a ragged assortment of black, violet, and gold fabric. Likely, it was something they threw together from spare pieces.
I paused. “I beg your pardon?”
“Would you take this favor?” The squire pressed again. “Would you take it and offer it to Sir Gavin when he rides out? It would be an honor for you and him and I know he would appreciate one coming from you–as a fellow knight.”
Aledon stifled a laugh and Dionna hit him for it. I shook my head, but I was caught off guard by the squire’s last four words. I hadn’t heard of this Sir Gavin. “Sir Gavin doesn’t have any ladies of the court swooning to give him their favors?”
The squire lightly winced. “No…m’lady. He is not…in the good graces of the court.”
A knight who wasn’t in the good graces of the court and whose colors were the color of death and the color of royalty? Everything about this should’ve been a warning for me to not take the favor. Yet, the squire had a good-hearted nature. They didn’t want their knight embarrassed by having no favors to claim. Besides, this would be my chance to get a closer look at a knight’s armor and lance. “It would be my honor,” I told the squire.
The squire left all cheery eyed and I had the favor resting in my lap, but on my either side Aledon and Dionna were snickering. “’As a fellow knight’ was that the glaze that buttered you up?” Aledon nudged my side. “That squire must be a simpleton to not know ladies are forbidden to be knights!”
“Not forbidden!” I snapped at him quickly. “There’s just not been a noble: knight or otherwise to support a lady knight.”
“I think I’ve heard of Sir Gavin.” Dionna donned a teasing twinkle in her eye. “He’s one of the best! Maybe after the joust, he’ll let you see his lance up close?” I ignored that comment.
“We’ll see what kind of knight he is when he comes out.”
It wasn’t much longer until the King’s fanfare was sounded, majestic trumpets echoing through the lists. They announced the King and his queen and tournament was quickly underway. It was hard to not get caught up in the excitement of the sport. I knew some of the knights that were introduced, picked out who seemed more honorable, and silently cheered for them. Dionna got up to fetch herself another ale at one point and Aledon found amusement in pointing and laughing at the knights that hit the dirt.
The crowds cheered at every pass. The hooves of the horses thundered upon the ground and the clash of lances striking shields rang through the air. There were only a few requests for Mercy’s Pass, but the sport went on without a hitch.
“Of our next two knights!” The Knight Marshal, the joust mediator, raised his hands as he walked the center of the lists. The previous victor rode off and the loser was limping away from aches and pains. Throughout the day I was impressed how the marshal moved things along so smoothly. “You will know this first one well, good people! He rides in the colors of emerald and gold! He once saved an entire orphanage from a devastating fire!”
“Why is it always an orphanage?” Aledon whispered to me in light annoyance. “Most every story you hear about noble knights involves an orphanage. Makes me wonder if knights just stake out orphanages and wait for something bad to happen to them.”
“Don’t be rude,” I frowned at him, but Aledon just shrugged.
“I’m just saying.”
“Known for his honor and might!” The Knight Marshal continued. “And our champion many years running! I give you: Sir Duncan, the Defender!”
I perked up as the knight came riding out. He had a black stallion wearing a green and gold caparison and he raised his matching lance high. The crowd cheered like victory had already been seized. Sir Duncan was older than when I last saw him as a little girl. His hair and beard were gray and his face was seasoned from the many trials of combat he partook in. I couldn’t take my eyes off him as he took a lap around the lists. He was the one who got me hooked on the Code of Chivalry, but then laughed when I wanted to become a knight. I almost wish I was the one challenging him. Though I know nothing about how to joust, at least we’d be on the field at equal footing. I’m conflicted on whether or not I want to cheer for him.
“His challenger comes from our neighboring kingdom!” The Knight Marshal waited for the cheers to die down before he continued. “He rides in the colors of purple and black and is known for his ferociousness in battle! He once slain an entire encampment of warriors all under the cover of night!”
I furrowed my brow. Under the cover of night? Did that mean he didn’t face his enemies head on? He didn’t give them the respect of a fair fight? He didn’t slay them in their sleep, did he? With those questions and knowing the knight’s color, I felt a sense of dread coil up in my stomach. I glanced down at the favor in my lap.
“Good people, I give you: Sir Gavin!”
Of course, I inwardly groaned while the whole of the crowd around me cheered. Sir Gavin came riding out on a black stallion with a black and purple caparison. Sir Gavin, himself, was armored in the same colors. He held his fist high—his squire carrying his lances behind him. The knight’s red hair blew back by the wind and his beard was thick and short around his pointed jaw. He smirked in welcoming acceptance of the crowd’s cheers and I know I saw an arrogant gleam in his eyes. I think I see why the Noble Court doesn’t like him.
The two knights made a couple passes to test the field before the Knight Marshal stepped forward once again. “Sir Duncan, how do you find this field?”
“I find it suitable for this fair sport!” Sir Duncan sat tall, cheery eyed, and no doubt excited to participate. He gave a knowing look to the crowd. “And suitable for my victory!”
Alright, both knights were a little arrogant, but I suppose Sir Duncan has the right since he’s been the champion the past couple years.
“And Sir Gavin, how do you find this field?”
“It will fair well enough.” The way Sir Gavin led his horse in a sauntering walk got under my skin. He eyed Sir Duncan. “For bloodshed!”
A gasp parted my lips while the ruffians around me cheered like maniacs. How could he say such a thing at a Royal Joust?!
“Need you be reminded, Sir Gavin, that the King’s law decrees no blood is to be spilled upon this field.” The Knight Marshal shot the younger knight a look of warning.
“Yes. Yes. I only jest!” Sir Gavin gave a lighthearted shrug of dismissal. “But as the King also knows: accidents happen.” More of the crowd cheered and I was liking this knight less and less by the second.
“Careful, Sir Gavin, that you not soil your honor!” Sir Duncan’s expression was hardened with disapproval.
“Care you not soil your breeches, old man!” Sir Gavin replied.
“If the knights find this field acceptable, we shall proceed!” The Knight Marshal raised his voice to cease any further jabs from the two knights. “Seek your favors from the Ladies in Waiting, good sirs!”
Dionna and Aledon each nudged me teasingly and I inwardly groaned. Was I really going to give a favor to a knight like Sir Gavin? How could I support someone who so blatantly shows disrespect? Yet, I wanted a closer look at his armor. I may not be a metal worker, but I could certainly make an attempt. Leather armor only does so much after all.
I got up and moved closer to the lists. Sir Gavin was circling the outer edge when he spotted me. Never mind the ragged favor in my hand, he looked me straight up and down and a smirk cross his lips. “And who might you be?” He asked in a rather annoying and charming way.
“My name is Naviro.” I replied. Knowing I was being watched by half the crowd, my heart thundered. “And I offer you this favor for a safe joust.” I don’t even remember slipping it on the lance. I had been looking at him the entire time. “Do not make me regret this.”
“Oh?” His expression lit up with intrigue at my words. He smirked again. “I assure you, I won’t.”
I only responded with a curt nod. I didn’t exactly know what else to say. It wasn’t my place to remark on the way he acted so far and it wasn’t like he was going to listen to me anyway. I stepped away from him and returned to my seat. I didn’t look back until I sat down and he had already moved on to a pair of wenches trying to offer their feather duster to him as a favor.
I sighed. I think I already regret giving him that favor. But, we’ll certainly see when the knights make their first pass.