The castle was lit up with the late festival feast. Drunkards danced the streets and their off-tune jolly songs filled the air. Dionna found herself a burly, hairy man to dance with while Aledon was taking advantage of the festival’s lax nature to show off some magic. I just kept watch. I watched the crowds ring joy through the streets. I watched the knights ride their steeds to the castle to share the King’s feast with other nobles. I saw women swooning and young men thinking they could do anything. There’s a poor sap bent over a barrel, throwing up his insides and a couple women slapping over-extenders across the face.
But the one thing I didn’t see was Sir Gavin.
Sir Gavin’s squire had everything of theirs packed up like they were leaving the city tonight; but they were still sitting on the edge of the festival, swaying along with the tunes while waiting. I figured the resurrected knight would back on his feet and enjoying the boisterousness of the festival, but where was he?
I couldn’t ignore it. His absence gnawed at me like a rat to a bone. Maybe enough time has passed and I should go check on him? But then, maybe not enough time passed and I would just be intruding? I huffed. I wish the Fairy Queen had told how much time to give.
I still remember how Sir Gavin looked when the Fairy Queen brought him back to life. He was so dazed and down right terrified. Now that I think of it. His words to Sir Duncan earlier didn’t have their usual fire to them.
A sigh slipped from my lips. Dionna and Aledon were occupied and we already discussed things. They agreed, but I had to strike deals with both of them that I’ll worry about later. If they noticed I was missing, they’d know where I slipped off to. I headed toward the lists. Likely, the Horse Master had everything taken care of by now and I was right. The list field was only lit by moonlight with the festival moving to the more vibrant areas of the city. No one stopped me from walking out on to the field and it gave me thrills just standing there. I wonder what it would be like to be in a tournament someday?
My thoughts were cut off when I spotted candlelight flickering in the armory. I quietly approached. I didn’t want to risk running into any couples having a bit of fun while the security was low. I made it to the edge of the doorway and I had yet to hear a thing, so I allowed myself a peek inside.
Sir Gavin was sitting on a bench in the midst of the weapons and armor. His gaze was directed downward. His sword was still in hand and his armor was still donned, but he the look in his eyes…it was as if ghosts consumed him. After all the arrogance, pride, and rage he displayed in the joust earlier, it was near unnerving to see him so defeated now. I stepped inside the doorway. “Contemplating your death, Sir Gavin?”
He actually started and his sword stiffened in hand. Yet, when he saw me, he let his tension out with a huff. “What do you want? Come to tell me you regret giving me your favor?”
“You’re lucky the Fairy Queen and her maidens had enough pity on you to bring you back.” I stepped further into the room, ignoring the rudeness of his tone. “Most people in the city would disagree with their choice.”
“I think you mean all the people in the city would disagree,” he scoffed. “You’re not supposed to be back here.”
“And you’re not supposed to keep your squire waiting this long.”
He gave me a look of annoyance, but didn’t say anything. As I feared, all his bravado had gone away. When he continued the silence, I asked: “What was it like?”
“What was what like?”
He wouldn’t look at me. I swear I saw his hand tremble.
“I, myself, felt no pulse from you.” I walked to the edge of the bench. “But the fairy’s magic brought you back a few minutes later. You’re the only one alive who’s seen the other side and returned.”
“Well, there ain’t much to see!” He suddenly stood up and stepped away. Still, he wouldn’t look at me. “There’s no glory! No light! No heaven! Just fire and pain! All your beloved knights are following their wretched code and it won’t be worth it in the end! Mark my words!”
“Perhaps because their following it then it will be worth it?” I stared at him in surprise. No heaven? Just fire and pain? Had he seen…? After the way he acted today, it shouldn’t surprise me, but it did. No one truly deserved that…did they? “After what you saw, you should be giving the Code of Chivalry a chance!”
The way he squinted at me made me feel like I was suddenly the village simpleton. “What was your name again?”
I kept my head up. “My name is Naviro.”
“Naviro.” I wasn’t sure I liked the way he repeated my name. Sir Gavin suddenly stepped back and a rude laugh escaped his lips. “Oh, yes. I know who you are.”
I furrowed my brow. “Excuse me?”
“What?” He scoffed. “Did you think you could save a bunch of people from the monsters in the woods and no one would know your name? You name is more respected than my noble house!”
I shook my head. “I think you’re confused, sir.”
“And I think you’ve been hiding in the woods too long.” Sir Gavin tossed his sword against the bench so it would lean against it, but it just clattered to the floor. “I did the work! I’ve slain monsters! I won my lord’s battles! I’ve bested every man in my kingdom! Yet, when I come here, my name is spat in the dirt! How knightly of this kingdom to send me straight to infernal torture and instead praise the woman in the woods!”
“Just because you follow parts of the code doesn’t make you a knight.” I couldn’t believe his words. “You can’t pick and choose just the slaying and defeating, you have to follow all of it! That’s how knights earn their respect! That’s how the people know they can trust them! You stand for the good of all when you swear to the code, not what’s good for yourself!”
There was that look again, like he thought I was out of my mind. “How would you know all that?”
“I’ve studied the Code of Chivalry since I was a child.”
The brightness of mockery lit up his face. “Well, what do you know? The woman in the woods is a knight wanna-be. Well, face it, my lady, you can’t be a knight. You’ve got too much on your chest for that!”
I ignored his rude look to my torso. “I at least have more honor than you do.”
He scowled. “Well, good for you! Bet you’re thrilled I failed, eh? Some men just can’t make it as knights and fate’s already decided that I’m bound for brimstone and sulfur!”
“And yet, you’re not there.”
My bluntness caught him by surprise. “What does that matter? I’ll be there eventually.”
“The fairy’s magic gave you a second chance, Sir Gavin. Dying on that field gave you a look into the end result of the life you were living. Now is your chance to change that. If you follow every part of the code wholeheartedly, I know your end result will change.”
He shook his head and by the stretch of his lips, he doubted my words. “Not everyone will think like you. Sir Duncan. Your King. Even the peasants. They’ll never see a redemption for me.”
“Then let them be blind.” I shrugged and stepped closer, holding out hope that maybe he’d listen. “Let them be blind for as long as it takes. Just do the good works and let your actions speak for themselves. In time, those who matter will see your redemption.”
He quieted in contemplation of my words. My heart was pounding and I found myself praying he would consider a path of redemption. He was skilled and he could do tremendous amounts of good with those skills. Eventually, he sighed. “And how would suppose I’d start?”
“Join my companions and I.” I couldn’t believe how quickly those words that came out of my mouth. I had discussed it with Dionna and Aledon. They agreed to let this brash, arrogant, and battle-seasoned knight come with us. He could really help us clear the monsters out of the woods—and I’d certainly feel better against a dragon with him in the group. “Help us help people in the woods. I think you getting away from the cities for a while would be beneficial for you. There certainly won’t be anyone for you to impress out there.”
He chuckled and the tease he had in his eyes on the lists sparked. “Save yourself, of course.” I tried not to flush. When I didn’t respond, Sir Gavin took a deep breath. “So, you want me, a knight of nobility, to go prancing around the woods with you and your motley crew? How do I know this isn’t some ploy to kidnap or rob me?”
I frowned. “You mock me, sir.”
He raised his hands. “A mistimed jest, I assure you.” He took a deep breath and seconds passed as he contemplated my offer. I knew he didn’t have any other options. He couldn’t go home after losing to Sir Duncan. I found myself hoping he would agree. Perhaps death scared him so much that he would be willing?
“I could teach you the Code of Chivalry,” I offered when his silence continued. “By following it, other knights would recognize you as one of them. Just imagine the look of Sir Duncan’s face when he realizes a man like you is capable of redemption?”
“Teach me?” I was hoping he’d focus on my comment about Sir Duncan, but Sir Gavin huffed again. I wasn’t sure what to make of his expression. He seemed annoyed and amused, insulted and desperate. He walked up to me and my heart picked up at the close distance between us. The ginger curls of his chest hair were poking out of his doublet. “A knight can only train a knight and here you think you could teach me as a fellow knight?”
“I never said I was a–“
“Shut up.” Sir Gavin’s tone confused me. His words were soft and I sensed yielding in them. “You are more a knight than I, Lady Naviro. I would be honored to join you and your companions if you would have me.”
I breathed in relief. “We would be happy to have you.”
“You must allow me to return the favor someday!” Sir Gavin stepped away and retrieved his sword from the floor. He sheathed it. “If–by some miracle–you turn me into a proper knight and save me from eternal fire. Then I should see you titled equal.”
I couldn’t keep the shock from my face. Did he mean…Certainly he couldn’t…Would he really do that for me? He. Sir Gavin, the brash and the brutish. Would he help me earn a knighthood for myself? I quickly shook my head. That was preposterous thinking. If he earned a place among fellow knights and then supported naming me as one, he would throw all his hard work at redemption away. “There is no need for an attempt at flattery, Sir Gavin. I’ve already told you; you could come along.”
He gave me a partial bow. “But I do not wish to make you regret your faith in me.”
I raised my eyebrow. “We’ll certainly see about that. We’ll be leaving for the woods at sunrise. Meet us by the main gate.”
“I will be there. Thank you, my lady.”
I only gave a nod in reply as I turned back for the door. Sir Gavin was looking over his sword when I stole a glance over my shoulder at him. He had a lightened look in his eye compared to the dark and hollow one he had when I arrived. Perhaps I gave him a little bit of hope? The thought made me smile. I slipped back into the night and realized my heart was still pounding. Yet, something kept me from going too far. I bit my lip and decided to go back.
“Sir Gavin!” I slipped back into the doorway. He was in the process of removing his armor. When I called his name, he stopped and I got his full attention. “I thought you should know,” I said slowly, finally meeting his eyes. “I don’t regret giving you my favor today.”
He genuinely smiled.