As a Fellow Knight pt. 5

The stands were full. More people arrived to witness the joust to the death than any of the jousts before. Dionna, Aledon, and I struggled to find a seat, but eventually gave up. We were left to stand near the Noble Court.

“I don’t understand why you want to watch this.” Dionna commented for the hundredth time. “Neither of them listened to you, so we should be protesting this by not attending at all! Better we just swing by the tavern for good food then go back to the woods.”

Aledon leaned forward on his cane. “Aren’t you curious who will triumph, Dionna?”

Dionna huffed. “I’m not at all interested in seeing a man die, Aledon.”

“I hold hope one of the knights will reconsider.” I cut into the conversation, but my main focus was trying to see through the crowd. I wanted a good window to view the lists. “Maybe they thought over what I said?” I didn’t even have to look to know Aledon and Dionna exchanged doubtful looks.

The Noble Court was filing in to the fanfare of horns. Yet, to my surprise, the King was absent. I figured he would be here to support his most trusted knight, but in his stead was the Fairy Queen of the Southern Woods and her maidens.

“That’s something you don’t see everyday.” Aledon followed my gaze and intrigue filled his tone. “I thought the Fairy Queen never left her kingdom. Why is she here for a joust?”

“They say Sir Duncan saved their lands,” I commented quietly. “Maybe that’s why she’s here?”

Dionna shook her head. “She chose a terrible event to leave her kingdom for.”

The fanfare of trumpets sounded again and the Knight Marshal returned to the lists. He had to wait several moments for the cheering crowd to die down. “Good people! Welcome back to this field of noble sport! Earlier today, during the King’s Tournament, Sir Gavin displayed dishonorable conduct upon this very field! His opponent, the noble Sir Duncan, thus threw down the gauntlet in a challenge of honor! Sir Gavin has accepted, but the stakes have been raised! Upon this very field, Sir Duncan and Sir Gavin shall joust to the death!”

The crowd went into an uproar and I had a hard time not rolling my eyes. Blood would be spilled over pride. “This is wrong,” I muttered bitterly.

“Do not try to do anything stupid.” Aledon shot me a warning look. “We have quite the life slaying monsters in the wood. I’d rather prison for any of us not ruin that!”

“I agree with Aledon.” Dionna laid her hand on my shoulder. “Let things play out. We can save more lives in the woods than we can here.”

I hated that they had a point, but I kept my mouth shut.

Swear to us that you’ll not intervene!” Aledon said suddenly.

I stared at him. “What?!”

“Swear it!” Dionna repeated. “And we’ll believe you. Neither of those knights’ lives are worth ruining what we have.”

Aledon tapped his cane. “I can always charm your boots to the ground to keep you put, Naviro.”

I frowned at both of them. Of course they would do this! They wanted me to swear because I never go back on my word. I didn’t know if I should be angry that they didn’t have my back on this or honored that they enjoyed what we had enough to stand against me for it. It just proves we’re the only friends we have.

“Fine,” I relented. “I swear I won’t intervene.” Intervening would just insult Sir Gavin, Sir Duncan, and the Fairy Court anyway…

My companions exchanged satisfied glances. We looked back toward the lists.

“Allow me to introduce your champions, my good people!” The Knight Marshal moved to the middle of the field. “Riding in green and gold, a hero to this very city! I give you, Sir Duncan!”

A trumpeting fanfare blazed and Sir Duncan came riding out on his black stallion. He raised his lance high and the roars of the crowd raised with it. Sir Duncan circled the lists once and stilled on the far right side. He held his head high as if he already won the day.

“And now, riding in black and purple, whose dishonor as tainted this very field, I give you: Sir Gavin!”

The amount of protests and sounds of disapproval that came from the crowd surprised me. Sir Gavin rode out much like Sir Duncan, but the good people withheld their favor. I searched the crowd for the ruffians and thugs who supported Sir Gavin in the tourney, but if they supported him now, they kept themselves hidden. Sir Gavin looped the lists once. He kept this head high as he rode past and I wondered if he’d spot me in the thick of it. He didn’t.

“Sir Duncan! Sir Gavin!” The Knight Marshal continued. “The two of you have met this day after an offense of honor. You’ve agreed to settle this dispute by a joust to the death! Does this still stand?”

“Aye!” Sir Duncan dashed my hopes of reconsideration in a millisecond. He sat forward on his horse, staring down Sir Gavin as if an ogre stood in his path. “Sir Gavin has defiled the Code of Chivalry and acted with disgrace upon this field. As punishment for his sins, I shall prove to the world once and for all that honor, dignity, truth, and grace of the Code of Chivalry shall stand triumph over evil every time!”

The crowed roared with their support, but Sir Gavin simply rolled his eyes. “You are all talk, Sir Duncan!” The tone of Sir Gavin’s voice soured my lips. I’m pretty sure he was feeling the wine. “This day’s end will see your blood spilt! The whole kingdom will know that your code and your God have forsaken you!”

“You’ve both made your choice.” The Knight Marshal quieted at the proclamations of the knights. I began to suspect that perhaps he didn’t agree with this as well? “Brave knights, bare your arms. Good people, this is no match for innocent eyes. Upon this field, a man will die.” He faced the court. “Fairy Queen, shall we commence?”

The Queen didn’t say a word, but she had been eyeing the knights through the introductions. I suspected her favor laid with Sir Duncan. She nodded.

“Knights, seek out your favors.” The Knight Marshal continued. “For one of you, these shall be your last. May they grant you the luck you need to win the day.”

Sir Duncan received favors from multiple ladies in the court, but it was Sir Gavin that I was watching. He scanned the crowds and walked the length of the lists, but there was no one to offer him favor. When he came back down, I caught his eye. A smirk curled his lip. I looked away.

“Knights, ride forward!” The Knight Marshal raised his hands to summon the two riders to the heart of the lists. “Salute each other.”

Sir Duncan offered a salute out of duty; yet, Sir Gavin remained straight on his horse and denied Sir Duncan that respect. The crowd hissed in protest.

“Salute the court!”

Both knights offered a salute to the Fairy Queen then rode to opposite ends of the lists. I felt like a stone was lodged in my stomach. Dionna had pulled out her dragon book to read and Aledon was picking muck off his cane out of boredom. The crowd was cheering. They wanted to see unbridled action. My heart pounded. I wanted to run out and stop this, but I gave my word to Dionna and Aledon and I felt nothing would come of me getting in the way. They’d just haul me off to jail and continue the joust. I sent out a prayer as the knights fell into position. Let mercy win the day.

Sir Duncan and Sir Gavin rode at each other at full gallops. The smack of lances on shields had many in the crowd wincing, but neither knight was moved from the saddle. I bit my lip when they reached opposite ends. The moment they locked eyes, they charged again.

Sir Gavin’s lance shattered against Sir Duncan’s shield and the older knight faltered, but did not fall. He lost his own lance from hand and had to collect another from his squire. As soon as he had it, he turned his steed and galloped at Sir Gavin again. I slowly shook my head. There was no pause between the two men. No hints of doubt or hesitation. After each pass, they turned and passed again. A couple more broken lances and I determined that sheer willpower was keeping the two knights in their saddles. I flickered my gaze to the Fairy Queen and the Knight Marshal, but my hope that they would intervene was all in vain. They simply watched the fight for any signs of dishonorable acts.

The shattering of another lance echoed the lists. Sir Gavin’s shield arm buckled under the force of Sir Duncan’s blow and the younger knight was thrown off his saddle. I caught my breath. Sir Gavin appeared dazed by the fall. He struggled back to his hands and knees. To my relief, the Knight Marshal ran onto the field to separate the two knights.

“Sir Gavin is downed!” The Knight Marshal called to Sir Duncan before the older knight could pass again. “Sir Duncan, you have the option to continue facing Sir Gavin from horseback or face him on foot.”

Sir Duncan tore his helmet off. “I shall face him on ground of equal footing. It is the only honorable way!” He dismounted and exchanged his horse for a sword. The Knight Marshal remained in between the two knights until Sir Gavin was back on his feet with sword in hand. All three men appeared pretty battered to me.

Swords rang the moment the Knight Marshal removed himself from the field. There was anger in Sir Gavin’s eyes and fury within Sir Duncan’s. Sir Duncan made good use of his shield until Sir Gavin managed to rip it from his arm. Sir Gavin then threw down his own shield and the two men danced a deadly waltz. The two knights appeared equal in their skills, but what I noticed first was Sir Gavin. His form was strong, and his footwork secured. It surprised me not that he was knighted for his skills, but what did surprise me was that he fought honorably. He didn’t throw dirt or play other tricks like earlier in the day. He faced Sir Duncan head-on and equally. For some reason, that gave me hope.

The knights’ swords rang again then Sir Gavin nimbly dodged back when Sir Duncan lashed out. Sir Gavin lunged forward with a jab, but Sir Duncan deflected. The whole arena was fastened on the edge of its seats. When Sir Duncan ill-timed strike was caught in hand by Sir Gavin, many lungs sucked in a breath. Sir Gavin hauled Sir Duncan over his shoulder and onto the ground. He would’ve pierced him through had Sir Duncan not rolled away fast enough. When both knights were on their feet, they clashed again. Their swords sparked like sharpening metal and with a move too fast for my eye to register, Sir Duncan twisted Sir Gavin around and sank his sword deep into Sir Gavin’s gut.

Whether the crowd cheered or gasped, I could not say. Horror paled my face the moment the blade made contact. Sir Gavin failed to register what occurred until his blood seeped into his own hands. He dropped his sword and when he looked up, he found me in the crowd. I shoved forward to reach him, but Aledon and Dionna caught my wrists before I could breach the lists fencing. The whole city supported his death, I hope he saw that I didn’t.

I hoped that if I held his gaze, he would be fine. He would recover like many knights had after a battle. Yet, Sir Duncan sliced his sword out of Sir Gavin and I think I screamed his name when Sir Gavin fell to the ground.

To Be Continued…

Grateful Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is tomorrow! I know a lot of people are super excited for the food: deep fried turkey, seasoned mash potatoes, casseroles of all kinds, honeyed rolls, and sweet potatoes seasoned with pecans–makes my stomach growl just thinking about it! So how did we get so lucky to have a day like this?

Everyone knows the story of Thanksgiving. Pilgrims, sailing on the Mayflower, left England in September 1620 to seek a new land where they could practice their faith freely. The trip took roughly 66 days and their first winter in the new land was savage enough that only half the original passengers survived to see spring. That’s when they got a visit from the Native Americans. A man named Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, harvest tree sap, catch fish, and basically survive. He even helped them form an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local Native American Tribe.

All that led up to November 1621. The Pilgrims threw a feast after their first corn harvest and they shared their food with the Wampanoag. According to History.com, the festival lasted for three days! Could you imagine celebrating Thanksgiving for three days? In this day and age, there would be SO MUCH FOOD and that’s what a lot of people would focus on, but in the time of the Pilgrims, I’d gather it was all about the thankfulness. Think about it: these people had just come to a new land with nothing but the Mayflower and their faith. After a dangerous voyage, half of them were wiped out through the winter. They must have had very little hope, a whole lot of doubt that they did the right thing in leaving, and their faith must have been shaken. Then, like a miracle, these strangers appear and teach them how to survive. The Native Americans didn’t have to help them. They could’ve let the Pilgrims figure it out for themselves (which probably wouldn’t have gone so well). And yet, because they helped, the Pilgrims survived and we now have the country we have today. The Pilgrims’ faith was probably restored and because they were so far from want, they celebrated with the Native Americans for three days. I mean, if you thought your future was all doom and gloom and then a few months later, you’re celebrating a bountiful harvest and suddenly your future doesn’t look so bad, you’d probably be partying for three days too.

That’s what I wish people would focus more on for Thanksgiving. Not the food or the jump straight to Christmas, but the fact that miracles can still happen. Hope is still out there and despite how doom and gloom your current situation or the future may seem, there’s something to be thankful for. Whether its strangers who appear out of nowhere to help you survive, friends and family to laugh and love, the job you have to support yourself, or even the small things like being healthy, having a roof over your head, or having a dog who’s forever loyal to you. There’s that saying of “count your blessings” and I think Thanksgiving is a good reminder to do that.

So, tomorrow, while you’re stuffing your face with all the delicious food, take a moment to pause, look around, and be thankful. I’ll thank God for all that I have, you can thank the universe, fate, whatever you believe in. Just as long as there is gratitude in your heart, my post has done its job.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’m grateful for all of you.

D&D Character Backstory: Nuray Solana

The House of Solana is a proud and noble bloodline that produces heroic and powerful knights, paladins, and warriors in every generation. They live in Alderheart and are known throughout the land for their goodness. Each one awaits the day the wind would bless them with it’s touch. My name is Nuray Solana. I was born in this bloodline and I have been wind-touched since birth. I am the covet of my family. We are Strigs, owl-people, and my feathers are patterned with the way the wind blows under the nightly moon. Because of this, my parents were thrilled. They foresaw a mighty destiny in me and believed I would become a great hero of legend.

Starting the day I could walk, my parents placed a weapon in my hands. I was put into training immediately that I may defend myself and others, and become a great warrior like my ancestors. My mother wanted me to be a knight like her. My father wanted me to be a paladin. I trained hard to please them and every day I was taught to rely on my Wind-Touched blessing. The wind is what guides my family. We follow it to those who are in need. No matter how hard I trained, I could not put my heart into my lessons and it did not help that my sister humiliated me at every turn. My older sister. She wanted to soil my favor with our parents. She hates that I’m wind-touched. She straight up told me she wished I was dead. I just wanted us to be friends. 

I’ll never forget the day I first heard a troupe of song and dance. A traveling caravan came to our proud neck of Alderheart and graced us with beautiful music and stories of adventures. I fell in love with the harp, the drums, and the flutes. It gave me more inspiration and hope than training with a sword had ever done. I decided that day that I wanted to be a musician and storyteller like the leader of the troupe; however, I made the grave mistake of telling my parents. 

My parents just stared while my sister laughed. She laughed so hard that tears rolled from her eyes. I don’t lie to them and they know it. So, when my parents heard the words out of my mouth, nothing came to their beaks. My father then told me in a calm and icy voice to go back to training. They made me train until late in the night as if they were trying to train my new dream out of me. But all they did was break my heart. I was not allowed to speak of the traveling troupe. I was not allowed to sing or play an instrument of any kind. My parents became stricter with me and I was forced into a routine schedule to keep me on the path of warrior. I cried myself to sleep at night. My parents’ discipline only made me hate fighting.

It was sister who was my saving grace. Though I know her reasons were selfish, I care not. She slipped into my room at night after hearing my sniffles through the walls. She bundled me in her arms and actually started to sing. It was a song about the Wind and how it guides those who school upon a winding path. I wanted that life. A life of freedom upon the open road. Not knowing what laid ahead and no schedules to maintain. My sister then gave me something wrapped in bundled cloth. It was an ocarina. One that was supposed to be presented to me when I was marked Wind-Touched. I had the cloak, the symbol, but my parents forbid the priests from giving me a wind played instrument. I cradled the ocarina and was going to hide it, but my sister encouraged me to leave. Sneak out in the midst of night and begin an adventure on the open road. As foolish as it sounded, I knew it was now or never. My parents would take my ocarina away if they ever knew I had it. So, my sister helped me pack and I set out into the word. 

I challenged myself at every turn and I never share that I’m from the House of Solana–I will be known for my heroic tales and become a leader and a warrior in my own right instead of piggybacking off the legacy of my family. I followed the wind to my next destination and I discovered a troupe of bards. I learned from them. Learned to play my ocarina and their instruments. As we journeyed, I learned how to make instruments of my own. I crafted a harp, a drum, and failed to make panpipes, but one of the bards: Swifty, a gerbean, gerbil person who I consider a good friend, made it correctly for me. We parted when the Wind pulled me away and I traveled from tavern to tavern, playing music and singing stories for coin. The Wind then called me to Meadowfen and I played in the tavern for a couple days. I didn’t know why the Wind wanted me here until a task was presented me to and I gained the company of three unlikely friends. 

It is with them that I travel and explore and adventure! We’re on a noble quest to save all the land. However, I’m terrified of the place this quest deems we go. My friends don’t know who I am or where I come from, but I’m afraid they’ll find out. Our journey begins with a letter back to Alderheart.

Querying; Notes from a Workshop

Hey everyone! I attended the North Carolina Writing Workshop over the weekend and I want to share a few of my favorite notes from the events. The event was set up by Brian A. Klems and hosted a lot of fabulous agents and editors. Brian’s pretty much the expert for getting these workshops running, so if you if you’re interested, follow him on twitter at @BrianKlems.

Now, onto the notes!

When Querying:
  • Make sure your novel is finished and edited. Agents can’t sell something that isn’t complete and they have no guarantee that you’re even going to finish it, so make sure your book is in its best shape before you start querying.
  • Do your research on agents. You don’t want to just hook an agent. You want to hook the right agent for you. Look for someone who enjoys your genre. Someone you’ll get along with, may share your values, and cheerlead your ideas. Know how you’d like to communicate with your agent. If you want someone more inclined to call, text, or email.
  • Err on the side of professionalism.
  • Query multiple agents. Consider it like your job interviewing. You’re not going to stop at one job, you’re going to keep applying to multiple places, so keep querying to multiple agents. If you do get an offer of representation from one agent, let the others know.
  • Easiest way to remember to write a query letter is to follow “The Hook, the Book, and the Cook” guideline.
    • The Hook is your awesome intro. Something to snag the agents attention right off the bat.
    • The Book is the summary and details of your book. By details, I mean wordcount, genre, and comparison titles. When you go into your summary, remember not to spoil your book’s ending. You want to leave the agent wanting to know more. I’ve been advised to include the main character’s emotions throughout the summary, so the agent can connect with the main character and then end on a Hero’s Dilemma: revealing two (or more) options my main character has to pick from to achieve his goal, but I won’t give away which option he makes.
    • The Cook is you. Credentials are important for Nonfictions writers, but for fiction, a great writer can come from anywhere. Give a little about your writing accomplishments or history and then jump into hobbies. I’ve been advised that the bio should only be 2-3 sentences.
    • Make sure to personalize your query letter to with the agent’s name because “Dear Agent” tells them you’re not serious about signing with them. If you can give a personal reason behind why you’re querying that particular agent then do it. Otherwise, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.
  • Follow submission guidelines. Send whatever the agent wants and nothing more (unless they request it). And remember to make sure your pages are double-spaced. I’ve been querying for two years and did not know that…
  • If you’ve queried an agent before and they rejected you, it’s advised to not query that agent again. If you’ve made improvements on your novel since the last time you query that agent, it doesn’t hurt to query again, just be courteous enough to let the agent know you’ve queried before, but are resubmitting your work after improvements. Who knows, they might change their mind?
  • Try to be easy to work with. If you get the interest of an agent, don’t be a stone wall to any and all feedback they suggest. You’ve also got to be understanding. Agents have busy lives too. Just because they asked for your full manuscript, doesn’t mean they’re going to get it back to you in a day or even a week. You gotta be patient.
  • Don’t let criticism get to you. You gotta have thick skin toward it because it will never go away. It goes unsaid that not everyone will like your book. There are over 7 billion people on the planet. Odds are someone isn’t going to like it, so let that criticism roll off your back right now.
  • Keep writing during the query process. It’ll save you from going crazy while waiting for responses. Plus, it’ll help you get going on the next book so you’ll have something for after your first book comes out.

Lastly, my favorite piece of advice from the workshop this week:

Don’t write to trend. Write the book of your heart.

As a Fellow Knight pt. 4

It didn’t take long for Dionna to point out Sir Gavin’s tent. It wasn’t the best looking, but it wasn’t terrible either. He only had one banner strung up on a pole. It was black and violet with silver lion on it. No one ever boasted of the lion part, so I was second guessing it when Dionna motioned to it.

“Oh, it’s his alright,” Dionna reassured me. “I saw two ladies enter as we passed by last time. Figured it must be your wayward soul.”

“Two ladies?” I repeated with a groan. “What exactly am I going to walk into?”

“Ah, relax,” Dionna chuckled. She nodded towards her Gavin’s tent. “Doesn’t look like any of the city guardsmen were recruited to protect his effects. So, I’ll get those ladies out for you.”

I raise my eyebrow and followed her gaze. I hadn’t realized it, but she was right. There weren’t any guards posted around Sir Gavin’s tent. I guess Sir Gavin’s dishonor was insulting enough that the captain of the guard pulled his men away. Did no one else care if Sir Gavin died today?

“What are you going to do?” I asked Dionna

She winked at me. “Why spoil the fun?” She suddenly looped her arm in mine. “Just walk with me and play along.”

Uh oh. I swallowed tightly. She was up to some ploy and I was never good at playing along. It meant having to act or be fake, and I wasn’t good at that! However, I wasn’t going to argue with her.

“Now. There are some things you need to remember if you’re going to make it in this town.” Dionna spoke very clearly as we strolled towards Sir Gavin’s tent. “As I’ve been telling you: you need to know your crowd and your clients. We wouldn’t want you to put yourself out for coin and end up getting stabbed in the middle of the night.”

My cheeks flushed bright red at what Dionna was implying. I couldn’t get myself to say anything.

“As for the knights, most will not desire your attention. Some will be disclosed about it, but a rare few won’t care if they’re seen with you. Those are the ones you want to watch out for! Ah, look here.” Diana stopped right next to the cloth of Sir Gavin’s tent. I could hear movements on the inside.

“This tent belongs to the Gavin chap who calls himself a knight.” I had to stifle a laugh as Dionna continued. “He has no regard for the women he wields his sword on–if you know what I mean. I’ve lost countless girls because of the diseases he spreads. I don’t ever want you taking any coin from him!”

There was more movements on the inside. I was pretty sure I heard Sir Gavin’s voice, but I couldn’t dwell on it. Dionna nudged me with a knowing look. “Oh, right,” I whispered. It was time for my line. “Diseases?” I asked nice and loud. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, I mean the kind that just get right up in you!” Dionna motioned with her arms. “You could say goodbye to any dreams of motherhood and any coin you could make under my services. Once you get a disease like that, you’re nothing more than a filthy beggar on the streets. No good for anyone. Just trust me, dear, stay away from Sir Gavin!”

“Ladies, none of that is true! I demand you stay!”

Dionna and I quickly backed away from the tent. The two women inside were suddenly scurrying out, sheets wrapped around their persons and their clothes bundled in their arms. Sir Gavin was cursing after them when he followed them out and I immediately noticed his missing shirt. Dionna and I quickly disappeared from view. When the knight couldn’t us after we chased off his ladies, he cursed again and disappeared into the tent.

“Dionna, you’re brilliant!” I smiled at my companion. Honestly, I didn’t think that would work.

She winked back at me. “Best hurry up, now. Try to save your knight in dented armor, dear.”

“He’s not my knight,” I muttered, but otherwise didn’t argue. Now that the women were gone, maybe Sir Gavin and I could have a decent conversation? Maybe…

I paused at the entrance to Sir Gavin’s tent just to take a deep breath and send a silent prayer to God to give me the words to convince this foolish man not to kill Sir Duncan…or be killed himself. “Sir Gavin!”

“What?!”

My lip tilted an amusement. Someone was in a foul mood. “We need to talk!”

“Go away!”

“Sir Gavin, it’s urgent! It’s about your joust later.”

There was a pause. “Very well. Come in!”

“Oh!” Sir Gavin’s lips spread to a smile when he saw me. What soured mood he had vanished when he looked me up and down. “It’s you.”

For the love of God, he still wasn’t wearing a shirt. I nodded. “Yes.”

He turned toward me and leaned against a table so I had a full view of his chest. “Come to give me another favor for my next joust?”

The arrogance and bravado he had in his smirk seared under my skin like a hot blade through butter. I had to grit my teeth to hold back a rude remark. “I’ve come to convince you not to joust.”

Sir Gavin raised his eyebrow. “Oh? Are you worried about me, my lady?”

“I worry about any man who so foolishly throws his life away.”

His expression soured. “I’m not throwing anything away. I have every intention of besting Sir Duncan! That knight will not think himself better any longer!”

“Look who’s talking,” I said dully. “You could have bested him in a normal challenge. Why up the stakes to death?”

“What good would be done if I didn’t?” Sir Gavin easily shrugged and turned to pour himself some wine. “To hear of besting Sir Duncan–finest knight in the land. That’s all well and good, but well and good fades away. To hear of a knight slaying Sir Duncan. That lives on forever!” He raised his wine as if making a toast. “I’ll slay him and take his title.” He suddenly winked at me. “Wouldn’t you like a night with that?”

“You are, by far, the furthest thing ever of being a knight!” I crossed my arms. “Slaying Sir Duncan doesn’t make you the finest knight in the land. Following the Code of Chivalry does!”

“What? That whole: follow God, speak truthful, being honorable and whatnot?” Sir Gavin huffed. “None of that wins battles.”

“You think being a knight is all about winning battles?!”

“Look, my lady,” Sir Gavin cut me off before I could go off on him. “My kingdom expects results. They don’t care how I obtain those results as long as I get them. If I don’t get them, I don’t go home. So, spare your pretty, little tongue. I’m jousting Sir Duncan and I’m going to kill him!”

“Don’t go home?” Out of his ‘little’ speech, that’s what stuck to me. Was he saying if he didn’t kill Sir Duncan, he wouldn’t be able to return to his kingdom? “What do you mean?”

“None of your business.” Sir Gavin’s open and charasmatic behavior disappeared. He downed his wine from his drinking horn. Drinking horn? That was unbefitting of a knight.

I finally looked away from him to look around the tent. Unlike Sir Duncan, Sir Gavin didn’t have much. I would even go so far to believe this was a humble hunter’s blind with how little was placed about. There was a cot with animal furs draped on it. A wooden table with only a wine keg and the only decent scrap of metal in this place was his sword and armor. “Your kingdom doesn’t care for its knights too well, do they?”

“My kingdom cares for its knights just fine…” Sir Gavin poured himself more wine. “It’s me it they don’t care for. Now, if you’re not going to take off your shirt, will you leave me be?”

“Why doesn’t your kingdom care for you?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Sir Gavin sighed in exasperation. “I’ve killed this for them. Killed that for them. Fought armies, bandits, monsters, and everything of the like! I’ve kept them safe!” He turned to face me with a look of foul annoyance. “But you know what? It didn’t mean the mud on a pig’s rear end! Your little code is a trap to swindle men into weakness! So, when things go wary, those weak men are the ones who get blamed! There is no God! There is no honor! The truth doesn’t matter! It’s all a big charade and in killing Sir Duncan–finest and most faithful of all the land–I’ll prove it!”

I couldn’t find the words to reply. Like I figured, there was history behind Sir Gavin’s actions, but this wasn’t what I was expecting. I figured he had been a pompous, spoiled brat all his life who earned knighthood just because of his bloodline and because of his bloodline, he didn’t reap any repercussions. Yet, from the sounds of it… Had he been a noble knight before only to have been used and forced to get results no matter the compromises? Had life been so cruel that he lost faith?

“You can change things.” I finally found my voice. “Make your own path. You don’t have to serve that kingdom anymore. Not if this is what you’ve become.”

“What I’ve become?” Sir Gavin scoffed. “My lady, I am perfectly content with who I am. I do whatever I want. Sleep with whoever I want. I am free to kill whoever I want. I’m not the one fooling myself here!”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Look at you!” Sir Gavin rudely motioned his drink at me. “You think you’re a warrior? I know what my squire said to you. You think you’re a knight!” He laughed. “You’ve got too much bodice for that, my lady. You can carry a sword and dress in armor all you like, but you’re no knight! Don’t think you stand as my equal.”

I grit my teeth. His words stung like a viper’s bite. All the good I’ve done saving people in the woods and still I’m regarded as nothing more than what’s between my legs in these arrogant cities. Yet, I wasn’t going to let him see the pain of his words. I stood like stone. “Are you going to withdraw from this joust?”

Sir Gavin snorted. “Are you going to give me another favor?”

The mockery in his tone sharpened my tongue. “I regret giving you the first one!” My boldness surprised him. “I don’t wish you death, Sir Gavin, but I don’t wish you victory either! If anything, I pray you realize what path you’re on before it’s too late! You’re making a mistake and I hope I’m there when you realize it. Knight or not. Woman or not. I’ve done a whole lot more good than you and you have no right to assume anything of me!” I whipped around to exit the tent. “May God have mercy on your soul, Sir Gavin!”

To Be Continued…

#CarolinaWW

I know, it’s weird, right? I’ve never used a hashtag as my blog post title, but I assure you, there’s a very good reason why.

This week is the North Carolina Online Writing Workshop and I going to attend. It’s super exciting! It’s a two day event and the class schedule looks like it’ll have a lot of really good content to help me improve not only my writing, but my querying as well (and I’ll be honest, my querying skills could really use some work).

Writing Workshops are a great opportunity to grow as a writer. Not only can you learn a lot from the different classes, but you can meet other writers, build connections, and put yourself out there. All the workshops I’ve been to have provided the opportunity to get feedback on the first ten pages of your manuscript as well as your query letter. You can also schedule ten minute query sessions with agents to hopefully snag that “yes” all writers are dying to hear. This year, I’m not querying any agents–I’m not in a good place to start doing that again–but I am getting feedback. I’ve paid the extra mile to get my query letter and the first ten pages of my manuscript reviewed and that makes me hesitant.

As exciting and opportunistic as Writing Workshops are, if you’re like me, you’re going to hear that voice of doubt whispering in the back of your mind. Yeah, you’re going to learn so much, but what if everything you learn just spotlights how far behind you are? What if the feedback on your novel isn’t that good? That the editor just hates every bit of your first ten pages? What if there’s a lot of red marks on my query letter? I’ve attended a writing workshop before and the person who provided feedback on your query letter crossed out the entire thing and left a page of lecturing on why it was all wrong. What if, instead of launching you forward, this writing workshop tears you down and reminds you that the task of publishing is just too impossible and you’re not good enough?

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by those doubts. To let them steal the joy of a workshop’s opportunities. Yeah, maybe by the end of it all, you’ll realize you’ve got a long way to go. You’ve got improvements to do on your writing skills, query letter, and story in general. However, now you know how to improve! Growth takes effort in any skill and sometimes it also takes a push from others. If you attend a workshop and it highlights everything you’ve done wrong or anything you weren’t particularly good at, and tells you how to get better, then that workshop has done its job! It’s on to you to take the next step and make those improvements. Feedback sucks. It’s hard to hear the truth that something you think is fantastic, actually isn’t in the eyes of others. When it comes to writing, you’ve got to improve everyday. Even if it means redoing an entire paragraph you just wrote (like I just did for this blog post).

If you’re attending the North Carolina Writing Workshop, I hope it launches you into a writing frenzy! Where you just go, go, go, and make all sorts of progress in your stories, query letter, poems, whatever you write! That’s what I’m hoping for with this workshop. My motivation to write my novels has been pretty low because of the doubt that no matter how much I try to improve them, they’ll never be good enough. With this workshop, I’m hoping inspiration will tackle me like a 90lbs. German Shepherd!

But, you have to beat back the doubt. Inspiration can’t tackle you if you’re lost in a cloud of doubt. So, whenever those doubts start creeping up, beat them back! And be stubborn about it! What if you’re so far behind? Well, then you’re just gonna have to catch up! What if the feedback on your novel is overwhelming? Take it one line at a time and you’ll be moving forward! What if your entire query letter is all scratched out again? Well, they left different pieces of advice, so now it’ll only get better! Things can’t improve if you don’t put in the effort. So, argue with the doubt. You CAN be a writer and a darn good one too! Publishing may seem impossible, but it isn’t. If you’re pitching to agents this workshop, don’t linger on the “What if I fail?!” Linger on the “What if they say yes?” “What if they do like my novel and want to represent it? What if this is my big break?!” Focus on that excitement, because I guarantee it can only help when pitching and if things don’t work out, well, they weren’t the one. Grieve for a moment, move on, and shoot for the stars.

I believe in you.

As a Fellow Knight pt. 3

Just as we suspected, city guardsmen were stationed around the knight’s tents. A whole area of the King’s Field was set up for knights and other challengers to make their camp for the tournament. Most of them had large setups with flashy banners marked with sigils. It wasn’t hard to find Sir Duncan’s tent. Every other tent was made of plain, white cloth, but Sir Duncan’s was green and gold like his colors. There were a couple guardsman walking around.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Dionna asked me once again. We were crouched behind some crates next to some nameless knight’s tent. “We don’t even know if he’s in there.”

“Of course he is!” Aledon pointed with his cane. “You can see the shadow of his feet under the tent.” He suddenly stood up straighter. “Just stand by, ladies. It’s time for the doctor to work some magic!”

It was very difficult to not roll my eyes at Aledon’s smirk. He tipped his feathered hat downward and headed toward Sir Duncan’s tent. He leaned heavily on his cane as if he had a limp. I recognized his favorite trick immediately. Out in the woods, Aledon loved to act crippled to get close to whoever he planned on blasting a spell at. Most of the time he just used the trick on bandits. I don’t know what spell he plans on using now, though. I just hope he doesn’t get us into further trouble.

Aledon hobbled slowly toward the guards and the two men eyed him with suspicion and wariness. I think Aledon was muttering something, but it was hard to tell since he had his skull mask on. He didn’t look at the guards. Didn’t address them at all. All he did was walk passed them.

He walked passed them! The guards were staring at him the entire time and even stared after him once he was out of view and that was it! I was expecting a confrontation. A challenge at least! And then Aledon would turn them into toads or make them forget who they were, but he didn’t even do anything! I glanced back at Dionna. “Is that it?”

“He didn’t do anything, did he?” Dionna huffed. “Maybe our dear doctor is losing his touch?”

“I beg your pardon!” Dionna and I jumped when Aledon was suddenly behind us. My hand went for my sword, but I forced myself to relax. Aledon leaned forward on his cane and snickered at me. “A bit jumpy are we?” I just glared at him. He smirked and nodded toward Sir Duncan’s tent. “Your way is all clear, m’lady.”

“But the guards are still there.”

“Aye, they are.” Aledon bobbed his head. “If they left, that would be a bit suspicious don’t you think?” Aledon straightened rather proudly. “So, I just petrified them. Just a simple spell that draws their attention to my cane. Once its out of their sight, they can’t move. I can put them back right once you’re done with Sir-easily-offended.”

Petrified? I raised my eyebrow. That was certainly a new one. Though, I suppose Aledon never used it in the woods since his cane was always in sight. “You better hope your spell holds.”

“Oh, it will, m’lady.” Aledon’s lips spread to a thin smile. “It will.”

“We’ll wait here for you and keep lookout.”

I nodded my thanks to Dionna and headed for Sir Duncan’s tent. Heaven above please give me the words to say that he’d call off the challenge. I prayed that the entire walk, but I’m not sure all the prayers in the world would work to convince this stubborn knight. Maybe I’ll get thrown a miracle?

The guards didn’t move as I got closer. They didn’t even turn their heads to look at me. They just stayed staring in the direction they last saw Aledon. I even waved my hand in front of their faces and they didn’t even blink. I don’t give Aledon enough credit for his skills sometimes.

“Sir Duncan!” I called inside the tent. I didn’t want to barge in if he wasn’t decent. “We need to talk!”

“And you are?” He called back. “Why have my guards not turned you away?”

“They allow me to pass.” I glanced briefly at the frozen men. Technically, I’m not lying. “This is urgent.”

“Enter.”

Relief caught my breath. I wasn’t positive he’d even have audience with me. I pushed through the curtain and righted my posture. Sir Duncan’s tent was elegant and everything you’d expect from the King’s greatest knight. I even think his water pitcher was made of gold.

Sir Duncan, himself, did not appear pleased to see me. He eyed my leather armor and his lip twisted to a frown. “Who are you?”

I held my head high. I didn’t expect him to remember me as the child he told they couldn’t be a knight. “My name is Naviro.”

“Naviro?” He repeated with intrigue in his voice. “The woman from the woods?”

I paused in surprise. “You know of me?”

I did not like the way his lip soured. “I do. What do you want?”

Hesitation hindered my reply. Sir Duncan knew of me? Yet, he didn’t seem like he approved. I shook the thoughts away. I couldn’t dwell on that. I needed to remember why I was here. “I’ve come to ask that you withdraw your challenge from Sir Gavin.”

I suppose the bluntness of my request surprised him. He raised his eyebrows. “Withdraw? Girl, I will not withdraw. On my honor, I will see this through. Sir Gavin has had this coming for some time now.”

“Sir Duncan, I know of your wisdom.” I took a step forward. “You are a knight of great skill and experience. Sir Gavin is just a younger man with much more to learn. What good would a joust to the death against him do?”

Sir Duncan raised his eyebrow and looked me up and down once again. I thought I was getting to him, but then he spoke. “Do you fancy Sir Gavin, Naviro?”

I started. “I-I beg your pardon?”

“Do you fancy Sir Gavin? You must if you’re here begging me to call off the joust and spare his life.”

“N-no!” The change in topic made me falter. “I don’t fancy Sir Gavin! I’m here because pride is nothing either of you should die for! You can’t kill a man just because he so dishonorably knocked you off your horse and embarrassed you!”

“Is that all you think he did, girl?” Sir Duncan’s tone hardened. He strictly continued before I could get a word in. “I know of men like Sir Gavin. They are men of dishonor in every area of life! Great in battle he may be, but he slays his foes in their sleep. He prefers the company of the undesirable crowd. He takes a woman’s precious virtue and gives nothing in return. You should not be defending him! He would not do the same for you and the world is simply better off without Sir Gavin. He is a disgrace to the Code of Chivalry and a knight’s very name!”

I furrowed my brow. “Harsh words from a knight.”

“The truth can be harsh, girl.”

I couldn’t quite believe my ears. I’m not sure what surprised me more: the fact that Sir Duncan so openly degraded Sir Gavin or the fact that he actually believed this. I agree that Sir Gavin is likely the most disgraceful knight I ever met, but I didn’t think he deserved death because of it. He should be given a chance to right his wrongs whether he wanted to or not. Sir Duncan was throwing away that chance and using this tourney to get away with it.

“You know what is also true?” I spoke slowly, thinking over my words carefully. “Sir Gavin is a younger man from a foreign kingdom. Who knows the culture they have there? Their knights could be trained differently. You claim you know of men like Sir Gavin, but do you know Sir Gavin?”

“I know enough, girl. You’re wasting my time–”

“But you don’t know Sir Gavin,” I cut him off firmly. “You don’t know his childhood, his raising, or his reasons for this disgrace. You are condemning him without trying to understand. Sir Duncan, you are a great knight known for your nobility and respect throughout the kingdom! You could mentor–”

“Mentor Sir Gavin?!” Sir Duncan let out a loud and rude laugh. “Your beloved would never be open to such a thing and I certainly would never accept a young man so rash, arrogant, and dishonorable as a pupil! No. I will show the people that honor prevails on the field today. I will make sure Sir Gavin is slain!”

I felt nothing but shame as I walked back to my companions. Sir Duncan would not hear another word from my lips and when he threatened to call the guards and have me imprisoned, I knew I had to leave. I couldn’t risk him realizing that Aledon petrified his guards. We couldn’t afford that type of trouble. Thankfully, Dionna and Aledon had looks of sympathy on their faces when they witnessed my walk of shame.

“Not gonna withdraw, is he?” Dionna sighed.

I shook my head. “I’m going to try and speak to Sir Gavin.”

My companions exchanged doubtful looks. “If Sir Duncan didn’t listen…” Aledon took a deep breath. “What makes you think Sir Gavin will listen?”

I shrugged. “If anything, I might learn his reasons for upping the stakes to a joust to the death. Maybe I can sway him.”

“I can think of a way that might sway him, but…” Dionna shook her head. “Like I said: men think with the organ between their legs.”

“At this point, I believe you, but I’m sticking to my way.” I took a deep breath and Dionna nodded in agreement with me. “Do you know where his tent is?”

Dionna motioned back with her thumb. “O’ course! We passed it on the way here.” She gave Aledon a pointed look. “I get to distract the guards this time. I deserve a little fun too, ya know!”

Aledon chuckled. “Alright. Let’s get going then.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” I frowned at the witch doctor and when he just gave me an innocent look, I motioned back to the two petrified guards. “Undo your spell.”

Aledon huffed. “I suppose I have too. You best get going to Sir Gavin. The guards will know someone spelled them after I undo it and I’d rather you ladies not be around to be suspect. Hopefully, the guards will be too embarrassed to do anything about it, but just in case.” Aledon tipped his hat to me. “Good luck with your knight. You’re going to need it.”

I let out a slow sigh. “I know.”

To be continued…

Going Down the Bayou

Halloween was last Sunday. A spooky night of trick-or-treating, scares, and costumes. My family loves Halloween–especially my brother. So, a couple years ago, we started a tradition of doing a haunted garage Halloween night for every trick-or-treater that came through our neighborhood. Our decor gets bigger every year and this year our theme was witch doctors on the bayou. We scared a couple kids that night and had a lot of fun. Allow me to share with you a description of our night of voodoo and haunts.

You take a deep breath as you walk down the street. You’ve got your bag of candy and a costume of spooky things. The late chill of the night begs you head home to sleep. But it’s time for the house you save for last every year and now that you see it, your hesitating with fear. You’ve seen it all month: the decor slowly going up. And now, for one night only, it’s all set up. Ghosts fly about the windows and moan throughout the shutters. They sit on pumpkins with skulls and try to scare each other. You know they’ll keep their distance so that’s not what has you worried. It’s the voodoo of the bayou that makes your heart so hurried.

Sticks and branches fill the yard and spiny thistles standing tall. Tree trunks hold hanging bones and cloths that bid warning to one and all. Green light shines swamp water on the scene and the two skeletons fishing almost make you scream. But what really makes you worried is the monster in the deep. It’s tentacle seeps up and you pray it’s not you it seeks.

With your head held high you take the torch lighted path all the way to the witch doctor in a terrifying skull mask. He bends down deep and tilts his head. “Are you brave enough to enter my homestead?”

You glance away and just say “Trick or treat,” but a bone-haired witch says you must earn your keep.

“To obtain your sweets, just enter through here. Brave the bayou and don’t show any fear! Follow the path and do not stray lest the gators will come and take your leg away.”

“Gators?!” You repeat. “There’s live gators in there?”

The witch doctor laughs. “It’s just all a good scare!”

You hesitate as you glance at the porch. There’s old barrels and moss and bones–of course. The old wood creaks right under your feet and you let out a shudder as you pass the bamboo screen.

Only firelight illuminates the witch doctor’s hut. You swallow down deep and clench your butt. Stay on the path, you remind yourself bravely, but the wood under your feet leads away from safety. To your left is another crate and an old, mossy trunk, but what seeps from inside makes your heart jump. A rotten bride screams with eyes glazed dead. All that is left of her is her hands and her head. You take a step back and you back into a cage with of bottles and potions and skulls full of haze. The words written on them put your head in a daze. Virgin Blood, Gator Skin, Tears of the Innocent? You hope coming here doesn’t mean your imprisonment.

You push forward to try and pass through the hut. On a table lays brains and a hand lost to a clean cut. You need only one step and you’ll finally be out of the hut and onto the next scene. Yet, shadows cloud your path and you duck your head because you swear there are bats. The darkness of trees hang high overhead with vines and moss hanging from their stead. You back up again–the sweets probably aren’t worth it. Yet, you back into a cabinet, jars rattling from your hit. Sitting atop are more ichors, but it’s the giant spider above that makes you head out the door.

Out of the hut and into the bayou, you silently wish you had someone to guide you. Immediately on the left is a wrath that fills you with fright, so keep down the path heading off to the right. A fog fills the air, it’s harder to see and you swear there are eyes staring out of that tree. You hug the rope railing, letting it be your guide and quietly pray you don’t trip and die. Beneath the wood planks is a green eerie glow, where trees reach up to grab you and gators hunger below. Forward you see a gator poking from the deep with somebody’s leg sticking out of its teeth. You avert your gaze and let out a gasp at the head hanging from a hollow tree’s grasp.

The fog thickens and you’re filled with dread. Surely, there must be a way out up ahead?! You keep your eyes on the path, but then you shutter at the spiders crawling around each other. Watch your step, then duck your head! Away from the snake hissing red. You hear the witch doctor laugh. You’re almost there! Too bad you forgot about the yearly jump scare.

From the thick of the spiderwebs in the last trek of the bayou, a brown haired spider screeches and comes right at you! You let out a scream and abandon all caution. You race from the bayou–your only option. Through the dark curtains and back down the torch path. Your parents are laughing since you’ve finally come back. Now that the night air fills your lungs, you start laughing with them. That bayou was…fun! You grip your candy bag–wait just a sec! You forgot your reward after your long trek! Ah, oh well, you decide in your head. That bayou was much more fun instead. You crane your neck to look back at the scene and spot both witch doctors hollering “Happy Halloween!”

As a Fellow Knight pt. 2

A true joust is one of respect between opponents. The points are given fairly by the Knight Marshal. Both knights ride at the same time and if one should ask for Mercy’s Pass, it should be granted to them. The hits should be clean and directly to the other rider’s shield. Failing to present a good target could result in penalties. No fear should be displayed. Only the skill a knight would use to defend his kingdom. I know all of this, but I yearn to try my hand at a joust someday, so I remembered every word the Knight Marshal gave as instruction. He looked to Sir Duncan and Sir Gavin.

“Do you understand the rules?”

“I understand!” Sir Duncan replied immediately. He raised his fist toward the crowd and cheering resulted from it. I silently huffed. As honorable as a man everyone knew he was, he was being a bit of a show-off.

“Sir Gavin, do you understand the rules?” The Knight Marshal looked to the knight in black and purple. Yet, Sir Gavin was lingering at the edge of the lists, swapping flirtatious eyes with someone in the crowd. This guy is seriously a knight? I rolled my eyes. Aledon had more focus than he did.

“Sir Gavin!”

“What do you want?!” Sir Gavin tossed his head back in a way that reminded me of a child throwing a tantrum. He turned his horse back to the center of the lists and shot a look of irritation at the Knight Marshal. “Can’t you see that I’m bonding with my people?!” He motioned back toward the crowd and the people cheered.

“All well and good.” Annoyance entered the Knight Marshal’s patient tone. “But do you understand the rules of this joust?”

“Yes. Yes. I understand them!” Sir Gavin suddenly smirked and he shot a look toward Sir Duncan. “I understand them so I know how to break them!”

I’m really regretting giving him that favor.

“Sir Gavin do you need be reminded that this is the King’s field?” Sir Duncan rode forward. By the fire in his breath, he was eager for this joust to be underway. “Any act outside the King’s Law will result in your punishment!”

“The only punishment will be to you, Sir Duncan, when I lay you in the dirt!”

“Your Majesty!” The Knight Marshal raised his voice with impatience riding his tone. He turned toward the Noble Court in a way of cutting off the jibes of the two knights. “Shall we proceed?”

The King gave a nod with the wave of his hand and the two knights were presented with their helms and arms. I, personally, think Sir Gavin looks better with his helmet on–not that he looked at all handsome in the first place.

The knights rode forward, saluted each other, and then the Noble Court before heading back to their ends of the list. My heart beat like a pounding drum. While the people around me–save for Dionna and Aledon–were cheering for Sir Gavin, I found myself silently hoping Sir Duncan would win. I may not care for either knight, but I’d cheer for honor over arrogance every time.

Before they rode against each other, the two knights had to pass tests of skills. The first was for each knight to lance a ring held by their squire. Each knight did so flawlessly which was to no surprise. The next was to lance two rings in a row, and Sir Duncan missed one of them. The last, was a thrown ring and each knight easily succeeded. Sir Gavin was in the lead by points, but it came down to the joust itself. They’d pass a series of a times and the one to accumulate the most points by the end would win. But points weren’t all that mattered. If a knight was unhorsed at all during the joust. They immediately lost.

Sir Gavin and Sir Duncan reached their separate ends of the list and when their eyes met, they charged. The horses rode at a thundering gallop and the crowd cheered with excitement. Lances smacked shields. Solid hits for both knights, but neither fell from the saddle, nor lost their lance. They passed again. I grit my teeth when their lances struck shields once more. Sir Duncan and Sir Gavin seemed evenly matched, but the crowd roared for a victor. The knights made a third pass. Something in the way their lances struck had me wincing. Sir Duncan’s arm lurched and he dropped his lance.

No…I watched Sir Duncan canter over to his squire. In the way he held his arm, I feared that Sir Duncan’s age was yielding to Sir Gavin’s youthfulness. Sir Duncan shook out his arm and immediately gripped the lance his squire offered. The moment he looked back at Sir Gavin, the knight in black and purple advanced. Sir Duncan had to spur his steed quickly just to meet Sir Gavin’s charge.

The impact of their lances echoed the field. Sir Duncan’s lance shattered against Sir Gavin’s shield and the force of it knocked Sir Gavin back. His own lance was lost from hand. The way he twisted even had me wincing. That had to hurt and by Sir Gavin’s reaction, it clearly did. The momentum of his lost weapon tore him from the saddle and he hit the ground hard.

I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.

“Sir Gavin is unhorsed!” The Knight Marshal hollered over the cheering crowd. “Your victor is Sir Duncan!”

Roars from the crowd deafened the field. From the looks of the lords and ladies in the Noble Court, they were as relieved as I was that Sir Duncan had won. I mildly clapped along. The more honorable man deserved the win, I still believed that. Aledon nudged me. “Guess your favor wasn’t enough.”

I chuckled. “I’m glad.”

Sir Duncan rode to the center of the lists. He removed his helmet so the crowd could see their victor’s face. I tried not to roll my eyes. The knight still had a whole tournament to go through and yet he acted as if he already won it. I did feel a little bad for Sir Gavin, though. Hopefully, he learned his lesson about what it meant to uphold honor and keep to the law. I looked over at the fallen knight and my brow furrowed. He ripped his helmet off as he got back to his feet and horror steadily rose within me when he ripped a lance out of his own squire’s hands. He charged, on foot, at his victor from behind.

“Sir Duncan, look out!” I stood up, but my warning came too late. Sir Gavin smacked the lance against the back of Sir Duncan’s head. The Knight Marshal realized the dastardly deed after it was done and he jumped to Sir Duncan’s defense.

“Naviro, stop!” Both Aledon and Dionna suddenly grabbed my arms when I tried running down toward the lists.

I tried ripping free. “Let me go!”

Aledon hissed through gritted teeth, “The knights will handle it!”

“You go down there and you’ll find yourself in prison!” Dionna added. “Common folk can’t enter the lists! Especially not a woman! Let the Knight Marshal handle Sir Gavin’s temper tantrum!”

I stared sourly at both of them. I hated it when they were right. If I jumped down there, I could be viewed as a threat like Sir Gavin and I’d find myself in worse trouble. I bitterly looked back at the field. Curse this kingdom and its view on woman.

Rage burned from Sir Gavin like a catapult’s fireball as he fought against the Knight Marshal. He threw his lance to the side and jumped back to avoid the marshal’s own sword. When the marshal raised his blade to strike again, Sir Gavin slipped in and grabbed his hand. They fought over the weapon, the crowd roaring with excitement at the tourney’s turn of events. A quick twist of his arms and Sir Gavin had the Knight Marshal pinned against his chest. He ripped the marshal’s sword out of hand and cut the blade across the man’s inner elbow.

When the marshal buckled in pain, Sir Gavin kicked him to the dirt. He raised his hands high and I soured at the look on his face. Sir Gavin was smirking like he had just won the tournament. Like he was better than everyone in the crowd. Anger seeded in my gut and I didn’t realize my hand was ready to draw my own sword until Dionna placed her hand on my arm again to keep me in place.

Sir Gavin hollered out some words, but I couldn’t hear them over the excitement of the crowd. Sir Duncan was staggering back to his feet. He had fallen from his horse at Sir Gavin’s initial hit, but when he realized what Sir Gavin did to the Knight Marshal, he grabbed a sword from a nearby rack and engaged.

Clashing steel sang through the air when the two knights met down on the field. I ground my teeth. I was aching to get down there to aid Sir Duncan in disciplining Sir Gavin, but Dionna and Aledon held me in place. Didn’t they see how dishonorable Sir Gavin was?!

Sir Duncan had a renewed fire when he combated Sir Gavin. He hacked away at Sir Gavin’s defenses and soon had the younger knight knocked down to his knees, sword lost from hand. “Sir Gavin!” Anger blazed in Sir Duncan’s shout. The crowd quieted. “You disgrace yourself on this field! This is not how a man of honor acts! You will–“

“I never said I was a man of honor!” Sir Gavin spat at Sir Duncan’s feet. He leaned away from Sir Duncan’s sword, then threw dirt up at the older knight. Sir Duncan stepped away to shield his eyes and when he did, Sir Gavin snatched up his sword once again. He beat it across Sir Duncan’s chest plate before kicking the knight into the dirt again.

“That dirty trick!”

“Naviro, stop!” Both Dionna and Aledon pinned me to their chests to keep me from sprinting down to the lists.

“What kind of knight fights like that?!” I struggled against my companions. “He’s a rotten scoundrel! I could teach him what honor really is!”

“I bet you could,” Aledon huffed in my ear. “But how about some other time? I’d hate to turn you into a toad to keep you out of prison, but I suppose then, we’d be squared.” I shot him a hardened look.

With his arm bandaged, the Knight Marshal jumped back into the fray to tame Sir Gavin’s arrogant anger. Sir Gavin’s strength was waning, yet, he still matched the Knight Marshal sword for sword. It was when Sir Duncan returned to his feet that Sir Gavin found himself outmatched. The two older knights had Sir Gavin down on his knees in three quick strikes, their swords pointed at his throat.

“Sir Gavin, you have broken the King’s Law this day.” The Knight Marshal rose his voice over the crowd. “Your acts of dishonor are unbefitting of a man of your stature!”

“I have proven myself the better warrior.” Sir Gavin slowly rose to his feet with his hands in the air. “For it took you both to bring me to my knees!”

“Better warrior, ha!” Sir Duncan scoffed. “You’ve only proved yourself the lesser man! No knight would act so dishonorably within the King’s field! You, sir, spit on the Code of Chivalry and disgrace a knight’s very name!” He slowly removed his riding glove. “I would see to it that you learn respect and honor! For the offense of the Code, I hereby throw down the gauntlet!” Sir Duncan threw his glove at Sir Gavin’s feet. “Let us duel and end this offense once and for all!”

The crowd roared with excitement. It wasn’t every day a knight threw down the gauntlet at his fellow in standard. I wasn’t surprised by Sir Duncan’s actions. I would throw down the gauntlet too. Sir Gavin’s dishonor was so offensive to Sir Duncan that the only way anyone would expect him to respond was by combat. Perhaps being beaten in a proper duel in front of the entire kingdom would teach Sir Gavin some humility and respect.

Sir Gavin merely glanced at the glove at his feet. From the light toss of his eyes, he was bored with the whole situation. “I would accept your challenge,” he stated promptly. “But only if this duel be a joust to the death! You’ll see how much worth your precious Code has when your inners are poured out by my sword!”

Not a good idea. My stomach tightened at the boldness of Sir Gavin’s challenge. A joust to the death? Not only did it insult the sport, but were either of their lives worth this insult to honor? I looked back at Sir Duncan and I inwardly groaned. He was contemplating the request with a stern expression. Sir Gavin already proved himself an experienced fighter and a challenge to Sir Duncan. If they jousted to the death, the Knight Marshal wouldn’t be able to intervene. “I accept,” Sir Duncan replied.

Leave it to a man to throw his life on the line for pride.

“Brave sirs,” the Knight Marshal stepped forward. I could tell he shared my misgivings. “Only a member of the court may authorize such a joust.” He looked back toward the King. “Your Majesty?”

“May it be so,” the King’s reply surprised me. “And may Sir Duncan prevail!”

“Very well.” The Knight Marshal took in a deep breath. He looked back at the two knights. “We shall met upon this field after the tournament. With the gauntlet thrown, both of you will be removed from the standings. Prepare yourselves brave sirs. One of you will not see the morrow.”

“A joust to the death?!” I plopped back down on my seat when both knights departed from the field. “Is Sir Gavin really so foolish–?! A-And Sir Duncan–?! UGH!”

“And here I thought you’d be all for it.” Aledon sat down next to me, leaning back now that he didn’t have to hold me in place. He smiled with a cool air of uncaring. “Being it a matter of honor and all, wouldn’t you want to see Sir Gavin put down?.”

“To uphold honor is important.” I looked back at my friend with a hardened look. “But this is a just a farce of pride! It isn’t worth a life!”

“She’s right.” Dionna shrugged in agreement with me. “Sir Duncan is just embarrassed that Sir Gavin got the jump on him. That’s why he accepted. And Sir Gavin clearly can’t take a loss.”

“Pride is nothing to die for,” I repeated strictly. “Knight or not.”

“I get it. I get it!” Aledon raised his hands. “But lecturing me about it won’t change anything. If you feel so strongly about this, why don’t you lecture the knights instead?”

I looked at Aledon with intrigue. That was an interesting idea. What if I could talk some sense into the two knights? I could probably get Sir Duncan to see reason and take back the gauntlet. If I play to Sir Gavin’s foolish youthfulness, maybe Sir Duncan’s wisdom would hear me? Then, there would be no risk of the King’s best knight losing his life and Sir Gavin would get more days to grow some sense. “I just might,” I said thoughtfully.

Aledon rolled his eyes. “Naviro, I was kidding!”

“They’re not going to just let you walk into Sir Gavin’s and Sir Duncan’s tents to lecture them.” Dionna shook her head. “You’ve got too much on your chest for that. And men’s brains are typically in-between their legs.” When Aledon gave her a stern look, she chuckled. “With you as the exception, witch doctor.”

“It wouldn’t be hard for the either of you to get me an audience with them.” I looked at each of my companions. “You could distract guards, squires, or whoever to get me alone with them.”

“It’ll be as easy as casting a spell.” Aledon gave me a knowing look and I allowed it. I didn’t care what methods he used to clear the path for me. He could turn all the squires into toads if it meant I got a chance to change a stubborn knight’s mind.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Dionna fumbled a frown. “You don’t know what will happen if you get caught.”

“I’m sure.” I looked her right in the eye. I wasn’t going to anything sway my conviction. “A man’s life is on the line. We have to do our part.”

“Alright.” Dionna nodded once. “I’ll help where I can. Beats watching this tournament anyway.”

“Then we should hurry.” I stood up to lead the way. “This tournament isn’t going to last long and who knows how long it’ll take to sway Sir Duncan.”

A Voice to Choose

My heart is heavy
The journey weighs
The strength of dreams slowly wanes
Such majesty, such wonder from
a story they say is too long
A new edit. A new improvement
But word count restricts it’s movement.
A daunting task. An impossible request
To satisfy this yearning inside my chest.
“give up” sweet whispers inside my ear
“there’s too much to do. There’s nothing but fear”
“fear of rejection. Fear of not completing”
“this dream that keeps my heart beating”
I could give the whispers just what they want
And lay down in the dirt while they just flaunt
Their victory with jibes and mocking.
They take from me and just start locking
My hopes and dreams in a box so tight
That nothing could escape it’s might.
Then sturdy logic chimes in, asks “what is the point?”
“give up now and you’ll never rejoice.”
“when the future does come and the chance to see”
“of holding, for yourself, your great story”
“a plan is in motion. Just take heart,”
“nothing can tear the King’s plans apart.”
“remember a quote, you, yourself made”
“from an outtake of how long you’re willing to wait.”
“a character wants relations, but you want your victory.”
“and you said you’d wait through all eternity.”
“so write on and write well”
“and take joy when you spell,”
“out character troubles and character background”
“and characters fighting straight on the battleground”
Your skill doesn’t matter. Just write on the page”
“then edit, and revise, and constantly upgrade.”
“The dream will come true. Be patient, believe.”
“all it takes is faith, you see.”
So, I’ll choose the voice of hope and reason
And keep writing through every season.
And when the whispers return to say I’m not enough
I’ll remember that faith always calls their bluff.