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.

As a Fellow Knight

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.

To Be Continued…

The Writing Struggle

Every writer has a least favorite type of scene to write. Some writers don’t like writing dialogue. Others don’t like the romantic bits. As for me? Well, one of my least favorite types of scenes to write are battle scenes.

Battle scenes and other various action sequences bring out my reluctant groan! “But Nikki, you said you were writing a medieval fantasy. Doesn’t that include battles?” Yes. “But Nikki, you mentioned a scifi involving bounty hunters. Won’t that have battles in it?” Why, yes. It’ll have a lot. “But Nikki, peek in all you idea journals. A lot of those plots involve fighting!” You are very right. I just like to torture myself, okay?

All joking aside, sometimes a writer’s favorite type of genre will involve something they don’t like writing. The answer as to why we don’t like writing those scenes is fairly simple: we’re terrified of messing them up.

Think about the fight scene, for example. If you have two characters going at it, you gotta be able to consider their capabilities, endurance, and the flow of the fight. You have to be able to blend in the action without leaving too much to summary. When I go back and read my novel, I like to think I have great fighting scenes. It makes me think I’m pretty good at them…until I try to write a new one. Like at lunch the other day. I’ve been working on the sequel to my novel; however, I’m stuck at a big fight revolving around my main character. Now, I’d like to think that I could just get the final draft down on paper and be done with it, but unfortunately, no one is that good of a writer. So, in my first draft, I end up skipping over a lot of the action sequences. I focus on the dialogue in the fight and the characters’ intentions–yes, I know. A lot of fights don’t involve dialogue, but I enjoy characters screaming witty comebacks at each other as they try to cut each other’s throats.

Long story short: my fight scenes take a LOT of rough drafts before they become the nicely flowing scenes in my fingers-crossed-someday-to-be-published novel. So, what are some tips to getting through those reluctant-I-don’t-want-to-write-it scenes? Well, check these out:

  • Don’t try to make it perfect on the first go–it’s just not going to happen
  • Focus on your character’s intentions, feelings, and personality as it’ll influence their actions
  • Make it fun so you enjoy it (like adding witty dialogue. You can always cut this stuff out later)
  • Think about your setting. If you’re in a fight scene, what can your characters manipulate to their advantage?
  • What are your stakes? What happens if your character doesn’t win the fight or doesn’t woo the lady?

One of the most important things to remember is not lose your flow. When I write, I find myself stopping a lot and just staring at the screen, or looking away, or throwing my head in my hands because I don’t know the perfect words to write next. So, the best thing you can do is not search for the perfect words. You’ll spend too much time trying to find them that you’ll lose your motivation for the scene. When you get to a point you’re stuck at bracket it: []. Use brackets to summarize what you want to happen in this part then move on. You’re going to be editing anyway, so might as well save that bit for later. I like to build an outline format as I write and fill in the details later. Like this outtake from my recent rough draft (keep in mind, it is a rough draft. I will also be using Villain and Ally in the place of other characters names to avoid spoilers):

“It is inferior to what I am!” Villain strikes back, but Justin deflects. “I am the descendant of legends and glory! What could a mere object have compared to I?! It will bow to me! All things will!” Villain flicks his gaze up past Justin and a vicious smirk shifted in his eyes. He raised his weapon and disappeared.

“What?!” Justin started back. He whirled around, scanning the battlefield for Villain, but there was nothing but the clash of crystal and flesh in the midst of the ice and snow. Then, a cry came from the top of the frozen waterfall. Villain had his weapon pressed against Ally’s throat and he back him up to to the edge of the waterfall. “How did he–?!” Justin cut himself off and he bolted for the waterfall. Villain’s intention was to throw Ally over, Justin didn’t need to be a genius to know that. He just hoped he was able to do something before Ally’s body impacted the ice.

[Justin saves Ally and makes it up to the waterfall cavern. Description. Villain is in a fight with Ally #2. Ally #2 is losing.]

“You’re the last thing in my way from total control!” Villain laughs manically, bearing over Ally #2. “With your death, your people will be mine to harvest for parts! Once your precious little eggs hatch, your kind will be nothing but animals raised for slaughter!”

“The only animal around here is you, Villain!” Justin shouts in anger. “Leave these people alone!”

[Begin the final one-on-one fight between Justin and Villain. Make it EPIC]

Like I said: a rough draft. Who even knows if I’ll stick with this dialogue or sequence, but rough drafts are important for helping you shape the story. When you stick all the pieces together you can see what’s working and what isn’t and what you need to fix. It’s important to not get discouraged whenever you reach the scenes that aren’t your favorite to write. They might need a little more marinating than other scenes, but if you keep at it, you’ll get there. You just gotta overcome the writer’s struggle.

I Like Me

A coworker was recently telling me about an idea she wanted to do around our workspace. It’s to bring in a poster board, decorate the edges of it, and then hang it up on the wall. Then, everyone on the team and anyone who comes into our area can write on it. Now, they wouldn’t just write any old thing. They’d write something that they liked about themselves. Usually, a board like that would be for people to write their favorite things about each other, but it’s a lot harder to write something you like about yourself. My coworker proceeded to tell me that when she was discussing the idea out with others, it really made them pause and think. And one had the bold bluntness to say that they didn’t like anything about who they were. Thing is…I find that hard to be true.

Everyone has to like something about themselves. Big or small.

Yet, when it comes down to it, it’s a really puzzling question. What do you like about yourself? Do you like your looks? Your attitude? Your hobbies or personality? Are there any traits you have that you would consider honorable? Small habits that you do that you enjoy? It can be something so simple as “I like that my eye has a spot in it” or something deeper like “I like that I can stand up for others.” Or something innocent like “I like how I hum while I work.”

I started thinking about my coworker’s question after she walked away. What do I like about myself? A couple years ago, I’d probably tell you that I didn’t like much. Yet, pondering it now, I can think of quite a few things I like about me.

I like that I’m taller than the average height. I like that my hair is long and curly and gets sun kissed at the ends because I wear a hat all the time. I like to think that I’m physically strong and someone anyone can go too for help. I like that I’ve grown a lot this past year in leadership qualities and boldness. I like that I’m busting out of my timid nature. I like that I’m quiet and observant and I love that I’m a daydreamer. I like that I’m a writer, an artist, an animal lover, and that I have a calm disposition. I like that I have hobbies and that I’m a total geek over my favorite games. I like that I can see the good in people and default to giving them the benefit of the doubt. I guess what I’m saying is…

I like me.

Now, nobody’s perfect. I’m certainly not, but you’ve gotta be able to see those good qualities in yourself. What’s that saying? Love yourself? And don’t the shrinks say that’s healthy? I’m sure everyone can find one thing they like about themselves and improve on it. If you can’t find something you like about yourself. Then that just means you have something to work on. You can’t grow or improve something you don’t like. You’ll have no effort for it.

So, if you’re struggling to say those three little words of “I like me.” Then ask yourself: “Why not?” Why don’t you like yourself? Is it your appearance? If so, change it up. Give yourself a make-over. You may not be able to do anything about your height, but you can always find a style that helps you like your height. If you don’t like yourself because of your weight, then get out and exercise. That’s something you can do something about. Then, there’s the thought of maybe what you don’t like is deeper? Maybe you don’t like being timid or you fear you talk too much. Make it a point to take baby steps to bravery or focusing on listening over talking. If you don’t like your habits, then change them. If there’s something you don’t like about yourself, work on it until you do.

Now, this is definitely easier said than done. It took me a while to get the courage to stand up and try to be a leader and when it came down too it, I didn’t have the courage. There was no way I had the courage to ease into stepping up, because that allowed fear of not being good enough to slow me down. So, I just held my breath and dived in. And I’m getting better. It’s not hard anymore to be the one to give instructions. Do the difficult stuff no one else wants to do. I mean, sometimes all it takes is 10 seconds of courage and once you’re in, might as well go deep. But it took time for me. It took YEARS. Because when I was a kid, I was the last person to step out and step up.

It may take years for you too. It may take many attempts to change what you don’t like into something that you do. I just hope you never give up and when you stumble and fall, you get right back in the race. Then, when your coworker asks you to write down something that you like about yourself maybe you’ll come to the conclusion I did. Maybe you’ll discover a whole new perspective and many things you like about yourself. I certainly hope you do.

I certainly hope you say: “I like me.”

One Year Anniversary!

You know what’s super exciting to think about? Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary for my website! For an entire year, I’ve been uploading two posts a week! Now, whether or not I’ll be able to continue doing that is up in the air, but I hope you’ll take a moment with me to just be proud about how the past year’s been.

When I started this website–I’ll be honest–I had no idea what I was doing. I just heard that literary agents want aspiring authors to have a platform/following and most authors achieve that by starting their own website. With this and a bit of research, nikkidiekemper.com was born–sooner than expected.

Sooner than expected? Yeah, there’s a funny story behind that. You see, when I was building this website, I didn’t tell anyone. I crafted it in secret and I didn’t really want anyone to know about it. It’s kinda intimidating to think that people I know would get the chance to read my work. Strangers aren’t a big deal, but thinking about the people I know puts a lot of pressure on. I mean, maintaining a website is a tall order! And what if people DON’T like my work? In a couple of days, I had my website all ready for launch. There was content. There was pictures, book reviews, and art. I still needed an author photograph, but that would come with time. All I had to do was hit the button and watch my website put itself out there, but I didn’t.

For a couple of days, I didn’t. I convinced myself that it wasn’t done. It wasn’t ready. I forgetting something. It had to be perfect. Recently, I watched a movie called Letters to Juliet and there was a line in there that struck me. A fact checker wanted to be a writer, but she never submitted any of her work. While she’s out on a hunt for someone’s Romeo, her love interest reads over the current story she’s writing. He ends up telling her that she’s a fantastic writer and she has everything she needs to pursue her dream. So why doesn’t she do it? Her answer is that she never feels like its finished and she’s sort of a perfectionist. The guy’s response is “You know that’s just another way of saying ‘I’m a chicken’?”

That’s what I was doing with my website. I was putting off launching it because I was scared and I wouldn’t even admit it to myself. Then, a day came that I was working on updating one of the pages. It was actually the very same day I started my current job. After editing, I clicked a button to save my work…Well, turns out that button wasn’t what I thought it was. My work was saved–thankfully, but my website was also launched.

I was horrified! I remember sitting there at the computer in shock and wondering if it’s possible to un-launch a website. And, of course, then came the avalanche of thoughts. You know the kind where one little thing gets to you and you’re suddenly swept away in a torrent of anxiousness of “what ifs” and “buts” and “why’s?” I don’t know how to un-launch a website, so instead, I just read everything over again to make sure it was alright. For the first couple months, my site didn’t get a lot of views and that’s because I didn’t know how to put it out there. It’s not as popular as an impatient person like me would like, but you know what? I’m still pretty proud of it. I hope to keep up the written work and I can’t wait to see how things turn out in the end.

Please, allow me to extend my gratitude to everyone who’s followed my site this past year, couple months, or even just a few days. It means a lot to know that people like and read my work. So, thank you from the bottom of my heart and I promise to do my best to keep up the content.