“That’s no knight!”
“No, seriously, what is she?”
“New to the company, are you? That’s Rowan Redblade. Company Ambassador.”
“Ambassador? More like Mascot! Is she a side benefit I hadn’t heard of?”
“Seriously, Lars, this isn’t the place.”
“It’s completely the place! This is the field of honor, and I’m not going to have it sullied by some tramp playing pretend!”
“Get out of those clothes. You’re a knight, Stop playing pretend.”
Ethan Redblade glared down at his child. This wasn’t the first time he’d found Rowan playing ‘princess’, and he was at his wits end.
“Momma let me play…” mumbled Rowan. The child had raided Ethan’s wife’s chest, and had picked out the smallest clothes. Rowan looked like a princess of discarded laundry, while clutching a cloth doll protectively.
“Your mother saw the Dragon as well. I didn’t think her doom would befall you too.” His voice struck through the child, having the desired effect. The shame and fear was clear on Rowan’s face and posture. Best to get those lessons in Rowan’s head now before the child got bad ideas and worse habits.
Now get out of that ridiculous costume, and get to work.“
“Yes, Sir…” Rowan’s voice was a timid whisper, walking to the household’s field of honor, the doll discarded on the floor.
Lars stormed over to Rowan, who was chattering away with a cluster of knights. Everything about Rowan was wrong. Sitting on a supply crate, dressed in clothes were better suited to a street performer, and that voice…Churchbells were quieter, and less grating. One of the fellow knights said something to Rowan and the laugh. Like a trumpet in your ear at dawn. Didn’t this company have any respect? The Dragon could come, and this insult somehow represented the company to Princess Heart. Time to fix the situation. Clearly the company had bad ideas, and bad ideas led to worse habits.
All the knights in Rowan’s circle turned, looking at Lars questioningly. On seeing the anger in Lars’ face though they parted, throwing focus on the object of Lars’ anger. Rowan, now bereft of an audience, looked to the knights, and then to Lars.
He didn’t expect the laugh. That blisteringly loud peal that came out of that tiny trollop only reaffirmed his fury.
“Oh my Princess Heart! I haven’t done this in months!”
“Rowan Redblade, I call you…”
Rowan sighed, her voice a loud, irritated monotone. “You call me out on the field of honor. I’m a disgrace to the company and all who defend Princess Heart. So what am I today? A festival girl? A camp follower? “
“A flagbearer!” Suggested one knight
“A cabin mate!” suggested another.
“Trollop!” The other knights began laughing as they suggested filthier, and increasingly less possible possibilities. Rowan didn’t even want to know what connotation ‘kitchen stove’ could possibly have…
“A fraud!” Shouted Lars. And the field grew deathly quiet. Rowan grew pale, dropped off the crate, and picked up a shortsword and buckler.
“For Heart’s sake, Pick up a Knight’s weapons! This isn’t court!” Lars shouted, enough for most of the company to hear.
Rowan stood up, Lars hadn’t counted on meeting Rowan eye to eye. Nor what he saw in those eyes. He barely registered the clash of shields indicating challenge.
“Someone tell him the rules.” Rowan’s voice was a low growl, barely audible.
“Get up, for god’s sake! It’s three hits! When I was your age, three hits wouldn’t take all afternoon!”
Rowan swung helplessly, barely able to lift the shield against the attacks, now choosing simply to hide behind it.
“Deflect with your shield and strike!”
“I can’t see!”
“But you hit me if…”
“I’m supposed to hit you! That’s the whole damned point!”
“You’ve hit me a hundred times! That’s more than three!”
“And I’ll keep hitting you until -you- get three, now stop playing turtle and fight!”
Rowan peeked out from behind the shield and was immediately clocked by Ethan’s wooden sword.
The afternoon sun was warm, made warmer by Lars’ armor. The company’s official Field of honor was a chalked circle outside the barracks, at the edge of a slope, rolling down to the river. It would be pretty, if it wasn’t for the crowd of knights shouting and betting.
The Captain came forward and inspected Lars’ armor, nodding. She tapped his breastplate with her staff, and strode to Rowan. Unlike the rest of the Company, there was no mirth in the Captain’s manner. She inspected Rowan’s weapons, made sure the laces on Rowan’s costume were tucked, And tapped Rowan’s corset with her staff. The Captain then made her way to the center of the circle.
“We are a united front in the defense of this land and of our sovereign, Princess Heart.” Her voice was strong and clear. Each of the knights bowed their heads. “If we have conflict, we take it out of the land and into the ring. We settle this. And we abide by the result. We are knights. We live by a code, by rules, by honor. It’s what keeps us together, forming a wall to protect our land. A challenge has been offered by Lars Randalson, to Rowan Redblade. Do you agree to settle your differences here, and abide by the result?”
“I do!” Both shouted, saluting the Captain. The Captain nodded.
“Rowan, should you be victorious, what penalty should Lars face?”
“I would like an apology. I would also like my laundry handled. I’m a mess with it myself…” Rowan’s voice had resumed its humor, as Lars grew crimson with the company’s laughter. “Oh and I’d like some cake!” The cheers from the crowd were thunderous, and the Captain covered her own mouth. Lars began trembling in rage.
“Lars, should you be victorious, what penalty should Rowan Face?”
“That…Rowan…be cast out of the knights, abandon the honored name of Reblade, and be the person they really are.”
The circle grew quiet. It took all of Lars’ strength to meet the Captain’s gaze, but he held firm.
The trumpet bell of Rowan’s voice sounded across the circle. The captain turned. “Rowan…”
“I accept his challenge and its consequences. And allow him victory with one hit.”
The Captain shut him down with a glance. “Very well,” said the Captain. “Three sword strikes to one. Knights, stand as witness. Challengers, at the ready…” The captain’s staff struck firmly on the ground, and the battlers rushed to each other.
Rowan hammered at the dummy in tears, more often than not getting repeatedly smashed by its flail. Counting out loud the steps of the strikes and blocks performed, interrupted only when the dummy’s leather-wrapped ball smashed against shield, side, or skull. At the hundredth fall, a hand picked Rowan up. Ethan’s Squire, Daniel, looked down at the bruised child. Daniel was not much younger than Ethan, and had the marks of one who fought beside, as well as cared for his Knight.
“I think the dummy’s had enough, sweetie.”
Rowan lunged at Daniel, who dodged simply. He continued to retreat against Rowan’s attack until the child was completely exhausted, and then sat down on the ground as Rowan sobbed.
“I can’t do this.”
“Well, that’s obvious…”
“You don’t understand!” For the first time, Rowan’s voice was loud, carrying through the compound. “I can’t be a knight! I can’t be a Redblade! I’m doomed, just like ma…”
Daniel held the child for a time. “Oh, sweetie. You are a knight. I promise you are. You have the same heart as your da and ma, and theirs is just as strong as our Princess’.”
“But I can’t fight. I can’t be what he wants me to be. I want to be…”
“You want to be what you are.” Said Daniel. Rowan nodded helplessly, as Daniel picked up the child. “And that gives me an idea.”
Lars’ guard was up. He was used to the clash of armor and heavy weapons. Parry, counter, strike. Force against force. But Rowan was nowhere. Everywhere he turned, everywhere he struck, there was a flash of fabric or color, or that damned sword. His guard had to always be up, but anywhere his shield went, there was the threat of that point and…
The buckler smashed him in the face.
“Is that a…?” Asked one of the knights.
The captain shook her head. “Swords only.”
Lars stepped back, shocked, but forced immediately to parry the rapid stabs from Rowan’s blade. The buckler went high again, but rather than coming at him in a smash, there was a flash of light, and he felt a needle like pain between the gap in his shoulder’s armor.
“Point!” Yelled the captain.
Rowan cartwheeled back to her position, to the cheers of her friends. The buckler strike drew more blood than the sword. A taunt, then. As Rowan chatted with her friends, he charged, shield forward, sword like a lance. Rowan’s friends gasped, and that reaction caused her to jump…
Until her heel smashed into the plate on his back, nearly forcing him out of the ring. As he spun to face the little minx, there was a sharp smash against his nose again.
Daniel danced back and forth, armed only with a narrow stick, striking at Rowan, armed with a tiny buckler.
“But a knight…”
“A Knight defends the Land! A Knight Defends the Princess! A Knight defends themselves!” He whipped the stick at Rowan who kept blocking it with the tiny shield. With each shout, the stick whipped. Rowan’s stick whipped in return, but everywhere Rowan struck, Daniel wasn’t there.
“Live By the Code!”
“Live By the Rule!”
“Live with Honor! What do they have in common?” The stick whipped, and Rowan fell away, striking upward , connecting below Daniel’s shield, and against his side.
Daniel smiled proudly. “Live.”
Lars clutched at his nose, defending with his shield, constantly forced to move closer and closer to the edge. Barely able to see, he feinted with his blade, and followed the path of motion of Rowan’s ribbons, and swung with his shield, connecting with all his strength. Rowan sailed across the field, rolling, only stopping by pinning the sword into the ground. Lars charged as rowan tried to pull the blade out of the earth and smashed again with his shield. Rowan tumbled, clearly groggy, trying to stand, holding up the buckler. This would end it, Lars thought. And the Knights could be all he wanted them to be when he joined. Rowan dropped the buckler, and Lars went forward, rushing. One tap would end this battle, but Lars now wanted to run Rowan through. He thrust, and Rowan dropped, leaning into him, grabbing the straps of his chestplate, and fell…and kicked up with both feet.
Lars didn’t even hear the shout of ‘Point as he fell out of the ring. He plowed through a pile of knights, his momentum not stopping as he rolled on the lawn, and then down the hill. He didn’t hear the shouts and screams as he rolled down the hill, his armor protecting him from the impacts but not the shock, his acceleration only stopped by the river, and his armored body sinking to the bottom. There was screaming somewhere, like a trumpet.
Daniel bowed before his master.
“Sir Ethan, Your daughter would like to have a word with you.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
Daniel opened the door to Ethan’s study, and in walked Rowan, wearing Redblade livery over his wife’s gown. The gown had been tailored to fit Rowan, and was cut at the skirt for movement. Hanging from Rowan’s belt was a Redblade buckler, and matching short sword.
“Stop this nonsense at once, Rowan. Get out of those damned clothes and put those toys away. You are a Knight and more importantly…”
“A Knight Lives to Protect the Princess!” Rowan shouted, voice loud and sharp, like the morning trumpet blast. She detached the buckler, her feet sliding into defense.
“This is ridiculous. You’re making a mockery of…”
“A Knight Lives to protect the land!” She drew her sword, lifting it in a salute. Ethan reflexively drew his own blade.
“You are playing a dangerous game here…”
“I am Rowan Redblade! Daughter of Knight Ethan! I live by the Code! I live by the Rule! I live with honor!”
She pointed the sword at her father’s heart.
“Anything else is –my- choice.”
Lars awoke in the infirmary, sore from toe to neck. He tried to gain his focus. Someone was near him. He closed his eyes, letting the stars behind his lids settle before trying to see again. Seated next to him was rowan, asleep, bruised as well, her face, though, stained with tears, and clutching an old cloth doll. He tried to get up, and she awoke.
“Lars? Are you okay?” Her voice was soft, frightened. Barely a whisper.
“What happened? I fell…”
“I’m so sorry! You were just supposed to get pushed past the line, but I screwed it up and you went down the hill and into the river! You nearly drowned!”
Lars was flushed in shame. “I should have…I deserved to…”
“NO!” Shouted Rowan. “We’re Knights! We live by a code! Live! We’re supposed to live, you dummy!”
“How did I even get out of the river?”
Rowan blushed. “Well, you did. Your armor…and most of your clothes…Still in the river.” She looked down at the floor, hastily avoiding Lars’ eyes.
“Why did you rescue me? I was awful to you.”
“I’m a knight. I live by the code. I live by the rule. And no knight deserves to die in the river from my stupid mistake. It’s…”
“Dishonorable, like me. I’m sorry.”
Rowan shook her head. “That’s what the ring is for, dummy. We’re not all going to get along. My father and i…” She trailed off. “…We spent a lot of time in the ring over the years. Sometimes I won, Sometimes he won. But we were always loyal to each other. We’re Knights. And so are you. Just a dumb, ignorant Knight who only knows linear attacks…But all of that can be improved…I hope?” She smiled at him.
“Wonderful. I’m sorry our fight got interrupted. But I didn’t think…”
Lars leaned over Rowan’s lap, causing her to turn just as crimson. He reached over and took the hilt of rowan’s blade, pulling it a bit out of the scabbard. He winced, and rolled back onto the bed, smiling.
“WHAT THE HELL? AFTER ALL THIS, YOU WANTED TO GROPE ME YOU PERVERT?!?”
Lars lifted his thumb, still bleeding from where he cut himself on Rowan’s blade.
“Point. Do I make my public apology before or after I get you cake?”
Rowan punched him in one of his many bruises.