Here is my second writing assignment! The theme was “First Day.” This character is from an old D&D campaign, but I like her so I’ll keep reusing her! Ten points if you spot my very obvious Tamora Pierce reference (although, I guess Marion, by virtue of being a red-haired lady knight, is sort of an homage all of her own. . .) Enjoy :)
“Damn him and his toasted arse! If it’s not the slags, it’s the swill!”
Gilder hurled his cap to the ground and did a war dance on top of it, cursing gloriously. The nervous page shifted on his feet while the short man finished his tirade. The boy had had the unfortunate duty of reporting to Gilder that one of his jousters was passed out at The Mutton Chop, and the keeper wouldn’t let him leave until his debt was paid. While he wasn’t unused to delivering bad news, sometimes the receiver got a little carried away. Gilder, who ran the jousting in town, was mostly the good sort, but any man could get mean when someone messed with his coin and the page preferred to leave without a black eye.
“How much does that red-faced bilge drinker owe?!”
“Not sure, Mister Gil,” said the boy. “But prolly lots, seeing how the keeper’s got him locked in the back.”
“More than his bout in bets, then. Curse his soaked hide! You get out of here now, I’ve got some thinking to do.”
After the grateful boy left, Gil turned to his three other partners in the tiltyard — the armorer, the weapon master, and the head of the stables. They stared back at him in tired resignation. Sir Duncan was a disgraced knight, but he had been a damn decent jouster once. Or at least he won more than he lost, which was all that was needed of him. These last few months had been particularly irregular, though. It used to be that paying your tilters was enough to keep them on time and sober enough to ride. Not with Duncan.
“That bastard’s cost us three bouts this week already, Gil,” said the head of the stables.
“Yeah, when’re we going to cut him loose?”
“When you figure out a way to end the wars and keep the young men around, then we’ll talk about cutting tilters,” sneered Gil, unfairly. He knew the armorer was right.
“I can do it.”
Gil turned around. A female wearing breeches and a smock stood in the opening of the tent. She was tall for a girl and dirty, like she didn’t sleep inside. Her red hair was completely untethered. She looked him straight in the eye.
“‘Ere, what’s this!” Cried the weapon master.
“Yeah, throw the baggage out,” said the armorer. “We got a problem to figger out!”
“I know you,” said Gil, engaging her against his better judgment. He motioned for the others to be quiet and they obeyed. Although they each helmed a vitally important part of the operation, there was no doubt that Gil was the head of the snake. “You’re the one the men have been complaining about, the girl hanging around the yard trying to have a go with the lances. Don’t you have a husband or something?”
“Duncan’s always half-drunk for these bouts,” she said, unphased. “Everyone knows it! He’s the laughing stock of this yard.”
“You think I don’t know that?”
“I can ride ten times as good as him. And I can win.”
Gil sighed. He blamed those modern scribes, always writing those damn romances about swordmaidens. Now every slip of a girl fancied herself the next Lioness Rampant.
“My name is Marion. And I’m not a girl, I’m fifteen.”
“Whatever. I can’t let a girl tilt. The religious folks would swarm my yard like vermin on a moldy bun. And when there are too many priests around, people don’t drink, and when they don’t drink, they don’t bet, and when they don’t bet, I don’t make money. You see the problem?”
“Who has to know I’m female?”
Gil rolled his eyes. Next time he met a scribe, he’d punch him in the mouth. “Well, pretty much everyone knows you are.”
Marion grabbed the tent flap and furiously tugged it shut after stepping fully inside. Before any further comment, she drew a dagger with one hand and a handful of auburn hair in the other and sliced it off. She did the same with the other side.
“No one will know it’s me,” she said breathlessly, her heart thumping as her locks fell to the ground. “Just put me in. I’m about Duncan’s height, underneath the helm no one will know.”
The men looked at each other. Everyone in Gil’s crew had been a victim of Duncan’s inebriated rages, whether by insult or pointed metal boot. Duncan’s own horse didn’t even like him.
“If nothing else,” grunted the weapon master, “it will humiliate the hell out of Duncan when he wakes up.”
The others chuckled in agreement.
“Yeah,” said the armorer with a nod at Marion, “and if she dies, it’ll serve her right.”
Gil shrugged. “Alright, sweetheart, you’re on. I’m sick of smelling Duncan’s puke. And tell you what? If you win, you can keep all of Duncan’s effects, including the horse. The bastard owes me debt and since I can’t pump it out of his stomach, his armor will do. We’ll fix the, uh, breastplate on you later.”
“If we don’t have to peel it off her,” murmured the armorer.
Marion was mid-triumphant leap when the armorer’s words finally lit up her brain. “P-peel?”
“Here,” barked Gil, “you better get yourself metalled up, we’ve only got an hour before Duncan’s next bout. Get her into Duncan’s plates!”
“Ha, she’ll barely be able to walk in metal plates,” grumbled the armorer. “Better put her in leather.”
“Hold on,” said Marion.
“Excellent!” said Gil cheerily. “Suit her up, then!”
Marion barely noticed the slight advantages the armorer took in fitting the thick leather pieces to her chest and legs. She was trying to decide if she had made a very terrible mistake. Of course she wanted to do this. How long had she been watching the other tilters, envying them from the stands? But for some reason she hadn’t heard the crunch of bones or the agonized screams as clearly as she could now.
“Sir Duncan. . . I’ve, uh, seen that awful scar on his chest. . .”
“While he was sparring, I’ll have you know. Anyway. . . he, um, he got that with plate metal?”
“Please, he did that to himself three years ago. Slipped in the tub.”
“What’s he been saying? That he got that during a tilt? Haha!”
The other men joined in the laughter, perhaps a bit too boisterously.
“Haha,” said Marion.
“Scar’s just as well, prevents people knowing he scares easier than a little girl. Really, there’s nothing to this at all.”
“But I’ll just be in leather. . .”
“What, you’re not backing out now, are you?” Gil tightened his grip on her arm and a sudden shadow fell over his face. The men behind him grew very quiet.
“No!” Marion snapped and shook him off. Suddenly this didn’t seem like her choice any more. A voice clearly disconnected from her sense asserted, “I’m in and I’ll win!”
“Good!” Gil’s sunny disposition returned.
“Sir Duncan, scarlet knight, up next!” Another page shouted through the flap in the tent.
Marion swallowed and shifted behind the red leather, made slippery and pungent by the sudden drenching of sweat that coated every part of her body. She could hear the roar of the hungry crowds swell as the winner of the last bout left the tiltyard. Gil took her arm and began leading her toward the noise. The closer the two approached, the happier the little man became, as though his well-being supped on the excitement of the audience and the smell of victory and blood.
“Now I’m sorry to start you off with a seater, but that’s the way it goes, I’m afraid.”
“Point is to take the opponent out of the saddle, not just break the lance.”
“You’ll be fine. Mount up.”
Duncan’s leather helm fit almost perfectly, though the weapon master had obliged a filthy stocking to pad it a little. Marion sat on Duncan’s horse, who seemed to be relieved to have a stationary rider, and waited in the queue, her eyes focused on the back of the tilter in front of her. She had a twinge in her stomach that pivoted between nausea and exhilaration. Never before had she been allowed to do what she wanted to do. Her desire was realized, even if it was only for this one bout, even if she was smashed to smithereens. At least today she would know what it felt like to be a man.
There was no longer a tilter in front of her. She stared down the long dirt track, mussed up from previous bouts, dark blood splotches dotting the way. A leftover gauntlet and a crumple of maiden’s kerchief lay unclaimed. She swallowed. She suddenly wished Pom was here.
The green flag fell and the horse sprang forward, unbidden.
She could barely keep her grip on the lance and she cursed herself for not insisting on gloves that fit. Her opponent was in a full charge, his lance deadly still and pointed directly at her — or who he thought was Duncan. Her lance was wobbling and she knew she would not hit him, but there was no time to correct! She brought her shield up to deflect what she could only assume was going to be the worst pain of her life and closed her eyes, bracing. . .
She felt a buzzing whoosh as the horses crossed. A sickening screech sent shudders through her bones as metal scraped across metal. The audience let out a collective sigh of disappointment. She was still moving forward, though the horse was slowing down. When she opened her eyes, she was surprised and relieved to find that she had made it to the other side of the yard, miraculously still seated. He missed!
As Marion got back into position for the cross, she felt a thrill through her core. Her muscles locked into place, solidifying the position and grip of the lance and her weight in the saddle. It was somehow familiar, as if the tilt had jogged her memory. She could swear her body remembered. Grinning, she lowered her lance. The green flag fell for the second pass. With a deep guttural bellow, Marion kicked her horse’s flanks and leaned forward, her eyes boring into the chest of her opponent. She shifted the lance point and raced nearer, ever nearer.
Marion yowled in pain as the butt of her lance slammed into her shoulder and stars exploded in the blackness of her vision. Gritting her teeth, she whirled her horse around and forced her eyes to drink in the outcome.
Her opponent lay in the dirt, his horse nudging him. Her deafness to the crowd vanished and she disappeared into their roaring approval. She won.