Authors: Dina L. Sleiman
Tags: #JUV033140, #JUV016070, #JUV026000
Â© 2015 by Dina L. Sleiman
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâfor example, electronic, photocopy, recordingâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
Scripture quotation identified JPS is from the Jewish Publication Society Version. Â©Â 1917 by The Jewish Publication Society
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Paul Higdon.
Cover model photography by Steve Gardner, PixelWorks Studios, Inc.
Author represented by The Steve Laube Agency.
To my readers:
My prayer is that you will be strong and courageous. Follow the path God has laid before you, wherever that might lead. Be a doctor, a lawyer, a professional athlete, a wife, a mother, or even a president.
Chase after your dreams, and if a handsome knight in shining armor should happen to come alongside you, headed in the same direction, and you should happen to fall in loveÂ .Â .Â . then join together and become partners in your quest.
But please rememberâyou are complete, you are beautiful, and you are dearly loved by God just the way you are.
A woman of valour who can find? for her price is far above rubies.Â .Â .Â . Strength and dignity are her clothing; and she laugheth at the time to come.
Proverbs 31:10, 25
I am a knight.
Strong like steel.
Ready to conquer any foe.
Energy surges through me, striving to burst out my skin. The moment is ripe. Above my horse's whipping white mane, I stare into the eyes of my opponent. Though at a distance, I know them well. Bright blue and shimmering with intelligence.
One must always understand one's opponent. Find a way inside said opponent's mind. This one will feint to the right before pressing dead center, but with a flicker of hesitancy just before the end. I shall seize that moment. And victory shall be mine.
Pointing my lance to the sky, I ready myself. In my mind's eye, I picture grandstands made of wood festooned with colorful coats of arms. I can almost see the pennants swaying in the breeze and hear the crowds roaring with anticipation. Just over there, a herald blasts a trumpet. Our names are called. The duke and duchess, arriving just in time, wave to the crowd and take their seats in the ornate chairs prepared for them.
But the picture fades. In truth, our only audience is the tree-lined hillside surrounding this flat patch of grass, the scatter of wild flowers alongside our battle course, and a craggy old mountain looming beyond. Diverting my focus for just a moment, I spy a red bird fluttering past and a squirrel chomping a nut nearby. They alone shall witness my triumph. But it shall be sweet nonetheless. And perhaps someday, against all oddsâif dreams come trueâI might joust in a real tournament.
I give heed to my opponent once again. With a nod, I lower my lance to the parallel position. The warrior across the field mirrors my every move.
I slam my heels into my horse's flank and thrust my weight forward with all my might. Locking fist, wrist, elbow, and shoulder into place, I steel my lance against my side. As the wind whips past, time grows oddly slow. From the corner of my eye, I note as the startled squirrel pivots and dashes toward a tree.
My opponent speeds closer one pounding hoofbeat at a time. Blue eyes squint within the slit of the helmet. A loose lock of black hair slaps against the silver armor. Almost there. As I assumed, the lance headed my way shifts subtly to the right. Before my opponent can straighten once again, I lean yet farther forward for the strike.
In an instant lasting an eternity, our weapons clash, tangle, and arc toward the sky. But only I am prepared, and I hold tight. My opponent's lance continues its heavenward flight, looping through the air. The armor-clad figure is thrown backward by the impact, fights for control, and then topples, flipping feet over head before crashing to the ground.
Our horses fly past each other, but only I remain seated with my weapon in hand. I whoop in victory. Waving my blunted
lance in triumph, I turn and bow toward the squirrel, who is now hidden in the branches above.
I long to linger and bask in the glory of the cheering crowd. To kneel before the duchess and receive my tribute. Alas, such favor shall not be afforded me this day. Those such as I are not permitted to fight in tournaments. Not even in this supposed Eden where we dwell. Here on the practice field, in secret alone, can I thrill to the excitement of the joust.
My attention turns to my opponent. The armored figure lies crumpled, facedown upon the well-trampled field. My stomach catches in my gut, for my intention had never been to injure. Only to defeat.
Trotting my horse back in that direction, I hop off. “Are you well? Rosalind, answer me, please.”
I kneel alongside my beloved servant. Dare I touch her? Might I injure her further?
A few pathetic moans emanate from the too-still figure.
Having little choice, I gently roll her over.
She jerks and spasms, coughing several times, and then flops down again with her arm at an odd angle. Through the slits in her helmet, I detect her tongue lolling from the side of her mouth.
My stomach clenches into a tight knot. “No,” I whisper, pressing my hands to my mouth as my heart speeds and my blood chills. I shall never forgive myself if she dies, all for my selfish entertainment.
“Ha, ha! I fooled you.” Rosalind bolts to sitting. She pulls off her helmet, revealing gleaming black hair escaping its braid, milky skin, and berry-tinged lips turned into a wicked smile.
I give her a shove as I attempt to breathe normally and untangle my stomach. “That is not funny! You scared the life right out of me.”
Rosalind frowns. “You deserved it, Lady Gwendolyn. Besides, 'twas not all an act. You did knock the wind from me. I told you this was a bad idea.”
“If I ever wish to improve, I need to test my jousting against a live opponent, not merely the practice quintain.” Removing my own helmet, I allow my long blond braid to fall free, and I breathe deep the fresh summertime air.
Rosalind pants as she speaks. “My old mum never thought I'd be in such danger when she sent me to serve a fine lady in a castle.”
“Oh, you love it.”
“âDo the lady's hair,' she said. âDress her in fine gowns,' she said. âNo job like it in the world.' That's what Mum promised when she sent me from home.”
Rosalind stands and brushes the dirt away, appearing twice her normal width in her thick padded vest covered with chain mail. “She got the last part right enough. Nowhere else on earth would a handmaiden be set to jousting in a field. I don't mind a sword match now and again, and I admit to enjoying target practice with arrows and daggers. Even a woman must be ready to defend herself and her children when need arises. But I hate this heavy armor. 'Tis hot like Hades!”
“Hush you and take it off, then.”
“You like to joust because you know you'll win.” Rosalind tugs at her hauberk.
I help Rosalind lift the weighty chain mail over her head, being careful not to catch her hair. “Hugh has been too busy helping the duke to tilt with me. A girl must keep her skills sharp.”
“Must she? And for what purpose, might I ask?” Rosalind's blue gaze pierces straight into me. “Have you plans to go on campaign that you have not apprised me of? Perhaps to slay a dragon or a monster along the way?”
The young woman stands nearly my height and can look me in the eye, unlike most females. One of the many reasons I chose her, along with her brash personality and saucy wit. Her astounding beauty almost put me off at the first, but Rosalind has a way with hair and paints that might stand in my favor someday, so I overlook that inconvenience.
Besides, truly, how many maids could be convinced to joust?
Though she is, of course, right that my fighting skills hold little purpose, I do not concede. “I long to protect the weak and the innocent. To defend our just dukedom. Eleanor of Aquitaine led a crusade. One never knows when doors might open for a female warrior.”
“One might suppose that if they are not open in the fair and progressive dukedom of North Britannia, they will never open anywhere.” Rosalind unfastens the heavy, padded gambeson and removes it.
Her linen tunic clings to a figure far more slender than my own, revealing every curve and cranny until she shakes it loose. “Oh, bother with this heat. Jousting in midsummer. Who ever heard of such nonsense? Shall we try swimming in December next? I hear the water is delightful that time of year.”
Ignoring her off-subject tirade, I continue my argument. “One might rather say that if those doors might open anywhere, it would be here. I have met Duchess Adela on a few occasions, and she seems a feisty sort.” I cross my arms over my chest, hoping to appear fierce. “The Amazonian women were warriors. I tell you, it could happen.”
“You and your Amazons.” Rosalind huffs and shuffles to her horse, dragging her armor along the ground. “One legendary group of women in the entire history of the earth, and you must seize to the idea as normal.”
Naturally I am fascinated with the Amazonsâwomen who
justify my height and sturdy build. Throughout childhood I played at Amazonian princess and, despite my brothers' teasing, took great pride in my imaginary role. “Let us not forget the prophetess Deborah.”
Rosalind swings her armor atop her horse. “Of course we must never,” she says with a heaping dose of sarcasm. “But even Deborah did not joust. Perhaps when you foretell the future, I shall hold out hope for your destiny as a knight, but until then, you must be realistic. How long can you avoid marriage?”
Panic rises within me like an icy mountain spring, threatening to take my breath away. “I shall never marry.”
“Right then, good luck with that.” Rosalind turns her full attention to me. “You never want to plan for the future. But one day soon it will be upon you. Then what shall you do?” she asks with all the wisdom and experience her two additional months upon the earth allot her.
I scowl her way and head back to Andromache, my giant, snow-white mare. I nuzzle the horse, taking comfort in her scent of hay and oats. Andromache never judges me. Never demands that I plan a future or take the practical course. She contents herself to live in the excitement of the moment with me.
At sixteen, I have managed to escape marriage longer than many noble women. With Father ever away and practically in denial about my existence, who is to say I cannot stretch it another three years, or even five? By then I will be past my prime, and perhaps between my advanced age and my ill-suited stature, no one will want me at all.
Perhaps one of my dear brothers, Hugh or Gerald, shall take me in. I could help him train for battle, guard his home when he is off to war, and be a favorite auntie to his children. All might yet be well.
I mount Andromache, and Rosalind pulls alongside upon
a gentler brown mare. “Lady Gwendolyn, do not be cross. I only speak the truth, and only because I care. You are a noblewoman, reared for marriage and breeding. You can't outrun your fate, but perhaps if you are well prepared, you will find happiness within it.”
Pressing my heels into Andromache's side, I flick the reins. I shall not argue further with Rosalind. The silly romantic girl does not understand what I know all too well.
There can be no joy in a noble marriage arranged for power and alliance. Only misery.
And so I will live in the moment and milk every bit of pleasure from life while yet I can.