Back from vacation and plagued by computer issues. Here’s a repost of an older story while I try to get my Alienware computer back to acting like a computer and less like a very expensive brick.
Mara swept the first young Knight’s feet out from beneath him and shoved him hard with her shield. He crashed to the ground, and before he could roll away, she hit his breastplate with her sword.
A second Knight charged her, but she pivoted, letting his momentum in full armor carry him past her. As he tripped over the first Knight, Mara hit his back with the flat of her sword.
Two kill shots. Both Mara’s. Anything but a training exercise, and the two Knights of Valor would be dead.
There was laughter and teasing from the sidelines, but a quick look from Mara silenced the other Knights. “How long will you survive in the eastern provinces?”
Knight Keenan helped the two younger men back to their feet. “We’re practicing. They’ll get better.”
“But not good enough.”
“Not all of us can be Sir Marcus,” the Knight Mara had tripped said.
Mara pierced the boy with her hard stare. “Sir Marcus spent his life training to fight a lich. You spent yours training to protect the safe streets of Tamryn.”
Knight Keenan cleared his throat. “We’ll practice again tomorrow.”
Mara looked over the assembled Knights, her gaze resting on each man in turn. “Anything you face in the eastern provinces will be alive because it’s survived worse than whatever haunts your nightmares. Do you think your enemies get knocked down during practice then toddle off to say a few prayers?”
The Knights stared back at her, and several of them clenched their fists at their sides.
“Good. Get angry at me. Better angry than dead. Next lesson.” Mara motioned to a figure dressed in a plain brown cloak.
The woman walked over to Mara and bowed, then turned toward the Knights.
“Skyla,” Keenan said. “What are you doing here?”
“She’s helping me demonstrate a lesson,” Mara said. “Are your healers out here?”
Keenan nodded toward Knight Matthias, but concern reflected in his pale green eyes. “Is this safe?”
“Less dangerous than sending out half-trained men.”
Knight Keenan glanced at Skyla then stepped back. “Be careful.”
Mara looked at the woman in the robes. Her rich brown hair was tied in a simple ponytail, and her large grey eyes seemed too big for her face. She was easy to underestimate as so many mages were.
“Just like we practiced,” Mara said.
Skyla nodded and moved several sword lengths behind Mara.
“Do you think your Knights can beat Skyla and me?” Mara raised a challenging brow at Keenan. “Or are you going to send them to their prayer vigil and hope Dracor gives them fighting skills?”
“I don’t want her to get hurt.”
“Not what I asked.” Mara smiled at the gathered Knights, a taunting expression meant to rile them. “Pick your best seven. If they can get three points in before I get a killing blow, you win, and I’ll come back and help you train them until the new moon.”
Keenan glanced at the recruits and then back at Mara. “You called for a healer. What do you have in mind?”
“Don’t think seven of your Knights can get in three hits?”
“And if they can’t?”
“You owe Skyla and me a hellfire at Ndrek’s bar.”
“Seven against you and Skyla?”
“Until the new moon?”
Mara nodded again.
“They could really use the practice against someone with your skills. You’re sure Skyla won’t be hurt?”
“It’s not her you should be worrying about.”
Mara fell into her battle stance, and she felt Skyla building the first spell as seven young Knights took their positions opposite her.
Keenan signaled the start of combat, and Skyla let loose with the spell.
A wall of flames scorched the ground and rose up between Mara and the Knights. Mara ignored the fire, ducking her head as she charged through it and tapped the chest plate of one of the Knights. Pivoting, she tapped the chest plate of a second before any of them had recovered their wits enough to close their mouths.
The remaining five backed away from the fire and Mara’s blade. Just as she’d anticipated.
Skyla loosed her second spell, and the ground under the remaining Knight’s feet turned to mud.
Slamming her shield into the first Knight’s sword, she shoved hard and sent him stumbling back then barreled into the second. Surprise widened his eyes, and when he tried to turn, he slipped in the mud.
Mara slammed his chest plate with her sword, and if it hadn’t been a practice blade, she’d have killed the Knight. Instead, she sent him into the mud with the first, who’s chest plate she tapped.
They’d hurt, but the bruises would teach a lesson they wouldn’t forget.
The remaining three Knights extricated themselves from the mud as Mara circled around them. She smiled as one tried to flank her while the other two came at her. Sprinting towards one, she used her shield as a battering ram and knocked him to the ground as the second scored a glancing blow against her arm.
She pivoted and knocked his feet out from underneath him them hit his chest plate with her sword. Leaping over him, she tapped the Knight she’d steamrolled to the ground.
One Knight remained.
As he stood watching her, black vines shot out of the ground and encased his feet, rooting him there.
Mara circled around him, but he couldn’t turn to face her. She came up behind him and tapped the middle of his back.
There were growing whispers that the battle hadn’t been fair. That they hadn’t been warned.
Mara only smiled. “Combat isn’t about fair. Or justice. Or right and wrong. It’s about winning. In real combat, Skyla would’ve been using fireballs, flame clouds, and ice storms. Never ever under estimate a mage.”
“Good lesson,” Sir Leopold said. “Well done, both of you.”
Mara felt the High-Knight’s faded blue eyes fix on her. She met his stare, her face impassive even as her stomach clenched. Tall and broad, the only thing that belied his age was the silver in his hair and the rank insignia on his uniform.
She wondered again what he’d feel like beneath her and how hard he’d fight her for top. How much she’d relish that fight. The thought made her belly tighten.
Stabbing the thought and leaving it to bleed to death, Mara handed her practice sword back to Keenan.
She picked up her battle-worn sword and wiped the soot from her cheeks. “One hit to seven kills. See you at Ndrek’s.”
Keenan only nodded as he checked on his men.
Continued from A Knight’s Prayer Part 1.
A Knight’s Prayer
Sir Gabriel blinked then stared down at the elf wrapped in his tabard. “It’s not what you think. I didn’t-”
Leopold chuckled. “Unless you’re an elf, I know you didn’t.”
Relief loosened Sir Gabriel’s shoulders. “She couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old when I found her. I was walking along the sea as part of my rehabilitation and found her among the wreckage of a ship.”
“So you brought her back with you.” Sir Leopold bit back a smile. Sometimes the gods gave you what needed in the strangest of ways.
“I’ve been searching for her family since I found her, but I haven’t found them yet.”
“Can’t be easy taking care of a child by yourself with your duties and working on healing that leg.”
“I’ve been very fortunate. People have been willing to help. Thalia’s compassion beats strong in Tamryn.”
Sir Leopold chuckled as he watched the tall, broad-shouldered Knight gently brush a lock of hair from the little girl’s cheek. Thalia may play a part in people’s willingness to help, but he suspected the Twins had a hand in it, too.
“I brought her to Aerius at King Eli’s request.”
“King Eli?” Leopold’s brows shot up. “What does he want with a foundling elf?”
“I’m not sure, but I’m supposed to be meeting with him and Queen Auburn.”
Leopold leaned back against the pew. That meant Auburn had a vision. One strong enough and with big enough implications that Eli felt it necessary to investigate. Both interesting and terrifying. The elves were formidable but isolated.
Or they had been.
And he’d preferred it stayed that way. The fewer uncertainties the better while dealing with the eastern provinces.
“Tell me when you go meet with King Eli. I’ll come along with you. He can’t intimidate me no matter how much he tries.”
“I’m afraid he’ll tell me to send her away.” Sir Gabriel tucked his tabard around the child. “I don’t know where I’d send her. I’ve tried everything I can to find her family.”
“They may not want to be found. Elves are an odd bunch.”
“You’ve met them?”
“A few times, though none that look like this one.”
Sir Gabriel cupped her tiny hand in his. “There’s something else you should know. Her eyes aren’t human.”
“Of course they’re not. She’s an elf.”
“They seem to glow.”
“Like I said, elves are an odd bunch. Never met one that wasn’t more than twice my age, and most were a lot older than that. Maybe all of their eyes almost glow as children.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
Sir Leopold pushed himself to his feet. “Staying in the barracks while you’re here in Aerius?”
Sir Gabriel nodded.
“You’re not anymore. Get your horse. You’re gonna come stay with me, and I’ll introduce you to Marcus and Brelynn.”
The young Knight’s eyes widened. “But Sir Marcus-”
“Is a good man who’ll help Brelynn spoil Aurora. Might even catch Mara spoiling her when she thinks no one is looking.” Sir Leopold knelt before the altar to Dracor as Gabriel stared at him, whispered a prayer, then straightened. He nodded toward the young Knight. “Don’t make me make it an order.”
Sir Gabriel gathered up Aurora and cradled her against his chest as he pushed himself back to his feet without his cane.
Sir Leopold smiled. Boy had a long way to go, but the gods were on his side.
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A Knight’s Prayer
The moon hung high in the sky when Sir Leopold pushed back from his desk. He’d had plenty to keep his days full before Sir Marcus had killed the Death Knight and blown the eastern provinces wide open. Now sleep felt like a luxury.
But the people in the eastern provinces deserved the gods’ light to shine on them, deserved to tuck their kids into bed and not worry about what would come for them in the night.
Long hours in a comfortable office seemed like little to ask in comparison. And it wasn’t like anyone was waiting for him to come home at night.
Sir Leopold chuckled. Not true. Not anymore.
Sir Marcus would silently worry Leopold was working too much again, but Brelynn would openly fuss at him. Mara would stare at him with her strange amber eyes, her thoughts as inscrutable as ever. Strange lot, but they were family. Even Mara.
Despite the late hour, Sir Leopold strolled one last time through the Temple of Dracor.
The god’s power radiated through the building, filling Sir Leopold and reigniting his faith and purpose. It burned stronger tonight, more brilliant. Sucking in a deep breath, the light filled Leopold and inspired him. Fatigue melted away under Dracor’s radiance, and Leopold again thanked the god for His favor.
Finally ready to head home and take the fussing he had coming, Sir Leopold paused outside the main sanctuary. A young Knight was kneeling before Dracor’s altar.
Sir Leopold waited, but the young Knight’s rigid back and hunched shoulders told Leopold more than words could.
The fussing would wait a bit longer.
Leopold strolled down the main aisle, and as he drew closer, he noticed the heavy cane and glimpsed the young man’s profile.
Another hero of the eastern provinces, and another victim.
As Sir Leopold sat on the pew behind the young man, he noticed a tiny child wrapped in the Knight’s tabard. Her pointed ears, sharp features, and golden hair warned she wasn’t human.
Not a bastard, then. Sir Leopold had seen enough of those in his time, and he’d learned how to deal with Knights who’d made that misstep.
This was different.
Sir Leopold sat beside the sleeping child and bowed his head in prayer.
Knight Gabriel startled when he finally saw the older man.
“I’m sorry, High Knight, I didn’t hear you come in. I’m normally more observant.”
“You’re in Dracor’s temple. No need for such vigilance here, and nothing to be sorry about. Your devotion is admirable.”
The young Knight of Valor tried to push himself to standing. His face twisted in pain.
Sir Leopold didn’t offer help, knowing better after years of dealing with injured Knights.
Gabriel grabbed the cane and shoved himself to his feet. Disgust twisted over the young Knight’s features before he could lock it away.
“How are you doing?” Sir Leopold asked.
“All right. The Council has assigned me to temple duties… for the moment.”
While he healed, but he didn’t want to admit weakness, not even to a fellow Knight. That was a weakness in itself, but Sir Leopold kept that himself. “Not what I meant. Eastern provinces are a horrible place. My nephew still struggles with nightmares.”
“Sir Marcus? But he’s-”
“A good man, a strong man, but still a man.”
Sir Gabriel ran his hand through his hair and sat beside Sir Leopold. “Nightmares are crushing some nights. Only place they get better is here.”
“Time can help. Talking can help more. You ever wanna talk to Sir Marcus or another Knight that went through what you did, you let me know. There’s no shame in it. Matter of fact, talking takes a great deal more courage than burying the pain.”
Sir Gabriel stared down at his cane, and Leopold could see the memories haunting the young man. Wasn’t fair or right, but nothing about the eastern provinces was. Sir Gabriel volunteered for the horrible assignment after his mother had died. He was unmarried and had no family left to grieve for him if he died.
A selfless act, even for a Knight of Valor.
Sir Leopold laid a steadying hand on the other Knight’s shoulder. “I heard your story, but I don’t know the real horror. Talk to Marcus. If not him, talk to Matthias. There’s no shame. No judgement. But they can help.”
Sir Gabriel balled his fists at his side. “They call me a hero, but I didn’t save them. I didn’t save…”
Leopold let him catch his breath. “I know you didn’t, but for the thirty or forty families you saved, you’re a hero. Thirty or forty families that would’ve died without you.”
He squeezed Sir Gabriel’s shoulder. “You sacrificed a lot to hand Dracor a victory. And it was a victory.”
“But it was my fault. I consecrated the church. I had no idea it would bring so many ghouls.”
“And that consecrated church is a beacon of hope to that town and the surrounding lands. A place the locals go even now to escape nightmares I don’t even want to imagine. You gave them that.” Leopold nodded toward the altar. “You did what you thought was right. That’s all a man can do. Even a man in service to the gods.”
Sir Gabriel sucked in a breath as he considered Leopold’s words.
Leopold gave him a few minutes then nodded toward the sleeping child. “Who’s she?”
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There are lots of myths that surround knights. Many of their stories have turned into legends, and even now, fantasy is its own genre with its own stories.
While an author can make up just about any rules for their world if they’re willing to follow them, my stories are loosely based on medieval Europe and Ancient Rome. As such, I do a fair amount of research.
Six Lies about Armor You Probably Believe
1. Men in armor had to be hoisted into their saddles with a crane.
This is absolutely wrong, and people have proven it by wearing period appropriate pieces and mounting a horse without help. My guess is this misconception was started when a scholar lifted armor a knight wore. Possibly a Victorian scholar as they seem to frequently be at the root of historical misconceptions. Either way, it makes no sense for a knight to wear something into battle that would make it cumbersome to get on his horse. Being mounted was one of the tactical advantages a knight brought over a foot soldier.
2. Men in armor struggled to move.
Actually, a trained combatant, particularly a knight, had no trouble wearing and moving in a full suit of armor. An entire suit of “heavy” armor weighed between 45-55 pounds. This is less than a fireman carries with oxygen gear, and less than what most men have been carrying into battle since the nineteenth century. Furthermore, this armor was evenly spread across the body, rather than being concentrated on the chest as most modern gear is.
3. Plate armor made moving even harder.
Plate armor didn’t impair movement much at all as it was made up of individual elements for each limb, and each of these were linked by movable rivets and leather straps, allowing for unimpaired movement. A man in full plate armor could run, get up off the ground, and mount his horse without help. To put it in perspective, the French knight Maréchal Boucicault, while in full armor, climbed up the underside of a ladder using only his hands.
4. Only knights wore armor.
Nope, lots of people wore armor. This was war, and most soldiers had some pieces of armor. It’s quality varied greatly, but even foot soldiers had it and wore it.
5. Only men wore armor.
Some interesting stuff is coming out of new grave sites now that we have DNA testing that can use science to prove the occupants are women. Those shield maiden stories appear to be more than just stories. There is evidence of noble ladies-turned-military commanders, such as Countess Jeanne de Penthièvre (1319–1384). It might not have been common in medieval Europe, but we really don’t know.
6. Armor was so expensive only princes and the very wealthy could afford it.
Again, not true. Even a common foot soldier had some armor. This idea may come from the pieces displayed in museums. And while it could be extremely expensive (an entire armory of an English knight was the equivalent to about five to eight years of rent for a London merchant’s house, or over three years’ worth of wages for a skilled laborer), not all pieces were. Some could be had for much less, depending on quality. This also does not consider how much armor was taken from the battlefield.
Lots of misconceptions abound, as I learned with swords. Hopefully, this helped clear up a few about armor.
Book: A Talent for Trickery
Author: Alissa Johnson
Recommendation: Solid Read
I was looking for a fun book to pass a cold and rainy evening. This book checked a lot of boxes for me, and it didn’t disappoint in the execution.
I thoroughly enjoyed the characters.
Owen, the hero, was a white knight. He was not your typical alpha male, always knowing best. He stumbled, made mistakes, but at his core, he was always good and trying to do what was best. He was competent, smart, but not invincible. You also understood why he struggled not to always take charge.
Lottie, the heroine, was smart and savvy. She had a hard upbringing with a criminal father involving his children in his schemes. She’s come a long way, but trust doesn’t come easily for her. I also loved her relationship with her siblings
All of the supporting characters are excellent. Owen’s two men I’m sure will feature in future stories. Esther, Lottie’s sister, is a complex and developed character. More than that, the author focuses on the sisters’ relationship. How they argue, keep secrets, and try to protect each other. Esther is not just tacked on for a bridge into a sequel. No fighting over a man, either, thank goodness!
I really enjoyed the playful banter as well. The characters laughed and teased, even in some of the tense scenes as Lottie comes to terms with her past (as real people do).
The romantic plot was solid. Lottie might have forgiven the hero over past wrongs a tad easily, but I also applaud the author for not dragging it out interminably. And the reasoning behind the forgiveness did not require me to suspend disbelief.
This is a mystery romance, and the mystery seemed solid to me. I was surprised by the villain at the the end, but not unduly so, and all of the clues leading up to it kept me turning the pages.
This was by far the weakest bit. There was one, it wasn’t bad, but it was pretty forgettable.
All in, well worth the read. It gave me the happily-ever-after I demand, and it was sweet without sending me into sugar shock. I liked the characters, and it featured a white knight hero. All in, a good read.