I am a thief! I stole this line from Gwen of Apprentice, Never Master. Her original piece, “Run Away,” can be found on her blog now. I actually did have this one ready yesterday, but then WordPress was acting up, I went out to enjoy friends’ company, and I came back exhausted after midnight. So this is the legal theft that ought to have gone up Thursday, September 26.
Danneel looked down at the knife in her hands and the long, thin blade made her stomach twist. When she had taken up her charade, she had thought only of the thunder of Sunflash’s hooves beneath her and the weight of the lance in her arms, the thrum of the wood as it struck its target, and the prizes that a victory would win her. While a victory would have pleased her, it would have surprised her too, and she had hoped only to remain unhorsed, not to unhorse veteran knights. Certainly she had not thought to wound any of them and certainly not enough that the knife would be put in her hands by his squire.
Perhaps Kellin had really been too old to joust. Perhaps he had never fought against such a small knight (unlikely in a man of so many famous battles and bouts) and hadn’t been able to adjust his balance to counter the hit of her lance against his shield. A small voice in the back of Danneel’s mind whispered, Sabotage, but she ignored it. If a felony had been committed, it was not for her to suss out.
Kellin’s foot had caught in the stirrup as he fell, and the horse, spooked perhaps by the clanking of the armor or the sudden unexpected weight, had bolted. The gray had gone perhaps seven good, long strides, Kellin’s head striking the ground with each stretch of the horse’s legs, before the weight had ultimately unbalanced the horse. The gray had crashed down onto Kellin, who had been trod upon too while the horse struggled to rid itself of Kellin’s weight and right itself. It was while the horse struggled that the squire and two of the watching and waiting knights had freed Kellin. The gray had gone as far as Danneel knew, taking the knight’s saddlery and heraldic caparison with it to flaunt the knight’s defeat.
Kellin’s helmet had maybe saved him from immediate death, but he had been slow to come around. The chest plate was badly dented from the horse’s hooves. At least one dent may have been caused when the horse had put its weight upon the knight’s chest in trying to stand again.
“Do it,” the fallen Kellin croaked at Danneel. Another spittle of blood boiled out of his lips on the command.
“You—” Danneel cleared her throat, pitched her voice lower to better match a man’s tone. “You could live. With a surgeon’s help.”
Kellin jostled his head and winced. “No,” he groaned.
“Do it,” the squire parroted.
“You’ll have to, my lord.”
This was her own squire, Dickie, whom she had taken into her confidence. Of them all only he knew her secret. At least only he would think less well of women for her hesitation. But Dickie looked at her with pity now. Danneel had a half-mad thought to hand the knife to Dickie to do the deed, but that would be seen as the greatest insult to Kellin and to all watching.
Danneel shut her eyes, took a breath, and knelt down beside Kellin.
Another mad thought crossed her mind, to lift her visor enough to kiss Kellin and at least let him leave the world with a woman’s kiss on his lips—as no doubt he would have liked to have gone if he could not have gone in war. But with that kiss, he would take too the knowledge of his defeat by a woman’s lance. It was a favor she could not bestow without bestowing too great embarrassment upon the knight. She instead said, not bothering to mask her voice overly much in the whisper, “Would you like to watch, or shall I shut your visor again, Sir?”
“I will watch.”
Kellin was too proud.
“I will be quick,” Danneel promised. “Remove his plate, squire,” she said to Kellin’s boy.
The squire was beside her quickly with his knees too in the dirt. His fingers shook as he fumbled with the straps. Danneel looked away to spare him the shame of having his fear spotted and to hide what little of her face was left exposed by the helmet too.
When the boy had done, Danneel said to him so that Kellin would hear, “You bring your master’s arms to his family. The horse too if it can be caught. He returns home with all that he brought with him.”
The squire nodded and backed away, holding the chest plate like a shield before him, as if it could protect him from the death about to come for his master.
Kellin’s chest exposed, Danneel took another deep breath and poised the knife above a weak point between two ribs. It would still take two hands to drive the dagger down to his heart.
She whispered the ceremonial farewell, “Ride well in the sky, Sir Kellin,” and pushed with both hands.
Kellin had time only for a quick gasp before the loosed blood of his pierced heart drowned his life’s fire and blocked the light from his eyes.
She drew the blade out. It emerged bloody.
And she dropped it in the dirt to cover her face with her shaking hands.
It wouldn’t be seemly for a man to cry on his knees in the jousting arena. A woman who had just had to kill a great knight, an idol of her childhood, might be forgiven for it.