I believe I’ve finally heard enough times that we should cut almost an entire early chapter from our book. I’ve rejected this notion for a year or so, because 1) it is among the best writing in the book (I think), and 2) because I have rationalized that it is an important (although admittedly lengthy) setup to the tone of the rest of the story.
i think I’m finally ready to admit it doesn’t need to be there, and that it slows down the book too much.
So, before one of my favorite scenes is lost to the ravenous beast known as “#amediting,” here it is – one more “lost scene” for you to enjoy (I hope) that the rest of the world will never see.
I looked up from my history textbook. “Yes, Mom?”
She lifted the book out of my lap and sat down on the couch next to me. “Enough homework for today.” Mom smiled and stared into my eyes, brushing a lock of hair out of my face. “I’m very proud of you. The way you’ve shown how grown up you can be. And you are a beautiful girl, Catherine; I don’t tell you that enough.” She kissed me on the forehead and it turned into a hug that felt like sleeping in on a Sunday morning.
“Thanks, Mom.” I smiled into her shoulder. The hug made the last twenty-six and a half days without my fantasies feel a little less heartbreaking.
“Your father and I have decided to give you a reward for all of your hard work.”
“We have?” Dad looked up from where he was building a LEGO spaceship with Thomas. “What was it we decided, again?”
“We decided to take Cat to Joustorama for dinner, tonight.”
“You did?” I beamed. “Excellent!”
“And,” Mom continued smoothly, “because it will help with your studies of medieval England.”
“Right.” Dad nodded. “That’s exactly why I suggested it. Because, homework. Did I make reservations, Adelle?”
“Of course, Richard.”
Joustorama has got to be the coolest single place in the whole world to eat dinner. Outside, it’s a castle with a real moat and drawbridge and everything. And inside knights in armor actually joust each other on horses, just like in medieval times. While you watch the show, serving maidens bring your dinner on metal plates. And the best part?
“Do we get to eat with our fingers?” Thomas jumped up and down with a grin as big as his head. He’d been a toddler the last time we went, but he remembered that.
“Yes,” I said. “We all get to eat with our fingers.” Because they don’t give you any silverware. Just lots and lots of napkins.
As soon as we walked through the giant double doors it felt like we were in a different world. All of the people who worked there were dressed like maidens and courtiers, with long sleeves and big belts. Swords and spears and other old weapons hung on the walls between suits of armor.
My older brother, Alex, stood looking at a wall covered with photographs of young women and girls, each posing with one of the knights. “What’s this about, Cat?”
“Oh. Each knight chooses a girl from the audience to be his lady fair, and if he wins the tournament she becomes princess of the realm.” Most of the pictures had either the red knight or the green knight, but I thought the green knight was definitely more handsome.
“You should be up there. You’re into princess stuff, right?”
“I used to be.” I shrugged. But my eyes lingered on the green knight and all of the smiling girls wearing their golden crowns.
When the serving maiden led us to our seats I got the same thrill I got every time I came here. We stepped out of the tunnel into the stadium, and it was huge! There was the great big dirt floor in the middle – big enough for horses to run at full speed toward one another from opposite ends – and hung all around were banners and pennants of different colors. The seating went all the way around the dirt floor, and rose row after row like the bleachers at a football game, but here they were divided into six sections, each one with different colored pennants representing one of the knights. We were in the green section.
The serving maiden saw my excited grin. “The green knight, Sir Reginald, is always a favorite to win, M’lady.” The small, blonde girl handed each of us a green paper crown.
Pixie, I thought automatically, then glanced at Mom, who didn’t seem to notice my backsliding.
The maiden smiled at Alex as she left and his eyes followed her. But as soon as we heard horses’ hooves, he turned back to the arena. The knights were walking their horses around the outside of the dirt floor, smiling and waving at the guests who had already arrived. We were in the front row, so Sir Reginald came right by us.
“Wow!” Thomas shouted, and he climbed onto one of the chairs for a better view. Sir Reginald spotted him in his cape and reined his white horse to a stop right in front of us. My heart sped up. Sir Reginald was even more handsome in person, and both he and his horse wore green and black. He had a dark beard and curly mustache, and a green cape of his own that matched his eyes.
“What is thy name, young master?”
“I see thou dost wear a cape of red. Art thou a knight?”
Alex leaned closer and said, “He thinks you’re a knight, buddy, because you’re wearing a cape like him.”
“Oh.” Thomas grinned and struck his warrior pose with fists raised. “I am a knight!”
Sir Reginald chuckled, “Aye, ye must be, stout lad. But red is the color of Sir Frederick, my mortal enemy. Are you sure thou art not a spy?”
“No. I’m a good guy.”
Sir Reginald nodded gravely then turned toward me. I felt my face grow hot, but my smile never wavered. It might have looked a little manic, though. “And who is this young vision in pink?”
That did it. I was definitely blushing now. “I-I’m Cat. I mean Catherine.” I curtsied.
“Surely you mean ‘Lady Catherine’. For thou must be of royal blood.”
“I guess,” I said shyly.
“With you cheering me on, I am sure to triumph.” He snapped his reins and shouted,
“Enjoy the revels!” as his horse galloped away.
People were really starting to fill up the seats now, and the stadium became more colorful with all of the paper crowns in each section. I felt especially grown up after my “interlude” with Sir Reginald, so I took my seat as gracefully as possible.
“Thomas, may I help you with your napkin?”
“Yeah. Tuck it in my shirt.”
Dad leaned over. “What do you say to your sister?”
“Of course, Thomas. You’re very welcome.” I tucked the corner of his napkin into the collar of his shirt.
A couple of tables over in the red section, a family of three made their noisy entrance. The girl was having her thirteenth birthday and made absolutely sure the serving maiden and all of the tables around her knew it. Her parents had their arms full with gift bags and brightly-wrapped presents. When the birthday girl saw me staring, she made a smug face, turned up her nose, then flipped her dark hair dismissively.
Ohhhh-kay. She’s a charmer.
The serving maiden brought buttered rolls and pewter mugs of tomato soup. I remembered from before that the mugs were called tankards, and they had lids so the soup stayed hot and you didn’t need a spoon. Thomas and I got cold milk, which tasted funny in a pewter goblet, but Thomas thought it was the neatest thing he’d ever seen. “Mommy. Look, my glass is made out of metal!”
The soup was very good, and it was fun to drink it out of a mug and not feel guilty about slurping. When I looked over at the birthday girl, I noticed she had dribbled tomato soup onto the front of her white party dress. The old me would have burst out laughing, but I promised myself I would behave like a perfect lady, tonight. No way I was going to let a month of hiding my heart under a rock and biting my tongue go to waste.
“I want pizza,” the birthday girl yelled at the serving maiden. Her bottom lip stuck out and she crossed her arms.
“I’m sorry, M’lady. We’re serving roast chicken, potatoes and corn. If you don’t like chicken, I can bring you steamed vegetables.”
Princess Pouty-puss barked, “I hate vegetables. This place is stupid.” She made a talk-to-the-hand gesture and turned her back on the serving maiden, who apologized and left. The parents rewarded their daughter by handing her presents and telling her they were sorry there was no pizza. No wonder she acted like that. Plus, I would’ve bet money she was a sprite. Sprites were always causing trouble in fairy tales.
No. I shook my head. No more fairy tales.
Four men dressed in yellow and red blew a fanfare on long horns and people started clapping and cheering. A man with white hair and wearing official-looking clothes strode out to the middle of the arena carrying a big scroll, which he unrolled and read in a deep, serious voice.
“On this day, the king did command that there shall be a contest of arms between his sons to determine who among them is the bravest and strongest knight in the realm. Whosoever does triumph this day shall win the hand of his lady fair and together they shall rule the kingdom as prince and princess. Knights of the realm, come forth and present your ladies fair!”
The trumpeters blew their horns again and six knights on horseback, each dressed in a different color, came galloping into the arena to great cheers and whistles from the audience. They carried their lances – the really long wooden spears they used when they jousted – and each lance had a colored ribbon tied to the end. Together the knights rode around the outside of the arena until each one came to their colored section, and halted.
The herald began reading again. “Sir Charles the Brave. Present your lady fair.”
The blue knight lowered his lance until the tip was level with a young woman in the front row, who grinned and took the blue ribbon. Sir Charles bowed his head and turned to the crowd. “I present the Lady Angelita.” People clapped, especially the people in the blue section.
Then came Sir Anthony the Swift who handed his yellow ribbon to a little girl who looked about seven. Her mom had to take it because she was shy, and Sir Anthony announced, “Lady Tabitha.”
And so on with Sir Edmond the Cunning, in black, and Sir Kent the Strong, in brown, and their ladies fair. As the presentations went around the arena closer and closer to our section my heart began beating faster and faster. Who would Sir Reginald choose? There were a lot of pretty girls in the green section.
“Sir Frederick the Fierce. Present your lady fair.” The red knight – our knight’s mortal enemy – edged his horse closer to the railing, but even before he had lowered his lance Princess Pouty-puss shot to her feet and shouted, “It’s me! Ashlyn! I’m the lady fair!” She stuck her hand out for the ribbon.
I gasped, and the arena got very quiet.
Sir Frederick hesitated. I think he had been about to give his ribbon to someone else, but all eyes were on him – not the least of which were Ashlyn’s. I think he realized if he didn’t give her the ribbon she would jump over the railing, climb up his horse and wrestle him for it. He trotted forward and lowered the ribbon to her waiting hand. “I present Lady Ashlyn.”
I was pretty sure Princess Pouty-puss was fiercer than Sir Frederick, and I smiled. Plus, the red ribbon went very well with the soup stains on her white dress.
“Sir Reginald the Valiant, present your lady fair.”
Finally. I turned and looked at the other people in the green section. Surely Sir Reginald could find somebody better than Lady Ashlyn of the Scarlet Stains. If Princess Pouty-puss became the princess of the realm, I would just die. Or at the very least go somewhere private and scream something quite unladylike.
“Hey, Sis.” Alex nudged me.
“Huh?” I turned toward him and saw the tip of Sir Reginald’s lance and the green ribbon lowering right in front of me.
“Hey, Cat. It’s you!” Thomas was standing up in his seat, vibrating with excitement.
Me? No way! I gulped and carefully pulled the green ribbon off the end of the lance. My hand shook as I held it, as if it might fade away or possibly explode if I took my eyes off of it.
Sir Reginald nodded and smiled, flashing his teeth, then turned with a flourish. “I present Lady Catherine, future Princess of the realm.”
My heart pounded and Mom flashed me a smile, surprising me.
“Nay, braggart,” bellowed the blue knight. “Lady Angelita will be the Princess of the realm, when I best you in battle.”
“You may best our brother in battle, Sir Charles,” exclaimed Sir Edmond the black knight, “But I shall win the tournament. And Lady Elizabeth and I shall rule the kingdom.”
All of the knights rode into the center of the arena, yelling and shaking their fists, much to the delight of the audience who cheered their own champions loudly. Through all of the noise and waving of paper crowns I caught a glimpse of Ashlyn glaring at me with hatred in her eyes.
I smiled sweetly. Bring it on, sister.
The trumpeters sounded their horns again and their fanfare silenced the quarreling knights and cheering people. The herald declared, “Let preparations commence.”
The knights broke up and rode out of the arena to get ready, while pages carried in sections of a wooden railing and set them up down the center. I remembered from the last time I’d been here that this railing was called a “tilt barrier.” It was there to separate the horses as they ran toward each other so they didn’t crash and get hurt. More pages assembled a stand that held six colored flags, one for each knight.
During all this our serving maiden brought our dinner. My big metal plate overflowed with a half of a chicken, corn on the cob, and cheesy potatoes still in the skin. Both of my brothers started grabbing food with their fingers and wolfing it down. Dad, too. I wanted to do the same thing because everything smelled heavenly and I was starving. But after seeing Lady Ashlyn and her unladylike tantrum and her soup-stained dress, I couldn’t exactly eat like a troll. When Sir Reginald beat Sir Frederick and won the tournament, I wanted to be an example of a perfect princess. This was probably the only chance I would ever get in my entire life to be a princess, and I was going to do it right.
I looked over at Mom. She managed to use her fingers, take human-sized bites and not have food on her chin – a proper lady. I copied her and ate careful bites, using my napkin frequently.
The herald walked to the middle of the arena again and raised his arms for silence. “Our first contest shall be between Sir Edmond the Cunning and Sir Kent the Strong.” The black and brown sections erupted in cheers as the two knights positioned themselves at either end of the arena, now wearing metal armor and helmets. Even the horses wore armor on their heads. Squires surrounded each knight, tightening straps and handing them their shields and lances.
When both knights reached their starting position and signaled readiness, the herald dropped his hand and the knights spurred their horses into action. The two horses thundered toward one another kicking up dirt, and the knights leaned forward and lowered their lances as they got closer and closer. The cheering became frantic.
I held my breath and forced myself not to close my eyes.
Sir Kent’s lance struck Sir Edmond’s shield and shattered into flying splinters. But Sir Edmond’s Lance struck true, and Sir Kent sailed backward off his horse, landing with a crash in the dirt. In an instant it was over, the two horses stirring up more dust as they slowed at opposite ends of the tilt barrier. The crowd gasped, cheered, and booed in equal measures as Sir Kent’s squires rushed to help the fallen knight to his feet. When he slowly stood and waved to his section, their cheers drowned out the rest of the crowd.
But being unhorsed in a joust meant instant defeat, and Sir Kent had been eliminated from the tournament. A page solemnly took his brown flag down.
All through dinner we watched as knights’ lances splintered and points were awarded depending on where they struck. Sir Charles the Brave was eliminated. Sir Anthony the Swift proved not swift enough, and he too was unhorsed. Through all of it my heart never slowed.
Soon, just Sir Reginald and Sir Frederick remained. Only the red and green flags still flew. And Ashlyn actually bared her teeth at me, as if intimidating me would somehow help her champion win.
Oh, you want to compare attitudes, little sprite? Maybe if an entire shaker of salt “accidentally” spilled in her soda it would erase that smirk. I pushed back my chair to get up, but Mom’s gentle hand touched mine and she gave me a Look.
I swallowed. Right. Wrong attitude. Instead I lifted my goblet of milk to her in a silent toast and smiled like a perfect princess. Lady Ashlyn scowled like a villain.
I couldn’t eat any more – I was too excited. Mortal enemies Reginald and Frederick stood at the ready on either end of the arena, their lances pointing up and their horses pawing the dirt. The herald dropped his hand and I heard Sir Reginald shout, “Hyah!” as he kicked his great white horse into motion. The red knight slapped the hinged visor of his helmet closed and urged his own horse forward.
“Get him, Freddie!” Ashlyn screamed, standing and cupping her hands around her mouth like she was at a football game.
The red and green lances both lowered at almost the same moment and the snorting horses raced toward each other. Both shields lifted and CRACK! Wooden shards exploded as the two knights passed, both still firmly in the saddle.
But Sir Reginald had lost his shield. It lay in the dirt surrounded by red and green hunks of wood.
“Point for Sir Frederick,” barked the herald, and the red section swelled with cheering and waving red crowns. Ashlyn leered and shook her tankard at me.
Idiot, I said to her silently. You don’t toast with a mug of soup. But I remained poised and nodded back at her with no emotion on my face. I was determined to live up to my title, Lady Catherine. I forced my teeth to unclench.
A burst of inspiration struck me as I remembered my favorite stories. As Sir Reginald passed below us on his way back to his starting point I stood up and threw the green ribbon as hard as I could. He had the visor of his helmet raised so he spotted it as it flew toward him. He leaned over and snatched it out of the air in his metal-gloved hand and halted his white horse, looking into the stands. I waved and he pulled off his helm. He had the worst case of helmet-hair ever, but it made him no less handsome. He grinned up at me, nodded, and tied the ribbon loosely around his neck. “I shall win this bout for you, M’lady.” He put his helmet back on and spurred his horse toward his starting place.
Moments later Sir Frederick and Sir Reginald were bearing down on each other again at break-neck speed. I could see the ends of my green ribbon flapping behind Sir Reginald as he rose and fell in his saddle. I crossed my fingers and held my breath as their lance tips pointed straight forward.
Sir Frederick’s lance-tip glanced off Sir Reginald’s shield, but Sir Reginald’s lance struck Sir Frederick squarely in the chest and broke in two. Sir Frederick leaned back in his saddle and nearly fell. But he righted himself and was rewarded with loud shouts of encouragement and applause from the red section.
“Two points for Sir Reginald the Valiant!” declared the herald.
Surprised, I turned and stared. Alex whooped and punched the air, a big grin on his face. He glanced over at me. “What?”
I raised my eyebrow. Alex liked football and working out at the gym – I didn’t think knights of the round table were his thing.
“I just want you to be the princess of the realm, that’s all.” He sniffed. “No big deal.”
Now it was my turn to grin. “You like this stuff as much as I do!” I punched him in the arm.
He shrugged. “It’s all right. I could probably do it. How hard could it be?”
“Yeah, okay, Sir Alex the Overconfident.” I patted him on the shoulder. “Have you ever even been on a horse?”
Chanting and stomping drowned out any further talking as the combatants took their places for the final charge. The score was 2-1 in Sir Reginald’s favor. Victory was just moments away, and then the prince and princess of the kingdom would be crowned. And it could actually be me. Really, really me.
Mom reached over and grabbed my hand and smiled. I couldn’t hear her over the noise, but I saw her lips say, “Good luck.” I squeezed her hand back. Thomas stood in Dad’s lap so he could see better, and Dad winked at me and gave me a thumbs-up.
I felt light-headed as the herald raised his hand into the air, then dropped it.
It seemed like slow motion as Sir Reginald’s heels kicked his white stallion into action and he leaned forward into the charge. The stallion’s neck stretched forward with every graceful stride as the two knights arrowed toward each other and the final collision. I could feel the hoof beats pounding in my chest. Like lowering drawbridges, the red and green lances swung down until they were level. Neither horse nor knight flinched as the distance between them vanished.
Sir Reginald’s lance struck true and clean on Sir Frederick’s shield.
But Sir Frederick’s lance found Sir Reginald’s breastplate, wrenching the green knight from his saddle with the force of the blow.
The horses passed in a cloud of splinters and thundered onward to the opposite ends of the arena. The cheering died and the audience seemed to hold its breath as the herald made his way to the center of the arena.
“Sir Reginald has been unhorsed.” He pointed toward the red section. “Sir Frederick the Fierce is the victor!”
I couldn’t breathe. I felt the color drain out of my face as I just stood unmoving, staring at the broken pieces of red and green lances scattered around the center of the arena. The squires were helping Sir Reginald to his feet. I didn’t hear the shouts of triumph and defeat erupting all around me, but I did hear one shrill taunt: “Fierce is better than valiant any day, you green loser!” And I saw Ashlyn – Princess Ashlyn – throw a half-eaten chicken leg toward the green knight as he limped toward the exit.
My throat hurt and my eyes blurred as I watched a page take down the green flag.
I felt a tugging on my sleeve and I shook myself. Thomas in his red cape stared up at me. “Hey, Cat. Did the good guy win?”
I swallowed. “No, buddy. The good guy didn’t win.”
We didn’t stay for the crowning ceremony. Dad said it was so we could beat the crowd, but I think he understood what I was feeling.
I don’t remember walking to the car. My mind wouldn’t stop wrestling with itself.
I had tried to be the perfect lady. I’d held my temper, used my manners, kept my feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds. I’d completely changed my entire attitude and given up my favorite things. For four whole weeks! I’d done everything I was supposed to do. And what happened? The other girl got to be princess. That whiney, bratty, sprite bully. I should have thrown a chicken leg at her. Ashlyn was right: fierce was better than valiant.
During the quiet drive home, I made the decision that would change my life forever: I wouldn’t – I couldn’t – be the person my mother wanted me to be.