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Chapter 1

As soon as my eyes opened, I jumped out of bed. Today’s the day! I excitedly reminded myself like I really needed reminding. There wasn’t anything that could make me forget.

Yawning, I shook my head irritably. I’d been too excited to sleep last night and I was paying for it. But there was no way I’d let sleepiness slow me down.

I’d turned twelve the week before. The age a kid can become a knight. Well, a page really. A page is a knight-in-training or a knight-to-be.

While I’ve always considered myself a knight, I was about to officially begin training. I already knew how to ride a horse, carry a lance, and wield a sword. But a knight’s training is more than practicing to fight. It’s about learning the Noble Deeds and Duties. That’s every knight’s code of behavior. Aside from being strong, brave, and good in battle, a knight must know about honor and justice.

The First Act of the Noble Deeds and Duties sums it up:

The Common Good is Best Served by Uncommon Honor.

In other words, a knight must be honorable at all times for the good of everyone. As for the Acts, they’re sort of the rules for knighthood. There’s one hundred Acts in the Noble Deeds and Duties.

I dressed quickly in my best outfit. A dark blue doublet trimmed in black, some blue hose, and a pair of low boots. Checking myself in the mirror, I thought I looked pretty knightly.

My blond hair was cut very short. Most knights wear their hair that way because it gets hot under their helmets. I also thought I looked taller than I had the day before. Maybe I’d had another growing spurt in the night.

“Connor,” my father liked to tease me, “stop growing so fast or we’ll have to keep you in a barn.” He was joking, of course. I wasn’t that big, and we didn’t have a barn.

Following the delicious scent of bacon into the kitchen, I found that my parents had left breakfast for me. They’d left before the sun had risen to prepare for the Turning of the Pages ceremony.

That’s where I needed to be by noon. Knights and pages from all over the kingdom would participate. Not just from Tiller’s Field where I lived. The ceremony was where and when new pages would be named. It happened only once a year and was a very big deal.

A soft knock on the front door told me that Simon had arrived. Simon was a boy my age who would also be named a page. Only he didn’t want to be.

Simon was kind of small, pretty clumsy, and more interested in books and magic tricks than swords and noble deeds. But his father was a knight, too, so Simon didn’t have much choice.

I hauled the door open fast to startle him. “Good morning, peasant,” I shouted to add to the surprise. I call everyone who isn’t a knight “peasant”. That included people like Simon who didn’t want to be knights.

The whoosh of the door along with my loud voice worked perfectly. Simon sputtered in surprise and fumbled the four apples he’d been juggling. One even bounced off his head of floppy red hair.

Juggling was just about the only thing Simon could do that required coordination. So long as he wasn’t distracted, that is.

“Good morning,” Simon said cheerfully. Nothing much bothered him. Not even an apple bouncing on his head.

“Good morning, sir,” I corrected. Peasants were supposed to call knights “sir”.

Simon shrugged and rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say, Sir Bigmouth,” he snickered. When I didn’t laugh with him, he shrugged again then scooped up his fallen apples.

No, Simon would never be a real knight. But he was a good sport.

Crrrrrunch, Simon bit into one of his apples. “Got anything to eat?” he asked with a mouthful of fruit.

Got anything to eat, sir? I said to myself. But there was no point in saying it out loud. Simon wouldn’t change.

I never would have guessed it then, but I’m alive today because of Simon. A whole lot of people are. He’s something of a hero. Brave and chivalrous just like a real knight. There’s a lot more to him than you’d expect from a clumsy bookworm.

Chapter 2

Even though my parents had made breakfast for me, Simon ate most of it. I don’t know where he put it all. He wasn’t a very big kid.

If I ate like him, I really would have to live in a barn!

After breakfast, we cleaned our dishes and left. The Turning of the Pages ceremony would take place outside of town at Battledown Yard. It’s also where knights held jousting tournaments. The Yard was a couple of hours east of Tiller’s Field, so we’d have to hurry to be there by noon.

Lucky for us I had my own horse, Honormark, a spirited charger. I called him Honormark because of a black mark on his nose that looked like a shield. The rest of his body was white.

The stables were located on the other side of town. On our walk, I decided to ask Simon about something that had been bothering me.

“Why don’t you want to be a knight?” I asked. “Are you happy being a peasant?”

Simon laughed and raised one eyebrow at me. I couldn’t do that. Raise just one eyebrow. “You don’t really believe all that peasant nonsense, do you?” he asked.

His question made me frown. “Sure I do,” I said defensively. “There’s royalty, knights, and peasants. In that order. Kings and queens are royalty and they’re born that way. So that leaves knights or peasants for the rest of us.”

He laughed again. “Can knights or peasants do this?”

With a quick flick of his wrist, he tossed an apple high above his head. It was the same color as his hair. As the apple fell, he brought up his hands to catch it and mumbled something I didn’t quite hear.

The apple stopped falling and rotated slowly in mid-air.

“How did…?” I started to ask when Simon hooked his finger at the apple. It shot through the air at an angle and bonked me on the head.

“That’s for surprising me when you opened the door,” Simon smirked as he held out his hand for me to shake. “Now we’re even. Still friends?”

I shook his hand eagerly. I’d deserved getting hit with the apple. It was only fair for what I’d done to him earlier. As for making the apple float in the air, almost anyone could learn magic tricks. Simon practiced them all the time. It’s not like he was a wizard using real magic.

We arrived at the stables a short while later. Mr. Sootbeard the blacksmith has a big barn on his property where most everyone from Tiller’s Field keeps their horses.

Strangely, we didn’t see or hear Mr. Sootbeard around. He wasn’t in his house or in the forge out back. Usually there was smoke coming from the chimney and the clanging of a hammer coming from the forge.

“Maybe he’s running an errand,” Simon suggested.

“Could be,” I agreed half-heartedly, but I knew Mr. Sootbeard better. He wouldn’t leave without posting a sign or note. He had the only key to the stable.

Simon suddenly flinched and ducked into a half-crouch. He pointed at the stable. “Someone’s inside,” he whispered. The stable door was slightly ajar. That meant that either Mr. Sootbeard was inside or that someone had broken in. Mr. Sootbeard wouldn’t leave without locking up.

“Keep quiet and stay down,” I said and waved my arm for Simon to follow. We had to find out what was going on. It was the knightly thing to do.

We quietly crept across the yard to the stable and stopped to catch our breath. Pressed up against the wall next to the door, I took a deep gulp then silently mouthed the words “One…two…three.”

On three, I threw the door open wide and charged inside.

The interior of the stable was dark and strangely quiet. A short row of railed stalls formed a hallway that turned to the right a short distance ahead. The stalls were full of shadows and looked abandoned.

I stopped when I noticed that the gate to the stall on my left was open. Simon bumped into my back.

“Excuse…” he started to apologize but I waved him off. There was something moving in the stall. Not a horse or Mr. Sootbeard. Something taller than my waist and covered with dark hair.

An angry growl came from the stall and yellow eyes stared out at me from the darkness.

End of the preview.
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