Gail the Gallant
by Val Gryphin
Table of Contents|
parts: I, II, III, IV
You know, you’d think that being a girl pretending to be a boy training to be a knight, I would have enough to do without having to to babysit a gnome-fairy with a dislocated wing, a crazy little gnome-fairy hybrid that refused to leave. Well, that’s not accurate, he’d leave my room, and he’d even go outside, but he kept coming back. And when I tried to lock him outside, he’d give me the quivering lip and his little eyes would fill up with tears.
Now, I’m not all soft and girlie but, damn it, he could look pitiful. I hoped, when his wing healed, he’d take off and decide to go back wherever he came from. In the meantime, I was calling him Bart.
But that wasn’t all I was dealing with. No, the archery master had decided that since I kept failing every single test he gave me, I must not be trying hard enough. So he came up with a new motivation plan. For every time I failed a test, he would stand me against a tree and go William-Tell on my ass.
This involved not an apple but a plum and his sharpest arrows. Oh, he was a good shot, I’ll give him that much, but damn, every time he split that plum and the juice trickled down the back of my neck, I died a little inside. Okay, so that’s a bit of melodrama, but I did pee my pants a few times.
Finally I got sick of having to wash my knickers before I went to bed every night and decided it was time I struck out on my own. I didn’t have a lot of stuff but, regardless, I made a big deal of packing my bag, ignoring the fact that I was way more squeamish about running away than I was allowing myself to think. Oh sure, all the masters hated me and, yeah, there wasn’t much work for a knight in training, let alone one that wasn’t really a boy. But, hell, I could do it. Sure I could.
When my bag was packed, I took a long last look around. Bart was staring at me from my bed, which he had somehow managed to clamber up onto. His lip was trembling again, and his big eyes were filling up with tears. He looked at my bag, and then slid down the covers to the floor and dove under the edge. He reappeared a moment later, tugging the little bed I had made him. It was just a slipper I had outfitted with covers and I had sewn a little pouch on the side for him to put his clothes and stuff in. It worked, and he seemed to like it.
He pulled the slipper over to my bag and looked at me, then looked at my bag and tried to lift the slipper into it. Which, considering the opening was way over his head, was pretty impressive, even though there was no way he could do it.
“No, Bart.” I nudged his slipper away, but he crossed his arms and stamped his foot. And growled at me. Before I could recover from from my shock, he tugged the slipper back over to my bag and pointed, stamping his foot again.
“Fine,” I sighed and stuffed the slipper in my bag, not all that carefully. I looked back at Bart. “Let’s see if that sling can come off now.” I untied it, and he cautiously stretched his wing out, wincing a little, but I figured that was from stiffness rather than pain. He flapped it tentatively a couple of times but didn’t try to lift off, which I figured was probably a good idea. I picked him up and popped him into a pocket in my bag, and buttoned the flap down. He grumbled for a minute then shut up.
Quietly I tiptoed down the steps and out the back door. The one advantage I had over other runaways was that there was actually a horse in the stable that belonged to me, one that not even the stable master would try to say I stole. His name was Quixotic.
Quixotic had been the steed for a rather B-list knight named Sir Profous. Sir Profous was getting on in years but still wore the pompadour that had been popular during his peak. He had stayed a night with us during the course of his travels, and told the stable master he was in the market for a new horse. He had won big while gambling with trolls and had the cash in hand. Of course, the stable master was willing to deal with him. When the transaction was completed, the stable master inquired as to what Sir Profous wanted to do with his old horse. Sir Profous started laughing creakily and waved his hand at us knights-in-training.
“Whoever can stay on Quixotic can have him for his ‘noble steed’.” The rest of the guys started nudging each other and grinning, eyeing the old man’s horse. Quixotic was munching grass across the pasture, and when Sir Profous called him he wandered over to the side of the fence. Sir Profous grinned. “Have at it, boys!”
Well, that started one of the funniest things I have ever seen. I swear, as soon as someone settled himself on the horse, he’d find himself flying. That old creaky stallion became a whirling dervish as soon as someone got on his back. Through it all, Sir Profous laughed and laughed and laughed as boy after boy picked himself up off the ground, groaning and trying to appear as if it didn’t hurt. A few even had tears in their eyes.
As the number of boys left to try dwindled down to the skinny ones and the scared ones, boys started hanging back, and the bruised ones started assuaging their pride by mocking the ones who refused to go.
When it was my turn, I took a deep breath and whispered in the horse’s ear, “Quixotic, I really want to show these guys up. Are you with me?”
Quixotic looked at me carefully as I climbed on. He stood there for a moment, and then began trotting around the pasture with me firmly astride. The entire group gaped, and Sir Profous stared at me, eyes slitted. Finally he shook himself.
“Congratulations!” he boomed. “You are the proud new owner of Quixotic.” Then before the stable master could object, he wrote out a document that said Quixotic was my horse, and got the archery master to witness it. Then he attached his seal and handed me the paper.
“Keep that safe, lad.”
It wasn’t until Sir Profous’s death thirteen years later that it was revealed Sir Profous had actually been a woman. The Knightly world was turned on its ass, and every knight who had ever been bested by Sir Profous went out of his way to prove his manhood.
Because of Sir Profous’s reputation, and the paper I still had in my bag, no one would try and take Quixotic away from me. I quietly opened his stall and led him out and down the path a way before I mounted up. As I did, Bart popped his head out of my bag and began to chatter at me with a scowl.
“Bart,” I hissed, “either shut up or I’m leaving you here.” I didn’t know if he understood me, but he gave me a baleful look and then slunk back down into the pocket.
I swung up onto Quixotic’s back; unfortunately, I didn’t have a saddle. We headed out down the road. I wasn’t all too sure where I was going, but I had confidence I could find adventure.
I may have been too cocky.
Copyright © 2010 by Val Gryphin