20 Time #5 – Expelled

For background, see Winding Down.

Sir Duncan, the head of the squire school, stood in front of the huge fort portcullis with his large hand on the shoulder of a squire. The portcullis was up and the squire looked terrified.
Everyone was gathered in the courtyard before them. We were packed wall to wall, tucked neatly within our respective groups. We murmured amongst ourselves while we waited for the big knight to speak.
“Who’s that Duncan’s got with him?” Philip asked me.
“I think that’s Thomas, from Group Omega,” I said back. The boy looked no more than sixteen, with long brown hair, a heavy build, and an unfortunate case of acne.
“Attention!” Sir Duncan bellowed. Immediately, every squire’s heels slid together and we squared our shoulders. “Sir!” we chorused.
The big knight was not in a good mood. He cast his small eyes over every one of our faces before speaking. “The customs of our land,” he said, “declare that knights are heroes of the king. Only the best young men may be selected for this title.” He spread a hand and pointed out several squires in the crowd. “Young men like Charles, David, and Nathaniel. Some of our strongest.”
“Nate, that’s you,” muttered Philip with a flick of a smile. My face remained flat. Despite the public recognition of my skills, I was apprehensive. If Duncan was leading to where I thought he was leading to…
“Those who are not worthy do not belong in knighthood.” The knight’s hand tightened on Thomas’s shoulder. “Those who use magic… are not worthy.”
Sick dread punched me in the stomach. Continue reading “20 Time #5 – Expelled”

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20 Time #4 – A Tale of Two Societies

For background, see Twin Worlds.

The Princess: The king spared no expense. Every painting, every banister, every surface was dusted and polished until it gleamed. Flowered garlands were hung across every door frame, dripping with hanging diamonds and jewels between the emerald leaves.

The ballroom was soon awash in swirling dresses and tailored jackets, gloves and jewelry and heeled slippers and glitter and pomp. Light from hundreds of white, tapered candles on dozens of golden candelabras danced off of anything shiny. The musicians in their alcove sawed up a pleasing tune.

On the tables edging the titanic room was the feast. Whole cattle, roasted to sizzling perfection, surrounded by glazed goose and a hog crusted in spices. Potatoes with butter and chives, stews loaded thick with tender meat and vegetables, loaves upon loaves of the finest bread with oil and chutney spreads to slather on. There was all manner of pastries, desserts, and delicacies on one table – chocolate-dipped fruit, diminutive chocolate cakes, fluffy pastries dusted in sugar. Another table was covered in the king’s best wines, sparkling and shining in their wide assortment of colorful glass bottles under the candlelight.

There were old barons and their ladywives, but also a fair smattering of younger generations – young men being groomed to take their fathers’ places and young women ready to be married off, some of them already having been – but all were making a statement, coming out and presenting themselves at the event of the year.

It was a who’s-who of the richest peacocks in all of the kingdom.

Continue reading “20 Time #4 – A Tale of Two Societies”

20 Time #3 – A Thief’s Commentary

For background, see Finally on a Roll (also see Enter the Spin-Off Novels)

I lounged on the roof of a house, eating the sandwich I stole from the street vendor. The wooden shingles were warm from the afternoon sun. Any other person would find sitting on the steep peak of the roof hazardous, but I had much practice and it didn’t bother me, as long as I kept near the chimney for support.

Today, there were some Inspectors in the plaza below. I took another bite out of my treat, lettuce crunching, as I tuned in to their words.
There was a tall, middle-aged man with blonde hair standing on the scaffolding they used for hangings. He had gathered a huge crowd of villagers around him.

He raised a finger in the air. “… you owe him your gratitude, as your magnanimous King created the Royal Inspectors with the sole intention of keeping you safe from people that would do you harm.”

I grinned. They’re doing one of their propaganda speeches again. I made myself comfortable and set in for my entertainment. Continue reading “20 Time #3 – A Thief’s Commentary”

20 Time #2 – Powder Keg

“What’s wrong?” she asked. I knew the concerned expression that would be on her face from the patronizing tone she used. I gritted my teeth and hissed through them.

“You. You’re what’s wrong.”

“Uh…”

“You talk about saving the villagers and the people but you don’t actually know. You’re a princess. Princess Alexandra, darling of the kingdom. How many hours have you worked in your life?”

“Shawn,” she said quietly.

“Don’t do that. You don’t know what it’s like to labor on, I don’t know, a road. Burning under the sun. Carrying heavy stones to and fro, having them dig into your hands and shoulders, chafing until it bleeds. What have you done that’s equal to that kind of pain?”

“What road? When was this?”

“The road your father commissioned leading to the mining town in the mountains, so he could more easily transport the salt that was mined there. So he could enjoy salted pork and boar and whatever other ridiculous foods you aristocrats eat. I was eleven. While you sat in the nice, shaded castle, I was slaving away for months on end for a copper a day. Because I lived in the slums, the son of a fisherman, I had to work. A copper a day was a higher pay rate than anyone in my family had ever made. But you?” I seethed. “Your family has the unlimited wealth of the people’s taxes and profits.”

She shook her head. “You were eleven. That was six years ago. I never once heard of a road being built.” Continue reading “20 Time #2 – Powder Keg”

20 Time #1 – Dangerous Disguise

For background, see Finally on a Roll.

   I sipped my drink and gazed lazily over the party crowd from my table off to the side, like a queen on her throne. All these nobles flouncing around like they were better than everyone around them, and here I was in their midst, stronger, faster and smarter than them all. They were like chickens running about with their heads cut off. I pitied them. They had to spend their whole lives like this, tied down by culture and precedent and etiquette and law
But not me. I smiled to myself. My pockets were at least twenty gold pieces heavier, and the night had hardly begun.
“Excuse me.”
I looked up.
The Inspector girl who we’d ran into last week stood before me, hair all done up, draped in jewels and a silk gown. This was the last place I expected to run into her, knowing her ferocity on patrol. My heart jumped into my throat and I fought to keep my features neutral. “Yes?” I asked.
“May I sit?” She gestured to the chair opposite me at the table. “If I sit with another woman, I won’t be approached by so many would-be suitors.”
“Of course,” I smiled. This was a dangerous game I was playing. “The price of having a pretty face, am I right?”
“Quite so,” she sighed, alighting on the seat.
I eyed her in my peripherals. Obviously, she didn’t recognize me in my masquerade mask, but I knew her well from our brief encounters in town. She was quick, she was clever, and she was no fool.
Dangerous game, so be it. I’d found a worthy match amid fools at last. Continue reading “20 Time #1 – Dangerous Disguise”

Huckleberry Finn 2017 part 1

“Y’know, I’m sure glad my old man taught me how to hotwire a car. He always said it’d come in handy someday. I guess he was right!” I grinned, swirling the straw of my Coke around and taking a sip.

Jim frowned without looking away from the night road ahead of us. “I guess.”

“Oh, come on, Jim, where would we be without our fine set of wheels right here?”

“I did suggest we borrow Miss Watson’s little Honda,” the older boy said. “She only ever uses the van. You didn’t need to go and steal this one.”

“Steal, borrow, same thing.” I finished the Coke with a long slurp and set it in the cupholder. “Plus, your foster mom would have totally noticed it was gone, then she would have known it was you.”

“She’d a realized I ran off anyway. I still don’t see the point.”

I sighed and said, “Who’s the brains in this car, Jim?”

“That’d be you, Huck,” he said, groaning.

“Exactly. You just drive. I know what I’m doing.” Continue reading “Huckleberry Finn 2017 part 1”

Huckleberry Finn 2017 part 2

The town hadn’t seemed so far off when we were driving, but walking was a lot slower and I realized I might have misjudged the distance. As long as I kept to the roadside ditch, I must have been on the right track.

But it was taking forever. And my feet were starting to blister in my worn-out shoes.

At length, I came across a very long pebble driveway branching off my side of the road. There was a pretty metal mailbox at the end, so I went to see if there was a family name or address on it.

As I got closer, I realized the box had a huge dent in one side, like someone had taken a baseball bat to it. I squinted in the dark at the name.

GRANGERFORD

Lots of dirty insults had been graffitied around it in Sharpie. I frowned. Whoever the Grangerfords were, they seemed to have lots of enemies.

But I needed directions, so I set off down the driveway. Maybe they would tell me how far the town was. Continue reading “Huckleberry Finn 2017 part 2”

Huckleberry Finn 2017 part 3

I fell asleep as soon as I hit the bed in the guest room. There were two in there, all tucked in and pristine in their sky-blue sheets that matched the sky-blue walls and the dark blue window curtains. Jim was rescued by Mr. Grangerford, and as far as I know, the man was perfectly fine helping a black kid. I guess Jim must have said he didn’t like Trump, either.

Jim wasn’t in the guest room when I woke up the next morning. I went downstairs to ask about him.

Junior, Sophia and a woman I hadn’t seen last night were already there. I guessed she was Mrs. Grangerford. She smiled warmly when she saw me. “Morning,” she said.

“Hi,” I said back.

She motioned to the glass bowl she was mixing some sort of batter in. “Do you like waffles? I’m making some for breakfast.”

“Sure, thanks.” I looked around. Jim wasn’t in the kitchen, or the hardwood-floored living room on one of their leather couches. “Where’s…” I bit my lip in frustration. I had given Jim a fake name, too. What was it? “Where’s my friend?”

“The one who hit the possum?” said Sophia. “Dad invited him to spend the night while your car’s being repaired, but he said he’d rather stay with it in the shop. Dad said that he said he didn’t want to impose.”

“Oh.” That sounded like Jim. He never liked to feel like he was burdening anyone. Continue reading “Huckleberry Finn 2017 part 3”

Huckleberry Finn 2017 part 4

“So, Brian,” I said, smacking my basketball against the hoop rim, “what’s the whole deal with the Shepherdsons?”

“They’re Trump supporters,” said the boy plainly. He didn’t elaborate, like that one issue was reason enough.

“And you guys are pretty hardcore Hillary, then?”

He sank a point off the backboard. “Oh yeah. She’s great.” He laughed. “We like to joke that Junior is secretly in love with her.” He looked to me in vain for a reaction. “That’s… that’s funny, get it, cause he’s more of a Bernie Sanders guy, and… Hillary… y’know?”

“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t get it.

He shrugged. “Anyway, yeah. We’re so left wing, I legit thought ‘republican’ was a bad word until I was twelve.”

“Wow.” Continue reading “Huckleberry Finn 2017 part 4”

Huckleberry Finn 2017 part 5

“Where’s Sophia?”

I looked up at dinner. Jim had called the house and said he was on his way, and I was filling up with some dinner with the others. Junior had asked the question, and all of us looked around to realize that the girl was not at the table. I looked at the clock – six thirty seven. She would have been out with her boyfriend by now.

“She was acting really strange today,” said Brian, “freaking out about her phone and stuff.”

“She didn’t take one of the cars,” said Thomas, “so she must not be far-”

Charlotte suddenly screamed, a short and outraged cry.

“What, what?” we all asked.

The girl whipped her phone around, showing a Snapchat story. It was a badly focused picture of a black sedan driving away, two young people inside. One of them looked an awful lot like Sophia. The caption bar read, “@thegrangerfords, WHAT JUST HAPPENED”

“Is that her?!” exclaimed Thomas.

“That’s Harry Shepherdson behind the wheel!” shouted Junior.

“What are they doing?” fretted Mrs. Grangerford. Continue reading “Huckleberry Finn 2017 part 5”