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Squire's Secret (Benny and Gunner)

LilGunner

Nonsolis radios sediouis fulmina mitto.
Joined
Jul 16, 2017
Location
Virginia
Scissors whispered softly in a small clearing. Jacque of Lancaster stood behind his twin, Jacqueline of Lancaster, his hands steady with sheep shears as he cut away at her hair. A warm red snow gathered around her. Light caught and glimmered like sparks of fire through the red tresses. Both had glaring red hair, the same finely boned faces. The differences were subtle, Jacque's jaw a little stronger, Jacqueline's cheekbones a little higher. Startling bright blue eyes and neat little noses. Shorter and shorter he cut her hair until it hung about her ears. Jacqueline reached a shaky hand to her crown. Soft and short like the fur of a pup. "Shorter," she said quietly. She'd had a mane to be proud of. Now it lay in piles on the grass around her. Jacque purses his lips some and huffed a sigh. "Too short and people will wonder if you have lice," he said as he began to cut again anyways. "Too long and they'll question my gender," she quipped back.

Jacqueline's hair was short near as short as a terrier. She wishes for a looking glass to see just how different she looked. Hopefully enough like a young man. Ruffling her newly shorn hair she rose up off the partially rotted log. She wasn't as tall as Jacque who was also relatively short for a man. Shined boots gave her an inch or so extra in height. Already she wore simple breeches and a green tunic with white edging. The colors of her house. A rampant badger edge in white splashed across her chest which was bound tight with linen. A far different feeling than her usual garb of a boned corset. She met her brother's eyes. Despite the roughspun robe he wore she supposed looking at him was near enough to tell what she looked like disguised as a man. Her twin's eyes were wide an round as he stared. "Could I fool you?" She asked with a wolffish smirk. "Not quite but you just might be able to fool father," he said with a chuckle. "Your turn," she said as she gestured to the log.

With a straight razor she sheared her brother. Rather than a sever cut he was losing it all. The flesh pale and smooth as she shaved away the soft fox pelt that was her twin's hair. Jacqueline hummed quietly as she gently went about her work. A shame they have no creams to make it a bit more comfortable for her twin. The process was not so long or so difficult and soon her twin aged ten years. His bald head gleaming in the filtered light. With a deep breath he rose. She could sense his trepidation. "This is an awful lot to avoid marriage Jacqueline...are you sure...?" But she cut him off with a fierce snap. "It isn't just the marriage." While a large part it wasn't the only. She was happiest riding and fighting not counting stores, needlepointing or sipping tea enduring rigid conversation. She also didn't wish to marry and just be someone's wife. A someone she didn't even really know. Probably someone who just wanted land. She refused to be relegated to a baby farm.

Of course there was the lie. Jacqueline had convinced her parents of her ardent desire to join the church. It noon several moons to fully convince them to allow her to go to a covenant. There she could live out her dreams of a quiet, pious life. How her parents finally believed she wasn't entirely sure. She had been very well known in neighboring estates as quite the hellion. Riding about as if the hounds of hell rode beside her astride the apocalyptic horse of war. Maybe they supposed it was better. Sure she could sing and dance, play the harp and flute, her needlepoint was dismal and her skills at managing a household were...mediocre at best. What man would want such a wife? Even if she wanted to be one.

"Then this is farewell sister," Jacque said tightly. Jacqueline felt a similar tightness in her throat. Two sets and she wrapped her lithe arms around her brother. Their hearts beat frantically yet in perfect sync. "Please be careful...you know the laws..." Yes, she knew them well. Discovery meat death. Worse it could mean marrying. "Tomorrow or fifty years from now...death could come. I would rather live my life to the fullest for a month than exist as a man's property." With that the twin's broke apart. Jacque headed for an old nag, swaybacked and ancient she would slowly bear him to the monastery. Jacqueline headed to William, a fine charger with a glossy chestnut coat and black mane. His saddle well polished, reins shined and sparkling in the light. Jacque was due to meet Sir Friderick of Alnerwick. An arguably poor but respect knight having earned land and titles in tournies. He had agreed to take Jacque as his squire. None would be the wiser that it was the female twin who arrived.

It would take nearly a fortnight to meet up with Sir Friderick and the small group of tournament seekers he traveled with. She kept to main roads, pausing at inns to check the track of the group. While she knew where the tourney would be held she wished to meet up with them before reaching the groups. Settle in and understand the group before the chaos of the tourney began.

Finally she found an inn, three days ride to the estate where the tournament would be held. The group of traveling knights, along with others, had stopped for the night. Jacqueline handed the reins off to a stable boy quickly being told that rooms were already sold out. She had spent a few nights under the stars and wouldn't begrudge a sleeping spot in the hay loft. Thus far none were the wiser of her gender. For all purposes she looked like a man, perhaps more like a boy, and was treated as such. Shouldering her pack she headed into the inn.

A cacophony of music and shouting assailed her ears. For a moment she stepped back as if to run. Men were everywhere, the only women in sight were the bar maids. Most of them being pinched or dandled on a man's lap. The rest rushing about to keep the ale flowing. Jacqueline took a steadying breath and headed in. Her knuckles were white on the straps of her pack. None one had been wiser of her gender yet. This would be no different. She looked around only suddenly realizing she didn't know what Sir Friderick looked like and hadn't even asked what his colors or sigils were. With another steadying breath she drew herself up to her imposing five and a half feet and approached the largest group of me.

"Excuse me...." Too quiet, a couple only looked up because she approached. "Excuse me!" She bellowed in as loud and manly a voice as she could muster. "I'm looking for Sir Friderick of Alnerwick, could you direct me to him?"
 

BennyQ

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In times of peace, it was an unfortunate obstacle that many knights and warriors had to find other outlets for their martial spirits and vigor.

The Long Peace, as it was dubbed by some scholastic monk, had settled over the varied kingdoms, duchies, and principalities of the Mynesian continent for almost a decade now. That peace could have lasted for even a year was remarkable. Ten years seemed a miracle. A period of warmth too seemed to have added to the prosperity. Longer summers, shorter winters, greater harvests and a boom in birth rates caused an economic upswing across the lands. Peasants added colour to their ragged garments. Clergymen took on long pilgrimages to distant sites. And nobles and high lords across the land indulged a most favored sport, second only to war. Every few months, word of a great tournament of joust, archery, melee, and skill was held.

For Ser Friderick, Baron of Alnerwick, the Long Peace and the increased warmth did not help him in either way. Lord of the castle and estates of Alnerwick, he was but a step or two higher on the rung than any well off peasant. His castle was degrading, a structure that stood for many centuries in the distant corner of the Swadian Empire, which was nothing but a patchwork of free cities, duchies, bishoprics, and some minor petty kingdoms that agreed to work together for a common cause. Under the esteemed guidance of Emperor Eugene the Third, a six year old boy, the prosperity of the central provinces did not extend to those on the frontiers like him. Frankly put, Ser Friderick was poor. His lands were unproductive. And the heat only exacerbated the swamplands around his home and seeped salt into the earth. He needed money, for more than just rebuilding his castle. His peasants were starving. Farmlands were unworked. Young men were turning to brigandage. He had sold his mother’s jewelry already to float grain supplies another year.

He needed to win a tournament. And he needed to win a big one.

He had won before. A regional tournament, hosted by the Prince-Bishop of Helmfirth and a more famous victory at the Regnal tournament for the birthday of King Godfrey of Frankia. That had brought a fat purse and a vicious splinter cut under his left eye. He had used the money to try and vitalize his failing economy, which in turn only unveiled deeper, root-cause issues of the failure. Everyone was enjoying the prosperity except him. It burned in his mind and stung deep in his heart. He had to win again, which is why he was currently on the road to Archmouth, where Count Liudhard Adalhard’s son was hosting one in the coming days. With other knights from the lands and fiefs around Alnerwick, they journeyed along the trodden trade routes to the County. Right now, they were stopped over at the market town of Rutherglen.

And Rutherglen was where Ser Friderick would be meeting his new squire. As squires aged and moved on to knighthoods themselves, he was obligated to find another. The one he had during the tournament of King Godfrey had been superb, keeping his gear polished, his weapons sharpened, his horse fed and looked after. Wingfoot was a powerful charger, unbroken, and often wild and fussy. It took a measure of patience to handle his horse. It took even more to now serve under Ser Friderick, who had his standard of squires set pretty high after his last. After a month, he had received an offer from the Lord of Lancaster, seeking a position for his son, Jacque Lancaster. Though the boy was an unknown in knightly circles, a good service as squire and eventually a knighthood of his own could mean a good bonus for Friderick at the very least. But he wanted a victory.

It was not a good sign that the boy was late. Perhaps high nobility had made the lad a pompous ass before his time. Friderick wondered too if the boy would come with more comforts and oddities for his camp life than he possessed in his entire castle. The other knights, of which there were six including Friderick, all had theirs in order. At the tavern they rested at, called the Prancing Peter, he was currently sitting alone. Some knights sat together as befitted their social class while squires were regulated to stand in the back, waiting hand and foot. Some kind knights at least let their squires drink and eat. The women here were loose, which for some of the younger squires, fifteen or sixteen years of age, was completely a novelty to them. The knights enjoyed that, poking at their lack of worldly experience. Friderick, sitting alone with a mug of cheap ale and stale bread, could only shake his head. His squire should know better than to be distracted. And hopefully not because he was drawn to the other sex, theirs.

Next he heard his name. I’m looking for Sir Friderick of Alnerwick, could you direct me to him? God, not even a please. Pompous. One of the other knights, all of whom were well acquainted with Ser Friderick (and especially his victories), exchanged looks at the squire and then laughed.

“Why, are you here to kill him boy?” One of them asked the newcomer with a laugh at the boy’s tone. “Or to serve him a notice of the collection of his debts?”

“A fuckin’ ginger. Great. I fuckin’ hate gingers.” Another growled, a thick limbed man with a long black beard.

“Here.” Friderick said, raising his hand. The man sat with his back to the wall, legs not under the table but to the side of his chair, as his powerful arms rested upon the table and over the back rest of the chair. He was dressed in a long sleeveless surcoat, checkered in black and white, down to his knees. Beneath was a similar tunic of chain mail, though that did cover his arms. The hood of the chain mail rested behind his neck, where it could be pulled over his head and still fitted with a helm. He had gauntlets and mud-crusted boots, dark breeches tucked in. Beside him against the wall was a longsword. He had another knife on his waist. His lances and other gear were stowed with his horse, currently stabled. Friderick waited for the boy to present himself. Not even fuzz on his upper lip yet either.

“He’s pretty than my daughters, Friderick.” Another knight remarked.

“You better guard your daughters then when I finish with him.” Friderick said, before gesturing to the seat in front of him. He didn’t waste any time, focusing entirely upon the boy. “You must be Jacques Lancaster. I said to be here at midday. It’s evening, almost night.” He simply said. “Eat something. I hope your esteemed father sent you with some coin. You can use this bread.” He said, grabbing his and slapping it onto the table in front of the boy. No plate. No utensils. Just flat on the table. But they were men and they ate, not asking where the food came from. Next though, a second later, he stabbed his knife into the wood of the table next to the bread. Time to see his knife handling. “You’ll need this. It’s stubborn. Make some rolls.” He ordered, never breaking his deep ocean blue eyes off the boy.

“Tell me now, what you expect of your duties as a squire. And don’t you dare quote to me any chivalric novels or songs. No one here reads and if you’re going to sing, you better sing well, in which I’ll know you don’t have any balls. So speak up, Jacques and tell me what you think you’ll be doing.” Friderick said, ignoring the rest of the tavern and the laughter of women while he looked at his new squire. At least he didn’t seem distracted by the low cut gown of the bar maid, milky white cleavage as relishing as a cup of milk at night.
 

LilGunner

Nonsolis radios sediouis fulmina mitto.
Joined
Jul 16, 2017
Location
Virginia
Kill him? She looked surprised, almost startled for a moment. These men were strange. Another one spoke up, growled more like. Bright blue eyes narrowed and her free hand tightened into a fist. The man was large and picking a fight with him might possibly be foolish. It was, perhaps, lucky that another voice spoke up across the tavern, along with a short raise of a hand. Eyes narrowed at the dark haired man Jacqueline turned towards the other voice.

Holy Mary mother of God. If Jacqueline was anything like the other women at tournaments she might have thrown some favors this man's way. Some simply lost their feathery little heads when it came to the decidedly handsome knights. She had been to a few tournaments in her life but by God she couldn't remember a better looking man. Better than the lot she had approached and better than some of the men who had been potential candidates for husband. Then she realized she was staring. Quickly she wiped her face clean and headed over to Sir Friderick. Heaven help her. This almost wasn't fair. Why couldn't Sir Friderick of Alnerwick be a grizzled old warrior type? Word of her victories had, of course, spread but she hadn't heard tell of what he looked like. No, she had to keep her head.

Up close was worse. It was lucky the tavern was a little dark, illuminated by candles and lamps. She could feel her ears burning. Her right foot tucked back behind her left ankle. Not thinking straight she almost curtsied. Stupid habits. Couldn't stop now. Instead she managed an awkward sort of bow. That was how men greeted one another right? Suddenly she couldn't remember men ever greeting one another. She needed to pull herself together quickly. Friderick guessed who she was, or was at least pretending to be. Though right on the heels of that was a reprimand. Jacqueline was taken aback, furrowing her red brows a little at the man. "A pleasure to meet you at long last Sir Friderick." She kept her tone as low as possible without sounding too exaggerated. "My apologies for being late. If horses could fly I imagine timeliness would be better kept," she said as she sat down, dropping her back next to the chair.

When offered the bread her head tilted some. Just bread? Not a very good meal. She jumped when he suddenly stabbed the table next to the bread. Her head tilted some at the knife and the bread. "Very well," she said as wrapped a small hand around the handle. She had hoped it would come free with ease. As it were it took two tugs to remove the knife from the wood. It was a little large for her hand making it a touch unwieldy. All the while the deep blue of his eyes never wavered off of her. It was making her uneasy. Like he was looking right through her and knew her falsehood. That was foolish. Men were too stupid to realize such things. Carefully, almost gently, she rocked the knife through the bread. Tough but not impossible.

His question about a squire's duties was an odd one. Her eyebrows raised up some even as her attention remained on the bread she was cutting. "No one reads? That's a shame...I don't sing though." A bit of a lie but she knew full well her voice was far too high to risk any song. "Obviously working for you. Shining leather, polishing steel, caring for the horses. In return you teach me more on fighting and tactics, eventually I stand my vigils and take on a knighthood." She gave a light shrug. He asked as if he thought she might give another answer. What other answer would there be? When the bar maid came by, her breasts nearly falling out of her dress as she leaned over Jacqueline leaned away some. "Wine if you please m'lady and whatever Sir Friderick wishes. Since I am late it seems only fair to buy a round."

Finished with the bread she lay the knife down on the table, hilt towards Friderick. All the while she hadn't looked up to him, keeping her eyes focused on the task. The bread was cut into neat and equal pieces. "You know, despite your recent victories I have not heard much about you, Sir Friderick, or of Alnerwick. Has the peace done well for your land? Our farms have been quite prosperous in Lancaster of late." Lancaster was a fine, sweeping group of prosperous shires. It was well known for its barely as well as its horses. Particularly the ones bred at Lord Eammon's estate. A hobby of his since growing too aged for tourneys.
 

BennyQ

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Friderick didn’t know how he ought to feel. He had heard that Jacques Lancaster was a bit older and yet the boy before him…was still a boy. His voice wasn’t developed and he looked skinnier than his pinky finger. Could he even hold up a sword, let alone a lance? Friderick supposed the esteemed Lord Lancaster expected the overworked Baron to teach his boy everything. Squiring was generally a one or two affair anyways, unless the boy showed remarkable promise on a field of battle or through other virtues. Give him time, he might surprise you. It wasn’t that he was too stupid to see the truth behind the matter. Friderick would just never expect it of any girl to do. He fully thought Jacques was who he claimed to be.

He certainly talked like a pompous ass. He didn’t even get to answer what Jacques assumed was the standard duty of a squire when he had the gall to refer to their bar maid, a woman of loose virtue and entirely of sin, a lady. A lady! He might have cringed himself out of existence, already hearing a few snickers from those who overheard it. The awkward stumbling, the overly charming tone, the baby face look…God, what had he signed up for? Great, now he had to deal with the ruthless trash talking of his travelling companions. Still, Jacques was paying for a round and he didn’t complain. And could handle a knife. There was some promise. But Friderick wanted someone with a lot of promise, not just the prospect of such.

He quirked his eyebrows when Jacques spoke of him and his background but felt irritation when the boy just had to bring up the state of his lands. Yes, we get it. Your family is rich. “If flies were worth their weight in salt, most certainly so.” That would be a lot of flies though just for a pound of it. And there were a lot of flies. “And if my peasant’s sheep would stop roaming into bogs and drowning themselves, I could eat lamb every day.” Friderick answered sarcastically. He needed to put his foot down early with Jacques. Get him focused and stern and prod him mercilessly until his skin was thicker than oak. The others would show no mercy. And he didn’t want to be distracted by feeling sorry for the boy. “You should forget about your prosperity boy, and mine. We’re going to be sleeping on straw beds or in ditches under rain if we can’t find a tavern on the road. Hot food is going to be a luxury. Hot baths…hah, say goodbye to that, boy. This isn’t some jolly adventure where we bounce on down to a lovely castle on a hill. This is going to be work. You’re not here to make friends.”

He reached over and took his knife, twirling it upon his palm a moment before shoving it back into his belt. “You don’t need to hear anything about me. Use your eyes and your brain, not your ears and mouth. Watch. Observe. Obey. That’s what I need from you.” Friderick finished, before nodding at the bread. “Pack that up.” He ordered dismissively. They weren’t even going to eat it and let the boy get to it while he received the round of ale Jacques had ordered and promptly drained it in the next quarter-minute. “I’m tired. We hit the road early tomorrow. And train. One hour at sunrise and two hours at sunset, with sword, shield, spear, bow, and mace. You’ll learn how to use an axe when you chop firewood.” He added. Had she ever done that before? Pretty hands are going to end up very calloused.

“Maybe you’ll get lucky and the brat will maim his own foot.” Another knight remarked. They were all listening. Everyone listened. And eavesdropped. They had all heard Friderick berating and lecturing Jacques. It was nothing new. All the squires got their asses kicked, verbally and sometimes even physically. They were supposed to be soldiers. And Friderick had been Jacques age and younger when he first served and killed a man in combat. The Long Peace did indeed breed prosperity. And plenty. It made for soft living. And soft living made for soft people.


Friderick didn’t answer or even look at the other knight, despite their round of snickering at Jacques’ expense. “Our quarters are end of the hall, first room on the left. Curfew is sun down. Make sure you check on the horses, make sure they are watered and fed for the night. You make sure the water basin is full and clean for the morning for washing. And make sure you’re in bed before the sun is down. Don’t make me come find you with your virtue fingers deep in…” he nodded towards the barmaid, who was bending over quite suggestively for another men, her creamy cleavage hanging thickly, “a lady.” He snorted. “That we will save for when you earn it. Any questions now? None. Good.” Friderick said and slapped the table as he rose, picking up his longsword.

If Jacques did have questions, hopefully he was smart enough to save it for behind closed doors and not reveal how stupid he was in front of everyone else. It wasn’t Jacques’ fault. Everyone was this stupid at one point, even Friderick when he had been young. Ser Umberto del Magnos was how he squired for. And that man and his friends murdered Friderick on the daily. It was just how things were. Not to mention…did the disguised noblewomen know as well this is what young men did before marriage? The women were expected to be pure and innocent for their marriage bed but squires and young boys got a taste, at least in practice, before they went to theirs. And Friderick had implied he intended to show Jacques the ways around a woman. Eventually.

When he had gone, the nearest knight turned and smirked at Jacques. “Piss in his water bowl. It’ll be hilarious.” He remarked vulgarly to Jacques.

The one who hated gingers sneered. “If the pocket faced cunt has a cock to grab.”

“He can raise a leg up like a dog. Am I right or am I right?” The first laughed, raising his mug and as he drank, a trickle poured down his jaw. His squire just stared blankly down at the table and said nothing to Jacques. The longer he stayed, the more they would rip him to shreds. And Friderick? Well he went to go lie down on his bed, one of two in the cramp, narrow space. And despite his comment about not reading, he didn’t say anything about not writing as he pulled out some parchment and a pen, continuing a letter to a certain someone.
 

LilGunner

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Location
Virginia
Jacqueline was taken aback by Friderick's rancor when she attempted some polite conversation. Her mouth hung open a little at the salty, sarcastic words. She cleared her throat and looked down to the table. Apparently there was one thing she never bothered to learn. How to talk to men. Well, how to talk to men as a man. Did men wear two faces? One when speaking to a woman and another when speaking to fellow men? This was certainly something of an education. Little did she know it would only go downhill from there and Friderick wasn't entirely done. He continued on about the lifestyle of travel. Jacqueline was careful to school her face, trying not to look like a puppy that was being berated by its owner. Well she only expected such things. She had traveled a fortnight on her own, few taverns or inns along the way.

Pack that up. With what? Jacqueline glanced around a moment before remembering the kerchief. A smallish square of dark green linen, lined with clumsy but detailed little flowers. She dusted crumbs off the bread before resting it on the square and tied the corners together for a neat little parcel. It was the last bit of needlework she had done with her mother before leaving. She hated needlepoint and was not particularly good at it but it was something she couldn't bring herself to leave behind. "Aye sir," she simply said as he laid out his plans. A small grin couldn't be helped. He could berate all he liked but maybe he'd come around when he saw her skill. Maybe not with mace and her shield work wasn't the best but spear, bow, and sword. More importantly the lance. Then a knight behind them spoke up. She glanced over her shoulder only to see the various sets of eyes on them. The tavern had grown quieter too. She felt her ears warm but sank her teeth into the soft flesh of her cheek. Don't flush damnit.

Friderick had drained his ale and she took a couple sips of the wine but left it, dropping a couple of coins on the table for the bar maid. At every order Jacqueline gave a sharp nod. Easy enough tasks. Though the suggestive remark made her eyes widen. Wide enough they just might plop right out of her skull. Glancing over she looked at the barmaid. Her pose, the way her breasts nearly overflowed for the men. The way the men seemed to stare. Culture shock. This was...not what she had envisioned. This had to be a farce. "Ew..." she whispered quietly to herself. This was certainly not what she had in mind when setting out. Learning to fight, getting to ride and joust. Not in her wildest dreams did she imagine any of this. Lord above.

With Friderick gone the other knights took their turns with snarky and crude comments. Jacqueline hesitated a moment with raised eyebrows. She had never heard such language before! Weren't these knights? Her mouth opened as if to say something but she thought better of it and snapped her teeth together. Gathering up the parcel of bread she turned and left with an irritated scowl not even realizing the quick walk was nearly stomping and contributed to a bit more of a swing of the hips. Once out the tavern seemed to roar with laughter.

"Seen my wife stomp out like that!" One man howled as he pounded the table.

"More men made like that might turn a fellow," another guffawed into his ale.

Jacqueline made it to the safety of the stable. Once there she could breathe a small sigh of relief. It was quieter and horses didn't spout vulgarities every second breath. She set the parcel down and went to William first. The handsome bay whickered in greeting as she stepped into the small stall. "I must be mad," she said quietly to the stallion as she gently stroked his velvety muzzle. "Why didn't you tell me men were such boorish creatures? Seems I've done well to avoid marriage." She laughed quietly to herself before setting to work. This work was easy enough, feeding and hauling water. She had to ask the stablehand which horse belonged to Sir Friderick. The boy seemed nearly terrified as he pointed to a distant stall. Red brows quirked as she turned and headed over. The moment she tried to enter she nearly recieved teeth in her shoulder. "Nah!" She snapped at the charger with a sharp tap to his muzzle. This seemed to take him aback a moment. Just a moment. He stomped both front legs as if considering to rear. "Hey...hey now, easy," she said with a laugh. "Think you're a big tough fellow?" Wingfoot stopped and shook his head. No fear. Horses were simple creatures and after those displays in the tavern Jacqueline welcomed simple creatures. "If you are done fussing I'll feed you." She moved to give him a pat but Wingfoot moved away. "Oho! Crabby now aye? Well that's fine." She fed and watered the horse and left him to his own devices.

Jacqueline spent the remainder of daylight in the stable with William, brushing out his coat, mane, and tail. She would give the same attention to Wingfoot if he wasn't being sour. Just like his master. All the while she considered the absurdity of her decision to play as a man. She would just have to adapt. Loosen the shackles of proper upbringing and good breeding. It shouldn't be that hard, right? As the sun started to sink to the horizon she filled a pitcher to bring to the room. Pitcher in one hand, parcel of bread in the other, she headed back into the noise and stench of the tavern.

Not even four steps in and a pair of hands encircled her waist. Jacqueline felt the blood drain from her face as a massive set of breasts pressed to her back. "Never been called a lady before. Ohhhh such chills you give me little sir." The barmaid from before hissed into her ear. All around the roaring laughter boomed like a great drum. The woman's hands drifted lower. Jacqueline stepped to pull away but the woman grabbed her tunic, dislodging it from her shoulder. "Unhand me!" She shouted and wriggled harder as the woman's hand darted down. Jacqueline moved her leg just in time, the woman grabbed a handful of thigh rather than a handful of nothing the woman would have been expecting. "Ohhhh little lad, don't be afraid. I'll show you a good time." She chuckled and purred. Jacqueline's heart raced, panic set in. If the woman kept yanking and pulling she would end up disrobed.

Jacqueline didn't mean to do it. "Let go!" She shouted stepping a leg between the woman's skirts and hooking her ankle. A elbow drove into the wench's corset to push her back. Instead of just pushing her back the woman was toppled over. Silence. The woman was sprawled on the floor, skirts askew and over her head. Jacqueline's tunic hung off a shoulder but the undershirt hid anything else. Her heart beat in her ears as the group of men stared. Breath caught in her chest as she looked around at the myriad of shocked faces. "B...beg pardon..." Jacqueline managed before fleeing like a frightened rabbit.

Last door on the left. The door flew open as she ducked in and slammed shut immediately. Red hair tousled, tunic askew, paler than new milk, Jacqueline panted as she leaned against the door a moment. Bearings, collect, calm. Blue eyes stared forward in panic. After a few moments her eyes darted towards Friderick. Clearing her throat she stood upright and raised an arm to right the tunic a little. Without a word she walked to the water basin and poured out what remained in the pitcher. Like a cat misjudging a jump she moved as cool as could be, as though she hadn't flown in there like a banshee on fire. "If that will be all I think it is time to sleep," she said. The forced calm exterior might have been convincing if not for the warbling tremble in her voice. She cleared her throat once more as she removed her belt and the runic. The undershirt and breeches would have to stay. Sitting on the bed shaking hands unlaced and pulled the tall, black boots off.
 

BennyQ

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Was this how men acted around everyone? No, just other men. If they ever did encounter a lady, a real Lady, they might change their tunes and all begin waxing poetry and charming solicitations. As knights of nobility, they all had the etiquette training but that wasn’t a tenth as fun as the martial activities, which bred and separated real men from the effeminate courtiers. Effeminate to these knights had a broad definition. One did not need to wear perfume or put rosy colour in their cheeks to appeal to a woman’s refined tastes to garner that moniker. People who were literate, who indulged pacifist tendencies, those were the effeminate ones as well. Those who could not stand their own against any challenger, they might as well be women themselves.

So what did that make Friderick then, who sat on his bunk, back against the wall, with parchment and a quill laid upon his bent legs? As a Baron and Lord in his own right, he had to be literate to govern his fief, no? Even if it did make him look weak to his fellow warriors. What was the point of such temporal power if he could not delegate to others though? But there was no one else in Alnerwick that he trusted for that task. And it wasn’t even that which he was doing. No, Friderick was writing a letter, a personal letter, to Lady Auriane of Bertillon. A woman he was trying to court, albeit far away, for many years, hoping he might win her affections with another tournament dedication. And perhaps compel her not to marry the richer Count Theodore. She was the only woman in his life, though the sentiment was not vice-versa for Lady Auriane. But she was his only chance for a proper future, a complete future, with husband, wife, and child. The only woman in his life…

The door opened and in came his squire, Jacques.

His icy blue eyes popped up to look at the boy. Messy hair, disheveled clothing, and looking like he had seen a ghost. Now he did look effeminate to Friderick but that was customary with boys his age, between childhood and adulthood. By all accounts Jacques had to be a man. He just hadn’t done the real vigils and he wasn’t referring to the knighthood trials either. Friderick was responsible to take this bumbling idiot and turn him into a dangerous, sword-wielding and decisive young lord…and idiot. He was still staring at Jacques, expecting a report on the duties Friderick had sent him on. Something was wrong though. Friderick could see it in the boy’s face. Something had happened that had discomforted this young man. It wasn’t his job to coddle the boy. Certainly not, as he wouldn’t learn anything, especially how to react on his own. But a part of him also sympathized. Jacques had probably never been away from home on his own. This was all new and terrifying. He had to serve another rather than be served, which was difficult for any Lord or noble to do.

Jacques kept his clothes on, as if scared or discomfort. Friderick might have rolled his eyes. Did he never bathe with the other boys, play in the river, wrestle shirtless or visited the sparring grounds? These rooms were not heated but even in summer they would get very hot. He shrugged. Jacques would have to learn some things the hard way then. Still, he couldn’t help but notice too that Jacques’ hands and feet…looked very soft. Never did a day’s labour in his life, have you? And he was supposed to win a tournament with this boy? He couldn’t focus on his letter now. He folded the parchment, barely two sentences added on, and placed it upon the nightstand between their two beds. There was barely two steps between their cots. He swung him legs over and sat on the edge, facing Jacques.

“What the hell happened to you?” He demanded outright. “Did the muck and horseshit get to you? You’ll get used to it. There are worse smells than horse shit. Have you seen Ser Reginard?” That was the ginger-hating big knight. It was meant as a joke and Friderick offered a half-smile to Jacques. He put his hands to his neck, where he began to unstrap the bindings of his tunic, unveiling a bit of his chest. He did so casually, as he always did before bed, preferring to sleep shirtless. “How was Wingfoot? Did he give you any trouble?” He inquired as he took his tunic off and flung it beside his pillow. His body was unveiled fully. His chest was broad, with a bit of dark hair across it and thinning down to his abdomen, which itself was wrought and strong, the flesh hugging the tendons of muscle firmly. He didn’t do any of this to impress or show off to Jacques. It was just regular behavior between knights and soldiers.

He knew Wingfoot would have given Jacques trouble. “He always gives trouble, even to me. But that’s what makes a good warhorse and charger. He is free spirited and independent. Don’t treat him like a pet. Treat him like an equal. Don’t try to bid him to meal times. Put it there and he’ll come to it himself. It’s like with dogs. If they sense fear or hesitation, they will assert themselves and take advantage. Have confidence.” Friderick said, before looking sharply at Jacques. “You should be able to get a lot of it, given how you shudder in your boots.” He flatly said to Jacques and just stared at the boy, challenging him to say different. Get a little backbone or everyone is going to take advantage of you. The Baron had no idea he was saying this to a girl. If he knew, tradition and custom demanded he make sure the girl stay submissive and obedient. Women weren’t supposed to be assertive in their culture. They were supposed to be wed and breed babies and manage the household, nothing more. Never standing up for themselves.

“Tomorrow, after we wash, we’ll see how good you are with a sword then we’ll ride. There’s still days to Archmouth. You ever been to Archmouth before? It’s nothing like your fancy Lancaster. Do you know what decay and rotting fish smells like? You’ll find out, boy.” Friderick said as he moved to lay down on the bed. A little lady might tuck in wonderfully at his side.
 

LilGunner

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Jacqueline's head snapped up when Friderick addressed her. She had just been removing her second boot and froze halfway pulling it off. Green eyes wide at the sudden, snide remarks. Surprise melted to confusion which turned into a mild revulsion. Who did this man think he was talking to? He certainly had his own preconceptions about who he was dealing with. Yes she and her brother had led a very comfortable life, that didn't mean they were some puffed up parrots like some courtiers. Granted they were Franks and many of her fellow nobles were...very soft. She had damn near grown up in a stable, much to her mother's displeasure. Friderick's attempt at humor didn't elicit even a smile. Jacqueline would admit it pleasantly softened his already handsome features. But good lols did not make up for such rudeness.

She eased the boot off her foot and let it fall to the floor with a clatter. His questions after his horse and movement made her look up just as he pulled his tunic off. Jacqueline's entire being froze. Good Lord...Good Lord...Over and over in her mind. She couldn't help staring. Jacqueline had seen her fair share of shirtless men. Of course most were quick to put their shirts back on if she appeared. She had never seen...such a naked chest before. Every inch was sculpted and chiseled. She had to stop staring. She was a boy. Boys didn't stare a other boys. Friderick began talking again. It was just enough to jar her back to motion.

He lectured her about horses. Right back to surprised revulsion. Ignore the chest. Actually his lecture was infuriating enough for her to keep her eyes focused on his face. Annoyance clearly written across her face. "I know how to handle horses," she said between her teeth. Slowly she managed to unclench her jaw and lean back on the cot. "Wingfoot was snippy but we were quick to settle our differences." Jacqueline folded her arms across her chest as she stared up at the ceiling. Her mind reeled at this strange situation. How different men were when not around ladies. The bar maids were...clearly a different breed of woman. Jacqueline thought herself brash and impetuous, being called that enough by her mother, but these women...she couldn't even think of a proper word. She gave a short nod at Friderick's plans for the morning. Something she felt a little more capable at dealing with.

She glanced over at Friderick laid down on the cot. He was handsome, laying on the cot, shirt off, toned and hard body stretched out. The thought of what it might be like to be able to curl up to that crossed her mind but she quickly shooed it away. She had to think like a man if she was going to remain undetected and deal with these strange, two-faced creatures. Sir Friderick was handsome alright but Jacqueline decided he was a little unpleasant to deal with. She wondered just how differently he might act if he knew who she really was. "I look forward to this place of decay and rotten fish," she said with a snarky smile before rolling over with her back to Friderick, curling up some making the breeches stretch across her hindquarters.

"Are bar women always so...strange?" She asked suddenly after a few minutes of quiet. "The one who took our order...I...might have accidentally knocked her down when she tried to grab...my ah...ya know..." Bluster and confidence utterly disappeared. The territory was far too new to talk about and Jacqueline certainly wasn't about to throw the words cock or balls around.
 

BennyQ

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There was some of that fire. It was a fine line between having a backbone and showing attitude, especially for a high ranking boy like Jacques. Yet the lad wasn’t in a talkative mood. He wouldn’t be, not on his first or second or for days after that. Far from home, out of his element, with no servants to do his bidding or parents to serve as a safety net. He had to learn to be his own man. And Friderick had to teach him. He had to be his friend, his mentor, guide and protector. But he could only do so much if Jacques refused to help himself. That is why he had to be put in these hard situations, out of his comfort zone, to know how to react and think decisively. It could either be a long road or a short one. Friderick hoped he might still get lucky with a shorter road.

“You did what?” Friderick exclaimed when Jacques revealed he had a tussle with the bar maid. “Grabbed your…what? Come on boy, you can say it. There’s no ladies around. Certainly not the ones out there, who probably know more vulgarity than a ship full of sailors. She grabbed your cock, didn’t she?” He said, though despite the fierceness of his question he remained utterly calm and in place on the bed, unmoving from his rest. He thought about the implication of Jacques words. Oh god. He had…hit the bar maid? Because she violated him? Well technically Jacques could, being who he was and with his rank. A bit cruel maybe but it was probably the first time. And he didn’t seem like a boy who was reaching puberty yet. Others will think it foolish. The bar maid coming on to you? A free session without an exchange of coin, how lucky. Except when one caught syphilis.

Friderick suddenly laughed. Well, it wasn’t like they were going to be coming back here in any case. And who was she going to tell, the local Constable who was probably three towns over…with his own hand up some other bar wench’s skirt? “You should be careful with your wit and charm then, little lord. She wanted you and your seed. Little under a year later she’ll be knocking at your father’s castle with a red haired little brat claiming its yours. You ready to be a father? No. Any fool can make a baby but it takes a real man to raise it. Women do much in bearing the child into this world, it’s the least we can do is be there for them. But listen to me closely boy. You’ll get yours in time. Stay away from the women, especially the lowborn ones. With any luck, you’d marry some pretty little Lady with all her teeth and her virtue intact, all for your own taking. Don’t rush it.” Friderick finished, glancing over to Jacques. Did that make him feel better and less guilty?

Or maybe hitting girls was his passion. There were some despicable Lords and knights like that. There was even one in their travelling party.

“And don’t think of apologizing either. First you call her a Lady when she clearly isn’t, now you condescend to make her rejection easier. There are some women who are just deserving of respect and admiration and then there are some who are just vile and devious. Stay away from this one. She’ll rip you apart and then your father will rip me apart. Tomorrow, keep your head down, stay by me, and soon you’ll know how to…heh…protect yourself from needy women.” Friderick said, rolling his eyes. But who was he to talk? Was he married? At his age it was soon becoming a negative. He was not as lucky as the son of a Duke to have a pick and choose ability with the women but he was still a Lord himself. Saying he was waiting for the right one wasn’t viable anymore. With his age, people would begin to gossip. Perhaps he had syphilis. Perhaps he was impotent. He sighed.

“Look, you’re a good kid and there’ll be many feasts, merriment and drinking for you but this isn’t going to be a vacation. You’re here to learn how to be a warrior and how to be a man. Womenfolk are strange indeed. I could tell you one thing, the next man will say another, and then you’ll experience something wholly different when you actually talk to a girl. So pay heed to me when I say stay away from women during your squiring for me. Got it?” Friderick said, before turning his head and glancing towards Jacques. The last thing he wanted was a scandal and a squire who slept around, being chased by angry husbands or furious fathers or vengeful brothers. This boy with his red hair and bright eyes just looked like he was going to be honey if all the girls were flies. “I want to hear you say you understand what I’m saying and that you won’t. Then get some sleep.”
 

LilGunner

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Jacqueline winced some at Friderick's reaction to the confession. More so at such easy use of such a vulgar word. Cock. Honestly. She didn't realize men were such pigs. The things women were kept in the dark about were simply astounding. "Well no she didn't grab...it...I mean she tried but...just grabbed my leg." Someone on high was looking out for her there. If that woman had grabbed where she intended...Jacqueline shuddered to imagine just what might have happened. Quick discovery and slow death by stoning. Possibly burning. The best she could hope for would be hanging. "I didn't mean..." she began but was cut off by Friderick's sudden and explosive laughter. It was startling enough it made her sit up a little on the cot and stare. Honestly he had a very pleasant laugh. It was unfortunate he was so vulgar.

Friderick went on further. Lecturing like a priest on his pulpit. It was honestly exhausting. She didn't need a lecture about not impregnating some random woman. Even if she wanted to it would be impossible. Then she remembered that Friderick was under the impression she was a boy. Yes, surprisingly hard to forget. Jacqueline ruffled the short, puppy soft hair. Barely even an inch long. She didn't have to act to look sheepish at the lecture. Sheepish and perhaps a little bored as well. Though when Friderick said womenfolk were strange Jacqueline snorted. Well, barmaids were strange but not all women were. Most made perfect sense. It was men who were an odd, two-faced lot really. Though Friderick, somehow, grew even more serious and demanded a promise. Don't chase after women. No trouble there. "You have my word. I will not chase women. By all that's holy...I won't even talk to women if I can help it," she said vehemently yet with a small smirk. It would be better anyways. Less likely to be sniffed out.

Jacqueline laid back down, a little itching and uncomfortable in the shirt and breeches. She closed her eyes and huffed a sigh, tucking her face into the crook of her arm. "I didn't mean to knock her down," she eventually muttered, well on her way to sleep. With a long, strange day bearing down she quickly found reprieve in sleep. Though that didn't mean the next day would be all that much better.

At her home she woke with the sun. It was the only time she got to enjoy before her mother woke up. Wrestling, fighting, riding, anything deemed inappropriate had to be accomplished before her mother awakened. Which happened almost weekly. She'd be caught and her punishment was dreadful. Needlepoint, dance, music of any sort (the harp wasn't bad but she sang like a dying bird). Sheer and utter torture for Jacqueline. She might prefer red hot pokes to needlepoint. So it was that she was up with the sun at the inn. With yawn and a cat-like stretch she stood and quietly grabbed her boots and sword. Quiet as a church mouse she crept out into the dawn. Friderick wanted to bathe then test her skills. A strange plan...get clean then sweat again. Logic was clearly not the man's strongpoint. Boots on and laced Jacqueline went to the quiet yard to run simple drills. Strikes, parries, guards. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5....repeat. Jacque's sword was a little big for her hands, perhaps a little too heavy as well. Being smaller she relied on quicker strikes and almost dance-like maneuvers rather than brute strength. She didn't really have brute strength. Let your opponent tire out then strike. Good advice given by the bravest of her father's army. The ones brave enough to give advice despite the potential wrath of the Duchess of Lancaster.
 

BennyQ

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He hoped the boy understood. The boy had to understand or there would be consequences most horrid and untenable. But Jacques gave his word and Friderick could have laughed again. His first interaction with a woman without his daddy or mommy present must have been an ordeal for the little lord. In any case, he seemed keen enough to learn and Friderick couldn’t do anymore besides wait and not bore the kid’s ear with further lectures. Not like his own luck with women was any good. He watched Jacques roll over to sleep, clearly still uneasy. Well, he was going to have to get over himself if he wished to be a knight and lord one day. Soft and sensitive demeanor was good for the books and the verse but not for reality.

Wouldn’t Jacques be more comfortable shirtless as well? It was a cramp room, with a narrow window, and it would get stuffy very soon. But then again the boy had to learn some things through his own means and not be taught and coddled by Friderick. It took a short while for him to finally drift off to slumber but it came, a mix of childhood memories, the intensity of war, and a smiling woman all mingled together in his dreams. He awoke before the dawn and lay abed for a time, trying to distract himself from the despair of his fief and personal life to try and plot out the day’s journey ahead. That too was moot, seeing as there were other knights with input to be given.

Bathing first time was a luxury for Friderick, for it indeed got very hot during the night. Bathing was subjective, consisting of him sitting on the edge of his bed, shirtless, and using a cloth dipped into the washbasin to run across his chest and arms. Jacques wasn’t in his cot, which he had to admit was impressive that the boy could awake early. Most squires wanted to sleep in. Hell, most knights wanted to sleep in and some would take that privilege. But this boy showed promise with his zeal already! He smiled, having a rare situation where he began a morning with hope and eagerness. Perhaps the boy was more than he thought, not a docile, effeminate lord but someone with guts and steel in their blood. After a bathing to wash off the night’s grit, Friderick picked up his armour and went in search of his squire, who’s job it was to help him adorn the gear.

Others found Jacques, or rather Jacqueline, first.

The other squires did. They were all the sons of nobility, high and low, though none had such a claim as Jacques, heir to the Dukedom of Lancaster did. They were mostly the second or third sons of Barons and Counts, or the nephews of such. They were also to be Jacques colleagues and fellow squires. They did not like him. And slowly, one by one, they each appeared at the training grounds and saw Jacques so diligently going through the steps. They snickered and took any opportunity to mock when they perceived a misstep. They were larger and taller boys, fifteen, sixteen, one even seventeen years old. The Long Peace allowed the young men and boys to pursue other arts before taking up the martial sphere of activities. In times of total war between the kingdoms, soldiers and squires would have been heading off at much younger ages. Unfortunately.

The largest boy, Fabien Duverger, had to make his authority known. When there were no knights around, he was in charge of the squires. He had already cowed, coerced, or bribed the others to follow his lead. Now there was this puny little son of a Duke on his grounds. “Look at the little dancer.” He said loudly to the other squires. “He dances like a girl. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was castrated at birth. Hey, eunuch boy!” Fabien called over to Jacques with a sneer. “What the fuck are you doing?” He mocked for no reason. They saw Jacques sparring but they challenged him regardless. They all began to approach, with their wooden training swords which hurt like hell when one got hit. They had their own fitted chain mail and surcoats, the sigils of their own family displayed on their chests.

They were already surrounding Jacques. “What the fuck are you doing, Eunuch?” They called, evidently making that term Jacques nickname. The moment Jacqueline tried to talk, because her voice came to them as a boy who’s balls had yet to drop, they all would burst out in mocking laughter no matter what she said. “I bet you sing very nice. Is that why they cut your balls off at birth? You going to sing us to death? What the fuck do you know to do with that sword?” Fabien challenged, stepping to stand in front of Jacques, uncaring if she tried to keep doing her routine. He had his own wooden sword up, ready to fight her and teach this runt of a Duke who the boss was. It wasn’t even a hour since the sun had risen.

Friderick came too out of the further building, tying his swordbelt around his waist, dressed in his chainmail and checkered surcoat. He saw the confrontation and, though understanding boys would always be boys, he paused by a corner and decided to watch. Jacques already had his sword out. He'd give it a half-minute before he intervened. He was more curious and knew he should stop it at once but his delay wasn't borne out of cruelty.
 

LilGunner

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At first the boys were easy to ignore. Yes, Jacqueline had seen them gather around. She tried to not let them distract her. Just keep going through the steps, offense and defense. Their cackling seeped into her mind. What they chuckled at she didn't know but she did know they were watching her. Eight of them in total, every one of them larger than her. Perhaps they would simply go away and do their chores. They had armor to polish and horses to care for right? Jacqueline moved to go on until one of the boys piped up. She growled low in her throat and let the sword drop, turning to face the group. Eunuch boy. How clever of them. Certainly prime examples of the sons of nobility stood before her. She eyes their sigils, recognizing only two of them. The apparent leader, no surprise it was the biggest of the group, didn't have a sigil she recognized.

"Training you gib..." she began but was cut off with raucous laughter. She blinked and stared at the circle that had formed. Well this wasn't particularly good. One thing in her benefit, she had a real sword in hand, not a stick of wood. Their mocking washed over her and she huffed an annoyed sigh. Boys were painfully stupid. She wondered, briefly, if any of the lads had admirers and if those admirers knew what dunderheaded buffoons these lads were. The leader still mocked and jeered as he stepped forward. Red eyebrows raised and she lifted the sword up. "Oh, what do I know what to do with a sword? Gosh...just these pretty little dance moves. Boy oh boy am I sure glad you came along to show me better..." She said with a faux, wide-eyed look.

Jacqueline knew she had to be careful. The last thing she needed was to actually run the boy through. She was fairly certain that wouldn't go over well. Trouble was the boys wouldn't fight fair either. She was certain the second things went south for their leader they would all jump in. "Alright well...let's try this..." Jacqueline started the fight with a very sloppy lunge, easily blocked by the boy. The sword suddenly looked three times as heavy as she apparently struggled to swing it. The boys laughed and jeered. She blocked his attacks with just barely enough time to stop the wood from singing on her flesh. Despite the sloppy moves an experienced eye might note that every attack and defend was drawing Fabien closer to his group.

With one very wild swing Jacqueline fully missed, damn near charging the circle of squires. The circle broke, the boys scattering to avoid being impaled. Jacqueline let the momentum carry her to the ground, the sword dropped. She heard the laughter again, more mocking of eunuch boy. Heavy footsteps approached as she weakly pushed herself up. "Feminine little shit of a eunuch. Did they cut your cock off so deep you have a little cunny instead?" He laughed and swung the wooden sword, ready to dole out a vicious beating. Jacqueline smirked, grabbed the sword and returned the swing. With a mighty crack the wooden sword was severed in half. She raised a leg and delivered a very low blow, a powerful mule kick right to Fabien's groin. The boy squealed and groaned, grabbing at his package and falling to his knees. Jacqueline was quick to her feet, hardly even winded, as Fabien retched from the pain. The others moved to run in but Jacqueline grabbed a handful of Fabien's hair and raised the sharp sword to his throat. "Ah ah ah...get out of here or your friend dies. I don't have time for mewling, boorish, simpletons. You lot are pathetic. Go on now, tuck tail and run you foul, simpering, coxcomb!"

At first they didn't seem to know what to do. Until a little drop of red spilled from Fabien's neck. A tiny cut but the blood was enough. The boys turned and trotted away. Once they were gone Jacqueline released Fabien and stepped back. "You too...go on now. Bother me again and you'll be the new eunuch." Fabien couldn't speak really. He was convinced he might be a eunuch already from the kick. Slowly he managed to get to his feet and stagger away, still cupping himself. Jacqueline huffed and used her tonic to clean the tiny droplet of blood from the sword. "Boys are so stupid...and such a pain. Why do you even bother with them?" She grumbled to herself.
 

BennyQ

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More heavy steps followed and Friderick marched onto the training ground just as the other squires were fleeing, several casting dark glances his way. Their knights would learn soon enough of what happened here. The Baron was fully armoured and unhappy, despite what he had just witnessed. Jacques had defended himself, this time against armed opponents rather than some hapless tavern wench and Friderick was starting to wonder if he had to deal with a temper rather than a timidity in his new squire. Still, despite the skill Jacques had showed, he wasn’t pleased with the result or how it was handled. He looked hard at Jacques as he came onto the sands, standing several paces apart.

He picked up the broken hilt of the wooden sword that Jacques had severed, looking at it. A clean stroke right through. Someone knew their form and posture. It seems the entire debacle of being clumsy and stumbling had been a ploy. Why did that give him hope? Here he might have a squire who indeed spent every waking moment of their young life wanting to be a knight and taking it seriously, someone with developed fighting and battle instincts. Someone who could assist him in the jousts and lists of the tournaments to come. God, was he getting every analysis of this boy wrong in the first day he had met Jacques?

“You think this solves the problem, huh?” He asked aloud, turning the severed hilt in his hands. The wood was smooth where Jacques had sliced right through, running his finger along it. “Let’s not even mention how you used a steel blade against a wooden one in what was supposed to be a training exercise. Did you never play with the other boys in your fancy castle, little lord?” He rolled his eyes. “You should have taken the beating but at least you’ll be in the pack. Now you’re going to be an outsider and they are going to wage war on you every day and every night. And you won’t always have that shiny sword. What are you going to do then?” Friderick asked. Jacques might have skill. He certainly didn’t seem to have a brain.

And no one liked people who tattled either. Fabien wouldn’t tell his knight, Sir Theoto of Austreburg. He would seek out his own personal vengeance. And it annoyed Friderick even more now, since he will have to deal with the aftermath of whatever was done to Jacques.

Though he had a steel sword at his side, Friderick twirled the broken wooden blade in his hand and began to pace. It was evident what was next. He was going to try Jacques and his skill now, while at the same disadvantage as those boys, using wood, and a broken blade, against Jacques and his actual sword. “Come on then, let’s see what you really got, against a real opponent.” Friderick said with a grin. “This should be easy. My blade is broken and my armour makes me slow. Can you take me down? If you do, I’ll knight you on the spot and you can go home.” He even offered. But he had no intentions of losing. Or even going easy. Friderick had killed men in battle before. And he continued the art in the near-death experience they called jousting and melee tournaments, where they pretended to try and kill one another.

Just to goad Jacques, Friderick dug the toe of his boot into the sand and kicked upwards, sending a spray of sand all over the younger boy. He waited for the boy’s attacked, silent and watchful, upright and rigid. He didn’t give any advice on combat. Jacques seemed to know enough. Truthfully he probably just needed experience, real experience, and not this game of pussyfooting and dance. Though, Jacques did move pretty gracefully, as if he had dancing lessons before. It was only a trace hint in his mind, wondering if Jacques was simply still boyish as he rose to manhood or…if there was something more effeminate.

“After this, you’re going to apologize to Esquire Duverger. I don’t have time for your petty grudge fights.” Friderick added just to add further coercing.
 

LilGunner

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Jacqueline heard the heavy boots across the compacted sand. She perked up and turned to see Sir Friderick striding towards her. His expression was hard to read. Was he angry? Irritated? Hungry? Did he see what had just happened? Well if he did he would know she was no slouch when it came to combat at least. Little of that mattered anyways. Fully suited in his armor he was an imposing figure. Tall, strong, his dark hair curling around his brow and ears. Blue eyes fierce in a finely boned face. For a moment she felt her knees shake. Her legs were weak, her body suddenly heavy, face and ear incredibly warm. Heaven above she needed to get ahold of herself. Jacqueline tore her eyes away, shaking her head somewhere as she made sure the blade was clean.

Her sudden swell at Friderick's presence quickly deflated as he spoke. Rather than praise for a battle well won he berated her. She looked up at him as he scolded. Truly taken aback at his accusations and lecture she place a hand to her chest in her shock. Taken a beating from those hooligans? Why on earth would she left those dregs get the better of her. Nothing of what he said made any darn sense. Why should she care about being an outsider? If those ruffians had a thimble of sense between them they would do well to stay away. Sir Friderick began pacing, twirling the broken training sword in his hand. Her eyes narrowed curiously at him. He wasn't thinking...no that would just be foolish.

Again she was surprised at his challenge. Fight him with her sharp sword of steel while he wielded the broken wooden sword. Her head tilted as she frowned in confusion. The offer of knighting on the spot was tempting but it was a stupid challenge. Either she was going to win the fight or be devastatingly humiliated. Friderick was experienced, more so than her. She honestly didn't know if he had been in real combat or just in tournaments. Either way he had spent far more time in real combat than she had. Of course he was hampered by the armor, he would be slow. She stared him down as he moved but he stopped. The spray of sand from the toe of his boot forced her eyes closed and head down a little but she didn't move.

"You obviously saw my fight with the other squires. If you wish for me to apologize to the boy I will. Though I will have you know they are the ones who surrounded me. You would have me do nothing? Take a beating just to appease their idiotic egos? I will never stoop to appease the male..." She caught herself and cleared her throat. "...male-icious...malicious...egos of fools like them. And I don't think it's entirely fair of you to challenge me with half of a wooden sword, Sir Friderick." Jacqueline huffed a short sigh. With no warning she ran right at him and swung. Her movement were no longer haphazard like they were with the squire. Yet they weren't as fluid and swift as when she was going through the motions by herself. She was pulling each strike. Friderick might be wearing armor but she wasn't willing to possibly hurt someone who didn't have a proper weapon to defend with. Just like with the other squires.

Still she moved like a dancer. Her strikes not particularly strong but they were fast, like a little snake.
 

BennyQ

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Friderick wasn’t sated with Jacques’ explanation of events. They had surrounded him. Had they done anything? Only one boy had, though he offered up a fair challenge. Yet still that wasn’t the problem. He was thinking he was starting to get a grasp on this boy he had been sent. Talented, graceful, aggressive by all accounts, and intelligent. Overall, a smart ass. Great. But a smart ass was better than a dumb ass, as the old saying went among soldiers. He put it down as arrogance, typical in young nobles. Friderick ought to know. He used to be one.

Humiliation might indeed be what happened, though with no other witnesses and intended by the master as a lesson to learn, it need not exist at all. Friderick didn’t meet any of the strokes or strikes by Jacques during the first moment of their dance, knowing too full he was useless with a chopped sword. Yet Jacques held back in his assaults, no doubt fearing what his sharp steel blade might accomplish even against his chainmail and armour. The boy’s caution was his downfall, as Friderick would not have begrudged Jacques any serious harm to the Baron. He accepted the danger, he had to deal with it. That was what knights agreed to in their perilous lives. But Jacques refusal to press home an advantage was another problem to be addressed.

It might have been cruel in that Friderick gave no clarity of these lessons but he also had to understand he could not hold Jacques’ hand. That had to be made evident as soon as possible and for the lad to show initiative on his own.

In a change of pace, Friderick simply dropped his blade and stepped forwards to meet one of Jacques’ pulled strikes. He clamped his gloved hand down around the blade at the apex of its reach when it had lost the momentum of its thrust and held it tight, while he stepped towards Jacques. His other hand grabbed the boy by his throat and in a great heave threw him back onto the sands. His boot stomped down on the blade and his other heaved onto the chest of Jacques, hundreds of pound of flesh, muscle, and metal bearing down on him. Friderick leaned down with a grim expression.

“What you did was shed the blood of a young noble with your blade. I don’t care if it was a drop. That’s enough to bring a charge about on you before a higher authority. What would your high minded father think of that?” Friderick said, moving his boot to crush on Jacques’ hand to make him release the blade and then he kicked it aside. He got off the boy. “So you’re going to apologize to Esquire Duverger. You clearly think you know enough, something. But you know nothing, got it? When you rise from these sands, you’re going to rise a boy who knows he knows nothing. And you’re going to shut up, listen, observe, and learn. Forget anything you think you know about this sort of business.”

He stepped aside and picked up the sword Jacques had been using. No doubt he brought it from home or where else did he get it? “I’m keeping this, until you know how to use it and behave properly with one.” Friderick stuck it into his belt and pointed at the cut wooden blade he had dropped. “That’s your responsibility to replace.” He looked hard on the boy. “Is that understood, Esquire Lancaster?” Friderick asked. He didn’t want any questions from the boy. Simply understanding. And if he didn’t, he better put on his thinking cap if he had one and figure it out. “Now fetch my shield. We’re going to work on your endurance.” Friderick said, drawing his own longsword, gleaming in the morning sunlight.

His shield was kite shaped, with an iron boss set in the middle and a strap behind to wound one’s forearm through. It was heavy however, of a metal base layered with wood, painted with the checkered pattern of Baron Alnerwick’s House and family, rimmed with red. There were dents from arrow strikes and the piercing of crossbow bolts upon its surface. But the heaviness was there to teach. Sure one could heft it up to deflect a strike but how many times could one do so in an hour, a day, before their arm tired and failed? That was what Jacques would learn first. Endurance and muscle training. “Hold it high. It should cover to just below your groin up to your nose. I know it’s heavy but that’s good for you. Hold it up, or I’ll smack you upside your head with the flat of my sword. And then maybe you’ll understand why you should not do such things lightly.” Friderick instructed, twirling his sword in casual expertise, ready to give Jacques and the shield a thrashing for the better part of a hour.
 

LilGunner

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Clearly mercy was for the weak and foolish. Even with his armor of Jacqueline hadn't wanted to harm Friderick. He had no blade, no shield in which to defend himself with. Even with the other squire she hadn't actually tried to hurt him. Not until the others tried to intervene anyways. Her expression was serious even as she only tapped the sides of Friderick's armor. Right until her blade suddenly halted. Jacqueline suddenly went cold as she looked at the sharp steel clutched in the larger man's hand. She didn't try and wrench it free or pull back. Rather she held utterly still, turning her blue eyes onto the knight. In that same moment his hand lashed out. She gasped just before her neck was grabbed, the pressure crushing.

Though he didn't hold for long. Boot heels skittered in the dust as she was heaved backwards. A solid blow to the back drove some air from her lungs. Jacqueline gasped and coughed, trying to reclaim the lost breath as Friderick approached. Just as she managed to claim some air a heavy, booted foot fell on her chest. She groaned at the sudden and jarring weight. Not enough to crush ribs but certainly to crush already smashed breasts. She wheezed faintly for breath as Friderick leaned down with his threatening reprimand. Yet he wasn't done. The other booted foot crushed down on her hand and she was quick to release the sword. "I already said I would," she growled up at Friderick. How on earth had she been saddled with such a man? She certainly preferred him more quiet. More calm as he had been in the night.

Finally release she slowly sat up then got to her feet. Her chest, hand, and throat ached from the rough treatment. She glowered some as he tucked her sword away. Jacque's sword really. Everything actually belonged to him. With a small huffed sigh she folded her arms petulantly. "Very well. I know nothing and I shall replace the training sword." Clearly the apology wouldn't be the most contrite of speeches. Yet it seemed Friderick wasn't entirely done with his strange lessons yet. Her eyebrows quirked at the demand but she was quick enough to obey the command.

The shield was a painfully massive and heavy thing. Sure she could carry it but holding it, especially with one hand, for any long time would be quite the ordeal. Work on her endurance. She could only guess what that meant even if her suspicions were confirmed almost instantly. Hold it up, nose to groin. For her it was nearly nose to knee. Her eyes narrowed untrustingly for a moment. No, she was supposed to learn from this man. She had to work hard to be able to fight, to be able to compete. Not just against bullish little shits like the other squires. Against real fighters. So the shield was held aloft as instructed.

It wasn't long before the task became harder and harder. The longer they went the quick the shield would slip. Sometimes she would managed to get it back aloft before an attack and sometimes not. Her arms shook, she could barely feel them any more. It didn't help that her hand still ached from being stepped on. Finally she simply couldn't any more and let the shield rest in the dirt. "I conceded....chop my head...and be done...." she panted, arm resting on the top of the shield. Her fingers were numb, it was a wonder she could even move her arm at all. Damn the man for forcing an admission of failure. She did need to work on her strength that was a certainty.
 

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Friderick had a sharp glance when Jacques gave him a bit of lip but he let it slide. The first day would be rough for him. The next few days no less so. But learn now, learn fast, and he would be as tough as nails on the boniest nun. He wasn’t going to win any points with the lad, who would be a future Duke and would indeed outrank the Baron of Alnerwick. He did regret his sternness a little but in a sport that would only a thin line from games and tournaments to death and fatal duels, there was no space for timidity or gentleness either.

Jacques returned with the shield, evidently an effort to hold. It had to be, to stop sword strokes, piercing lances, and the hammering of maces and axes. The boy did good for the first part, while his strength was fresh and still heated from his own quarreling with the other squires. For a boy so skinny and slender, he had remarkable stamina, more than what Friderick expected. He was impressed, though he concealed it for now. After some time, the boy began to falter. His arms grew weak, sore from the exertion. But they would definitely grow after this and many days of this. Finally he could not and dropped the shield, yielding to his good mercy. Friderick decided to show consideration, sheathing his sword.

He came over and clapped his hand on the back of Jacques. “Others have suffered worse when holding a shield for the first time. You did well, Esquire.” He complimented the boy, taking the shield and slinging it around his back, tying the leather bindings over his chest. “We’ll practice again at dusk before sleep and again every morning after, unless it becomes second nature to you. For now,” Friderick glanced up at the sun, shielding his eyes before looking back down and blinking, “it’s time for us to hit the road again. Archmouth is a few days ride. If you need anything, you get it now from this village or you won’t have the chance. Otherwise, fetch us horses, have them saddled and waiting in the courtyard. Fill our water flasks with fresh water from the town well. I will pay for our room and join you shortly.”

Turning, he moved back towards the tavern and wrapped up their affairs there, paying for lodgings, stabling of their horses, and anything else left on their tab. If the tavern wench had anything to say about her mishap with the young Lancaster lord, she didn’t say though there was a dark look in her eye whenever she glanced towards the Baron. Finally, he came to the courtyard where the rest of their party was gathering. Six knights, six esquires. Ten horses, with two pulling carts and wagons laden with supplies, lances, and trunks of their clothing and personal effects. Two extra horses served as pack animals and accompanying the dozen nobles were four other men-at-arms and man-servants to help with camp.

When Friderick found Jacques Lancaster again, he handed the boy a furled staff and banner. “My own.” Friderick said. “Passed down through the generations of my family. No doubt you have one as well, encrusted with gemstones and fine threading.” He remarked drily. “You carry this whenever we ride, always to my right and a little bit behind. At tournaments, you precede me on the sands with this token. One day, you’ll have a runt of your own doing the same. Exciting stuff, huh?” Friderick said. “The three roses are my previous victories. You lose those tokens, you pay out of pocket for a replacement.” He warned and looked aside.

He then espied Ser Hermannus of the Snow and his Esquire Fabien Duverger with their own horses. Fabien cast a resentful stare at Jacques but jerked when Friderick raised his arm. “Hail Ser Hermannus. A word, if you please.” Friderick called out. “Your Esquire as well.” Ser Hermannus, having heard some report of the incident, gestured to his squire and the pair came over. The other knights and some squires watched from the corner of their eyes as the two pairs came to face each other. But the two knights were civil.

“Morning, Ser Friderick.” Hermannus greeted. He was a middle-aged knight, scarred and rigid. “My squire tells me yours shed his blood in an unfair match.”

“Unfair maybe, aye.” Friderick answered. “But the boy was pressed and wasn’t exactly given an opportunity to honorably level the playing field. Nonetheless, Jacques sees the error of his way and will apologize.”

“He lies.” Fabien insisted. “He threatened me with steel when I was looking just to spare. He has a temper.” He accused but Friderick put his hand out pre-emptively to restrain Jacques if he had anything to say.

“A foolish challenge then. Just because he’s smaller you should not have judged his merits on that alone.” Friderick defended his squire.

“Come now,” Hermannus said with a tired sigh, “the sun has barely risen and there is no need for debate when the blame has already been accepted and acknowledged. Your apology will end it, Esquire Lancaster.”

Friderick nodded in agreement and gestured to Jacques to make his apology. Fabien was not content with having put on more blame for the injury to his pride, worse than his own body, but turned to Jacques nonetheless with a triumphant look. Others looked on. Who didn’t like seeing a high lord put in their place? But Friderick had Jacques’ side. Say it and forget about it, that was his mantra.
 

LilGunner

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Jacqueline waited for the side of the blade to whack her head. She didn't think it would be hard enough to knock her out but she didn't doubt Friderick would follow through with his threat. Yet the blow never came. Rather he approached, sheating the weapon, and...gave praise? The young squire blinked up at her knight. Given all previous interactions and his clear frustrations with her she didn't expect praise. She hadn't lasted all that long with the shield. Not as long as had been requested. Her mouth hung just a little open as Friderick slung the shield onto his own back with ease. He didn't linger with the praise in the air. Quick, sharp commands. They would depart soon. Jacqueline stood upright, arms still unfeeling, and gave a sharp nod. "Right away Sir," she said before scampering away.

There wasn't anything in the village she needed. Instead she went to the horses. With tired, numb arms it would take a little longer to get them prepared. She started with Wingfoot. The horse seemed to glower a little and nipped. He received a quick, sharp smack to the nose for his efforts. The horse whinnied and shook his head. "None of that now. I thought we had come to an agreement," she said with a huffy sigh as she took up brush and pick to clean him up before they set out. Jacqueline took her time, recalling the events of the morning. Heck, everything had been eventful since she had arrived. Too much really, the mind reeled. Between the tavern woman, the other squires and Friderick laying out shirtless...just too much. Jacqueline buried her face with a soft groan into the neck of William. Her horse didn't understand but whinnied softly at her at her. That was certainly an image she wasn't going to forget soon.

With both horses finished she took them to the courtyard as demanded and grabbed up the flasks. Horses tethered she went and filled up the flasks. A few days and a possibility of not finding fresh water. A low one, she supposed, but still possible. As she returned to the horses Friderick appeared with the large banner in hand. HIs dry comment about the Lancaster banner brought a surely, sideways glance at the knight. "Mmm very exciting," she replied as she unfurled the banner a little to look at the three roses. His three victories. It wasn't that Jacqueline had forgotten about how Friderick came into his title, somehow it was still so surprising. His sort of story wasn't unique nor was it common. Still it was somehow surprising. "Do not lose the roses....understood," she said with a sharp nod as they headed to the horses.

Jacqueline was ready to go but Friderick had one more errand on his mind. She looked up as he called out to the other knight, her eyebrows raised. Beside the burley older man stood...that boy! Duverger or something like that. Jacqueline growled low in her throat. She had promised to apologize, she just didn't realize the apology would have to come so soon. Her hands gripped the banner until her knuckles turned white as the pair came over at Friderick's hail. Blue eyes narrowed at the other squire as they approached. Immediately accusations were thrown. She wasn't going to be able to tell her own side? Her lips pursed together, eyes narrowing to slits. If she were a cat all her hair might be standing on end. In fact, with how short it had been sheared it may very well be standing on end at that moment.

Her body jerked as Fabien pleaded that she had started it all, that she had been the aggressor. Yet she stayed put, not wanting another thrashing from Friderick. His outstretched hand was not entirely necessary even as another growl issued low in her throat. The triumphant look from the other squire brought bile to the back of her mouth. She took a long slow breath to calm herself. "I am greatly sorry for beating you so soundly," she said with all the contrition of a stonewall. "Next time I shall...remember my place..." Which was to treat the less fortunate kindly. Killing the little toad would have been a mercy for the world. The words burned her throat but they got through it. Fabien didn't seem entirely content with the apology but his knight, Hermannus, was more than ready to simply move on. He gave a gruff nod and ushered his squire away. Jacqueline let out a long sigh. "Remember not to spar with the village idiot...." she grumbled softly under her breath.

Not waiting for Friderick she went back to the horses to ensure everything was tied and attached properly before they venture out. She was careful with the banner when mounting and rode precisely where instructed. To the side and a little behind, the banner fluttering in a light breeze. The rest of the knights and squires joined the long procession up towards Archmouth. Somehow Jacqueline hadn't imagined the entire group would travel together. It was strange. These men were going to compete against one another and yet traveled the roads together. It was almost...more like a traveling troupe of performers than knights. Luck would be on their side, the weather stayed fine, a bit clouded but no rain and the weather still pleasantly warm. Fabien and his little group were well away and segregated with their own knights so the ride was pleasant enough. Jacqueline was not entirely looking forward to a continuation of training that evening. She wasn't even sure if she could lift the massive shield let alone hold it up to block attacks.

Only a day but Jacqueline was growing more comfortable with hiding her gender. Everyone believed she was Jacque. No one had cause to believe otherwise. Comfortable if not exactly easy. The men were free with their humor around other men and certainly free with relieving themselves. She was careful to avoid drinking too much. None of the men went far from the procession to relieve themselves. It wouldn't work out particularly well for her if she insisted she needed to go further back into trees and bushes. In a single day she had seen more of men than she cared to.
 

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“What was that?” Friderick asked when Jacques said something under his breath. He glared at the squire, thinking it was some sort of backtalk but the young lord said nothing and turned to walk away to go about his chores. He sighed and followed after, mounting his horse and getting ready to ride out. In any case he decided the squire he had received would be good enough. Good enough though might not help him win the tourney though. But he couldn’t judge Jacques Lancaster on such a tremendous expectations, not on his first few days. It might take months to produce a competent squire who knew his knight’s needs for jousting and so forth. Yet despite all the hiccups of this day, the boy certainly had potential. And that should be Friderick’s only concern, growing that potential.

The journey to Archmouth was uneventful for the most part. They rode from dawn until dusk with few pauses. They had an organized camp hierarchy, with divided duties and responsibilities. Jacques was put on wood and kindle collection with another young squire, who was relatively a nice lad, the younger son of some Count. Yet when time allowed, in morning and before night, Friderick took Jacques to train and drill, though mostly with the heavy shield. It had to be heavy if it was to stop attacks of sword and spear. The boy would develop the muscles for it soon enough. In other cases, he had Jacques do some calisthenics, such as stretching and other endurance tests. It was all a part of the path to be a knight.

Yet they were all men. They could be merry, singing as they rode, telling jokes, bawdy or otherwise. They prayed in one group with zeal and decorum. Conversely, they also had their urges. They drank plenty. They spoke of feminine conquests (though Friderick was silent and had a distant look in his eyes) and described their favourite bits of women. The squires to whom Jacques was assigned was no different, though they all lacked experience. And it might be awkward for Jacques as well, for even though there was the one burly knight who hated gingers, unfortunately Fabien thought redheads were beautiful and often described it. But his treatment of Jacques was always mockery and taunting. The other squires though left Jacques well enough alone unless there was some duty to perform together.

Finally they arrived at Archmouth, the castle of Count Liudhard. The castle and its corresponding villages was nestled against a river that joined a vast sea. The wealth of the County came from taxes and duties imposed upon any barge or ship traveling to and fro, bringing tremendous revenue to the Count who used it to fund this tournament. Many days of games and feasting were planned. The roads were packed with other knights, their entourages and retinues, nobles wishing to spectate and innumerable commoners, tradesmen, and artisans attempting to sell their wares to the passerbys. Every home, inn, and manor was billeted. Their group had to camp on the outskirts. Afterwards, Friderick came to find Jacques, geared and armored.

“Come. We must go enlist in the rolls and see where our placement shall be in the qualifiers.” Friderick said. “Bring the banner. And make note of where the smithys are. You’ll be visiting them a lot on my behalf. You know one tournament I broke eleven lances during one match? The tips of each have to be blunted, so as to not cause bodily harm to the other competitor. Killing is strictly forbidden, though it has happened. Which is why maintaining my armour is a part of your purview as well. Not because I cannot do so myself but so that you learn the intricacies of plate and harness. Do you understand?” Friderick lectured Jacques as they walked into town. Horses, unless to pull carts of supplies, was forbidden within the gates. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of a complaint when some noble with his silk slippers stepped in a pile of horse shit.

“To be on the receiving end of a tilt, even with armour and blunted tips, is still highly dangerous. A horse carrying you at full gallop to strike an opponent is still deadly. Imagine having someone three or four times your weight tackle you to the ground. It will still hurt. Very much so. Don’t be surprised at broken limbs and bones. You ever see a shoulder dislocated? Mine has been.” He shrugged as they walked through the town, one of many knight and squire groups, finding the registar’s office within the courtyard of the castle. There were at least eighty participants. Only sixteen slots in the actual jousting. There would be melee qualifier matches beforehand, to begin soon. The winner of those duels would earn their place in the tilts. Friderick signed his name. The Count’s servants would reach out to him when it was time.

They had the day to themselves. “I would suggest getting a drink but I rather not see you provoked by another comely maiden, little lord.” Friderick joked dryly about Jacques. But he wouldn’t care much for the answer as his eyes landed, within the swarming crowds of people, upon a lady. She was riding her finely saddled horse, legs joined together on one side, surrounded by handmaidens and servants. Her hair was freed, bound with a circlet of silver, and her hair was raven black. Her face shone in the light, as white as milk, with not a single blemish. Her garments were extravagant, the envy of any other woman, and a necklace of fine ruby gemstones lay around her neck, the largest descending almost by design into the valley of her chest, barely visible. She held her head high. As if in a dream, Friderick began to walk towards the woman.

Here was Lady Auriane of Bertilion, young and yet unwed, with a rich father and the infatuation of Friderick, the Baron of Alnerwick. The two had grown up together and he had been fascinated with her ever since, perhaps the first real beauty he had ever laid eyes on. And never forgotten since then. “Why don’t you go…perhaps find a messenger to write to your father or something.” He said dismissively to Jacques.
 

LilGunner

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Despite the difficulty of keeping her secret Jacqueline found herself enjoying the journey with the men. Her firewood gathering partner was a pleasant lad and she avoided Fabien as much as possible. Especially when he spoke of his preference for red heads. Part of her wanted to laugh at their talk while the other wanted to vomit. She wondered what the boy would think if he knew he was talking to one of his favored red haired women. More and more she grew accustomed to the bawdy humor and language the men used. It had been quite the shock at first having never heard any talk quite like it before. Though it would be noted among the men that 'Jacque' stayed quite silent when the discussion of women and their assets was brought up. Just as quiet as Friderick. She found that a little strange that he didn't join in, but there were a handful of others who didn't. Certainly she didn't participate in an sining. Ever. For one her voice was far too high and would be noticed. For another, she could turn a hand to plenty of fine instruments but was under the distinct impression she sounded like a dying cat when singing.

Finally they made it to Archmouth. Friderick was right. The squalid stench of city and fish struck her nose straight away. Her father's holdings were generous but their estate was kept small. Certainly they had large cities but their family estate was not shoved at the very center of one. For that Jacqueline found herself grateful. There was so much noise and folk everywhere. It was oppressive and yet exhilarating. The excitement of a tournament hung as heavily in the air as the city stink. First the setting of camp. As always quick and efficient for the well practiced group. Once all was ready and settled Jacqueline looked up to see Friderick approached, fully resplendent in his armor. She felt that weird, tightness in her guts again. There had been times she had caught herself watching the knight and had to suddenly busy herself with something else. What on God's good green earth was the matter with her? At his commands she fetched the banner and headed in with him as he lectured on her duties and why they mattered. He certainly was one for lectures. Worse than a nun really. Still she listened intently and nodded as she carried the banner and walked through the town with him.

She stood by as he registered for his events. Interesting she didn't know there were qualifiers to be able to joust. While she had been to plenty of tournaments in her day she had never learned that small detail. It made sense. Tournaments would take a fortnight or more if everyone who wished to was permitted to joust. Jacqueline's head kept turning this way and that, seeing the hustle and bustle of the city. Certainly her family was wealthy but wealthy enough to afford a comfortable and peaceful existence outside of such activity. She was fascinated and yet wildly uncomfortable with the sheer amount of people about.

With his name successfully down they had some time. His offer of a drink and the dry remarks were met with a short scoff, low in her throat. "That was days ago, can you not just...let it...go...?" She trailed off as Friderick's attentions were suddenly halted and drawn elsewhere. She followed his line of sight and her eyebrows raised. A woman was riding by, attended by a mass of servants and vassals. Everyone else was on foot. Jacqueline glanced back and forth between Friderick and the woman. That wistful, dopey expression on his face. It took her a second to grasp what was happening here. A strange pang and a lash of flame whipped her chest and she felt her ears burn. Her guts tightened into knots as her knuckles turned while on the banner staff. At his dismissive comment, while drifting towards the woman, snapped her back. What the heck had that been? She rubbed her guts a little but didn't leave to write her father or something. Instead she trailed a little behind Friderick yet her blue eyes were narrowed at the woman.

The woman looked up, her dark eyes catching the flutter of a banner nearby then to the men approaching. Her head tilted some in confusion before realization dawned on her. There had been so many men, all of them fine and handsome, they tended to blend together. "Ohhhh Fredegar!" She cooed and halted her little group. "How lovely to see you." Her eye lashes fluttered as she gave the man a grin. Jacqueline's jaw began to hurt as her teeth ground together. She found her gaze connect with the woman's. The lady glanced at the tunic Jacqueline wore, momentarily looking puzzled then quite interested. "Fredegar is this little boy your new squire? A Lancaster...how lucky for you..." Her dark gaze shifted back to Friderick. "Are you here to joust? How very brave of you. I have the privilege of being seated on the dais with Count Liudhard you know. He has promised a very fine display, a grand feast and of course...a hefty purse for the winner."

Jacqueline couldn't believe this display. Her grip didn't slacken on the banner as she watched. While she couldn't deny the woman was lovely...Jacquline hated her. It wasn't exactly fair but...she couldn't stand the sight of how flouncy and prim the woman was. Decorated in her finery, not even getting off her horse to greet Friderick. Oh, calling him Fredegar. Jacqueline waited for Friderick to correct the insufferable creature. He had a penchant for corrections and lectures. Why should this be any different?
 

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Friderick didn’t think Jacques would stick around for this. What lad didn’t want to explore a whole town and port by themselves? But if he followed, the Baron paid him little mind as his keen blue eyes were glued upon the woman in question. His heart thumped just to receive her gaze. He had always been fascinated by her eyes and smitten deeply by Lady Auriane’s beauty. She was truly statuesque to some degree, a woman a Lord could be proud of to have by their side.

No, he did not feel the least bit insulted when she mispronounced his name, not once but twice. He didn’t interrupt as he came to stand beside her horse, a hand idly petting the mane of her horse as he listened to her. He smiled back and didn’t even turn aside to look towards Jacques when he was mentioned too by the Lady. He gave only a nod to that question. But Lancasters weren’t what they were here to discuss. “You are most honoured to have such a seat, Lady.” Friderick said with a chuckle. “And it’s Friderick, not Fredegar, Lady.” He said but waved off the correction dismissively.

“But I am glad you will have so prominent a booth, so that all can see your radiance. Yes, I am here to joust. And I hope to dedicate my impending victory in your name. I swear it by God Himself.” Friderick declared to her, a hand coming over his breast. It was a promise from the heart. Victors usually had the chance to dedicate their victory to a Lady, a Lord, or whatever else holds their fancy. Chivalry usually had it being women, either the competitor’s own wife or other relative or someone he fancied and wished to court. It was the only way a lowly Baron like Friderick could even have a shot with Lady Auriane. He was determined to win her affections and her favor, if she would grant it to him.

First, he had to win.

“I have heard of this feast and though I am invited, it was my intent to practice what I can. But if you are attending yourself this evening, I would consider it an honour to join you, if only to behold your magnificence sitting at the table. Perhaps I might have the promise of a dance later?” Friderick then said, his tone courteous and bold, his hand still over his heart because it was thumping and yearning for Lady Auriane, the fairest of all maidens under the sun as he deigned it. He was truly laying on all the courtship he was capable of. Unfortunately, he did not possess the means for more, such as perhaps presenting her with jewelry or some other gemstone encrusted object, which all her other suitors did. And no doubt she had the privilege of being offered to sit, dine and dance by other Lords as well. Richer Lords than the meagre Baron of Alnerwick.

“Or I might be furthermore bold, I would request of the beautiful Lady Auriane that she might bless me with her favor, so that I might wear it proudly when jousting to victory.” Friderick asked, his hand moving down her horse’s man, closer to her leg. A favor could be anything from a Lady’s napkin to a length of her dress cut off, to wear around the handle of a blade or lance. If only Friderick could be so lucky as to be just a simple garment that touched her body…

Yet before she could answer, there came another call of Auriane’s name. Count Theodore, sitted upon a finely saddled horse, wearing silks and leathers that must have cost a fortune. He was surrounded by his own footguards, for Theodore was no knight or warrior. But his effeminacy gave him an advantage over brutes like Friderick. He knew what women liked. “My Auriane!” He called, acting like she belonged to him already. “I have found a silk merchant with colours impossible to our own weavers. Come, you must see these!” He said, with his words thick with the promise of a purchase for her. Just what Auriane would like. And his ring of footmen would let no one pass except Auriane so it was not an invite extended to Friderick.

The Baron frowned, hoping he might receive his request first but the Lady was known to be…smitten by whatever was flashier at the moment. Theodore’s offer far out exceeded the promise of a tourney dedication that might not even come to pass.
 

LilGunner

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Utterly vile. Jacqueline could hardly believe her eyes and ears. The sad, soppy, simpering look such a man like Friderick gave to this lady Auraine. This could hardly be the same man who battered her day and night as she struggled to hold a shield. It was impossible this was the same man who goaded her into a fight and promptly threw her into the dirt by her neck. Yet there he was, ignorant of the distant simper on the lady’s face. How, as he spoke, she seemed to hear and comprehend one word in ten. Jacqueline was flabbergasted. Utterly dumbfounded. What was so special about her anyways? Sure she was pretty, Jacqueline supposed. If one liked the foppy, frilly, flouncy sort of woman. With weak arms and a weaker brain. Auraine seemed to recognize the Lancaster sigil but Jacqueline was at a loss for who the woman was. Clearly not even in any sort of higher echelon of society. Why on God’s good green earth did Friderick simper at her like a love sick calf? Stroking the mane of her horse, praising her apparent beauty, pledging to win in her name. Jacqueline’s guts roiled with poison and fire. It was sickening. Enough so she felt she might retch their meager breakfast.

“Mmm? Oh yes, Friderick,” the lady Auraine said absently. As Friderick talked she glanced about, occasionally looking down at the man stroking her horse’s mane. Such a sweet, handsome man. She giggled politely as he spoke of her beauty. Yes, she was beautiful and deserved beauty all around her. The praise was honey to her ears. At least he was well spoken. Not like those other loutish brutes. Knights, so common and coarse. It was a time of peace, why did men feel the need to get so filthy and sweaty? She noted his hand drifting closer to her and she edged her leg a little out of the way. She couldn’t get her finery mussed. Who knew what he had been doing with that hand before. He requested a favor of her. She supposed he had done well enough in the past. Of course she knew his tale. Such a delight to the peasants of the world to hope and aspire to. It kept their spirits high she supposed. Her eyes drifted to the banner, held by a young Lancaster. The emblazoned roses to show off his victories so he could win his lands and titles. Impressive but where was the lineage? A poor country baron. Shame that. “A favor you say…well…” she didn’t even have time to mull over the potential of his victory; she could hardly give her favor to a man who might not win. Instead a loud, singing voice caught her attention. Auraine’s face lit up as she turned to look.

Jacqueline’s jaw dropped at the sight of the new arrive. Resplendent as a peacock in fine silk and leathers. His waving, sandy hair perfectly coiffed and brilliant green eyes alight with merriment. Distantly she knew of this count, though even he might consider himself fortunate to attend the events her family participated in regularly. A fop through and through. The sort of man who would send every barely able bodied man to war while remaining safe and warm within his keep. Her eyes darted between the three. She saw Friderick’s crestfallen frown and Auraine’s unbridled delight. Jacqueline could hardly believe what she was seeing. Were there women who honestly preffered such a foppish man over a man of strength? It would seem so. How had she never noticed this before in her times in court? She had to dig back in her memory to the idle chatter of the women. Perhaps there were some that had a preference for the perfumes lords over warriors? She couldn’t fully remember.

“Count Theodore!” She called back, Friderick utterly forgotten. Now there was a fine man. Clean and well dressed. Not some lout who swung sword about. He made for a fine figure upon his noble steed. A man made for songs and gentle touches. Her skin prickled excitedly as he called her ‘my’ Auraine. She enjoyed the idea as much as she loved the offer of a special silk merchant. With a little nudge she turned her horse, uncaring if hoof or flank barreled the knight over. Her attendants followed obediently, avoiding casting their gaze to the quickly forgotten Friderick. Her horse sidled right up to Theodore as she beamed at him. Oh the feel of new, fine silks. “Perhaps we could see about matching silks,” she said suggestively as the entire company began ambling away. For a brief moment she remembered the man of her childhood. She turned just a little to look at Friderick over her shoulder. “Enjoy your joust Fredegar,” she called back. Just the briefest of moments before she turned to her new distraction in Theodore. The Count grinned from ear to ear. He turned a little in his saddle to give Friderick a wicked, sly grin. “Oh my Auraine such radiance are you this day,” he said while staring down Friderick as they rode away. He even reached out to brush a lock of her ebony hair while Auraine giggled in delight, still babbling about silk colors and patterns.

With the pair gone Jacqueline approached Friderick. She stared at him a moment before heaving a long sigh. The poor, sad man. She was at least glad Auraine was gone from the site. That sick, simpering expression of his was disgusting as much as it was painful. Why did she care that much? Mostly he looked a fool. Why should it matter? If he wished to behave to ridiculously around the woman it was no business of hers. Still there was a small, smoldering flame in her guts at the recent memory. “Are you well, sir?” She finally managed to ask him. Jacqueline was bursting with questions. Was she supposed to be his bethrothed? No, that couldn’t be. She wouldn’t have treated him so indifferently and gone off with another man. Just a woman he was sweet on? More than sweet by that sad interaction. To him she was a goddess present on earth. Her guts clenched and flamed painfully at that tought. Why? That was peculiar. “How about that drink then? And I swear I shall not even speak to a barmaid this time,” she said with a strained, attempted laugh. As she tried to guide him away she couldn’t help but stare. The same question, over and over, burst through her mind. She wanted to ask but how could she? She didn’t want to seem strange or in any way the jealous type. Then it dawned on her. She wasn’t her. Not to Friderick. She was still just Jacque. Good Lord how could she have forgotten? “Sir…if I may…what is it about the lady you fancy so much? Beg pardon but…there are other women who…might be more, ah, compelled by your…ah…charms. That is to say, of course, the idea of courting a woman are a little beyond me,” she added quickly with an awkward laugh. That was good, just be the awkward young man with little experience with women.
 

BennyQ

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It was too late now to make a petition. The moment had passed and Lady Auriane was already turning towards her Count. What privilege or honour had allowed Theodore to be born into such wealth, Friderick could not guess. It seemed an abysmal curse laid upon him to be born between poverty and riches, unable to marry beneath his station to a hard working peasant woman but equally unable to acquire a noble bride on just his title and birthright alone. Lady Auriane was his fancy, so regal and beautiful, and he burned with jealously when Count Theodore got to brush some of her silk hair aside. His own hands clenched into fists at his side. He didn’t even correct Lady Auriane when she fumbled his name again. He watched them go, swearing to himself in his heart of an oath that he would have his riches one day, if that’s what it took to win someone’s heart. Merit and virtue be damned. He needed his strength and any and every advantage he could garner.

The Baron remained standing in the street, a hand clenched his sword hilt tightly, while the other was balled into a fist at his side. He had a look of forlorn hope on his face, like a man about to confront a death that was unavoidable. But was such a mentality a curse? He felt a clarity of mind like no longer, focused on a single objective, with his mind conjuring ways and methods of how to acquire it. There was no other concern or even a fear. He must have it or die in the attempt. And such fates were not unusual in a joust. Defeat or a moderate victory would not do. Friderick had to win now.

Then there was his squire, Jacques Lancaster. Lucky boy, to be born into such wealth and power. Friderick could imagine how it would be for him. Jacques would probably even have a bride-choosing ceremony from prospective matches even, to have them paraded before him like some King of old. He asked if Friderick was well. Friderick shot him a look. Why would I be unwell? Jacques wanted to get a drink, promising not to speak to a barmaid. Then he asked about Auriane and began bumbling about other options. Compelled by his charms, that was laudable. No one cared about that. It was wealth, lands, and alliances, that was the only thing people were charmed by.

Something about Jacques voice though felt…soothing. That was weird. No man should have a voice like that. When was his balls going to drop?

“I told you before that there are some women deserving of respect and admiration and others who are not. The Lady Auriane is beautiful to me. But follow your own wisdom in this. Courting is beyond you. Don’t ask questions about it. You aren’t here to court anyone. Your time will come for that. Just learn to obey and follow orders, until it is your time to lead one day and know what you ask of your subordinates, as you’ve done it yourself. Forget this.” Friderick said to Jacques, diverting the topic completely. He wasn’t going to talk to Jacques about his feelings on this. And neither was he going to be speaking into his cups, intoxicated with wine. Now wasn’t the time for rest and relaxation. They were here for a tournament. They ought to get ready with that. “Forget the drink. We’re going to go train and prepare.”

And just like that, without visiting the castle or anything else, Friderick turned them around and marched back to their camp. Most others were gone themselves, to have their own drink or explore or rest a while. But not Friderick. He went back to their tents, seized a lance, shield, and training swords, and handed them to Jacques while he saddled his horse. He pointed to an empty field near the encampment. “Go down fifty paces and hold the shield up.” He instructed the boy. The idea could be guessed. Jacques was going to be target practice. Hold the shield up, so that Friderick could condition and practice wielding the lance at full gallop and striking the shield, and its holder, down. Like he also said before, it would be like facing down an onrushing force three or four times greater than oneself.

Friderick mounted Wingfoot and watched. Jacques was a good lad. One day he would be in the position of command and many others would be stooping and bowing to do his bidding. Better he learn humility now and understand what squires and servants went through when it was his time to rule. He would not be so cruel or harsh then, like some Lords. If he could instill in the boy a little kindness for his fellow man, Friderick would consider his duty as mentor complete. Of course, the boy still had to learn to fight and hold his own. He needed to learn how to take a hit.

So without waiting for Jacques to transverse the full fifty paces, Friderick gave a shout and began to gallop towards Jacques. The horse sped up to its maximum speed, while Friderick balanced the shaft of the lance under a shoulder, against his side, leveling it right towards Jacques. Either turn and hold up the shield and get knocked on your ass…or duck and dive aside into the grass and mud. Or get hit and skewered and killed. Perhaps Friderick was a little mad and resentful from his rejection but there was no greater forge for a warrior and leader than tough love. Learn to survive, squire.
 

LilGunner

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Jacqueline's movement faltered at Friderick's look. For the briefest of moments she felt fear flash through her body. Friderick had been a stern and stoic man to work for and train under. Yet for a moment she saw that all disappear. Aside from the forlorn longing she swear she saw almost mad fury. It was baffling and terrifying all at the same time. How bewitched he was with some...some woman! What was the matter with men? The momentary whip of fear melted to mild disgust. She thought he was being ridiculous. Sure the woman was pretty but what other qualities did she have? The disgust churned and roiled in her guts to her own sort of fury. Somehow she thought perhaps Friderick may be a little different. With his lack of ribald humor like the other knights. No, as it turns out, he was no different than any other man. Disappointment then coursed her. God above too many emotions in such a short span.

Red eyebrows quirked at the knights as he spoke. Another lecture. Jacqueline huffed quietly as Friderick, once more, rambled on with yet another sermon. No courting. That was perfectly fine. She wasn't exactly there to find a bride. That would make for a very awkward situation and potentially deadly. He refused a drink instead deciding he had enough of the town and wanted to train. "Aye sir," Jacqueline responded simply enough as she turned to follow Friderick. As they walked the episode continued to play across her mind. She was burning with more questions. Was beauty the only quality a woman needed? What about a mind? What about morals? Hell she'd even be pleased if someone would tell her they desired a woman who was good with figures even if it just meant managing the household. No. Just beauty. A hot weight settled in her chest. Well it was a good thing she was in hiding from that life. A spike of muscles spasms forced her to slowly unclench her hands and jaw. When did she start clenching them? That was strange.

Obediently Jacqueline followed behind Friderik, glaring holes into the back of his head. Her opinion of him suddenly brought quite low. Just like all the others, just quieter about it. For once she was very silent, almost sullenly so, as they arrived to their camp to gather lance, shield, and sword. Lips pressed to a thin line, a little crease between red eyebrows. Why did it bother her so? This new knowledge of Friderick was strangely distressing. Very strange indeed. He pointed to the field and gave instructions. Still tight lipped Jacqueline marched on towards where directed. "Stupid...men...dumb...fancy woman..." she grumbled once out of earshot, boots kicking up more mud and clumps of grass than should be with her stomping.

A rumbled in the earth. Jacqueline stopped. Thundering hooves. Her stomach clenched and she turned. No notice, no warning. Wingfoot and his melancholy rider were bearing down at her! For a moment she froze up. First instinct was to raised the shield but with training swords in hand as well the hold was clumsy. The swords were forgotten, dropped under foot and her hold on the shield was stronger. Her teeth clenched and eyes squeezed shut at the moment of impact. Being not the largest person to ever wield shield and sword she was still knocked back, feet scrabbling over the fallen swords, before landing back first into the mud. Air rushed from her chest as she hit, covered by the shield like a stiff blanket. Wide eyes she laid there a moment before sharply gasping and pushing the shield off her.

Regining breath and feet she grabbed the nearest object, one of the training swords, and lobbed it at Friderick. "What the hell is wrong with you?!" The furious shriek not entirely manly and the first time she had cursed aloud. "I'm not miss lady fancy britches who can't even say your name right! Take your anger out on her and her stupid feathered head! Maybe if you beat her teeth in you won't find her oh so perfect and pretty!" Jacqueline's furious insults came to a screeching halt. For one she realized she was simply shrieking across the field at him. For another she was taunting a mounted and armed opponent. Perhaps not the wisest courses of action.
 

BennyQ

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It was with fortune and perhaps God’s blessing that Jacques reacted in time or the lad would have been skewered right through the eye. The shield was raised and the wooden tip of Friderick’s lance struck it with an explosive sound, the wood not shattering but splintering along its length with a great crack as it struck the face of his shield that Jacques held. He felt the counter-force against his side and arm but felt much lighter as Wingfoot bore him rapidly past the fallen esquire. He raised his lance in hand and wheeled his horse about when it slowed to a trot, returning to gaze down at the squire as Jacques began to curse at him.

He didn’t say a word as he rode up, Jacques unleashing a howling rebuke upon him. The flung sword didn’t even land near to him and his horse and he paid it no mind. Strangely enough, despite his fierce defense that she was not, Jacques certainly sounded like a prissy, indignant lady who got a spray of mud upon her silk slippers. Maybe it should have been a vase he was throwing at an ungracious husband. Very slowly he approached and used his thumb to nudge his helm up an inch, to let the sun in his eyes more. For a moment he did indeed think it had been a girl he had ridden down so ruthlessly and not a squire who was supposed to be drilled and trained for war. This most certainly was not a game.

“First time knocked on your ass, huh? I felt as much for mine.” Friderick simply responded in a calm and collected tone. Jacques had said a lot about taking his anger out on a certain her. Despite the lance of resentment and fury at the boy’s audacity to bring up his personal affairs, he kept it very controlled. To show an emotional response would prove the boy correct. He chose to ignore it. “Yet you sound very much like miss lady fancy britches. In fact, have I mistook you for my squire? Have you seen him? Small lad, slender like a stick, who was supposed to be training to be a knight. Surely no idiot squire would see this reaction as being suitable to war, where no one is going to help you up or heed your belly-aching. So stow it where it belongs.” Friderick lectured the boy firmly.

All the boy needed was blood splatter across his face and torso and then someone could actually take him for a man. A true warrior. Frightening. He suddenly chuckled at the image in his mind.

“This is good though. Stay angry. Anger helps in a fight, if you can control it. Don’t let it control you though or you’ll end up doing something rash. Or end up being predictable. Or not expecting the unexpected, as you have shown now.” Then he went serious. “Or offending the wrong person you shouldn’t be so offending. So consider that and your words next time, Esquire Lancaster.” He finished off with a warning. No, he couldn’t help it. Jacques touched a nerve by referencing Lady Auriane. Do it again and this training could become ten times worse. He moved to wheel his mount around, returning to his starting point. “Again! And hold the shield high! Work those scrawny muscles, boy!” Friderick called aloud as he went back.

For a long time, that was their training, just the two of them. Sometimes other knights and squires came by, watching a moment and snickering whenever Friderick rode Jacques down. Then they would go and sit around their campsite, lounging and relaxing. But not Friderick. Never Friderick. Every moment of rest was draining to one’s vigour and talent. It needed to be constant, consistent, repeating over and over again until the muscles reacted on instinct and memory alone, needing no command from the mind. That was his style of learning. Jacques didn’t get no rest. No, he made the boy hold the shield up and endure the hits and build up his endurance, while the other lads his age laughed and drank and ate.

But Friderick admired the boy’s resolve. Heck, he would even be impressed if the boy did him up one and stepped aside when he charged, making him mess completely like an idiot. Perhaps the boy showed some competence after all. But finally Friderick called the session to an end. He felt prepared. And he felt Jacques learned what it was like to play defense against a mounted warrior, if he had been paying attention that is. Surely he would have learned timing and predictability of mounted charges.

“We eat. And then we train with sword and shield. You got one hour to rest. We go until the sun sets then rest will be well earned by then.” Friderick told Jacques as they returned to their camp, a small group of colourful tents set among many other groups of visiting knights and squires and retainers. There were two circles, one of the knights sitting together, another for the squires, which Jacques was shoved too. At least Fabien left him alone and some of the other squires even attempted friendly conversation with Jacques. Again, only Friderick wanted to keep the rigor going. None of the other knights were pushing their squires to do so. One might think Friderick was torturing Jacques with the constant activity and work.
 

LilGunner

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Friderick's bewilderingly calm retort brought only more color to Jacqueline's face. The fact he was suddenly so calm after charging her down and having a practice sword lobbed at him made her shame double. It was an indignant reaction but, alas, a powerful one. One she needed to learn to rein in sooner rather than later. Screeching at him like some shrewish fishwife was bound to raise questions. Questions Friderick was quick to mock with. A boy might feel even more shame at possibly being mistaken for a girl. For Jacqueline it set a worrying stone to her stomach. She needed to take better care to not do such things. Still she was furious he charged as he did. Beneath that quickly dying fire of anger lay a quieter, smoldering pile of...something. She still wasn't clear what but thinking of that prissy, fancy lady and Friderick's reactions to her made the smoldering pile hotter.

Jacqueline remained tight lipped with the lecture except for a simple "aye sir" at his warning. The training continued. This time she was prepared, tightening her muscles to absorb the blows. She was quick to learn to tilt the shield some at the point of impact. It made the sudden jarring crash easier on the body and glanced the lance away from face and body. Some hits she took well, remaining on her feet. Others it was right back into the mud, tunic and breeches utterly caked, even mud in the foxy crop of red hair. She was aware of others watching but hardly cared. It was good training for the both of them. After the initial anger and subsequent sullen silence she found herself actually enjoying the training. Strange as it was this was why she risked so much. Not for pomp, parade, accolades but for the joy of a fight. She couldn't wait for when Friderick deemed her ready to switch places. Maybe she'd get to knock him on his rear a few times.

With each hit her arms and back grew weary, shoulders tight. It was with a grateful sigh she relaxed the shield when Friderick called the training over. Holding the shield was only getting marginally easier and she was able to hold longer but each session was longer and longer, not a day passed without hellfire in her muscles. Jacqueline gathered up shield and the two wooden swords and followed Friderick into the camp. Separated by knights and squires she headed to the circle she belonged in. It had taken some time but she was passingly friendly with a few of them. Fabien and his little crowd not so much. Rather than a singular circle there were basically two camps of squires. Fabien and his idiots then the rest. "Sir Friderick works you hard, huh Jacque?" A squire with ebony hair and dark eyes asked. "I'm here to learn," Jacqueline said with a shrug and a groan. "I don't see you training much James." The dark haired boy also shrugged as he ripped off a hank of bread to dip into his stew. "Sir Wilfred wishes to be rested for the tournament. Who am I to demand training when he needs to be fresh to compete. Sir Friderick might not do so well if he does not give himself rest." Jacqueline blinked some but scowled a little, "Sir Friderick will fair just fine." James raised an eyebrow before chuckling, "well pardon me then."

The restful hour passed somehow both slowly and far too quickly. While her muscles had time to ease in their aching it only made them harder to move. She kept rolling her shoulders to loosen them, get blood flowing again. Sword alone she was better suited to, her movements quick and sudden. With the shield she was greatly slowed and being a little slip of a thing easy enough to overpower if she didn't manage to outmaneuver. Still she would do her best with the shield. Movements far slowed by its weight she at least didn't hesitate to begin a fight. Not entirely confident with the use of a shield she moved to ram his shield with her own and skirt to the side with a swing of the sword. Of course he shield hitting his might be akin to a small pony trying to ram into the side of a draft horse and nip its side.
 
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