Authors: Joyce,Jim Lavene
Tags: #Paranormal Mystery, #Fantasy & Magic
“Sorry. But this isn’t a LARP. I’d just get up and run after him again. What is his wife thinking letting him out here alone like this?”
Since she wouldn’t leave me alone, I moved away from that side of the fence. My friend, D’Amos Torres, worked with the animals in the Village. He was standing next to Hans Von Rupp, the Village blacksmith. They were watching the knights practice too.
“Jessie!” D’Amos smiled when he saw me. “Nice crop of new knights, huh? I really like the redhead in the blue breastplate. Who would’ve ever thought we’d see a
knight who wants to be a jouster?”
It seemed I’d found the source of the rumor mill that was saying Chase and I were breaking up.
“Women don’t belong out there,” Hans said. “They’ll only get hurt.”
D’Amos laughed. “I’ve been watching this one for a few days. She has style and knows how to ride a horse.”
Hans snorted. “She’s still gonna get knocked out of her saddle a few times, and she’ll come up crying. I don’t think she belongs out there.”
The horses and riders were lining up in front of the two dummies they would be attempting to hit with their lances. Safety always came first. Chase worked hard teaching the jousters not to have accidents.
I watched him lean over the rider in the blue breastplate—her hair was pinned up so it was hard to tell that she was a woman. He was adjusting something on her saddle. Or showing her a better way to hold the lance. People had injuries every year from holding the lance the wrong way.
Why didn’t he tell me that he was training a female knight to joust?
Not that it mattered to me. I trusted Chase, but he had to know that his hands-on methods would become fodder for Village gossip. Just having a female knight would be enough to set idle tongues wagging. Since she was spending time with Chase that meant there was more to gossip about.
He probably didn’t think anything of it. It was a job to him. He enjoyed training the knights. I was sure he didn’t care if one of them was a woman.
But why didn’t he tell me?
Hans had to go back to work at his shop. He was responsible for shoeing all the horses in the Village and sold specialty iron items he made at his forge.
D’Amos had once worked at the zoo in Columbia. We’d met years before when I was still teaching at the University there. I’d convinced him to come to the Village when he was ready to retire. Now he used his skills to keep a large group of animals—from elephants and camels to goats and pigs—healthy and happy. He also took care of the Cinderella carriages that visitors used for weddings and to tour the Village.
“I’ve heard the rumors,” he said with no preliminary. “I hope you’re not paying any attention to them. Chase loves you, Jessie. People are crazy if they think he cares about that Katharina woman. He’s only training her like he is all those others.”
“Yeah. She goes by one name, like Madonna or Liberace. She probably thinks people will pay more attention to her.”
I wasn’t sure if her name made any difference, but she had a good seat on her horse. She’d be notorious as the only woman rider. I wished I’d thought of it. I loved the Field of Honor. I thought there was some kind of rule about not having any women there. I didn’t think to ask.
“You’re not worried, are you?” D’Amos asked.
“No. Of course not. Chase has to wade through tons of fairies, princesses, and washing women every day. What makes Katharina so special?”
By this time, eleven of the twelve riders were on the ground. They’d either lost control of their horse or were pushed from the saddle when their lance hit its target. A few were laughing about it. Chase made a quick cut to get rid of eight of them who’d had the hardest time. Those riders left the field in disgrace but could still work as knights.
Three knights got up and grabbed their horses. Katharina was the only one to hit the target and stay on her horse. She was obvious to spot in the group as she removed her blue breastplate and shook loose her waist-length brown hair. Red highlights glinted in her tresses. I could hear the male sighs around me as they watched her.
“Oh yeah.” D’Amos wiped his broad forehead with a cloth. “She’s gonna be
* * *
I waited at the side of the Field of Honor while the four knights remaining received a few further instructions from Chase before he let them go to the showers. The show was over. Watchers from the bleachers disappeared, most back to their jobs. A few knaves, squires, and vassals started working on preparing the field ready for the next joust. They had to smooth the dirt and put away the practice dummies. Everything had to be perfect for the King’s Joust which was the last joust of the day.
Sir Marcus Bishop was coming toward me. He was a handsome young knight with his own Facebook page and a legion of fans that followed him everywhere. He always arrived early to sign autographs and prepare for the joust. He seemed to be in his early twenties. He had a big ego that matched his great skill with the horses—and the ladies—of the Village.
I decided that he would be a perfect match for Katharina. All I had to do was set them up. That would solve the problem for me with the gossips, and the two of them could be the stars of the show together. Everyone would love it.
“Lady Jessie.” Marcus bowed deeply, but kept his smiling blue gaze on mine. “You do me honor by attending my joust.”
“Save it for the women who don’t already hate you,” I said. “I’m waiting for Chase.”
“Have you seen the new jousting candidate?” Katharina was already off the field, but I thought I could throw out my first salvo toward their relationship. “She’s a beauty and good with a horse.
“Women don’t belong on the Field of Honor,” he said in a pleasant tone. “Women are perfect to help a man recover from his arduous endeavors at the end of the day. They shouldn’t be knights.”
So much for that campaign.
It was doubtful that Katharina would give her favor to a knight who didn’t support her attempt to become a jouster. I wouldn’t.
“Good day, Lady Jessie.” Marcus smiled and saluted. He hefted his duffle bag and started toward the stables.
Chase and Katharina were walking toward me, heads bent close together, talking and laughing. My heart did a little pitter-patter of jealousy before I could rein it back. D’Amos was right. It was stupid for me to take stock in the gossip.
Katharina punched Sir Marcus in the arm as she passed him. Clearly, it was intentional. Maybe there was hope for them after all.
Marcus ignored her and continued to the stable behind the royal grandstand.
Chase saw me and waved. “Jessie! There’s someone I want you to meet.”
Katharina descended on me in all her glory. She was a tall, muscular woman with an athletic body. She had beautiful blue eyes, and smooth, tan skin. She was probably somewhere in her twenties.
“Lady Jessie, this is Katharina, first female knight of Renaissance Village, and possibly the first woman jouster.” Chase smiled at her as he spoke.
“Lady Jessie.” Katharina curtsied. “I am honored to meet you. If it were not for the tutoring the Bailiff has given me, I am sure I would have fallen by the wayside.”
“I’m sure you’re being modest,” I told her. “I was watching. You were good on the field today.”
“Thank you very much. This is a lifelong dream for me. My father is Sir Reginald, one of the first knights to ever tread this hallowed soil. I have always wanted to be like him.”
That surprised me. I didn’t know that Sir Reginald
a family. He was always at the castle, and it was common knowledge that he’d had an affair with Queen Olivia. But that was years ago. Now he stayed on as one of the envoys of the royal couple. He’d had a formidable reputation at the Field of Honor when he was in his prime. He hadn’t even put on a suit of armor in a long time.
“I know Sir Reginald,” I returned. “I’m certain that he’s happy to have you here.”
“You’d think so.” She pushed her hair out of her face with an impatient hand. The wind meshed the loose strands of her red-brown hair with Chase’s dark strands.
I longed to tear them apart.
Careful. Everyone is watching. They’re waiting for you to act like you’re jealous. Don’t turn a few days of explanations into weeks of torment.
“So he’s not a fan.” I gritted my teeth as I said it. I just wanted to grab Chase and get him away from her.
“Alas, no.” She smiled. “But I hope to win him over.” She put a slender, gloved hand on Chase’s shoulder. “We start private tutoring on the morrow. With the Bailiff’s
attention, I hope to be the best jouster ever.”
That was all the polite Ren speech I could handle. She had not only let her hair come into contact with his, she touched him. And what was up with that not so subtle emphasis on
“I’m sorry. We have to go. Good afternoon to you, Katharina.” I suddenly realized that I’d been gone from the museum for a lot longer than an hour. Manny and Bill were probably starving.
“Where are we going?” Chase asked.
“Away from here,” I growled.
It wasn’t that Katharina had actually
anything wrong. She was beautiful, young, and strong. She was going to be a knight and a jouster. Chase was going to train her.
Why wasn’t it
“Is something wrong, Jessie?” he asked in the dumbest voice ever.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you were
training a woman to be a jouster?” My long legs moved rapidly over the cobblestones. Maybe Bill was right and the sandals were magical. I was walking faster than Chase for once.
“What difference does it make? I tutor most of the new jousters. I thought you’d be thrilled that there’s a woman candidate for jousting.”
I stopped walking so abruptly that he almost ran into me. “What
does it make? Every person I met in the Village today, including Tilly Morgenstern, told me how sorry they are that we’re breaking up. Even Wanda knew about it. I thought they were all crazy—until I saw the two of you together.”
“You can’t be serious! After all this time, you think I’m interested in someone else? I can’t believe you’d think I’d have anything to do with Katharina besides training,” Chase complained. “I can’t believe you don’t trust me after we’ve been married almost a year.”
Chase started walking quickly as his voice got louder.
“It’s not that I don’t trust
.” I caught up with him. “But you can be blind to women throwing themselves at you. I’ve seen you ignore them many times.”
“That’s right.” His dark eyes were angry. “I
them. Not that I think Katharina is throwing herself at me. Men look at you too, Jessie. I don’t think you’re involved with them. I know you and I are together. That’s all that matters to me.”
“Chase, everyone else is seeing this.”
“Village gossip. You know that.”
“And I didn’t know there could be
“There’s no rule against it. Katharina wants to do it, and she’s good on a horse. She’s the best out of the pack you saw today. I don’t see why she shouldn’t be able to compete on the Field of Honor.”
“But not with your
attention,” I argued. “If she’s good, she’ll make it. She doesn’t need your help.”
He stopped and stared at me right after we passed the Dutchman’s Stage. “I’m not going to stop training her because you’re jealous. That’s crazy.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Tilly and Leo watching and listening. She giggled in her sweet little girl voice and went back inside Peter’s Pub. Leo quickly followed.
Great. More gossip to add fuel to the fire.
“I’m not jealous,” I quickly denied.
“Then what’s the fuss about Katharina? I always train the new jousters and work with the knights.”
I stopped walking again when we were close to Harriet’s Hat House. “I don’t think you’re sleeping with Katharina, if that’s what you’re asking. I wonder why you didn’t mention that she was a woman. You had to know the Village gossips would be running overtime.”
He frowned. “You’re right, Jessie. I didn’t think about it that way. It was just another training session to me. I’m sorry.”
He put his arms around me, and we kissed right out in the open. I heard a whooping sound and a voice called out. “I knew there was nothing really wrong with you two,” Andre Hariot said. “Looks like I put my money in the right place.”
I’d worked as Andre’s apprentice at his hat shop one summer. He was a famous Hollywood hat maker and a romantic. Of course he’d be on my side.
Chase laughed. “See? Not everyone in the Village thought I was cheating on you. Andre was smart enough to know the truth.”
“And bet on it, apparently.” But I was smiling too. “I’m sorry too, Chase. I shouldn’t have listened to the gossip.”
He held my hand. “You wanted to be the first woman jouster?”
“Maybe.” I pushed my short hair out of my face as the strong ocean breeze caught it. “A long time ago. Not now. I’m probably more jealous of that than anything.”
!” He grinned.
“You know what I mean.”
Chase’s radio went off—bad timing. Detective Almond was in the Village and wanted to see him at the castle. It seemed he’d found some other evidence in Isabelle’s death.
I really wanted to hear what Detective Almond had to say, but I knew Bill and Manny had already waited a long time for lunch. I convinced Chase to give me a few extra minutes to grab two pretzels and ales for them. I dropped the ale and pretzels off at the museum—to a chorus of unappreciative groans—and we left right away.
The castle was still closed to visitors, even though the police had allowed the rest of the Village to open. There were dozens of police officers swarming over the castle like invaders. Were they looking for evidence that would link Bill to Isabelle’s death, or trying to find other possible suspects?