The Organised Author

A Knight In Distress by Me!


First pages of my first published novel!
Hope you'll enjoy the sample :)

Chapter One

Nathair hadn’t planned to end his last day at Sir Lancelot’s Academy for Knights getting caught cheating on his final examination. Especially since the cheating had been a misunderstanding. The incriminating piece of parchment was still in his best friend’s extended hand. General Baldwin loomed over Nathair in his emerald uniform, one eyebrow arched in disappointment.
Sir, I wasn’t” Nathair started, standing at his desk.
Don’t even try, Locksbay.” General Baldwin lifted a hand to silence him. “The situation is clear enough. I’ve caught your friend Tristan red-handed passing you that piece of paper with the correct Numeracy answers. Cheating is not only against the academy rules, but the Knights’ Honor Code as well.”
Ouch. That hurts. Nathair wasn’t a cheater. He was an average student maybe, but never a cheater. He bit down the remark and ignored his fellow cadets whispering and giggling behind his back. They leaned forward on their wooden desks, heads turning from Nathair to the general like in a game of stool-ball. Many cadets would enjoy seeing the only russet-skinned boy at the academy being publicly scolded.
Tristan of Greystone stood up and bowed to the general. His blond hair swished about his shoulders. “General Baldwin, it’s my fault. It was my idea to help Nathair. I knew he needed help with Numeracy, and I thought to pass him the answers. He didn’t ask me anything.”
That was true, and swyve, Tristan excelled at many things—he was the academy’s top cadet—but persuading people was his most honed skill. His confident tone, reassuring smile, and bright blue eyes could soothe the most inveterate criminal into turning himself in.
General Baldwin waved a dismissive hand. “You can sit down, Greystone, and keep going with your examination, but I’ll take fifty points off your final score for breaking the rules.”
Tristan did as told, casting an apologetic glance at Nathair.
General Baldwin took Nathair’s test and scanned it. “Let’s see why you wanted Greystone’s intervention.”
When General Baldwin’s gray eyebrows shot up, Nathair smelled trouble. He didn’t need the mind-reading power of the mind-wrens to guess what the general was thinking. The bell echoed in the high-vaulted ceiling of the Training Hall and Nathair exhaled. Chairs scraped back against the wooden floor. 
Now he was done for.
Locksbay,” General Baldwin’s voice sounded stern, “…follow me to my office.”
Of course, sir.” He collected his quill, parchments, and ink bottle and stuffed them in his bag.
Sorry,” Tristan whispered. “I’ll wait for you here.”
With heavy feet, Nathair followed the man, who might expel him. He swallowed hard, thinking about his mentor. What would Ewhen say when he heard about this? Nathair shuffled behind the general along the Champions’ Corridor lined with famous knights’ suits of armor. They headed to the eastern tower of the castle toward the mechanical winch. Before entering the narrow cabin that would lift him up to the third floor, Nathair hesitated. Traveling suspended by an iron cable wasn't his idea of a safe trip. In comparison, the clockwork stairs, despite the grinding noise of the steps winding up, seemed safer. Nathair stepped inside the cabin and shoved his hands in his blue cloak pockets, while the winch coiled up with a grinding of metal against stone. From a gap between two metal plates, he caught a glimpse of rotating wheels and pumping pistons.
Once at the landing, Nathair trudged toward General Baldwin’s office. The oak door closed behind them with a thud. The room had four floor-to-ceiling windows, a high-vaulted ceiling, and a fireplace that resembled a dragon’s open jaw. Despite the size of the room, Nathair’s chest constricted. He breathed in the familiar smell. The musty scent of old parchments mingled with that of the armchairs’ worn leather.
Sit.” General Baldwin sat on his throne-like chair.
Nathair groaned and dropped down on one of the stuffed chairs. No chance this would be quick.
General Baldwin scanned Nathair’s test, his eyes darting up and down. “You have twenty-five points. It’s not good enough, but it’s not an excuse to cheat either.”
Nathair didn’t reply. He’d rather take the blame than involve Tristan. Besides, telling the truth wouldn’t change his score.
General Baldwin drummed his fingers on the desk. “What happened? You were a good student. Not the finest, but decent. This,” he gestured at the paper, “is not what I’d have expected from you, and I’m not talking about today’s examination.” He opened a drawer and pulled out a leather folder fat with parchments. He unfastened the string and spread them out.
Nathair gripped the armrests.
I had a look at your tests and assignments, and I’m very disappointed.” General Baldwin flipped through the stack of papers. “In your last Wildlife and Wild-flora test you scored an Insufficient, same thing with Music and Courteous Conversation.”
Nathair shook his head. A sickening lump crawled into his stomach. Please, anything but Poetry.
For example, Poetry.” As General Baldwin read, his frown deepened. “Dame Puddifoot wrote only one word about your poetic skills: hopeless. What is your obsession with cats? Cats are all over your poems. You must love them.”
Hardly. Cat rhymed with everything: fat, hat, sat, bat, matthe possibilities were endless.
And I see no extracurricular skills or activities.” He stared at Nathair.
Nathair wiped his hands on the trousers of his uniform and pulled back a curled strand of his chestnut hair. Call it a hunch, but breaking into Lady Guinevere’s Damsels Academy using nothing but two knives probably wasn’t an extracurricular skill the general would be interested in, but then someone had to release those greasy pigs into Lady Guinevere’s dormitory. Last week, the ladies had filled the cadets’ quivers with honey. It was only sensible that the cadets returned the favor, and Tristan needed help to sneak into the rooms of his many girlfriends.
Well?” General Baldwin prompted.
I don’t have much time for extra activities, sir.”
General Baldwin let out a breath. “Anyway, I might agree that Music and Poetry aren’t essential for a knight, but an Unsatisfactory in Swordsmanship and Defensive Strategy is inexcusable. You’ve excelled in them until recently. Ewhen’s always praised your fighting skills and resilience. What’s going on with you?”
Nathair loosened his jacket’s collar. “I…my family had problems this winter.”
What problems?”
My sister got the water-elf disease.”
General Baldwin’s jaw dropped. “Was it serious?”
Her lungs were affected.” Nathair fussed with his cloak. “The healer’s fee was exorbitant, and my mother couldn’t hire a worker for the harvest. I had to help her.” Not that his mother had asked for his help. She wanted Nathair to focus on his studies. In fact, they’d had a furious fight. Still, he’d worked tirelessly on the field. The cuts and bruises covering his hands didn’t come from combat practice. The hours spent plowing and tilling had taken their toll.
Did your mother ask for a loan?” General Baldwin asked.
She did.” Nathair’s eyes narrowed. “They wanted forty percent interest.”
General Baldwin tilted his head. “What? That’s robbery. Your mother is being treated like a witch. The reason?”
They said that…” Anger and shame swept through Nathair. He squirmed on the chair as if he were sitting on hot coals. At least he would be eighteen soon and the official owner of their land. “They don’t trust a russet-skinned woman of the Snake clan, and she was lucky that Ewhen is our landowner. Otherwise, the Wizarding Council would’ve already confiscated our land. Unless we pay the debt in a month, they’ll take our farm, and my mother’s permit to stay in New Camelot will be revoked.” If his mother were expelled from the city, he’d follow her into the Snake Mountains where her people lived. New Camelot was his home. He'd been born here. All he knew about the Snake people was that they were dark-skinned and worshiped a half-woman, half-snake goddess. He didn’t even speak their tongue.
I’m not surprised. The war against the Snake people has gone on for too long—like the war against the Saxons and the Goths, and now we’re on the edge of a war with the Romans.” General Baldwin rose and paced. “Did you tell the moneylenders about your father,and how your mother is a hardworking, law-abiding citizen? I guess they don’t care.” He stopped pacing. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this? I might’ve helped.”
Nathair scuffed his boots on the marble floor. “I thought I could handle it.”
Pride is a knight’s trait, but you should’ve told me. Now I can’t do anything. Tomorrow, when the High Wizard assigns you your quest, you’ll be on your own. Besides, I have to inform him of your attempt at cheating, which means your quest will be harder. After the last Wizarding Council’s decree, I’m afraid that…” He fell silent and waved a hand. “Never mind. You’ll know soon enough.”
Even if I fail tomorrow, I can try next year, right?” He wouldn’t graduate with Tristan, but next year he’d study hard, and his final examination would be better.
General Baldwin paled. “Er…well, that’s the rule…for now.” He turned to the mantelpiece and straightened up the shield of the order of the Swan. Always brave, always faithful, always a knight, the motto read.
Those ancient words would be written on Nathair’s shield one day, if he were ever accepted into the order.
General Baldwin faced Nathair, his expression grave. “I know how badly you want to be a Swan.” His chest puffed up. “The order of the Swan has the best warriors of the kingdom. I’ve been a Swan knight since your age and fought with them for more than thirty years, so I understand your feelings. Promise me you won’t do anything stupid or reckless tomorrow. When the High Wizard assigns you a quest, I want you to think carefully before accepting it.”
Nathair rubbed the back of his neck, struggling to follow the conversation. He could have a second chance if he failed the quest, but not if he turned it down. Without even trying it, he could never apply to the Swans and could never be a knight. “I’ll do my best, sir.”
Off you go.” General Baldwin opened the door. “Tomorrow is an important day for you. Sleep well and get ready.”

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