Sir Josiah made himself comfortable in their rudimentary camp. They had been here for five hours and so far no progress had been made. They had received no answer to their pounding on the castle gate and Sir Christopher ordered them to set up in the field outside the Castle while they prepared to wait. For a short time there was activity until everything that could be done was. Then each found their own ways to overcome the boredom of waiting. Sir Buckland and his squire, JD, kept to themselves. For once Buck didn't seem to be doing much talking. Sir Vincent had commandeered one of the small tables and stools they brought and his brow was furrowed as he wrote continually. Sir Nathan and Sir Ezra had another of the small tables and the two knights hardly spoke as they played game after game of cards. The Frenchman was exceptional at the game and Sir Josiah had discovered that fact early on after a big monetary loss. But it never stopped him from playing the knight. He certainly enjoyed the challenge. To his surprise, Sir Nathan had taken to the game with vigour and had proven to be an adept student to the mastery of Sir Ezra's playing and often any games usually resulted in just the two of them at the end.
Finally, Sir Josiah's gaze rested on Sir Christopher. The dark knight moved and walked restlessly and despite many attempts to get him to sit, eat or talk all fell on deaf ears. Josiah followed Chris' gaze upon the castle. He had been in a constant fear ever since Keely had been taken. The oath he swore to his closest friend long ago to protect his goddaughter from harm troubled him deeply. Once he had found her after years of dogged persistence and relying only on his faith, he did not intend to lose her to the likes of Kendall. But he was a veteran battle combatant and he knew that situations like these could take days or longer to resolve. As he watched Sir Buckland start to mimic Christopher's restless movements, he knew this would not be one of those situations. And Sir Josiah didn't mind, he was more than ready to act. He just fervently hoped Keely would be unharmed until then.
Sir Gavin entered the Lord's private rooms to find Kendall still scowling.
"Have you made a decision, my Lord?"
"No!" Kendall replied bitterly. "It does not make any sense. Those fools took the wrong girl. Why would Beaumont send all his knights?"
"Knowing Sir Christopher and Sir Buckland as I do, I would say they convinced Beaumont to come."
"But why? Who is this girl?"
"It is not who this girl is but that she was taken on their watch. Sir Buckland would be here even if you had taken some farm girl. I warned you of the consequences of this course of action," Gavin replied calmly.
"Do not chide me, Gavin!" Kendall warned.
"We shall deny any knowledge of the girl," Kendall told his lead Knight.
"It is too late for that, my Lord. Too much time has elapsed. If we were truly guiltless you would have welcomed them into your castle when they arrived."
"Then we shall do nothing. They shall tire and leave."
The afternoon sun drew low in the sky when Sir Christopher had called his knights together.
"We shall act tonight," he told them.
"How?" Buck asked.
"Nathan can get in and open the gate for the rest of us," Chris replied.
"Indeed! That is quite a feat. I assume you are gifted in such endeavours?" Ezra asked the Moor.
"I have scaled many a castle," Nathan replied modestly.
"Then what?" Vin asked.
"We try and find Keely then leave," Chris answered.
"Before anyone knows we were there?" Vin elaborated.
"With any luck," Chris agreed, knowing his plan was not without its risk.
"If that luck runs out, you know we will be outnumbered?" Vin voiced his doubt aloud. Chris glanced at his friend with hint of compassion. He knew Vin's concerns were not for himself but for Keely's safe return.
"Yes. But we have the advantage of surprise," Chris replied.
"I'm with you. When do we go?" Buck said resolutely.
"We are all with you, Chris," Josiah added just as firmly.
"May I offer a suggestion before we embark on this dangerous maneuver?" Ezra asked. Chris studied the Frenchman quickly before gesturing for him to speak.
"Let me try and negotiate Lady Keely's release with Kendall," Ezra suggested.
"Negotiate?" Chris queried.
"Yes. Perhaps a more subtle approach would be more beneficial," the Frenchman explained. Chris again exchanged a look with Vin and an understanding was reached.
"What do you have in mind, Ezra?" Vin asked.
"I believe Kendall will be looking for a way out of this predicament he has imprudently gotten himself into. I can use that to our advantage."
"I say we try it his way first," Vin proposed.
"I am proficient in the art of parley," Ezra added.
Chris looked around and saw they were all in agreement. He nodded to Sir Vincent.
"Alright Ezra. Go Parley," Vin told him.
Ezra pounded on the castle gate and then rattled some money. He heard movement from behind the large gate and finally a small peephole opened.
"I was wondering if you would be so good as to pass a message along to Lord Kendall," he told the guard, holding up a shiny coin. The man looked left and right before sticking his fingers out to take the coin.
Watching from the field, Sir Ezra's fellow knights saw the small door open within the gate and Ezra bend down as he went through.
Ezra was marched between four guards to Lord Kendall. Entering the castle's main hall, he saw Lord Kendall seated and two of his knights on either side. Recognizing Sir Gavin and Sir Declan he waited until his escort was dismissed before approaching them and bowing slightly.
"I am Sir Ezra Remy de Stand," he said formally.
"Why are Lord Beaumont's Knights laying siege to my castle?" Lord Kendall asked brusquely.
"Laying siege, my lord?" Sir Ezra queried looking nonplussed. "We merely wished to discuss a matter of mutual interest."
"What is it you want?" Kendall asked.
"The safe return of the girl," Ezra replied directly.
"Who is this girl of which you speak?" Kendall asked, feigning ignorance.
"Lord Kendall, if I may be so forward?" Ezra prompted.
"Your apprehension and concern for the well being of your family and lands in light of the upcoming nuptials between the Montrose and Beaumont families is understandable. One could even suppose that some of your loyal, yet foolhardy servants misconstrued your words and took it upon themselves to act on a plan that they mistakenly thought would please you. A mistake that led to the unfortunate capture of one of the ladies of Beaumont."
There was a silence after Ezra's speech and Kendall looked to his lead Knight for assurance before addressing the Frenchman. "If this were indeed true, how would you propose we overcome this mistake?"
"I believe a joust would restore honour to both families," Ezra replied.
"Why would we need to do that? You do not know we have this girl?" Sir Declan cried.
"Silence!" Kendall roared and leveled a deadly gaze at his impulsive knight.
"Sir Declan does not voice my feeling in this matter," he added in a more subdued voice.
"I understand his outburst, my Lord. In his place, I would be afraid to face Sir Vincent again so soon," Ezra goaded. Declan moved angrily towards Ezra but was intercepted by Sir Gavin.
"I am not afraid of the White Knight!" he spat.
"Declan!" Sir Gavin cautioned.
"You should be. After your dismal effort of the other day," Ezra sniffed disdainfully.
"Enough!" Kendall cried, standing and coming around the table to face Sir Ezra.
"Your words have some truth to them, Sir Ezra," he began. "This matter began as an unfortunate mistake. I agree to a joust. My knights against Lord Beaumont's. Tomorrow morning," Kendall agreed. "If you are victorious the girl may return with you," he added.
"If we lose?" Ezra asked, arching an eyebrow.
"The girl stays here indefinitely or until Lord Beaumont calls off his daughter's wedding to Montrose's son," Kendall declared.
"I shall need the approval Sir Christopher," Ezra replied.
"Very well," Kendall agreed.
"I would also need to see the girl."
"Show him the girl," he ordered Sir Gavin before turning back to Sir Ezra. "She has been well cared for."
Ezra nodded and followed Sir Gavin from the room but not before ignoring another glare from Sir Declan. Declan fumed and looked to Lord Kendall for permission to follow. With a gesture, Kendall granted it.
Keely exhaled deeply and wandered across the room to her window. It would soon be dark again and she did not enjoy the inevitable conclusion that she would be forced to stay another night in this room. Not that the room was unpleasant or that she was denied any food, water or personal needs. It could have been worse she reasoned. She could have been held in some dark dungeon, forgotten and eventually left for dead. She shivered and rubbed her arms fiercely. It was the lack of freedom and not knowing what was happening that was eating away at her. The guards wouldn't talk, Sir Gavin wouldn't comment further and the woman that tended her appeared to be mute.
She heard movement outside her door and she tensed. The door opened and Keely bit back a cry of joy as Sir Ezra entered the room. Forgetting how she should behave and ignoring the fact that Declan and Gavin followed him into the room, she rushed toward the Frenchman and melted into his chest. Very mindful that they were being observed, Ezra gave her quick hug of assurance before pulling her back so he could see her face.
"Have you come to take me home?" she pleaded, searching his face with desperate hope.
Ezra inwardly winced and chose his words carefully. "We may be able to escort you home tomorrow," he told her gently.
"We are all here," he assured her. "And we will not leave without you."
She took strength from his words and although she still looked anxious, she nodded her acceptance. Ezra looked over his shoulder and ensured Kendall's knights had not moved any closer.
"Are you unharmed?" he murmured.
"I'm alright," she breathed but her eyes darted in many directions before they rested back on him.
"They have treated you well?" he pushed sensing more than she was letting on. This time her eyes glanced towards Sir Declan and the young knight smirked and Keely looked away hurriedly. Ezra watched the exchange and felt his anger stir.
"I have not been harmed," she replied and when he held her gaze searchingly, she added, "Truly." The Frenchman nodded with relief.
"I must go now and tell the others that you are safe and make arrangements for tomorrow."
Her face fell but she recovered and lifted her chin. "Tell JD I'm alright. He worries about me."
"I will tell him," he replied and reached out and gave her hand a quick squeeze before turning back towards the door. Keely watch them all exit, Declan ensuring he was the last to leave and grinned wolfishly at her. She managed a glare but it only appeared to cause him some amusement. Only when the door closed did she let out the breath she was holding.
Ezra strode purposefully down the hallway with Gavin to his left and Declan to the right with three guards marching behind them.
"I might just challenge you myself tomorrow, Frenchman!" Declan goaded.
"By all means, do so," Ezra drawled insolently not stopping.
"But I would prefer to bring down Sir Vincent," the young knight boasted.
"A task that is beyond your skill," Ezra retorted.
"I will defeat him and take what is his," Declan boasted.
"You talk in riddles," Ezra snapped.
"You can tell the White Knight that tonight I will take care of his lady personally," he leered.
Ezra lashed out and in one fluid movement pinned Declan against the wall his hand secured at his throat. The guards drew their weapons but Gavin held up a hand and they halted.
"That would be a most unwise move on your part," Ezra hissed while Declan flushed and pulled Ezra's hand from his throat, and moved towards his sword.
"Stand down!" Gavin ordered and stood between the two knights. Gavin shot an angry warning glare to his young knight before facing back towards Ezra.
"No harm will come to the lady, you have my word," he said earnestly.
Sir Ezra held Gavin's stare and nodded at the truth he saw there before returning another glare at Declan. Gavin gestured they should continue and Ezra resumed walking.
Sir Christopher listened to Sir Ezra's report on his visit to the castle attentively, his face was expressionless and he was motionless except for slight movement of his thumb rubbing his sword hilt. Ezra finished and he and the other knights present lapsed into silence.
"Do you think he will honour the outcome of the jousts?" Christopher asked.
"He was eager to accept my solution," Ezra answered.
Chris turned to the White Knight, a question unnecessary.
"We should be able to best Kendall's Knights," Vin told him.
"I agree. Bring them on I say," Buck added. Chris got nods from the three remaining knights.
"Very well. We agree to the joust," Sir Christopher decided and was met with an agreeable murmur.
"However, I want to be prepared for any trouble at its conclusion. I don't trust Kendall," Chris added vehemently.
"I will ready the squires," Vin told him.
"I shall deliver your acceptance immediately," Sir Ezra said and Sir Christopher nodded.
"I'll walk with you," the White Knight said quickly and the two knights began walking to the castle gate.
"Is Keely alright?" Vin asked after a moment.
"As I told the others, Vincent, she is unharmed," Ezra replied.
"Yes, but you were holding back," Vin countered and Ezra stopped and looked at him, masking any indication of confirmation or denial of Vin's words. Vin's stare was equally determined to hear the truth and finally Ezra spoke.
"Declan," he said simply.
"Go on," Vin prompted.
"I believe he's been trying to frighten her."
"Because I favoured her at the tournament?"
"Probably. It is very likely he will challenge you tomorrow, hoping you will be distracted by your concern for Keely," Ezra replied.
"That won't happen," Vin dismissed.
"Gavin gave me his word she would not be harmed," Ezra added.
"You believe him?"
"I do Vin. I saw it in his eyes," he assured his friend.
Vin turned and left Ezra to continue to the gate and he walked back down to their camp where Chris joined him.
"Everything alright?" he asked, noting the exchange from afar between Vin and Ezra.
"Nothing I cannot handle," the White Knight assured him.
"I will do all I can to get her back Vin but I need to know…"
"I'm with you, Chris. Whatever happens tomorrow, I'll follow your lead. You have my word," Vin answered him sincerely before walking towards their camp.
The next morning the huge castle gate was opened and the Beaumont's Knights watched as dozens of servants with guards accompanying them, made preparations for the day's joust. Tables and chairs and a decorated tent, obviously for Lord Kendall's use, were brought out and set up. Then another wave of servants carried trays and trays of different foods, wine and utensils.
"You organised us food," Vin said to Ezra, slightly awed.
"Sir Vincent, is there no situation where you do not think of your stomach?" Ezra teased
"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day," Josiah informed them then smiled as Ezra shook his head slightly. Vin, however, did not take his eyes off the food.
One of Kendall's squires approached Sir Christopher and nodded.
"Lord Kendall trusts your night was not too unpleasant and would like to extend his hospitality this morning to Lord Beaumont's Knights," the squire informed him and gestured toward the table of food. None of the Knights moved and Sir Christopher subjected the squire to an intimidating glare.
The squire paled a little and spoke hurriedly. "You may choose any of our servants to taste the food or wine if you wish," he added before the Black Knight dismissed him with a nod. With apparent relief the squire turned around and walked away.
Chris led his
Knights over to the table.
"What do you think, Chris?" Vin asked, picking up some bread and examining it closely.
"We use them to taste it first," he replied looking at Kendall's servants who waited with the food.
Vin didn't hide his disappointment as the food was tasted while they waited. Sir Ezra went toward one servant and indicated to the wine. The servant poured from the decanter and dutifully sipped the wine before handing the cup to Ezra. Ezra frowned and picked up his own cup and poured some more wine from the same decanter. He sniffed it carefully before he sipped. His face screwed up in disgust and he spat the wine into the grass
"Parle à mon cul, ma tête est malade," he said disparagingly before handing the cup back.
Josiah erupted into laughter and the other knights waited for an explanation.
"He said he believes this wine has been drunk before," Josiah smiled.
Sir Christopher grimaced at such a hallmark comment from the Frenchman but as his knights chuckled he did welcome the break in tension, albeit briefly.
An hour later they had all picked at the food, the only exception being Vin, who had eaten heartily. Chris smiled faintly as he remembered no one had chosen to drink the wine after Ezra's comment, preferring to use their own supplies of water.
The noise alerted him to the fact that the gate had opened again and this time at least twenty guards marched out, followed at a more leisurely pace by Lord Kendall's Knights. All the Beaumont Knights gathered automatically around the Black Knight with JD moving and standing next to Buck while they watched.
As they arrived and took up positions, Sir Christopher glanced at Sir Gavin before looking over the odds. He had himself and five Knights, Garland, six squires and four servants all prepared to fight. Gavin had brought four knights and four squires but had placed his guards around the perimeter of the field in a move to intimidate. Chris watched them move into position before smirking with contempt at Gavin's display. The two lead Knights stared at one another before JD's words broke his concentration.
"Buck, there she is," JD alerted them. Exiting the gate came Lord Kendall with Keely walking behind him and some four attendants.
As she got closer, she searched for her friend before she broke into a relieved smile as her eyes locked with JD's. The squire moved forward, only to be blocked by Buck.
"Easy, JD," he murmured and the young squire heeded the call and stopped.
Kendall stopped a short distance in front of them and his knights moved to either side of him. Sir Christopher moved forward and his knights formed a line as they moved with him. Buckland glanced to his side and a proud smile lit his face as his squire moved confidently beside him.
"Sir Christopher," Lord Kendall greeted. "I am pleased you agreed to an this joust so that we may settle this unfortunate mistake."
Keely moved slightly to the left and peered around Lord Kendall who was blocking her view of the knights. She could now see Buck and JD and she flashed them a nervous smile and was rewarded with looks of assurance from both knight and squire.
Sir Christopher inclined his head to acknowledge Lord Kendall's words. "We all want this resolved, Lord Kendall," he agreed. "Shall we begin?" he prompted.
"Of course," Kendall replied.
"May I address the lady?" Christopher asked.
Lord Kendall inclined his head as he stepped aside and Keely walked forward several steps.
"My lady, you are well?" Sir Christopher asked with a searching look.
"Yes," she replied softly a little nervous under his intense gaze and what was about to happen.
Sir Christopher noted her deep worry and apprehension. He forced his expression to relax slightly and smiled faintly. "My Knights and I are honoured to defend the daughter of Sir Lachlan," he told her.
Keely gasped and looked immediately at Sir Josiah who gave her an almost imperceptible nod of confirmation, while Kendall looked toward his lead Knight with new worry.
"Thank you, Sir Christopher," Keely finally replied before she rested her gaze on Sir Vincent. The familiar sinking feeling attacked her stomach as she briefly locked eyes with him.
"Allow me to escort you, my Lady," a voice beckoned at her side.
She looked up and could not prevent the flinch as Sir Declan loomed above her. He offered his arm and she wavered and looked back to Sir Christopher for guidance. He passed her a positive look and she nodded and reluctantly placed her tiny hand around Sir Declan's forearm and cast her eyes down, embarrassed to be escorted by Declan in front of Sir Vincent. Declan smirked at the White Knight as they moved away and Vincent threw him a warning glare before deliberately dismissing him.
Ten long minutes later, Keely drew a deep breath as she tried to control her fear for what would happen on the field before them. Sandwiched between Lord Kendall and one of his attendants, a large man with a bulbous head, under the cover erected by Kendall's servants, she watched as Rockhead and JD prepared Sir Ezra for his joust.
Sir Gavin had chosen his youngest knight, who in turn had chosen to joust Sir Ezra. Sir Christopher approached as Rockhead helped Ezra mount his horse.
"Be careful, Ezra," the Black Knight said as Rockhead handed Ezra his helmet.
Ezra grinned, highlighting his boyish dimples. "Unnecessary I assure you my friend. I shall be back… momentarily," he grinned and felt fortunate when Christopher gave him an amiable smile back.
Keely couldn't help but smile also as Sir Ezra urged his mount past Kendall's tent. With a quiet murmur in French, he urged his battle mount to prance regally as they made his way across the field. Sir Ezra paused briefly as he lined up against his opponent before both Knights lowered their lances and charged towards one another. Ezra's lance exploded into splinters as he effortlessly hit his mark, sending Kendall's young Knight flailing through the air like a marionette before he landed on the ground with a loud thud. The Beaumont camp erupted into roars of approval, but Keely felt her elation fade as she was submitted to a glare from Kendall.
Not long after, Sir Josiah was prepared for his joust. Keely tried to ignore the apprehension that consumed her. Sir Josiah had been challenged by Sir William, a noted and very efficient Knight. Large and strong, he would be difficult to beat. The observers went silent once again as the two knights lined up on opposite ends of the field. Everything slowed down for Keely as she watched in rising panic as Sir Josiah was hit solidly and whilst he struggled to remain on his steed, he eventually slid sideways into the ground.
"Nooooo," Keely cried out and stood.
"Be seated, my Lady," Kendall cautioned and Keely let out a sigh of anguish before she complied. She anxiously waited as two squires and Sir Nathan rushed to the older knight's side. A few minutes later Keely breathed a sigh of relief as Josiah was helped to feet and moved off the field unaided.
Twenty minutes later when Sir Buckland entered the field, Keely was in a constant state of worry. The young girl had seen countless jousts and sword fights and always felt a certain amount of apprehension when any of the Beaumont Knights jousted. Today, they were fighting for her freedom and she felt undeserving with any of them risking their lives for her.
Sir Buckland took the field angrily. It had been slowly building since Keely had been taken and now he that Josiah had fallen, he intended to extract retribution. Facing his opponent, he slammed shut his visor contemptuously before lowering his lance and charging. As they drew level, his opponent unexpectedly lowered to the right aiming for Buck's lower body. Buck saw the move and tried to compensate but it was not enough. He roared in disbelief as he felt himself fall ungracefully to the ground.
Keely closed her eyes and clasped her hands tightly. This was not good. Not good. Opening her eyes she was tormented by Declan smiling at her.
"I'm sorry, Chris," Buck said quietly, the failure troubling the big man greatly. Chris reached out and squeezed his oldest friend's arm reassuringly.
"You did your best, Buck. I can ask no more," Chris replied. "Now ready yourself. I feel we may have to fight our way home."
The fire returned to Buck's eyes and he looked dangerous. "I am ready," he avowed.
Chris turned to Nathan. "Nathan, we need a win."
"I will not fail," The Moor replied gravely.
Sir Nathan ensured that he deliberately prepared himself in an unhurried manner. His opponent was already on the field, looking impatient and still Nathan took his time. As he was finally assisted to his mount by Rockhead, the squire handed him his helmet with a look of reverence. Sir Nathan was known for his ruthless and unemotional wins, especially in sword fights where his unusual style and method of moving had made him unbeatable. Slowly nudging his mount towards Lord Kendall's table, Nathan stopped his horse and made a distinctive hand gesture towards the young girl. Keely smiled and returned the gesture. Sir Nathan had once divulged to her the meaning of the hand signal which was one handed to him by his father and his father before that. Roughly translated, it meant honour in battle and Keely knew of no one who earned that title more.
Sir Nathan tightened his lance close to his upper body before urging his mount into a gallop. His opponent quickly did the same. As they drew level, Nathan braced himself and easily deflected his opponent's lance whilst connecting his own lance to the other Knight's shoulder, sending him backwards off his horse. Nathan cantered his mount back to Sir Christopher and the others, nodding at his friends' enthusiastic support of his win.
Even though it was only fifteen minutes to the next joust, for Keely the minutes passed in a numb fear. As the opponents had been challenged, it soon became apparent Declan wanted Sir Vincent as his opponent and the idea both thrilled and terrified her. She was slightly ashamed at how desperately she wanted Declan to be left on the ground while her White Knight was victorious. But the thought that Sir Vincent could be hurt or worse defending left her with a gnawing ache in her heart.
"You ready?" Chris asked his friend as he prepared.
"Declan wants to prove something here today," Chris warned.
"So do I," Vin drawled quietly.
"Good luck, Vin!"
Vin inclined his head slightly and held out his hand. Chris grasped his forearm instead and the White Knight reciprocated. A look of mutual respect, loyalty and friendship was exchanged before the two knights parted and Vin held his arms out as the squires secured his armour.
Sir Vincent reached his position first and as usual fought with his restless steed as he waited for Sir Declan to face him. Looking skyward he offered a silent prayer to his mother, whom he lad lost in his youth before exhaling deeply. He knew he was ready and only waited a second when Declan reached his starting position before urging his battle mount into a full charge. Drawing level he instinctively anticipated Declan's move and blocked it effectively. Both knights finished their charges still mounted and turned their horses around and moved back into the starting positions.
Keely didn't know if her heart could take much more. It was thumping so hard she felt breathless and dizzy. Shaking herself, she concentrated on the two knights who lined up once again. As they charged again, she tensed and held her breath. For the first time in any joust, Keely closed her eyes before the final impact and jumped when she heard the distinctive noise of a lance exploding as it hit his mark. Opening her eyes, she cried out in joyous relief as she saw the White Knight still astride his steed.
Declan pushed away his squires after he was hauled to his feet and stalked off the field in anger. As he walked he saw Keely elatedly watching Sir Vincent and vowed it would not end here.
Sir Christopher approached Lord Kendall. "We have three wins. We can declare the day now."
"No. I want to see my best Knight against you, Sir Knight," Kendall replied and Chris glanced at Gavin who stood behind his Lord.
"Very well," he agreed.
Sir Gavin watched his former friend and now nemesis walk away before resting his attention on the young girl. Memories, good, bad, joyful and tragic flooded him and he was unable to stop them. Before he realized exactly what he was going to do, he left his Lord's side and proceeded to the Beaumont camp, coming to a stop 30 feet from Chris.
Buck saw him first. "What's he doing?"
"I'm not sure," Chris replied moving towards their visitor.
"Want me to come with you?" Buck asked and Chris hesitated and searched his feelings.
"No. Just watch my back."
"Always," Buck replied fervently.
Chris walked over until he faced Sir Gavin. The two knights carefully looked at each other before Gavin spoke.
"Do you remember the May Day Tournament at Fulcrum?"
Chris' brow furrowed as he replied. "Yes."
"I plan to do that again today, now."
Chris did not conceal his surprise before suspicion took over. "Why would you want to do that?"
Sir Gavin struggled with his emotions for an instant before he shrugged. "I do not know," he replied as the piercing green eyes he knew well drilled into his own searching for the truth.
"Try," Chris demanded but his stance relaxed slightly.
"The girl was taken without my knowledge. I would never agreed. It is without honour," Gavin replied, his distaste evident. "The young lady wishes to return to home," he added.
Chris again considered the Knight's words and understood his need to right the injustice.
"The third pass?"
"The third pass," Gavin agreed and turned and walked away.
Sir Christopher sat in full armour astride his horse and realized he had delayed until this moment to decide whether to trust Sir Gavin or not. Gavin could use this as a ploy to win in the first pass or he could genuinely want to ensure that Keely returned home with them. Lowering his lance, he left it to instinct to decide as he gently urged his battle mount into a gallop. Sir Gavin came thundering towards him and like that day long ago, he purposefully raised his lance high, seemingly going for Chris' head. Chris shifted at the last instant and the lance barely missed his helmet.
Vin reacted immediately as he stood next to Buckland and the others. He growled a curse at the Kendall Knight before turning to Buck. "He's not adhering to the code," he hissed, frowning at Buck's lack of reaction.
"I have not seen Sir Gavin try a move like that before," Josiah commented.
"I have," Buck said cryptically.
"What do you mean, Buck?" Vin asked.
"I'll know after this pass," he replied as the two knights turned to charge again.
Sir Christopher drew level with Gavin again. Their lances collided and Chris' went spinning off into the air. Reining in his mount, he cantered over and retrieved another lance from his squire before lining up once again.
Buckland turned to Sir Vincent. "I think Gavin will take a fall. This could turn ugly. I'll get everyone ready," he told the younger knight before he moved off. Vin watched him walk away, confused by Buck's prediction, before he turned his attention back to the joust. Chris' horse shied away from the starting point and the knight murmured to him and nudged him until he finally yielded to his rider's command. The knights charged again and Vin tensed as the gap narrowed. Chris blocked Gavin's lance and then twisted his upper body, driving his lance across Gavin's torso, dislodging the Knight from his steed.
Vin barely had time to absorb Buck's accurate foretelling of the outcome when literally everything went to hell. Declan cried foul and ordered the Kendall guards, knights and squires to advance. Skirmishes broke out in pairs and groups as the two sides began fighting around the field. Vin looked over and saw Buckland yelling at the squires, giving them encouragement, while the other Beaumont knights engaged their foe. Vin looked back to Chris to find the Black Knight had remained on horseback and rode down two guards, sending them into the dirt. He halted his horse and tried for another pass at the guards but one of them managed to reach up and pulled the knight from his horse. On his back and unable to move, Chris was now easy prey and the two guards advanced on him. Vin had to run to cover the ground between them. One guard tore the helmet from the Black Knight as the other lifted his sword to strike. Vin sent one to the ground with a blow from behind before thrusting his sword into the other. The other guard scrambled to his feet and advanced on the White Knight as he protected his fallen friend. The guard parried nervously before charging towards him and Vin easily deflected the guard's sword with his own dislodging the guard's sword from his hands. The guard landed beside his dead companion and now unarmed, scrambled to his feet and ran off.
Sir Buckland saw Chris' fall as well but he was too far away to reach him in time. Seeing Vin running towards the stricken knight, Buck relaxed, knowing Sir Vincent would protect his oldest friend in time. Turning he scowled when he saw the knight, who had defeated him in the joust, overpowering one of the squires. Gripping his sword tighter, he strode towards them.
Sir Ezra realized he was in trouble. It seemed too many of Kendall's men wanted to engage him. Cursing the cowardly way they were trying to outnumber him, he increased his efforts to keep as many away from striking him as possible. Suddenly one of his assailants landed at his feet with a yell and Ezra glanced to the side quickly to find the grinning face of Sir Nathan. Ezra grinned back knowing the odds had now shifted back to his favour. Working together, the two friends faced their foe and began fighting.
Lord help him, Sir Josiah thought, he was enjoying himself! With ease he sent a guard's sword flying through the air before knocking him to the ground with a massive blow to the head. Turning he spied a group of more guards encircling Sir Buckland and a squire. With a roar, he charged towards them.
Vin looked around and ensured there was no immediate threat before he sought a way to help Chris to his feet. "Rockhead!" Vin yelled as he spied the closest squire.
The large squire ran towards them. "Help me," Vin said as they managed to get Chris to his feet.
"Go help JD!" Vin ordered as he saw the young squire surrounded by two guards. Rockhead nodded and tan towards JD.
"Stay with me, Chris," Vin yelled.
"Alright. Just don't run anywhere," he quipped, his movement restricted in the heavy armour.
Rockhead approached JD and engaged his second combatant. Both squires were looking victorious, when JD heard Keely calling him. Looking over, he saw Declan dragging the reluctant girl towards the castle. Rockhead used his bulk and strength to overcome his opponent before yelling to JD.
"Go JD! I've got him!" he cried as he engaged JD's opponent.
Once Rockhead had taken on JD's opponent, the squire turned and ran towards Keely. His friend had managed to break free briefly but Declan easily caught her again, roughly grabbing her and Keely cried out to JD as she saw him approach. Declan turned and began dragging her quickly again.
"Come back and fight, you coward!" JD yelled.
The Kendall knight turned and scowled and waited for the squire to catch up to them before he pushed Keely to the ground. Drawing his sword he moved towards JD.
Keely gasped as she hit the ground. She immediately forgot her pain as she saw Declan engage JD.
Sir Gavin made his way slowly to Lord Kendall. He found the Lord still near his table protected by three guards watching the battle unfold around him.
"What are you doing?" Gavin demanded.
"Protecting my name and lands," the Lord retorted.
"This is wrong!" Sir Gavin insisted.
"You failed me. I must regain control," the Lord replied with contempt.
The guards intently watched the argument unfold between their Lord and their lead Knight. They did not see Sir Christopher and Sir Vincent come up from behind.
"Yield or die," Vin growled as he placed his sword at one guard's throat. The other turned only to see Sir Christopher's menacing face before his sword was knocked from his hand.
Lord Kendall moved closer to his lead Knight. "Protect me, Sir Gavin," he ordered.
"I yield to the Beaumont Knights," Sir Gavin replied, throwing a look of disgust towards his Lord.
The third guard looked around confused but once he received a glare from Sir Christopher, he quickly threw down his sword. Chris moved threateningly towards Lord Kendall.
"Call it off," he ordered Kendall. "Now!"
Keely watched in fear as JD battled Declan. Neither knight or squire had any amour or chainmail so the potential for serious injury or death was very real. JD fought hard and the knight was having difficulty laying any blows on the squire. Declan was becoming frustrated as an easy victory now seemed unlikely. He pulled back and they parried.
"Not bad," Declan admitted grudgingly.
"You can walk away but Keely stays with me," JD offered.
Declan laughed cruelly. "No!" he cried as he raised his sword in an upper thrust. JD blocked and pivoted backwards using his sudden advantage to bring down an offensive move of his own. Declan managed to block the blow and the sound of steel on steel became insistent as the two men fought with equal intensity. Declan drew back again and Keely noted his breathing had increased whereas JD was not tiring. She could see Declan considering his next move when he thrust in one direction only to twist up higher when JD went to defend. Keely cried out as Declan's sword drew blood. JD glanced at the small wound on his upper arm before he glared at the knight and came at him. Already fatigued, Declan could not withstand the constant barrage of upper sword thrusts as JD relentlessly continued to strike. Then in one movement JD expunged the sword from Declan's hand and forced him to his knees. Regaining his breath his pushed the tip of his sword against Declan's throat.
"You can walk away now," JD snarled and watched carefully as the knight leant back from the sword before slowly standing and backing away. Once he was a safe distance he turned and walked quickly towards the castle.
"JD, you're bleeding!" Keely cried.
"I'm alright, Keely," he replied wearily.
"Let me tend to it," she insisted and grabbing his small knife tore at the bottom on her heavy gown until she had a suitable strip.
"At least these dresses are good for something," she bantered as she tightened the fabric around his arm.
They returned to the field to find Sir Christopher, his knights and squires had overcome their adversaries and Kendall's men were being held together while Sir Christopher and Sir Vincent were with Kendall and Sir Gavin. Keely ignored all the commotion and searched everywhere until she found the Moor. Dragging JD by the hand she moved towards him.
"Nathan, JD's been hurt," she called.
Suddenly, Buck was there. "JD?" he asked concerned.
"I'm alright, Buck," JD said quickly. Buck and Nathan reached the youngsters together.
"Let me see," the Moor asked and proceeded to check the wound.
"What happened?" Buck interrogated.
"He rescued me from Declan," Keely answered for him as she beamed at JD and the squire squirmed under the flattery.
"Declan?" Buck frowned. "You shouldn't be taking on a knight without me there!"
"He was running off, taking Keely with him" JD protested. "And I didn't need your help, Buck!"
"It's true, Buck," Keely exalted. "JD brought Declan to his knees!"
Buck's mouth dropped and Nathan chuckled. "Let's move you over here JD," Nathan urged. "I will redress the wound and give you something for the pain."
"I don't feel any pain," JD said as he followed Nathan. Buck looked skyward and shook his head before he looked and smiled warmly at Keely as she laughed happily.
"Are you alright?" Buck asked.
"Oh yes. I am now," she smiled.
"He defeated Declan, huh?" Buck grinned proudly as he moved to follow his squire.
"You want to hear about it?" the girl asked excitedly.
"Sure," he agreed as she went into a blow by blow account.
An hour later Sir Christopher had ordered them to move out. Kendall and the remainder of his men had returned to the castle, taking their wounded and dead with them. His Knights were too proficient and whilst some of his squires and Garland were injured, thankfully they had lost none to death and Chris wanted to move his party back to the small village of Kirkdale before it was dark. He had dispatched one of his squires to ride straight through to Montrose castle so that Lord and Lady Beaumont could be informed of the good news and to advise them of their return the following day.
The Black Knight mounted his horse when he saw a rider exit the castle gate. Chris smiled as Sir Gavin reined his horse beside him.
"Got everything?" Chris queried. Sir Gavin's belongings appeared meagre.
"It will be sufficient," he replied before smiling back. Chris nudged his horse and gave the order to move out.
Keely waited beside the armoury wagon with JD and Buck. JD had insisted on riding his horse and despite Buck's protests, the young squire got his way. Buck was about to help Keely into the wagon when Sir Vincent rode up.
"Keely, would you like to ride with me?" the White Knight smiled. Keely just stood and stared. Her mouth moved but no words came out.
"I think that is a yes," Buck laughed as he lifted the girl into his arms and on to the back of Sir Vincent's horse. The horse shifted with the extra weight and Keely encircled her arms around Vin still in a state of disbelief.
"You ready?" Vin asked as he placed a hand over hers.
Keely tried to reply but a small whimper was all the sound she could make. Instead she buried her head into his back and nodded.
Behind them Sir Ezra and Sir Nathan chuckled.
"We now know how to keep the girl quiet," Nathan quipped. Keely and JD had not stopped talking since they returned and the Moor was enjoying the silence while it lasted.
"Speaking of quiet, my friend. You never told me about your talent of scaling walls?" Sir Ezra admonished.
"We have a number of different ways of fighting in my country," Nathan shrugged.
"I have no doubt. Still, scaling walls has possibilities," Ezra hinted.
"Whatever you're plotting, the answer is no!"
"Nathan!" Ezra protested. "You should at least hear me out."
"I did that before. Remember. And look what happened?" Nathan replied.
"That is true," Ezra agreed. "However, I did remove you from that unfortunate incident."
Nathan glanced sideways with disapproval.
"Eventually," Sir Christopher added as he and Sir Gavin came up beside them. Ezra grinned and taking advantage of the Black Knight's unusual good mood asked a question that had piqued his interest since it happened.
"Sir Christopher, Sir Gavin," he acknowledged. "I did enjoy your magnificent joust earlier. I was especially intrigued to understand how Sir Buckland knew Sir Gavin would fall in the third pass?" he smirked and Christopher grimaced at the astute observation of the Frenchman.
"Sir Buckland had seen the same joust before. A long time ago we decided to extract retribution on some bloated, dishonourable Lord. We not only defeated his knights but with that joust we relieved him of a substantial sum of his money," Sir Gavin explained.
Christopher sighed and despite shooting Sir Gavin a warning glare, the knight just grinned.
"Am I to understand that, you, Sir Christopher, participated in a deception for monetary gain?" Sir Ezra asked incredulously and heard Buckland roaring with laughter behind him before the others joined it.
"It was a long time ago," Sir Christopher defended but a hint of amusement flickered in his eyes.
"What about the time at Leeds Castle?" Sir Gavin smirked and Christopher groaned.
"More nefarious activities" Sir Ezra mocked, bringing his hand to chest. "It cannot be!"
Sir Christopher shook his head but he couldn't stay annoyed. He was content with the outcome of the day and was happy to be heading home. So he smiled as Sir Gavin recounted some of their adventures and enjoyed having his family close.
Early the next morning Chris made his way down the stairs of the Kirkdale Inn and exited through the front door. It was quiet as the Beaumont Knights and squires took advantage of the late start Chris has declared for the return to Montrose. A small smile softened his face as he remembered the good spirits those same knights and squires were in last night. After settling into their lodgings once again in the small quiet village, the night had become festive with food, wine and of course stories. Buck protested about having to keep hearing Keely's account of JD's battle with Declan but Chris knew that his old friend was really very happy. By the glances Keely and Vin gave each other throughout the evening, he seemed certain that his second had no more doubts about his feelings for the lively and attractive niece of Lord Beaumont. And there was no doubt how she felt about him.
As the evening progressed, Josiah finally had consumed enough wine to begin singing. Ezra was appalled at the older knight's lack of tone and protested vehemently which only seemed to encourage him to sing more. Chris had emitted a loud belly laugh when Josiah had begun to sing atrociously in French. The look of disgust on Ezra's face was amusing enough but when he had completed his song and silenced Ezra's complaints with a huge bear hug that lifted the smaller man off the ground, the whole room laughed uncontrollably.
Entering the courtyard, Chris approached Sir Gavin, who was preparing his mount for travelling.
"Gavin," Chris greeted.
"Good morning," Gavin replied. "Your knights still sleeping off the effects of last night?"
"Yes," Chris smiled. "You were welcome to join us."
"I know" Gavin replied. "Maybe when I return"
"Do you know where you will go?"
"Sir Ezra has provided me some letters of introduction to family and friends in France. I shall start there," Gavin informed him.
"I would be wary of any place Ezra sends you to," Chris warned with a laugh.
"Perhaps that is a good thing!" Gavin grinned. He turned and ensured his belongings were secure. When he turned back to face Chris, his mood had turned sombre.
"I blamed you for her death," Gavin said sadly.
"I blamed myself," Chris replied bitterly. "It takes a long time to stop hating."
"Yes it does," Gavin admitted after a brief silence. "I shall see you again, Sir Christopher."
"I will be here, Sir Gavin."
"Yes," Gavin agreed with a laugh as he mounted his horse. "No doubt kept busy looking out for those knights of yours."
"You are probably right," Chris laughed.
"Goodbye, my friend."
Keely followed JD into the Inn's stables. "The Innkeeper is willing to sell one of his horses for you to ride," JD was telling her.
"Whatever," Keely sighed.
"What's the matter?" JD asked. "Is her ladyship annoyed because her carriage is unavailable?" he teased.
"Her ladyship would like to travel back to Montrose in the same manner as she got here!" Keely smiled wickedly.
JD grinned at her before his face fell as he saw someone behind her. Keely closed her eyes with sudden embarrassment before slowly turning around. Opening her eyes she saw no one. Laughter echoed from behind.
"You should have seen your face," JD laughed gleefully. Keely faced him again scowling. JD began backing up but still laughing.
"Now Keely, you're a lady now. You can't be mucking around with me," he protested grinning.
Keely grinned malevolently as she moved toward him.
Buck come downstairs still stretching and rubbing his hand through his thick locks. The smell of food ignited a hungry growl in his stomach and he was about to find someone to see about satisfying his appetite when he saw Josiah standing by the main window of the Inn.
"Josiah," he greeted. "How are you feeling this morning?"
"I never suffer the morning after," came an enigmatic reply.
"We must do that again… and soon," Buck grinned, then puzzled by the knight's strange mood, asked "Why the serious face?"
"We were fortunate that everything played to our favour. I did not want to fail him again."
"Josiah," Buck sighed. "You didn't fail him. And his daughter is safe," he added firmly.
"Do you think it will take her long to recover from her ordeal," Josiah asked intently.
Before Buck could reply, there was a noise outside and both knights watched the doors to the stables explode outwards as JD ran into the courtyard, chased by Keely. Hampered by her skirts Keely could not lay her hands on JD who laughed the more he eluded her. Spying the Innkeeper's wagon loaded with assorted fresh foods, she grinned as she picked up a potato and expertly pegged the vegetable. There was an audible thud as it hit JD's back as he turned to avoid the projectile. The squire howled and Keely's joyous laughter bounced around the courtyard.
"I think she'll be just fine," Buck grinned and patted Josiah on the back when the older knight returned the grin.
"Now I need to eat," Buck exclaimed.
"Me too," Vin added as he entered the room. Josiah smiled as Sir Vincent and Sir Buckland began bantering before turning and watched JD trying to talk his way out of further retribution. Today, he had a lot to be thankful for and the food Buck mentioned suddenly sounded like a good idea.
The servants had alerted the residents and guests of Montrose Castle to the arrival of the returning Knights and a small crowd quickly gathered. When Sir Christopher led his returning party through the gates of the castle, he saw both Lord and Lady Beaumont, Lady Victoria and Susan, Lord Montrose and his son, most of his Knights and dozens of attendants. Sir Christopher called a halt and dismounted, his knights following suit. Lady Beaumont left her husband's side and embraced Keely as she dismounted. The young girl was hesitant as first before returning the gesture with feeling.
Chris felt Buck brush past him as the tall Knight strode towards Lady Susan who smiled broadly as Sir Buckland approached her. Her smile turned to shock as Buck swept her up into his arms and swung her around quickly before placing her gently back on the ground. Her uttered protest was stifled when Buck swiftly leaned down and captured her lips with his in a deep, meaningful kiss that left Susan panting and flushed.
Lady Victoria's restraint had only been held in check by Lady Susan's example and once Buckland had shattered that, Victoria rushed towards Sir Ezra.
"Ezra," she cried joyously and openly embraced him.
"Victoria?" Ezra replied, unable to resist the affection she bestowed on him by grabbing her hands in his and searching her face. But then he worriedly looked to see if her father and Lord Montrose saw the exchange.
"It's alright. Father knows," Victoria explained, seeing Ezra's confusion.
"He does?" Ezra replied still puzzled as he looked again and saw Lord Beaumont smiling warmly at him.
"Yes the most amazing thing happened while you were gone. Edric had a loud argument with his father and told him and my Father that he loved someone else. He refuses to marry me," she gushed out.
"You are no longer betrothed to Edric?" Ezra clarified, a smile lighting his face.
"No," Victoria laughed. Ezra mumbled in French and raised her hand to his lips.
"Are you happy?" she teased gently.
"Very," he replied softly. "Once we are alone I shall demonstrate how much," he added his eyes darkening with desire. Lady Victoria sighed deeply and taking Ezra's arm, they walked inside.
From the first story window, Lady Catherine watched the reunion with hatred and bitterness. She watched Ezra and Victoria together and swore it was time to remove her sister for good.
Lord Montrose had prepared a feast for the return of Lord Beaumont's knights and whilst he was still disappointed that an alliance would not go ahead between the Montrose and Beaumont families, he had been pleased to learn that Kendall no longer posed a threat. At least for the time being.
As all his family, guests and friends were seated to begin eating, Lord Montrose stood and raised his goblet.
"To the House of Beaumont," he toasted.
A cheer went around the room and the festivities commenced.
Two days later, Sir Christopher stood stiffly in Lord Beaumont's private study as the Lord paced quietly, trying to find the strength that would enable him to carry out the painful duty that had befallen him. He looked over to his lead Knight and Sir Christopher felt deeply for his Lord's circumstances. He would always remember the heartbreaking sight as Lord Beaumont had grappled with his emotions at the abominable news the knight had brought back with him from Kendall Castle. For many hours they had discussed the matter before the Lord sent for Lady Beaumont, who took the news with a greater strength than her husband. Chris had left them alone for many hours before he was summoned again and told sadly what they had decided.
There was a faint knock on the door and Lord Beaumont closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The door opened and Lady Catherine glided into the room disguising her faint nervousness with a disdainful air. Her arrogance melted away as her father kept his back to her and Sir Christopher could barely disguise his contempt.
After a long oppressive silence, Lady Catherine spoke. "Father?"
Finally Lord Beaumont turned and faced his daughter and Catherine paled slightly at the sorrow etched into his face. Trembling, he reached out and handed his daughter the parchment he held. Catherine swallowed and opening the parchment, drew a sharp breath and closed her eyes.
"Why?" he asked in a strangled sob.
"Father I can explain…"
"How you betrayed me? Us? Your sister?" he cried out.
"No!" she shrilled.
"This is your handwriting Catherine. This is you conspiring with Lord Kendall for the capture of your sister," he hissed.
Catherine knew the parchment damned her and she desperately sought a way out. "But I never went through with it. I took Keely with me instead," she defended.
Lord Beaumont groaned and turned away.
"I didn't know at the time she was our cousin instead of a servant," she continued ardently. "Please Father, I made a mistake. It won't happen again."
"No it will not," the Lord agreed sadly. "I have discussed this in length with your mother. We are at a loss to understand the darkness of your heart, Catherine. We love you, but we can no longer trust you."
Catherine stared at her father's back before risking a look towards Sir Christopher. The knight looked coldly at her and she suddenly felt afraid. Her father faced her again.
"Tomorrow Sir Christopher and Sir Nathan will escort you to Domfrey," he said quietly.
"No!" she hissed. "I will not stay on some island of rock miles from anywhere."
"My brother enjoys a quiet, pious existence there and by residing there with him, our fervent hope is that within the solitude of Domfrey you will find forgiveness in your heart for the malicious deeds you have done."
"I will not go," she vowed.
"You have no choice," her father replied grimly.
"You will regret this," she threatened before she stormed out of room, slamming the door behind her.
"I fear you will have an arduous trek to Domfrey," Lord Beaumont said quietly before lowering himself heavily into his chair.
Three weeks later Keely was preparing herself for the evening's banquet. Still unused to her new room or her new station, some days she longed for her less complicated previous life. But she would not deny Lady Beaumont the joy of finding her and bestowing her with affection. Especially since Catherine's betrayal and exile had deeply troubled the older woman. Nor could she deny the happiness it brought o Sir Josiah.
She was still finding her way and recognizing her different needs, Lady Beaumont had allowed Keely some freedom in return for the some of the more tedious requirements of becoming a lady. Keely looked up as Katarina entered the room carrying her dress for the evening.
"Is this another new dress, Katarina?"
"This one is special, my Lady. Lady Beaumont had one of your mother's old dresses altered for you," the young attendant answered.
"This belonged to my mother?" Keely asked in wonderment.
"Yes, Lady Beaumont thought it would be fitting for tonight," Katarina explained. Keely reached out and touched the soft fabric, suddenly flooded with joyful memories of her mother. Blinking away tears, she turned away.
"You don't want to wear it?" Katarina asked concerned.
"Yes. Yes. I do" she assured her and smiled warmly.
Katarina looked relieved. "Come, let me fix your hair first."
Keely sighed softly. Why was there so much preparation in being a lady?
Later that evening, Keely walked beside Sir Josiah, her hand resting easily on his arm.
"Will you stop smiling," she said testily as the knight kept glancing and grinning.
"I can not prevent my good cheer, Keely. I have wanted this for a long time" he responded.
"It is only a dinner to welcome me to their family, Josiah," Keely replied, still baffled why the knight was so pleased about this evening and had been all week.
"This is where you belong," Josiah replied as they paused outside the doors to the main hall.
"I am not so sure. Do you know I have to learn embroidery!" she complained.
Josiah laughed heartily at the image of the restless girl sitting still while trying to sew intricate designs.
"It is not amusing," she frowned.
"Oh come now. They have still allowed you to paint the armour. You see us all everyday. Life is not so bad is it?"
"Maybe," she replied, slightly mollified.
"Well I think you look much better in dresses and I know Sir Vincent would agree with me," Josiah said craftily.
"He does?" the girl replied eagerly and the large knight inclined his head in confirmation.
"Your parents would be so proud and happy for you," he added sincerely.
"Thank you," she replied graciously.
"Shall we?" he asked and she nodded happily. The servant pushed open the door and they entered the room.
They were all gathered in the front part of the main hall and they all looked up as she entered on the arm on Sir Josiah. She saw JD first and she immediately smiled at him and he at her. Lady Susan and Lady Victoria stood happily next to Sir Buckland and Sir Ezra. Both Knights added their slights bows and smiles. Sir Nathan inclined his head towards her, a smile enhancing his handsome and dignified face. Sir Christopher, as always, looked striking in his dark attire. Keely's eyes flickered over them all with interest before her gaze rested on the White Knight. As usual, Keely's face lit up at the sight of the good looking, fair-haired Knight. He returned her smile warmly as Josiah led her past him towards Lord and Lady Beaumont.
Keely greeted her uncle and aunt warmly before moving to Lady Beaumont's side. "I have been told by Keely to keep this short and informal," Lord Beaumont began and Keely looked immediately embarrassed by the chuckles around her.
"Tonight, we wanted to welcome Keely to our home surrounded by family, close friends and our esteemed knights. We cannot thank Sir Josiah enough for his relentless search for Keely and her subsequent return to our fold. We also want to thank Sir Christopher and his knights for returning her to us after this last unfortunate incident."
"We also have the privilege of bestowing an important honour tonight and in light of the close friendship between my niece and the recipient of such honour, we felt it made the decision even more befitting."
"JD, would you step forward?" Lord Beaumont asked as he finished his short speech. The squire moved forward looking a little bewildered. He risked a glance towards Buck and was reassured by the tall Knight's grin.
"JD, the outstanding valour and courage you displayed as you rescued Lady Keely from harm has demonstrated to me and Sir Christopher your readiness to become a knight" Lord Beaumont said proudly.
A stunned look encompassed JD's visage before the realization of the honour impacted. The squire started to grin and Keely could have sworn he grew two inches. Lord Beaumont gestured to one of his attendants and both main doors were opened and crowds of people entered the room. Squires, pages, attendants, and invited villagers and neighbours flooded the hall. For a few minutes, the hall was buzzing with movement and talk before Lord Beaumont raised his voice.
"Let us begin," he spoke loudly and the crowd silenced. Lord Beaumont nodded to Sir Christopher and the Black Knight stood in front of JD. Sir Christopher recited the Knight's Code and JD repeated it faithfully. An attendant then approached Lord Beaumont with a sword resting upon an elaborate pillow.
JD was asked to declare his allegiance to Sir Christopher, Lord Beaumont and his King and the squire did so readily. Lord Beaumont took the sword and approached JD. The squire bent on one knee and lowered his head, however, the Lord moved passed the squire and stood before Sir Buckland.
"Sir Buckland, would you like the honour of knighting your squire?"
"I would, my Lord" Buckland replied solemnly and Lord Beaumont handed him the sword and both men went and stood in front of JD. As Lord Beaumont spoke the words, Sir Buckland rested the sword on one shoulder, then the other before raising the sword in conclusion.
"Arise, Sir John" Lord Beaumont's voice echoed across the hall.
Sir John rose slowly and a huge proud grin completed his joy. Buckland gave him a quick wink and grinned back. Keely rushed forward and kissed him on both cheeks before all the knights added their congratulations and support.
It was late when the revelry and music had died down and most of the guests had left or gone home. Lord and Lady Beaumont had retired and Lady Susan and Victoria had quietly disappeared with their knights. Keely found JD alone looking pensive.
"Sir John," she said reverently, lowering into a deep curtsey.
"My Lady," JD bowed elegantly before they both giggled.
"I think I shall still call you JD," she smiled "And I'd rather you call me Keely"
He nodded in agreement. He looked up at the balcony where they had spent many evenings watching the activities and banquets from above.
"It's hard to believe we are part of all this now," he said quietly.
"Yes a lot has changed," she agreed with a deep sigh. "But our friendship never will JD. Don't worry, I'll still look out for you" she added teasingly, and the new knight smiled.
"No, I'll still be looking out for you," he replied. "Now that you will be doing all those ladyship tasks, do you think you could embroider me one of those fancy linens with my name on it?" he teased her.
She grimaced. "Only if you are prepared for a very long wait" she retorted and he chuckled. "But I will help you design your armour," she offered.
"I'd like that," he smiled.
"Let's go back over there," she murmured as she smiled enticingly to the White Knight across the room.
"You are shameless, my Lady," JD mocked.
Keely shrugged innocently and they both laughed as they crossed the room to be with their friends.
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