My Noble Knight – Chapter One

My Noble Knight by Laurel O'Donnell

My Noble Knight by Laurel O’Donnell

Chapter One


Griffin Wolfe summed up his next opponent with a simple indifferent glance. He had seen enough of Rou’s practice to know the knight posed no threat to his victory in the joust. The midday sun was hot and a layer of sweat glistened on Griffin’s skin as he paused at the fence that surrounded the tiltyard to watch Rou ride by on his brown charger. The war horse kicked up a cloud of dust in its wake which stuck to Griffin’s slick skin. He hardly noticed. His thoughts had already moved past Rou.

After Rou’s defeat, only one knight stood between him and the winner’s purse. Some knight who went by the surname Fletcher. Griffin couldn’t even remember his first name. He was the only other competitor who had not yet lost in the tournament. But he would. After Griffin unhorsed Rou, this Fletcher would be next.

He turned and headed back to his pavilion where his squire was preparing his armor. Around him, spectators continued to arrive, the wealthier guests heading for the wooden stands, others staking out their spots in the fields for the best view of the joust. He turned the corner of a pavilion that bore the flapping flag crest of lord Crandall and a small whirlwind slammed into his chest. Griffin grunted and scowled, caught by surprise.

He lowered his gaze to see a pile of wild dark hair at his feet. Two hands emerged into his view and separated the hair to reveal two beaming blue eyes staring up at him. “Pardons, sir.” The hands pushed the hair further back to reveal a face and Griffin was shocked to see a woman! If it weren’t for her delicate face and full lips, he wasn’t sure he would have realized she was a female. She wore brown breeches on her slender legs and a dusty green tunic.

Instinctively, he reached out a hand to her. “Are you hurt?”

Her blue eyes twinkled and a smile spread across her lips as she reached for his hand. “You’re strong, but not a rock. I am unhurt.”

When her fingers closed over his palm, a searing jolt raced through Griffin. He almost pulled his hand free of hers, but his upbringing overrode his surprise and he easily lifted her to her feet. There was something instantly intriguing about the woman, even though she was dressed in men’s clothing. He withdrew his hand. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?”

“The joust,” she answered. “It’s already crowded and I have to get a good spot to watch.”

Griffin frowned slightly. Women did not dash around running into men looking for the closest spot to watch a joust. He stepped aside. “Far be it from me to stand in your way.”

She nodded and walked past him, her steps more measured.

He watched her walk away. At least she had slowed her pace. His gaze took in her body. Her bottom was hidden beneath the tunic that fell to her mid thigh. Her legs were covered with knee high black boots. Very inappropriate for a woman, but so very intriguing. Suddenly, she turned and locked gazes with him. A slow smile turned up the corners of her lips into a lovely, knowing smile. It was like the sunrise on a glorious morning. His spirit lifted at the mere sight of her grin. He couldn’t help but smile back at her; her grin was infectious.

“Forgive me for crashing into you.”

Griffin nodded slightly and then she was gone, swallowed up by the sea of villagers and merchants arriving for the joust. With a strange lightheartedness, Griffin headed for his pavilion to prepare.



Layne Fletcher had found a spectacular place to view the joust. In the center of the field, right against the fence. A tree even offered her shade against the hot sun.

She leaned into the fence, looking from one end of the field to the other for the knights. The victor of this joust would face her brother. She hoped it was Rou. He was a buffoon and she knew Frances could easily unhorse him.

A balding man stepped onto the field of honor, drawing scattered applause from the crowd. Tingles of excitement shot up Layne’s spine. It was starting. Her fingers curved over the top plank of wood.

The man held up his arms and the crowd quieted. He turned around to address the mass of onlookers and announced in his booming voice, “On this final day of the joust, all competitors have been eliminated but three skilled knights. By sunset today, we shall have a victor!”

The crowd erupted in applauses and cheering.

Layne lifted her hands and shouted approval along with them. It would be Frances. It had to be Frances.

“I give you Lord Rou!” the man called and swept his hand out to the side of the field.

Rou rode onto the field, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd. His visor was raised to receive their adoration and muted praise. He rode to his side of the field where his squire was already waiting.

“I give you Sir Wolfe!”

The crowd stood to their feet, applauding, cheering and calling his name. He was the favored knight.

Layne winced. He was favored because he was better and she knew it.

His visor was down and he did not acknowledge the audience. He rode directly to his side of the field.

The bald man turned and jogged from the field leaving the two competitors.

They each moved to their squires who handed them their lances. A long moment passed and Rou lowered his visor. Wolfe spurred his horse. Rou matched his movement. The two knights charged down the field of honor, their lances poised in their arms, the long blunted tips pointed at each other.

The horses kicked up dust in the field as they rushed forward. The riders sat low in their saddles. Rou’s garish red feather flattened in the rush of wind.

Layne studied Rou’s form. She groaned inwardly, wondering how he had ever managed to make it this far in the tournament. His form was atrocious. He couched the lance with his hand resting on his leg which bounced at every step his horse took. How could he possibly make a solid strike with such terrible technique?

Layne’s gaze shifted to his opponent. Sir Griffin Wolfe. She had crashed into him in her hurry to get to the open spot in the shade. He had been nothing like she expected. After hearing all the grand tales of his glorious victories, she thought he would be snobbish and arrogant. After all, he had never been beaten in tournament. But he wasn’t. He had smiled at her. Which was more than most of the other knights had ever done to her.

She watched Griffin ride his steed down the field of honor. His form was impeccable. His armor was spotless and immaculate. He wore no flamboyant colors or feathers. He needed none of those to announce his presence. Everyone knew him. Everyone.

The horses thundered towards each other. Remarkably, at the last moment, Rou lifted his lance and aimed it correctly. The lances struck. Each delivered a solid blow to their opponent. Rou’s lance splintered, the shards flying out over the field.

Griffin’s lance held, lifting Rou up and out of the saddle. He was suspended over the earth for a long moment at the end of Griffin’s lance before he fell heavily to the ground, an explosion of dust erupting all around him.

Layne grimaced. That was going to hurt.

A hush fell over the spectators.

Someone tugged on her arm, but she couldn’t bring herself to look away from the fallen knight. Moments ticked by and Rou didn’t stand. Layne craned her neck to watch as the dust settled around him. She hoped he wasn’t too hurt. She would not wish that on any knight. Defeat, yes. Crippling pain, no.

The tugging persisted at her arm. She finally looked down to see her younger brother, Michael. She swept him with a cursory glance. His moppy brown hair fell into his eyes and over his dirt smudged cheeks. “Better go wash your face or Colin will twist your ears.”

She looked back at the field. Rou still had not stirred. His squire raced onto the field of honor.

“Layne,” Michael called, yanking at her arm.

Layne scowled and looked at him. For the first time, she saw the intent look on Michael’s face and realized something was wrong. She stepped away from the fence, scanning the surrounding crowd behind Michael for her older brother. “Where’s Frances?”

With a wave of his hand, Michael signaled for her to come with him.

Layne glanced about and saw a woman holding a baby watching them. A man leaning over the fence swiveled his head to look at them. Layne followed Michael away from the crowd.

Michael stopped when they were out of earshot. “Laynie,” he whispered. “Frances is unconscious.”

“What?” Layne exclaimed.

Michael shook his head. “He was practicing with the quintain and it spun and hit him in the head. He fell from the horse.”

Layne looked toward their pavilion. She couldn’t see their tent through the trees, but she knew it was there. She took off running. There were many pathways through the trees, but she took the straightest route, cutting through foliage. Branches snagged her tunic, but her boots protected her feet from the rocks. Finally, she broke through the forest and raced to their pavilion.

She threw the flap aside and entered.

Colin, her oldest brother, sat beside Frances who was prone on his mat. He was not moving. Colin didn’t even look up as she entered. He shook his brother’s shoulders, calling, “Frances. Frances, wake up.”

Michael entered the tent behind her.

Colin looked at Layne. There was helplessness in his gaze and he shook his head. “We’re going to have to forfeit.”

“We can’t,” Layne whispered. “We need the winning pouch.”

Colin spread out his hands. “Look at him! He’s out. He’s not jousting anytime soon.”

Layne stood for a long moment, staring at Frances with concern and with anger. How could this happen? How could he be so careless? They needed the winnings! Father needed the winnings. They only needed to win a little more coin. Just a little more and they could go home and buy the land so father could finally rest. But with Frances out cold they had no chance.

Or did they? A tingle of excitement shot up her spine. She grabbed Michael’s arm and backed out of the tent, pulling the young boy with her. “Help me.”

“Help you do what?”

“Help me get into the armor.”

Michael stopped dead in his tracks. “Oh no!” He shook his head and held out his hands in front of him to ward her off. “Colin would quarter me!”

Layne spun on him. “I can’t do it alone. It’s our only chance!”

Michael shook his head and crossed his arms, glaring at her.

She grabbed his tunic front and shoved her face close to his. “If you don’t do it, I’ll tell Colin who broke his bow.”

Michael’s mouth fell open. “You wouldn’t.”

“Yes I would. Help me, Michael. We don’t have a lot of time.”



By the time they had gotten her into Frances’s armor, appropriately padding it so it fit, the call was going out the second time for Sir Frances Fletcher. She would have been quicker, but she had to bind her breasts. It was lucky Frances was the same height she was. She had tried his armor on before, secretly many times, so she knew all the places where it was loose. Michael helped her stuff padding into those areas so she should move efficiently in the metal shell that now encased her.

She didn’t know if it was just desperation fueling her strength or forbidden excitement over what she was about to do raising her energy, but the armor felt lighter than she remembered. She raised her arm up and down, re-acquainting herself with the feel of the steel.

She chose to use her own horse rather than his. She had never been able to fully control Frances’s destrier. The beast was just too big. Her own stallion, Angel, was used to her movements and her direction. She thought it was a better choice. She and Michael had quickly pulled the caparison off of Frances’s horse and laid the cloth over Angel’s back. The thick fabric would offer good protection to Angel’s body during the joust. It was a bit too large for her horse, but it would have to do.

She entered the field to sporadic applause and a few jeering shouts. Michael jogged behind her, acting as her squire. The crowd of people gathered around the field clearly didn’t like that she was late. And she could tell by the way Griffin’s horse paced impatiently at the other end of the field he was not pleased either.

That’s all right. She’d give them a show they wouldn’t forget. True, she had never been a participant in a real joust before, anyone who was not a knight was not allowed to participate, but she was confident enough in her abilities. She had practiced dozens of times on her own against quintains and straw dummies when no one else was around. She lifted her chin in defiance, even though she knew no one could see the movement behind the closed visor that covered her face.

As she maneuvered Angel to her side of the field, she passed Griffin. Griffin Wolfe. He had unhorsed all he stood against. This was no man of straw. Far from it. He looked like a massive mountain of glistening metal as he sat tall in his saddle. Her brothers had always told her jousting was dangerous. They would only practice their swordplay with her. And now, as she sat on her horse in the field of honor, her heart beating madly in her chest, sweat running from her brow, she had to concur with them. This could turn out to be dangerous indeed.

Griffin’s horse pranced up to his squire at the other end of the yard.

All she needed to do was find his weak spot. Just one flaw. She knew she couldn’t beat him with strength. She would have to beat him with speed and angles. Layne licked her lips beneath the helmet. The helmet was slightly too big for her, but she had stuck cloth into the top so it fit better. It barely jostled at all when she moved her head.

There was no going back now. She urged Angel forward with a slight kick. Luckily, Frances had used Angel before to joust in other tournaments when his horse had taken ill so the noise and ruckus from the spectators didn’t spook Angel.

Michael handed her the lance with a slight shake of his head. She narrowed her eyes at him, repeating the silent threat that she would tell Colin about the bow, if it came to that. But she knew Michael would do his part. It was too late for him to turn back.

She whirled Angel about and spurred him hard. The sound of the crowd died about her, muffled by the helmet and the thunder of Angel’s hooves. Her breathing was loud in her ears. She concentrated on Wolfe. Through the thin slit in her visor, she saw him closing on her, the lance held firm in his arm, the tip pointed directly at her. She lowered her own lance.

At the last moment, Angel balked and the lances missed completely.

They rounded the ends of the field and cantered back to their sides. Wolfe passed within two feet of her. He really was an excellent rider. His control of his steed was excellent. But she was better.

What was wrong with Angel? Layne patted his neck reassuringly. Angel snorted and tossed his head. “Don’t you start,” Layne whispered to him. “I can do this. No one need know.”

Michael handed her the lance, still shaking his head.

Layne grimaced. It wasn’t enough she was facing the best knight she had ever seen in her very first joust, but no one had faith in her. Not Michael. Not even her horse. Well, she would show them. She would show them all!

She rounded Angel, the lance held up. It was easier to control Angel with the lance out of the way. Once Angel fell into rhythm, Layne lowered the lance, tucking it beneath her arm. She leaned forward, racing down the list.

Wolfe rounded the tilt barrier and charged forward.

At the last moment, Layne leaned away from his lance, making him miss completely. She held her lance firm, aimed directly at him. It struck his shoulder. The impact jarred her arm, sending sharp tingles through her limb, and she dropped the lance.

The two horses sped past each other.

She opened and closed her hand again and again to get the blood flowing into her limb and force the numb feeling to fade. She had struck him! Jubilant, she turned to look at him down the field. He had thrown up his faceplate to stare at her.

The crowd around them was silent in shock.

She cantered Angel down the field, passing Wolfe. His startling blue eyes were locked on her, his jaw tight. Maybe hitting him wasn’t such a good idea.

As she reached the end of the field where Michael stood, she glanced into the audience and almost fell off Angel. Standing at the fence with his arms crossed was Colin. His gaze bore into her with the promise of punishment. Severe punishment.

Even with trepidation snaking its way up her spine, Layne couldn’t stop. She wanted this opportunity. She had always wanted to joust, but it had been forbidden to her. This was her only time to try it. The opportunity had presented itself to her and she had seized it. And her family needed her to win! She couldn’t back out now.

She turned to look at Wolfe. He had reached the other side and stretched out his hand for his lance.

Layne held out her hand and Michael handed her the lance, whispering, “You are in so much trouble.”

Layne glared at him, but said nothing as she cradled the lance. She turned away from her younger brother and yanked the reins. Angel reared slightly before starting off down the field. Layne lowered her lance, focusing on Wolfe. He was angry now. She had seen it in his face. He would make a mistake. Or he would knock her silly. Either way, she had to be alert. As they closed, she saw an opening. He had taken off his gloves. She could hit him in the hand! She aimed the lance at his unprotected hand.

But then she hesitated. She could seriously hurt him, perhaps injure him so severely he would never joust again. She could never do that to a knight. She turned the lance away at the last moment. It was unchivalrous to do something like that.

His lance struck her a light blow. She saw his plan. She was so intent on his hand that she didn’t see him turn the lance in at the last moment. Only by moving her lance did she bump his and cause the glancing blow instead a full unhorsing.

She tossed the lance down. He was clever, she would give him that. She had noticed something else, too. Something she bet the others never saw. It was just a minor mistake. He held the lance slightly tilted to the inside until he was very close. Then he adjusted his aim. It was not necessarily a flaw in his technique, but it was something she might be able to take advantage of.

As they moved past each other, crossing to the other side of the field, she could see his blue eyes through the visor of his helmet. She couldn’t read the emotion and they passed before she could figure out what it was.

She rounded the field, her gaze on Wolfe. She did her best to ignore Colin’s glare of fury, forcing herself to concentrate on the immediate task at hand. She had an idea that would play on the subtle weakness she saw in Wolfe’s technique. It was a dangerous move, but if she was right, she would unhorse him. And win. It was a chance she had to take.

She took the lance from Michael and spurred Angel. Through the small slit in her visor she watched Wolfe charge toward her. He sat low in the saddle, leaning over his horse’s head. Like she had seen him do before, he held his lance aimed toward the inside.

She matched his movement. Let him think she thought he was aiming for her stomach.

They raced toward each other, Layne’s breath coming in small huffs matching the thundering pace in her horse’s steps. Wait, she told herself. Don’t move the lance. Wait until he does. Then move and aim for his stomach.

He drew closer and still Wolfe did not move the lance.

Layne forced herself to wait when every instinct was telling her to protect herself, not to leave herself so wide open.

The horses thundered closer. The distant roar of the crowd sounded like the wind in her ears. Her heart hammered hard in her chest.

At the last moment, she saw Wolfe shift his lance. Immediately, she followed suit and then closed her eyes, preparing for the impact. The force of the collision was brutal, slamming into her shoulder with enough force to spin her around in a complete circle, flinging her from the saddle. She landed hard on her back on the dirt ground.

She didn’t know how long she lay there staring at the sky. It was blue with no clouds. Just simply blue. Slowly and groggily, noise filtered into her senses. A horse whinnied somewhere. Birds chirped. The realization she wasn’t on Angel seeped into her mind.

Unhorsed. She had been unhorsed.

With a groan, she boosted herself onto her elbow. Aches exploded to life all over her body. Her left shoulder was numb and throbbed with explosive pain. She mentally took stock of her body. Her shoulder and her pride hurt the worst. Her back was sore, from the fall she guessed, but the pain was tolerable.

She slowly sat up.

Unhorsed. She shook her head, trying to clear it. She would never hear the end of this from her brothers. They would tell her that was why women did not joust. Now, her head hurt, too. She looked around.

For the first time she noticed the strange silence that had settled over the field. Everyone just stared. All the villagers leaning over the fence, all the nobles in the grandstands, all the knights, all the squires, they all just stared.

Layne climbed to her feet. A gasp came from the crowd. But it wasn’t accompanied by applause. Something wasn’t right. Her shoulder ached. She couldn’t move her left arm; it was completely numb. A wave of light-headedness fell over her and she hesitated a moment, wanting to sit back down. She blinked, forcing the sensation away. She spotted Angel a few yards away, the horse standing still, watching her. She turned. Michael stood near Colin, both staring at her with an open mouthed expression. They probably thought she was hurt. She should wave or something…

That’s when she spotted the other horse, Wolfe’s horse at the end of the field where Michael was.

The horse was riderless!

Shocked, Layne spun, searching the dusty field for Wolfe. Sunlight reflected off of armor in the dirt of the field of honor. Wolfe lay on the ground.

For a moment, she couldn’t move. For a moment, she stared like everyone else. He was unhorsed! He was lying on the ground. Unhorsed. By her!

She started toward him in disbelief. Was he hurt? Had she harmed him?

Michael raced up beside her, whispering, “Colin said let him be. He said to get out of the field of honor.”

Layne still couldn’t believe she had unhorsed Griffin Wolfe! No one else had done it! “Get me a sword.”

“Layne,” Michael begged.

She glared at him. “Sword!” She could beat him! Didn’t they understand? She could win!

Michael’s lips thinned and he reluctantly handed her a sword.

Frances’s sword was heavy and her arms ached with the effort to hold it. She had to use both of her hands. The tip of the sword dragged in the dirt for a moment before she was able to bring it up. Her left shoulder shrieked in agony, but she fought back the pain as she approached Wolfe. The nearness of victory deadened any agony. He still did not rise to defend himself.

She stood over him for a moment, the sword held out. Her left shoulder throbbed.

Nothing. No movement. She reached out with the sword and flicked up his visor.

His eyes were closed as if he were sleeping.

Layne scanned his body, unsure of what to do. She was about to look over her shoulder at Michael and Colin when she spotted blood dripping from the gap above his breastplate onto the dirt below. She dropped the sword and fell to his side. She tried to unbuckle his breastplate, but with the gauntlets on, she couldn’t. She ripped them off and cast them aside. She unbuckled his breastplate, first from one shoulder and then the next, wincing at the pain in her own shoulder. She lifted it and peered beneath it. Red soaked the doublet below his shoulder.

She couldn’t see! Sweat trickled down her forehead into her eyes. She tried to wipe it away with the back of her hand, but her fingers brushed the cold metal helmet. She ripped the helmet from her head and cast it aside.

Cool air kissed her sweat-drenched brow. She leaned over him to unlace the other side of the breastplate. No, no, no. This couldn’t be happening. He had to be all right.

Michael raced to her side, joined by Wolfe’s squire.

“He’s hurt,” she stated, unbuckling the side. She pulled the breastplate from his torso. Blood seeped through his doublet, soaking it. She pushed the padded material up over the flat planes of his stomach, up over the ridged muscles of his pectorals. “Help me,” she commanded the boys. Fingers worked together to lift the doublet higher. A gash about a hand’s width seeped blood near his shoulder. She pressed her hands against it, commanding Michael. “Get me clean towels. He needs –”

Wolfe suddenly gasped a sharp breath, his eyes flashing open. His hands grasped at his wound, touching Layne’s fingers. Her eyes locked with his.

Then, hands pushed her back, away from him. People crowded around, shoving her out of the way.

Slowly, she climbed to her feet.

Someone roughly grabbed her arm, pulling her back. “Let’s go.”

Her shoulder screamed in pain at the rough movement and she looked up to see Colin’s angry brown eyes glaring at her. She didn’t fight as he led her quickly from the field. Disoriented and frightened, it took until they reached the outskirts of the forest for Layne to recover. She glanced back over her shoulder. “He’ll be all right.”

“Which is more than I can say for you,” Colin growled.

Michael rode Angel up to their side. “He’s on his feet. Physicians are helping him.”

Layne felt a wave of relief wash over her. She stopped trying to look backward and walked with Colin.

“Pack up,” Colin ordered Michael. “We leave immediately.”

His words stopped Layne in her tracks. “But I won!”

Colin whirled on her. “Do you realize what you’ve done?” he demanded in a harsh growl.

“Yes!” Layne exclaimed. “I won the purse for us! I beat the knight who couldn’t be beaten! We can go home!”

Colin grabbed her breastplate and pulled her toward him, shoving his face close to hers.

“My shoulder,” she gasped. “You’re hurting me.”

Colin released his grip, but his face remained full of rage. “You removed your helmet! Everyone knows you’re a girl!”

His words slowly soaked in. Not only was she not a knight and forbidden from entering tournaments, but she had beaten their best knight. A woman had beaten a man. They would never get the purse. They would be lucky to leave with their heads intact. Oh, this was bad. “I couldn’t see… He would have died if I didn’t…”

Colin turned to Michael. “Michael, run ahead and get Frances to help you start packing.”

Michael nodded and rode off through the forest.

Colin whirled on her. “Of all the stupid ideas! What were you thinking?”

Layne gaped at him. She had never seen him so angry. “I… wanted to win…”

“You wanted to joust! That’s all you’ve been asking me for lately.”

Layne scowled. “And why shouldn’t I be able to? I won!”

“Because you’re not a knight!” he exploded, stepping toward her.

“Well… I could be.”

“But you’re not!”

Her brows came together. “I was better than all of them! Better then Frances! Better than Wolfe! Better than you!”

Colin’s jaw clenched tightly and Layne knew she had gone too far. “You got lucky, that’s all.” Colin turned and stormed toward their tent. “I’m sending you home where you belong.”

It was like a crossbow bolt to her heart. “No,” she gasped. “Colin!” She raced after him. Not home! To live with her cousins. With her father. To tend him like some servant woman. He would never let her touch a sword. Never… She grabbed Colin’s arm.

Colin spun on her. “You don’t listen anymore. You’ve endangered all of us! You shouldn’t be here.” He stalked back to the tent.

Layne watched him go, tears rising in her eyes. He’s right. It was foolish what she had done. Foolish and reckless and… Stupid! She glanced back toward the forest. The large trees blocked the field from her view.

Women didn’t belong in the field. Not jousting. Not sword fighting. It didn’t matter how good they were. Angry and hurt, she pulled at the buckles on the breastplate. They didn’t belong in armor or on a horse. She tugged the buckles open and when the last one caught and wouldn’t open, she lifted the armor over her head, tugging and yanking it. A lock of her hair snagged, but she didn’t stop, she continued panting and pushing and pulling at the armor until it ripped the strand from her head. She tossed the armor aside with a shout of agony and landed on her bottom.

Huffing, she stared at the armor. It glistened dully in the early morning sun. She would never joust again. She would never touch a sword and lift it in challenge. The only problem was she enjoyed it. She enjoyed riding Angel; she enjoyed wielding a lance and she had relished jousting. She looked down at her hands to find them still covered in Wolfe’s blood. It could just as well have been her own.

Michael emerged from the tent. He saw her sitting in the dirt and signaled for her to come over. When she didn’t move, he cast a glance at the tent and then hurried to her side. “They’re as hot as a boiling pot of stew. You’d better start helping.”

Layne stared down at the blood on her hands. She had hurt Wolfe, but she had won. A woman had won the joust. They would never let her get away with it. Not Colin. Not Wolfe. Not Lord Dinkleshire who had sponsored the tournament. They would make up some excuse to deny her victory and then they would punish her and her family. “What have I done?”


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