I’ve spent the past week making my
new place more like a home. I now have a mattress to sleep on and am no long on
the floor. Half of my books are unpacked, the other half still in boxes or
stacked up by author awaiting more shelves. There are paintings and degrees on
my walls, and I now have a vacuum to clean up after my two cats, who, though
cute, are not the best housekeepers. I’ve also been working and working out,
had some down time and went to see a movie, and been binge watching a lot of
CSI. I had forgotten just how much Grissom ended the first scenes of every episode
right before the theme song kicked in with a bad pun or dad joke. All he lacked
was a pair of mirrored sunglasses and he could have been David Caruso. All of
this is leading up to the fact that I haven’t had any inspiration for the blog
this week. I was hoping my reading for the week could have done it (Astrophysics
for People in a Hurry), but not even NDT could inspire me. So, instead, I’m
giving you the first chapter of one of the many projects I’m currently working
on. This project currently lacks a title. As with all my books before they have
a title, I refer to this one by the name of the main character. Hence, this is
Chapter One of Sir Les. Enjoy.
In a kingdom and country no one of
current memory remembers, lived a brave and loyal knight errant whom even fewer
remember the name of. But, for the sake of telling you her story, I shall tell
you her name, as one of the few people who do, in fact, know it. Her peasant
mother named her Leslie, but through happenstance, bravery, and a right bit of
lying, she became known as Les, loyal knight to her king, the renowned King
Stephen. King Stephen was well known for his kind heart, fairness to all, and
for being a bit mushy in the head. Even though everyone else in the kingdom
knew the loyal Knight Les was, in fact, a woman, King Stephen never seemed to
catch on. Neither her long, golden curls, nor her burgeoning breasts would
dissuade him from his belief in her manliness. He was often heard to say that
Sir Les was the best man he had. No one wanted to tell him the truth, least of
all Les. He was a kind man, after all, a man she had often wished had been her
father. His willful ignorance made it possible for her to woo many ladies of
the court, at least, according to legend, who seemed more than willing to be
wooed by her, and they all kept her secrets, as she kept theirs. Heard tell, anyway.
All of that changed in the summer of
her nineteenth year. The good King Stephen had suddenly taken ill and died just
three days later. His son Reginald assumed the throne immediately, and the good
cheer that had been a staple of the kingdom up until then became a thing of the
past. King Reginald was nothing like his father. He was, for all intents and
purposes, a self-entitled party boy who didn’t take life too seriously and
spent most of his time in the grape with his mates. Though he was not much to
look at, he was a trifle vain, as no one dared to dissuade the young prince
otherwise. His features were striking in the sense that he looked as if he’d
been struck with something heavy and the features of his face had remained out
of alignment ever since. No one was really sure if he actually lacked
intelligence, or just refused to grow up, but either way, not being much in the
know seemed to suit him just fine. He knew nothing of literature or history or
music and refused to correct these lapses in his knowledge. He would often joke
to his fellows that all one needed to know to run a kingdom was how to win a
war and all one needed to win a war was to kill as many of the other army as
possible. He wasn’t much wrong on this, but the degree to which he was wrong didn’t bother him in the
slightest. In his heart of hearts, he knew his father didn’t want him to have
the kingdom and had long suspected that his father would give it to his sister
over him, should he ever need to give it to anyone. And Reginald was fine with
that possibility. He planned to live out the rest of his days inebriated and occasionally being shot at by
the husband of one or other of the many women in the village as he crawled out
a back window. His bum bore many a scrape from a stray nail, and once, the tip
of a dagger. But, when his father died suddenly not long after his step mother,
who would have been a good queen, Reginald felt, his sister was too young to
assume the thrown that should have been rightfully hers.
Alas, this is not a story about King
Reginald, though he has a part in it. This is a story about Les, and we’d best
get back to it. Before Sir Les became Sir Les, she was a young peasant girl by
the name of Leslie, who lived alone with her mother in a little shack on the
edge of the kingdom. She didn’t remember her father, but her mother spoke of
him often and he sounded as if he had been a nice man. His death had left them
even worse off than they had been, if that were possible, and her mother could
barely work hard enough to pay their rent, let alone have any left over for
themselves. As soon as she could walk, Leslie joined her mother in the fields
doing whatever she could, which amounted to little more than moving stones out
of the field. When she was old enough to pay attention to such things, she saw
that the men made twice as much money as the women did, and she knew what she
had to do.
Her mother came in from working in
the fields one evening, dirt and sweat upon her brow, and saw her teenage
daughter pulling on the britches of her late husband. She stood there, amused
for a moment, watching from the doorway, as her daughter pulled them on, then
the tunic. Amused, Amelia crossed her arms over her chest and asked her
startled daughter, “Pants is one thing, but what about your curls?”
Leslie turned at the sound of her
mother’s voice, startled, and almost dropped the bit of rope she was going to
use as a belt. Her cheeks turned scarlet as she countered with, “I don’t know
what you mean, mother.” She turned her back once more, hoping foolishly that if
she couldn’t see her that meant her mother really wasn’t there and hadn’t
really caught her.
“Child, I don’t know what you’re up
to but it looks to me like youse a bit of adventurin’ in mind.” She moved into
the little shack, trying not to stumble over the chicken that had wandered in,
as they were wont to do. She came to stand next to her daughter and shook her
head, lost in the memory of the man who used to wear the clothes that her
daughter now donned. Sometimes she saw her late husband in her daughter’s eyes,
or when she saw her in profile and noticed her chin or high forehead, all
features of the man she once knew. It pained her sometimes to look at her
daughter’s countenance, but there was nothing to be done about it. There was no
denying her daughter was just as handsome as her husband had once been. Maybe
moreso. As her face, though strong and determined, was also softened where her
husband’s had been hard, and her daughter’s eyes often shone with a dancing
merriment that was truly her own.
Leslie’s tone turned slightly harsh.
“I don’t know that I’d call doing a man’s labor adventurin’, but if you’ve a
mind to, go right ahead.” She busied herself with securing the rope and ignored
her mother’s eyes.
“A man’s labor? Whatever are you on
Leslie looked back at her mother now
once she had the rope secured. “You know just as I do that the men make twice
as much as we do and it ain’t right! We work just as hard and deserve the
same!” Her cheeks were coloring and her blue eyes were hard as crystal.
Amelia chuckled again. “Yes, well,
what you plan to do about it? You think a young girl in britches is going to
change the way of things?” She scoffed and shook her head at the folly of
“Well, someone has to! Anyway, I’m
not looking to change anything other than our household. Let someone else
change the world, I just want a decent meal every now and then. And this is the
only way I know to get one. How do I look?” Leslie put her arms up as if
presenting herself for her mother’s inspection.
Her mother took another look at her
daughter, at how her husband’s clothes seemed to fall right off her frame and
it made something click for her that she couldn’t name, other than to say that
it looked right somehow for her daughter to dress this way. It suited her. But
the hair was a problem. It was long, to the middle of her back, with loose
curls the color of cornsilk and, if washed, would probably shine in the sun,
though it hadn’t seen soap for a good long while. She tsked as she approached
her daughter, then reached up with both hands to gather the hair behind
Leslie’s head, then smiled. “You’re going to have to use some of that rope to
cinch this.” Then, she tapped her daughter’s chest with a knowing finger and
replied, “You should be glad you haven’t fully come into flower yet, or else
they would never believe you.”
“What? It’s the truth. At least this
way, if you want to be taken for a boy you should have no trouble. What shall
you say your name is?”
Now Leslie hesitated, almost as if
answering her mother’s question might shame her. “I was thinking Les.”
Her mother smiled. “Like your
father. I think that would be fine.”
Les, as she now was, smiled at her
mother, then allowed her mother to help her cut off a piece of the rope to
secure her long curls. She had considered cutting it to hasten the male
appearance she sought, but decided against it, as she didn’t expect to be
playing this role forever. Someday she hoped to secure a position, somewhere,
some way, that would make it possible to live better, and she would do it as
herself, without pretense.
Les set out the next day in search
of work. She tried the farms nearest where she and her mother lived, but they
all laughed at her.
“Who do you think you’re foolin’
missy? Britches don’t make you a boy, or able to do a boy’s labor. Go back home
to your mama and do as you’re told. And take off the pants, you ain’t foolin’
anyone.” The foreman of the farm down the way continued to laugh.
Les looked at him defiantly. “I
ain’t tryin’ to fool no one! I just want to eat proper! Nothing wrong with
The foreman laughed again. “Then go
on and pick a husband, and let him do a man’s labor, while you go home and make
the babies. Go on.” He waved at her with false cheer and all the nearby men joined
him in laughter.
Les kicked the dirt. “You’ll see! I
can too do a man’s labor, I’ll prove it to you!” She started to walk away.
To her retreating form, the foreman
said, “Hard to do that when everyone knows youse a girl.”
Les continued walking, her cheeks
flushed and her jaw set, fists balling at her sides. She walked on, and finally
on the other side of the kingdom, where no one recognized her, she finally
found a foreman who took her at her word that she was a boy, and hired her,
though not without looking her up and down first and finally settling on a grin
that made her uncomfortable. When she went home that night she was able to tell
her mother the good news, then she searched the cabin for an old tunic, and
after working with it for a few minutes, she had fashioned something that she
could wrap around her chest, then was able to secure it with some of her
mother’s pins. Then, she put her father’s clothes back on and felt her new flat
chest and smiled.
Her mother saw her daughter’s new chest,
or lack thereof, and the happiness on her face and just shook her head. A tear
escaped her. “Where has my daughter gone?”
Les turned to her mother. “I’m right
here, mama. I’ll always be your daughter. I’m just going to work and make
things better for us.” Les took her mother’s hands in her own. “I’m going to
make things better for you, mama. You deserve to live in a house with doors and
windows. A house with a real floor. One where the chickens don’t come in and do
as they please.” So saying, she pushed a chicken off the table onto the floor.
It screeched in protest.
Her mother took her other hand back
from her daughter and wiped her eyes again and gave her child a small chuckle.
“What would I do with a real floor? It would just be something to keep clean.
And doors and windows? What about the summer breeze? How would that get in?”
“We can open them for the breeze.
But, wouldn’t it be nice to close them in the winter?”
Her mother considered. “I suppose it
“Then, I have to try. For both of us.
You deserve those things, mama.”
Amelia touched her daughter’s face
and looked into the eyes that so reminded her of her long lost husband, then
leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. “The Lord gave me everything I
needed when you were born.” Mother and daughter exchanged a smile.