I once again go back to the anthropomorphism well. This was yet another submission for a SFF World contest, this time on the subject of “the tourney.” So of course, I ignored all the knights and squires and lords and ladies and looked at those tireless, faithful horses who hold them up. And maybe a little bit more than that, if this story is to be believed.
“If he expects me to get up to anything more than a trot,” Besswyn muttered, “he might want to stop gorging himself like a barnyard hog.” He absently brushed a fly away with a quick flick of his tail. “Even without the armor he’s turning me into a swayback.”
Sir Kendrick took another bite from the roast turkey leg, the fifth he’d plucked from the birds turning on the spit over the campfire. “Most hogs would be offended by that sort of behavior,” Lucero said, a note of disgust in his voice. They were hobbled a short distance from where their masters enjoyed their feast, the fire sending long shadows dancing towards them. Along with the smell of cooked bird. “By Aor, I will simply never understand how they can consume so much,” Lucero added, his nostrils twitching at the unpleasant aroma.
“They be wishin’ they be wolves,” Wyd said, licking his lips as he padded over to the horses.
Besswyn snorted. “You’re a dog. You think everyone wishes they were wolves.”
“They be doin’ such a poor job of it, is all,” Wyd said
“I hear no complaints from your direction when the scraps come your way,” Lucero said.
“The thirsty wolf not be complainin’ when the rain be fallin’,” Wyd laughed. “’Sides, be goin’ ta waste otherwise.”
“Going to his waist, more likely,” Besswyn replied. “Took him three tries to mount me at that tourney in Pennituck. And then he gets knocked off on the first pass. Waste of time.”
“I honestly don’t know why he persists in trying,” Lucero said. “One would think he’s had sufficient trips to the ground to knock any misconceptions regarding his ability out of him.”
“Well, he’s drawn Brillmacchio in the first round,” Besswyn said, “so he’ll be seeing the ground again soon enough.”
Lucero eyes widened. “Oh, my sympathies,” he said. “But you must admit, even if Sir Kendrick were a shining example of knighthood, he still wouldn’t stand much of a chance against Brillmacchio.”
Besswyn sighed as Kendrick downed a sloshing mug of ale. “I know. But just once, I’d like to finish a joust with the fat bastard still on my back.” Gloomily, he lowered his head to his feed trough.
“Brillmacchio be risin’ up in his stirrups before he be strikin’.”
Besswyn’s head snapped up, his mouth half-full of oats. “What did you say?”
Wyd cocked his head. “Ye be bein’ blind ta not be seein’ it! Right afore he be layin’ lance ta shield, he be standin’ up a wee bit.”
“And how is it you’re suddenly such the learned expert on jousting?” Lucero asked.
“I be takin’ an interest in what the man who be feedin’ me be doin’ with his time.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Besswyn said excitedly. “I know when he’s going to strike!”
“But how do you propose to convey that to Kendrick? Unless Wyd also has human speech amongst his ever-surprising set of skills?”
“Buncha ball-less birds they be soundin’ like.”
“I don’t have to tell him,” Besswyn said. “I just have to figure out what to do about it.”
A breeze aimlessly fluttered the banners above the lists, but did little to cool Besswyn beneath his heavy caparison. The tourney had saved Brillmacchio for last, and the stands barely contained the seething crowd on hand to watch the great knight. Bessywn’s mind was a whirl even as he watched Lucero out in the lists, his rider easily toppling his out-matched opponent.
“Ye be havin’ a plan yet?”
Besswyn glanced down at Wyd as the hound looked up from the bone he’d been working on. “Not a one,” he said.
“Ye be fairly bright for a long-face, somethin’ be comin’ to ye.”
“It’d better come quick,” Besswyn sighed, “because we’re next.”
The unwieldy bulk of Sir Kendrick Eofor clanged towards him, oblivious to the jeers coming from the throng. Besswyn was wincing already as he felt Kendrick put a foot in the stirrup and grip the saddle. With a groaning effort and not a few belches, Kendrick pulled himself up.
Bessywn’s plaintive exhale was drowned out by a lusty roar as Brillmacchio entered the lists. Already mounted, his armor gleamed in the midday sun, and his horse’s eyes held a fire Besswyn had not seen in a tourney in years. They moved easily as one, and the weight on Besswyn’s back felt all the heavier as Kendrick clumsily kicked to start him out as well.
He stared down the long rail as Brillmacchio guided his mount into position and took a long lance from his squire. He could feel Kendrick constantly shifting his weight to keep from falling off as he took his own weapon. And still no idea came to him. Then Brillmacchio surged forward and Kendrick’s heels dug and the time for thought was gone.
Every stride was agony as Besswyn bore Kendrick towards Brillmacchio, a bobbing juggernaut coming towards them in a smoothly charging fury. Hooves tore at the earth as they drew closer, and closer, and then Besswyn saw Brillmacchio’s knees bend slightly then straighten as he prepared to stand in his stirrups. All sound fled from his ears save for his heart jumping in his chest.
Besswyn didn’t hesitate. He reached deep within himself, ignoring the lurching mass that sought to hold him down and, gathering his legs beneath him, leapt into the air.
Brillmacchio’s eyes widened as Besswyn left the ground. Standing in his stirrups, he was unprepared for a downward thrust with both man and horse behind it. He flew backwards, and, in later years as he would recount the tale, swore that both Kendrick’s and his horse’s eyes were closed tight.
“Great,” Besswyn said wearily. “He’s eating again. And taking all the credit.” Revelers crowded around Kendrick’s campfire, the burly man regaling them with the story of his conquest.
“Ye honestly not be thinkin’ he’s goin’ ta be tellin’ them his horse be the one doin’ it?” Wyd asked.
“Besides,” Lucero added, “you need to be thinking about what you’re going to do tomorrow.”
“Yes, tomorrow. When you ride in the second round.”
Besswyn felt every muscle in his body scream in protest. “Oh Aor,” he said weakly. “I hadn’t thought about that.”
Lucero and Wyd watched sympathetically as Kendrick grabbed another turkey leg.