Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Joy (05/18/06)
TITLE: The Knight of Jahaan's Realm
By Stephanie Bullard
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He stood and rolled his head, easing the tension in his neck, shoulders. He’d once had a name, but it was insignificant and at times even he could not recall the sound of it. He’d once had a family, but they too were nothing more than a distant memory, shrouded by the fog of time and deliberate avoidance. Situations had forced him to mature beyond his years and he’d long since learned to fend for himself. His life consisted of day-to-day struggles and negotiations to succeed in the seemingly simple task of survival.
He pushed himself to his feet as his stomach rumbled. He ignored it: a much more frequent event than satisfying it. He couldn’t remember his last meal and his tanned skin stretched tightly across his frame, shoulder and hip bones jutting out like jagged rocks. He was dressed in nothing but a short-robe, a piece of soft leather that wrapped around his waist and hung halfway between his waist and knees. It had been his only clothing for many years and would have been too small had his weight not diminished so greatly in that time.
The boy walked towards the center of town, his pace quickening as he remembered the day’s event. A joust! In his town today. He was too young to attend the jousts, and had no money to gain entrance. But that wouldn’t stop him. It had never stopped him before. He slowed his steps as he saw the large crowd already gathered, churning around like a net-full of fish. He tried to push through, to see the cause, but the multitude of legs were too tightly weaved. He finally mounted an unattended vendor’s cart. He crossed his arms on the top, leaned his bare chest on the rough wood and peered across the sea of heads.
He saw the reason for the throng almost immediately. One man. Alone, riding slowly on horseback in an unassuming manner. Cassimer…Cas: the enigma who promised them freedom yet refused to wield sword, or lift a hand against their enemies. The boy gazed at the faces who regarded Cas. Some looked on with curiosity, some with mild interest, some with distrust, and some with loathing.
He swung his eyes back to the man on horseback and a jolt coursed through his small body when his gaze connected with that of Cas. The man was looking directly at him. Time spun to a mesmerizing halt, distance dissipated like a fog, and all the boy could see was the man’s eyes. Like mirrors, the boy saw in them a reflection of himself. A skinny, nameless, worthless wretch. Ignored, unnoticed, dismissed and forgotten. He wanted to drop his eyes, to avoid this sight. But then the man’s eyes changed. Suddenly his own image altered, and he saw himself as the man must see him. Emotion welled in the boy’s throat and he choked on a sob. In Cassimer’s eyes, he was beautiful. He was a treasure. A feeling like warmth, but deeper, more personal coursed through his body, touching every nerve, stirring every sense, seeping into the very core of his being. His young heart beat with a new, ecstatic rhythm, and he wanted nothing more than to rush to the man’s arms. But the man was gone now, riding slowly on. The feeling remained however, caressing his mind and soul; a feeling he had not known for many years. Maybe never before. But he recognized it all the same. Joy.
***An excerpt from a yet-unwritten novel: The Knight of Jahaan’s Realm
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