This is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Suntop Gang. Hope you enjoy!
The noon-day sun bore down on Drumach Castle as a lone stable master made his way toward the royal stables. A lot of things had changed over the past few years. It had been three years since the disappearance of Sir Lance and the other three Stars. Most of the knights had since been stationed at a nearby fortress. Only the few who had squires now remained. There were actually quite a few youth in training running about the place. Most were teens training for service as foot soldiers. A few, however, were in training to be knights.
The man sighed, thinking about all the stalls he’d have to muck out…again. There were only four that he never had to clean. Those stalls belonged to knights’ horses. Thus, the job fell to their respective squires and not the stable master.
The man was still thinking about how hot it was and how unpleasant mucking out the stalls would be when he opened one of the stable doors. The next thing he knew, a cascade of water came pelting down to earth, followed shortly by a water bucket that landed perfectly over the stable master’s head. The man stood there for a moment, stunned and dripping wet. Then, like a bolt of lightning, he snatched the bucket from off his head and roared, “ADRIAN!”
“Adrian, what on earth are you doing?! I don’t know what stance that’s supposed to be, but it’s all wrong,” Captain Hollin groaned as he watched Adrian take his stance in front of the training dummy.
The boy was 14 now, but nothing about his personality had changed. Now here he stood, posed like a ballerina with his training sword poised in the air.
“Well good grief, Captain, everything else I do is wrong, too,” the boy huffed, bringing his sword back down by his side.
“Well if you’d start acting like a knight instead of a court jester we might actually get somewhere,” the trainer responded.
“There’s no life in these techniques though,” Adrian frowned. “They’re so easy to predict.”
“Look,” the captain snapped, “you’re just a page. A page, do you understand? I’m the one in charge here. It’s my duty to train you and your duty to obey me. Now quit arguing and just practice!”
The man groaned, rubbing his head as though he were suffering from a terrible migraine as he made his way over to inspect the other pages’ performances. There were twelve of them all together, and all caused their fair share of trouble, but Adrian took the cake every time. He had always been something of a handful, but before Sir Lance’s disappearance, they could always say, “Perhaps we should tell Sir Lance about this,” and he would always straighten up. Now, however, it was almost as though Adrian wanted them to find the knight and tell him about the boy’s behavior…as though he thought that it might bring the hero back. Captain Hollin sighed and glanced back at Adrian. Lance had been more of a father to that boy than his own father had been.
The boy was attacking the training dummy now, but the captain could tell he was upset simply by the scowl on his face. The early teenage years were tough. Of all the times to disappear. And of course, there was Lance’s own son to think about, too. He would be 8 now, just the age to begin training as a knight. But the Stars’ wives had gone missing, as well. All the children had been put under the care of a half-elf family friend, and she refused to put either of the two boys in training.
“War is no place for children,” she argued, “and I will not be responsible for subjecting these children to it. If they become warriors, it will be their own doing and they will be older than 8 and 9.”
At this thought, Captain Hollin turned his attention back to his students. His two youngest pupils were Aric, Adrian’s cousin, and Lynard, the grandson of a swordsmith named Jack. They were both 9, and close friends of Adrian’s. There were two others in the troublemaker’s little group, as well. Sovann was the son of a low-ranking noble just like Adrian and Aric. The other was a boy named Wyatt, who was a commoner but had won the right to become a knight by passing a test of courage.
It was quite unusual, really. They were all blond and all of a relatively similar temperament. Sometimes Captain Hollin wondered if he should be worried about Adrian’s influence on the others, but though the boy could be a thorn in the flesh, he wasn’t dangerous.
The angry shout caught the captain’s ears, pulling him away from his thoughts. He turned to see the stable master marching toward him, his hair and tunic dripping wet.
“Where’s Adrian,” the man fumed. “Someone put a bucket of water over the stable door and got me all wet. I’m willing to bet Adrian’s the guilty party, and I mean to have a word with him.”
Captain Hollin blinked back in surprise, not because Adrian was being accused of a prank but because of the simplicity of said prank. Buckets of water over doorways was surely too mundane.
“Um, I don’t think-” Captain Hollin began, but the stable master had already spotted Adrian.
“Young man,” the stable master snapped as he came up to the boy. “Do you see all this? Explain how that might have happened.”
Adrian paused in his training to glance over at the drenched stable master, his expression stoic and thoughtful.
“Well,” he mused. “You might have tripped and fallen into the water trough. I doubt you fell in the moat because you’d be all wet if you did. Or you might be very sweaty. It’s pretty hot today. I would say someone dumped a bucket of water on you, but I don’t know who would do a thing like that.”
“I’ll tell you who would do a thing like that!” the stable master exclaimed, grabbing the boy by the front of his shirt and putting his face just inches away from Adrian’s. “You would!”
There was a split second of silence as Adrian stared back at the man, dumbfounded. All the other boys had paused in their training to watch the escapade. Then, after that split second, the boy’s expression turned to one of mere disbelief as he replied, “Are you kidding me?! That’s kid stuff. If I wanted to prank you like that I would have rigged up more than one bucket.”
Now it was the stable master’s turn to stare in disbelief. For a moment, he thought Adrian was lying. But the boy’s expression was so honest that at last the man sighed and released his grasp on the boy’s shirt. He glanced around at the other 11 boys. It’d take him all day to interrogate them all.
“Fine,” he said, throwing his hands up in the air. “But mind you,” he shook an accusing finger at the group, “do it again and I will find you. Mark my words, you will pay.”
Then with that he marched off in disgust. The group watched him go, then Captain Hollin said, “Oookay, well, back to practice boys. It isn’t break time yet.”
Most of the boys went back to their training, but Aric, Wyatt, Sovann and Lynard clustered around Adrian, who was still staring in the direction the stable master had gone.
“Are you alright, Adrian?” Aric inquired worriedly. “He shook you pretty hard.”
“Hey, Aric,” Wyatt said. “For future reference, the stable master is the last guy you want to pull a prank on.”
“Can you believe it?!” Adrian exclaimed, turning to look at his friends. “One bucket! He actually thought I’d use only one bucket!”
“Boys!” came the captain’s gruff command. “Training! Now!”
Adrian’s friends grudgingly returned to their training dummies. Adrian turned back to his own training dummy, his eyes still wide in disbelief.
“Can you believe it?” he repeated, as though the training dummy could hear him. “One bucket! Talk about underestimation!”