The Suntop Gang – Water Bucket

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.

“Hollin!”

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!”

A Duke-Worthy Moment

Note: The title is in reference to the Dukes of Hazard. And, for those of you who might be wondering, yes, this is a true story.

—–

It was just another day as John pulled his pickup truck into the junkyard driveway. Being the son of a mechanic, as well as being a mechanic himself, John often frequented old junkyards in search of car parts that he could use to rebuild wrecked and otherwise unusable vehicles. Just recently he had bought the front end of an old vehicle that matched a car he was remodeling.

Briefly, he threw a glance over his shoulder at the bed of his truck. A heavy chain lay placidly there. He had often used that chain to tow old cars and trucks. To his right sat his father, Jimmy, who had come with him to give his input on the quality of John’s new prize and, if all went well, to help him hook it up and take it home.

At last they came to the main center of the junkyard: the “headquarters”, if there is such a thing in a place like that. A group of men – the owner and his three sons – sat there, poised on old crates and buckets and anything that made for a good seat. Here John brought his truck to a stop, shut off the motor, and opened the door.

“Hey, there!” he greeted, holding up his hand in salutation.

The men eyed him narrowly, but said nothing.

Jimmy came up alongside him and the two exchanged questioning glances. They stepped forward.

“Came to talk to you about that car front,” John continued.

At this point he noticed several beer bottles lying at the men’s feet and grasped in their hands. They had obviously been drinking.

Just then, the owner stood and began making his way toward them.

Good, John thought to himself. Now we can get down to business.

“I just brought my dad to-” the young man began to explain. He didn’t get much further.

“Thief!” the junkyard owner exclaimed, his speech slurred.

John blinked. The next thing he knew, the junkyard owner had launched a callused fist at Jimmy, sending him sprawling onto the dirt driveway.

“You stole it! You done stole it all!”

“What the-?” John muttered, helping his father to his feet. “What are you talking about?”

“He stole it!” the man slurred back. “And I’m gonna make ‘im pay!”

Then Jimmy opened his mouth. It is not necessary to record what he said next, but suffice to say, it was enough. The next thing Jimmy and John knew, the three sons jumped up with a hollar, grabbing tire irons and anything else weapon-like that they could find at hand.

No more needed to be said.

Like lightning, the pair darted for their truck. John yanked the driver’s side door open and bounded into the seat, slamming it behind him. Bang! The oldest brother body-slammed into the door, causing the truck to shutter.

John twisted the key in the ignition, then put the gas petal to the floor. The truck lurched forward over the uneven surface of the driveway as John spun the wheels toward what looked like another way out. He hadn’t gone very far, however, before he realized that way was a dead-end.

Quickly he whipped the truck around, pausing briefly to change the gears. Their attackers swarmed the truck like a colony of angry ants, taking this small pause as an opportunity to get at the pair in the truck. The oldest brother bounded over the side of the truck bed. The owner climbed up on the tailgate, one foot in and one foot out.

Just then, John floored it, sending the owner tumbling off the back end of the truck. The older brother braced himself to keep himself put.

Seeing that John and Jimmy were headed toward the exit, the youngest brother took off down the driveway. A metal gate sat open at the entrance to the junkyard, and he meant to shut it, cutting off all escape.

John pressed the gas petal down even harder, as though that would somehow help them move faster than they were already going. All of a sudden the back window exploded in a collection of clashing and clattering. The older brother was still in the back and he had thrown the heavy towing chain right through the window.

The young mechanic glanced back at his attacker, and his eyes widened in horror. The older brother had grabbed the edge of the broken-out window with one hand to steady himself. In the other hand he held a pocket knife, and John had no doubt that he meant to use it.

The young man ducked as the blade glanced past him. He felt a searing pain shoot through his arm when the blade hit its mark. Plastering himself to the wheel, John locked his eyes on the exit and the gate that was quickly closing before him.

“Don’t stop, John! Don’t stop!” Jimmy exclaimed, gripping the edge of his seat, his eyes wide in terror.

“No kidding!” was all John could blurt out in response.

The blade still slashing back and forth behind him, pieces of glass clinking and clattering off the bench seat and onto the floor at his feet, John locked his eyes on the gate. The younger brother had gotten it closed and was about to lock it when the truck came flying toward him.

Though the alcohol was still heavy on his brain, instinct told him to get out of the way. That truck was not stopping for anything. He darted out of the way just in time. The truck hit the gate, tearing it off its hinges. The marred metal wrapped itself around the front end of the truck, and they went on.

They were now on the dirt road, but the oldest brother was still hanging on firmly, bent on getting in a good stab. The broken glass under his hand cut deep into his flesh, but still he hung on.

Bang! Bump! Clatter! The twisted metal gate fell off the front and the trunk went barreling over it.

Desperate to escape his attacker, John began to swerve back and forth across the road, hoping the jerking movements and high speed would cause the man in the back to lose his grip. No such luck. Still the knife waved dangerously close to him.

All at once they came up to the paved road. John braced himself and he swerved onto it. The truck tipped up onto one side, still speeding along. John glanced back. His attacker was still there!

The truck came back down to earth with a thud and a jolt, and John resumed his swerving. All at once, however, the oldest brother lost his grip. With one more swerve of the truck, he went sailing out the back.

At last John let up on the gas petal. He felt sick to his stomach. He just knew he had killed the guy. No way someone could survive a fall like that.

The adrenaline was still pumping through his veins when he finally glanced over at his father. The older man was still sitting there, his eyes wide as saucers.

Just then, John noticed a cop car pulled off to the side of the road. Here he stopped. The cop looked up at them curiously, then got out to see what was going on. John gave him a brief explanation of what had happened.

“Come on with me to the station and we’ll file a report,” he said.

The pair didn’t protest.

A few minutes later John and Jimmy found themselves in the police station, writing up a report about the junkyard guys.

Just then, the phone rang.

“Hello?” the policeman answered. A grin crept onto his face, then he replied, “Well, they’re here filing a report against you.”

A moment later he set the phone back down, then looked up at the two mechanics. There was no need to explain what that had been about.

“Don’t worry,” he said, taking their finished report from them. “This isn’t the first time something like this has happened with those guys. They’ve already been kicked out of several towns because of their behavior.”

****

Several years later, Jimmy walked into a store. He glanced up and gave a start of surprise when, there before him, he saw the older brother who had been so adamant about stabbing John that day at the junkyard. The memory of the event flashed through his mind as though it had just happened. He could still remember the adrenaline rush and the fear that had pulsed in his veins that day.

For several minutes, he debated whether or not he should say anything. Then, getting up the courage, he approached the other man.

“Hey,” he said, getting the man’s attention. “Remember me.”

The other man looked at him for a split second, then grinned broadly and replied, “I sure do.”

He was different this time, however. Not aggressive. Not drunk. Just a regular person.

At that the two men began to discuss the run-in they had had all those years ago.

“Yeah,” the junkyard guy laughed sheepishly. “We were so drunk, it wasn’t even funny. I don’t know what on earth we thought we were doing.”

“You know,” Jimmy mused, “looking back on it, I think that would make an awesome movie! Don’t you?”

“Sure,” the other man laughed. “But you’ll have to get someone else to play my part. That hurt!”

The Suntop Gang – Prologue: Lance

Writer’s block. Gotta love it. From time to time, I lose inspiration even for the stories I’m most committed to. This is the case with Fall of Paradise. So, for the time being, I have moved on to another story. This one is also in the Star Series, but for the few of you who have read the trilogy, this will sound more familiar.

It’s called The Suntop Gang, a story about Adrian as a kid. Several characters will be easily recognizable. Others are new to the series. Anyhow, this is draft one, so bear with me.

——

Prologue: Lance

The sound of metal armor and dancing horse hooves clanked and clattered in the knight’s courtyard at Drumach Castle. The Ardenian army had just recently returned from battle, a glorious victory that had sent their enemies, the hideous Gauls, packing. Thus, all was hustle and bustle as the knights began to clean and repair those things which needed such attention.

From his perch on the stable roof, a young page watched the goings-on with interest. His bright blue eyes danced with mischief from behind a mop of unruly blond hair. He was only 11, a few years into his training, but already he was well-known to the castle residents. His name was Adrian.

No one had seen him climb up the stack of crates behind the stables, and so he watched unnoticed for some time.

Just then one of the knights, Efrain, caught sight of a blond puff quivering in the breeze. He glanced up and his eyes narrowed when he saw what it was.

“Adrian,” he commanded. “Get down here right now!”

The boy gulped. He’d been caught. His cheeks flushed slightly as he slid off the slanting roof and landed with a plop in the hay cart parked below.

“What a nuisance,” one of the other knights groaned as Efrain picked the boy up by one arm and hauled him to the ground.

Adrian shifted nervously, wondering what kind of punishment he would get this time. He was well-known, it was true, but his fame was more notorious than anything else.

“Now what do we do with him?” a third knight grunted.

“Leave him to me,” came a gentle reply.

All eyes turned to the speaker and immediately there was dead silence in the courtyard. Adrian glanced up, his bright-blue eyes widening in fear and wonder.

The man who stood before him was tall and somewhat thin, but very muscular at the same time. He had semi-long, light brown hair and gentle, honey brown eyes. He wore a silver tunic over a pair of pants. A silver star pendant hung around his neck. His name was Lance, and he was the knight of all knights.

There was an air of mystery surrounding this man. He had become a knight at the age of 12, something that was entirely unheard-of. He was smart, powerful, and invincible in the eyes of the others, and even those highest of birth looked up to him. His power, however, ran deeper than talent. He was a Star, a magical being with ancient powers. At least, that was what everyone said. There were others, too, who had these magical powers, but Adrian had never seen them. No, he only knew Lance, a man who he had idolized since his earliest memories.

“I’m sorry, Sir Lance,” the boy said as the knight led him out of the courtyard. “I just wanted to have a better look.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Lance laughed, ruffling the boy’s hair. “There are worse crimes you could commit.”

The pair walked in silence until they came to the main courtyard. There, standing in the center, was a sleek, white unicorn mare. An ornate saddle rested on her back and a fancy, bitless headset caressed her face. Her long, spiraling, crystalline horn speared the baby blue sky, glittering in the waning light of a setting sun.

So amazed was Adrian that he didn’t even realize he had stopped walking until he heard Lance laugh, “What? Did you get your toes caught in a bear trap?’

The boy shook himself out of his trance and quickly darted to the knight’s side.

“She’s so pretty,” he breathed, “I can’t help but stare every time I see her.”

“I don’t blame you,” Lance smiled. “It’s not every day a man gets to lay eyes on a unicorn. At least, I never thought I would. But Astra’s a wonderful companion. If you ever become a knight, as I know you hope to, I hope you can find a steed as reliable as she is. A man can be powerful, but as a knight, if your steed fails you, power means very little.”

“I’ll look for a unicorn, then,” Adrian replied, looking up at the man who had always been his hero. “If you can find one, so can I.”

“I wish you luck on that,” Lance laughed. “But in any case, I believe you had a writing lesson you are supposed to be attending at this moment, correct?”

Adrian wrinkled his nose at the thought. The knight grinned at the boy’s expression, then said, “Go on. I promised Master Danan that I would send you to him if I found you.”

“But Sir Lance, I don’t want to sit there and practice boring writing assignments and read boring books. I’m gonna be a knight, not a scribe!”

“I understand,” Lance nodded. “But you still need to do it. Think of it as character building. A knight needs a good character, you know.”

The boy’s mouth dropped open slightly, as though to say, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” but he quickly righted himself.

“Yes, sir,” he replied with something of an agonized moan.

“That a boy,” Lance smiled. “Sometimes a man has to do what he doesn’t want to do for the good of someone else or for the good of his own future. As a knight, remember this: life is not all about the joy of the moment but is, instead, about the joy you can create because of the choices you make in that moment. Now run along and go to your class before we both get a tongue lashing.”

Adrian grinned at the thought of even Sir Lance getting a tongue lashing, then, with that, dashed off toward the castle. He paused at the door to glance back at Lance. The knight had mounted his steed, but was still watching the boy closely to make sure he did as he was told. Then, convinced that Adrian would be obedient, at least for the time, Lance raised a clenched fist to his heart in farewell. Adrian followed suit, then watched as the knight wheeled his unicorn around and charged out of the courtyard, cloaked in the vivid orange of the setting sun.

Then, with a pained sigh, the boy turned and swung open the palace door. For Lance, he’d do almost anything, even if it meant suffering through another writing lesson.

Vocabulary

It is interesting to see the change in speech as it spans the generations. Though it’s the same language, words tend to take on an entirely different meaning with each passing year.

In grade school and even on into my sophomore year of high school, I had vocabulary assignments. There were words in there that I had never even seen before. But for one reason or another, they had become a part of the English language.

When I began playing online games such as Perfect World and Lord of the Rings Online, I began to be exposed to what seemed like an entirely new language. Once again, the changing times had also called for a change in the way people used language.

Now, this chat language also has another name: texting language. Most people know at least bits and pieces of it. It seems to be an infectious sort of language, as certain people I have met over the last few years have gone so far as to incorporate it into their daily speech and writing. I discovered this when my AP English teacher my senior year of high school had to tell us in class that it wasn’t acceptable to use texting language in our essays. (Fancy that!)

Another sort of language that has taken precedence in modern speech is what is known as cursing or cussing. I doubt I need to give examples of this sort of language. When I was young, my mother made it clear to me that such words were not acceptable to use…ever.

However, never has this idea been put into better perspective than in an incident that happened while I was playing Lord of the Rings Online. That evening there was a football game going on. The chat box was solid talk about the game. I rarely chat, but I often keep my eye on the chat box none-the-less.

The game had ended when one conversation began that caught my eye. Some people were arguing about which team was better and it had begun to get very personal. One person in particular had begun to cuss.

Occasionally a comment would pop up saying, “Does anyone know how to turn off chat?”

I wasn’t the only one getting uncomfortable with the talk.

It was then that one brave soul piped up, saying that there was no need to cuss.

The person guilty of the foul language replied, “Cussing is just a way to express one’s emotions.”

I’ll never forget the other person’s reply. They simply said, “For a person with no vocabulary.”

Now, I don’t mean to step on anyone’s toes, nor do I claim that I myself have perfectly clean speech 100% of the time. When I bang my knee on the desk, accidentally drop my computer from the top bunk, or run into door frames, I have the bad habit of saying things I probably shouldn’t.

This conversation in the chat box, however, got me to thinking about the way I talk. As a writer, I should have a fairly decent vocabulary. Therefore, surely there is something else I can find to say in place of certain other words. After all, I don’t want to limit myself, right?

I Didn’t Do It!

It reminded me of The Brave Little Toaster. There was a shed set off in the woods. The doors were swung open and a car was parked in front of it. The tools had gathered round and were discussing something when, out of the woods, came an old woman. Now, everyone knows that tools are not supposed to talk, so I suppose it’s no surprise they were startled. All of a sudden, the car flashed its lights on and exclaimed, “Freeze!”

The tools froze in place, some falling over. The old lady put her hands in the air and, in the luminescence of the car’s headlights, exclaimed, “I didn’t do it!”

This was one of the dreams I had a couple nights ago. One of my closest friends, when I told her about this and another dream, she expressed great concern for the condition of my mind. She’s probably not alone in that sentiment, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s probably safer we not debate it. However, I digress. Whether it was past memories or a premonition, this dream has been at the forefront of my mind today.

I bought a shirt several years ago that stated in bold red and white letters, “I didn’t do it – Innocent Bystander”.

No matter how funny it may seem, (the shirt implies the wearer isn’t so innocent as they seem), I often find myself repeating the phrase and meaning it. It seems that the phrase has taken up prominence in my daily speech since coming to work in the library. There are some days that I wonder if I have some sort of stamp on my forehead saying, “Guilty. Ask me.”

“Lyn, when you changed out the toner in the copier-”

“I didn’t do that. I’ve only ever pulled paper out of the thing.”

“Lyn, when you (fill in the blank)-”

“I didn’t do it!”

Recently I have begun to wonder if perhaps this is some sort of off-brand divine retribution for getting my brother to take the blame for my misbehavior when I was little.

On the positive side of things, it would seem that my coworkers and supervisors seem to think highly of me. They must think I’m sort of library genius if they think I can do so much that they have to ask me about what happened whenever something messes up. Unfortunately, I have to burst their bubble. I really can’t change the toner in the copier, know what to do with the newspapers before I ever get into the periodicals department, or pretty much any of the other stuff that they have asked me about. Frankly, I do good to do my regular work properly. (I misspelled “spring” when marking one of the periodicals the other day). So if they were to ask me about something like that, I’d have to say, “Guilty.”

Until then, however, I will entertain thoughts of talking tools and old ladies.

“I didn’t do it!”