Welcome to today’s peek into the world of The Camelot Kids!
Today’s sneak peek at Russ and Josh has a special place in my heart. The boys are best friends, always together and always, well, blabbing. Between the two of them there isn’t a discussion unturned. If they’re not trying to get to the bottom of why cats don’t respond to whistles then they’re devising ways to test their theory that melted chocolate will flow just fine through the park fountain.
Here’s an excerpt from a scene with Josh and Russ, best friends to each other and loyal buddies to Simon.
The set-up: Simon has just had a disastrous first day in New Camelot. Day two isn’t shaping up to be much better, until he gets to know some of the other boys.
Simon woke to the sounds of rattling steel and heavy boots stomping out the door.
“What’s going…” he said, half-asleep. The darkness of the room was barely interrupted by the moonlight that crept through the high, slim windows of Wellwoven.
“Been trying to wake you for five minutes, sir,” Russ said, as he followed Josh out the door. “Better not be late again. Hector doesn’t like us making the same mistake twice.”
“Thanks,” Simon said. He threw on his armor as best he could, but it wasn’t so natural to him as it was to the others. He ended up running after the second-to-last last boy out, still rearranging some straps that, for the life of him, he couldn’t find a use for.
He followed the flow of kids down the hallway until the sound from the waterfall surrounded them. But before they reached Tapper, the boys and girls turned left to walk down a set of wide stairs. Everyone filed into a large circular dining hall.
Simon had never seen anything like it.
Large posts reached high to the arched ceiling, which was buttressed by equally massive beams. They must have been made from the biggest trees ever, Simon thought. Fireplaces burned the chill out of all four corners of the hall, casting a warm glow over everyone seated at the table.
And the table! It was the most impressive of all— a single giant, round surface with dozens of slightly curved benches around it, most filled with kids talking with their mouths full of breakfast. Along the walls were several arched windows, lined with ivy. They framed the grounds outside and the mountains in the distance. The first sign of the sun poked up behind them. It was going to be a beautiful morning.
Dozens of castle employees scrambled about, keeping the plates piled high with bacon and the cups filled to the top with juice. One lady kept the staff motivated, barking out polite but firm orders like, “Section 8 is drowning in eggs, while 6 hasn’t even smelled them yet, dear!” The servers bowed slightly as they passed her. She was an impressive woman, three hundred pounds if she was an ounce. Her face was kind but her eyes had a focus to them that kept everyone on their toes. She saw Simon staring at her and gave him a nod and a smile.
He spotted Russ and Josh waving at him. He waved back, which seemed to get a lot of attention, because the chatter began to quiet down. The boys and girls stared at him, some whispering. Simon felt like turning around and going back to bed, but he forced himself to step forward. The floor was smooth cobblestone that clicked under his boots. By step number three, it was the only sound in the hall. He slipped into a spot on Josh’s and Russ’ bench as fast as he could. He smiled and shrugged, not sure what to say.
“Well that was awkward,” Josh said. Simon laughed and some other boys joined in.
They enjoyed some succulent dishes, quiet conversation, and the view of the mountains. No one nearby was showing contempt for Simon so far. In fact, Russ and Josh were joined by some other kids who went out of their way to include him in the conversation.
“Nellie was pretty as a pie, you ask me. I don’t know what she sees in that doofus,” said a fair-skinned, slightly unhealthy looking boy. “He didn’t even pay attention to her the whole time.” The most life he had in his face was in his eyes, which were trying to get a look at this Nellie, who sat across the hall.
“Ooooo. Sam is smitten with a new girl today,” Josh teased him. He leaned in close to Simon and whispered, “He falls for a new one every week.”
“Cut it out, Josh,” Sam said, getting some much-needed color in his face.
“A true romantic,” said Russ. Some of the guys laughed, their mouths full of buttery bread and bacon.
“A true moron,” came a deep voice from farther down the table. Simon remembered the speaker as one of the large boys who had helped Gawain to his feet after the fight the day before.
The nearby kids dipped their heads down. They didn’t want trouble. Simon would have done the same a few days ago, but not here. He’d have none of that here.
“Who are you?” Simon asked curtly.
“I’m your worst nightmare,” the kid mumbled to his friends. The posse laughed. Simon noticed that Gawain was in the middle of them, but he wasn’t acknowledging the conversation at all. He just kept eating his porridge.
“I guess I’ll call you Mumbler, then,” Simon said, not sure where he was getting the courage to stand up to this guy.
All the big kids lost their grins, glanced at each other and nodded their heads.
They stood up quickly, in perfect unison. The backs of their legs knocked the long bench over. All the other boys on the bench, including Simon, were on their backs in a split second.
Gawain was standing along with the other big kids, but he’d grabbed his plate and was still eating from it as if nothing were happening.
Simon was about to sit up when a foot came down on his chest. It was Mumbler, who appeared very self-satisfied. The back of Simon’s head hit the stone floor. The big kid removed an armored glove from his hand and was about to slap Simon with it when Gawain snagged his wrist.
“We play fair around here,” Gawain said. Mumbler jerked his arm away and put his glove back on. Gawain leaned into Simon’s field of vision. “At least some of us do.”
The posse walked through the door to the grounds outside, laughing and giving Mumbler pats on the back. Gawain lifted the bench back into place and sat down by himself to work on a new bowl of porridge.
Russ grabbed one of Simon’s hands and Josh took the other. They pulled him up. All of them stared at their plates of tasty food.
“The Mumbler is Eric,” Russ said softly, probably wanting to break the humiliating silence. “He fancies himself Gawain’s righthand man. That would make him second in command among us trainees.” Russ glanced over at Gawain, who still ate as if he’d just been introduced to food, then whispered. “No one’s sure if Gawain even likes him, though.”
“You could have taken him if he hadn’t cheated.” Sam was jiggling his left knee nervously.
“There’s no such thing as cheating,” Simon said. The words came to him automatically. “The enemy will win any way he can. That means you have to think like him. As long as you’re on the right side of things, that’ll guide you.”
The boys didn’t know what to say for a moment. Even Simon pondered what he’d said, as if someone else had spoken with his voice.
Then Russ asked, “So being right is the only thing that separates us from the enemy?”
Simon was surprised at all the eyes on him. “I don’t know about that, but I lost because I didn’t act on stuff I knew.”
“Like what?” Josh asked.
“Like he’s bigger than me and that all his friends are bigger than me. I knew he didn’t like me from the second I saw him, so I was a target. Me and everyone I’m with. I knew the only thing that bound me to him in any way, actually, was the seat we sat on. It was a weapon he could use against me.” The boys nodded. “The thing that surprises me is that he had the move coordinated with the other guys.”
“Yeah, they pull that trick sometimes,” Russ said. “But usually without provocation.”
“I know the type.” Simon said.
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