When we left Moxie, she was buying shoes and overheard Nettles making mysterious plans . . .
Moxie signed her receipt with her well-practiced illegible scribble and hurried around the side of the tent, but Nettles and his conspirator were nowhere to be seen. She didn’t have an appetite for greasy fair food, so she decided to spend the rest of her break relaxing at her tent. She enjoyed the new spring in her step as she followed the footpath. The trees and underbrush thickened around her until it was almost dark in the mid-day sun. The first couple of tents she passed were obviously new and temporary employees—small tents with no sign of life around them. The further she walked, the larger the tents and more elaborate the living space. The camp across from hers had a full wood dining area with a table, shelves, two walls and a roof.
Moxie’s tent had been set up where Sir Gerald, the missing lute player, had lived every summer for the last eight years. The entrance of her three room, eight-person tent opened to a stone patio with a rock wall with little nooks for candles and outcroppings for coffee cups or bowls. Moxie imagined him spending all of his free time wandering the area alone searching for the perfect large, flat stones to plant in his patio and collecting shiny treasures for the wall. Then she remembered Nettles had said Sir Gerald liked the wenches, so maybe rock gathering walks was how he drew in his conquests. She now saw each of the prettiest rocks as a notch in Sir Gerald’s bedpost.
Moxie dove into her complete mess of a living space. Her bags had exploded, throwing her possessions everywhere, the moment she opened them. A slight smell of musk made her think that Pearl must have stuck her with some old, used tent. She grabbed her motorcycle helmet and put it on, buckling her chin strap just to feel normal. She unburied her leather jacket and hugged its thick leather to her chest before slipping her arms into the silky lining. The smell of motor oil and the grime of the road embraced her like a friendly hug.
Moxie believed that to be the best she had to always push her boundaries. That philosophy had led to many gnarly spills, so now she lived in constant pain. Walking up and down the hills of the fair on uneven ground wasn’t helping. She set up a folding chair on the stone porch and sank into it. The sound of frogs chirping in ecstasy bounced off the trees from a distant unseen pond. She popped a couple Tylenol 3 and washed them down with a swig from her flask. The warm burn finally loosened the knot in her shoulder and she took a deep breath of clean forest air which instantly threw her into a coughing fit.
Finally feeling like herself again, Moxie took another swig from her flask and contemplated the events of the day. Sure, she was a stranger to the ways of the renaissance fair, but this place and these people seemed extra strange. She wondered what Nettles was up to. And the King and Queen were certainly worried about something. Maybe the Queen was the one talking to Nettles by the shoe tent. Or maybe it was Megan. Megan and Ryan were involved somehow. What about the angry jouster? What did the King do to make that actor so angry? Does any of it have to do with Sir Gerald’s disappearance?
Moxie caught herself imagining Sir Gerald looking similar to the angry jouster, flowing blonde mane, perfectly groomed facial hair, muscular arms and those abs. . . . Wait a minute. The jouster was wearing armor. She was fantasizing about the lead singer of Sex With Helmets. He was so hot. And she should be spending this weekend with him at Scandrum. Why Pearl, why?
Moxie’s thoughts were interrupted by a little grunt that sounded like a tiny pig under her chair. She froze when she saw the black and white critter waddle out only inches from her foot. She imagined she was a statue and held her breath. She had heard many horror stories of the consequences of startling a skunk. This place was bad enough without having to bathe in tomato juice for the next few days. The skunk sniffed and grunted along the little rock wall, circled her chair and waddled back under her tent. As it ducked under the pallets she saw a little family of eyes and noses welcome it home. Oh great, thought Moxie, not only do I have to worry about my fellow musicians, the King and Queen and a violent jouster, I get to live in fear of stepping on a skunk every time I’m near my tent. What if I have to pee in the middle of the night?
Moxie took a long swig from her flask and with a big sigh got up and left her camp. She walked down the path to the bottom of the hill near the frog pond and tromped through the woods to the back of the joust field. Her helmet protected her head and face from branches and leaves and her leather jacket protected her arms from brambles and thorns. She was thinking how well her motorcycle gear prepared her for life in the woods when she opened the door at the back of the castle.
“My lady, hast thou lost thine God given mind?” Nettles shrieked. He ran over to Moxie and tried to yank her helmet off of her head.
She pushed him away with one hand while undoing her chinstrap with the other. She calmly put her helmet under her chair and put her jacket on a trunk along the wall. “Calm yourself Nettles. I walked the back way. Nobody saw me, except a skunk and maybe some frogs.”
Nettles scowled and returned to his seat. “You were supposed to join us earlier as a wandering minstrel. Where were you?”
“I needed to buy shoes and then I needed to set up my camp. I’m sure you understand.”
“Indeed. However, you will be expected on the morrow.”
“Whatever you say Nettles.”
During the second joust, the angry knight was nowhere to be seen. He was replaced by his squire who could barely stay on his horse and yet managed to win his joust. Everyone stuck to their script and their lines were stilted and emotionless. She wondered what happened to the King and Queen. They had been such amazing actors this morning, now they might as well be wooden cut-outs. She also wondered where the angry knight had gone. The show was completely lacking without him.
She planned to ask her fellow musicians after the joust, but they were packed up and out the door as soon as the last note finished resonating. She took Nettles’s brisk “On the morrow” to mean they were done for the day, so she grabbed her helmet from under her chair and hurried out the back of the castle. She happily skipped back along the path she had made through the woods thinking that this gig was actually not that bad. Then she felt a stinging, itching sensation and noticed scratches on her arms. She had forgotten her jacket.
Moxie hurried back the way she had come. She didn’t want to give up a minute of her free time. She didn’t notice that she wasn’t alone until after she put on her jacket. She recognized the King’s voice. He sounded nervous.
“Look. I made a mistake. What do you want me to do?” he said.
She didn’t hear another person, but then something heavy scraped across the floor and she heard thuds and a crash like something or someone falling over.
Then the King begged, “Please, don’t.” She heard a grunt like someone was punched or kicked in the gut and then the King yelled, “Oh God. No.”
Then nothing, complete silence, so Moxie peeked around the wall. She saw the King lying in a heap on the ground and a dark figure at the back wall about to open the door. Before she could duck back behind the partition, the figure turned and stared through her with piercing green eyes. The figure paused. Had he seen her? Was he coming to get her? Moxie didn’t dare to look. She grabbed the lute, holding the body of the instrument to use the tuning pegs as deadly weapons. Just as she was sure the figure would be upon her, she saw Nettles.
“Lady Sharpe, what doest thou?” he said.
Moxie screamed and almost impaled him, but caught herself and put down the lute. She peeked around the corner. No one was there, except the motionless king.
Nettles followed her gaze. “What’s going on in here? Is that King Terrence?”
Nettles hurried forward and checked for a pulse. “Oh the realm is lost. The king is dead.”
“Really Nettles? This is real life. Could you stop?”
Nettles turned sharply. His green eyes bore into her like daggers. “Moxie what have you done?” he said.