KNIGHTS OF THE KIDS’ TABLE: Chapters 4, 5, and 6

knights


Chapter 4

 

Bruce had a Top Ten List. Top ten feasts, that is. Rankings were made using a system that Bruce had devised himself. First, each feast was rigorously analyzed based on a number of factors, including the variety of selection, the size of the portions, the availability of seconds, the type and quality of entertainment, and the mood and behavior of the servers and guests. Once a decision was reached regarding the greatness of a particular feast, it was compared to all the other great feasts that Bruce had been lucky enough to attend. And though it sometimes took him days of agonizing decision-making, sooner or later Bruce always slotted a new list-worthy feast into his rankings, waving a bittersweet goodbye to the not-quite-as-great – but still pretty darn excellent – meal that had previously occupied the Number 10 spot.

It was within two seconds of stepping into the dining hall that evening that Bruce realized he was looking at his new Number 1. Because this feast – it was spectacular. He stopped just past the doorway and stared in astonishment at the tables upon tables overflowing with food.

There were platters piled high with every kind of meat imaginable, plus what appeared to be three of four whole farms’ worth of vegetables. There was cheese galore, enough loaves of bread to fortify a village, and countless cakes covered in spices and seeds and doused in delicious, sticky syrups. Bruce wouldn’t let himself get too good a look the cakes, though, fearing he might faint and not get to enjoy a single bite of anything.

Gehry and Kinsmere were equally stunned by the extravagance of the feast. But there was a hint of nervousness to their expressions as well. It was as if the boys could somehow sense the momentous purpose behind the gathering.

Kinsmere was the first of the boys to find his voice. “I guess we should . . . eat,” he said.

Once they had each piled their plates with some of everything, the boys crossed the hall to the far corner, to the so-called kids’ table. That was where the sons of knights – the knights-to-be – sat. At some point, every knight-to-be was sent off from the castle in search of adventure. If, during his travels, the boy performed great deeds and behaved valiantly, he would be properly knighted upon his return, and could then move his seat twenty feet to the side and eat his meals along with all the other adults.

But for Gehry and Kinsmere and Bruce, that day was a long ways away. The boys were many years younger than all the previous knights-to-be had been when they had embarked on their first adventures. For now all the boys had to worry about was showing up to their lessons and attending feasts – a pair of tasks that Bruce, for one, found plenty fulfilling.

Hey.” It was Kinsmere, who had glanced at Bruce just as the boy was preparing his first forkful – a carefully crafted, delicately balanced tower of beef, broccoli, and brown, grain-busy bread.

“What?” Bruce asked.

“You know what,” Kinsmere said. “A knight’s not supposed to start eating before the king’s delivered his address.”

“That’s true,” said Bruce. “And since I just so happen to not be a knight . . . ” He brought his attention back to his fork.
But Kinsmere wouldn’t leave him be. He reached across the table and snatched the fork right out of Bruce’s hands, the beef and bread and broccoli dropping, untasted, to the floor.

“You’ve got a long way to go if you ever want to be a knight,” Kinsmere said. “No harm in getting a head-start.”

Bruce glared at his friend. “I could say the same to you. You – you – you fork-snatcher.”

Kinsmere laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Bruce said. “If it’s un-knightly to have a bite to eat before the king’s given his address, then stealing another knight’s fork has got to be un-knightly, too.”

“Lucky for me,” Kinsmere said with a grin, “you just so happen not to be a knight.”

Bruce’s face twisted up with frustration and fury. “Give it back,” he demanded.

Kinsmere gave a single shake of his head.

“Give it.”

“No way, ogre-nose.”

Bruce pounded a fist down onto the table. Then, keeping his eyes locked on Kinsmere – if he didn’t, he knew he might lose his plate, too – he appealed to Gehry. “Gehry,” he said. “Make him give me my fork back.”

Bruce got no answer, and so he tried again. “Gehry,” he whined. “Gehry, please.”

Again Bruce got no answer, and this time, desperate, he turned to face his friend, risking the loss of the lemon poppy seed cake that he knew for a fact was one of Kinsmere’s favorites. “Geh – ” he began. But he made it no further. He went quiet as soon as he saw the strange, blank look on his friend’s face.

“Gehry?” he said.

Kinsmere, hand poised over Bruce’s lemon poppy seed cake, froze when he heard the sudden shift in the boy’s voice. It had gone from sounding whiny to sounding concerned, even scared. He looked across the table at Bruce, then turned toward Gehry.

“Hey,” he said. “Gehry. What are you looking at?”

It took the boy a moment to answer. And when he finally did, he spoke too softly to be heard. He barely even moved his lips.

“Huh?” Bruce said as he and Kinsmere began to look around the hall.

At that point, however, there was no need for Gehry to repeat himself. Because no matter where the boys looked – at the king and queen up front in the seats of honor, at the adults along the hall’s other couple dozen tables, even over at the servers stationed near the heaps of food – every pair of eyes stared right back at them.

 

Chapter 5

 

The feast-bell clanged, and clanged, and clanged again. By the end of the third clang, every knight, lady, damsel, and dog in the dining hall had made it to their seat.

And as soon as his guests had quieted down, King Beribahn got to his feet. He was a tall man, and strong even in his older years. His beard had gone gray around the mouth, but otherwise his hair was as dark and red as it had been in his adventuring days. Back then, rogues of every kind spoke in frightened tones of the “flame-headed knight.” If he came knocking at your door, they would say, you knew your days of lawlessness were through.

The king reached for his cup, raised it high above his head, and shouted, “To the Realm!” After which he attempted to drink his wine as fast as humanly possible. In the Realm, this was a nearly sacred tradition, and though a fair amount of the purplish liquid ended up dripping into the king’s beard and onto his shirt, no one batted an eye. Spilling all over oneself had always been an important part of the tradition, too.

Having guzzled and spilled expertly, King Beribahn set his empty cup back down on the table. There was a smattering of applause, which the king patiently endured. Only once he had complete and utter silence did he throw his arms out to his sides and let loose a king-sized belch. It caused the crowd to leap to their feet. They cheered madly, and everyone who was able to sent belches of their own wafting back at their beloved ruler.

The king watched all this with a big, bright smile. But shortly after his gassy subjects had settled back down into their seats, that brightness vanished. The king’s expression turned solemn and dark. He strode back and forth across the front of the hall, his eyes aimed down at the toes of his boots.

“Friends of the Realm,” he said at last, glancing out at the crowd but continuing his pacing. “I address you this evening as your king – Beribahn, eldest son of Galaghand and Handelhar, who was daughter of Baghagelbisn, overseer of the Great Siege of Curnaffleflaffer and son to the one and only Todd, brother of Ferghelwergel, otherwise known as the Giant Slayer, and also sometimes Fungi Foot, who led the uprising at Yarlamik, and once met Penlaghel, also known as the Crazed King, at a party.”

The king paused by his seat to have a drink of water. Then he got back to pacing, and back to speaking, too.

“Many of you – no, no – I dare say most of you know the reason why I’ve called this feast.”

Gehry, Kinsmere, and Bruce peered around the hall. Every head was nodding. It was clear that the boys were the only ones in the place who had no clue what was going on.

“The Realm,” the king said, “has seen happier days than these. Days when the few foes we had were cowardly, weak, and easily done away with, if not simply ignored. Those times, I am sad to say, have passed. We have lately seen a surge in violence, in brutal, treacherous acts committed by rogue knights who have established themselves along the fringes of the Realm.

“It is therefore more important than ever for us to remain strong and true, and to reinforce the ties that bind us to one another and to the Realm at large. For it is not just our lives, but our way of life – our culture and beliefs, our values, our understanding of right and wrong and good and evil – that is at risk.

“These past few months, we have been more vigilant and vigorous than ever, not merely defending ourselves from active threats but venturing forth to prevent such threats from materializing in the first place. We have had many successes. Great deeds have been done, and glorious adventures have been had.

“I remind you of this so that I can thank you, every single one of you, for your service to the Realm. For whether or not you’re one of those who has ridden out from the castle, I assure you, you have played a part in defending the Realm. Without the help of each of you, of all of you, we would not be – and could not in the future remain – who we are today.

“But I have gathered you here for another reason, as well. I have gathered you, friends, in order to make an announcement. An historic announcement, no doubt, and one that – for reasons both personal and professional – deserves a celebration unmatched in the great and glorious annals of the Realm.”

The king paused for another sip of water. This time, however, he didn’t immediately return to his speech. He held onto the cup, and gazed down into its depths with a dreamy, faraway look in his eyes. Around him, the hall was silent. You could hear the rumbling of empty stomachs, the hopping of fleas on the backs of the dogs. And the air – it felt as taut as a harp string. Move a muscle, or even think too hard about moving one, and you would make it sing.

“We need more men,” the king said at last. He set his cup down firmly and turned to face the crowd, his expression once again solemn and dark. “That’s what this all comes down to. We need more men. I can say it no simpler than that. But a simple thing it is not. To become a man, a knight both brave and true, is no easy task. It can take years. It can take a lifetime’s worth of grueling effort. It is a labor of love – of love, first and foremost, for the Realm – but it would be foolish to assume that it is therefore a purely joyous and pleasant experience. It is not. But we need them. More men. We need them desperately.

“All of which is to say that I, King Beribahn, with my fellow knights among me, have decided to break precedent in these unprecedented times, and send forth – ” The king had to pause to clear something from his throat. “ – and send forth our youngest, dearest, our most-cherished boys, our knights-to-be, to seek adventure and overcome whatever obstacles they may encounter, and to one day return to this castle worthy of being knighted, of sitting here among us as those same brave defenders of the Realm that we so desperately need.”

Chairs scraped back against the floor as every guest – except, of course, for the boys – jumped to their feet. The crowd cheered and hollered and roared, then reached for their cups and guzzled their contents as quickly as they could. Men drenched their beards and soaked their shirts, ladies stained their dresses and ruined their jewelry, and all of this in the name of honoring Gehry, Kinsmere, and Bruce. Thoroughly soiled, the adults turned to the boys and conveyed their love and appreciation along with their belches and burps.

It wasn’t long after this that the king threw his royal cup up into the air. The cup was made of fire-hardened clay, and had been intricately and exquisitely decorated by one of the Realm’s finest artisans. Throwing it, the king made sure it soared high. It hung there a moment, frozen beneath a heavy wooden ceiling beam. Then the cup came tumbling down. The instant it hit the floor and burst into pieces, the band in the corner broke into song. Somewhere, an artisan wept. But the feast had officially begun.

Over at the kids’ table, the boys sat in silence. Not one of them had been expecting the king’s announcement, of course. But their reactions to the news couldn’t have been more different.

Kinsmere was thrilled. Grinning, baring every one of his teeth, his cheeks were as red as a pair of raspberry-rubbed rubies.

Gehry was solemn. His expression, in fact, wasn’t all that unlike the one his father had worn while delivering his address. The boy’s heart beat rapidly, but inside, he felt cool and supremely focused. It was how he felt sometimes during his lessons, if he was asked to recite a particularly long passage or answer a complicated question.

Bruce, meanwhile, was panicking. He scanned the hall frantically, his eyes bouncing from face to face, desperate to find the one that would assure him this was all an elaborate gag, a joke of King Beribahn’s.

There was, however, no one to do so.

Kinsmere reached across the table and set Bruce’s fork down beside his plate. “Eat up,” he told his friend. “This’ll probably be your last feast for a long time.”

Bruce looked down at the plate he had so ambitiously heaped with meats and veggies and cheeses and breads. He looked at that delicious lemon poppy seed cake, at its creamy, yellow, black-freckled skin. But for the first time in his life, Bruce didn’t feel the least bit hungry.

 

Chapter 6

 

King Beribahn let his guests eat, drink, and belch in each other’s faces for a full hour, at which point he rose to make another announcement. This one was brief. It was merely to inform the boys that it was time to confer with their fathers, something that all knights-to-be did the night before setting out on their quests. And so the boys abandoned the kids’ table, each of them heading off in a different direction.

Gehry, of course, headed for the front of the hall. On his way, several guests clapped him on the back or stuck a hand out for a shake. One very old man even grabbed Gehry by the shoulders and, leaning in close, said he knew that one day the boy would make a king as great as his father, and then belched repeatedly in Gehry’s face. And though Gehry knew that this should have been among the proudest moments of his life, the old man’s words and burps barely moved him. The boy remained solemn and serious. He still felt focused – though on what, exactly, he wasn’t sure.

He continued toward his parents, pausing finally a few feet in front of their seats. There, just as he had learned to do in his lessons, Gehry bowed low to the ground. He remained in the bent position for several seconds, and when he looked back up, the queen waved him forward.

Gehry went, but he didn’t greet his mother with a hug, as he would have done that morning, or even just an hour before. Instead he took the queen’s fingers lightly in his own and placed a gentle kiss atop her knuckles. It was as if the boy were a knight already.

The boy’s show of manners pleased the king. He beamed at Gehry, his one and only child, smiling wide enough for the whole hall to see the tooth he had lost years ago, as a young man, while wrestling Urgurgle the Ogre. (The ogre had also lost a tooth, in addition to his life.)

“There’s not much we have to say to you,” King Beribahn told Gehry. “We know you’ll do well out there. We know you’ll make us, and the Realm itself, as proud as we could ever hope to be.”

Gehry bowed again, dipping even lower than last time and holding the pose for an extra couple seconds.

Nearby, Kinsmere had just reached Sir Colton’s seat. For a full minute, no words passed between father and son. Sir Colton simply studied Kinsmere. He narrowed his eyes and moved them methodically over the boy’s face, back and forth and up and down as if looking there for something he had lost long ago.

Finally Sir Colton said, “If you’re half the man I was at your age, you’ll be fine.” He reached for his cup. He drank long and slow, his eyes searching his son’s face once more from over the rim. “Don’t be cocky,” he continued, returning the cup to the table. “Don’t be foolish. And don’t do anything to make me regret agreeing to send you out there in the first place.”

“Yes, sir,” Kinsmere said. “I aim to make you proud, sir.”

Sir Colton gave his son a curt nod and, without another word, turned back to the knights and ladies seated at his table. He laughed at a joke someone had just finished telling. Apparently, the father-son conference was over already.

Kinsmere headed back to the kids’ table. On the way, he passed by Bruce, who was still looking for his own father.

“How was it?” Bruce asked him.

“Good,” Kinsmere said. He smiled, too. “Great, actually. Really, really . . . great.”

Bruce was too anxious to notice how unconvincing his friend sounded, too distracted to see how fake the boy’s smile was. He gave Kinsmere a nod, then scanned the crowd again for his father. Spotting him, he said, “Well, wish me luck.”

Kinsmere did. “You’ll do fine,” he said, and patted Bruce on the back as the boy took off.

For that, Bruce was grateful. But the small burst of confidence given to him by his friend faded within a few steps. Bruce began to sweat, and sweat how he always did, which was profusely. His forehead and armpits, his back and thighs and knees and chest and feet – his entire body, essentially, went from being bone dry to sopping wet in a matter of seconds.

Sir Brent sighed when he saw his son. “I already spoke to your mother,” he told Bruce. “She knows not to expect you home again.”

“Not to – to – ” Bruce stammered.

Please,” Sir Brent hissed. “There’s no need to make a scene. You and I both know you won’t make it more than a fortnight out there. And that’s if you’re smart, and let your friends do the heavy lifting.”

“Yes, sir. I – ”

“And I mean that both figuratively and literally. Don’t try and carry anything too heavy. Let your friends do it, or put your things on your horse and walk alongside her. You hurt your back and you’re done for. A rogue knight’ll smell you from a mile away, and pick you off faster than you can say ‘cake.’”

“Yes, sir. I – of course I – ”

“Now go wipe yourself down,” Sir Brent said, turning from his son. “People are starting to stare.”

“Yes, sir,” Bruce said. “Sorry, sir. I . . . sorry.”

With that, he went. He returned to the kids’ table, where Gehry and Kinsmere were waiting for him. Neither of them asked Bruce how the conference had gone. They didn’t need to. The pain and shame were plainly visible on the boy’s face.

______

Text copyright © 2020 by Jarrett Lerner

All right reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

KNIGHTS OF THE KIDS’ TABLE: Chapters 1, 2, and 3

knights

PART I: A Feast to End All Feasts

 

Chapter 1

 

The boys were bored.

From the grassy slope atop which they sat, they had a clear view of the nearby castle. That was where the boys were looking, and each of them looked for reasons of his own.

Gehry’s eyes were aimed at the castle’s upper corner, where the library was located. But the castle’s library was no ordinary sort of book-having place. The high-ceilinged room held the largest collection of books, manuscripts, and important papers in all of the Realm.

If only I could go in there, Gehry thought. I could pluck any book off the shelf, and sit there all day and read and read and read . . .

Kinsmere sat next to Gehry, and he had his sights trained on the castle’s lower floor – on the windows, to be precise, behind which the Realm’s youngest knights took up dulled swords and practiced their combat. It happened to be a quiet, breezy day, and even from way up at the top of the slope, the gorgeous sounds leaping out of that room could now and again be heard. There were the slices and clanks of blades striking blades, plus the rattle and clatter of armor being put on and taken off, then put on again for another round of mock combat.

If only I could go in there, Kinsmere thought. I could show them a thing or two about swordsmanship . . .

Bruce, the last of the trio, sat beside Kinsmere, and his gaze was fixed on a row of small holes at the very bottom of the castle’s outer wall. Most people would never – and had never – noticed these tiny apertures. But Bruce had long ago learned that the little, dinner roll-sized gaps led directly into the kitchen. They were vents, those holes, there to let out heat and steam so the cooks and servers didn’t faint away while preparing a feast. But the vents also let out smells. Magnificent, mouthwatering smells. The best smells in all the Realm. Smells of fried meat and boiled vegetables, of spiced cakes and seeded bread and, occasionally, a new dish, too, a strange, recently discovered flavor or combination of tastes that the chefs – not to mention a hungry boy for whom the castle’s kitchen was off limits – had never before dreamed of. Bruce opened his nostrils wide and tried to catch a whiff.

If only I could go in there, he thought. I could eat and eat and eat until my stomach burst . . .

A breeze blew by.

Bruce opened his nostrils even more.

Kinsmere turned his head to try and hear those slices and rattles and clanks.

And Gehry closed his eyes. He called to mind a passage from the book the boys had studied during their last lesson. It was the tale of a famous knight-to-be. Remembering the words, turning them over in his head, Gehry swapped the young man out for himself. And there he was – Gehry, seated atop a magnificent horse, the animal’s coat the pure, perfect white of a field of fresh snow. They rode hard, him and the horse, the wind whipping up off the land and crashing across Gehry’s face as he galloped away from the castle, out into the further reaches of the Realm, to find his very first adventure.

 

Chapter 2

 

I know,” Kinsmere said.

Gehry and Bruce both looked over. They watched their friend pluck a small stone from the ground. Rubbing the dirt off its ragged surface, Kinsmere tossed the stone into the air. He let it drift and hang for a moment, then snatched it up again.

“Let’s see who can hit the tree,” he said, pointing to the lone oak that sat on the opposite side of the slope-top. “Bet you I can do it three in a row.”

Gehry got to his feet.

Bruce stayed seated. “Thanks but no thanks,” he said. “Think I’ll just sit.”

“Of course you will,” Kinsmere said.

Bruce frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” Kinsmere said, “that you know you don’t have a shot against me, so there’s no use even trying.”

Bruce considered this. He knew what Kinsmere was doing, that he was only teasing him in order to try and lure him into playing the game. And Bruce knew, too, that as a knight-to-be, he was not supposed to turn down any kind of challenge, nor let any insult to his character go unanswered.

But he was so comfortable, sitting there with his backside planted in the soft, sun-warmed grass. Besides, he was hungry. And while he was handling his hunger well enough sitting down, if he stood up and started throwing stones and getting all sweaty? Well, that would surely get his stomach roaring and growling.

So Bruce shrugged his shoulders and, shimmying to one side, planted his backside a bit more firmly in the grass.

Gehry, meanwhile, had already gathered an armload of good-sized throwing stones. He carried them over to where Kinsmere was standing and piled them at his friend’s feet.

“I guess I’ll let you go first,” Kinsmere said, tossing his stone up and snatching it out of the air again.

Gehry took his time picking a stone from the pile. Once he had found the perfect one, he spent a moment bouncing it around in his hand. He rubbed his thumb over the stone’s smooth parts, flicked a fingernail on its rough edges. Finally, squeezing it hard against his palm, he reached back and sent the thing flying.

The stone sailed straight, and struck the tree in the very center of its trunk.

“Ha!”

This wasn’t the sound of Gehry celebrating. It was Bruce. He threw his head back and laughed up at the sky.

When he looked back down, he found Kinsmere glaring at him. Bruce flinched, thinking his friend might throw a stone at him.

Instead Kinsmere spun around and, without more than half a second’s preparation, hurled his stone into the distance. It was a good throw, and though it didn’t hit the very center of the tree’s trunk, it came close.

“One to one,” Kinsmere said.

Gehry went next, and nailed the tree.

Kinsmere did, too.

But on their third turns, both boys missed their target. Which meant, of course, that the contest started over again.

It dragged on like this for some time. One of the boys might hit the tree twice in a row, but never three. They were constantly starting over, and several times had to run over to the tree to fetch their stones.

All the while, Bruce stayed put and kept quiet. But as his friends were coming back from gathering their stones for a fifth time, he said, “You think something’s wrong over there?”

“Over where?” asked Gehry.

“The castle,” Bruce said.

Gehry and Kinsmere both turned toward the castle. It looked fine. The same as ever.

So Kinsmere said, “No.”

Gehry asked, “Why?”

“It just seems . . . ” said Bruce. “Well, shouldn’t they have called the feast by now?”

Gehry chuckled.

Kinsmere shook his head. “Is all you ever think about feasts and feasting?”

Bruce considered the question seriously. At last he said, “No. I also think about naps. Naps I like almost as much as feasting.”

Gehry laughed harder.

Kinsmere said, “With an attitude like that, you’ll never become a knight.” He shook his head again. “Think about how fun that would be. Bruce Richards, ninety-year-old knight-to-be.”

Bruce thought about what such a life would be like. He imagined a single day as a ninety-year-old knight-to-be. He would wake up, make his way to the dining hall, and have himself a nice, long, leisurely breakfast. Then, seeing as he would be exhausted from all that eating, he would go back to bed. He would get up from his post-breakfast nap in time for lunch, of course, after which he would go out to the slope to sit a bit, and maybe snooze, before dinner.

These thoughts brought a dreamy smile to Bruce’s lips. “Sounds lovely,” he said.

Kinsmere whirled around and chucked a stone. He watched it smack the trunk of the tree before turning back to Bruce. “Sounds terrible.”

Gehry threw, and hit the tree, too.

Kinsmere nodded, acknowledging the nice toss. Then he wound up, threw, and knocked the tree so hard he broke off a chuck of bark. It landed in the grass several feet away, and left a bare, whitish-brown spot on the trunk.

“Whoa,” Gehry said. “Good one.”

Kinsmere accepted the compliment with a little bow. “That’s two for me,” he said.

Gehry threw, but his stone went wide.

Kinsmere grinned. He picked a stone from the pile at his feet and then tossed it up a few times, getting a feel for its weight and shape.

“Prepared to lose?” he asked Gehry.

Gehry grinned back at his friend. “First,” he said, “you’ve got to win.”

Behind them, Bruce clapped and laughed. He was enjoying himself immensely.

All of a sudden, as if he had been whacked by the wand of a wizard, Kinsmere’s grin disappeared. It was replaced by a look of fierce determination. He narrowed his eyes and glared at his target as he rolled the stone around in his fingers, searching for the perfect grip. He found it at last, and pulling his arm back – was startled by the ringing of the feast-bell.

The stone flew high and wide. It missed the tree by a dozen feet in either direction.

Bruce laughed so hard he toppled backwards and rolled several feet down the slope.

Kinsmere hurried after him, and crouching down low, shoved his friend a few feet further.

“Stop it!” he shouted at Bruce. “That one doesn’t count!”

But Bruce couldn’t have kept the laughter from coming had he tried. Which he didn’t.

Gehry came down the slope after his friends. When he reached Kinsmere, he clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry,” he told him. “We’ll play again tomorrow. And anyway, you had the nicest throw. That one that tore the bark off the tree? Amazing. Never seen anything like it.”

Kinsmere’s scowl softened, but only slightly. He was still upset. He hurried down the slope to where Bruce lay, still laughing, and gave the boy another push. He did it again, and then again, his mood improving considerably each time.

 

Chapter 3

 

Thanks in large part to the scent of fried meat that had begun to pour out of the castle’s kitchen, Bruce finally managed to get his laughter under control. Kinsmere, by way of apologizing for all the pushing and rolling, helped pull his friend up onto his feet. Along with Gehry, the boys headed toward the castle.

On the way, Bruce said, “What do you think it’s all about anyway?”

The feast had been announced a few days earlier, despite the fact that there were no holidays on the horizon. The day of the announcement, the boys had spent a solid hour speculating about what the feast might be in honor of. But even with all three of them thinking their hardest, they hadn’t been able to come up with a satisfying answer.

Now, Kinsmere grinned over at his friend. “You’re not complaining about a feast, Bruce, are you?”

“Course not,” Bruce said. “The king could hold a feast every evening and I’d only think him all the greater.” He turned to Gehry. “Speaking of – maybe you could put a word in with your dad, hmm?”

“Give me your dessert tonight,” Gehry said, “and I’ll think about it.”

“Bruce Richards give up his dessert?” Kinsmere said. “Gehry, I’m pretty sure the sister moons’ll rise before we see a thing like that.”

Bruce ignored the comment. “I’m serious,” he told his friends. “What do you think it’s for?”

Gehry shrugged.

Kinsmere said, “Maybe there’s going to be a tournament.”

The boys considered the suggestion. It wasn’t a bad one. There hadn’t been a tournament in some time, and if the king was planning on hosting another before the end of the year, it would be wise to do so soon, before the season changed and the cold weather blew in.

“Or maybe,” Bruce said, “it’s for a marriage.”

“A marriage?” Kinsmere said. “Whose?”

“I don’t know,” said Bruce. “Maybe the queen found a bride for Gehry here.”

“No way,” Gehry said. “Mom and Dad would tell me that before they told the whole Realm.”

The boys fell silent as they reached the bottom of the slope. There, the smells of the feast were so strong and alluring that even Gehry and Kinsmere tipped their heads back and breathed in deep. Flame-charred meats and roasted root vegetables, sugar-crammed cakes, giant loaves of steaming bread, and hundred-pound blocks of cheese – the boys sucked the scents up greedily, their stomachs growling like a gang of double-crossed trolls.

By the time they made it to the castle’s front gate, the boys were so eager to stuff their faces that they forgot all about the question of what the feast was for. They never could have guessed that the formal meal and all-night celebration was, in fact, being held in honor of them. The announcement that the king planned to make would forever alter the course of the boys’ lives.

______

Text copyright © 2020 by Jarrett Lerner

All right reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

New Activities and KNIGHTS

In the past couple weeks, the world has been turned upside down. The coronavirus pandemic has ground pretty much all our lives to a halt. As of this morning, a third of the population of the United States was told to stay in their homes and only leave in the case of an emergency, and the same is true for countries and communities all over the world. The schooling of hundreds of millions of children was put on hold, and is now being conducted virtually or being done by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, or neighbors.

Thinking about those kids — especially those who may not have access to the sorts of resources that their schools, teachers, and librarians would usually provide them with — I ramped up production of my free activity sheets. I’ve been posting a brand new batch of them every morning for the past week or so, and plan to continue doing so for as long as I can. You can find all those sheets be clicking the ACTIVITIES tab up in the menu bar, or by clicking here.

And now, starting Monday, I will be doing something else — something to help out any kids who want or need access to more reading materials. I will be releasing one of my unpublished novels, Knights of the Kids’ Table. I plan to post a few chapters every Monday and Thursday morning, and then archive the posts on a new page at this site (you’ll be able to find a link to that page up in the menu bar as soon as it’s ready). It’ll probably take a couple months to get the end of the book.

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I am far from the only children’s book maker who is sharing resources at this time. Here are just a few of the lists going around sharing more of the wonderful stuff being shared by members of the kid lit community: Today.com’s “How to homeschool during the coronavirus crisis with free resources”; Fast Company’s “Stuck at home? Take free drawing classes from famous illustrators”; and We Are Teachers’ “The Big List of Children’s Authors Doing Online Read Alouds & Activities”.

Get to Know… James Ponti!

Screen Shot 2020-03-05 at 10.25.51 AM.pngMy name is… James Ponti. Always James, never Jim or Jimmy. My mother insisted on this when I was little and it stuck, although there have actually been three exceptions. One was Father Heslin, the priest I was named after. One was Abraham Polonsky, a blacklisted film director who taught at my college. I was his teaching assistant and he called me Jimmy and I was cool with that. And there’s David Feherty, the golf commentator and television personality. I produce his tv show and he calls me Jimmy. I think it’s an Irish thing like it was for the priest. I was born in Italy and the thinking was to have one English and one Italian name. They went with James Marco instead of Giacomo Marcus (which would have been the reverse.) I don’t know if I could’ve pulled it off as a kid, but Giacomo works now. So you can call me that if you’re daring.

I am… an upbeat and optimistic person. I think this has been essential throughout my life. There have been a lot of setbacks and some real heartbreak, but I’ve always felt really fortunate to have the life that I do. I’ve been surrounded by amazing loving people who believe in me and no matter what’s going on. I always feel like there are great things on the horizon.

As a kid, I was… a terrible reader. I really struggled with it. In my first grade classroom we had poster with all of our names on it and every time you finished reading something you got a star to put by your name. I only got one star all year and I was so embarrassed. I almost never read for pleasure and now try to write books that I think would’ve engaged me when I was younger.

Writing is… so much fun. I’ve always loved it. I decided to become a writer when I was in Mr. Prothro’s fifth grade English class and I have literally never wanted to be anything else. It’s been great and introduced me to amazing people. It’s taken me all over the US and to nearly a dozen countries. What I love about it most is that it’s universal. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s story is unique to them. It doesn’t take money or special equipment. Just your imagination and some paper. (Oh, and something to write with. But that’s all.)

Reading is… something I’ve grown to love. Although, it’s a bit of a luxury. I have so many deadlines and while I love reading, it’s still not a very fast process for me. I’ve always joked that I could write a book faster than I can read one. My favorite books are mysteries as well as books by friends like JARRETT LERNER!!!!

Books are… passports. They take you everywhere real and imagined. But most of all, they connect us. I love the fact that I can write a book all alone in my office in Florida and some kid in Minnesota who I’ll never meet can pick it up and read it and connect with me. It’s a two way street for writer and reader. And when you read a book you complete that connection. And when you recognize yourself in the manuscript both you and the writer are elevated.

 

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You can find James’s newest book, CITY SPIES, shelved between “Patterson” and “Rowling” starting TODAY!

Did you know… I worked for a long time writing scripts for shows on Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and PBS. I actually wrote on the Mickey Mouse Club when the mouseketeers included Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera. They were just kids I saw and talked to every day and it’s crazy to see them as superstars. One of the shows I wrote for PBS was Clifford’s Puppy Days and that was a lot of fun too.

 

You can find me… hanging out with my family, going to the movies, traveling to some interesting location or at my desk writing. As for my books, you can find them almost everywhere books are shelved. I have a trick to find them quickly when I enter a bookstore by looking for the huge James Patterson and JK Rowling sections. I’m alphabetized right between them!

 

Draw the Author Contest!

JL author photo.JPGIf you’ve read EngiNerds or Revenge of the EngiNerds, you might recognize the drawing to the left. It’s my “author photo” — a self-portrait I did several years ago. I’d been planning to do a new drawing of myself for the author photo of my new Geeger the Robot series, but before I even got around to sit down and do it, I got an idea… Why not have a kid do the drawing? Why not hold a little contest and give one young artist the chance to have their work and name published in a “real” book?

Geeger the Robot_LERNER copyKids are always giving and sending me their drawings and comics, and I love being able to give them feedback, praise, support, and encouragement — it’s one of the coolest parts of being a creator of books for kids. As a kid, I would’ve LOVED to be able to share my drawings and comics with my favorite creators. And to have had an opportunity to maybe even get my work in one of their books?! The mere possibility would’ve blown my mind. I’m hoping that this contest, in addition to giving one kid an exciting prize, will fire up all the other kids who enter, and, further, help show them that their creative lives are valued by the creators who are making books for them.

And so, I am hereby CALLING ALL YOUNG ARTISTS BETWEEN THE AGES OF 5 AND 12! If you would like to enter this Draw the Author contest for a chance to have your artwork appear in Jarrett Lerner’s upcoming book, Geeger the Robot Goes To School, first talk to your parent or legal guardian to make sure you have their approval, then take a look at the reference pictures of me, make your portrait, and follow the submission directions below!

REFERENCE PHOTOS:

SUBMISSION DIRECTIONS:

First, please read the Official Information and Rules below. Then, once you have completed your portrait, follow these steps:

(1) copy and paste the Submission Form (below, in bold) into a blank email

(2) fill out ALL of the requested information

(3) attach your portrait of Jarrett Lerner to the email (if possible, please save the image as a .jpg or .pdf file)

and

(4) send the email to DrawTheAuthorContest@gmail.com

 

SUBMISSION FORM

Name of Artist:

Age of Artist:

School Grade of Artist:

Location of Artist (State, or Town/City and State):

Name of Artist’s Parent or Legal Guardian:

Email address of Artist’s Parent or Legal Guardian:

Additional Comments (optional):

By submitting this information and artwork, we, the above-named Artist and the above-named Artist’s parent or legal guardian, acknowledge that we have read and understand this Contest’s Official Rules.

 

(IMPORTANT: Please make sure to include the acknowledgement statement above in your submission!)


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OFFICIAL RULES AND INFORMATION:

CONTEST

Jarrett Lerner (the “Author”) needs a new author portrait for his upcoming book, Geeger the Robot Goes to School (publishing August 25, 2020, from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin Quix). Rather than create the portrait himself, Jarrett would like to give one young artist the opportunity to have their artwork (and name) published in the book. Please read all of the information below to find out more about the contest.

THE PRIZE

One (1) winner will have their portrait of the author published in Geeger the Robot Goes to School.

HOW THE WINNER WILL BE CHOSEN (CRITERIA)

All entries will be judged by Jarrett Lerner (the “Author”) according to the following criteria:

40% — likeness to author
35% — originality
25% — artistic merit

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

To enter the Contest, follow these steps: (1) copy and paste the Submission Form that is shared above the Official Information and Rules into a blank email, (2) fill out ALL of the requested information, (3) attach your portrait of Jarrett Lerner to the email, and (4) send the email to DrawTheAuthorContest@gmail.com. Art can be done with any materials the artist wishes/prefers to use (pencil, pen, marker, crayon, paint, collage, digital methods, etc.). Art can be any size, but please note that the Contest Winner’s portrait will need to be scaled down to fit into the book.

IMPORTANT: Please read these rules (the “Official Rules”) before entering this contest (the “Contest”). Participation in the Contest constitutes entrant’s full and unconditional agreement and acceptance of these Official Rules and the decisions of the contest sponsor (the “Author”), which are final and binding. Winning the prize is contingent upon being compliant with these Official Rules and fulfilling all other requirements set forth herein. NO PURCHASE OR PAYMENT OF ANY KIND IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN THIS CONTEST.

OFFICIAL RULES

The Contest is open to legal residents of the fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia who are between the ages of five (5) and twelve (12) at the time of entry and who have approval of their parent or legal guardian. The Contest is subject to federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Participation in the Contest constitutes entrant’s full and unconditional agreement and acceptance of these Official Rules and the decisions of the Author, which are final and binding. Winning the prize is contingent upon being compliant with these Official Rules and fulfilling all other requirements set forth herein.

The Contest begins on Tuesday, February 25, 2020 at 7:00 am Eastern Standard Time and ends on Tuesday, March 17 at 7:00 am Eastern Standard Time (the “Contest Period”). Submissions that are made before or after the Contest Period will be disqualified. Only those submissions made by the proper method and completed in full will be eligible for consideration for the duration of the Contest Period. Author will not be responsible for and will not consider incomplete or incorrect submissions. Author is not responsible for submissions that are sent to but not received by Author for any reason.

The Contest Winner and their Parent or Legal Guardian will be notified by email using the email address provided to Author when they initially entered the contest. If the Contest Winner and their Parent or Legal Guardian do not respond to the notification within five (5) business days, another winner will be chosen. Failure to respond within the time frame listed above shall mean that the provisional winner forfeits the prize.

Only one submission per artist will be considered for contest entry.

By making a submission to Author, you represent and warrant that the submission is the sole and exclusive work of the named Artist. By making a submission to Author, you also represent and warrant that the submission does not infringe on any copyright, trademark, property rights, rights of privacy or publicity of any person, or any other right of any third party and that you have the full and unrestricted right to transfer the artwork to Author free and clear of any claims or encumbrances. You also acknowledge and agree that Author shall have no obligation to post, display, or otherwise make publicly available any artwork that you submit.

Contest Winner and their Parent or Legal Guardian may not request substitutions of prize winnings.

Neither Author nor their officers, directors, employees, agents, successors, or assigns shall be liable for any warranty, costs, damage, injury, or any other claims incurred as a result of any submission. Author is not liable for any loss arising out of or in connection with any submission. Entrants assume all liability for and risk of any injury or damage caused, or claimed to be caused, by participation in Contest or use or redemption of prize.

If the specified prize becomes unavailable for any reason, Author in their sole and absolute discretion may substitute a prize.

Contest is null and void in any jurisdiction where it is prohibited by law.

Author reserves the right in their sole and absolute discretion to terminate Contest at any time without prior notice.

Author reserves the right in their sole and absolute discretion to alter Contest rules at any time.

By entering this Contest, you conclusively are deemed to have agreed to be bound by these contest rules and terms and conditions. This is an irrevocable condition of entry.

Contest Winner will be chosen by Author on the merits of their entry, in Author’s sole and absolute discretion (see CRITERIA above for more information).

No purchase or payment of any consideration is necessary to enter the Contest.

Author reserves the right to condition the award of prize upon the execution by the Contest Winner and their Parent or Legal Guardian of a publicity release.

Author reserves the right to require the Contest Winner and their Parent or Legal Guardian to execute an affidavit of eligibility as a sworn document and provide other proof of eligibility as a condition of receipt of the prize or award.

GEEGER THE ROBOT GOES TO SCHOOL — Now Available for Preorder!

Geeger the Robot_LERNER copyThe first book in my Geeger the Robot early reader series doesn’t come out for another six months, but just last week, both the hardcover and paperback editions (they’re releasing simultaneously) became available for preorder. Preordering is a GREAT way to support creators whose books you enjoy. It signals to their publisher that you are excited about their work, which can lead to increased support, and also lets booksellers know that they should stock — and possibly provide special promotion and/or in-store placement for — their latest offerings.

If you are interested in preordering a copy of Geeger the Robot Goes to School, you can do so from anywhere that books are sold. But if you REALLY want to offer your support (for me, in this case, or for ANY other book-makers out there), preordering from an independent bookseller is especially awesome. If you’ve got a local indie you prefer to shop at, that’s great! If not, you can use the wonderful IndieBound — click here to head to their page for the Geeger books — OR order from my local indie, Porter Square Books — click here to head to their page for the Geeger books. And if you order ANY of my books from Porter Square Books, I’ll swing by the shop and sign them for you before they get shipped out.

Thanks, as always, for the support!!!

~ Jarrett

Sleeker! Lighter! Cheaper!

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If you simply haven’t been able to bring yourself to pay hardcover price for a book that has not one, but TWO farting creatures on the cover, you’re in luck! Starting today, you can get yourself the paperback edition of Revenge of the EngiNerds. It’s sleeker, lighter, and cheaper — but I promise, it contains the same amount of fart jokes as the hardcover version. Though, I suppose, it does contain more fart jokes per ounce . . . And more fart jokes per square inch . . .

In any case, the book is now available wherever books are sold. So if you’re interested, head to your local bookstore or preferred online retailer and check it out!

Thanks!

~ Jarrett