A Knight in Central Park
Author:Theresa Ragan

Chapter One

Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.

—Anonymous

England, 1499

“Alexandra! Run! They are coming!”

Alexandra turned from her work in the fields and saw her brother, Garrett, shouting and waving his hands in the air as he ran toward her. She jabbed the spade into the soft dirt at her side and said, “What is it, brother?”

Garrett slid to a stop before her and bent forward. His small bony shoulders heaved from exertion. “They are coming,” he said.

“Who?”

“Sir Richard’s men.”

Alexandra looked past her brother over the fields. Twice, her sister Mary had turned down Sir Richard’s proposal of marriage. Until her father returned from his journey north, she would do anything in her power to stop Sir Richard from taking matters into his own hands. He wanted her father’s land, not her sister. “Garrett,” she said firmly. “Hide. Now! Do you hear me?”

Garrett nodded, his eyes wide. “What about Grandfather?”

Thankful her two younger sisters accompanied Mary to the village, Alexandra pushed him along. “Tell the field hand to inform Sir Richard that we have left to visit relatives. Then stay well hidden. I will take care of Grandfather.”

She prayed for her young brother’s safety as she watched him disappear through the fields of tall wheat. She headed for the farmhouse, her mind whirling with speculation. Sir Richard’s father had been an evil man, using force to take what was not rightfully his. And now his eldest son was proving to be no better. Why else would Sir Richard’s men come? She knew Sir Richard was a stubborn man, but she knew not how far he would go. Ever since the death of Sir Richard’s father, rumors had been rampant. Would Sir Richard carry on his father’s brutal ways?

She ran faster, unwilling to find the answer at her family’s expense. Hens and geese fluttered their wings as she ran.

As she rushed up the stairs, the wood planks creaked. Near the hearth, Grandfather rocked in his chair as if he had not a care in the world. Kneeling before him, she gazed into his wrinkled face and tried to catch her breath. “Grandfather, you must listen. Sir Richard’s men are headed this way.”

He looked straight through her, unblinking.

She shook his frail arms, trying to stir him to mindfulness. “Sir Richard’s men will surely destroy the farm if I turn him away, mayhap even harm us. We must hide.”

Her grandfather was as old and gnarled as the oak tree that shaded their small manor. His mind sometimes wandered aimlessly like the branches of that same tree. Once in awhile, though, his eyes would light up, as they did now, and a spark of life would come to the old man.

She breathed a sigh of relief when he stood, using his apple wood cane for support as he moved toward the door. She followed him.

A sickening wave of terror welled within as a trio of armor-plated men rode over the hill, a coiled snake on their shields and surcoats...Sir Richard’s insignia.

One of the men came to a halt in front of the hired hand near the edge of the wheat field. The two men exchanged words. Sir Richard’s man seemed to ponder on what the worker told him before he turned and viciously struck the field hand down with one swift blow of his club.

Alexandra held back a strangled cry as she tugged frantically at her grandfather’s arm. If she could get him to the back door, they could escape through the fields and hide with Garrett. But he was like the old rooted tree, refusing to budge. “Grandfather, please do not be difficult.”

“There is something I must find,” he muttered. He was almost as stubborn as she, and thus she knew he would not cooperate until he had whatever it was he needed.

She followed him back to his room, nudging him all the way. Impatiently, she watched him struggle to reach under his bed and pull out an old wooden box. As if this delay was not enough to make her scream, he then set about searching for a key.

She peered through the open door and swallowed dryly at the sight of Sir Richard’s men outside their front entry. Quietly she shut the door to Grandfather’s room, securing it with a thick wooden beam. Oblivious to their predicament, the old man searched through an ancient wooden trunk. Alexandra’s mind reeled with the absurdity of her letting him have his way. Now, of all times. Raking a hand through sweat-dampened hair, she tried to think, but the thumps of heavy footfalls and clanks of armor made it impossible. “Grandfather,” she said urgently, “help me move the bed.”

Click. The box opened.

Grandfather shot her a gap-toothed grin.

The door creaked in protest when someone on the other side attempted to enter.

The tip of a battleaxe hacked through the door.

“Grandfather!” she shouted.

He came to her side. Together they grunted and heaved, pushing the bed a few inches at a time. Wood scraped against wood until the bed blocked the door, giving them a few minutes more.

His breathing was ragged from the effort. He looked deathly pale. “Is it your heart?”

“Nay,” he breathed out in a huff.

“I should have knocked you out and dragged you to safety whilst I had the chance.”

“You did right. You are a good child.”

Men argued outside the door. Then the axe sliced through again, sending chips of wood through the air before its sharp edge embedded into the hard wood of Grandfather’s bed.

Her heart lodged in her throat. May God have pity upon us.

“Here,” Grandfather said as he placed his cherished possession in her hand. “Take these.”

Alexandra gazed sadly at her open palm. She felt the urge to cry with fury and shame when she saw the source of Grandfather’s excitement...the dull, lifeless objects which had, in all probability, cost them their lives.

His ludicrous rocks.

He’d spent most of his life talking about the stones...so many stories, so long ago. According to people who knew him best, Grandfather used to be as sharp as King Henry’s blade and as clever as a fox. But that was before he gained possession of the stones.

Alexandra peered into his eyes. He looked so brave, so fearless as their world crashed down around them. She prayed silently for her siblings. Her sisters and brother had been thorns in her side since her mother’s death, but she would do anything to see them safely within their beds this night.

“Do not be afraid,” her grandfather said as he closed her fingers tightly around his treasure. “You remember what to do, child. Go in search of your hero...our hero. A brave, chivalrous soul who champions right against evil and injustice. A man who...”

“I cannot,” Alexandra said. Tears stung her eyes. Another crash on the door caused her to jump.

“Aye, but you can. Remember all I taught you.” He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. “Years ago you believed, Alexandra. Close your eyes and do not stop believing until you have returned with The Chosen One.”

“But...”

Splinters of wood rained down around them.

“Believe,” he said loud enough to be heard amidst the chaos.

Alexandra shut her eyes. An absurd thing, bothering with these rocks in the midst of death, but what choice did she have? “Take me from this place,” she prayed, turning the smooth rocks within her fingers. “Give me the power before all is lost.”

Suddenly her skin grew clammy. No longer did she hear the clanking of armor or the loud thumps of an axe.

Beams of light darted before her. Her body felt weightless.

She watched with numbed horror as the room grew dim and small. This could not be happening. It was illogical.

A sickening wave of terror welled within as she reached out a hand and found nothing to grasp.

Desperate to return to her grandfather, she thought of the familiar...her grandfather’s old wooden chest, the hand carved bench against the wall where she and her siblings played games.

It was no use.

Even the light grew hazy and dim before disappearing, leaving her in darkness, gasping for breath, clawing at nothingness.