We are so excited to share with you the adorable cover and exclusive excerpt of The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly from Jamie Pacton, out May 5, 2020!
Working as a wench—i.e. waitress — at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the suburbs of Chicago, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a knight, like her brother Chris. She knows the moves, she’s capable on a horse, and she desperately needs the raise that comes with Knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.
Defying the painfully-medieval company policy that allows only guys to be knights, Kit takes her brother’s place one evening. When Kit reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets herself into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. If she can’t spur the company into changing their policy, so anyone can fight regardless of gender, she won’t only lose her job and her family’s house, but she can kiss her spot at her dream college goodbye.
The Red Knight only fights on Fridays and Saturdays. Much to the everlasting chagrin of my boss, King Richard the Bold, aka Len Schwartz.
Tonight’s Friday, and the Red Knight, my older brother, Chris, is running late. Again.
“Please, please, please let me fight.” I pace across Len’s tiny office, my skirts swishing. “I know all the moves, and I’ve been practicing. For years!”
“You’re a Serving Wench!” snaps Len, not looking up from the—I shit you not—golden chalice he insists on drinking coffee from. “We’ve talked about this before. You serve the guests. Let the real actors take care of the story.”
“Serving Wench” is my official job title, not just some sexist slur Len’s throwing out. Well, it is sexist. But also correct in a history-is-painful-to-the-modern-feminist kind of way. When I applied, I had to list on the application what experiences I had that qualified me “to Wench.”
He shuffles through a pile of papers—schedules, bills, a stack of flyers from the Castle Corporate group festooned with Gothic script and lots of exclamation points—then shoves the flyers in my direction. “Hand these out to the other Wenches, will you? Corporate wants all of us thinking about how to get more butts into seats for the shows.”
Snatching the flyers from him, I bang my hand on Len’s desk and lean in close. I even drop into my best medieval English accent. “But I’m a real actor too! I’ve done drama for years. I go to forensic tournaments—”
“Yes, yes,” Len says, and sighs. “I’ve seen your résumé every week since you started working here freshman year. You were in The Crucible and The Secret Garden”
“At the university,” I snap.
“Whatever,” says Len. “You’re not fighting as the Red Knight. Women weren’t knights in the Middle Ages. They didn’t save the day then—”
“Wrong! What about Joan of Arc? Matilda of Canossa? Khawlah bint al-Azwar? Brienne of Tarth? Or even Arya Stark? She killed the Night King, in case you’ve forgotten.”
Len takes another swig of coffee. Some of it runs down his chin and disappears into the hipster-musician beard that hangs past his collarbones. Gross.
“What about company policy, Kit?”
“It’s the twenty-first century, Len.”
“Not in here it isn’t. And you know the Castle has a very strict hierarchy. Squires become Knights. You’re not trained as a Squire—”
“Because you won’t let me!”
“Irrelevant. Plus, Brienne and Arya are fictional.”
I inhale sharply, counting to ten in my head as I search for patience. Getting angry at a guy like Len only makes him think he’s won an argument. Of course I know Brienne and Arya are fictional. And Len knows I know because I’m the one who got him hooked on Game of Thrones in the first place. But even with the GoT ladies being made up, the other women were real. And badasses. They would’ve laughed if a guy like Len tried to stop them from fighting.
“Don’t you think,” I say through clenched teeth, “we should take every chance to show people what the Middle Ages were really like?”
This is a favorite soapbox of mine. History books have gotten the Middle Ages wrong for so long. And white supremacist groups have run with it. They’ve gleefully painted the Middle Ages as this world where everybody sticks to gender roles, white men in the West are heroes, and everyone else are bad guys to be conquered, subjugated, or killed. All in the name of God and country of course.
Ridiculous. Dangerous. And totally unnecessary at a place like the Castle.
Len rubs the space between his overgrown eyebrows, really digging his fingers into his skull. As if he could somehow make me disappear if he massages hard enough.
“Kit,” he says in a weary voice. “While I appreciate your efforts, this place is a fantasy. It’s more theme park than history lesson. We’ve got male Knights! A Princess! Serving Wenches! Horses! Turkey legs! Everybody has a job, and certain jobs are not open to everybody.”
“That’s unfair. And probably illegal.” I cross my arms.
Len shrugs. “That’s life, kiddo. Take it up with corporate when they visit next month if you’re so worried about it.”
“Maybe I will. When are they coming?”
Len narrows his eyes at me. His voice takes on an edge. “Don’t. Even. Think. About. It. I mean it, Kit. They’re already gunning for reasons to close this branch. The last thing I need is for you to give them more ammunition.”
I hold his gaze. As I do, a plan begins to form in the corners of my mind. I brandish the flyers at him. “What if I can fill seats?”
He snorts. “Good luck with that. They’re looking for easy solutions like coupon nights or senior brunch Wednesdays. If you want to keep your job, you’ll keep your head down, work your shifts, and let it go.”
“I can’t believe you’re being such a jerk.”
Len stands up and adjusts the blue velvet cloak around his shoulders. Under the arena’s torches, it almost looks regal, but here under the fluorescents, I can see all the places where the velvet has worn thin. Company policy also requires us to buy our own costumes, and even the King can’t afford to replace his cloak more than once a year.
“If you weren’t my niece, I’d fire you for talking to me like that. Now get back on the floor. You’ve got Eddy Jackson and his buddies in your section tonight. And the show’s starting soon.”
Eddy Jackson is a former NFL player who loves the Castle with an inexplicable passion. He’s here at least once a month, and he always brings his kids or a bunch of his buddies (usually more former pro athletes). Having Eddy in my section means good tips, but that still doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up the idea of knighthood.
Almost as if Len planned it, three loud trumpet bursts ring out from the speaker above our heads. That’s our cue to get into places because the show starts in twenty minutes.
“We’re not done with this,” I say, shooting my uncle a look. “I’m gonna come up with a plan you can’t veto.”
“Get over it, kid. You’ll be headed off to that fancy California college soon. I don’t know why you care so much about being a Knight.”
I need the pay raise! I want to scream at him. So I can pay for that fancy college. And also, is it so wrong that I want to save the day for once? Or at least spend a shift getting cheers not beers? Even if all we do here is fake?
“The California college just rejected me,” I mutter as I push open the heavy wooden door of Len’s office. “As did every other school so far. I’m holding out hope for Marquette.”
Len waves a hand. “You’ll get in somewhere. And you can always go to community college like Chris did.”
I let out a frustrated noise, fighting my urge to punch Len in his smug face. It’s a super low blow to talk about my brother’s situation. When he’s not being the Red Knight, Chris juggles two other jobs and takes night classes at the community college. He put his life on hold because my dad—Len’s brother—walked out on us for good two years ago, cleaning out our college funds and leaving my mom with a mortgage payment and a bunch of bills.
I scowl at Len. He knows all this, but he has less empathy than a concrete block. Len the Bold prides himself on his ability to “tell it like it is.”
A voice squawks through the walkie-talkie on Len’s desk, cutting me off. “WE’VE GOT A BIRTHDAY AT TABLE 4-GREEN. NEED TO GET A KNIGHTING CEREMONY ADDED ASAP.”
Len picks up the walkie. “Go get ready, Kit. Mingle with the guests and call your brother. Tell him to get his ass backstage immediately or he’s fired.”
About the Author:
Jamie Pacton grew up minutes away from the National Storytelling Center in the mountains of East Tennessee. She adores architecture, gardens, art museums, beaches, cake, whiskey. She even kind-of likes getting stuck in airports if she has a good book. Currently, she lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband, their two kids, and a dog named Lego. Find her on Twitter @JamiePacton.