Once Upon A Time In America (THE LANCE CHRONICLES #5)
After the show ended and the actors took their bows, the one who played Arthur spoke to the crowd as the others wandered offstage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a rare treat for you tonight only here at Excalibur Hotel and Casino,” the man began in a deep voice that easily carried out to all spectators. “As you all know, we have been graced by the real King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.”
The audience burst into thunderous applause and much table slamming with their mugs.
“But they are not merely our guests for dinner, no,” the actor went on in that side show barker kind of voice, “for they have graciously agreed to demonstrate their own skills with the medieval weapons that we, as actors, merely play with.”
That sent up another rousing cheer of approval from the rowdy dinner crowd, causing the faux Arthur to grin widely.
“I give you the real King Arthur and his noble knights!”
The man bowed and vanished offstage beneath the portcullis. Taking their cue, Arthur stood to more clapping, mug slamming,
and foot stomping. The king grinned and offered a bow to the crowd.
Then he gestured for the kids to join him in the arena. Everyone rose, gathered up their weapons and stepped out of the eating area onto the dirt floor.
The show horses were brought back out for Arthur, Dakota, and Kai. Earlier, the three had befriended several of the splendidly gorgeous animals, especially the Indian boys with their innate horse whispering talents. Arthur had chosen the white because she reminded him of Llamrei, Dakota the black and Kai the brown. Kai laughingly chided Dakota that the boy had chosen black “To fit your cloudy spirit.” To everyone’s surprise, Dakota laughed right back. The fourth show horse remained tethered to the drawbridge.
The only knights sporting bows and arrows were Reyna, Chris, and Sylvia. Everyone else carried a shield and sword and all had been outfitted earlier with wireless lavaliere mics to project their improvised dialogue to the excited crowd. Arthur spoke briefly to the audience, welcoming them to this modern version of Camelot. He proceeded to introduce everyone, saving Lance for last. As he’d expected, Lance got the loudest, most rousing cheer of all, which caused Lance to look surprised, and Ricky to playfully shove him in response.
The stagehands had set up some archery targets at the far end of the arena, right in front of the open portcullis. The group sat themselves around on the ground as Arthur took his seat in the throne stagehands had rushed into place. A separate chair had been brought for Lance to sit beside the king. They “acted out” some of their early gatherings within the storm drains of Los Angeles, with first Chris showing off his archery prowess, and then Sylvia. Both got perfect bulls eyes to great cheering from the crowd.
Then Reyna stood and mad dogged Lance as she had in the beginning. “You expect me to take orders from a boy who’s younger and prettier than me?” she challenged haughtily, drawing a huge laugh from the crowd.
Despite his best efforts not to, that laughter made Lance blush again, just as he had that night in The Hub when Reyna first uttered those words.
As before, Reyna whipped out an arrow and fired straight across the arena, hitting her target square in the center, turning back to Lance with a smug expression. The crowd “Ooohhed” their appreciation of her skill.
Arthur turned to Lance and nodded. The boy stood and strode forward, snatching the bow and quiver from her hands angrily, putting on a show for the crowd and enjoying himself after allowing that initial laughter to spook him. Glaring at her smug expression, he briefly thought how much she was getting into her part and should take up acting for a living. Then he slipped out an arrow, nocked it, took aim quickly and seemingly without care, and let loose. The arrow sailed true, striking hers from behind and splitting the shaft. The audience went wild with approval.
Reyna gave him the head nod of respect and reseated herself. Arthur looked out amongst the others, asking if anyone else wished to challenge Lance’s authority as First Knight. That was Esteban’s cue. He laughed along with Justin and Darnell, and when questioned by Arthur said, “Well, he looks kinda girly to me.”
Despite the fact that it was all pretense, Lance still hated hearing that word, his old insecurities never far from the surface. He unsheathed his sword and said to Esteban, “Grab any sword you want and let’s see if I fight girly.”
Justin and Darnell whooped it up and the audience started chanting, “Lance, Lance, Lance!”
Man, they’re really getting into this, Lance thought as Esteban stood and picked up his sword from the ground. They moved to the center of the arena and squared off. Esteban put a hand over his mic for a moment and said quietly, “Go easy, Lance, you’re not that little boy no more.”
That startled Lance, but then he remembered how much Esteban had been sweating during their rehearsal earlier, much more than their first battle when he’d been fourteen. Cuz I’m bigger and stronger now, he thought proudly as he prepared himself for Esteban’s first swing. The fight lasted but a few minutes, as had the original, and ended with Esteban on his back in the dirt, panting, Lance’s sword point at his throat.
“Still think I’m girly?” Lance challenged.
“Hell, no!” exclaimed the overacting, panting Esteban to cheers from the crowd.
Lance reached out a hand and helped Esteban to his feet and then everyone in the “cast” bowed to the audience encircling them.
Justin and Darnell followed with a mock sword fight, displaying their talents to an appreciative crowd.
At this point, Kai and Dakota mounted their horses, trotted to the center of the arena, and staged a sword fight on horseback. It was excitingly choreographed – the boys had spent forty-five minutes earlier practicing their moves. Lance found himself caught up in the battle. The Indians hacked at one another with abandon, and the audience watched with bated breath to see if one would emerge the victor.
After five full minutes, the two boys declared a draw, bowed to one another, and trotted back toward the throne to bow before the king. Now it was Lance and Ricky’s turn. They stood in the center of the arena and Lance gave Ricky a hearty shove before speaking to the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this fool thinks he can kick my ass.”
Ricky moved in and shoved Lance just as hard. “And I can kick it any way, any time.”
Lance mock glowered. “Yeah, you and what army exactly?” Ricky smirked. “Me and the army of Lanceisaweakassfool, that’s who!”
The audience roared with laughter and applauded wildly.
Lance chuckled at Ricky. “Bring it on, little man,” he said tauntingly.
And then they began. These two knew each other’s moves and style perfectly, and fought in earnest, determined to give the audience a real show and get a much-needed workout in the process. They hacked and swung and parried, bodies spinning, hair flying, heads ducking. They slammed their heavy blades into their equally heavy shields. Under the bright stage lights the boys sweated profusely as they tucked and rolled and righted themselves with swirling hair and a clang of blade against blade. The mock battle was fast, furious, and thrilling. The audience “Ooohhed” and “Aaahhed” and gasped on occasion, but the boys kept right on fighting.
The battle had been raging for over five minutes when suddenly an arrow whizzed past Lance’s head and struck Ricky full in the chest, lodging itself near the heart and sending the boy spinning backwards to sprawl in the dirt, where he lay unmoving.
Stunned, Lance’s mouth dropped open, and he spun around to protect his back.
Hiding behind the faux battlements, someone lurked, shielding himself, bow and arrow ready for another assault.
Lance whirled back around. “Reyna! Up there!” He pointed behind him even as Kai and Dakota galloped over and the others came sprinting across the dirt to the fallen Ricky.
On his horse, Arthur was momentarily stunned, but then called out, “Chris, Sylvia, assist Reyna against the attacker.”
The audience seemed to think the assault part of the show and clapped wildly as Reyna, Chris, and Sylvia pelted across the dirt toward the faux castle shooting arrow after arrow up at their attacker to keep him pinned down.
Ryan, Gibson, Brooks and the other three agents also sprang into action. They had been sitting back a few rows from Arthur and the team so as not to be a distraction, and now leapt from their seats to plow forward onto the field. Jenny was up instantly and chasing after them. Edwin sat frozen, looking stunned.
Heart pounding with terror, Lance dropped down beside Ricky and grabbed the head of this boy he loved and turned the face around. Ricky’s eyes fluttered open and focused on Lance, who let out an enormous breath of relief.
“Oh my God, you’re alive!”
Ricky sat up with a grin, eyeing the arrow sticking from his chest with amusement. He reached up and pulled it out. “Fool,” he said to Lance in a chastising tone. “I got a vest on.”
The audience cheered.
Lance allowed himself a second to smile. Of course, they were both wearing the vests Brooks had given them – thinner than the heavy-duty ones, but vests nonetheless. They’d become so accustomed to wearing them every day that Lance had forgotten.
“Fool,” he told Ricky with relieved exasperation.
He stood and pulled Ricky to his feet while Kai and Dakota circled them with their horses and Arthur quickly joined in. Ryan ran over and blocked Lance and Ricky with his body, drawing his gun and aiming up at the battlements. Gibson followed the Secret Service agents through the drawbridge, quickly spotting the stairs leading up to the battlements. They split into two teams and began ascending the steps two at a time.
The archers continued to pin down their assailant with a volley of arrows when suddenly the man rose to his full height, pulled back his bowstring and let loose an arrow straight at Arthur.
“Dad!” Lance yelled, and Arthur spun on his horse to see the arrow speeding toward him.
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