In a group of people who were bent on being the best of the same, this one stood out.
A person who was always early to get dressed for sparring, and lst out of the change room when everyone was tired and sore. Just wanting to get home. This one stayed late.
When everyone else had an off day and accepted that this was reality, this one would swear under their breath and kick themselves, trying so much harder the next time.
Other than that, this one tried harder to blend in and be one of the boys. The first to buy a round, the last to curl up in the corner drunk. The first to slam you in the ribs and slap your shoulder hard. The one to tell a risque joke about sex, BO and farts. And laugh loud with their audience. So proud of the reaction they got. The one who desperately wanted to fit in.. And worked like a dog to do so.
But everyone knew something was off. They thought this one was gay, or anxious. No one knew the truth.
No one but her. Because this one was a girl, dressed as a boy.
Her family was poor and the only way she could help them was to join the castle guard. She just made sure none of her neighbour lads were around when she spoke. Or saw her sneak out of the barracks to return home to see her mom.
Joan was pleased that she managed to hide her truth from the sargent and fellow guards. Because if they knew, she might be sent to jail or have her head chopped off for treason.
Each week, Joan managed to take her pay home to her mom and sneak back to the castle.
Until one night…
Joan was trying to sneak out again. And maybe she got cocky. Maybe she was found out sooner than she thought. But she ran into the prince. Full on, full force. She swore, she begged forgiveness. But it didn’t work. The prince grabbed her arm and dragged her off to the sargent. Threw her down on the ground at his feet and asked him how this girl had gotten into a castle guard uniform without his leave. Or was he that stupid to think it’d ever be ok to allow it?
The sargent sputtered till Joan’s top half of her body was naked and proved the prince’s point. The sargent’s face went white.
The prince ordered her back lashed as he would punish any disobedient guard. Until young Joan had fainted dead away.
Then the prince took pity on her and tended to the welts himself. And sent coins home with her for her family. When it dawned on him why this trickery might have been done.
Joan understood that the prince had no choice, but that didn’t mean she liked him for it. He could have handled it so much better.
And she never forgave him for his actions. She threw the money after his guards, who had escorted her to the cottage her family lived in.
When he heard that, the prince shook his head and sighed. He now had another enemy against him when he went for the crown.