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Old Clyde leaned dutifully into the yoke. The cart started up the deeply rutted track toward the Duke's castle on the hill. The creaking wheel grated on Edward's brain and made it hard to think straight. Maybe he could beg some grease from the castle cook and silence the axle. Riding back in relative peace would make the trip to the castle worthwhile.

I hate going into the castle grounds, past those squires with their holier-than-thou attitudes, he thought.

The squires--knights in training--practiced with wooden swords and shields, with blunted lances, with wooden knives and wooden "maces" wrapped in twine and without spikes. They rode barrels attached atop a short axle between two wagon wheels. The contraption was pushed by two other squires, who by manipulating the push-pole up and down, could simulate the up and down movement of a horse. The squire who rode the barrel urged his companions to greater speed and cursed them to keep him steady. Two such contrivances were used to hold tourneys in which well-padded squires tried to knock an opponent off a second barrel-horse. It had some of the excitement of a real joust and often drew nearly as many yelling spectators.

None were much older than Edward's own twenty years, but acted as superior as spurred knights. He braced himself against taunts about being dull and stupid. It would take all his control to keep from charging into them.

They would be furious if they knew Edward's father had taught him to read and write. Or that he and two other village boys practiced almost daily with quarterstaffs and various work implements they could use as weapons.

His friend, Claude, was quite good with the husking flails--two sticks about the length of a man's forearm, connected by a few inches of stout cord. Theo, on the other hand, could spin his bullock pole so fast it whistled. Edward's own favorite was a short, almost blunt, two-inch knife he used to poke grain sacks and send the seeds spilling under the millstone. He'd become very adept at throwing it. They all practiced daily with their own and each other's tools, turning each practice into a mini-tournament. Any one of them could show the squires a thing or two about fighting.

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