Jacob Stone was feeling hot and uncomfortable in the thickly-padded gambeson and gauntlets he was wearing. He turned around and gave the lagging Ezekiel Jones an irritated glare.

"Will you hurry up, Jones?!" he barked impatiently. "If you don't get your ass in gear, we're gonna miss the single-combat challenge!" Ezekiel only rolled his eyes and took another large, lazy bite out of the grilled turkey leg he had clutched in his hand.

"Yeah, yeah, all right," he mumbled around the mouthful of drumstick. The younger man took a few jogs forward to come up alongside Jake.

"I can't believe I actually let you talk me into coming to a Renaissance Fair!" the Australian grumbled in a frustrated tone of voice. "If I'd wanted to spend my entire day surrounded by history geeks and nerds in general I could've stayed back at the Library! And it wouldn't have cost me thirty bucks to get in! Plus parking! Plus food once I'm inside! Plus…"

"Yeah, like you actually paid for that damn turkey leg you're gnawing on," muttered Jake sourly as he made a determined beeline for the combat arena. Stone clutched a carefully-wrapped bundle and a steel helmet to his chest as they hurried through the costumed crowds. "And I didn't twist your arm to come here, either, man!"

"Oh, right, like I was going to miss this!" hooted Ezekiel. "Jacob Stone versus the Red Knight in single, hand-to-hand combat? No way, mate! That sounds like some real entertainment right there, and bonus: It's free with admission!" He ran forward and turned so that he was walking backwards while facing Jake.

"I can't believe you're actually going to fight this guy! In front of other people!" Jones continued, waving the drumstick around for emphasis. "I mean, sure, the guy's probably just some kind of day-trader or an accountant or a janitor or the stereotypical IT guy who lives in his mom's basement, but I still can't believe that you, Jacob Stone, a Librarian, are going to waste your time in a pretend sword-fight with him!" Jake stopped and jabbed a finger in Jones's direction.

"It's not just a 'pretend sword-fight, Jones," he said vehemently. "It's the real thing! Some of these guys are actually the closest things to pros with medieval weaponry outside of the Middle Ages. And I'm talkin' about real weaponry, too, not just the wooden ones they use at these RenFaire events!" The Australian held up his hands in surrender.

"Okay, okay—Keep your crown on, princess," replied Ezekiel sarcastically. "But, um—hello? You've been training with Jenkins, for God's sake—Mr. Middle Ages himself? For months. So why are we here?" Jake cast a furtive glance around as if someone might overhear him, then stepped forward, put his arm around Jones's shoulders and leaned in.

"Jenkins told me when he started training me that when I was able to beat him in a sword fight, he was gonna give a ring that King Arthur himself gave to Jenkins when he was young," Stone confided, his eyes glittering. Ezekiel's black eyes lit up and gave Jake calculating look.

"Yeah?" Jones said, suddenly sounding very interested. "So…a medieval king's ring, that would be made of, like, solid gold, right? Pure, 24-karat? Maybe even set with a great big gemstone of some sort?" The younger man's eyes then widened as a realization came to him. "Oi! I bet Jenkins has a ton of that kind of stuff stashed somewhere in the Library! I wonder where…?" Jake slapped the back of the thief's head.

"Dammit, Jones! Focus!" Jake snapped, then huddled back in with him. "Listen-Jenkins has been kickin' my ass every single time we spar, so I've been doing some solo training, right? Honin' my skills, workin' out the kinks? Cuz I wanna see the look on that old man's face when I finally kick his ass for once, at his own game!" He nodded in the direction of the combat arena.

"This Red Knight dude—he's like a test, okay? I heard from other fighters that he pops up maybe three or four times a year at various faires around the country, throws down a gauntlet and takes on all comers. And I the last several years he's been appearin', he hasn't lost a single fight yet!" Ezekiel reared back and gave the Librarian a quizzical, confused look.

"Okay, so this guy is totally undefeated, but suddenly you're going to be the one who beats him?" he scoffed, then shook his head. "You're delusional, mate!"

"Yeah, we'll see," growled Jake, undaunted. "I watched 'im at the last RenFaire he appeared at, studied him, watched how he moves, how he thinks, his strategy. Most guys get in in the ring with 'im and just start hackin' away, but I think I can take 'im, Jones. I'm gonna use this guy to see how much I've improved. This cat's supposed to be the best hand-to-hand man on the RenFaire circuit, so if I can kick his ass, then I know I got a good shot at kickin' Mr. Middle Ages's ass!" Ezekiel raised a questioning eyebrow as he pulled away from Jacob.

"This is really how you've been spending your days off? Plotting to beat Jenkins in a sword fight? Really?" he groused in disbelief as Jake started off again for the combat arena. Jones hurried to catch up. "And as if that's not bad enough, now you're dragging me into your delusions, too!"

"You can go back to the Annex any time!" Jake hollered over his shoulder, but Ezekiel only snickered.

"Nope; like I said, free entertainment! Besides, somebody has to be here to let the others know what happened when the Red Knight hands you your ass on a plate, pal," he said mockingly. Jacob ignored the dig and pressed on.

A few minutes later and they arrived. The impromptu arena was marked off by a circle of rope, the arena approximately forty feet in diameter. It was ringed by a crowd of colorfully-dressed spectators, all wearing period costumes that included every strata of medieval life, from peasants to nobles, all of whom crowded and jostled each other for the best views. At one end of the arena was a small makeshift viewing stand that was reserved for the King and Queen of the Faire and their selected guests. Jake and Ezekiel elbowed their way to the front of the crowd just in time for the day's first challenge.

"Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye!" hollered a rather rotund man dressed as a herald, standing in the middle of the arena. Behind the herald was a tall, broad-shouldered knight in full chainmail armor, his face hidden by his helmet. His plain surcoat and shield were blood-red in color; over the top of his armor he wore a matching cloak that draped over his long frame to pool slightly on the ground at his feet. He stood completely still, his stance wide, his shield on his left arm, his right hand resting on the pommel of the heavy wooden longsword stuck into the ground in front of him. A few feet in front of him, one of his gauntlets lay on the ground.

"The Red Knight has issued his challenge! Who will take up the gauntlet and do battle with him?" called out the herald. A man dressed as a knight quickly ducked under the rope barrier and entered the arena.

"I, Sir Roger of Portlandia, accept the challenge!" bellowed the knight, much to the delight of the crowds. Sir Roger was local favorite, no mean swordsman in his own right and he was well aware of it. Sir Roger also knew how to put on a show. He strutted over to the herald and, as required by the faire's management company, signed a hold harmless agreement that released the faire, the management company, its personnel, and other participants from any and all liability in case of injury or death. When that bit of anachronous business was concluded, Sir Roger turned to swagger toward the Red Knight and made a great show of picking up the gauntlet to hand it back to the silent, towering figure.

"Yo, Red!" Roger said tauntingly, nodding at the tall knight's slightly protruding midsection. "Might wanna lay off the feasting for a while, buddy; looks like you've had a few dozen ales too many!" He sniggered at his own joke and looked around at the laughing spectators, but the Red Knight remained still and silent. Slightly creeped out, Roger shrugged.

"Have it your own way, dude," he said bravely, and donned his helmet. "Prepare to get spanked!"

The Red Knight untied his cloak and tossed it toward the herald without looking. The smaller man automatically caught it, then quickly scampered out of the arena and out of harm's way. Sir Roger raised his sword in salute to his opponent. The Red Knight, after taking a moment to slip his gauntlet back onto his hand, also raised his sword in salute, then the two combatants awaited the signal to start. The crowds looked expectantly to their King, a thin man in his late twenties with a raggedy goatee seated on the grandstand. He raised his hand.

"May our worthy combatants do battle with honor, in accordance with the Rules of Knighthood!" he yelled. After a moment's pause, his hand snapped down.


With an animal-like scream, Sir Roger instantly jumped forward and began slashing at the Red Knight with his sword, furiously raining down blows on his opponent, swinging his weapon as hard as he could. The larger man lazily dodged and parried the frenzied attack, slowly backing away from Sir Roger. The Knight's lackadaisical movements only served to goad Roger into redoubling his efforts, much to the delight of the enthusiastic audience.

This went on for no more than a couple of minutes before the Red Knight suddenly went on the offensive. As a strike from Roger landed on his shield, the Red Knight swung his left arm wide, catching Roger completely by surprise. His wooden 'blade' was pulled from his hand as the Knight deftly hooked the edge of his shield underneath the crosspiece of the sword to send it flying into the air. While Roger's arm was still high and wide, the Red Knight took full advantage of the opening, ferociously back-swinging his sword to strike the inside of Roger's shield with the pommel, knocking his shield away from the knight's body and momentarily leaving him completely exposed to attack.

The Red Knight raised his shield arm and, with a motion that was quick as a viper's, he slammed Roger full in the face with the surface of his red shield. Roger's head snapped back with an audible grunt, his helmet flying from his head to reveal a broken nose and split lower lip. The watching crowd gasped at the unexpected sight of blood pouring out of Roger's nose and mouth. Before the injured man could recover, the Knight quickly lifted his right foot and side-kicked it violently into the stunned man's chest, knocking the air out of him and laying him flat onto his back as the astounded crowd fell silent. Roger hit the dirt gasping for air, and the Red Knight was instantly over him. He planted his foot squarely on Roger's chest, then brought the point of his sword whistling viciously through the air towards Sir Roger's head—only to rest the very tip gently on his Adam's apple. Roger gaped up at the eerily silent figure standing over him. He raised his hand shakily in surrender.

"I…I yield!" the defeated knight spluttered. The Red Knight immediately backed off and resumed his initial stance, while the crowds roared in appreciation of the spectacle. The entire fight lasted less than three minutes.

Ringside, Ezekiel turned to gape at Jake. The historian was in the process of tugging his own shield, gauntlets and wooden longsword out of the bundle he was carrying, his eyes locked onto the stone-like knight standing again in the middle of the arena. He had already removed his gauntlet and thrown it onto the ground in front of him while pages helped Sir Roger off of the field of combat.

"You cannot be serious!" Ezekiel exclaimed in genuine alarm. Jake finally broke his stare and turned to look at the thief.

"Yes, I am," he replied grimly. He slid his shield over his left forearm, then gripped his wooden longsword and tested its heft. Ezekiel grabbed his arm.

"Listen, mate, I've seen you with Jenkins—you're not that good!" he said. "You're good, don't get me wrong, but you cannot take this guy! This guy would give Jenkins a run for his money!"

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Jones," growled Jake irritably as he pulled up on the rope barrier to enter the arena. Ezekiel grabbed hold of his arm again.

"I...I just don't want to see you get hurt," he said, for an instant dropping his mask of cynical nonchalance. "Unless you're telling me that's fake blood coming out of that guy's face…" Jake paused to look at the younger man, and seeing genuine fear for his safety, his expression softened. He reached out and laid a rough hand on Ezekiel's cheek.

"Don't worry, babe, I got this," he said quietly, reassuringly. "You hear me? Trust me, I know what I'm doin'. I got this. Now, how 'bout a kiss for good luck?"

"The Red Knight has issued his challenge!" the herald called again. "Who will take up the gauntlet and do battle with him?"

Ezekiel smiled weakly, unconvinced, but he nodded his head. Jake's hand slid around to the back of Ezekiel's head and gently pulled him forward for brief, soft kiss before Jake pulled away again. He then quickly tugged the rope up and slipped beneath it.

"Break a leg!" shouted Jones as the crowd burst into cheers. Jake gave him a backward glance, scowling.

"That's for actors, dumbass!" he called back, his tone exasperated. Ezekiel shrugged carelessly, his mask back in its place.

"Yeah, whatever, mate!"

Jake turned toward the herald and raised his hand. "I do!" He stalked over to the herald and signed the waiver.

"What's your name, dude?" the herald asked, taking the small clipboard and tucking into the coat his costume. Jake stared blankly at him for a moment; he'd completely forgotten to make up a medieval-sounding name for himself.

"Uh...Sir...Sir..." Jacob's mind suddenly filled with hundreds of names from Dark Ages and Medieval history, too many. He blurted the first name his brain locked onto.

"Galavant!" The herald stared at him in disbelief.

"Are you shittin' me?" he groused. "'Galavant'? Whaddaya gonna do, sing him to death?" Jacob stepped forward and put his face almost nose to nose with the herald's"

"You got some kinda problem with that?" Jake demanded, staring the herald down. He wildly waved a hand to indicate the impatiently waiting crowd of spectators.

"Go on, man, just—announce me!" The herald rolled his eyes and turned to address the grandstand.

"Sir...Galavant accepts the Red Knight's challenge!" he called out, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. There were a few hoots of laughter from the crowd, but most of the spectators broke into cheers for the unknown knight.

Jake, swinging his arms in wide circles to loosen his shoulders, walked over to where the Red Knight was waiting patiently for him. When the challenger was close enough, the Knight nodded his head in silent acknowledgement, then raised his weapons in preparation. Jake briefly thought of dishing out some trash-talk in the hope of riling up his opponent enough that he did something foolish. He decided against it; while practically obligatory in a good bar fight, Jenkins frowned on trash-talk. He said that it was based on pointing out and mockingly exaggerating physical flaws or personality traits, and that was unbecoming for a knight, even in the heat of battle. An opponent was always to be treated with honor and courtesy.

So Jake chose to merely nod back respectfully. He started to put his helmet on, then changed his mind and tossed it away. Jenkins was always on him to wear a helmet when they sparred, for safety, but it severely restricted Jake's field of vision and his hearing. He knew that the same would hold true for the Knight, and Jake was willing to risk going without the protection of the heavy helmet if it gave him an edge. He had the feeling that he would need every advantage he could get in this contest

After saluting each other, the combatants raised their swords and waited for the signal, Jake bouncing nervously on the balls of his feet.

"May our worthy knights do battle with honor, in accordance with the Rules of Knighthood!" repeated the King, and he dropped his hand. "Begin!"

Jacob instantly sprang forward and began showering blows on the Red Knight, testing him to see if he had any particular weaknesses he could exploit, but the Knight again easily blocked or dodged each of his new opponent's attacks. After several seconds of his frenzied offense, Jake backed off to reassess his strategy as the two warriors guardedly circled each other. Jake was already breathing hard, but the Knight didn't appear to be fazed at all. The Librarian hadn't been expecting this to be easy, but he was starting to think that maybe Ezekiel was right; maybe Jake really wasn't good enough to take on someone like the Red Knight.

Stone shook his head and shoved the doubt away. He could do this, he just had to be smart about it. He remembered Jenkins's advice from one of his earliest lessons: "Every man has a weakness. Examine your opponent closely, Mr. Stone. Seek out any physical characteristics that you might use to your own advantage." Jake looked the Knight over with a critical eye.

The man was big, much bigger than Jake, much heavier and probably much stronger. That meant he would probably be slower, but every blow he landed had the potential to do more damage. He had much longer limbs than Jake, so the Knight had the advantage as far as reach went. But Jake had the speed and mobility advantage, plus he had martial arts training—under the Monkey King himself, no less—something he very much doubted Mr. Badass Red Knight had. He couldn't go full-on martial artist in a medieval combat scenario or he would be disqualified, but he could use his knowledge of it to juice up his offense.

Jake tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword, and with a wildcatter's yell he charged the Red Knight again. He faked an overhand swing of his longsword and as soon as the Knight's sword was raised to block the attack, Jake dropped his blade, ducked and spun around to build momentum, then squarely struck out at the Knight's stomach with one foot in a semi-kung fu attack.

He hoped the unorthodox move would catch the Knight off guard just enough for Jake to take him down, but he was disappointed. The Knight somehow anticipated what Jake was getting ready to do, dropped his own sword at the last second and brought his shield up just in time to not only ward off the kick, but at the same time swing the shield outward against Jake's outstretched leg, knocking him off-balance.

Jake spun and fell sideways onto ground. He rolled to one side without thinking, narrowly avoiding the downstroke of the Knight's blade. Jake quickly regained his feet and darted around the Knight, now taking advantage of his opponent's limited field of vision. He swung his sword backhanded as he darted forward, aiming to strike the Knight's left arm and force him to drop his shield, but the Knight was no amateur. Without turning his body or even his head, the Knight instinctively pulled his shield arm back and up to block Jake's sword. At the same time, the Knight whirled around with surprising speed, pushing on his shield and using it to again sharply spin Jake around. Jake's entire back was now left open to attack. The crowd was on its feet and screaming wildly, anticipating the coup de grâce. The Red Knight brought his own sword whistling viciously around and struck Jacob—right across his buttocks with the flat of the blade.

Jake yelped with pain and trotted off several paces to get some distance between him and the Knight, the crowd roaring with laughter and applause. This was the longest any bout had lasted with the Red Knight in a long time, and they were appreciative of the show. Jake, however, was not so appreciative. The Knight clearly believed he was superior to Jake, and now he was just playing with him, making a fool of the younger man. The Librarian angrily spun around and glared at the Red Knight, his jaw clenched, his blue eyes blazing. He wanted nothing more now than to put this smartass in his place, but he knew he wasn't going to do it by losing his temper. With a deep growl in the back of his throat, Jake tamped down the urge to lash out wildly at his opponent and took a moment to calm himself. This wasn't a Christmas Eve bar brawl. He needed a cool head if he wanted to win this match.

The Knight slowly circled the Librarian, his sword and shield at the ready. He still hadn't spoken a single word or even made a sound. Jake never took his eyes off of him. When he felt in control of himself again, he rolled his shoulders and crouched over just a bit as he mentally prepared himself for his next attack. This guy was good, but he was no Jenkins. After training for so long with a real knight and learning all the tricks of the trade, Jake knew he could beat Red; he just needed to find the chink in this guy's armor—pun intended.

Jake also had the advantage of the Library and its resources. He had spent hours poring over and memorizing what Jenkins called fechtbücher, or "fight books", medieval manuals of combat that described and illustrated various techniques and stances for fighting with different weapons. And while there were some fechtbücher still extant and available to the public, Jake had access to the most comprehensive, secret collection on manuals in the world. An idea from one of those books now sprang to mind.

With a roar, Jake cocked his sword-arm back, raised his shield and charged like a berserker straight at the imposing Knight. The Red Knight tensed as he prepared to meet Stone's assault, the younger man waving his longsword crazily in the air over his head and hollering at the top of his lungs. As he came within striking range, at the last possible moment Jake suddenly threw his shield off of his arm. In the same instant he flipped his sword into the air and seized it with both hands by its blade, ending the maneuver by holding his sword like a baseball bat. Without missing a beat, Jake continued his charge. He spun around once to get more momentum in preparation to swing.

Too late, the Knight realized what Jake was getting ready to do. He instantly raised his shield and tried to duck his head behind it, but he wasn't fast enough. Jake swung the longsword with all his might, landing a solid, hard, clanging blow against the side of the Red Knight's helmet with the heavy crosspiece of his sword's hilt—a textbook mordhau, or "murder-strike". The crowd was again on its feet, screaming with excitement as they cheered Jake on.

The Red Knight, stunned by the hammer-like blow, dropped his arms and staggered to the side and backward, stunned momentarily, his head ringing. He tripped over his feet and fell to his knees, his shield slipping from his arm and onto the dusty ground. He let go of his longsword to brace himself with his right hand, shaking his head slowly as he tried to clear it. Jake flipped his weapon again so that he was properly holding it by the hilt, then ran over to the downed Knight. When he was close enough, Jake was surprised—and a little bit proud—to see that he had struck his opponent with such force that the man's helmet was actually dented. Euphoric, Jake placed his sword's point against the Knight's chest and lightly pressed in.

"Do you yield, sir?" Jake hollered loudly over the noise of the crowd, automatically repeating the words he'd heard Jenkins use time and again whenever he defeated Jacob. It felt good to be the one saying them this time.

The spectators began to quiet down in order to hear the Red Knight's response. For a few seconds, Jake held his breath anxiously as he awaited a response. Finally, the Knight raised his left hand.

"I yield, sir!" he called out, his voice sonorous from within his damaged helmet.

For a moment, Jake was too shocked to realize that he had won. He lowered his weapon and shifted it to his left hand, then, in the spirit of good sportsmanship, reached out with his right to help the Knight up while the audience cheered and applauded wildly.

"Good fight, man!" said Jacob sincerely as he clasped the Knight's forearm and hauled him back to his feet. "It was an honor to be in the ring with you, I mean that!" The Red Knight laid his right hand over his heart and bowed his head slightly.

"Well done, Jacob!" the Knight said, his voice deep and resonating behind the helmet. "I am very proud of you!" Stone, his jaw dropping, stared up at the faceless knight.

"Jenkins?!" he gasped.

Before either man could say anything more, Ezekiel Jones, screaming like a madman, ducked underneath the rope barrier and ran up to Jake. He threw his arms around Stone and nearly knocked him to the ground in his excitement.

"You did it! You did it! You did it!" the Aussie shrieked over and over, jumping up and down. Other members of the audience were right behind Jones, and within moments Jake found himself hoisted up onto several shoulders and being carried all around the arena. Jake twisted his head all around, frantically looking for Jenkins. He saw the Red Knight, helmet still in place on his head, raise his right hand in a silent farewell. He picked up his weapons and his retrieved his cloak, then turned and left the arena, alone and unnoticed by anyone else.

Jake swore Ezekiel to secrecy regarding his bout with the Red Knight. He didn't share the Knight's true identity with the thief. He knew Ezekiel was dying to tell everyone about what Jake had done the moment they stepped through the Back Door the next morning, but he'd held his tongue. Stone looked around the workroom, but Jenkins wasn't there.

"Morning, Jacob!" Cassandra called out cheerfully. Stone caught a quick, knowing look on Cassandra's face. "Jenkins said he wanted to see you in the training room as soon as you got i. I think he's waiting for you."

"Yeah, okay," he replied, then started off in the direction of the training room. Cassandra's words confirmed Jake's fear that by beating Jenkins in such a public way the day before that he'd angered or upset his mentor.

The Librarian pushed open the door to the training area and stepped hesitantly inside. Jenkins was sitting quietly on one of the benches, patiently waiting for him. As soon as he saw Jacob, he stood up and rapidly walked across the floor to where Jacob was standing. Jake could see a faint bruise on the old man's cheekbone, just at his hairline, and a feeling of guilt surged through him.

"Jenkins, look—I'm really sorry about what happened yesterday—" Jake's words stopped Jenkins in his tracks. He gave the younger man a puzzled look.

"And what, exactly, do you have to be sorry about?" he asked, a slight biting tone to his voice. Jake shifted his weight from one foot to the other nervously, one hand going to the back of his head.

"You know…yesterday," Jake growled, shrugging, unable to look his teacher in the eyes. "I kinda…ya know…beat the crap outta you. In a sword fight." Jenkins's expression went from bland to confused.

"And you feel the need to apologize for that, why?" he demanded sternly. "Isn't that why you've been undergoing all of this training in the first place? To be able to defeat someone in a combat situation? To defeat me?" Stone finally looked up, sheepish.

"Yeah, it is, but…" Jacob stuttered, unsure how to express what he wanted to say. He finally just blurted it out.

"I didn't want it to be like that! Yeah, I wanted to learn everything I could so I could finally kick your ass someday, but I didn't want it to be in front of a bunch of strangers like that! I didn't want you to be embarrassed or humiliated or anything like that!" The Librarian dropped his head and punched his right thigh in frustration.

"I'm sorry, Jenkins, I didn't mean to do that to you, if I'd of know it was you…" He was cut off by the sound of gentle chuckling. He looked up, surprised, to see a wide smile on Jenkins's face, his brown eyes warm and glittering. The immortal walked over to him, regarded the young Librarian for a moment before raising his head and continuing.

"Mr. Stone, you showed remarkable bravery and skill yesterday," the Caretaker said earnestly. Jake looked up at Jenkins with a confused expression of his own now.

"So…you ain't mad at me?" he asked, his brow furrowing. Jenkins stepped forward and placed his hands on Jake's shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes.

"No, Mr. Stone, I am most definitely not angry with you," he answered, staring intently at the young man. "Nor was I humiliated." Jenkins reached into the pocket of his coat and to Jake's amazement, pulled out a large, heavy ring of solid gold, set with a huge sapphire in the center. He held it out to Jacob and looked at him pointedly.

"I told you that when you bested me in combat with the sword that I would award you this ring, given to me by King Arthur himself. You have done so, Jacob, most admirably, and I am now very happy to fulfill that promise to you!"

Jacob's jaw dropped the full realization of what Jenkins was saying sunk in. He took the ring from the old Caretaker and stared at it, shocked, as Jenkins continued.

"I wasn't expecting to see you at the faire, let alone fight you, you understand," the knight explained. "I've been going to these events and challenging others for some time now, simply to keep my own skills honed. You could've knocked me over with a feather when I saw you enter the ring and pick up that gauntlet!" He chuckled at the memory, then became serious again.

"I almost revealed myself to you, Jacob, to try and warn you off, but… Sometimes students feel intimidated by their instructors and subconsciously hold back in training. I've suspected for some time, now, that that was the case between us, and I realized that this was an excellent opportunity to honestly test you and your skills, to see you at your most unguarded. So I let you challenge the Red Knight, and I'm glad I did." Jenkins's eyes began to glisten and his voice took on a slight roughness as he spoke.

"You conducted yourself with honor, humility and generosity—especially in victory, just as a knight should. And it's all the more telling that you conducted yourself so when you thought I wasn't there to watch you." Jake stared directly into Jenkins's wise brown eyes, wishing with all of his heart that this man could've been his father. As if reading his mind, Jenkins leaned over to put his arms around Jacob and give him a paternal hug. When he pulled away and looked sternly into the Librarian's eyes as he lightly gripped Stone by his shoulders and gently shook him.

"Though I am disappointed that you did not wear your helmet! That was very reckless!" he chided with mock severity. Jenkins's expression softened to one of affection almost instantly.

"I want you to know that I am very proud of you, Jacob—as proud as if you were my own son. Well done, young man, well done!" he murmured softly.

Jake, his face beaming, let one loud sob escape him as he blinked back tears. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, clutched the heavy ring in his hand as he slipped his arms around this beloved old man and clung to him tightly for several long minutes. Jacob felt his heart swell with pride and with so much joy that he thought it was going to burst. When he finally pulled away, Jake again noticed the large bruise on Jenkins's face.

"I'm, uh…sorry about…that…" murmured Jacob guiltily, pointing to the same spot on his own cheek. "I hope I didn't hurt you too bad." Jenkins raised his head and chortled softly.

"My dear boy, compared to some of the injuries I've suffered in some of the tournaments and battles I've been in, this barely counts as an injury!" Jenkins cocked his head and looked down at Jake, his expression uncertain.

"Perhaps…you'd like to hear about a few of them some time?" he asked hesitantly. Jacob's eyes lit up like a child's on Christmas morning.

"Would I like…? Hell, yeah, I'd like to hear about 'em!" he nearly shouted in his excitement. Jenkins smiled in relief, then put his arm around Jake's shoulders. He began to walk the Librarian toward the door.

"Excellent!" the old knight rumbled amiably. "We can do that later. For now, I think the others have had enough time to put together their little 'surprise' party to celebrate your victory. I told them all about it last night. Cassandra has somehow managed to acquire a rather tasty-looking white chocolate cake with raspberry filling and Franklin has been eyeing it longingly all night long; why don't we go and get ourselves a slice, before he tunnels into it?"

Jacob felt like he was floating on air as he and his not-so-secret idol left the training room, the pair truly a father and son in every way but blood.