“You will be Sir Gryffon, defender of the Stone City and son of the late Lord Fearnley,” said Jessie. She sketched a griffin on his shield. She’d always liked griffins.
The sounds of a school playing field drifted across to her. She gazed across the expanse of grass from beneath her oak tree. The other girls congregated by the football pitch and pretended to be singers. Their caterwauling set her teeth on edge, and she watched them primp and preen when the boys ran past. Some of them dabbed at their eyes with makeup. Jessie would rather draw fairies and dragons than draw on her face with those black pencils and greasy red sticks.
“I bid you good day, fair maiden.”
Jessie looked up in surprise. A tall knight stood beside her. He wore a suit of bronze armour, and held a polished helmet under one arm. His blond curls ruffled in the breeze beneath the tree.
“You are the Lady Jessica, are you not?”
“Um, yes, I am.”
“Why do you sit here, by yourself? Why do you not play with the other girls?” asked the knight.
“They don’t like me. All they want to do is talk about makeup and boys, and they make fun of my drawings. They made me sit over here because I don’t watch Glee and I don’t know who Lady Gaga is,” said Jessie.
“Lady Gaga? I must say, I do not recall anyone of that name at Court.”
Jessie giggled. The knight smiled, his blue eyes twinkling in the lunchtime sun.
“That’s a pretty sketchbook you have there,” said the knight.
“My dad gave it to me,” said Jessie.
“Your father has fine taste, Lady Jessica.”
“Had. He died.”
“Oh I am sorry to hear that. My father is dead, too.”
“I know. He fought the Orc King at the Battle of Pond’Haar,” said Jessie.
“Yes, that’s right. But of course, you know all about my lands, don't you?”
He looked down at Jessie, glancing at the now-empty page.
“You are not happy, are you?” he asked.
“Not really...nobody likes me. I haven’t got any friends, and my stepmother says I should be grateful that she kept me after my dad died, but I don’t think she wants me around,” replied Jessie. “She’s not a bad person, but she never talks to me.”
“Lady Jessica...would you like to come with me?” asked the knight. He held out his hand and bowed.
“My dad always told me never to go anywhere with a stranger,” said Jessie. She clutched the sketchbook to her chest.
“A very wise man, although I am not a stranger. You, Lady Jessica, know me better than anyone. I shall prove it!” said the knight.
“What do I keep under my pillow?” asked the knight.
“The first tooth you lost. You got upset because the Tooth Fairy didn’t take it and leave you any coins, like all the other kids bragged about. You leave it there, hoping she’ll come for it eventually.”
“Exactly. And what do I keep in this pouch at my belt?”
“A stone with a hole in it. You keep it because your dad told you that if you looked through the hole, you could see fairies.”
The knight nodded. Jessie felt her hand move to her jeans pocket. She patted the stone. Her dad found it on the beach in Dorset when they went looking for fossils.
“Lady Jessica, I am no stranger. You would be most welcome in my land.”
Jessie looked across the field at the gaggle of preening girls. Two of them noticed her. Jessie felt the force of the twin glares from sixty yards away. She thought of her stepmother as she looked up at Sir Gryffon. Harriet wouldn’t realise she'd gone.
“OK, I’ll come with you. But only if you take me to see the dragons in Madrigal Deep. And the griffins in the Sorn Mountains,” said Jessie.
“We have ourselves an accord.”
Sir Gryffon smiled. Jessie took his hand.
The bell rang to signal the end of the lunch break. None of the girls noticed Jessie was gone until Mrs Peabody took the afternoon register. Carly remembered seeing Jessie out on the field, under the oak tree. All they found was a sketchbook, open at a drawing of a knight and a girl with pigtails.