Authors: Lili Wilkinson
Tags: #JUV026000, #book
Another group of women have blue faces and strange masks made of ivy leaves. They're wearing close-fitting, green dresses and look, frankly, a bit creepy.
An old guy walks past me. He's brandishing a sword that is seriously as big as he is. I'm sure it can't be made out of metal, or else he wouldn't be able to wave it around like he is.
âG'day,' he says to me with a nod.
I smile weakly.
A temporary pavilion in the middle of the oval is decorated with colourful banners and ribbons. In front of it a big crowd of people are watching a fight between what appears to be a ninja and a troll. I perch on a park bench just outside the oval fence and watch too. Ninja (I'm not sure if it's male or female) is dressed from head to toe in tight-fitting black leather â even his/her face is covered in a black leather mask.
Troll is wearing only a loincloth â although it looks more like a dirty nappy on his pale, spindly frame. He's almost purple with cold. He's carrying an enormous clobbering-stick like the ones in old cartoons where the cave man clobbers the cave woman over the head and drags her back to his cave to have his way with her.
They circle around each other for a while, and then Troll tries to clobber Ninja with his big stick. Ninja ducks easily, and throws a silver disc (which looks suspiciously like a CD) at Troll. It hits him on the thigh, and one of the Gandalfs yells âBlood!' Everyone applauds.
Troll makes another attack, and whacks Ninja on the head. The clobbering-stick bends, and I realise it must be made out of rubber or foam.
âBlood!' yells the Gandalf again.
Ninja then unleashes what looks like his entire CD collection all over Troll, and the Gandalf yells âVictory!'
Troll turns to him. âDude,' he says. âAre you serious?'
I can't be certain because of the beard and fake eyebrows, but I think the Gandalf is scowling at Troll.
âVictory!' he repeats sternly.
âFine, whatever,' says Troll, and falls to the ground, apparently dead, but clearly not happy about it.
âNext!' yells the Gandalf over the applause.
A Bedouin-tiger-man in puffy orange pants and a fully armoured knight step into the ring. The knight's armour, I have to say, is impressive. It's silver and shiny and yet dinted and dirty enough to look like it's seen some serious battle-action. He has an enormous sword (with gaffer tape wrapped around the pointy end), a scary stick with nasty looking spikes on one end, and he exudes confident knightliness.
âBegin!' yells the Gandalf. I wonder if he's capable of speaking in actual full sentences. Maybe that's why he got this job.
Tiger-man has a curvy-sword like the ones from the Aladdin stories. He leaps right into it, slashing at the knight with vigour. But the knight is awesome. He parries and thrusts and does fancy things with his sword. It's a blur. He spins around as if he wasn't wearing about a hundred kilos of metal, and systematically destroys Tiger-man's defences. It feels like it's all over in about ten seconds. The crowd goes wild.
Tiger-man gets up from his death-pose and wanders off sulkily. The knight does a victory air-punch and bows to the crowd. He even stares at me for a moment, then raises a gauntleted hand in a salute, and I wave back. Someone hands him a funny little hat that says âOOC ', and he places it on his helmet.
Then he comes clanking over to me.
He pushes back his visor, and underneath it's George. He's puffing and dirty and his cheeks are flushed and his eyes are all excited and shiny. His eyelashes seem longer than ever.
âDid you see?' he says.
âI saw,' I reply. âYou were amazing. Brave. Chivalrous. True. '
âWell maybe not so much of the chivalrous,' I say. âThe way you smashed him in the head with that pointy-ended stickâ'
âIt's called a mace,' George says.
âWhatever. That didn't exactly display a whole lot of knightly virtue.'
George shrugs. âIt was fun, though.'
He removes his helmet and sits next to me in a clanking jangle.
âHow did you know I was here?' he says.
I pull the flyer out of my pocket, and tell him about his mum and Ginger.
George looks impressed. âYou've had quite an adventure,' he says.
âI needed to talk to you.'
âAnd you couldn't have called? Knights have mobile phones now, you know.'
âI wanted to talk in person,' I say.
He nods, and we sit for a moment. I haven't really thought about how this conversation would go.
â“OOC”?' I say, pointing at the helmet. âI'm guessing “Out of Control”.'
â“Out of Character”,' says George. âI'm being George now, not my character. You have to let people know, or it gets confusing.'
âSo that wasn't George, fighting?' I ask.
âNo,' he says. âIt was Sir Andreas of Wurster.'
âHuh,' I say. âSo where is Sir Andreas now?'
âHe had some business to take care of,' says George. âAn appointment.'
âAccountant. Even knights have to pay the bills.'
âOkay,' I say. âNow is the part where you tell me what's going on.'
âIt's LARPing,' he says. âI'm a LARPer.'
âWhich means . . .'
âIt stands for Live Action Role-Playing,' George says. âWe have a world and characters and we have battles and alliances and quests. It's sort of like Dungeons and Dragons, or World of Warcraft, but we actually have the courage to leave our bedrooms and
stuff. I'm from Wurster, which is purple,' he brushes his hand against the feather in his helmet. âWe're not doing so well at the moment, one of our best knights just got a new job in Canberra, and another is pregnant. So we're low on numbers.'
âBut you were really good,' I say. âYou beat that guy with the whiskers and silly pants.'
âI did,' says George. âBut there's only one of me. I'm great one-on-one, but in a battle against fifty Simikk warriors, I'm toast.'
âWhat happens if they kill you?' I ask.
âI'm not allowed to play for twenty-four hours.'
âHarsh,' I say.
âSo,' says George. âDo you think I'm crazy?'
I look around. âYou spend time in a very weird imaginary world,' I say.
He nods. âThere're some strange people, but it's fun.'
I think about this. I think I'm over my first reaction which was definitely of the âwhat a bunch of losers' variety.
âIt's pretty impressive,' I say. âI mean, the cardboard armour guys are kind of lame, but other costumes are awesome. And you've obviously put a lot of practice into all the fighting.'
George makes this cute little bow that is rather hampered by all the metal he's wearing.
âSo you don't think I'm a weirdo?' says George.
âOh,' I tell him. âYou're definitely a weirdo. But if you ask me, golf is a pretty weird hobby too. At least you guys are using your imaginations, and being creative and productive. You can't say that about golf.'
âNo, you can't,' says George.
âOr me,' I say, taking a deep breath. âYou can't say that about me either. All this puts my imaginary boyfriend to shame.'
George laughs, but I hear a tiny twinge of nervousness. This makes me feel better, somehow.
âI'm sorry,' I say. âI'm really, really sorry. About the revenge thing, and calling you a weirdo, and being awful. And I should have told you about Ben. That it wasn't real.'
âThat's okay,' George says. âI already knew.'
âIt was you that overheard us,' I say.
âWhy didn't you say anything?'
âI didn't want to embarrass you,' he says. âYou obviously didn't want to talk about it. Anyway, I was busy keeping my own secrets.'
He raps on his armoured chest.
âYeah,' I say. âAbout that.'
He looks at me, and I grin and shrug. âYou knew?' he says, his forehead crinkling in a truly adorable way. âHow?'
âTahni was in the hospital bed next to yours.'
He laughs again, and this time there is less nervous twinge. âWe're not very good at this secret thing, are we?'
I think about our project. I think about the secret that I am now sure was George's.
On the inside, I'm a hero. But outside, nobody even sees me.
âI see you,' I tell him.
I put my hand on his. It's sheathed in a metal gauntlet, which is not exactly the
Ain't No Mountain High Enough
moment of connection I was going for, but it's enough for now.
He smiles a smile that is shy and embarrassed and a little bit mischievous. âI have another secret,' he says.
He leans forward and kisses me.
It's not the perfect kiss. It's hard to get close to him with all the armour. His gauntlets are cold and digging into me. And when I put my hands on his shoulders, I get the strange feeling I'm embracing a robot. And even if the armour wasn't there, I know that George doesn't have perfect shoulders underneath the armour.
But it's a
kiss. My first real kiss, and it feels perfect.
âLili Wilkinson was born in Melbourne, Australia, in the front room where her parents still live. She's an only child, and loves it. She was first published when she was thirteen, in Voiceworks magazine. After studying Creative Arts at Melbourne University, Lili was employed by the Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria, where she now manages
, a website for teenagers about books and reading. She spends most of her time reading and writing books for teenagers, but when she's not doing that, she's usually hanging out with friends, watching DVDs and making monsters out of wool.