Curse Banath, my head hurts.
Bradley began to roll over in the bed, but the pounding in his head caused him to re-evaluate that decision. It felt like a black smith was forging a whole set of plate armor against his temples. Coupled with the ball of cotton in his mouth, Bradley was sure he had never felt worse in his life.
Oh no, the Duke!
Bradley sat up quickly and swung his legs out of bed onto the floor. Two things happened simultaneously as he stood up, then. He realized he was completely naked and the entire room spun around and the floor suddenly appeared in front of his face.
Gathering his nerve and willing his body to respond, Bradley slowly got up off of the floor and looked around for his clothes.
Where the hell am I?
Standing in a room he didn’t recognize, Bradley cast his eyes over the room, trying to determine his location as well as the location of his pants. He turned his gaze to the bed and immediately knew where he was.
Laying in the bed was the daughter of the Baron of Chaen, Emily.
Or was it Ellen? Pretty sure it starts with an ‘E.’
Seeing his pants on a chair in the corner of the room and the rest of his clothes on the floor, he got dressed as quickly as his thudding head would let him. Casting a quick glance at the Baron’s daughter in the bed, he hurried out of the room.
Maybe it was Erin.
Bradley hurried down the corridors to the chambers outside the court area. He wasn’t sure what time it was, but he was betting he was late again. Today was not going to be a good day.
Bradley entered the room off the side of the main chamber where servants would gather prior to the daily occurrence of the king holding court. When he entered, the only other figure there was Housecarl Lucius, who turned to watch Bradley stumble into the room.
“Ah… so good of you to join us, Squire Bradley. Now that you’ve arrived, I’m sure Duke Dmitri will be happy to inform the king that court may begin,” Lucius said evenly.
“Sarcasm noted, Lucius,” replied Bradley. “Please, no lectures from you today. My head is killing me and I expect I will get plenty of an earful from the Duke.”
“True, young Bradley.” Lucius smirked. “I’m most positive the Duke will have something to say to you as well. You better splash some water on your face and get in there. You are the Duke’s Squire and required to be at his side during the King’s Court.”
Bradley walked over to the large stone basin in the corner and splashed some cold water on his face. For the shortest of moments, the pounding in his head subsided. But the relief was short lived.
Turning around and heading for the door to the court entrance, Bradley asked, “How do I look?”
Lucius responded, “Like you rolled out of the bottom of an ale barrel, got dragged around by a horse, and fell down a flight of stairs.”
“Fantastic,” muttered Bradley as he turned the handle of the door.
“And you smell even worse than you look.”
This is not going to be a good day.
King Lyam held court every morning except Sixthday and Seventhday. Most of the time, the matters at hand were mundane and trivial, but King Lyam treated all of the members that came before him with respect.
The throne room where court was held was an impressive chamber filled with costly stained glass. At this time of the morning, the sun shining through the windows cast many different colors across the room. It just so happened that the door to the room that Bradley used had a large swath of bright yellow light from a stained glass window featuring a blazing sun on it.
As Bradley stepped into the throne room he was momentarily blinded by the bright yellow light. Even if he didn’t have a horrific hangover, the light would have hurt his eyes. His current state only magnified the pain by a few hundred times or so, he estimated.
Standing there for a few seconds, blinking like a newborn baby, he heard a discussion going on about two merchants disputing a contract. Finally adjusting to the light, Bradley looked to see where Duke Dmitri was standing.
Great… he’s on the other side of the chamber.
Seeing that he had no option but to cross the chamber, Bradley gathered himself and strode across the room.
“One moment, gentlemen,” said King Lyam.
Oh, gods, no.
Bradley stopped where he was, which just happened to be smack dab in the middle of the throne room. He turned towards the throne and made the best bow he could muster without falling over and responded, “Yes, your Highness?”
“Since it is apparent that you had something much more important to do this morning rather than attend court with your lord, Duke Dmitri, I would like you to return to whatever pressing matter that is. It’s obvious that attending your lord is not as important as your other task, so, please, I beg of you to return to whatever that task must be.”
“Your Highness, I merely…”
King Lyam raised his hand. “That was an order, Squire. Go. Now.”
“Yes, your Highness,” said Bradley.
Turning back the direction he had just come from, Bradley walked towards the door in silence. Feeling every eye on his back, he made it to the door and was about to go through when he heard the king call out.
“And Squire? When you have completed your very important task, please come back here later, after court is done – if that’s alright with you. The Duke and I would like to discuss something with you.”
“Yes, your Highness,” said Bradley.
With that, Bradley went through the door as quickly as possible.
“Back so soon, young Squire?” asked Housecarl Lucius.
“Shut up, Lucius,” responded Bradley.
This was going to be a very, very bad day.
A few hours later, court was completed. Bradley had taken the opportunity to clean up and put on fresh clothes. Rarely did he get the opportunity to have such an intimate audience with the King, and considering the circumstances, Bradley felt that he needed to make as good as impression as possible.
Although I feel like a ugly inn keeper’s daughter trying to make myself as pretty as possible for the nobleman in the tavern who’s already made up his mind I’m not remotely his type.
Bradley was sitting in the room off the throne room, alone, waiting for some indication that the king and the duke were ready for him. Finally, after some time, the door opened and Duke Dmitri stuck his head in.
“Squire. Now,” said the Duke. He didn’t wait for Bradley to respond; he just
Bradley jumped up and hurried over to the door. His head was hurting less than it did earlier today, but the sudden movements still caused him to wince.
When Bradley entered the throne room, the Duke was already standing next to the King and both of them looked at him expectantly. He walked to the center of the room and up towards the throne. When he was at the appropriate distance, he bowed and said, “Your Highness, I would like to apologize to you for my tardiness this morning. It was disrespectful of yourself, Duke Dmitri, and your court.”
That was all he said. He hoped being brief and direct would count for something.
Lyam stood up. “You’re damned right it was, Bradley.”
The king walked down the few steps of the dais the throne was on and stood before Bradley, staring at him intently.
“What the hell are we supposed to do with you?” asked Lyam. “Dmitri, have you any thoughts?”
“I do, your Highness. But most of them involve a beating of some kind or another,” answered the duke.
“I’m not sure that would phase young Bradley here. By all accounts he can take a beating like few others can,” said Lyam.
Bradley was unsure of what to say or do. The king was still standing in front of him, staring. Bradley decided the best course of action right now was to say and do nothing.
“Hmmm…” mused the king.
Turning around toward Duke Dmitri, King Lyam said, “Tell me a few things about your young Squire, Dmitri.”
“Well, your Highness, Bradley is the most confounding damn Squire I’ve ever had. He shows great aptitude with the blade – apparently the best student my swordmaster has ever had or so he says. He has a natural gift for battle tactics and is a natural leader. But he’s also the most stubborn, pig-headed young man I’ve known.”
Lyam turned back to look at Bradley. “What do you mean by that?”
“Bradley is the third son of Baron Humphrey. And as a third son, he was not groomed for taking over the barony like his older brother was. In fact, Bradley was given the run of the barony for the most part. He would disappear for days, only to turn up in some town’s inn, telling stories or singing songs or some other foolery.”
Foolery? Obviously the Duke hadn’t spent much time traveling the local taverns and inns or he wouldn’t mind some foolery of his own.
Lyam smiled. “Ah, I see. A free spirit of sorts, eh?”
“Yes, sire. But eventually, Baron Humphrey tired of his son’s activities and as a favor to him; I took him on as a squire.”
“To whip him into shape, yes?”
“That was the idea, your Highness. That’s where the stubbornness I mentioned comes in. Bradley seems inclined to ignore that he must make some changes in his manners.”
Damn that wine last night.
Lyam walked up to the throne and sat down. He sat for a moment, thinking.
“Squire, I have a feeling even an order from myself would have little impact on your actions.”
Bradley started, “Your Highness, that’s not…”
Lyam cut him off, “Quiet. You’ll listen to what I have to say and speak when I tell you.”
Bradley nodded his head but didn’t say anything.
“As I was saying, mere words will not have an impact on your activities, so instead I will give you a task that will keep you busy and even perhaps take advantage of your skills.”
Should I be excited or afraid…?
“We received word a few days back via messenger pigeon from Carse telling us of a particular expedition my brother Martin sent out. Yesterday morning, I received a note from a family friend indicating that the purpose of this expedition was quite important. This note also indicated that I should send a member of my court to meet this expedition and assist them if possible.”
This is going somewhere I’m not too sure I want it to…
“Imagine my surprise when this note also specifically asked for you by name.”
At this, both the Duke and Bradley showed open surprise.
“Me, your Highness?” said Bradley.
“Him?” asked Dmitri.
Lyam smiled. “Yes, Squire, you. So, pack you things. You leave as soon as you are able.”
Dmitri stood, shaking his head in disbelief.
Bradley said, “Umm… yes, your Highness. Uh.. sire, where am I going?”
“The dwarven city of Caldera. Please tell Dolgan I said hello. And do not embarrass me, Bradley. Perhaps the threat of royal embarrassment will cause you to keep you wits about you. Now, go.”
Bradley quickly stood up to leave. Once he left, Dmitri said, “Sire, may I ask who sent the note?” The duke could not understand who would have such influence to essentially order the king to do anything without the king questioning it.
Lyam stood, walked down the stairs, and headed out of the throne room.
“You may, Dmitri. It was a cousin of mine. Pug of Stardock.”
_ Banath – Lesser God – The Artful Dodger; The Prankster; The Nightwalker. God of Thieves and sometimes Sailors_