((I plan on adding 5-10 pages to this every day until it’s finished.)
“You stupid boy! You want to run off and play knights? Fine! Get out! You’d just better hope your brother doesn’t starve before he’s old enough to run the shop, out I said!”
Richard made sure to guard the back of his head for good measure as he made he way out of the front door, lest the woman start throwing things. Gods did his mother have a temper! Still, he wasn’t going to go back and try to calm her down, he was done arguing. If she couldn’t understand he had the blood of a warrior and not a shopkeeper, then there wasn’t anything else to do.
The fact of the matter was, they were quickly running out of money. The whole kingdom was falling into an economic slump, and nobody was willing to spend what money they did have at an unknown silversmith’s shop. They needed money, quickly, and being a hired sword was one of the few jobs around that still paid well.
However, his goal wasn’t to be a mere sellsword, the king himself had called for a warrior to aid in a task. Normally a middle-class merchant’s son wouldn’t dare dream of serving the king. After all, did not a whole kingdom of knights and their armies serve under him? Still, if the king was going to send one of his sworn men he would have already, and a call for arms wouldn’t have gone out. No, this task was different, it was a common man the king wanted, for some reason.
Luckily, Richard did not have far to travel, he lived in the Capitol after all, and the king’s fortress was only a few hours away. Of course, it sat atop the biggest hill for miles around, so it wasn’t an easy walk. He was only half way up before he began feeling an intense burning in his legs, and decided to take a look around him to keep his mind off of his body’s protesting.
He was walking down the widest road in the kingdom, which was originally built for the king’s army to use when sallying out of the fortress, but in time of peace like now was packed full of merchants. People selling swords, armor, meat both cooked and raw, fresh baked bread…
As his stomach began to growl Richard decided to switch his focus back to his burning legs and wiped off the imaginary drool running down his face. If he were to go on some grand quest for the king he imagined he would have to get used walking. It did not mean he would have to get used to being hungry. Of course, that all depended on what the king wanted done. There was a great air of secrecy to the whole affair that made many people uneasy, Richard included. However, he gripped the sword sheathed at his side and swallowed such thoughts. Whatever the king wanted,the pay was too good to pass up. Ten pounds of gold coins were promised! His mother could close the shop for good and there would still be enough coin left over for Richard’s children to grow up fat and worriless.
Of course, it was ridiculous to think that he would be chosen for the task. Rumors had circulated that warriors from all over the kingdom loyal to the king had flocked to the city. Some were veterans of over three wars! Surely this trip would be for nothing, and by nightful he would crawl through his front door, tail between his legs, and apologize to his mother like a good son.
I’ll be damned if I walked all the way up this hill without being given a shot though.
It was with that thought that the walking was over, and Richard was given a moment to catch his breath while taking a good look at the fortress. He’d seen it many time before from afar, but up close it was truly breathtaking. The walls alone were close to twenty feet thick and fifty feet high. Siege engines were placed along the entire length, and the hill it sat on was the tallest for miles around. Some people even whispered that the city itself was a fortification, there were rumors that it was burned down several times over the ages, not from the invaders looting, but from the king trapping his enemies in a great inferno. However the buildings were eventually made of stone and such events fell into legend.
Finally, as the pain in Richard’s legs died down he began aware of the two guards fixing him with cold stares from the gate not fifteen yards in front of him. They both held halberds with a sword sheathed at their side, as well as wearing the heraldry of the king- A white sword against a dark blue background. The symbology of it was lost to Richard, but he didn’t spend much time contemplating it before he began walking forward. Almost immediately the guardsman on the right lowered his halberd menacingly, the nostrils of his crooked nose flaring.
“In the name of the king, state your business boy! We have enough commotion going on here at the moment without the likes of you strolling on into the castle.”
Richard could feel bis blood begin to boil, like his mother he could be prone to being overtaken by a sudden temper. Still, he managed to keep himself in check, though he could tell by the guard’s sudden smug look that he had let it show. The other guard however was simply watching the two of them with a bored expression. It was just another day on the job for him.
“I’ve come to answer the king’s call for a sword. It’s your duty to let me through and see your king!”
Richard didn’t sound half as confident as he would have wished, the stares from the two guards were really beginning to wear down his self confidence. The horse laugh witch erupted from the older guard’s lips didn’t help matters either. He wasn’t even into the castle yet and things were already going worse than he could have imagined. After the older guard got control of himself he spoke once more;
“You boy? A warrior? I’ve seen sheep more fit to go into battle, and better armed too! Maybe you should go back home and bed with some, and then your son can go looking to fight for the king! Go on now! The king doesn’t have time for the likes of you.”
It was true the Richard was hardly equipped to go into battle. He wore the same simple tunic that he ran the shop in. His only weapon was an old sword which had belonged to his grandfather. Hardly ornate, and Richard had needed to clean the rust off of it before setting off earlier. However, that hardly matter though. However, such thoughts were far from his mind. He was angry now, and that meant that the old guard in front of him was wrong in ever category.
“Let him pass you old geezer. Or did you forget the king said for us to let all swords through? You can insult him all you want, but I’m not going to lose my head because you woke up on the wrong side of the cot this morning.”
Richard still felt like screaming, but he bit back his tongue. Red faced and shaking, he could only offer a nod to the bored guardsman as he made his way through the gate. Boy? He was five years from thirty. Perhaps not as old as a seasoned warrior, but certainly old enough to have seen his fair share of combat- it’s not as if the guard knew he was a merchant’s son.
Still, his anger began to diminish as he walked up the stairs to the castle’s main door, which was wide open. From what he could see the inside was… surprisingly bare. The king did have a reputation for not being one to partake in luxury, but not even a carpet decorated the floor. The whole building inside and out was simply stone. He passed by another group of guardsmen standing on the outside of the door, but they gave him no trouble. Then he was inside.
The ceiling was three times taller than he was, and the torches at ground level caste eerie shadows that danced off of the few decorations that were allowed. Which mostly consisted of arms and armor. Which wasn’t all too surprising considering that his kingdom was well known for one thing; war. In fact the only reason peace had persisted for so long is because there simply weren’t any other enemies to fight. Combat was a tradition, and it was for that reason that Richard had practiced swordplay while running his father’s shop. Holding a weapon was in his blood.
On either side of Richard were stairways leading upwards no more than twenty feet away. Only ten feet in front of him sat another set of doors identical to the first. It was an extremely small foyer for the castle that the king resided in, but he supposed that most people who entered for the first time thought the same thing. A great commotion was audible through the large doors in front of him, but they were closed. In between Richard and the doors was a tall, thin man dressed in dark blue silk, who gave a great sigh as Richard entered.
“Oh… Not another one. Let me guess, here to fight for the king? Yes? Well boy just step right in along with the other ten dozen. Don’t be too hopeful, I’ve seen people walk through with names that gave off a better impression of a warrior than that sword you carry. Anyway, go on, don’t keep the king waiting.”
Richard’s patience was beginning to wear very thin at being called “boy”, but he moved forward without making an outburst. The thin man let out another sigh before turning around and pushing open the great doors. The sight that greeted Richard was chaos.
What looked to be hundreds of armed men were packed into the great hall. Some dressed in full armor, others carrying only a sword like himself, but almost every one of them looked like they had seen combat. Very few were like him, just normal people looking to have a shot at getting ten pounds of gold from the king, and those that were looked terribly lost.
Most of the people present were arguing. Though no swords were drawn yet, the amount of yelling going on around Richard was deafening. People trying to prove their prowess with words, people arguing that their families were more worthy of the task, people arguing that their father and grandfathers and great-grandfather had served the king for generations and deserved the king’s recognition because of it.
A very small number of warriors had grouped together near the end of the great hall and were watching the rest of the scene with mild amusement. Richard decided to make his way towards them, trying not to look as bewildered as he felt. Luckily this room did have a carpet, and most of the soldiers chose to stand on either side of it, saving Richard a great struggle to make his way to the other side of the wall. When he finally reached the one group not making a great noise, he was greeted with open arms.
“Well now, another man whose head has enough sense to realize it’s the king that’ll decide who gets the gold and not his peers.”
A second man chipped in immediately after the first had spoken.“Aye, a bunch of armed idiots they are. I hear though it’s not the king who’ll be deciding which of us gets the task. It’ll be his daughter.”
A third then broke into the conversation; “His daughter? You say that like there aren’t seven of them. Do you mean Andrea?”
“No, no. Not the future queen. The youngest.”
With that all of the other men fell silent. Puzzled, Richard stole a glance at the throne. It was then that he noticed that it was actually occupied. He had seen the king before, years ago, but the man sitting at the throne was another man entirely. His hair had turned completely white, and was falling out in patches. The skin hung from his bones as if all of the muscle in his body had been eaten away, and his eyes showed an age far beyond his years. Yet, strangely, nobody around Richard seemed concerned for the king, it was the woman standing behind him that caught everyone’s attention.
The king’s youngest daughter was beautiful without a doubt, and the only one of seven siblings to inherite the blonde hair of her father. As opposed to the raven-black her sisters all sported. However, it wasn’t her beauty that had caused the men around Richard to fall silent, it was the fact that she was a seer, so the rumors said. A powerful one, unlike the many who could only tell such useless things as the gender of a child. Many men close to the king feared her, and the rumors among the common people did her no kindness.
She looked out at all gathered with cold green eyes and occasionally exchanged whisper with her father. Richard forced himself to look away before too long, and tuned his attention back to the group of warriors he had settled in with.
“So, when is this lucky soldier going to be chosen?”
“Still a couple hours yet. I hear a few people are just now entering the city. May as well make yourself comfortable.”
Richard’s stomach decided that it had waited long enough and began protesting once more. It didn’t look like the king was serving his guests either.
It was going to be a very uncomfortable couple of hours, despite his new companion’s advice.
The conversation wasn’t very lively either.
I’ve finally gone deaf.
Richard thought, as the loud clamour that had been going on for hours straight around him ended. However, one of his new friends tapped him on the shoulder almost immediately and pointed towards the throne. The king had stood. Once more Richard couldn’t help but be shocked at how different the king looked. Not fifteen years ago the middle aged man had sat triumphant upon his horse leading him army through the streets of the capitol in victory, Roland the Warrior they called him. It seemed like an underwhelming title to most, but a fitting one. Roland always had led his armies from the front.
Now he needed the support of his youngest daughter just to stand. He looked across the assembled men with a bored expression, clearly unimpressed. Richard didn’t know what the king had expected, but it certainly wasn’t what he saw. Finally though, he spoke. The voice was deep, and had a hint of its old strength, but sounded hollow to Richard.
“Is this it? Have I grown so old and forgotten that not two hundred men answer my call for a sword? Bah! A squabbling group of greedy sellswords, that’s what I see before me. Where are my knights? Step forward, you’re the only proper warriors I trust.”
Six men stepped forward out of the crowd, all but one dressed in full armor. Of them Richard only recognised one; Sir Jorand. He was one of the more well honored warriors in the kingdom, a veteran of more battles than Richard had years. When all of them stood in front of the king, side by side, the old man spoke once more.
“Good, now Valerie, choose between the best this kingdom has to offer.”
The woman smirked in response, and Richard felt a slight chill go down his spine. She promptly walked up to the first man giving him a cold stare into his eyes, before nodding her head. She repeated this six times in turn, and after she finished with the last man she returned to the king’s side once more and sighed.
“I’m afraid none of them are fit to guard me on the road father.”
A darkness flew over the king’s face then, and he turned to his daughter in disbelief while the silence over the hall grew ever deeper.
“None of them…? These are the best warriors in the kingdom! What do you mean none of them!”
“Well, father. Warriors they are, but none fit to guard me I’m afraid. Four, including the brave Sir Jorand here will die with arrows in their backs. Sir Ashton will get into a duel while trying to defend my honor and be slain. And our friend Sir Duncan here…”
She fixed the unarmored knight with another cold stare, one filled with hatred and disgust. A stare Richard hoped he would never see directed at himself.
“Sir Duncan will turn around when he is outside of the city limits and ride to his castle. It is there that I will become his prisoner and he will rape me. Repeatedly, until I bear him a son. Which he will then use as a claim to your throne and rally your less loyal lords against you. A good plan really, but you might be able to see why I wouldn’t want him to be the one ‘protecting’ me on the road.”
Angry murmurs rippled through the crowd behind Richard, with the two most prominent words being “seer” and “traitor”. Richard tried to see Sir Duncan’s reaction, all he could tell is that the man was shaking. Valerie on the other hand sported a triumphant smirk. The king on the other hand looked like he was at a loss for what to do, but eventually found his voice, which boomed out far louder than his frail body should have been able to manage;
“Quiet! Quiet! QUIET!”
The last word sounded closer to a roar, it was the sound of a commander ordering his troops. Almost immediately the noise died down to a tense silence once more. Waiting for their king to speak.
“Even if my daughter has powers above us, I will not call treason because of them. Sir Duncan has served the kingdom faithfully so far, and I will not punish him for that. Now, it is my daughter’s choice who will protect her, and if she refuses my knights than it is her right. However…”
The king turned to his daughter once more, his voice still keeping the commanders edge from before.
“You need to choose, now.”
With that Valerie mearly shrugged and glanced out into the crowd, seeming to meet the eyes of everyone present in a short span of time. Finally, it was Richard’s turn to meet her gaze, and he immediately felt the same chill as before. Only this time, it didn’t go away. He felt himself being pulled away layer by layers, and with each new piece exposed the chill grew worse, until he felt his whole body shaking.
Then it was over, and Richard found himself staring at that same mysterious smirk the princess had sported before.
“I believe, father, that warriors may not always be the best protectors. Richard Stout, please stand before you king.”