My apologies for the lateness of this post! It was supposed to be scheduled for yesterday and I became distracted.
It’s story time!
Part Two: The Prince
The deep ringing of the church bell covered the sound of the last sword strike against Brayden’s armor. He lost his footing again and fell to the side. Loose dirt scattered then fell back to the ground as he clambered back to his feet with his own sword hanging limp from his hand.
“What should I tell your father today, my prince?” Henry Marshall, Captain of the Guard, sheathed his sword and stood with his arms crossed. He was twice as broad as Brayden though several inches shorter. His width was made even greater by the armor encasing his body. The short well-trimmed blond beard and baldness of his head didn’t help to make the older man any less intimidating in appearance.
“I don’t know, Henry.” Brayden struggled to sheath his sword until it finally scraped into its scabbard at his side. “Whatever you want.”
“Maybe truth this time. His only child isn’t going to be a warrior.”
Brayden studded his instructor’s face for signs of humor. Henry’s face remained stoic. No humor there.
“Honestly, that might be for the best. Then you can stop wasting your time on me.”
“No, I will tell him you’re improving but slowly.” He pointed one thick finger at the prince. “Practice. He won’t let up. And you should be able to defend yourself.”
“That’s what we have you for.” Brayden turned and limped across the practice yard to the barracks where he could shed the hated armor.
By the time he reached his bedroom in the castle, the servants had already filled the bath tub with hot water and lit the candles that stood on nearly every surface. When he was a child, he thought the servants must have magic to know his every movement and anticipate his needs. But now he knew they we just very observant to daily routines and they passed information from one to another like a chain. He rarely noticed them anymore.
He stripped his clothing and left it in a heap beside the tub. Then he climbed into the hot water and leaned back, letting the heat warm his aching muscles. Henry hadn’t held back on his strikes. Brayden wondered why the man tried so hard. As he scrubbed away the dirt from his skin, he thought about Henry’s question. Why did he care what he said to the king? It wouldn’t change anything. But then he thought, he could talk to his own father, tell him that he didn’t want to train in sword anymore. If Henry wouldn’t tell him then Brayden would do it himself.
With his mind made up, Brayden got out of the tub, dried himself, and dressed in a fine velvet green tunic and hose with matching shoes. He sat before the mirror at the vanity, combed through his thick blond hair, then dabbed perfume on his wrists. After one last check of his appearance in the full length mirror, he left his room and headed for the king’s study where he spent most of his afternoons.
The door stood open just a crack when Brayden approached it and he heard voices within. His father was speaking and then another man whose voice he didn’t recognize. He stopped beside the door where he could hear.
“The job is done, Your Majesty,” said the unknown man.
“You’re certain of it?” the king replied.
“Yes. I placed it in the old woman’s hand myself. Told her it was a gift for her daughter. She promised to brew the tea. They’ll likely share it but the deed will be done either way.”
“You’ve done well. Here is your compensation,” a jangling sound punctuated this.
“Thank you for your generosity, Your Majesty.”
“Good work should be rewarded. And I may have use for you in the future.”
“I am ever at your service, Majesty.”
“Thank you, Sire.”
Brayden backed up around a corner then started walking forward again. The man was walking the other way so Brayden was only able to see that he was nearly as tall as Brayden himself and he was cloaked in black. He thought this was a strange person to be delivering a gift to anyone. But he shrugged and continued into the study.
“Brayden,” his father looked up from the papers on his desk. “How is it you still forget to knock before entering this room?”
“Sorry, Father.” He dropped into one of the two velvet upholstered chairs that stood to the left of the great gleaming wooden desk.
The king set down the quill he was holding and turned to face his son. His black hair was changing over to a steely gray and his strong face was deeply lined around his eyes. He put his hand to his forehead as if reacting to a headache.
“What is the matter?” He said with a sigh.
“I no longer wish to train in the sword, Father. I…”
“What? Henry was just here saying how you’re improving. Being able to fight is an important skill for a future king.”
“So you say. But we have strong men to protect us. I would never have to fight myself.”
“Perhaps but you should be prepared.”
“And Henry, I think, is trying to protect my ego. I have no talent for fighting. Sword skill eludes me still.”
The king’s eyes flashed and his brow furrowed. His voice rose until it echoed in the study and could be heard down the hall. “Are you saying that my Captain of the Guard has lied?”
“Well, I suppose that…” Brayden tried to shrink back into his chair as the king rose to his feet.
The king stormed to the door of the study and shouted, “Someone send for Captain Marshall. I would see him immediately!” Then he returned to stand before his son. “As for you, you will remain here and observe. Perhaps you can learn something about being a king.”
Henry arrived must faster than Brayden could have thought possible. He was carrying his helm under his left arm. He bowed as he entered the room. “Your Majesty, I came as quickly as I could. Is something the matter?”
“Yes, something is the matter,” the king growled as he paced the room. “You’ve lied to me, Henry.”
Henry glanced at Brayden only briefly. His expression didn’t help Brayden to know what he was thinking.
“Sire,” said Henry, “I would never knowingly tell you an untruth. I’m loyal to you. What have I been accused of?”
The king stopped directly in front of Henry. They stood eye-to-eye. “You told me my son was improving. Getting better at his fighting. And yet, here he sits telling me he he has no skill in it! Who am I to believe.?”
“Your Majesty, the prince is modest about his skill. I see hope for him yet to be able to defend himself skillfully. If only…”
“Enough! I’ve heard enough. You will pack your meager personal belongings and leave this castle, this kingdom, and never return. Do this before I change my mind about being merciful.”
“As you command.” Henry backed out of the room then Brayden lost sight of him.
The king turned again to his son. “You must act swiftly when someone behaves dishonorably. Lying to one’s king cannot be tolerated.”
“I understand, Father.” Brayden stood up. “May I go now?”
“You may. But stay in your chambers. I have yet to decide what to do with you.