Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Dark Ages, Book 1: Chapter 4, Part 3

(Continued from Chapter 4, Part 2.)

“Was your day about town pleasant, Cyrus?”
Cyrus chewed and swallowed before he spoke. It was a wonder, thinking back to when Cyrus first started eating at the baron’s table. He used to be so… common, Reace supposed was the word. He would shovel food into his mouth and talk all the while, spraying food all about. Father was content to simply look disgusted and ignore it, but Mother would have none of it at her table. She spent an entire week instructing Cyrus on etiquette and manners, much to the stable boy’s horror. He ate with the grace of a nobleman now, though—at least while under Mother’s watchful eye.

“It was pleasant enough.”
Reace leaned in and spoke low, grinning. “I hear you spent the day chasing tails.” The secrecy was unnecessary, since the table was long and a northern messenger at the other end was loudly regaling Mother and Father with news from the capital and the road. Still, he liked to make Cyrus feel nervous about these things.
He shook his head. “It was just the mayor’s daughter. She’s a sweet girl and quite pretty, but that’s about it. I’m sure she will make a young lord quite happy as his trophy some day.”
Reace nodded to himself. Insipid.
“I won’t be seeing her again, in any case,” he continued. “Is there no such thing as a beautiful lady with brains to match?”
Reace sipped his wine thoughtfully. “I don’t think you’ll find one around here. I’ll let you know if I see any at the Tradesmeet, though.”
Cyrus nearly choked on his roast, and Reace barely kept his face straight. “You get to go?” asked Cyrus, once his fork was down.
“Of course. I’m nearing adulthood, and it’s time I start learning the business of trade, if I’m to take my lord father’s place one day.”
Cyrus clutched Reace’s arm, which was terribly unfitting behavior for the dinner table. Luckily, Mother was enraptured by the messenger’s tales.
“Take me with you,” he said. “I want to see it.”
Reace had already given much thought to whether he would take Cyrus or not. It largely depended on Father’s permission, of course, but Reace also wondered if perhaps he would be more open to making new friends there if he didn’t have his old friend around for company.
And then Reace remembered his uncle’s words. They are the enemy. Perhaps Reace didn’t need to make new friends. Leastwise, not at the Tradesmeet.
“I will talk to my lord father about it.”
Cyrus thanked him and returned to his meal.
Reace did so as well, and began to listen to the messenger’s news. The man’s high, nasally voice carried easily across the room.
“…attacking the settlements in the Hallowlands.”
Mother gasped in shock.
Father snorted. “Fools. The seat of the old empire and the lands that surround it are cursed, and have been since the Theos fell.”
“As you say, milord,” said the messenger, bowing. “They say some whole towns were razed, however. Fiends are not often so bold.”
“They are not kept in check in the Hallowlands,” said Father, with confidence. “Why, my brother left just a few hours ago to patrol the roads once again. Besides, we have enough problems of our own without jumping at phantoms in the shadows.”
“Quite right, milord,” agreed the messenger. “The king agrees, and has forbidden Prince Lionel from investigating. After news reached the capital, the prince had gathered a host of a thousand men before his majesty had the army disbanded.”
Bold of him, thought Reace. The Hallowlands were the only parts of the old empire that Guardia did not yet control. Perhaps Prince Lionel wasn’t foolish, just ambitious.
Reace had heard many stories about the king’s children. The monarch had very little control over his daughter, who lived apart from the castle for safety and training. His son, however, had always seemed obedient and honorable. He was heir to the throne, and seemed to be a worthy king in the making. Better him than me, thought Reace, thinking of the tedium of politics. He had enough to look forward to with the baronship of Porre.
“Another fool,” said Father. “The king has no other heir, unless that she-devil of a daughter marries. If the line of Guardia ends, then the nations would destroy each other to fill the void. Would he risk the peace of this nation on a march to glory?”
The messenger bowed. “You are blunt but wise, milord. But I have some faith in Prince Lionel’s abilities. I believe you will understand, too, when you see him again at the Tradesmeet.”
Father snorted, and his gaze turned to Reace, who quickly turned his attention back to his plate. “I don’t doubt his prowess,” said the baron, quietly, “but even were he Ser Arturos himself, badge and all, if I were his father I would be loathe to allow my heir to put himself in such danger.”

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