Why me? Why, why, why, me? How did I manage to get myself  caught up in this mess? How, for that matter, did I manage to get myself stuck in this stinking pansy of a prince's retinue?

These and various other miserable thoughts chased themselves around my head as I dragged my sorry-looking self through the door of the castle's barracks. They were small, low-ceilinged wooden buildings set just outside the main keep. The looks I got from passing servants was enough to make my face turn almost as red as my hair - which in itself had earned me some very strange looks. Not many Albaretans with hair like a bonfire around. A family curse I would have happily skipped out on. Not only did it clash very nicely with my coal-dark eyes, but it was a very easy thing to spot in a fight. Better still, it allowed that little rat of a prince to identify me even from a distance.

None the less, I found myself a pallet in the corner of one of the rooms and flopped down on it. There were several others there, mostly either members of the castle's garrison or knights who'd come with the nobles. All looked up in alarm when I entered and several shot me some highly disconcerted looks. Understandable, seeing as I was covered from head to foot in mud and smelt strongly of horse.

Oh, the joys of mercenary life.

Ignoring the strange looks, I unbuckled my belt and dumped it beside the pallet. Beside it I deposited my quivver- plus the motley collection of arrows that inhabited it - and my longbow. Although chipped, dented and, like me, covered in filth, the dark colour of the wood still showed. I'd had that bow ever since I took my first job with a minor warlord and it had stayed with me right through to my employment by the king of Albareta five years ago.

If only I'd known what a rotten job that would turn out to be. Guarding his snivveling brat of a son - honestly could that boy behave any more like a girl? How many times have I come streaking to his aid just because of some stray dog or over-confident beggar?

Evidently the king didn't want to put any of his knights through that torture.

Lucky me.

Speaking of the prince, I knew I'd have to get back soon. He'd probably give me a right earful as it was, sneaking off to the barracks and leaving him alone in the palace. Well, right now, I didn't give a peanut. I was cold, hungry and wanted a bath.

I'd deal with His Royal Whinginess later.

The End

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