I walked to the lake behind the king’s entourage, shading my eyes from the sun. I hope the specter king knew what he was doing. Sarah was not here, and half of me wished that she was. The other half hoped that this was proof that what that maid had said was not true. The king kept running ahead of everyone, screaming with delight and kicking stones.
“Slow down, Your Majesty,” his minder screeched, her large legs waddling. There were several nobles there, including the one I had seen in court before, the one who had called King William “a lovelorn youth”, was there with his wife. I turned to Edgar, who was scowling beside me. They had picked him to come to the outing, and he was not happy about it. Neither was I. But the king had told me to do it, and who was I to refuse a king?
We reached the lakeside pier, and my eyes scanned over it with a bittersweet happiness. This place always reminded me of the time before we became slaves. We had owned a small piece of farmland and every year all the families would go out and harvest the grain. But then the crops began to fail. And our lord, desperate for money, had gone to the king, William I, to help him out of debt. He did, in exchange for us.
The regent snapped his fingers at me and I set up his stool for him. Edgar brought over a goblet of wine, and I held an umbrella over his head. The young king leaped into water and waded in up to his thighs. His minder shrieked at him and dragged him back out, telling him that he should not go in with all his clothes. We watched one of the slaves, Sam, try to teach the king to swim. A couple of the nobles had their servants paddle themselves out to the middle of the lake. Others like the duke, preferred to stay in the shade of their umbrellas and ate, which in my opinion defeated the purpose of coming in the first place. The duke began nodding off and soon I was starting to feel drowsy myself. The late king was nowhere in sight. What a waste of a perfectly good day. I was about to tell Edgar that we should eat some of the food in the king’s basket when King William appeared. I wanted to ask him where he had been, but Edgar was standing next to me. The ghost walked over to the regent’s chair, and with a deft swipe of his foot sent it tumbling into the water. I watched, mouth open wide, as the duke fell into the lake with great splash. It was almost comical, the way he clawed at the water for a few seconds. Then he sank below the surface. The king’s minder let out a scream, and I suddenly recalled King William’s question.
“Can you swim?”
I jumped into the water.
It took me a few seconds to remember my lessons, but soon I was swimming around, looking for the duke in the murky water. There! It was a good thing the nobles wore such ridiculously bright clothing. I grab him by the arm and began to drag him upward. He was heavy, but thanks to the water and the work I did around the castle I was able to pull him to the surface. Edgar and Sam dragged him out, and then me. The duke began to cough and sputter, waving us away.
“Leave me be! I am fine!” He glared at Edgar and I. “What I would like to know is who pushed me into the water!”
“No one, Your Grace,” said Sam, enthusiastically, “But Elliot here save your life!” The duke turned to me, and I cringed under the gaze of his sharp eyes. Then he turned and began walked back toward his horse. I stood there, dripping onto the deck. Edgar clapped me over the shoulder.
“That was amazing, Elliot! I am surprised that you could lift him u-“
“Edgar, I could be in serious trouble! The regent might think that I was the one who pushed him into the water and then where would I be!” Edgar opened his mouth to reply ,but then one of the guards ran up to me.
“You have been summoned by the regent.” I swallowed hard and followed him. As we went back, I cursed myself for ever thinking anything good could come out of listening to a ghost. My mother had told me that after one dies and becomes a ghost, they forget who they were and become twisted versions of themselves. I had thought her overly superstitious at the times, but I was not so sure now. We arrived at the castle and I was ushered into the throne room. The regent was there, along with King Lawrence and Sarah. I watched her carefully. She would believe me, I was sure. Unless, I realized with growing horror, unless what I had done the other day affected her judgment. And suddenly William’s story about his younger brother didn’t seem so funny.
The regent stood.
“What is your name, boy?”
“E-elliot.” I stuttered.
The duke squinted at me, as if he was trying to remember who I was. I tried to keep from shaking.
“You saved my life. And for that, you should be…rewarded.”
I blinked in surprise. Rewarded? King William appeared next to me.
“Tell him it is your duty to protect the king and that you deserve no reward.”
This sounded like an odd thing to say, but he seemed to know what he was doing.
“It is my d-duty to protect the king. I-I deserve no reward."
Something flickered in the duke’s eyes, and he seemed to be at a loss for words. When he spoke again, it was a soft whisper.
“If it is your wish to protect the king, so be it. You shall be trained to be part of the royal guard.”
Orion turned to the regent in surprise. “It is too late to train…” He trailed off at the duke’s glare. Giving a bow, he grabbed me roughly by the shoulders and began to drag me towards the door. The late king walked beside me.
“Why did he do that?” I whispered.
“You reminded him of his nephew. He was a hero. He said your exact words before going off to fight the Freyans again in the Wild Regions. Died in battle.”
“And you… That is cruel!”
The king shrugged and disappeared, leaving me to wonder exactly what kind of person he was.