‘I lost her, father. They took her right out from under us. Forgive me, there was naught any of us could have done to stop them. We were nearly overwhelmed ourselves-’ He was cut off by a raised palm from King Radford.
‘Your judgement and prowess under fire, I trust. No doubt if you say there was nothing to be done, there was nothing to be done.’
‘But she was my responsibility! I should have had more men-’
‘The men were not yours to command.’
‘No. That is enough. Your thoughts are not your own and your body is sore and weary. After rest, then we will seek to recapture her.’ And with that, the large form in his regal clothes swept out of the hallway and outside to greet his troops.
Chastised into his position, Chance made his way through to the kitchens, shaking off all the crowding attendants; tonight he would get his own supper and he would have naught but bread and water as penance for his crime. Alone, he sat on an upturned barrel that smelt suspiciously of rotten wood and old ale in the thick smoke that found its way into all corners of the room. Women bustled about the place, red and layered in sweat and dirty aprons while servant boys traipsed mud in and out while they carried livestock in and entrails out. Upon the fire a thick stew was boiling away as fresh bread was being heaved out of the giant stone oven and blood from the chickens for the fourth course dripped rhythmically onto the floor, barely audible above the rest of the noise. He sipped the water, a foul drink when one was used to the monasteries best wines imported from somewhere overseas, gratefully as the heat built up around him. A small boy tripped and spilt his jug of milk over the fire which erupted into an explosion of steam, hissing and the smell of burnt sour milk. Chaos erupted around him as the head cook, a particularly large and forbidding looking woman, began a long stream of profanities, the gist of which was that he had ruined the stew and how did he think he would survive on the streets if his behaviour continued? Wiping his mouth on his bloodied sleeve, he left, having no desire to hear more discontent than he had heard already.
He used the servants passage ways to find his way to his chambers as he wished for none to see him but Fieleon, a monk he had saved from death in the wilderness a couple of years previously and had adopted into the household as a servant. When he did find his friend, walking near the private chapel as he could usually be found despite claims he had renounced all ties to his god and all others, he requested water be brought up for a bath. Then he ascended another staircase and slipped along another corridor until he reached his room which had been left open from his since his return. Closing the door behind him, he exhaled a huge sigh of relief and strode over to the chair by the window that overlooked the palace grounds and the land of which one day he was to rule. Usually, he would allow Fieleon to relieve him of his battle gear, but tonight he wished for none but his own company so he began unlacing the bracers strapped to his arms and worked his way up his body and down to his greaves before stepping out of the soft leather shoes inside his metal ones until he was standing naked in the middle of the room.
Only now could the extent of his injuries become known and, as Fieleon and two other men filled the bath with boiling water, he stood in front of the polished glass and inspected the damage of the fight. A huge purple mass covered most of the ribs on his left hand side from the spear and this was his most painful injury, otherwise the cut to his right temple whose leaked blood had congealed into a ghastly black mass looked the worst and was causing even as he looked a black eye to form. The cuts and bruises to the rest of him were too numerous to mention with his whole inner thigh bruised from falling upon his horse and the same ankle slightly swollen. He shivered. Never before had he been so neatly matched to opponents. It had always been told to him he possessed the strength of a God and he had not doubted this until now; perhaps he was more mortal than others cared to believe? Slowly, he sunk deep into the hot water mixed with lavender oil and imagined the heat filling his aching joints and cleaning out all the hurt until nothing was left but weightlessness.
Some time later, he emerged free from mud and blood, put on his night clothes and began to settle for bed. Just as he had drawn the curtains, there was a knock at his door and he crept to it, as if afraid of waking himself, and creaked it open a notch.
‘Nurse?’ He exclaimed with a smile and opened the door wider to admit her. Although his old nurse was still under the protection of the house, he rarely had chance to see her, or her him, and their meetings were both rare and joyous.
‘Young prince, welcome home.’ She made her way over to his bed and sat down, completely at home in his royal bachelor world. Her face was as kindly as ever but she looked perhaps saddened, not for herself but for the boy she still considered in part her own.
‘It has been too long.’
‘Is it not always?’ She smiled sadly and handed him a parcel wrapped in a soft napkin, ‘I heard of your supper and thought you might appreciate this. Do not,’ She began, ‘think of refusing, my prince, for I still know what is best for you.’ He laughed a little at this and proceeded to eat the small cake she had brought him, ‘You are not to blame for the faults of the Sarinians, for you to have saved her would have meant stooping to their level and that is not something I expect from you, dear Chance.’
‘Nay, nurse. But still, I cannot help but feel saddened by my own actions.’
‘As any prince should do when one of his charges is in danger. I would think less of you is you did not regret it. Nonetheless, what has happened will have meant to happen.’
Solemnly, he nodded once more.