Day Five

He stormed through the castle corridors, stubbornly refusing to allow his mind to process any thoughts. As soon as one would try to make itself known he would shove it aside and force a blank, red, seething slate in its place. At the perimeter of his minds he was aware of an annoying noise occurring at regular intervals but paid it no heed until it sounded one too many times.

Gerald stopped in the middle of an empty hall and stared down at the hat in his hand, which had fallen silent with his arrested movement. With a furious growl he flung it against the wall, causing two of the bells to fly off in opposite directions. He watched them until they rolled to a jingling stop, then stalked over to the one that had gone the way he was heading. With a disgusted shake of his head, he stomped it flat and carried on.

As he approached his room he was still intent on not thinking about anything. Unfortunately, the two young servants who were heading the opposite way had other plans.

“Jerry!” the first called, a boy of thirteen who had only arrived a month prior. “We just heard the news! Isn’t this incredible!”

“Yeah, it sure is… something,” he replied, trying to move around them but finding no way through. “Excuse me boys, I need to get to my room.”

“Don’t you want to join us for lunch and tell us all about it?” the second asked, a boy with a mop of blond hair as unruly as Jerry’s and more energy than he had any right to have. Bouncing on his toes, he added in an excited whisper, “I mean, you were right there when it happened!”

“Maybe later.”

“But if we don’t get to the kitchens soon all the food will be gone, what with all these suitors hanging about!”

“I’m really not hungry,” Gerald muttered, pushing his way between them. “Another time, sorry.”

Safely inside his room, Gerald had barely sat down at his desk when a knock sounded at his door. He stared at his reflection for a few breaths and thought about screaming at the two boys in order to get his point across. With a weary shake of his head he decided he had made enough enemies for one day and dragged himself to the door.

“Look, guys, I’m really… oh, hi Colin,” he said upon spotting his young helper (he refused to think of the boy as his servant) standing in the hall with a bowl of steaming water in his hands.

The only son of a cleaner in the kitchens and one of the head chefs (that was the talk of the servant quarters for quite some time), the seven year old had been assisting Gerald since the end of the previous winter. In that time the two had become quite close, though Gerald had to spend much of their time together dissuading the boy from wanting to become a jester.

“Hello, Lord Gerald,” he replied with a dip of his head that caused his brown hair to fall into his eyes. Tossing his head to the right, he held up his delivery and said, “I brought you your cleaning supplies - there’s a cloth underneath it.”

“Thank you very much,” Gerald said, stepping to the side and waving him in. “And please stop calling me that - you know I hate it.”

“I know,” Colin said with a giggle as he placed the bowl on the desk and held out the cloth. “I just like the way it sounds. Plus your face goes all funny when I say it.”

Gerald shook his head and took the proffered cloth before flopping down onto his stool. He desperately wanted to be alone, but a part of him knew that the boy’s presence would help. With a soft sigh, he dipped the cloth into the water and began to rub the paint off his face.

“Aren’t you excited about the king’s announcement this morning?” Colin asked as he sat cross-legged on the floor at his feet.

“Should I be?”

“Of course! There’s going to be a dragon’s head brought to the castle! I bet it’s going to be all bloody and gruesome and totally brilliant! Do you think I can get one of its teeth to use as a necklace?”

“I think,” Gerald said as he tried not to laugh at Colin’s enthusiasm, “that only dragon slayers get to wear that sort of trophy jewelry. So if you want one, you’ll just have to go kill it yourself!”

“The only way that’ll happen is if the dragon sees me coming at him with my wooden practice sword and dies of laughter,” he said, sounding rather dejected. But he quickly recovered and added, “And Estelle will finally be married! I bet the wedding is going to be the most amazing thing ever!”

“Yeah, that is pretty exciting,” Gerald said with absolutely no enthusiasm. He finished clearing off the silver side of his face and turned to begin work on the gold and red paint. “Let’s throw a big party for the maniac who kills a dragon, and while we’re at it let’s make him the next king too!”

“You’re not happy that your friend will have a husband after looking for one for so long?” Colin asked, confusion etched all over his face.

“Not one of her choosing, though. Not one she loves. That’s what she’s been wanting. What she was promised.”

“Oh,” the boy said, picking at a loose thread in his shirt. “Well, I think it’s very romantic. Imagine if there was someone out there willing to slay a dragon for you! That sounds like true love to me.”

“Or it could be some thug who just wants to be king and is willing to go to ridiculous lengths to do it,” Gerald countered, anger slipping into his words again. “Sorry, Colin. I shouldn’t burden you with this.”

“It’s okay, my father says I’m very mature for my age - I can take it!” Colin said with such solemnity that Gerald had to bite his lip to stop from laughing. The boy tilted his head and stared at the jester for a moment before a large smile nearly split his face in two. “That’s it!”

“What’s it?” Gerald asked, his brows drawn down in confusion.

“You have to kill the dragon!”

“I have to what?”

“That’s the only way to guarantee the princess gets a good husband! You two are best friends already, and mom always calls dad her best friend, so -”

“Me? Kill a dragon?” Gerald didn’t bother withholding his laugh this time. “How in the world did that idea get into your head?”

“You have a beheaded dragon on your cheek,” Colin said.

Gerald was about to tell him to stop talking nonsense when he remembered the design he’d made on his face that morning. He turned to look at his reflection and saw that he had rubbed off all of it - except for the head. Raising his right hand, he ran a finger along its smudged neckline and allowed himself to dream for a moment.

From laughter to respect. From jester to king. From friend to husband. From…

“No,” he muttered weakly. Then, more firmly, “No. That’s silly Colin. How would I manage to kill Blackwing?”

“With a sword!”

“Ah, an excellent plan. Except that I’ve never even picked one up.”

“With a lance then…”

“Nor that.”

“… while riding your mighty steed…”

“The only thing I’ve ridden is Stomper down in the stables and he’s almost as old as I am! Not to mention twice as timid.”

“Well, I can’t think of everything,” Colin muttered. “If you want to marry the princess you have to do some of the work.”

“I don’t think it matters what I want anyway,” Gerald said quietly as he washed the remainder of the dragon from his face. “After what happened this morning, I think Estelle would rather marry a complete stranger.”

“Did you two have a fight?”

“Yes. I said some… very silly things. I was just… frustrated, I suppose.”

“So go make it right,” Colin said sternly, pointing a finger at the door.

“I don’t think so,” Gerald said with a shake of his head. “We’ve never fought before and -”

“That was your first fight in all of the time you’ve known each other? My mom and dad fight almost every week!”

“That’s different.”

“No, it’s not,” the boy said. “My mom says they fight so much because they love each other. If they didn’t love each other, they wouldn’t care enough to argue. So maybe you two are starting to l-”

“Colin!” Gerald suddenly wished he’d left his makeup on a bit longer. “That is a very… improper thing to say. Anyway, I wouldn‘t know what to say to make up for what I did.”

“Oh, that’s easy! Dad says no matter what they’re fighting about the solution is always the same. He just does two things.” Colin held up one finger, pausing for dramatic effect. “First: he apologies. He says it doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong, say you’re sorry.”

“And the second?” Gerald asked, scarcely believing he was taking relationship advice from someone barely a third his age.

“It’s a secret.”

“It’s a… ahem, I see.” Gerald forced a serious expression onto his face. “Will you tell me if I promise not to tell anyone, ever, no matter what?”

“I don’t know…”

“Please, Colin? It would really help me out. And I’ll owe you one!”

“Owe me one what?”

“A favor. Next time you need help with something, just let me know and I’ll be there.”

Colin thought this over for a while before nodded his head once, firmly. He scrambled to his feet and cupped one hand around Gerald’s ear before whispering his instructions.

“You’re serious?” Gerald asked.

“Yeah. Dad says it works every time.”

“I will… keep that in mind.”

“I’d do more than keep it in mind if I were you!” Colin said as he picked up the used cloth and bowl. He headed for the door and Gerald followed after him to open it. “Do those two things and everything will be fine - trust me.”

Gerald thanked him for his counsel and sent him on his way. He knew it was ridiculous - all of it - but he couldn’t stop himself from thinking about it. He changed out of his jester outfit, replacing it with a pair of loose fitting black breeches and a flowing red shirt. He picked out a book from the small collection by his bed and tried reading it, but found it impossible to focus on the words.

“This is stupid,” he announced to his room, tossing his book aside. Thankfully, the room chose not to answer. Gerald was really not in a state of mind to handle talking rooms by that point.

He lay down on his bed and stared at the ceiling, hoping rather optimistically that he might fall asleep and escape his head for a while. Unsurprisingly it failed, and the dragon and Estelle swirled continuously before his eyes. His stomach took that opportunity to remind him that he had skipped lunch, so he decided to make a trip to the kitchen to keep himself busy (and shut his belly up).

Gerald was considering finding someone to eat with, but all the way there everyone he met wanted to talk about the one thing he wanted to forget. The kitchen staff were no different (in fact, they were even worse - their reputation as the worst gossips in the castle was well earned, after all), so he took his plate back to his room and ate there.

Afterward, with an empty dish and a quieted stomach, his brain kicked back into high gear. Deciding that he had to do something before he went crazy, he chose to do the second thing Colin had suggested, since it didn’t involve speaking with Estelle. Having arranged that, he was able to relax a little - and then made sure to stay that way by remaining in his room and avoiding all contact with other castle residents.

The rest of the day passed relatively quickly and he was feeling much better as he climbed into bed and blew out his candle. But as he lay there, eyes wide open, the words he had forgotten came creeping back and he found himself repeating them over and over until sleep finally came to take him.

Exceptional people in history were just ordinary folk up until the moment they did something extraordinary.

The End

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