Day Nine

When Owen and Elena had their first and only child together, Gregory would have been named Estelle’s godfather if there had even been a hint of royal blood on his family tree.

Later that same year, the royal family had attended (in secret) Gregory’s marriage to his young bride Sophie, a server in his favorite tavern, and had paid for a lavish honeymoon cottage at the outskirts of the kingdom. It was here, on a blustery fall night, that Gerald was likely conceived.

When Gerald was pulled kicking and screaming from his mother‘s womb, one month earlier than expected, Owen and Elena were in another kingdom on official business, though the queen rushed back as soon as word had reached her. She arrived five days after the birth, just two days before Sophie passed away due to complications from the delivery.

One week. That was all the time Gerald had shared with his mother. It was something that deeply bothered him but he very rarely talked about it. After all, when your best friend only had five years with her mother, it was difficult to complain.

As he slipped between two men selling freshly picked apples from one of the nearby orchards, Gerald realized that he and Estelle had never discussed their mothers, or the toll their losses had taken on them. It was strange to think of, but he supposed it had just become an unspoken bond that helped unite them against the rest of the world.

Shortly after Sophie’s passing, Owen had arranged for Gregory and his son to be moved into the castle and enlisted him in his personal guard. But the loss of his wife proved too much and he died less than a year later, in what was publicly deemed a hunting accident. Privately, however, it was known that he had taken his own life.

It was an act that Gerald would never forgive. Though he could understand how much he must have suffered after his wife was gone, he still had a son he was responsible for. To share all his knowledge and secrets with. To go on grand adventures with and tell stories to. But that was not sufficient to keep him alive. Gerald was not enough.

An orphan at nine months, Gerald was placed in the care of the same woman who was watching over Estelle. There was some discussion of adoption, but again the lack of royal bloodlines made it impossible - officially, at any rate. Unofficially, Gerald was treated like Owen and Elena’s second child until he became so infatuated with the current Royal Jester that they had sent him away for training. Upon his return, the aging jester was kind enough to take him in and act as his mentor until his retirement, at which point Gerald transitioned into the position.

He had remained close with the princess through it all and had helped comfort her (as best a four year old could) after Elena passed away suddenly from a mysterious infection. He would often practice his jokes and tumbling routines with her before unveiling them in the Great Hall and she in turn would rehearse speeches and ceremonies she had to take part in.

Walking down the street with a wide smile brought on by being lost in childhood memories - he was just thinking of Estelle falling over while practicing curtsies - Gerald almost went right past his first destination. He stopped suddenly in the middle of the street, causing two friends who had been following him a little too closely to mutter darkly at him as they brushed past.

Gerald called out an ignored apology before entering Father Joseph’s money changing shop. The proprietor, a young monk from the northernmost reaches of the kingdom, seemed as though he had ice water in his veins and had no need for heat; he was often see walking the streets in mid-winter still wearing his summer clothes. It was rumored that he had been born and raised in a cave in the mountains and had never seen fire until he moved south but Gerald refused to believe that. At any rate, his shop was invariably the coldest place in the city and his customers quickly learned not to bother complaining about it.

Joseph was seated behind his counter, playing a haunting tune on his wooden flute, when Gerald entered the cramped space. He acknowledged the jester with a dip of his head and carried the song through to completion. Gerald took a seat on the lone stool on his side of the counter and did his best not to shiver. It smelled faintly of pipe smoke, as though Joseph had enjoyed a smoke that morning and there was not enough air circulation to remove it even several hours later.

“Good day, jester,” the monk said while scratching his scraggly beard with an end of the flute before setting the instrument aside. “It has been a long time. What can I do for you?”

“And good day to you too, Father. I need to take out some of the gold I have invested with you.”

“Buying a pretty girl a pretty present?” Joseph asked with a ghost of a smile. “How much?”

“Fifty coins should do it,” Gerald said, knowing even that amount would hardly dent his savings. The king had been far too generous to him and residing in the castle meant he had little reason to spend any of it in recent years. “Split half of it into silvers and coppers, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“That must be some present,” the monk said as he pulled a fist-sized bronze key from the chain he wore around his neck. “Must be some pretty girl.”

“Something like that,” Gerald said with a shrug.

“I hope she’s worth it,” Joseph told him as he disappeared behind the curtain of grey and black beads that separated his storefront from the backrooms that contained his vault and multiple smaller safes.

“There is no question of that,” Gerald whispered to himself. There was a part of him that still didn’t fully believe he was going to carry out his plan. He was allowing that part to take charge for the afternoon in order to get everything done, since the rest of him would surely insist on hiding in his room, curled into a little ball. Likely beneath his bed.

“Sign here,” Joseph said, placing a quill and a piece of paper on the counter. Once Gerald had done so, he placed two jingling brown sacks next to the document and looked closely at his client. “I do hope you’re not planning on doing anything foolish with this.”

“Love is many things,” Gerald told him as he attached the sacks to his belt and stood to leave. “But it is not foolish. Stay well, Father.”

The monk watched him exit his shop, his gray eyes remaining on his door long after it had closed behind him. At length he retrieved his flute and began playing again, a new tune this time. One that was traditionally played at funerals in his hometown.

It took Gerald a while to find his next stop, as he had never been there before. And since he wanted to keep his activities as inconspicuous as possible, he didn’t dare to ask directions. As a result, he wasted over an hour wandering the streets, optimistically hoping that some latent instinct inherited from his father would kick in.

In the end, he was fortunate enough to spot a mercenary strolling along, admiring a newly purchased dagger, and simply headed in the direction the man had come from. He found himself standing in front of the weapon smith’s shop less than a minute later.

“Citizen,” the smith grunted in Gerald’s direction as he entered the two storey building. He was both the tallest and most muscular man the jester had ever laid eyes on - it was as though two tree trunks had burst from his torso and grown fingers. His immediate impulse was to turn and run. Maybe to that nice tea cup shop across town.

“Hello,” he managed to say instead. After a few moments he even succeeded in taking a couple of steps toward the man. “I’m looking to buy a sword.”

“I might have one or two of those,” the smith replied, looking rather bored.

Gerald finally took his eyes off the smith and let his gaze wander the first floor of the shop. The wall to his left was almost entirely covered with axes, there were shields of all shapes, sizes, and colors hanging from the ceiling, and there were display cases filled with daggers spaced intermittently across the floor. The right wall and, from what he could see of it, all of the second level were filled with swords.

“Ah, right. Of course.” Gerald swallowed the nervous lump in his throat. He suddenly felt very depressed; he could barely enter a weapon shop to buy a sword. How did he expect to stand face to maw with a homicidal dragon? “Sorry, I think this was a mistake. Sorry for wasting your time.”

“Never bought a sword before?” the smith asked, crossing the room with three massive strides. He crossed his arms and looked down at the jester with surprising tenderness. “A man feels more like a proper man with a good sword in his hands. Why don’t you try a few out before you give up on the idea?”

“I… I suppose that would be all right,” Gerald allowed. “My name’s Jerry, by the way.”

“Magnus. Follow me, little Jerry.”

Gerald bit his tongue to prevent his childish comeback from escaping his mouth and followed Magnus up to the second floor. The smith led him to the far wall, where an array of blades glittered darkly in the light given off by the torches ensconced in the walls. The two men stood silently for a while, Magnus watching Gerald, and Gerald staring at the weapons.

“Good choice,” Magnus suddenly announced, moving to the wall and taking down a slender blade with a plain black hilt and unadorned guard. He took the blade in his right hand and offered it hilt-first to the jester. “Here, try it out. Tell me what you think of the balance.”

“How did you know I wanted this one?” Gerald asked, grasping it with his right hand. When Magnus let go, the sword dipped toward the floor and the jester quickly grabbed it with his left as well.

“You could barely take your eyes off of this one for two seconds,” Magnus said with a smile. “Like I said, it would be a good choice. There is nothing on it that doesn’t need to be there. It knows it is a sword and not a piece of jewelry. A workmanlike sword. You have a good eye for a beginner.”

Gerald accepted the compliment with a slight shrug before turning his attention to the weapon in his hands. It was heavy, but not excessively so. He could imagine becoming strong enough to wield it properly in a relatively short period of time, which was a rather important factor in his purchasing decision.

“How much is it?” he asked, slashing it through the air as gently as he could and still stumbling off balance.

“Ten gold for the blade, one gold for the simplest scabbard I have,” Magnus replied. “I have more expensive ones, but I think this one would prefer a home that isn’t trying to impress anyone.”

“I think you’re right about that.”

“And if you buy it now, I will throw in a free lesson as well. Because, and no offence intended, but you really need one.”

Gerald looked from the sword to the smith and back again. He had no intention of arguing with, or being offended by, that point. But time was of the essence.

“Could my lesson be tomorrow afternoon?”

“Ah, an eager student. I like it.” Magnus walked by him on the way back to the stairs and clapped him on the shoulder, very nearly knocking him flat on his face. “Let me check my schedule. Bring that downstairs when you are ready.”

Gerald spent a few more minutes taking practice swings as he tried to figure out how to keep his balance while attacking. His arms tired quickly though, and he had made little improvements before he returned to the main floor.

“You are in luck,” Magnus told him. “Come by any time in the afternoon and I will walk you through some basics. Sound like a deal?”

“It’s a deal,” Gerald said, placing the sword gently on the counter before placing eleven gold coins beside it. He stared at the money and the weapon for a moment, wondering how he had gone from wanting to forget the whole thing to purchasing a blade in such a short span of time. He gave the smith a suspicious look but said nothing more.

“Excellent,” the smith said, scooping the coins into an open palm. “You should probably leave the sword here. I will sharpen and polish it for you to take home tomorrow. And I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself or anyone else before I have a chance to show you how to use it.”

“Sounds good to me,” Gerald said with a firm nod, happy to have another day to figure out how to get it back to his room without anyone seeing. “Thank you very much, Magnus. I will see you tomorrow!”

“You are very welcome. See you then, Jerry.”

The End

24 comments about this story Feed