Day Thirteen

As Gerald left the weapon smith’s shop he had his head down, contemplating the heavy package in his hands and wondering what would happen if anyone in the castle discovered it. How would a jester explain having a brand new blade? Maybe he could say he was expanding his routine to include sword swallowing…

Completely lost in his thoughts, he walked right into the group of people huddled just outside the store.

“Oh! Excuse me, I’m so sorry,” Gerald said as he stumbled back. “That was completely my fault - I should have been looking where I was going.”

“It’s okay,” one of the four dark skinned men said with an easy smile. “We probably shouldn’t have been standing there in the first place. We too were caught up in our own little world.”

“No harm done,” a second man added. When he noticed that Gerald’s gaze was on the strange object in his hands he laughed. “I bet you are wondering what this little guy is for.”

“Sorry, it’s just that I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“You apologize too much,” the man said with another laugh that caused the bells in his long black hair to chime. “This is what I call a throwing star. Let me show you it works. First we push the blades - very carefully, mind you, or you’re likely to lose a finger - back into the central wooden disk, like so. So now it’s safe to stick in a pocket, or under your hat, or wherever you want to conceal it, right?”

“Okay,” Gerald said, feeling a little uncomfortable about the idea of people walking around with deadly weapons hidden on their person. But on the other hand, it would be a lot easier to get one of those into the castle than his big, bulky sword. If only he could kill Blackwing with one of those…

“So now it’s time to attack,” the man said, holding it in the palm of his hand. “See this little groove here? You put your thumb there and stick your second finger directly underneath it, right by this little knob. Do you know why you hold it like this, and only like this?”

“Because anywhere else and… you chop your own finger off.”

“Ha, exactly! You’re not as thick as you look!” Gerald frowned but let it pass. The four men seemed to approve of this. “So, we press the knob down with the second finger and… ta da!”

The four razor sharp points that had been pushed into the disc snapped back out with a soft hiss. The man tilted it from side to side, allowing Gerald to see that where he held was indeed the only safe spot.

“A quick flick of the wrist sends it flying through the air with enough force to take out an eye. A proper wind up will pierce the heart, if the thrower is strong enough.”

“How much?” Gerald asked, the words out of his mouth before he even realized it.

“This is just the prototype,” the man said as he tucked the blades back in. “We brought it in to see if any of the shops would be interested in making a bulk purchase. So far, no luck, but we’re not giving up yet. We will head north and look for buyers there next.”

“So you don’t have any more?” Gerald asked, unable to hide his disappointment.

“We have a few more in progress back at the wagons,” the tallest of the group said, speaking for the first time. A jagged scar ran down the left side of his face, narrowly missing his eye. There were streaks of grey in his dark hair and he carried himself like the leader of the small group. “You are welcome to come visit our camp tomorrow morning - we should have them done by then.”

“But make sure you come before noon,” the first man added. “We will be on the move again as soon as our lunches reach our bellies. We Gypsies were not made to stand still for too long.”

“You said that you are heading north next?” Gerald asked, an idea beginning to form in his head.

“As fast as our horses are able to pull our wagons,” the second man replied. “So if we’re not there when you get there, you’re not likely to catch us.”

“I’ll be there,” Gerald assured them.

He received directions on how to find their camp just to the east of the city and bid them good night before heading back to the castle. He doubted that the throwing stars would kill Blackwing, but his odds of survival would very definitely increase if he could manage to blind him. He would have to practice his aim at every opportunity as he traveled north toward the dragon.

And, if he had his way, he would have an expert for a teacher for most of the way there.

Chapter Eleven

There was an overturned apple cart just inside the main castle gate, so Gerald took advantage of the commotion to slip by with his disguised sword. He dropped off his package in his room, hiding it next to the food sacks under his bed, before grabbing a change of clothes and heading for the baths to cleanse himself and soak his aching muscles.

The baths were situated in the basement, at the opposite end to the kitchens. They were almost always packed first thing in the morning and after dinner, but during the rest of the day they were practically abandoned. So it was no surprise that Gerald was able to find a private room to claim as his own.

He dumped his dirty clothes into an empty bin by the door and, after a moment’s hesitation, decided to write his name on the tag so that it would be delivered to his room after being washed. He was tempted to just leave it behind but realized it would make for good travel wear.

Easing in to the hot waters, a sigh escaped Gerald’s lips. Once he had found a comfortable position, he closed his eyes and leaned his head against the rim of the wooden tub. Completely worn out physically from his practice session with Magnus, and burned out mentally by the weight of the last two days and what was to come the next morning, he was fast asleep within seconds.

Gerald dreamed he was standing in a forest, the sun sinking into the mountainous horizon to his right. Snow covered the ground at his feet, though he could not make out any footprints in any direction. It was as though he had fallen from the sky, or appeared out of thin air. His sword was in his right hand and there was blood on its tip.

The air must have been deathly cold, but he did not feel it on his skin, nor did his breath appear in thin clouds before him. He wondered if he was dead.

A thunderous roar sounded overhead and he looked up just in time to see a dragon swoop by to his right, its tail brushing snow from the tree tops. He turned to watch its path and saw that it was circling. He appeared to be at the center of that circle.

He was surprised to realize that he felt no fear. Just… ready. For whatever was to come next.

But apparently he was not, for he was jolted from his dream by the appearance of a knight charging towards him on a black horse, a sword held high over his head and a feral snarl on his lips.

Gerald returned to the waking world with a great deal of splashing and confusion. Once he regained his bearings he was happy to find no one else around, but he still wasted no time in drying himself off and getting dressed. He picked up his dinner on the way back to his room and remained there for the rest of the day.

Though he was, for all intents and purposes, asleep on his feet, he worked on his final preparations until very late. With the Gypsies departing so soon after the gathering in the Great Hall, there would be no time to do anything but collect his things and go. So he packed up the clothes he would be bringing with him and gathered all of his supplies together.

And he spent several hours creating a new prop for his final appearance as the Royal Jester. He could have done a decent job with it in half the time, but it was a special occasion and Gerald wanted it perfect.

Once he was finally satisfied with the prop, he set it beside his closet and draped the costume he had chosen to go with it on top of his creation. Then, on legs that barely had the strength to support him, he moved to his bed, climbed in, and blew out the candle.

Sleep came to collect him quickly for the second time that day. And for the second time, so did the dream.

This time, however, he did not wake when the knight appeared. It was as though Gerald had learned from his previous dream to expect his arrival. He turned to meet the man, his sword at the ready. He could sense the dragon still circling above, watching. Waiting to see which man would survive and which would fall.

The knight bore down on him at full speed and swung his sword at Gerald’s neck. The jester rolled out of the way and waited for the next charge. The knight pulled his horse around and the dragon cried out again. This time the knight approached more cautiously and dismounted when he was twenty feet away.

No words were spoken as the two men prepared to engage. Still Gerald felt no fear as he took his weapon in both hands. With an unintelligible roar the knight attacked and Gerald countered. Again and again, neither tiring, their swords met with resounding clangs. The horse and the dragon looked on, each cheering their representative on.

For Gerald, though he didn’t fully understand it, knew that the dragon wanted him to triumph.

The End

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