Day Thirty

Gerald mulled this idea over while he ate his portion of the vegetable and beef stew, absent-mindedly dipping a hunk of stale bread into his bowl. It was strange to consider the idea that this talent had been inside him during all of his years as a jester, just waiting for an opportunity to reveal itself. Maybe, he thought with a wistful shake of his head, his father had passed down some dragon slaying gifts as well.

Dinner was quickly cleaned up and put away and soon Gerald and Tree were facing each other again, swords in hand. This time Tree had instructed him to wear his scabbard, which now rested against his left hip. With a formal salute, the ritual began again.

This time Gerald’s mind grew quiet almost immediately. During the third repetition he even closed his eyes, no longer needing to watch Tree in order to perform the moves correctly. He soon lost track of how many times they had gone through the movements; it felt like something very old and primal had taken over his body.

“And as you come around this time,” Tree said, his words seeming to come from far away, “I want you to sheathe your sword.”

Gerald opened his eyes and did as he was instructed. As the sword whispered back into its home the spell broke and he began to tremble violently. Sinking to his hands and knees, it was a struggle for him to remain conscious.

“Hold on Jerry,” Tree said, kneeling down beside him. “Just breathe. That is all you have to do in this world right now. One breath after the other, over and over. Feel the air filling your lungs. Feel it rush out of your mouth. That’s it.”

“What… was that?” Gerald gasped, sitting back on his heels and placing his hands on his hips. “I felt like… another person, almost.”

“That was my fault,” Tree said. “I pushed you too far too soon. I allowed myself to get excited by how long you were able to become one with your weapon and let you continue beyond what was wise. I apologize, and promise to not let that happen again.”

“It’s like I just ran for a day without stopping… and now that I’ve stopped, all that effort has caught up with me.”

“Let’s get you to bed before you collapse where you are. You will sleep like the dead tonight, I am sure.”

Tree had to lift Gerald back to his feet before stooping to support his weight across his shoulders. Gerald managed to shuffle to his bed roll but had fallen asleep before Tree had even taken his boots off.

He did, as Tree had predicted, sleep through the night. But while his body rested, his mind was unable to.

For the dream of the dragon and the knight returned, repeating itself over and over until dawn came to break the cycle at last.

Chapter Twenty-one

The castle had become a lonely place for Estelle in the days following Gerald’s sudden departure. She had never realized just how much of her free time was spent with the jester and how heavily she had relied on him for conversation that did not revolve around royal business. On the afternoon of her ninth day without him around, Estelle realized that she had not laughed since he had left and resolved to find a way to change that.

It took her a long time to think of someone who had a chance at breaking through her melancholy. Grace had been a dear friend in Gerald’s absence, but it seemed to Estelle that even she was growing weary of the princess’… obsession with the jester. Former jester, she corrected herself for the twentieth time.

Her father was much too preoccupied with royal affairs to lift her spirits, with Henry taking up even more of his time than usual. And even if he had been available, he had never been the most amusing man to be around. Plus Estelle knew that he was deeply worried about Gerald himself and she didn’t want to further burden him with her own concerns.

No, it would have to be someone else.

When she finally realized who to turn to, a smile sprang immediately to her lips. Remembering the last time she had seen him, the smile grew even wider, and she knew she had found the right person for the job. She sat down to write him a note to request him to meet her in her room after dinner, then thought better of it as she moved to seal it. Throwing the note into her fireplace, she began again, this time suggesting a new meeting place.

After she had sent the sealed envelope off with a servant, another idea came to her and she sat down to write a second invitation. Stressing the urgency of the situation, she asked forgiveness for the late notice and inconvenience and hoped the man would be available to make it.

In the hours leading up to dinner, Estelle found herself looking forward to the appointment more than anything she had done in what felt like ages. She rushed through her meal when it arrived, hardly bothering to chew any of it until she almost choked on a particularly large piece of chicken. Forcing herself to slow down, she managed to finish the meal safely and was soon on her way.

As she approached the door to Gerald’s room, her stomach fluttered and her mouth went dry. Her steps slowed until she was barely moving at all.

“Pull yourself together,” she whispered with a shake of her head. “What do you expect? That he’ll be in there waiting for you? Perhaps with a great big dragon’s head on his lap?”

Taking a deep breath, she forced herself on and swung the door open. The room was dark and a little musty, so she quickly lit a candle before cracking open the window to allow a blast of cold, fresh air in. Shivering, she lit several more candles and set them around the room before settling down to wait. Just as she got up to close the window a knock sounded at the door.

“Come in!”

The door eased open just far enough for Colin to stick his head through it. Blinking rapidly, he stared around the room as confusion played across his face.

“Hello, Your Highness,” he said with a bow that knocked his shoulder against the doorframe. Grimacing and rubbing it with his hand he asked, “You… wanted to see me? Here?”

“Yes, I did. Please, come in and close the door behind you.”

“Am I in trouble?” he asked quietly. “I kept my promise, I swear I did! I haven’t told nobody that Jerry went off to hunt the dragon, not even my mother or my father!”

“No, you’re not in any trouble at all, Colin,” Estelle said with a smile. “I just realized I haven’t spoken with you since the… incident with the wardrobe and wanted to catch up. How have you been doing?”

“I miss Jerry,” he replied, kicking at a spot of dust on the floor. “Like, a lot.”

“Me too,” she told him and suddenly found herself blinking away tears. This was not going how she had planned it at all. “But that just means we’ll appreciate him even more once he gets back, right?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true. I bet he’s having a bunch of fun adventures out there while we’re stuck here in the boring old castle. I still wish he had let me go with him.”

“I bet that would have worried your parents sick,” Estelle said, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. “But I’ll tell you a little secret, if it’s not too much to ask you to keep two of them.”

“You can count on me to not say a word!” Colin said, obviously excited at being trusted by the princess for a second time.

“Well, sometimes? I wish he had taken me with him too.”

“Really?” Colin’s eyes went wide as saucers.

“Really. It would be easier than staying here, awaiting word of his well being. If I was by his side, I’d know where he was and how he was feeling. I’d be able to support him instead of just… thinking of him.”

“I bet your father would have gone chasing after you himself,” Colin said with a giggle. “Brought his whole army with him too!”

“Yes, I suspect he would have quite completely lost his mind,” Estelle said with a smile just before another knock came at the door. “Come in!”

“Good evening, Your Highness,” Elric, the royal tailor, said as he entered the room. “And to you, young man.”

“I’m not a young man,” Colin pointed out, “I’m just a boy.”

“We shall see about that,” the man replied, pushing his spectacles higher up his thin nose. “Shall we begin, princess?”

“Absolutely,” Estelle said, returning to her feet. “Thank you for coming, I hope I didn’t ruin your plans for the evening.”

“Do not worry about that,” Elric said with a soft laugh. “That fine old book will be waiting for me when I return home.”

“What’s going on?” Colin demanded as Estelle moved to the wardrobe and threw it open. In a terrified whisper he asked, “I’m not being put back in there, am I? I’ve been good!”

“Calm down, Colin.” Estelle shook her head as she ran a finger along the costumes dangling in the closet. “With Jerry… unavailable to perform his duties, the Great Hall has become a much too serious and boring place. We need someone to replace him, just until he’s well again, and I thought you might be interested in the job. Jerry was always telling me how keen you were on becoming a jester.”

“You mean it?” Colin asked, bouncing in place. “That would be great!”

“Excellent. But first we need to get some of these outfits trimmed down to your size, so I asked Elric to come and see what could be done with them.”

“I think we will start with just one for now,” Elric said as he looked between the costumes and Colin. “Then I will create some new ones just for you, so that we don’t ruin too many of young Jerry’s outfits. He will need something to wear when he returns to his duties, after all!”

“Yes, of course,” Estelle said quickly. “A very good idea, Elric. So, Colin - do you have a favorite outfit of Jerry’s that you would like to become yours? Pick whichever one you want, I’m sure he won’t mind at all.”

Colin walked over to the wardrobe, his mouth hanging slightly open. His eyes went from left to right, then back again. He knew exactly the outfit he wanted but he didn’t want to look like he was too eager or greedy, so he took his time.

“I think I would like this one, please,” he said, taking hold of a red and black costume. “If that’s okay?”

“Of course it is,” Estelle said, pulling the outfit off of its hanger. As she passed it to the tailor she caught a whiff of Gerald’s scent on the fabric and her stomach twisted up in knots. “Do you think you can have it ready for the day after tomorrow?”

“I think I can manage that,” Elric said as he studied the cloth. “Just let me take some measurements and I will get started first thing in the morning. I will send word if I meet with any delays, otherwise I hope to have it delivered to young Colin directly after dinner.”

“The day after tomorrow?” Colin asked, gulping loudly. “But I won’t be ready by then! I have to learn a bunch of jokes and practice my juggling and -”

“It’s all right, Colin,” Estelle said with a laugh. She paused to savor the feeling, amazed at how much tension had eased out of her body. “You won’t be expected to perform right away. We will give you a few days to get used to being up on the dais with us and once you are a little more comfortable being in the Great Hall you can begin to do a few tricks for us.”

“What if I screw up?” he asked, eying the tailor warily as he ran a tape measure along the side of his leg. “I bet the king will be really mad at me, especially because Jerry was so good.”

“He was the best,” Estelle said with a sad smile. “But don’t worry about all of that. My father is in dire need of some entertainment these days and I am certain he will be very forgiving of any mistakes. Besides, Jerry will be back with us before you know it and I bet he’ll be thrilled to become your mentor.”

“Has young Jerry gone away then?” Elric asked over the top of his glasses, pausing as he jotted down a measurement.

“He’s just not feeling too good right now,” Colin replied before Estelle could say anything. “So the doctor took him out to the country to get some fresh air in him. Said he’ll be right back to normal in no time at all!”

“Well, tell him I send him my best wishes for a quick return,” Elric said as he measured Colin’s waist. “His presence is sorely missed here, though it will be good for all of us to have this young man filling his shoes for a little while.”

“I’m not a young man,” Colin began but Estelle was quick to cut him off.

“But you must be! Because my family certainly does not allow boys to act as our Royal Jester. And I bet when you tell your parents about this they will say that you have grown up so very fast.”

“Oh yeah, they’re going to be super excited!” Colin said with a big smile. He began to bounce in place again before Elric placed a hand on his head in order to hold him still while he measured his shoulders. “I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces!”

Estelle laughed again, pleased to have not only helped herself feel better but also to have lifted Colin’s spirits. And, she desperately hoped, he would in turn cheer her father up.

The End

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