Chapter 9: Return to Wrouh
Nathan had never felt at ease within the confines of the Wrouhan castle. Even as a young boy, this place that was called home seemed quite the opposite to him. The gray castle near the equally gray Crestia Sea was to his mind a fortress, very fitting to the king that resided there; the man that ruled both it and the surrounding land of Wrouh.
King Jamin had told his son that he had chosen this place as his main residence for it's stratigic location and ease of access to the main sea trade routes via the ocean that it bordered. Nathan mused that he only chose it for it's appearance of power and might; It would be all to easy to take from the west by a bold opposing navy. With enough soldiers on board the ships, the entire stronghold could be overpowered and conquered, albeit with a hard fight from the king's five hundred best soldiers that resided therein in the barracks. King Jamin was indeed not stupid, but Nathan viewed him as a power-hungry, arrogant, and self-centered man. Foregoing these qualities, he loved his father -however much of a bad person he thought him.
Nathan had traveled nearly four days and over twenty leagues from the Malthinian Capital, and now wet from the seemingly neverceasing rain, bedraggled and tired, he slouched in through the south gates into the courtyard of the mini-city within the fortress's outer walls, and over the muddy length to the back castle entrance. Not one of the common peasantfolk milling about the courtyard, running hither and thither with their tasks, gave him a second glance as he trudged past.
Hmph, he thought, some prince I must look!
It made him smile. It was almost too easy to appear to be below his true position of royalty. His once new commoners' clothes were stained and ragged, and the sword hidden in his bundled pack was concealed beyond suspicion, although his bow and quiver full of arrows he still had slung across his back as he had his whole journey.
He crossed the distance to the inner walls, and pushed through a door to the main kitchen, which also happened to be the quickest passage to the inner areas.
Off to the left, a dingy, portly middle-aged man stood before a large cauldron full of stew, stirring with a long wooden spoon. Though it was obviously a simple mixture, it smelled wonderful to the prince. His stomach grumbled hungrily as he settled on a creaky wooden bench at a nearby table. The man did not turn but grunted at the sound.
"By the sound of that, it seems yer hungry, ma boy. What'll ya be havin'? Stew? Or, I have o'bit o' mutton over thar" -he pointed to a chunk of meat- "if ya wish ta gettit yerself, thar..."
"Would it be too much to ask for both -and a half loaf of bread? " Nathan said, rising and making to head toward the leg of mutton. "Perhaps a tankard of mead as well?"
This time the cook spun to face his sovereign, who he had indeed not known he had been speaking to. He bowed awkwardly at the waist, tilting his head. "Oh, yer highness, I didna know it wer you! No, sit down, sit down, please, yer highness, I insis'!" He fussed and fumbled, fixing up a decent meal for the prince, waiting on him as Nathan knew he would do for no other, save the king himself. He set an over-large bowl of stew, the whole leg of mutton, the tankard of mead, and a two loafs of bread in front of him; one black, and one wheat with raisins. Nathan politely thanked him for the food and started to eat. The cook beamed, and instead of returning to his work, preferred to stand near the stew and watch the prince eat. Nathan looked up at him after a moment, and the man took the hint, apologizing up and down. He tried to politely get him to shut up, but instead just smiled cordially and ignored the man while he ate. However, the man made an attempt to start a conversation, commenting on Nathan's appearance, and inquiring to his health. While pressed, he gave curt answers, wishing that his title were stripped for this moment, and that his stomach had never ached, so that he might have just slipped away quietly to his chamber.
A few moments later, he had finished the whole leg, the tankard had been refilled twice by the seemingly omnipresent attendant, and he was just finishing off the bread, ripping off bits of it to soak up what was left of the stew. "Thank you very much, sir, the food was delicious," he said, standing when he finished, tilting his head toward the cook, and backing out of the room before the man could say a thing.
As he headed up to his private quarters, he kept his head down, and tried to avoid eye contact as much as he could to avoid attention as a prince. The reason that he hated it when people fussed over him, was that it never seemed to be done in respect, or joy, but in fear; as if afraid that if they didn't bow to his every whim, they would be banished, or punished in some way.
If that is the kind of 'respect' that my father inspires in his lessers, he fumed bitterly, then I want no part of it. I wish for my people to respect me because the admire my leadership, and the way that I run the country; as a king should. I want them to do things for me because they want to, not because they have to in fear!
He stalked down the dank hallways, up the stairs to his room, and, upon reaching it, hurried in and dumped his stuff on the floor before locking the door behind him. He let out a sigh of relief. This was his home. It was the only place that was his to do with as he pleased. For the most part, anyway. Out from the side room of the right side of this sitting room, a servant appeared upon hearing the noise of Nathan's entrance.
"Your Majesty," she said with a curtsy, "I am glad to see that you have returned." She looked him up and down, no doubt questioning his dingy appearance, "Was your trip well?"
"Yes... very well indeed..." He did not want to divulge too much information, and rumors would fly about the castle with just this woman's catching him uncomposed as he was. "If you would, maid, fetch some warm water for me to bathe with, I need to wash off this grime from the hunt." He hoped that that casual answer would sate her curiousity, and abate any extensive gossip.
"Yes, sire, right away."
The maid curtsied again, and left without another word. After a few minutes, she had returned and with the help of a manservant, toted several buckets of steaming water into a bathtub set up in the bedroom. Once it was filled, the servants inquired to any else he might need, and when he declined, left with more low bows and curtsies.
Nathan was glad to be left alone. He was tired and wanted to get a bath and some rest before word of his return reached his father's ears. The king would demand to see him at once, regardless of how long he had been on the road.
The prince heaved a large sigh of relef, shrugged off his clothing and washed himself clean in the tub of hot water. He had to scrub harshly to get the dirt and grime to part with his skin. It seemed that his days trudging through the mud had caked his person with such detritus. He allowed himself to soak for a few minutes; the warm water soothed his aching muscles.
He toweled himself off after his bath, put on a fresh shirt and pair of trousers, and plopped down upon his bed, falling asleep even before he thought to get under the blankets.
"Have you returned victorious, my son?" The king questioned from his throne atop the dias centered on the back wall.
Nathan now stood in his father's main audience chamber, nearly twenty feet away from the king, a customary distance even even for the very son of the sovereign himself. The room was much like the rest of the castle, albeit darker and reeking of a lust for power, a false appearance of might, or so Nathan had always thought. "Alas, I have not, My King. But allow me to explain myself; I have an reason for my delay. A reason that could not have been avoided." Nathan added a short bow at the waist to show his respect and regret at not accomplishing his father's dirty deed. Of course he did not feel either of these things when concerning his father.
King Jamin frowned, narrowing his eyes dangerously; much as Nathan remembered, from his childhood lashings, he would do before lashing out at him for disobeying or seeming too "weak". "So you have failed me? The unworthy Malthinians," -He stopped here and spit over the arm of his seat- "those usurpers are not dead, extinguished as I have ordered?"
"No, Father, My King. An unfortunate inconvienence has befallen me: I did travel to the castle, but when I arrived, the Roy-" Nathan changed his word here, seeing his father grimace unpleasantly, "The usurpers were not there. I asked around the castle, disguised and playing the part as a court fool, a jester seeking to entertain those- the family... I learned that they were at a different estate, hunting and frolicing and such nonsense. They intend to remain abroad until the season's end." He hoped that the king would believe this lie, else his plan fall apart before he could initiate it.
"Ah... An unfortunate event indeed..." The king stroked his greying beard, thoughtful. High King Jamin was a tall man with dark salt and pepper hair, a bushy goatee, and an overall intimidating demeanor. He was clothed in rich furs, and several of his fingers were adorned with jewels that glittered with the flashing light of the fire blazing within the hearth.
He was a stubborn man.
If only Nathan could plant the idea of his plan into his father's mind; It would go better if he had believed that he had thought it up. King Jamin was a very prideful man, and only truly respected his own ideas and laws, setting them into action against anyone's opposition, and putting behind them the power of the country's vast armies.
The king stopped stroking his beard, and suddenly turned his gaze to Nathan. His eyes seemed peircing to him, as if the king was searching his son's soul, scrutinizing every piece of his being. "Did you uncover any other useful bits of information?"
Nathan shrugged, "I learned that the traitors' stable groom has left to fight in the war and they are seeking a replacement, the favored food of the cook, the names of two of the king's hunting dogs... nothing of much value..."
The king frowned and Nathan quickly added, "I did discover that a fresh batch of royal troops have just been sent off, to where I know not, but I returned before hearing much else. If given more time, I assume that one could compile a much better amount of information."
There... He had layed it out, his plan was right before his father, all he had to do was wait and see if the king would take the bait.
King Jamin resumed his former state of beard-stroking. Nathan stood there, motionless, waiting for his father to make the connection. It wouldn't be too long now... At least Nathan hoped so.
His father paused several times, opened his mouth as if preparing to speak, closed it, then opened it again.
"My Son," he started, an evil yet clever glare to his eyes. He had an idea, Nathan knew, or rather he had Nathan's idea.
"I want you to return and seek more information while you await the return of the usurpers. Whenever you aquire an interesting bit of useful information, sent a trustworthy messenger to relay it to me; we may conquer their throne with an invasion as well as their deaths...."
Chapter 9: Return to Wrouh