In his bed chamber, Gerald fiddled with the pages of his brother’s journal. He’d expected to be able to read it in one day, but he had been proven wrong. The small words scribbled down with an unsteady hand were more difficult to understand than he’d thought. The journal contained many days of his brother’s life, many more than its appearance would suggest.
He flipped another useless page and began reading the next.
‘Father is going mad. I’m certain of it. He’s letting the bandits have their way. He won’t even cull their raids against the villages. They’ve become brazen enough to attempt to mark territories for themselves. I don’t know what he’s thinking. The Duke has driven him to despair. If only my siblings weren’t there.’
Gerald paused and sneered, mostly in self-mockery. He wondered whether those last words were a wish that he and Lena hadn’t been the Duke’s hostages, or a wish that the two of them had never existed.
‘Yesterday, I took five hundred men and chased down some brigands. I cut them down and mounted their heads on spikes around the castle. Instead of showing gratitude, father admonished me. I cannot understand him anymore. I don’t care to. I’m heir to these lands, and I won’t let these vermin overrun it.’
Gerald sighed and slowly closed the journal, marking the page. He glanced at the door. “Frederick!”
The door was opened from outside and Frederick snaked his head in. “My lord?”
“Has Arthur not arrived yet?”
“He just did, my lord. I was about to inform you.”
“Let him in,” Gerald said, his eyes searching beyond Frederick.
Frederick’s head withdrew itself, and after a moment Arthur stepped in, concern written on his face. “Is something the matter, my lord?”
“It’s nothing, Arthur,” Gerald faced his minister, sliding his legs down from the bed onto the ground. “I just had a question, or two.” He met his minister’s eyes and didn’t blink.
The old minister seemed to realize how serious Gerald was, nodding solemnly. “I’ll answer to the best of my ability, my lord.”
“Good,” Gerald said. “You told me before that my brother insisted to accompany my father chasing the bandits.”
“Yes,” Arthur said, a puzzled frown on his face.
“What did he say then?” Gerald asked.
Arthur’s frown deepened and he stuttered for a moment. ” . . . I don’t know.”
Gerald cocked his head, giving his minister a questioning stare.
“The Viscount told us that your brother insisted on accompanying him, my lord. I didn’t hear what your brother said. They left soon after, and there wasn’t much time for questions. Robard was taking most of the lord’s time, attempting to persuade him to let him accompany him as well.”
Gerald nodded, glancing at the journal again. He’d found it in his father’s chambers, not in his brother’s. He was beginning to wish he understood his father as well. Nobody seemed to have been capable of that in the recent years. Arthur had confessed to being ignorant of his father’s heart and mind in the years before his death, and his brother had written the same in the journal.
Perhaps he ought to seek more about his father than he’d cared to before.
Harrid walked through the door into the keep’s gardens. There were four maids and three servants working there, caring for the flowers and the trees. They worked like bees, flying from one side of the grounds to another, each finding their own way and not minding the others. They were the perfect targets for his training. He waited until most of them had their backs to him then he walked further into the grounds of the gardens. They were still moving from side to side, minding their work and not minding their surroundings, just like people in the streets.
‘Never walk towards your target.’ He glanced at the maid trimming pomegranate tree on the other side of the grounds. Then he walked on the path in the middle of the garden, skimming past two other maids and a servant. ‘If you look at someone, expect them to look back at you.’ “So don’t,” he whispered to himself, almost without any sound. He avoided the usual curiosity of his eyes and kept them looking ahead, only keeping notice of those around him with the corners of his eyes.
The maid he had marked was farther ahead to the left, still trimming the tree. He walked forward, as if he was walking down the path towards a patch of flowers.
He only stopped when he could turn his head left and look her square in the back. She was now blind to anything he did. He didn’t sneak towards her like a cat seeking a bird. He simply walked towards her just like he’d walked down the path. The only difference between him and anyone of the servants was that his feet emitted little sound as he walked. He came to a stop when he was less than a yard behind her. He could step forward and stretch his hand and touch her if he wanted, but he just stood there, grinning to himself. He’d succeeded once more.
As he grinned, he realized that a pair of eyes had landed on him. He glanced towards the person. It was one of the servants. He’d noticed his odd behavior, it seemed. ‘If someone notices you, never react.’ He refused to meet the eyes of the servant, but he didn’t escape them. He simply looked back ahead of himself slowly, like a person looking around and retracting his eyes during a stroll.
The servant was still staring at him, apparently perplexed.
Harrid turned around and walked away from the maid who was still busy trimming the tree. He returned to the path and, for a brief moment, noticed movement in one of the corners of the garden. He hurried there, meeting Master Rudolf in the shade of a large tree.
“You’re still learning,” the old steward said. “But you’re on the right path. It seems I’ve chosen well.” The old man patted him on the shoulder with one hand.
Harrid grinned again. Then he noticed the other hand of the old man when it was past halfway towards his throat, carrying a small blade. The hand hadn’t attracted his attention before. Master Rudolf had moved it naturally. It had approached Harrid like a hand about to shake his or one about to pat his back, and the knife had been there all along, but it never appeared to be threatening him. If he hadn’t noticed the glint coming off the metal, he wouldn’t have noticed there was a knife to begin with. Even when he noticed it, the hand didn’t hasten. It slid through the air with no hurry. He knew that its inevitable target was his throat, but it just seemed to be heading somewhere else. It wasn’t threatening, even now. He hesitated, and that moment of hesitation was enough for the fat, blunt point of the knife to poke him in the neck.
When he looked closely, it was blunt all over, and could hardly be said to have a point, but it was obviously made from good iron.
“You’ll have to learn this too,” Master Rudolf gave him a smirk. “Your hands are just like your feet. They should never know where they’re going. Only you should.”
Harrid nodded solemnly, watching the blade withdrawing from his neck.
“And next time don’t let your intentions betray you,” Master Rudolf continued. “Your intent to walk towards the maid was apparent. You didn’t simply walk. You walked towards her back. That’s why the servant noticed you. The difference might be negligible, but a man’s eyes were made to catch the negligible.”
Harrid nodded again. “I won’t make such a mistake again.”
“Perhaps you won’t, during training,” Master Rudolf said, more to himself than to Harrid. His eyes veered off for a moment then they returned to Harrid again, narrowing. “We have more important matters to discuss though. Let us go somewhere else.”
In one of the keep’s halls, Harrid and Master Rudolf stood together.
Master Rudolf looked at the walls and said, “it used to be the minister’s, when the Viscounty was faring better. I reckon Arthur will remember it soon enough.”
“Is something the matter, Master Rudolf?” Harrid asked, anxious. The old steward had never deemed anything more important than training before.
“Yes,” Master Rudolf said, looking him in the eye. “I told you there were two conditions if you wanted to be trained by me. Remember?”
“It is time for you to know them, and choose whether you want to continue your training or not,” Master Rudolf said. Though his tone suggested that he didn’t think there were really any choices.
Harrid didn’t think otherwise. He would do anything to become strong enough . . . There was only one choice. The other was folly.
Master Rudolf gulped. Harrid, for the first time, saw him hesitant to speak.
The old steward shortly recollected his bearings. He fixed his eyes on Harrid’s and said, “I have no sons, Harrid. No one to carry my name.” He paused, pressing his lips. “My first condition is for you to carry the name of my family for the rest of your life, like a son of mine. So that you may bear children of your own, who would also carry the name of the family.”
Harrid knitted his brows for a moment then he slowly nodded. It wasn’t like he had any family name to hold on to. A family name would be more of a privilege than a burden. It was such a simple condition.
“And of my blood.”
Harrid frowned, confused. He stared at Master Rudolf.
“The name alone isn’t enough. Your children will have to carry the blood of my family as well. My second condition is for you to marry my daughter. She’s a bit older than you and she’s still in Malfi city but—”
The next words escaped Harrid’s notice as he stepped back, a jolt going up his spine and dizzying his head. “I can’t,” he muttered, stepping back farther.
Master Rudolf, who had still been talking, stopped. He looked at him oddly, cocking his head.
Harrid moved back more and more, until he was at the doors of the hall. “Apologies, Master Rudolf. I can’t. I really can’t.” For the first time, he saw worry and perhaps disappointment on Master Rudolf’s face.
“Why, Harrid?” the old man said, his voice not as firm as Harrid had been used to. “You’ll get everything a boy of your age dreams of.” He tried to step closer to him, but Harrid stepped back once more, backing out of the hall. “I’ll have you knighted soon after you come of age if you agree. I can promise you—”
Harrid shook his head and ran off, leaving Master Rudolf. He heard a yell from behind.
“You only need to have a child with her, a boy. You can do anything you want after that.”
Harrid didn’t stop. He kept running, thinking of only one person, Yanna. He would never . . .
Where was he going? he wondered. If he returned to his chambers, how would he face Master Rudolf next time? He was no longer the lord’s attendant. Would he have to leave, to live in the streets again?
He wanted to run, just to run, but he slowed down. Then he came to a stop. He rubbed his hair then his forehead. The pain of his thoughts had materialized and was shooting through his head.
He wanted to see her. He knew where he had to go now. There.