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Escort Duty – Part 24

Erika watched in distaste as the duke picked up his fish and ate it in two large, rapid bites. She took a dainty bit of trout from her plate and chewed it thoroughly before swallowing.

“You need to eat more, my dear,” the duke said, grease from the fish glistening on his lips and beard.

“I’m enjoying the meal,” Erika replied in a soothing tone, “but what I’m craving is a good bit of meat.”

“Ah, then you’re in luck,” the duke said, raising his hand and snapping his fingers. Two servants came in bearing a large haunch of meat, steam rising from it in the hall’s muggy air.

“This is my kitchen’s specialty,” he said, watching the servants as they set the food down. One of them picked up a large carving knife from the tray and sliced into the pale flesh.

“Boar?” Erika asked.

“Oh, no, this is hand-raised sow, just finished weaning her first litter of piglets. The meat is so tender and mild that it will melt in your mouth!”

Erika nodded in thanks to the servant as he laid a slab of meat on her plate, then poked at it with her fork.

“It certainly looks good, my lord,” she said, “but why have I no knife? Am I to pick it up and eat it like an animal?”

The duke looked at her in shock, his serving of the meat already halfway to his mouth.

“Of course not, my lady,” he said after setting it back on his plate, “You, fetch us a pair of knives for our meat!”

The servants bowed and scurried off. One of them returned a few moments later with a pair of knives from the kitchen. Erika noted that, while they were rather plain compared to the rest of their cutlery, they looked to have a fine edge on them.

The princess picked up her knife and drew it across the pork. The blade cut through the meat as if it were warm butter.

“Oh, much better,” she said in a pleasant tone, “Nothing like good meat when you’re hungry.”

~~~

Simon crept through the shadows between the market stalls and the castle wall. Behind him, he could hear the guards talking to one another.

“If you ask me, that new subaltern is going to be a good officer,” one was saying quietly to his comrade, “Stays out of our way, and doesn’t poke his nose in the wrong places.”

“Sounds better than Captain Torok. I swear, you could measure your entire watch by how many times he’s come by to check up on us.”

“Speaking of which, he should be along soon.”

Simon crouched next to the wall about fifty feet from them. Its stones, their rough exteriors facing out from the compound, towered ten feet over him. After listening to the guards complain a bit more, he heard them take a step away from the guardhouse and begin trooping in front of the gate.

“Halt!” one of them called out in a loud voice.

“It’s Torok, soldier,” a deeper voice responded. Simon heard the guards brace to attention and started climbing up the wall.

“Anything happening?” the officer asked.

“Nothing, sir.”

“Quiet as the grave, captain.”

“Good. The duke has a guest tonight, and he doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Someone important, sir?”

“Don’t know. Just got told to make sure nothing interrupted his lordship or there’d be hell to pay.”

Simon pushed up with his legs and felt his hand go over the top of the wall. He clasped the iron spike projecting between the stone blocks and pulled himself up. He lay on top of the wall, waiting for a chance to descend.

“We’ll keep a good watch, sir.”

“Good. I’ll see you two in a bit.”

Simon listened as the officer passed below him. The guards also listened, and when his footfalls faded, went back to their spots next to the guardhouse.

“Three more trips around the perimeter, and we can go to bed,” one said in a low tone.

“Did you bring your bottle again? I’d kill for a nip.”

Simon silently crept down the wall. There was just enough space between the stones for his fingertips and toes. Crumbling mortar occasionally slipped out of the crevices, and once, an entire chunk pivoted out, threatening to fall and alert the guards. Simon carefully pushed the sandy mortar back into its space, then dropped the remaining few feet to the ground.

Flagstones met his feet as he landed, bending his knees and leaning against the wall to blend into its shadow. Simon listened tensely for a few moments, but the guards gave no hint that they had heard anything. Standing up, he slowly walked along the wall toward the long, low building at the foot of the tower.

~~~

The meat was almost tasteless in Erika’s mouth, even after she liberally sprinkled it with salt from the cellar one of the servants offered to her. With skill which would have made her mother proud, she kept a saccharine smile on her face and made small talk with the duke as she ate.

“So, my dear,” the duke said, pushing his chair back from the table and patting his belly once his portion was gone, “have you given my offer any thought?”

Erika looked to the servant with the carving knife. “May I have a bit more, please?” she asked sweetly. The servant, a young man with a wispy beard, blushed at her attention, then cut a large hunk of the pale flesh and placed it on her plate. Erika smiled radiantly at him, which only made the boy blush more deeply.

“Yes, my lord,” she said, turning her attention to the man across the table, “I have.”

“And your answer?”

Erika glanced at the servants, saying, “Might we speak in private?”

Kyrali snapped his fingers at the servants, who turned and hurried from the room. Erika picked up her knife and began to cut her meat into small pieces.

“So, your answer, my lady?”

Erika took a long time eating a bit of meat, but looked up and smiled at the duke as she chewed. The duke smiled back, his eyes twinkling. Erika put her hands on the table, and stood. As she did, she palmed her knife and slipped it into the sleeve of her dress.

She walked around the table, then stood in front of the seated duke. Looking down on him, she said, “My lord, I believe that your idea of joining our kingdoms would be most profitable.”

The duke’s smile warmed, and he stood, putting his arm around Erika’s waist.

“So you’ll agree to marry me?”

“So long as I can come down from that wretched tower, yes.”

“Well, that depends on whether you’ve gotten over your opinion of my plans for Pesht, now doesn’t it?”

“They aren’t my people, my lord. What you do to them is none of my business,” Erika said, putting her arms around the duke’s neck.

Kyrali pulled her close. Erika could smell the wine on his breath as he said, “An outstanding way to look at it, my dear.”

“So, when shall we be wed?” Erika asked, slipping the knife out of her sleeve.

“Oh, as soon as we can get a proper ceremony together,” Kyrali said, slipping his bearded cheek down to lay next to hers, “There’s a summer festival next week. That would be perfect.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Erika said, “I’ve always wanted to be a June bride.”

With that, she drove the knife into the duke’s shoulder, feeling the blade grind against bone. He roared like a skewered boar, and shoved the princess away. The knife stayed embedded in his flesh.

Erika jumped back on him, trying to grasp at the knife’s hilt, but Kyrali struck her across the face, throwing her back against the table. The haunch of pork, its silver tray, and the carving knife the servant had used to cut it, clattered to the floor. Kyrali swung at her again, but Erika ducked below his arm and scooted under the table.


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

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2 Comments

  1. OldNFO

     /  June 11, 2018

    Heh, he’s paying for that stupidity… Never EVER underestimate a pissed off woman!

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