Sir Tristan Talbot was an arrogant fool, but I would never say that to his face. My position was precarious enough without causing turbulence. His former squire had met an untimely end, and the circumstances surrounding it were still rather mysterious.
I suppose the knight had honest cause for his arrogance. He was the most trusted warrior of King Willard and had single-handedly saved the king’s life on more than one occasion.
I knew well that being chosen as his squire was a great honor. Especially given my family ties, which were questionable in their loyalties to the king. So I made up my mind to keep my mouth shut and do what I was bidden. My disregard for Sir Tristan would stay between me and the willow tree.
When the royal messenger arrived to deliver the king’s request, I was overseeing the exercise regimen of Validus, Sir Tristan’s war horse. The sound of approaching hoofbeats tramping a rapid rhythm to the stables caught my immediate attention. Any horse arriving in such a hurry could not mean anything but bad news. War perhaps.
The messenger swung himself down from the horse before she had slowed sufficiently for such a dismount, sending him rolling several feet over the rocky terrain. No doubt there would be scars after such a fall, but the boy leaped to his feet and ran to where I stood in the stableyard.
He bowed briefly as he struggled to catch his breath.
“You bring news for Sir Tristan?” It was a stupid question. Who else would the news be for?
“Yes. Urgent news. The king requests an immediate audience,” he choked out, still gasping from his harried ride. He thrust a sealed scroll into my hands. Ordinarily, the king’s messengers would insist on giving the sealed orders directly to the knight in question, but Sir Tristan refused to interact with anyone lower than his own station. His squire was the only exception to his self-imposed social policy. It was for this reason I always wore the blue tunic embroidered with Sir Tristan’s coat of arms which identified me as his squire.
I took the parchment and nodded. “See the cook. Have some mead and something to eat,” I suggested somewhat absently. It was a perfunctory duty to offer hospitality to one in service of the king. My mind, however, was already sending me with speed to Sir Tristan with the king’s missive. He would not like to be kept waiting, even if he wasn’t expecting the correspondence.
The messenger shook his head. “I wait for Sir Tristan’s reply.”
“Follow me,” I said. We set off at a sprint towards the manor house.
When we reached the entrance, I instructed the messenger to wait while I located Sir Tristan, whom I knew would be lounging in his study after a long night of carousing with some peasant girl he had no doubt rescued from a renegade sheep the afternoon before. Naturally, by nightfall that story would evolve into a rescue worthy of King Arthur’s knights, involving a dragon threatening the maiden’s virtue and that of her whole village.
The man knew how to spin a yarn to make his exploits seem legendary.
Actually, truth be told, he knew how to employ a worthy bard who, in turn, knew how to spin a yarn to make his exploits seem legendary.
But I digress.
Sir Tristan lay drinking wine on a blue velvet pillow near the enormous stone fireplace and roaring fire. Beside him as predicted, sleeping contentedly, was one of the village girls. Her long brown tresses splayed across the pillow. She was not exceptionally attractive as village girls go, but Sir Tristan had never been accused of bias when it came to his evening conquests.
His creed, he has told me many times, when it comes to women, is they are all equal in the dark. His words. Not mine.
As I said before. Sir Tristan was an arrogant fool.
He regarded me with his usual silent disdain as I entered the room.
I stopped several feet from him and waited for him to address me. He liked to play this waiting game. I think he thought he was testing my obedience. I saw it as more of a challenge. Who could stare at the other the longest without breaking the silence.
I always won.
“I presume you have a matter of great importance which requires my immediate attention, squire.” I stood at attention, staring him straight in the eyes. He hated that. It grated on his sense of dominance. Which is exactly why I did it.
Without speaking, I stepped forward, offering the scroll with the king’s gold seal. Sir Tristan reached for it from his place on the floor, broke the seal, and read it. His eyes traced the words scrawled there, but his expression revealed nothing of its contents.
He was a slow reader.
In his defense, I’m certain the words were long and difficult to pronounce. The king’s scribes were known for their extensive vocabulary. Sir Tristan was not.
Finally, he thrust the parchment back towards me, which I accepted.
“Read it,” he ordered as he rose from the floor and stripped the blanket from his companion in order to wrap it around his waist. She shuddered but did not wake.
I straightened the scroll and tilted it towards the light of the fire to make out the message.
The princess has been abducted. Make haste to the castle.
In the king’s name.
Long live the king.
I glanced at him. He stood staring into the crackling flames, clutching the blanket about him with his fist.
“So, what do you think, squire?” he asked, deep in thought.
“The princess has been kidnapped. The king will need you right away.”
“Kidnapped.” He snorted as he adjusted the blanket at his waist. “Right.”
I struggled not to roll my eyes. He didn’t know what abducted meant.
“Call my valet. Ready the horses. We’ll leave for the castle immediately.”
“Excellent, sir,” I answered, turning on my heel to leave. Behind me I could hear Sir Tristan pouring himself another glass of wine. The village girl lay shivering on the floor. It was a shame, so I grabbed a fur hanging over a nearby chair and slipped it over her sleeping form. There was no reason the poor thing should catch her death of cold on the stone floor—velvet pillow or not.