SIXTEEN AND BORED
The rest of the people in the palace went about their duties, just as they had done every day of his life. Fredric, the librarian, virtually lived in the library; from him, Harris learned to read, though that was mostly because the man refused to read to him after he started asking for the books by name. Balion, the arms master, taught him his sword lessons, but he also made it something of a mind game, and succeeded in teaching his young student to go beyond planning each move and fight on instinct - a feat few could master - a challenge Harris couldn’t resist. Duff, the stable master, saw to it that Harris could ride any horse in the stable, but he was an irascible man and Harris never liked him. The cook merely chased him out of the kitchen with threats of hard labor, and when that didn’t work, it was with a heavy wooden spoon.
Aside from that, no one made Harris do anything he didn’t want to do. No one ever told him that whatever he did do was good or bad for himself or anyone else. There were times when his father mentionedthat “he ought to do this” or “he should know that” and for the most part, Harris usually ended up doing whatever his father suggested, if for no other reason than to alleviate the boredom. As a result, he was pretty good with a wide assortment of weapons and had read a good deal of the house library’s collection. But still, if he wanted to spend the whole day staring out the window, no one bothered him.
His efforts to leave the palace grounds and go into the town were a different matter. Every time he tried, no less than four bodyguards would materialize as his shadows. If he told them to go back and leave him alone, they would simply say “Yes, my Lord,” and continue to follow him wherever he went. The king’s word obviously carried more weight than his did with the palace guard. And sneaking away - well, that’s why there were four of them - the war marshal had learned years ago that Harris could lose one or two guards far too easily.
Harris understood the definitions of his father’s title, his mother’s title and his own title, but he couldn’t understand how it applied to his life, so one day, after exhausting every other source of information he could think of, he asked his father. “Father, I needed to learn how to read the books in the library. I needed to learn how to use a sword. And I needed to learn how to ride a horse. What do I need to learn to become a king?”
King Aidyn just laughed and said, “And you’ve learned a lot, I know. But becoming a king is simple. When I die, you will be king. There is nothing to learn.”
Harris was crestfallen, that was even less informative than the library. In an attempt to learn the answer for himself, he decided to get up early and watch his father be king. He went into his father’s office and perched himself on one of the windowsills. It happened to be on the east side of the palace, and the morning sun was warming his bones nicely. He stayed there all day. His father greeted him when he entered the room, but otherwise ignored him. He could have been a house cat for all the stir his presence caused. He totally missed the fact that his father had shuddered when he looked at him perched on the windowsill; it never occurred to him that his father never went near those large windows.
Throughout the day, the secretary came and went at spaced intervals, and the king signed whatever paper the man set in front of him, after hearing a brief explanation as to its significance. Interspersed between these visits, the occasional townsman would appear, escorted by a gate guard. The man would present some grievance like, “My neighbor’s dog killed my wife’s cat,” or “So-and-so started a fight in my inn and won’t pay for the damages.” The king issued some order on the grievance, and that was all that happened, all day long. Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, when the secretary stopped bringing in papers and there was no one waiting to see him, the king rose to leave.
Harris was just as confused now as he had been that morning. He jumped down from his perch and intercepted his father. “Father, what were all those papers that you signed today?”
“Oh, nothing of real great concern, Harris. You were there; you heard what my secretary said. They were just the tedious things that happen every day - reports, requests, acquisitions, expenditures and such.”
“But Father,” said Harris, “when will you teach me how to decide these matters? I know you will live for many years yet, but how else will I know what is best if you don’t teach me?”
“You don’t really need to know anything special,” said Aidyn as he draped an arm around Harris’s shoulders. “You know right from wrong. The people who come to you will tell you what is best for their particular problem, and if there happen to be two sides, just do as your advisers suggest or make some decision.”
“But Father,” continued Harris, “you didn’t read a single one of those papers. You could . . . You could be waging a war and not know it until the enemy was pounding on our very gates!”
“My war marshal keeps me informed on such matters. The barbarians to the north - ever quarrelsome among themselves - do not bother us. Our trading vessels on our coast are undisturbed, there is no crossing the mountains to the west and our neighbors to the south have their own problems. As a matter of fact, I received a message from them a few days ago; they are seeking a treaty with us. So you see, all is well.”
“What do our neighbors to the south want?”
“They want aid against the desert nomads to their south, of course. I want nothing to do with it.”
“But Father, shouldn’t we placate them somehow, lest they turn on
“They’ll never turn on us, son. The nomads are too much of a problem for them to invite trouble on yet another border. Besides, they were offering one of their daughters for you to marry. You’re not looking to get married already, are you?”
“No, Father, I don’t even know any girls. How could I marry one?” Harris’s stunned horror was obvious to his father.
“Yes, well, I think we’ll have to remedy that problem.”
Stunned, Harris had nothing else to say, and the king disappeared up the stairs chuckling to himself.
Harris was still confused, though. By definition, his father was a sovereign over a larger group of people but he had trouble identifying the larger group. There was the cook, who also made sure the three housemaids and four houseboys got their work done; there was the arms master, the librarian and the stable master; and there was the war marshal, who commanded a dozen palace guards, who also oversaw the town’s peace. Then there was the town’s populace of about seventy- some odd people. Harris even climbed up on the roof of the palace to see if there was anything else he had missed, but there was nothing in sight. It didn’t quite fit with the hints he had gleaned from the library, but if this was it, then this was it.
One day, King Aidyn summoned his son to his office. It was an unusual enough occurrence that Harris responded quickly. He found his father and the war marshal entertaining three strangers. Having never met strangers before, Harris was struck by the way his father and these men were so very different. Though two of the strange men appeared to be older than his father, they were quite trim and stood very straight, and the lines on their faces were heavily accented by the sun, whereas his father was overweight, balding and pasty-looking. Even the war marshal looked like he hadn’t sat in a saddle for several years, though he
had at least seen some sun. The thought made Harris realize too that he had never seen the war marshal anywhere near a horse; nor had he ever seen his father step outside of the palace doors, whereas these strange men looked like they seldom stepped down from a saddle, let alone into a building. The youngest of the three looked just as hardened, though all of them were dressed fine.
“Harris, here you are, boy,” greeted his father. “These men are from Carolinas. I told you about them.” He waved his hand toward each man as he named him, starting with the youngest. “This is His Highness, Prince Jonathan, third son of King Carroll, Lord Jasper, the king’s ambassador, and Lord Leonas, high advisor to the king.” He introduced his son in the same manner. “My Lords, this is my son, Prince Harris. Harris,” continued Aidyn, “King Carroll and I have agreed that both you and his young daughter are too young for marriage, and the ties that would accompany such a joining are too all- encompassing at this time. Instead, we have agreed to a mutual fosterage. So Prince Jonathan will stay here, and you will go in his place to Carolinas where you both shall remain until you reach your majority at the age of twenty. Go now, pack your things; you will be leaving the day after tomorrow at dawn.”
Deliberately given no opportunity to speak, Harris knew he could say nothing without sounding like a child, so he bowed a brief greeting to the visitors and left.
After a minute or two, he heard running footsteps behind him and was surprised to see Prince Jonathan running to catch up.
“You didn’t know this was going to happen, did you?” said Jonathan.
“No one tells me anything around here,” said Harris. “I hope you don’t mind being bored; nothing ever happens here.”
Surprised at Harris’s cynicism, Jonathan could only say, “No lessons?”
“You can find any lessons you want, if that’s what you like; just go to the library. Fredric’s always there to teach you whatever you want to learn or answer any question you may have if it comes from a book. If you like weapons practice, go to the armory and Balion, the arms master,
will see to it that you get lessons in whatever weapon you like. Or go to the stables, if you want to go riding. You can do anything you want; no one will bother you with anything else.”
“Why?” Jonathan was incredulous.
“That’s just the way it is. Is it different where you come from?” They arrived at Harris’s room. “This is my room.”
“Nice room. It’s bigger than mine,” said Jonathan as he poked around at the various items in sight and tested the view from the windows.
“Really,” said Harris as he flopped down on his bed. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” Restlessly he rolled off his bed and opened his clothes cupboard. “What do you think I should pack?”
Jonathan curled up on the corner of the bed. “Just clothes, I guess, unless you have something especially made for you or something that you are particularly partial to. I have two older brothers and four sisters.” He sighed, “Girls are such a pain. I bet you’re thankful our fathers decided against marriage.”
With surprise, Harris pulled his head out of the cupboard and asked, “Why?”
Equally surprised, Jonathan said, “Oh, you know. All girls ever talk about is dresses, colors, flowers and such. The only girl I really like is Sorsha; she’s my older sister. She’s eighteen and in the military with my brother, Aiken; he’s twenty.”
“A girl in the military? I never would have imagined.” Harris tried to imagine one of the maids dressed in armor and holding a sword. He dived back into his cupboard to hide his grin.
“Yeah, well, she ranted about it until Father finally made a deal with her. If she could satisfy the officers that she was good enough to pull her own weight, she could join. Father made sure they didn’t cut her any slack, either.”
“Which one was supposed to be my wife?” Harris asked, half- afraid all the girls in the family were like this Sorsha.
“That would be Kandice, but she’s only twelve, so you don’t have to be worried about her for a little while yet. Mother hit the roof when Father told her about the offer. Father couldn’t offer Sorsha now that
she’s in the military. By our laws, she can’t marry until she is twenty. She can’t even be betrothed without her consent.”
“Um, Kandice doesn’t want to be in the military, does she?”
“No, she’s too shy. Sorsha tries to teach her something about fighting anyway. She says, ‘No sister of mine will be totally defenseless.’ Kandy is so tiny, though, that she may be defenseless, no matter what. I didn’t see any girls around here. Do you have any sisters?”
“No sisters, no brothers,” replied Harris. “The only women around here are the housemaids; you won’t see them much. Mother has a personal maid too, but she’s older. Come on, I’ll show you the way to the stables. We can see the horses I’ll be taking. How many horses will I need, anyway?”
Jonathan was surprised that his new friend would need to ask such a question. “Have you ever gone anywhere at all?”
“No, just into town, or out riding once in a while, but never far,” said Harris.
“Wow! Do you even know where the other lords in your kingdom live or what they do?”
“What other lords?”
“Well, all I can say is, ready yourself; boredom will be the least of your worries. Your saddle sores will keep you too busy.”
“Saddle sores? I don’t understand,” said Harris as he closed his now-empty cupboard. “I know how to ride. I haven’t had saddle sores since I was little.”
“That’s good, because you’ll be covering a lot of miles in the saddle. One of my responsibilities was to visit all the holdings. I keep all our lords loyal by knowing them and knowing what they need. That way, they can’t take advantage of Father too much.”
They both laughed at that. They were well on their way to becoming good friends. Harris was looking forward to stretching his wings and getting involved in what he could not imagine, while Jonathan was already planning to stick his nose where none had been stuck before.
At the entrance to the stables, Harris called out, “Duff! Duff, where are you?”
“Coming, my Lord,” called a scratchy voice from the back. When the wiry old man entered from the back of the barn, he bowed as the rank of his young visitors dictated. “What is your pleasure, my Lord?”
“Duff, my father tells me I’ll be traveling to Carolinas, and Prince Jonathan will be staying here. I would like to see the horses I’ll be taking on the trip, and I would like to show Prince Jonathan the horses he will be riding while he’s here. They must be strong and durable; I think Jonathan will do a good deal more riding than I ever did. He also tells me that I’ll be doing a lot more riding than I ever have before.”
“Your father has already sent word of your coming journey, and I have selected these three chargers for you to ride. Each selected for tractability, endurance and their high-quality bloodline. I also picked out these two sturdy horses for packing,” Duff explained as he indicated the horses in a separate corral. “How much gear will you be taking?”
“Certainly not enough to require two pack horses. Some clothes, my armor, my weapons is all. Now what will Prince Jonathan have to ride?”
“I’m sure Prince Jonathan brought his own horses, but he will be welcome to try out any of Lord Aidyn’s stock that happens to be in the paddock. Will there be anything else, my Lord?”
“No, that’ll be all, thank you, Duff.”
Once out of hearing, Jonathan said, “Those are fine horses. How many does your father have?”
“I never really counted,” said Harris. “I suppose there’s about twenty or twenty-five all together in the paddock out back - minus five now.”
Jonathan was perplexed. Twenty or twenty-five horses? His father had several hundred under his personal brand, and that wasn’t even counting those used by the military. Harris didn’t seem at all concerned about the lack of knowledge about the districts under his father’s crown, or were they under Aidyn’s control anymore? He would have to find out.
Throughout the rest of the day and the next, the two boys cemented their friendship as they explored the different points of interest in the palace. Both of them were hungry, in their own way, for a friend who was more than just a peer.
Would you buy this book?