tagChain StoriesA Royal Sacrifice Ch. 10

A Royal Sacrifice Ch. 10


This story is part of a chain. Although it can be read on its own, parts of it may make more sense when read in order of the chain. However, I highly recommend reading all of the chapters anyway. I hope you enjoy! Please take the time to vote. If you have enjoyed this please recommend these to your friends.


John stormed out of the stables. Although his station had improved considerably, he still found time to return to his roots and work amongst the horses. There was a certain simplicity to the life he had led. Although David berated him near daily over one slight or another, his true concerns were slight. Thoughts of evil wizards or traitors were naught but flights of fancy. Now, as one of the two resurrected Knights of Vix, there was a deadly seriousness to such concerns.

He needed solace, and Eric had been a woefully inadequate companion recently. All of his time seemed to revolve around that vixen, the prince's sister; Viviane. Which was quite possibly the source of John's greatest concern. He could not understand the conflicted sentiments her felt for her. He could not stop thinking about her arrival, and the time they had together.

At the same time, he found it amazingly suspect. He was unlike Eric, to fell any woman who crossed his path. John still searched for the woman who could hold his heart. So why had he so gladly taken her? He shook the thought from his head as unimportant.

In truth, John wanted what Cedric seemed to have with Rebecca. Or at least that was what the fellow knight wished for. Fortunate was he that he now accounted for the lowest rank of nobility. He could court the handmaiden with impunity now.

John stopped in his tracks at the thought. He too was a knight. He was nobility, albeit the lowest form, but it granted him rights along with the responsibilities that he already understood. So what if every lord, from earl to the queen, was above his station. It was a lot in life he already understood. Only here, now, he could finally advance. Although his blood was not pure, and he held no lands to title, he had leave for his deeds to improve his place.

With a lighter step, he once more continued on his way. Thoughts of the fight with his supposed best friend remained, but rather than a distraction they provided John with a destination. Throughout his life, there had been one person who he turned to for advise. One person he knew of who was a font of wisdom. For a woman of questionable morality, his 'Grams' seemed to know everything.

John knew little of Grams' past. To the best of his knowledge no one knew more about her than that she was a woman of ill repute decades before. Her own form of honor prohibited the revelation of any of her clients, much less the father of the illegitimate child. That the child was a girl provided that few would care enough to press the issue. It had been assumed by all in the village that the daughter would follow in the footsteps of the mother. When she became the town washer woman, the assumption was upheld despite the truth of his mother's chastity.

What truly surprised everyone, not the least of which being John's father, Grams provided a decent dower. While not a merchant's fortune, she was able to provide them with a house within the bounds of the village and a tidy sum in case of woe. They still maintained both the house and the surplus. In fact, his parents had been able to save small bits of money on occasion and caused the sum to grow over time. John knew not how much his inheritance equaled, but his new position should afford it to grow further. Assuming he could find a suitable set of armor for himself.

There lay a concern even Grams could not help him with. Tradition dictated that the knights of Vix wore at least a half suit of plate armor in battle or ceremonial occasions, but John found the heavy casing unwieldy. While he thought himself a fair swordsman, possibly among the best at the castle, his capabilities were greatly diminished the moment he tried to wear the onerous shell.

Hardened leather was far more John's style. Unfortunately, as a knight, he was expected to look more than a common foot-soldier. It was the single drawback he had discovered in his rise to nobility. Now, at least in public, he was expected to conform to certain standards. On the field of battle he needed to be seen, to be an example for the lesser men to follow.

John reached the house of his birth at last. He could not help but smile. Despite their low station, and the scorn of his fellow villagers, his youth was kind to him. With the love of carefree parents, and a wondrous Grams, he never felt envious of those who owned more than he. His only weakness had been his envy and embarrassment of his place in society.

John slunk into the house as he had so many times before. He'd caused his share of troubles in his youth and been scolded and punished for each in turn. In the silence of the house, he couldn't help but be brought back to the nights, not so long ago, he'd snuck back in after a night out. With his parents absent, it felt much the same, despite the bright sunshine that beat through the front door.

"The conquering hero returns at last."

John spun in a crouch, his head low in shame. Although he knew the voice well, he had reacted to the surprise instinctively. Only his neck and head betrayed the automatic guilt that had built upon the silence of the dwelling. In truth though, his guilt was more than simply imagined. It had been far too long since he had visited home and family.

"I'm sorry Grams. I know I should have come home with far greater frequency, but my work at the castle has taken far more of my time than I ever could have guessed."

Grams left the shadowy corner of the room and wrapped him in a warm hug. Although she had seen many decades, the aura of beauty that served her well in her youth still remained tight about her. "My little John, you were bred for hard labors. All of us understood that we likely would only see you around the various holidays."

Grams released him from her embrace and held his shoulders at arm's length. Her critical gaze swept over him. Finally a smile brightened her face and she nodded. "You look well; strong and well fed. It seems becoming a knight suits you."

John couldn't help but blush. He knew that his family would have known about the promotion of his station, but where he would show everyone else that it was nothing more than his due, his family would see the truth. He couldn't be more surprised, or elated by the honor. "I was simply in the right place, Grams."

Grams waved away the thought with a brush of her hand as she moved over to the small stove and picked up the copper pot filled with water. How had John not noticed the warmth that the stove produced? Meanwhile she poured water into simple clay mugs and offered one to him.

"So tell me, what has driven you from the castle? You need advice, a gentle ear. Tell your Grams what has befallen."

John sighed and settled into the chair. Where should he begin? Grams knew of his former job at the stables and his friendship with Eric. Likely, she even knew that he continued to spend time there even after his elevation ~she always seemed to know such things~ but he figured it would not hurt to cover it anyway.

"Well, even after I've become a knight, I still take time to work the stables. I just feel more comfortable there, among the horses, rather than around the nobility. I don't understand them, their motives, their ways. Did you know there are bowls to dip fingers in to clean them?"

Grams, who had simply smiled and added an occasional nod, now smiled and motioned for him to continue. Obviously she understood his confusion at the ways of the castle, but just as obviously she knew something about how to navigate them. Perhaps he would need to visit her more often, for lessons on life among the royals. Regardless of these thoughts, he needed to continue.

"Well, three of us faced off against Ba...the Specter. But only two became knights. Cedric, a friend of the queen's from the time she grew up, was elevated along with me." John knew she would know that much. Everyone in the village knew about Cedric's elevation because of his connections with Queen Evelyn. But few had heard the rest. "But Eric was with us as well. It was he who truly drove off the wizard by means of a crossbow bolt."

Grams finished her tea and held up a hand for John to stop. Obediently he did. "Your friend, Eric chose not to become a knight then? And you have argued over it."

John looked down, ashamed. "In part. But you see, there's also this woman." He looked up quickly in embarrassment. "It's not what you think however!"

Grams gave him a look which told him not to assume what she thought. Thoroughly mollified, John continued. 'Well, I suppose there is some of what you are thinking. You see, this woman, I do not trust her. And yet he spends all of his time with her."

John didn't know how to continue. Fortunately, Grams seemed to have heard enough. She ushered him to drink his tea as she began to speak. "There is much beneath the surface here. But let us begin with the most obvious, and most ancient of motivations. Between you there is now envy and jealousy."

John wanted to argue, but he could not. He knew it to be true. "For you, there is jealousy of Eric. There is a part of you that desires this woman, despite your protests. Though I can tell from the flare in your gaze that you are at war with yourself over your feelings for her. On that, I can only advise that you let it go. Were it a battle between the head and heart," she touched each in turn with a delicate finger, "there would be room for debate. But the two seem to agree, so let it go my child. You may find this easier than you think, if you but let your heart free."

Grams poured more of the water, now lukewarm, into her cup and took another sip before she continued. John obediently continued to sip his own tea. "Next there is the jealousy of this woman. She has taken from you one of the things you most covet. And like all mankind, what you covet, you have taken for granted."

"Eric is your friend, but even friends must grow. Sometimes they grow apart. But sometimes, they simply need to grow on their own for a while. If you do not force the issue, in time the two of you may be able to find a balance between these lives."

John nodded and truly understood. He had not realized how much of his anger stemmed from the fact that he had so little time with Eric these days. As if in answer to his thoughts, Grams held up a cautionary finger. "Remember this too, child. That what you feel in this so does he. Have you not been spending a good deal more time with your fellow knight than with him?" John nodded solemnly that he had. "Whatever the initial fracture, the boulder would shatter in time if left to the cruel elements."

"Now, as to your friend. You have wondered why Eric refused to take up the position which is his due, more perhaps than even your own? Tell me, how many others know that this man is a scholar? Does even this mysterious woman know?"

John's eyes grew wide and he shook his head. He had never told Grams about Eric's languages. To the best of his knowledge even Viviane did not realize he was more than a lustful brute. John had certainly seen the two together, and Eric never presented himself as anything other than the big oaf that he allowed all others in the castle, save John himself, to see.

"There, you see? There is hope for the two of you yet. Perhaps the greatest secret the man holds, he has shared with you alone. Perhaps," Gram's began, seemingly anticipating his argument, "he no longer trusts anyone after your friendship has faltered. I feel, however, that it is more likely that there is at least some part of him that does not fully trust this woman. You say you do not trust her, and I think you are close enough, brothers enough, that he senses your mistrust and has acted accordingly."

"However, is that also not an explanation to explain his refusal of the honors?" This was a challenge of John's deductive abilities. Grams would never answer a question she had put forth in this manner, at least, not for some time. If it elapsed and he genuinely could not devise his path clear through the labyrinth, she might grace him with the answer or, more likely, another clue.

John caught the edge of an idea and began to suggest it before it had fully formed in his mind. "Eric hides what he can do. Or more truly, he hides what he knows, who he is. But the most important aspect is that he cannot hide himself bodily, but he certainly can hide who he is. If he accepted the praise for what he had done, people would look more closely. The would seek to find what they had missed within him as they have within."

What John did not feel Grams needed to know was that many had taken a closer look at him and found him wanting. Of course, those were mostly among the nobles, but he had learned they judged people far more differently than the common folk. They sought some ephemeral quality which he not only lacked, but could not understand.

Meanwhile, Grams looked to John for the logical connection that he had yet to express, or perhaps an alternative explanation. He thought over the problem for another few minutes as they both continued to sip their tea. Finally it came to John in a flash of insight. "The position would tie him to this place, these lands!"

Grams smiled and nodded. "Now, my child, you know him best. Which do you think is the more likely?"

John thought the question over from all sides, as he knew Grams wanted, before he answered. "I think there is a little truth in that. He is a man who values his freedom. But I think it is more about the way people perceive him. I have seen how the nobles react, I know how confused their world is. I think he prefers the station he sees and fears to become tangled in the supposedly harmless intrigues of court."

Gram's smile widened into the grin which lit up her already wondrous face. "Very good. I believe you are correct that his reasons, like many, are diverse and complex." She picked up her cup and place it back by the cupboard. He began to move to follow, but a firm hand on his shoulder kept him seated. Until she sat before him once more.

"What do you think of this new queen; this Evelyn?"

The question took John so completely by surprise that he was forced into his near departed contemplations of spies within the castle. He had been willing to think the worst of Drest, and he supposed it was still possible that the man held deep and suspicious motives, but to every action John had perceived, he was an honorable man.

So how could John's own Grams seem to question the fledgling queen? "Grams! I...I don't think it is my place to judge her!"

Grams smiled gently. "I did not mean to ask how you thought of her as a ruler. I am simply curious what you think of her as a person, as a woman?"

John blushed from head to toe. In truth, he rarely thought of Queen Evelyn as a woman. Of course, he understood that she was female. He even, in some strange, analytical method, comprehended that she was attractive. But he had never thought anything about her beyond his long held passion to act in the name of the crown, to defend the honor of Vix and its crown. Oh, she seemed fond enough, after all she had elevated him despite his questionable birth, but that only lent strength to the purity of his loyalty.

John's mouth staggered as he attempted to find words to express all of this to Grams. Fortunately, she read it in his eyes and took pity on the lad. A slight frown of concern, that he hadn't been aware that she wore, softened. "Good. She seems of gentle heart and good soul. I wish for you to be the iron that supports her. You and this Cedric fellow of hers. I think she will need it in times to come."

Grams' eyes had narrowed slightly, and suddenly her beautiful features took on the cold, harsh, strength of the Autumn of life. "Remember propriety. Treat her as you would treat myself or your mother. Expect others to treat her as you would have them treat us."

John could not escape the suspicion that there was more to this injunction than a simple deference to either his or Evelyn's relatively new rank. But in the inscrutable way of Grams, he could not puzzle out its true meaning without some help. And on this matter it was clear she intended to give him no such thing.

However, his worries ceased the moment her face softened once more to the beautiful, if aged, woman that held naught but love for him. "I know you will wish my help to navigate the uncertain maze that is the royal court. I will teach you what I can of their manners, their rituals and their rules. For they are often quite different from those you grew up with. However, as a first lesson, I would advise you off to the apothecary. Alone among the village he can teach you your letters."

That last bit of advice made the most sense to John. While the priest were probably far more qualified for the task, they seemed to covet their learning like misers. And while he was a devout man, he certainly had no aspirations towards the cloth.

Grams had always seemed to be something of a sage. She held none of the skills of an herb mother, but all of the wisdom. His mother had said that she learned from the best, and the worst, source of all; experience in human nature. He was fairly certain she could neither read nor write, but her advice was no more false for it. Such skills would only enhance his ability to protect the queen.

John also acknowledged the last as a dismissal. Although she seemed in the prime of her life, John knew that she had not the endurance she used to. He stood, gave Grams a careful, if heartfelt, hug, a kiss to the cheek and asked her to convey his love to his parents.

So, with a much lighter heart, he made his way from his childhood home. He was halfway to the apothecary when he noticed something amiss. At one time, John had thought that the man he now saw was nothing more than an important noble. He glided unhindered about the castle with an authority that could only be learned through many years of habit. It was only a short time ago that he had learned the truth of the man.

There, astride the pale mare, sat The Spectre That Walks, Bagdemagus.

John slipped into the shadows and began to follow the wizard's slow, but determined, pace. The man was headed from the castle, and John vowed later to warn the guards, and Cedric, that he had once again had reign of the grounds. Meanwhile, it was all John could do to keep up with him and still remain unseen.

While Begdemagus kept a relatively sedate pace, the crowd seemed to part smoothly before him as they did with no other noble. It was as if, at the last second, they turned away to look elsewhere and stepped aside. No, the commoners parted for nobility, but there was oft a good deal of fists shaken in the air once backs were turned.

To make matters worse, when these people shifted aside, they seemed to move right into his path or line of sight. It took all of his eighteen years worth of experience to maintain pursuit with absolute confidence that he had not been noticed by anyone. Unlike the wizard the people actually saw him, but John knew how to play on their thoughts, knew what it was to remain unseen as the lowest of the low.

John was not sure what he would do when he discovered the man's destination. Their last, and only, encounter had proved that there was little chance he could beat the wizard in combat. It had taken the three of them to merely wound him, and even then he chose to flee rather than continue. No, in order to truly defeat The Spectre, they were going to need to corner him somewhere.

Unfortunately that provided problems of its own. John had begun to suspect there were ways to walk completely unseen, as he now witnessed with the horse. And even if he could see through the technique, by some unknown blessing, it was evident that the guards could not. That ruled out the possibility of surrounding him with a contingent of the queen's soldiers.

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