A while back, I posted two little flash fiction stories—The Man Wearing Black and The Odds—and it was heaps of fun and ever since then I’ve been hoping to do some more. I’ve tried several times, actually, but I just haven’t been inspired for any short stories.

Until today! 😏

 

Today, I’ve got a fantasy short story about a young man traveling to the city to find his fortune in the king’s castle! Those of you who have read my novel Prince might see some familiar faces in this story…

It may or may not be a ‘prequel’ to how two of the characters first meet, and happens only one day before the events of Prince begin.

 

I hope you enjoy!! 🙂

 

I shift my pack on my shoulder and look up at the towering walls of the Ellsmere castle. The afternoon is dragging longer, but there’s only a short ways left now and I’ll be there. Mid-afternoon sun glances off the white walls and turrets of the castle, gilding it in radiant gold.

The castle of the king of Linnrylon. Just the place where I can find my fortune.

I check my pocket again for the letter from Lord Rosedale. Parchment crinkles reassuringly and I release a breath. This is where it begins.

The strap of my pack digs into my shoulder uncomfortably after almost a full day of walking, but I can grit through it for just a while longer. The bustling township at my back, I tackle the smooth rise ahead, following the cobbled roadway up to the open castle gates.

Two guards, their red surcoats emblazoned with the king’s symbol, step forward as I approach the entrance. “What brings you here, lad?” one calls.

I stop by them, lower my pack to the ground for a moment of respite, and dig the letter from my pocket. “I’m Dane Stipp, sir. I come from Lord Rosedale’s manor, seeking employ in the castle.” I offer the letter toward him, but he waves it away.

“No need.” He smiles easily, and his gaze skims over me. “You can enter.” He steps back and glances to his companion. “Don’t think this one will be a security threat.” There’s a smirk in his voice, though it’s not mean.

He does have a point. I couldn’t look like a threat if I tried.

I duck my head, allowing a slight smile as I heft my pack again, letter still clasped in my other hand. “Thank you, sirs.” I nod to both guards, then step past into the courtyard of the castle.

It’s even bigger than it looks from the outside. To my left, a few soldiers relax outside the garrison buildings. Right, there’s a stable, judging by the sound and smells from that direction. Straight ahead, the wide stairs lead up to huge double-doors, their dark wood tones standing out starkly against the white stone walls.

Movement hums all throughout the courtyard. Servants ducking from one narrow entrance to another. Puffed figures going to run errands in town. A man carrying a huge basketful of herbs. Two women talking rapidly as they walk past me, heading who-knows-where.

I stood in the midst of the courtyard for a full minute, just taking it in. If I got a job here, it’d be a challenge to not get lost amid this ordered chaos. Lord Rosedale’s manor was much smaller than this, more familiar.

He said to get a meeting with the king, but surely I can’t just walk in and ask for one. Or is that how it works? I’ve never met royalty before, much less to ask him to employ me.

“You need a hand, lad?”

The voice brought my around, and it took a moment before I found the man who’d spoken. Rough beard, shoulder-length hair, around mid-aged at a glance. His clothes were plain, and a little dirty, but his smile friendly enough.

“Pardon?” I fiddled with the edge of Lord Rosedale’s letter.

“You look like you could do with a friend.” He stretched out his hand. “I’m Curt. The stable master around here.”

I clasp his hand, rough and calloused from work. “Dane Stipp, I’m from Rosedale manor.”

Curt nods. “Here for a job?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Got a letter?”

I show him the parchment from Lord Rosedale.

He claps my shoulder. “You’re sure to be set up with something decent enough. There’s always room for more workers. Just pray they don’t make you the prince’s new manservant.”

“Why—”

He keeps going before I can finish my question. “You’ll just want to head straight up and give the guards that there letter and ask to see King Torryn.” Curt gestures toward the main entrance and pats my shoulder twice, nudging me in that direction. “You’ll be fine, lad.”

“Thank you, sir,” I manage, though my throat is dry already.

He leaves me with a gruff farewell, and heads for the stables again. I stare up at the grand staircase for another moment of desperate hesitation, then force my feet to start walking. I can’t expect to earn my fortune if I don’t do something about it.

I mount the stairs and fumble an awkward bow to the nearer of the guards. “Pardon me, sir.” I drop my pack to the ground again and offer the folded letter. “I’m here from Rosedale manor. I’d like to see the king.”

The guard takes the letter and glances over the seal, then grunts. “All right. Follow me.” He turns and pushes open one door partway, stepping inside.

Inside the castle is still humming, though a little quieter than outside. Servant girls hurry up a staircase to the right, carrying piles of linen. A group of visiting nobles converse in the entrance hall, barely glancing up as we pass them. Huge stands of candles line the walls and hang from the ceiling, though unlit at the moment, as sunlight streams through the wide windows in great swathes of gold.

The guard leads the way through to a small room to the side, and gestures me toward one of the seats. “Wait here. Someone will fetch you when the king is ready.” He turns, then pauses. “What was your name?”

“Dane Stipp, sir.” I half bow again.

He nods and disappears, leaving me in the silent room. I sink onto the edge of one of the seats, clasping my pack between my knees. The faint scent of lavender spices the air. It’s cooler here than outside, and I’m grateful for my jacket, worn though it is.

I wait in silence, soaking in the sounds of the castle around me, for at least half an hour before yet another unfamiliar man glances through the doorway.

“Dane Stipp?” He raised his dark brows at me questioningly.

“Aye.” I rise, picking up my bag once more, but he shakes his head.

“You can leave that for now. When your quarters are assigned you can take it there.” He glances over his shoulder into the corridor. “The king is ready for you.”

I swallow, but hurry to keep up with this man as he leads the way through another narrow hallway to another nondescript door.

He pauses long enough to clear his throat, then pushes it open and steps through out of my line of sight. “Dane Stipp, Your Majesty.”

He shuffles back into the servant’s hallway again and I step out, not into a grand hall as I expected, but into a more comfortable room, almost identical to Lord Rosedale’s office at the manor. Startled, I almost forget to bow, so I hold it a moment longer than usual to make up for my slip.

“He looks like a scruffy stoat.” The words are low pitched, but not quite low enough for me to miss them. Nor to miss the nasty smirk behind them.

I straighten and pinpoint the speaker. A young man, perhaps two summers beyond me, stands behind a large desk. His blond-brown hair neat, shirt and jacket of the finest quality, and a simple gold circlet against his brow.

Prince Kalmin Murdoc Cynfael Angwen II, the heir to the throne.

And beside him, in the grand—but comfortable looking—chair behind the desk…King Torryn, ruler of Ellsmere.

“Your Majesty. Your Highness,” I manage, despite my dry throat, half bowing toward the prince this time.

“Kalmin, you are dismissed.” The king glances at his son, then his gaze returns to me, deep and steady.

The prince sniffs and crosses to the doorway, leaving the room empty but for the king and me.

“Dane Stipp, wasn’t it?” King Torryn picks up my letter from his desk, breaking the seal and unfolding the parchment.

“Yes, Your Majesty.” I try not to fidget as his gaze skims over the words of the letter. I, of course, hadn’t read it myself, so Lord Rosedale might not even have recommended me a position at all, and I could be thrown out on my ear like—

“Rosedale speaks highly of your service,” the king interrupts my internal panic, and I can’t breathe anymore. He glances over me again, solemn brows drawing together. “You can begin work immediately, I trust?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” I nod, breathless.

“Excellent.” He claps his hands and the door behind me opens once more, the same servant as before hurrying back in. “Markus, show Dane to Prince Kalmin’s suite. He is to begin work immediately as the prince’s new manservant.”

I half opened my mouth, but no words came out. The prince’s manservant?

Didn’t the stable master say to hope that didn’t happen? And didn’t the prince just say I looked like a stoat?

A groan pressed at my throat, but I swallowed it down.

“Thank you, Your Majesty.” I bow again, then somehow follow Markus into the corridor again.

What does a manservant even do? I’ve worked for Lord Rosedale since I was old enough to, but he doesn’t have a manservant. What could he have written in that letter than recommended me for this?

“This way,” Markus says, setting off down the corridor. “I’ll have your pack dropped off at the stable master’s. You’ll be bunking in his cabin for now. No doubt, you’ll be working with him soon too, given the prince’s track record with manservants.”

My stomach clenches and I jog a few steps to catch up with him as he starts up a flight of stairs. “His track record?”

Markus glances at me and grimaces. “He only had his last one for three weeks before he demanded a new one. Said he was too slow, though the poor fellow was worked absolutely off his feet.”

What have I gotten myself into? This sounded more like a curse than a fortune. “So what do I have to do?” I ask, keeping my step brisk to stay beside Markus.

He finally stops at the beginning of another set of stairs. “You do everything Prince Kalmin tells you to, and you do it quick sharp. I imagine he’ll be tired of you in a few weeks anyway, so you haven’t much luck.”

If Prince Kalmin was always as full of himself as the glimpse in the king’s office had shown, I’d be tired of him in a few days. But something stirred in my chest. A duty. A challenge.

No one else could stay as the prince’s personal servant for long. Maybe I could be the first.

“All right.” I set my jaw, accepting the challenge.

Markus looks at me pityingly for another moment, then gestures up the stairs. “His is the first door on the left. And you’re to call him sire at all times, remember.”

I nod and set off up the stairs, legs aching from walking all day, but determined to succeed nonetheless. Markus is out of sight by the time I reach the prince’s door, so I just knock softly on the doorframe.

“Come,” his bored voice comes from inside.

I steel myself, then open the door.

Prince Kalmin looks up from a desk to the side of the spacious room, and for a moment he even seems faintly interested, but he just looks away again as I bow. “I guess you’re my new manservant, then.”

“Yes, sire.” I straighten and glance around the room.

The bed is a mess of rumpled sheets, mostly trailing onto the floor. There’s items of clothing scattered everywhere. A sheathed sword leans against the wall by the window, which is still closed and the curtains are half drawn. A tray of food scraps sits on one side of the desk where the prince stands.

“Well?”

I look back at Prince Kalmin again.

He stands with his arms crossed and one eyebrow cocked. “You do realise that servants have to do something, don’t you?”

“Yes, sire, I—”

“Good,” he interrupts. “You’ll need to tidy this room, polish my boots and prep my riding gear—I’m going for a ride, so have my horse ready too. My armour needs checking again, and there’ll be training tomorrow, so don’t think you can get away without it being spotless.” He heads for the door as he speaks, opening it on the last sentence, then he steps out into the hall and glances back at me once more. “You shall also serve my dinner in the main hall tonight—make sure it’s not cold.”

Then he’s gone and the door slams in his wake.

I stand in the middle of the room for a moment, nothing louder than my heartbeat stirring the silence, then his words sink in and I scramble into action.

I’d better get to hurrying if I wanted to keep this position long. Although I was already uncertain if it’d be worth the stress.

Prince Kalmin didn’t seem like a man who would ever be pleased, but I would give it my best shot anyway.

– – –

 

What did you think of the story? 😀 Do you ever write short stories or flash fiction? Let’s chat in the comments!

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