Prince Theylin of Apacath slid into his seat in the Grand Hall with as much grace as he could muster. He was late. Very.
He turned to his meal, trying to keep his head down, but a Prince of Apacath can only be so inconspicuous in a hall filled with his subjects. Amid whispers and gentle coughs, Theylin swallowed as best he could, aching to be out in the field with his men doing drills or even cleaning weapons. But his father, King of Apacath, had had enough of his son roaming the border with Talia, risking his neck each day in the bloody war their forefathers had started. So Theylin’s days of raids and campaigns came to an end, and he was cooped up in the castle, where the only Talians he would encounter were prisoners of war down in the dungeons.
A page appeared at Theylin’s side and bowed. “Your Majesty,” he said. “Captain Deskel has arrived at the inner courtyard. He wishes to report to you directly.”
“Thank you,” replied Theylin, dismissing him. “Excuse me,” he begged of his dining companions. Deskel had been his second-in-command in the field before Theylin was recalled. He understood the prince’s desperate need to escape the trappings of court and get a glimpse of the troops’ action on the front.
Out in the courtyard, Theylin found Deskel talking with a guard from the dungeons. When he approached, Deskel suddenly whipped out a dagger and lunged at Theylin, who almost took too long to dodge aside and twist the blade from his captain’s hand.
“Getting soft, eh Theylin?” taunted Deskel, the familiar grin stretching from cheek to cheek.
“How’s this feel to you?” asked Theylin, gripping his wrist more firmly and digging it into his back so that his arm twisted painfully.
Theylin let him go and grasped him in a bear hug. “How goes the war?”
“Well… the Talians are still fighting strong,” answered Deskel, rolling his shoulders back. “But so are we. We captured a handful of prisoners this time around, but what can we do? We moved into Talia’s territory to the north, but they’ve been raiding in the south. Apacath’s not gaining an advantage here, but then again, neither is Talia. Neither side has budged since that raid you led a quarter-cycle back.”
Theylin grimaced. Oh the glory days. “Where are the prisoners?”
“Just sent them to the dungeons. One of them was giving us hell until Kor knocked her out — she’s a magic-user and even after we gloved her hands she managed something. Nearly killed Mandelwin, but he’ll be fine. She put up one hell of a fight, though… kept us from getting the rest of her unit, even though we ambushed.”
Smiling a bit at the mental image, Theylin gazed off into the distance, through the troops in the courtyard. “Thistle still shooting straight?” he asked.
Deskel nodded. “And curved, when she wants to. The girl can hit a pebble in a hailstorm. Saved our necks a fair number of times.”
“Good,” muttered Theylin. He’d recruited the archer just before his father forced him to return to the castle, and had never seen her in action. It was a small consolation for her to have become so indispensable. Theylin sighed. The life of action and bravery was his no more. “Come. Let’s go check on the dungeons.”