The Game of Crowns: A Saga

  • Chapter One:
    With This Cup…

    Narvis had always thought he was intelligent as far as beggars went. He'd always had enough food when the growing season hadn't been too bad. He'd always had a place to sleep, even if that "place" was underneath a parked cart. And he even had enough coins sometimes to enjoy a few luxuries, like new clothes, a bath, even a deck of cards. Today though, Narvis was feeling less than intelligent. It wasn't odd for beggars to indulge in the irreputable art of thievery, it was even overlooked by most of the city guards, most of the time. But most of the time, beggars stole things like a tunic, a cloak, an apple, small things. Narvis had thought he'd been doing just that, stealing a finely made cup from an unsuspecting merchant's lunch. Only when the alarm went up throughout the entire capital city did he check the insignia on the side of the cup. A cobalt circlet, the sign of a daughter, normally of a noble, above the head of a bruise colored hawk, the vermillion raptor of the ruling house. A royal cup. The dinner goblet of the heiress to the throne.

    VERY, unintelligent.

    Narvis dove behind a crate, narrowly avoiding a hail of arrows from the royal guard. "Stop him! Thief!" They called out for the hundreth time as the beggar scrambled to his feet again and dashed off down an alleyway, splashing through puddles of filth and hurdling piles of... more filth. He glanced back as he ran, throwing up the hood of his grimy cloak to hide his face in the crowd ahead.
    The guards were still there, right at his heels, but they were beginning to flag. They haven't spent their entire lives running, The beggar thought with a hint of smugness as he swung his head back around, easily melting into the crowd while still at a dead run. Even with the alarm up, business in the huge open square at the center of Olde Toun, aptly named Barter Square, still hummed along with barely a pause.
    Narvis ducked and wove his way past burly, barely clothed slaves from the Korzish islands carrying crates with cord muscled arms; dainty, pale eyed men wearing dresses from Darole; red skinned women in full battle plate from Iolna; and a plethora more of men and women from all over the world. A man could be sporting three eyes and a hat woven of the Golden Thread of Rasniok in Barter Square and not get a second glance. What matter was one more beggar?
    Narvis moved with the speed and precision of any tumbler, not even jostling so much as a single person in his mad flight from the zealous guards. Said guards were having far more difficulty though, despite their zeal. They relied on shoving people out of the way to get through the crowd, which made them both easy to keep track of whenever Narvis glanced over his shoulder, and slow to boot.
    An arrow thunked at least a hand's bredth into the wood of a sign beside Narvis' head and he jumped in surprise. He looked up at the line of roofs and narrowly dodged another precisely aimed arrow from a guard kneeling on the roof of the cobbler's shop, holding a longbow. It's just a cup!!! He wanted to scream at the guards, pausing to glare angrily first at the sniper, then at the mass of guards slowly gaining on him. Thunk! Okay, I'm sick of this, Pulling his hood down further and turning away, he ducked between two burly slaves, stooping low, and slunk off toward the opposite end of the crowd.

    Narvis watched from a narrow alley as the royal guards waded through the crowd, questioning people about whether or not they'd seen him. The only description they had however was 'grimy cloak, stooped shoulders, fancy cup' which got them blank stares at the best, and a harsh laugh most other times. The beggar grinned and retreated down the alley, leaving the guards to flounder and clutching the cup to his chest, beneath his cloak.
    He walked through the narrow streets, zigzagging at random so as to shake any pursuit, until he found himself in the shadow of a huge tree growing in a circular ring of grass at the juncture of four streets. With a huff, he plopped down beneath the tree, leaning back against the trunk with one knee drawn up to his chest. He drew the goblet out of his cloak, looking around warily, then looked it over critically. Mostly silver, nice size, ruby hawk and lapis circlet on the side... ah damn, Narvis sighed and closed his eyes, hitting his head on the trunk of the tree behind him, "Stupid, stupid, stupid," He chanted repeatedly, bopping his forehead with the cup in time. "No fencer's gonna buy a cup with the royal freaking seal on it, they'd be jailed before sundown," He groaned to himself. Taking the cup had been a mistake, but he'd held on to it thinking to sell it to the local fence (Woobster's {Yes, Woobster's} defines a "fence" as a sort of middleman between a thief and the black market.), but only now did he realize that no one in their right mind would buy it. Even if they just planned on melting down the silver, the ruby hawk would be a dead giveaway.
    Narvis opened his eyes, looking up into the thick foliage of the tree, where a girl sat looking at him, swinging her legs back and forth idly. He couldn't quite tell what she was wearing in the dark of the leaves, but he could see her face clear enough. She looked to be about in her late teens, maybe early twenties, just like him. "Hey," he replied sullenly, halfheartedly waving his free hand.
    "What's that?" The girl asked, pointing at the cup in his hand.
    Narvis lifted the goblet to his face and sneered at his reflection in it, then looked back at the girl, "A cup. A useless, priceless cup," He grumbled the second part bitterly.
    The girl pursed her lips and continued to kick her legs, "Can I look at it?"
    Narvis looked at the cup once again, then just threw it up into the air nice and high, "Hell, you can have it for all the good it's done me. Enjoy."
    The girl leaned out and grabbed the cup out of midair, but lost her balance in doing so. "Whoa, aah, AAH!" Narvis looked up again and his eyes went wide as he saw the girl toppling over the side of the branch. Like a cat he sprang to his feet as the girl fell out of the tree toward the hard roots sticking out of the ground below. Holding out his arms Narvis ran beneath her and had just enough time to wonder What am I doing? before she fell into his arms, flattening them both on the ground in a heap.
    "Owww," the beggar groaned, feeling bruises pop up all over and a root dig into his ribs, "Freaking tree," He muttered sourly as the girl crawled off him. He dragged himself to his feet laboriously, rubbing the soar spots all over.
    The girl looked shaken and surprised, then she shook her head forcefully, clutching the cup to her chest. She looked at Narvis, who was shuffling away, grumbling curses foul even for him under his breath, and suddenly grinned. She ran after him and threw her arms around him in a hug, "You saved me!"
    "What?" Narvis was caught off guard by the grateful show of affection. He stood dumbly, not quite sure what to do about this, "Uuhhhhh..."
    "There he is!"
    Narvis went rigid, recognizing the voice of one of the royal guards. He looked around frantically to see guards coming out of all four of the streets to surround him and the girl, who wasn't paying the guards any mind whatsoever. He shouldered the girl off him and looked prone to sprint away, but the guards already had him surrounded by a ring of spears.
    "Milady, get away from him!" One of the guards barked. Narvis recognized his uniform as that of a high ranking royal guard, probably the posse's leader.
    The girl seemed to notice the guards for the first time and put fists on her hips, looking angry with the guards, a fine counterpoint to Narvis, who looked like a cornered rabbit, "Alabaster! Are you still following me!? I thought I'd lost you at lunch!"
    The guard, Alabaster, continued to glare at Narvis as he answered the girl, "It's my duty milady, but as it happens I wasn't following you. I was tracking this piece of filth here." Narvis whimpered and crouched behind the girl, trying to avoid at least some of the spears.
    The girl looked over her shoulder at Narvis, then back at Alabaster, "I don't see anyone who deserves to be called that here."
    "I'll see about getting you some spectacles made later, but would you please step away from him? He's dangerous." The guard took a step forward and all the others did likewise, tightening the circle.
    The girl took a step to the side and turned to face Narvis. He still crouched on the ground, now with a spear practically shoved up his nose. He whimpered pitifully. The girl arched an eyebrow at Alabaster, "Dangerous?"
    "Um, well…" The guard fumbled for words, his emotionless mask wavering.
    "No," The girl pressed on, "This man is not filth, and far, FAR from dangerous," Narvis frowned briefly over his shoulder at the girl, then turned his attention back to the spears, "He's just a poor beggar, and besides, he saved he from certain death," Narvis glanced over his shoulder again and scoffed quietly, looking at the tree, then back at the spears.
    Alabaster persisted though, "But he stole-"
    "I know what he stole Alabaster, and he returned it. Doesn't that make all of this rather moot?"
    Returned it? Narvis wondered, but he wasn't about to ask questions. "Yeah, I'm no threat. I'm actually quite friendly once you get t'know me," He piped up, "You should really listen to her. After all she is your... uh..." He looked at the girl for help.
    "Princess; princess Elizabeth," She supplied simply.
    Narvis stared at her, then smiled uneasily, sweeping his eyes slowly over the guards in every direction, "The princess, of course. Yes, heh heh, yes. Very good-" He turned around and fell to his knees, groveling at the princess' feet, "For the love of the Queen, please don't hang me!! I'll never steal again! I'll leave the city and never come back, just let me live! Oh, oh, just let m'live!"
    The princess glared at Alabaster, "Now see what you've done? You've scared him to death."
    "To be fair," Alabaster said, lifting his spear a bit, "You were the one that scared him, milady."
    She brushed the fact aside with a wave of her hand, "Regardless..." The princess sighed and turned to Narvis, who still had his face in the dirt, "Oh for the love of, get up already!" She kicked him lightly in the shoulder and he got to his feet, rubbing his shoulder.
    "Um, sorry my lady," He mumbled.
    The princess pursed her lips and stared at Narvis, making him squirm after a few minutes. Finally she clucked her tongue and turned to face Alabaster, taking on an air that reflected her stature, "I like this man Alabaster. I grant him a royal pardon and he is not to be harmed. Oh, and that is a royal decree and therefore beyond contestation, if you planned on arguing. Am I understood?"
    Narvis's eyebrows sprang up in surprise while Alabaster's sank in angry disapproval. The guard grated his teeth but lifted his spear and bowed nonetheless, "Yes. As you command... milady." All the other guards copied him, lifting their spears and backing up a few steps so they weren't caging Narvis and the princess anymore. They kept a wary eye on the beggar though, no matter what the princess said. Narvis looked around warily as well, trusting the guards as much as they trusted him. I should be running now.
    The beggar turned to sprint as far and fast as he could, but the princess spoke again, "Do you have a place to stay?"
    Narvis turned and eyed the princess curiously, "What?"
    "Where do you live?"
    With the initial shock and immediate danger gone, Narvis felt more at ease, even if he was adressing the princess. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked around, as if he were looking for a building, then he crossed one leg over the other and bent his knees until he was sitting on the ground cross legged, "Here. I live here."
    The princess looked around, "We're in a street though."
    "Oh. Ohhh..." Understanding dawned and the princess nodded, then began muttering absently, becoming absorbed in her own thoughts. Narvis waited for some sort of reaction and got none. He began to inch away, readying to make a break for it, then she snapped her fingers, "The stables! There's a loft in the stables that should do for tonight."
    "A loft? You mean, with a roof!?" Thoughts of running were replaced with thoughts of not having to decide whether or not he was dead the next morning. "And I'd get to sleep in it?" He asked excitedly, almost bouncing on his feet.
    "Only until I can find you a proper room. And the clothes, we can do better than that. Let's see, something red I think, dark red..." Muttering to herself, the princess started toward the palace, taking it as a given that Narvis and her escort of guards would follow. Indeed, Narvis and the royal guard fell into step behind her, with Narvis and Alabaster closest to her.
    They wound their way through slightly angled streets until they came into view of the palace, a massive structure of towers and walls built at the top of a steep hill, with the city build on its slopes on all sides. The city spread onto the plains beyond, petering out and thinning into farms all around.
    They neared the arching gates of the palace and Narvis gaped in wonder at everything, looking this way and that at the luxury and finery, then Alabaster was at his side, whispering any emotion, "Don't think you're that special beggar. The princess does this every month. A new excursion into the city, a new pitiful wretch she takes pity on. She'll forget you even exist within the week."
    Narvis felt a chill, "That's... She wouldn't..."
    "She wouldn't? Think thief. She doesn't even know your name. Your a hobby to her, not a person, just a whim and fancy, and when she had her fun with you and moved on to someone else, I'll see justice done. I give you a week, then I'll see you at the hangman's noose, thief." He spat the last word, then walked off, leaving Narvis rooted to the spot just inside the gates.
    He spun around desperately, thinking only of escape, just in time to see the gates boom shut in his face. A thought went through his head, the chilling image of his own coffin being nailed shut.

    (The first part of Narvis' rise from pariah to prince. From beggar to, palace beggar... hey, at least the scraps must be better at the king's kitchens than at the alley behind the butcher's shop.)

  • Chapter Two:
    Making Friends

    Narvis peaked over the edge of the hayloft above the stables, his hair thoroughly laced with hay both from sleeping in it and as camouflage. The stablehand was brushing a dainty, white mare in its stall, but other than him no one else was around. He had an unobstructed view of the stableyard through the open double doors, and was glad to see no one out there either. Good, He thought, Maybe I can make it out of here unscathed after all.
    Standing and shaking off the majority of the loose straw, Narvis quickly climbed down the ladder leading to the loft and scrambled to the corner of the door. The stablehand's brushing paused as he watched the beggar curiously, then he shrugged and returned to the mare.
    Warily, and ever so slowly, Narvis peeked out into the yard, unconsciously pulling up the hood of his old, brown cloak which the princess had given him the night before. The yard was still empty. As was the corner of the large main square he could see from here. Satisfied for the moment, the beggar walked out of the stable, sticking close to the side of the barnlike structure as he headed for the square and plucked loose pieces of straw from his clothes.
    The main square was a giant mosaic of cobblestone that could only be properly seen from the soaring towers of the palace. At the top of the mosaic was the main gate of the palace; seven spans wide and able to fit through ten men, abreast and on horseback, comfortably. To the right was base of the guardtower, standing twice as tall as the already impressive wall that surrounded the palace. Beneath the square was the palace itself, which stretched out to the left, right, further back, and up for hundreds of spans. And to the right, the line between overgrown with weeds, was the stableyard.
    Narvis walked out into the square, hugging the outer wall until he reached the arch of the gate. He watched the guardtower and palace, alternating between the two nervously, until he was standing with his back to the gate. Still no one at this time in the morning. Lazy nobles, He thought with a sneer, then turned to leave. And THEN, he remembered why so few saw the inside of the palace walls.
    The gate stood tall and impenetrable before him, impenetrable from both outside and in. He stared at it, then groaned and hit his head on the stout, oak planks. The nobles never left their private, walled world, and when they did leave it took ten guards on each side to pull the it open. Alabaster would know the instant he left the princess's fickle protection even if he could convince that many guards to open the gate for him. He was sealed in with no clear means of escape besides jumping off the wall, and he didn't quite fancy doing that… yet.
    For a few minutes Narvis stood there with his forehead against the gate, cursing his idiocy. Eventually, he decided there was nothing to be done sulking and stepped back from the gate. Turning around, he sullenly considered his options. He didn't even bother considering the guardtower, there was really no point going back to the stables unless he needed to steal a horse, and that left the palace. With an inward groan, Narvis hung his head and trudged toward the narrow, soaring door of the palace.

    Two hours later in the morning saw Narvis pounding his head fitfully against the wall, trying to remember how he'd wound up in this hallway. He'd been walking since he'd entered the palace and had only stopped just now, finally admitting to himself that he was horribly lost. Until that point he hadn't realized just how massive the inside of the palace was. It was a city unto itself, with a market district (the kitchens), a residential area (The nobles' quarters and studies), an Olde Toun (The central dungeons, supposedly a thousand years old), and other places that Narvis couldn't think of an analogy for.
    So far, he'd only run into servants carrying noblemen's breakfasts and a few messengers, but they were getting more frequent in their appearances as the sun climbed higher in the sky. At least, Narvis assumed the sun was climbing. Here in the interior of the palace time had little meaning in regards to light and dark. One of the curiosities he'd seen in his wandering was there were apparently servents that carried huge sacks of torches throughout the palace interior and replaced old torches. Calculating the number of torches in a hall and then the number of halls in the palace, then doubling that number to account for all the other random torches around (Narvis still took pride in his intelligence) he'd found that there would have to be ten servents working nonstop all the time to keep up with the rate at which torches ran out. There were even closets stuffed full of torch sacks spaced so that the servents could grab a new sack the instant they ran out.
    The beggar had never thought about the mechanics of keeping such a large structure lit, but a fat lot of good it did him. Torches weren't going to get him out of this accursed place.
    "Think he's lost?"
    Narvis spun around in surprise. A pair of men that were dressed just like him were standing in a hole in the wall where there had not been one before, apparently talking about him.
    "I've never seen him before. I'd guess he is," The shorter of the two men said, inspecting his yellow fingernails.
    "Who... who are you?" Narvis asked dumbly, staring at their brown cloaks as he unconsciously fingered his.
    "Should we help him?" The shorter one asked.
    "Perhaps," The taller one met Narvis' stare and held it, "If not, he could always go to the guards for help. I'm sure they'd be happy to assist him."
    Narvis's stomach twisted, "Who are you?" He demanded again. Instead of an answer, the two men looked at each other then back into the wall, starting to swing a large stone slab closed like a door.
    "Wait! No, I mean yes! Yes! I want help!" Narvis rushed forward and shouted.
    The pair stopped closing the secret door and poked their heads out of the crack still open, one atop the other. They both grinned, "Excellent," The taller one said, smooth and slow, in a voice that made Narvis shiver, "Come on in then won't you?"
    Despite his begging, Narvis hesitated before entering the secret door. There was something about the pair of identically dressed men that seemed... off. But there wasn't anything else he could think of doing. So stuffing his doubts to the back of his mind, Narvis squeezed into the space the pair had left open and disappeared.
    The pair shoved on the hinged stone slab, sealing the door again as Narvis looked around. They were in a short, narrow passage that ran off in both directions and vanished into the darkness. It was so narrow in fact that Narvis had to squeeze his shoulders together or stand sideways. The shorter of the two men finishing with the door by putting a bar in place to keep it closed held a torch Narvis now saw, making a small bubble of light in the cramped space. The stone walls were rougher on this side of the wall than on the other, like they'd never been sanded, and the floor was a creaky wooden catwalk. Narvis could see down between the wall and boards; there was just darkness below them.
    "Just don't jump too much," Narvis jumped and turned to face the men, startled, "and it should support your weight." They were both smiling eerily now, their faces unreal almost in the wavering torchlight.
    Narvis collected himself and found he was somewhat annoyed with the pair. He frowned slightly and adressed the taller of the two, who seemed to be the leader. "Okay, I'm in your... tunnel thing now, so would you tell me your names or are you just going to stay incognito the whole time?"
    A look of surprise passed over the tall man's face, but then he grinned even wider. He bowed almost mockingly, "Of course. How rude of us."
    The other man rolled his eyes and smacked the taller man's shoulder, "Give it a rest Mouse. I'm not a noble and neither are you."
    The man called Mouse glared in rage at the shorter man for a split second, then he smiled at Narvis again, "I suppose he's right," His admission sounded as forced as if he'd been made to cut off his foot and say he liked it, "You may call me Mouse, and my diminutive friend here-" The shorter man snarled at Mouse, "-is Buck."
    "Nice to meet you Mouse. Buck," Narvis tried to sound grateful but he still couldn't get over the feeling that something was wrong.
    Despite the animosity they'd just shown for each other, Mouse and Buck exchanged a sly smile that made Narvis shiver, then returned to frowning at each other so quickly, Narvis began to doubt he'd even seen the smile. Mouse looked away from Buck and again smiled at Narvis, "Glad to be of service friend." Mouse bowed slightly again and Buck snorted in derision. "How might it be that we can assist you?"
    Buck mimicked Mouse mockingly behind the tall man's back as Narvis replied, "I suppose to start you could tell me how to get to the ground floor, then I need to find a way outside the walls."
    Mouse nodded and rubbed his chin; he had a thin, gray beard cut short. He turned to confer with Buck, who quickly ceased his mockery. The pair put their heads close together and muttered quietly. Narvis waited curiously, until Mouse turned back with his fingers steepled against his chest. He took a deep breath, then slowly said, "Have you considered... the gate?" He sounded as if he were explaining it to a child and Buck openly chukled.
    Narvis glared at them, "A way out without being seen." He clarified.
    Mouse straightened and Buck fell silent, though he was still grinning, "Ah, I suppose that would eliminate the gate. He looked up in thought, then back at Narvis, "Very well sir. Please," He grabbed the torch out of Buck's hand ans started off down the canyon-like passage, "follow me."
    Narvis licked his lips and followed, the door they'd entered through quickly being sucked back into the darkness. There was little talk as they wound their way along passages, ramps, through doors, and up steep, circular staircases. Narvis tried to figure out where in the palace they might be but he gave up after at least forty turns and staircases. There were pinholes and viewing windows set into the walls of the passages, allowing a view into the halls and rooms beyond, but that did little to help. All the rooms looked the same to Narvis; plush, lavish, and luxurious.
    Narvis was becoming sure that they were just taking random turns when Mouse suddenly said, "We're almost there."
    For some reason Buck giggled quietly from his place behind Narvis as they walked. Narvis cautiously looked over his shoulder. Buck looked half shadow himself, being the furthest from the torch.
    They ascended two more spiral staircases and Narvis was starting to notice that they'd been going up far more frequently than down, when Mouse stopped in front of a door sized rectangle in the wall and said, "Here."
    Without warning Buck grabbed Narvis' arms and held them pinned to his sides. Narvis yelped and tried to get free but Buck was surprisingly strong and Mouse put a hand over his mouth. The tall man snarled in Narvis' face, all pretense of friendliness gone, "Quiet, or I'll kill you myself worm."
    Narvis could only stare in confused horror at Mouse. Should have trusted my gut, He thought bitterly as Buck forced him forward, in front of the rectangle. It was an opening in the wall with a trapdoor in it, not really a door. On the boards in charcoal was neatly written "The Q's B." Navis had no idea what it meant but he wouldn't have cared if it had said "Avalon." If Mouse and Buck wanted him to go through, he would fight the whole way.
    He kicked and struggled, landing several headbutts on Buck's face, but the man would not be stopped. Why are they doing this!? He screamed inside his head.
    With one hand still tightly clamped across Narvis' mouth, Mouse pulled a lever beside the trapdoor then pressed lightly on it. It swung outward to reveal a semidark room with sunlight struggling to seep through the thick curtains. Narvis thrashed and tried to scream, but the sound was muffled by Mouse's hand. The tall man leaned in and smiled at Narvis, "Shush shush my friend. Wouldn't want to wake her." At that he stepped back in the passage and roared with cruel laughter as Buck gave a heave and sent Narvis sprawling into the room.
    The beggar tried to keep his footing but the shove sent him reluctantly to the floor. His handing was cushioned however by a thick layer of carpeting that was amazingly soft. Narvis didn't have time to appreciate the carpet though. He immediately jumped to his feet and spun around, running at the trapdoor.
    Mouse and Buck had already pulled it closed though, revealing it to be the back of a life sized portrait of a woman in a fine, blue dress. Narvis could still hear the pair laughing horribly as he reached the painting and tried to pry at the edges. It was sealed fast though, and the pair's laughter quickly faded, as well as the sound of running feet on wood.
    Narvis tried for another minute to pull the trapdoor open, though he knew it was in vain, then he heard someone yawn behind him. He froze in mid pull and stayed perfectly still, with both hands on the lip of the painting and a foot planted against the wall. As slowly as possible, he turned around.
    The light that managed to get through the heavily curtained windows all around the circular room suggested that it was at least midmorning, making the woman sleeping in the huge canopy bed dominating the room all the stranger. Narvis' face quickly turned red as he realized that the woman had no clothes on. He turned around to face the painting again, his cheeks on fire.
    He looked up arbitrarily and saw the face of the woman on the painting, and it was the same as the woman on the bed (Just with more clothes). He looked down at a tiny brass plate beneath the painting and his eyes widened. His breath caught in his throat and his mouth went completely dry. On the plate was inscribed the name "Kiara."
    The Q's B
    The Queen's Bedchamber
    I'm a dead man, Narvis thought vaguely, at the moment regretting his own birth. Then a hand took a vice-like grip on his shoulder and pulled him backward, further into the room.

    Narvis. Is. Doomed.
    That's it, end of story. Roll the credits, clear the theatre, See y'later.

    Okay, so maybe I'm exagerating. I mean, things can't be as bad as they seem, can they?

    (P.S. Of course they can!!!)

  • Chapter Three:
    The Game Begins

    Narvis stumbled back, dragged by the unseen hand and whomever was attached to it. He closed his eyes tight, hoping his demise would be quick, and was roughly thrown to the floor with a cushioned thud that still drove the breath out of him despite the carpet. He waited for the knife or axe or whatever would be used to kill him, but instead a foot dug into his side and he was rolled across the floor like a skein of yarn.
    Playing with me like a cat, He thought, lying perfectly still with his face buried in the carpet, Who does something like that? He waited for another kick but after a minute, none had come. Cautiously, he opened one eye and tilted his head off the ground ever so slightly. His nose brushed against the molding on the bottom of the wall. He looked a little higher and found the ceiling was several yards closer, giving him only about two feet of room to maneuver. He glanced to either side and saw the edges of his new ceiling. The corner of a sheet could be seen near one of the four posts holding it up.
    He was beneath the bed, and he could think of no reason why. From the way Mouse and Buck had acted, he more than likely should have been dead seconds after coming through the trapdoor. He got his arms under him and propped himself up on his elbows, thinking to look around some more, but then he heard something that made him freeze. A voice, a feminine voice, from the bed above him.
    Dear God, she's awake! He had to fight down the urge to panic and listened carefully. The Queen's voice was too soft to be deceiphered though; she sounded like she was still half asleep. That and the thick layer of mattress between him and her muffled everything. He lifted his head and tilted it to the side, brushing the hood of his cloak out of the way to press his ear to the wooden frame of the bed. It didn't do anything though, but it did put his head at the right angle to see a pair of legs swing over the edge of the bed. They were lithe and pale and nearly gave Narvis a heart attack.
    Ooooooohhh… nice legs, He shook his head and smacked himself on the side of it, No you idiot! Escape! Have to escape! But when he looked back and saw the Queen's legs again, the bed blocked his view of the rest of her, he lost track of any escape plans he'd been making.
    He couldn't help but drool for the minute and a half that the Queen glided around the room, doing things he couldn't see, then a blue dress, the same one she'd been wearing in the portrait, fluttered down to just above her feet, and he realized she'd been getting dressed. Oh. Uh, good, He thought determinedly, more than slightly disappointed but trying to suppress that.
    Without anything to distract him overly much now, Narvis remembered the unspeakable danger he was in and his heart rate rose again. He wriggled around beneath the bed, staying far from the edges and as silent as humanly possible, until he was facing the foot of the bed, and also found himself facing the door out of the room. The door? The door! Why didn't I think of that earlier!? The Queen walked through his field of vision, her dress swirling a bit to let him see her ankles for a split second, Oh.
    He sat beneath the bed for another minute, tensed like a spring to run for the door the instant anything happened. But nothing happened. The Queen sat at her desk for a few minutes, stood in front of the mirror a bit, then walked over to the door. She put her hand on the knob and Narvis leaned forward, hope of escape once she left beginning to bubble in his chest. Then she stopped halfway through the door. She stood halfway between the room and the hallway, then turned around and faced the bed.
    Narvis' heart leapt into his throat, crushing the hope bubbles on its way up. He waited for the scream, the royal guards' boots making the floor tremble, the rough, hard rope of the noose around his neck, but all she did was stand there, staring. Then she was through the door, closing it behind her.
    Narvis waited half a minute before he sucked in a breath and gasped with relief. Even so, he waited until his knees ached and his eyes were painfully dry from refusing to blink before taking any sort of action. Images of Alabaster just outside the door with an executioner's axe over his shoulder kept entering his mind unbidden.
    After what seemed like an eternity of waiting to him though, he finally decided that if he stayed there any longer, a maid or something was sure to find him. So, reluctantly and inch by inch, Narvis lifted a hand off the ground and slipped it out from beneath the bed, carefully placing it on the carpet a foot closer to the door as if the carpet itself was made of needles.
    No one stepped through the door to kill him, so he sprang like a cornered rat shown a hole in the wall. In the same ungainly motion he staggered forward and shoved himself to his feet, flying at the door so fast he had a hard time slowing to reach for the- Thunk! -Dagger sticking out of the door between his fingertips and the knob. Narvis stagger as pulled to an immediate stop and gaped at the dagger, then spun around, his eyes like saucers and his face pale as milk.
    A man stood on top of the bed, slippered feet planted wide to give himself balance for the throw. His right arm was still extended and he smirked wolfishly, rolling his left shoulder and wiggling his arm to finish getting into his bright blue jacket. His slightly disheveled look suggested he was only half dressed. "I thought someone might have the gaul to go after the Queen one of these days, but I expected more from you, old friend." With that, he drew a rapier from a scabbard on a belt hanging from one of the bedposts, and jumped off the bed, straight at Narvis.
    The beggar yelped and jumped to the side, letting the man drive his thin sword into the door instead of into him. The man growled and let go of the sword, "Coward!" He reached inside his jacket and drew out another dagger, flinging it at Narvis' head as he ran to the other side of the circular room. The dagger shaved the back of his head and embedded itself into the wall, eliciting another growl of anger from the man. He left the sword where it was in the door and ran at Narvis with unexpected speed. He leapt and tackled him to the floor.
    Narvis gasped, the wind being knocked out of him, and the man ended up sitting on his chest. He glowered murderously down at Narvis and drew another dagger from within his jacket. He raised it above his head and smiled cruely, "Sloppy, Mouse. Very sloppy."
    He brought his arms down just as Narvis covered his face with his arms and screamed, "Don't kill me!" He felt the knife on his throat and sobbed, but the knife went no further. He stayed rigid, then peeked at the man.
    He had stopped grinning and was frowning now, looking torn between confusion and continued readiness to kill. He mouthed something without any sound coming out, then his face became hard and angry. He removed the dagger from Narvis' neck and grabbed his shirt front. He rose to his feet, carrying Narvis with him, and slammed the beggar against the wall, holding the edge of the blade to his throat again, "I've never seen you before. Who are you? Tell, so I know who I'm killing?"
    At about that point, the last bit of Narvis' mind snapped from stress and he exploded; fear, strain, and stress washed away in a flood of indignant anger. He yelled in the man's face, his own face turning red, "I'm Narvis the beggar damn you! I never did anything to hurt anyone in this whole, rotted palace, I have nothing to do with your bloody QUEEN, and I don't even know who Mouse actually is!" The man took a step back, looking shocked, but that just gave Narvis room to flail his arms as he continued, "I just wanted some money to buy food, that's it, that's all I wanted, and then I find myself trapped in this sanity forsaken hole, running for my life from overzealous guards, airheaded princesses, homicidal wall rats, and... and... daisy-like assassins! I had a simple life before this, even if it was a poor one. All I want is to get back to my filthy street corner and hold my hands out for a few pence. That’s it.” Narvis paused, his chest heaving.
    The man with the daggers had backed away and was gaping at Narvis as the beggar cooled off. He blinked repeatedly at him, then frowned indignantly, “Daisy?”
    Narvis shrugged and nodded, still leaning against the wall, “Well... yeah.” He gestured absently at the man, “That get-up of yours does make you look like a...” He paused and took a closer look at the man. Flamboyantly colored clothes, an obvious flair for acrobatics, and he now noticed a leather mandolin case on a belt hanging beside the rapier scabbard on the bedpost. Though the precariousness of his situation was settling on Narvis again, he couldn’t help but bark a laugh, “You’re a bard!?”
    “THE bard, to you,” The man said with a frown, raising his dagger again, though less certainly than before.
    Narvis raised his hands, “Wait! I, I won’t tell anyone. I swear!” He said, glancing at the bed.
    The bard chewed his lip, still pointing the dagger at Narvis’ chest. He looked confused, and... scared? “I haven’t seen you before,” He said slowly, “You might be telling the truth.”
    “I am! Just look at me! Do I look like an assassin to you?” Narvis plucked at his drab clothes.
    The man looked at odds with himself, “A good assassin wouldn’t look like one, but you don’t move like an assassin. Too clumsy.” He seemed to be talking to himself rather than to Narvis.
    The beggar ignored the insult. The bard was off balance, he had to convince him now. “Look, you can take me out of the palace yourself so you’ll know I didn’t talk. You can tie me up and ship me across the sea even, just, please don’t kill me.”
    “I believe you,” The bard said quietly, finally lowering his dagger, “I’m just wondering what to do with you. I surely can’t let you out of my sight, you know our secret now after all, meaning you won’t be allowed out of the palace, but what then?”
    He mumbled absently to himself as he retrieved his weapons and vanished them back into his sleeves and jacket. Narvis was baffled though, “I can’t leave? What do you mean!? I thought you’d want to get me as far away as possible!”
    “Friends close and enemies closer,” The bard paraphrased the old proverb as he donned the remainder of his clothes, a mantle, his mandolin case and sword belt, and a wide brimmed hat, “You won’t be leaving until I’m sure you can be trusted.”
    “And how long will that take?” Navis dreaded the answer.
    “Oh, at least a month, probably much, much more though.” The bard was sounding more at ease now that he was sure of himself again.
    Narvis groaned and put his face in his hands. In a week he’d be at the gallows if Alabaster’s threats were to be believed. He feared they were.
    The bard turned to the lamenting beggar, now fully dressed in his courtly garb he looked very different, “What’s all this? I said I wouldn’t kill you.”
    “You think you’re the only one who wants me dead?”
    The bard raised his eyebrows, “I’ve never seen you before, and I see everyone, so you must be very new here. How do you already have enemies that want to see you dance the gallows? Come to think of it, how did you get inside the walls anyway?”
    “The Princess-“ Narvis started to explain but the bard immediately cut him off.
    “Not again! Another of her short lived ventures are you? That girl has to learn to control herself. And I suppose Alabaster didn’t approve of letting you in, eh?” Narvis nodded and shook his head in turn. The bard started to pace, holding his chin with one hand, “I bet my hat it was Mouse that tried to get me to kill you just now, the slippery eel.” Again, Narvis nodded. “Mm-hmm, I thought so. Right, this does change things a bit. You won’t survive unprotected and with no influence. Influence isn’t going to be very forthcoming just yet, naive and untested as you are, so you’ll need to find protection instead, for the time being at least.”
    “Right... um, how do I do that? I don’t have any money.”
    The bard shook his head, “No, not bodyguards. You need the protection of a House. The House lords and nobles are extremely territorial and possessive. If they see you as their property, they’ll do whatever they can to make sure you stay that way, meaning protection from assassins and execution.”
    “You want me to sell myself as a slave!?” Narvis asked, aghast.
    “A servant, actually, but pretty much.”
    “No. No way in Hell. I’m already too deep in this, thing, you’ve got going on around here. I don’t need to be any deeper.”
    The bard shrugged, checking his clothes to make sure he looked bardly, “Oh, is that so? Well, I guess I’ll just leave you to the guards then, or maybe you’ll be sucked into another hole in the wall, or perhaps you’d like to become Elizabeth’s lapdog.”
    Narvis glared at the bard and muttered, “Fine. How though?”
    The bard grinned and clapped his hands together, “Excellent. I’d suggest House Arnor; nice and out of the way, never draws itself too much attention. You should be safe there.” He raised a hand to forestall Narvis’ complaints, “Yes yes, the how. Easily done. All you need to do is linger about Lord Arnor and do whatever errand he requests, and that of any of his children as well. They’ll think you’ve always been there eventually. Never obey the orders of another lord though, make yourself loyal. I’ll arrange a room for you.” The bard walked over to the painting/trapdoor.
    “No no!” Narvis said quickly as the bard pushed on a part of the wall and the painting swung outward, “I’ll be fine on my own from here.” Yeah, not bloody likely, at least it’ll make spying on me that much harder.
    The bard paused before going through. He eyed Narvis critically and mumbled quietly, “He can’t be playing already... can he?” He shook his head and stepped through.
    Narvis frowned, wondering what he’d meant, but he quickly shoved that to the back of his mind and followed through the painting. For now, he had to find Lord Arnor.

  • Chapter Four:
    New Player

    Narvis bustled down the corridor with a tray held perfectly flat in front of him. He scrunched up his face and wriggled in his clothes as he walked, wishing he could stop and scratch at all the itches the dark green servant’s outfit created, but Lord Arnor was very irritable when it came to messages being delivered quickly.
    Today marked a week and three days since Narvis had been sealed in the palace, and further inclined to stay by the bard's, Penblade’s, veiled warnings whenever the two passed in the halls. After being led safely from the Queen’s chambers to a hallway in the tower of House Arnor, the bard and beggar had parted ways, Penblade to go entertain the court at lunch, and Narvis to pilfer some serving clothes in the colors of House Arnor. Once he’d been properly attired and trimmed his facial hair a bit with a dagger he found, he’d found the door to Lord Arnor’s study, the largest room in the tower, and waited outside for the Lord to return from lunch at court.
    Not a minute later the elderly nobleman, tailed by a half dozen much younger nobles, had hobbled up the winding staircase at the end of the hall and entered his study, gruffly telling Narvis to follow him without even looking him in the face. Narvis had obeyed, nodding and staying silent as he’s spotted other servants doing, and had soon been on his first assignment; delivering a letter to a nobleman in another tower, the Lord of House Mazrim.
    From that point on, Narvis had done almost everything for the constantly yelling, angry old man, from fetching the man’s children and relaying messages, to stealing him snacks from the royal pantry, food meant only for the Queen and her daughter. That had been the first time Narvis had gotten more than a grunt from the Lord. Lord Arnor had told him to bring him food, nothing specific, but Narvis had seen the man’s temper, so he’d snuck into the kitchens and stolen a small mountain of everything, hiding it expertly up sleeves and pants legs, even in the fold of his coat collar. The old man had laughed approvingly, marveling at the pile of delicacies on his study’s desk.
    From there, Narvis had been given more and more important duties, culminating in the message he was now bringing Lord Arnor. He hurried along hallways and up stairs, hurrying both because he needed to be valuable to Lord Arnor, and because the message he had sent a thrill through him every time he thought of it. He knew this was temporary, that with luck he’d be out of this insane place by the end of the month with his skin still on his body, but the things he’d learned as a servant, the secrets and conspiracies he’d gleaned, they were like a drug to him. Just by standing quietly in corners or by doorways, waiting for his Lord’s orders, he could now confirm or deny almost every rumor he’d ever heard on the streets. The countess Delief was in an affair with Lord Sedrey. Gold was being hidden by both House Durwin and House Laurel in order to lower the royal taxes they had to pay. Even little secrets like how the head cook collected rats’ tails excited him. Speaking even a word of any of it could easily make him the target of assassins, but that only added to the heady thrill, and it terrified Narvis.
    I need to get out of here, He thought feverishly, approaching Lord Arnor’s study. Before I’m in so deep I can’t get out. Before one of the nobles decides I know too much. Before Penblade or Alabaster or Mouse tries to kill me! Before… He pushed open the door to the study, “My Lord?”
    “Enough!” Lord Arnor rose from his seat behind his desk at the opposite end of the study and shouted at a man and woman, both nobles, standing before his desk. One was Gunther, Lord Arnor’s eldest son, and the other was Maliah, his eldest daughter. “Out you vultures, OUT!” He roared, the sheer volume of his voice making the pair step back, “I refuse to speak to either of you on this matter again, until I say so, do you understand!?” He broke down in a fit of coughing, leaning heavily on the desk, but the two nobles, brother and sister, bowed and retreated nonetheless, both perfectly composed. Narvis stepped back from the door after opening it wide for them; he was not fooled by their poise and carefully blank faces. Beneath their façade was a seething mass of rage and impatience. Lord Arnor was old, very old, and did not have long to live. More and more Narvis had walked in on the Lord’s children trying to make him give them the title of Lord or Lady of the House once he passed.
    The Lord sighed and sank back into his chair. He grunted, “Enter.” Narvis entered the study at a calm walk, closing the door behind him. He crossed the room to stand in front of the desk and took a deep breath, “My Lord, I delivered your message to Lord Jaquelle, and he sends you one in return.” Arnor leaned forward despite his obvious weariness, “Red cranes have been circling the wheat fields.” Arnor squinted and nodded thoughtfully. A red crane soaring on a silver background was the seal of House Xander, and they’d been trying to steal dominance of the wheat trade from House Arnor for months now, always working in the shadows though. Now they were openly moving against House Arnor’s monopoly. Narvis blinked and shook his head slightly. Too deep, too deep.
    Lord Arnor suddenly laughed and Narvis jumped. “Ha! Well, at least I’ll see this loose end tied before I’m in the ground.”
    Narvis shook his head, playing the concerned servant card, “No my lord, you will be well again soon. You will-“
    Arnor spoke over him, “You’re my servant, not a fool boy, so don’t act the fool. I am going to be dead within the month, and everyone knows it. Why do you think they were here?” He gestured contemptuously at the door, after his children. He was quiet for a few minutes, slumped in his chair and thinking, slowly drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair. He stared through Narvis' stomach at the opposite side of the study, his eyes glossing over slightly. Narvis stood in front of the desk, awaiting instructions impatiently.
    At length, Arnor spoke, "Do you know how the prince regent died boy?"
    Narvis blinked, caught off guard, "Um, no, my lord. What does that have to do with-"
    "It isn't your place to ask questions!" Arnor barked, making Narvis jump, then he continued in a softer voice, "Now then, you know at least that prince regent Dusk, the late king's brother, assassinated the king, don't you?"
    "Yes, my lord," Narvis said stiffly. He hated being bellowed at.
    "Good, do you know how?"
    "My lord?"
    "How, boy! How Dusk did it! Oh very well then… It was quite simple really. Dusk snuck into the kitchen one night and poisoned some of the ingredients for the king's supper, a few potatoes I believe. So when the king had dinner that night, URK!" Lord Arnor clutched his chest and yelped, making Narvis jump again. Arnor chuckled and continued, "King died and Dusk thought he'd won himself the crown, being oh so clever as he was, but it was only as he lay on the ground, frothing at the mouth with his eyes filling with blood turned black on the same night as the assassination, that he remembered he'd been having his servants steal food from the royal pantry to fix his meals. He was killed by his own schemes, stuck in his own web, and the web dragged him to the grave." Arnor finished and stared at Narvis.
    The beggar's skin crawled as he put all his effort into not cringing and shuddering. He was fully reminded now of why he needed to get out of this place as soon as possible. Like cold water in the face of a drunkard, Lord Arnor's story had doused the giddy thrill of keeping secrets, sobering him thoroughly. "Why-" He gulped involuntarily, "Why are you telling me this... my lord?"
    “Because my boy,” The old man barked, “you want to play the same game!”
    Narvis’s jaw fell open, “I... I... What!? What would ever make you think that!?”
    “Your eyes,” Lord Arnor replied, “I can see the lust of the game in your eyes, the way they’re always so attentive or excited around other noble’s conversations; the way you know to keep them on the ground but your ears alert when those nobles are around. Why do you think I send you on assignments to all my House’s greatest enemies? You have the head to get things out of what you hear that none of my other servants do.” The Lord shook his head sadly, “I may use your skills to play the game but I warn you, never try to play it yourself. It would destroy you in minutes if you were fool enough to get yourself sucked in.”
    A week and a half and counting old man, Narvis thought rather smugly, to his dismay. “You’re right my Lord,” He said, more to himself than anyone, “I’m safe were I am.”
    “There’s a good lad,” The old man rasped, slumping in his chair, “Now, go wait outside the door. If anyone comes looking for me tell them to go jump in the river.”
    Narvis bowed quickly, walking backwards before he was even upright again, “Yes my Lord. Right away my Lord.” He spun around and crossed the room quickly, eager to be away from here. He opened the door to the study and nearly did two things. He nearly screamed at the sight of Alabaster walking down the hall, and he nearly slammed the door shut when he saw the recognition on the guard’s face when he spotted Narvis.
    Numbly Narvis turned back around to face Lord Arnor. His only hope, a frail old man. I am going to die today, Narvis thought for certain, “Master Alabaster is right outside my Lord,” He said without a hint of emotion, “May I please jump out that window behind you?”
    If Lord Arnor was surprised by the request, he was shocked when Alabaster and three other guards practically kicked his door in. He wasn’t shocked for long though. “Alabaster you will explain yourself this instant and then you will get out of my tower!” The old man roared, rising to his feet with his knuckles on the desktop.
    Alabaster smiled at Narvis as the guards surrounded him, but he spoke to the Lord, “Don’t worry my Lord, we’ll be gone before you know it without troubling you a bit.”
    “Like Hell you will! That’s my manservant you’re arresting there!”
    “I have every right to arrest this beggar my Lor-“
    Lord Arnor cut Alabaster off sharply, “Beggar!? Are you blind? Look at him! Does he look even remotely like a beggar to you!? Well? Answer me boy!” He didn’t wait for an answer, “Besides, what proof do you have that my servant has done anything illegal?”
    Alabaster frowned, looking at Lord Arnor this time, “You of all people should know that begging is outlawed.” Narvis was sweating to fill buckets. Two powerful men wrestling for control, with him between them.
    “Aye, that I do know,” Lord Arnor replied, “So naturally, if you can prove to me, as I already said, that this man is a beggar, then, you can have him. To hang or to boil I couldn’t care less, but I will not let one of my most prized servants leave my employ without reason,” His voice took on a hard edge, “Nor tolerate his unjust murder.” Alabaster’s mouth worked furiously, but he couldn’t come up with any proof that couldn’t be easily refuted. This beggar was clever, to put himself in such company. “As I thought,” The old man said with satisfaction, slumping back into his chair, “You have no reason to be here Alabaster. Get out before I send for Guardmaster Vladek.”
    Alabaster bowed slowly and stiffly, the other guards copying him without spoken question. Narvis could see the rage in the guard’s eyes and almost hear his teeth grind as he and his minions exited the room, closing the door behind them.
    Narvis waited almost a whole minute before turning sharply to Lord Arnor. To give his thanks or beg for his life he hadn’t quite decided. Before he could talk though, Lord Arnor held up a hand to stop him, “I don’t want to know, I don’t need to know, and it’s in both our interests that I never find out, am I clear?” Narvis blinked, then shut his mouth, gulped, and nodded. “We are not friends boy, despite what you just saw. That was not to protect you, I did that to protect a tool. That is all you are to me. Now I believe I sent you to keep watch before your petty personal problems got in the way. Out!”
    Narvis jumped and quickly went through the door to wait outside the study, the lump of cold fear in his stomach refusing to melt.

    (OOC: Sorry this chapter's so late, to you especially my queen. I should have gotten it done sooner.)

Log in to reply

Recent Topics