This is an excerpt from Paladin’s Pride chapter 31. Gentyl has returned from a duty at a minor noble’s house. She is back to guard duty for the wizard Saerowyn. Wizard watch is always anything but boring.
Gentyl, a young soldier who longs to be a Horse Guard like her aunt, but seems to be more than a little accident prone.
Saerowyn, an aging wizard who likes to act much more feeble and incompetent than he is when he has to make his appearances in court.
Melith, Saerowyn’s wife who doesn’t have near as much respect and fear for her powerful husband as he thinks she should have.
Brother Timmons, an enigmatic holy man who once cured Gentyl of an assassin’s poison and has also cured the infant prince of a mysterious illness. The queen is enthralled with him, but Melith and Saerowyn have already discovered his is not who he claims to be.
Thalmar, Melith and Saerowyn’s son who is the head of the powerful enchanter’s guild and chosen to replace his father as the royal enchanter when the time comes.
“DeAmond,” the duty sergeant barked towards the line of soldiers standing at attention. “Welcome back. You are on wizard wa…, you’re on guard at the wizard quarters.”
She could hear more than a few sighs of relief ripple through the ranks.
“Kind of makes you wonder why she is so popular to the old man doesn’t it?” someone said just loud enough for her to hear. She could feel her face turning red.
“The same thing you’ll be doing if you’d like to replace her, Cortnel,” the sergeant said, not looking up from the duty roster he was scribbling on.
“No, sir. Sorry, sir.”
“Good. Cortnel and Connor, stable duty. Fresh bedding today. You’ll need to haul the straw up from the gates.”
Gentyl walked through the courtyard to the wizard walk, grateful to be just another soldier once again and away from the intrigues and politics of court life. Her father had complained about having to build a new closet to hold all the clothes Celeste sent to her home, but Mama had shushed him as she examined the gowns, trying to figure out how they were made.
The roses were in full bloom along the walk now, bathing her in the heady scent of their perfume. She wasn’t entirely sure why everyone seemed to hate wizard watch. Saerowyn was more than a little eccentric, but aside from the explosives and botched spells and odd plans, he wasn’t that bad. He was sitting outside the house smoking his pipe when she arrived.
His eyes lit up when he saw her. “Ah, there you are, my wandering guardian. How was life at court?”
She bowed slightly. “Hectic, sir. I’m glad to be home.”
He nodded and smiled. “It always is from the highest to the lowest, highborns are ever surrounded with drama.” He motioned to the chair next to him. “Come sit down beside me. I’ve been thrown out of my own house by my ungrateful wife. It’s a sad day when the highest wizard in the land gets tossed out on his ear like so much trash,” he said, raising his voice and looking over his shoulder at the open door.
“Yes, I heard you,” his wife called back, “and you’re still not coming back in. Go to the keep like you are supposed to or go find something to occupy yourself while I get my kitchen back in order.”
“I reorganized her kitchen so it would be more convenient,” he said in explanation. “She isn’t happy with me.”
A jar came flying out the door and rolled to a stop near the wizard. “Ouch, ouch, oof,” the jar cried as it bounced across the grass. Tiny wings sprouted from its sides and it hovered near the wizard. “A temper more foul I have not seen, in beast or bird or dragon green.”
Gentyl stared at the talking jar and then at the wizard who seemed unsurprised at the thing.
“What did you do now?” he asked, drawing deeply on his pipe as if talking, flying jars were as common as grass.
“She thought it best to make some bread
And as the recipe was read
I in clever verse and word
Gave her the one that I had heard
“She did not appreciate
In fact it seemed much more like hate
Recipes turn into poem
And tossed me forthwith from your home.”
The jar sighed heavily as it continued to flutter like a cylindrical cobalt blue hummingbird near the wizard. Gentyl could almost see a hand reach up to touch its brow dramatically if it had hands or even a brow for that matter.
“What are the other jars doing?”
“They are not as brave as I
And will not speak or even fly
They sit there in a proper row
Afraid they’ll be the next to go.”
“They are probably wise beyond their days.” He sat, bent slightly over with one arm across his knee, watching the people passing by near the castle. Smoke drifted away in soft rings. “We had as unfortunate incident last night. Mother was feeling rather romantic and leaned close to kiss me then said, ‘Honey, let’s go to bed early.’ The honey jar heard her and flew into the bedroom where it waited for her in bed. Mother didn’t find it nearly as amusing as I did so both Honey and I got tossed out of the bedroom.”
“She locked Honey in cabinet bleak
Where he cannot hear her speak”
“Yes,” Saerowyn said to the jar, “she wasn’t very happy. And she is not nearly as enamored of my poetry-speaking salt jar as I thought she might be. Odd since she always liked poetry before.”
The jar sighed again.
“You will learn, Salt, that some women are very hard to please. Most women I would venture to say. Probably all women. I don’t think any of them really appreciate a good man.” He looked at Gentyl. “No offense.”
“None taken, sir.”
“Mother isn’t very tall, so I thought it would be more convenient to put all of her ingredients in enchanted jars so all she had to do is speak the name and the jar would fly to her instead of her having to reach for it. Then I poured up her flour in a dispensing tin that should just pour out one cup at a time, but the latch stuck and dumped fifty pounds of flour on her freshly mopped floor. She got upset about me rearranging her pans. The last straw was probably Honey waiting in bed for her, though.”
They sat in silence, watching the people passing by on the path beyond wizard’s walk. The soft humming of Salt’s wings seemed somehow appropriate in the gardenlike setting. Songbirds trilled nearby in the fruit trees; insects buzzed and whirred their way past on endless searches for food; flowers waved in the soft summer breeze and Salt lingered near the wizard‘s head.
“Well, since I am not welcome in my own home, I suppose I should find someplace I am welcome,” Saerowyn said. “Perhaps the palace. Or maybe the chicken coop. Either way we’ll have to listen to hens clucking nonsense.”
Gentyl refrained from groaning, barely.
“Come, Gentyl. Let us see what’s happening in the world of political intrigue and highborn fashion.”
“I would like to come and see
Perhaps someone will there love me
And take me home to kitchen bright
Where flying jar might be a sight.”
Saerowyn looked at the jar, which had a plaintive, pleading note in its voice. “No, your home is here. If I have to endure this so do you. Go out to my shop and guard my work bench.”
A tiny wing curled into a kind of salute.
“I would gladly guard your bench
From sneaking rogue and buxom wench
From thief so bold in blackest night
I’ll guard your bench with all my might.”
“Better not need guarding from a buxom wench!”
Saerowyn and the jar sighed. “Amazing to me how well she can hear except when I am telling her something,” the wizard muttered as the jar flew off towards the shop. “First stop the keep and then we’ll go to the henhouse for some intelligent conversation.”
“Yes, sir.” She had hoped to avoid more nobles, but that was part of Saerowyn’s job and therefore part of hers. “The roses are lovely, aren’t they?”
“Yes, quite so. There was a bit of squawking about the scent of the manure when I fertilized them, but it does make a difference. Odd how nobles are so sensitive about a little bull manure when they spend their days wallowing in it like pigs in slop.”
“We won’t be long,” he said. “I just want to check on the prince and make a few people miserable. If I have to be miserable so do they.”
He looked at her as they continued walking. “You seem very formal today, Gentyl.”
“Do I?” She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Hmm. I suppose I am. Just nervous about going in the keep I guess. I’m always afraid I’m going to make a mistake.”
“I find it always helps me to imagine them sitting on the facilities with their britches down about their ankles when I feel nervous about meeting someone. There is something that levels everything out when you imagine someone on the pot.”
She giggled and blushed. “I don’t think I should do that. I have a hard time controlling my laughter.”
“Yes, but at least you won’t be nervous.”
“This is true. At least until someone squawked at me for laughing at them.”
Several of the guards saluted the old wizard as they walked to the gates. His steps became more tenuous and faltering. He clutched at her arm for support as he slowed to a shuffle. She gripped his hand as a young boy ran past, chasing a goat with a length of broken rope about its neck.
“Saerowyn, are you all right? Careful, don’t get run over.”
He glanced over at her and winked. “The palace shuffle,” he whispered. “You will give me my medicine and insist I leave when I tell you.” He handed her a small brown bottle with a cork in it.
“Are you ill? What kind of medicine is this?”
“Best kind there is,” he said. “Brandy. I wanted whiskey, but Mother took it away from me. No respect for me at all.”
“I see. Well, just let me know and I will do as you wish.
The keep was as cold as ever when they entered the pristine halls. Courtiers strolled about laughing and talking about anything and everything and nothing all at once. A few stopped to stare at the wizard who was hobbling along, gripping her arm. A few greeted him. A few laughed as he shuffled by. A very few offered to help. Mostly he was ignored; given no more notice than a dust mote.
They continued winding this way and than until at last they reached the receiving chamber where the young queen sat splendidly gowned as if preparing for a state dinner. An older woman sat next to her, holding the prince who was playing with a stuffed toy. The child squirmed in her lap as the wizard entered the room and held his arms out to him. Saerowyn noticed and smiled broadly at the baby.
“Ah, your highness,” he said to the queen who was surrounded by a flock of gaily colored hens and one rooster in the form of a rather drab holy man. He smiled at the baby, “Your young highness. How are you today?” He then looked up from under bushy eyebrows and nodded to Brother Timmons. “Greetings, sir. I see your medicine has agreed with the prince.”
Timmons shrugged and assumed a posture of humility. “It is all the blessing of the true one. Gentyl noted he didn’t refer to the Divine One by name and wondered who the true one was to this enigmatic holy man. “I see you have your favorite guard back, Saerowyn. I trust your journey was pleasant, Gentyl.”
She bowed slightly to the holy man. “Yes, sir. Always interesting to see new places.”
He looked her over carefully as Saerowyn shuffled closer to the prince. Gentyl walked across the room to get him a chair and noticed Timmons was still watching her when she returned. “Sir, let’s sit down,” she said to Saerowyn.
“Yes, yes. I want to hold the young prince for a bit and my old legs might not hold both of us up.”
The nanny looked at the queen who nodded even though she was frowning slightly. The woman stayed nearby even after she handed the toddler to the wizard.
“Woman,” Saerowyn snapped, “I have held plenty of babies in my lifetime, including the king. Now leave me be before I turn you into something singularly unpleasant.”
The flock around the queen gasped dramatically as if on cue. “I’m sure Saerowyn was just joking, Bella. Weren’t you, Saerowyn?” the queen asked, more as a statement than a question.
“Of course, Highness,” he replied as he rocked the baby who was nearly asleep. “I would never turn this lady into something singularly unpleasant. Perhaps just slightly unpleasant.”
The flock gasped again and began to whisper loudly in protest.
The queen laughed nervously, looking to Brother Timmons for support.
“I’m sure Master Saerowyn still retains his wicked sense of humor. We should all be so fortunate to retain our mental alertness at his age.”
Saerowyn nodded. “Indeed you should.” He continued to pat and rock the baby who was now snoring softly in his arms. He looked down at the child and smiled fondly. “He snores just like his father did. God willing he will be as great as him when he grows up. So rare to find a just and honorable leader these days.” He looked around to Gentyl who was standing nearby. “Take the baby, please, so we can put him in his bed.”
Gentyl reached down carefully and lifted the baby, pulling him close to her chest. The bed was in a corner of the room. Saerowyn shuffled along beside her. He reached over the bed to adjust the blankets and noticed a charm hanging from a cord at the head of the bed. It was a medallion on a red string with two black feathers fluttering beside the metal disk. Saerowyn plucked the charm from the bed and examined it, squinting his eyes at the talisman.
“It’s a good luck charm from my homeland,” Bella said quickly as she rushed to take it from him.
“Ah, how sweet,” Saerowyn said, holding the charm up. “A butterfly. It really needs to be bigger so he doesn’t choke on it, though. His fingers wriggled slightly and the charm turned into a bobbing butterfly of black and red, flitting around the room. A cat darted from under the bed and raced after the butterfly. It leaped into the air, batting it down and then promptly snapped it up before darting from the room. The nanny chased after the cat, flapping her apron at it as she disappeared out the door.
“Oh, dear. I fear that didn’t work out very well,” Saerowyn lamented. “Perhaps he needs another charm that won’t come loose in his bed.” He pointed at the bed as the queen and her courtiers raced over to him to stop him. Gentyl backed away quickly, clutching the baby close to her. Green fire crackled from his fingertips sparking, towards the bed as the courtiers screamed and ran about like mice in a barn fire. When the smoke had cleared a perfect image of the king’s seal was carved deeply into the wood.
“He was sealed at birth for this house,” Saerowyn said. “That is the only charm he needs.”
Brother Timmons walked closer as the courtiers looked on from a distance. Even the queen remained in the background glancing at the still sleeping baby and back at the bed.
“That’s a beautiful carving,” Timmons said. “Quite nice indeed.” The holy man ran his hands lightly over the wood and remarked without turning around. “I’ve always thought it odd how your magic seems to come and go. Old age, I suppose.”
“Yes, old age,” Saerowyn replied, “but better than the alternative.” He motioned to Gentyl. “Lay the babe down so he can get some proper rest.”
Gentyl laid the baby down in the bed and covered him with a light blanket.
Timmons stood near her, looking at her deeply as if studying a specimen. “You seem quite at home in court, Horse Guard.”
She blushed a bit and returned to Saerowyn’s side. “No, sir. I don’t much care for court. And, I’m just a soldier. It will be a long time before I can be called Horse Guard, if ever.”
“Excuse me,” he said. “I assumed since your aunt was one you would automatically be afforded the rank.”
Saerowyn coughed and grasped Gentyl’s arm. “I think it’s time for my medicine and some food.”
She fumbled inside the leather jerkin for the bottle. “Of course. Here it is.” She pulled the cork out of the bottle and handed it to him. “Perhaps we should finish our errands and return home.”
He bobbed his head up and down, his beard hanging down like the handle of a pull toy. His hand raised in farewell to the courtiers who were just now gaining enough courage to come close to the bed and admire the carving.
“I shall return tomorrow,” he said, his voice quavering slightly. “Never fear, I shall return.”
The stone floors thumped hollowly under his walking staff as he hobbled along beside Gentyl. He greeted each person who passed by with a cheery word and bright smile like a simpleton happy with life and everyone in it.
“Saerowyn, are you all right?” she whispered as they left the courtyard of the keep. “I think we should take you home.”
“I’m fine and we need to stop at the henhouse first.”
She looked dubious and wondered if she should insist he go home and rest.
“I have a slave driver,” he said, as if reading her mind. “I’m fine. I want you to see the new henhouse and get your opinion.”
“Yes, sir. I was just concerned about you.”
“You should know by now I play the fool for the fools so they will leave me alone,” he said quietly. “You will also note this strategy is quite effective.”
“Indeed. They seem not overly happy to see you.”
“Exactly the way I like it,” he said as he removed his hand from her arm. “Amazing how effective that medicine is.“ His step quickened slightly, but even though they were away from the crowds near the courtyard, he refrained from acting entirely well. The shuffle only improved to a faster shuffle. They were soon at the site of the new henhouse, which was still gleaming with fresh paint.
“Mother insisted we paint her henhouse. I, in my infinite love for her and as an apology for blowing up her old one, agreed.”
Chickens of various types and sizes pecked around in the dirt surrounded the house. A miniature red and white speckled rooster with red and green tail feathers flowing down to the ground like a fountain dropped his wing on the ground and began stomping his tiny feet madly as Saerowyn approached.
Saerowyn pointed his finger at him. “You aren’t as big as you think you are, Petras and I have no fear of roasting you right here.”
The rooster continued to flap his wings and crow at the man, letting him know he was not welcome, but wisely decided to chase down a hen instead of pursuing battle.
They walked up the ramp into the house, which had three rows of nesting boxes on one side and roosts at the back of the house. Saerowyn grabbed a shovel and scooped the floor clean where he proudly revealed a trapdoor. “As soon as I work it out I am going to build a sort of chute so we can just scoot the chicken manure over the hole and down the chute with the aid of a moving belt. I think I can hire a boy to turn the crank to move the belt.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just go our the front door with it?” Gentyl asked.
He looked at her as if she had lost her mind. “People will fall down if they try to come in on a moving belt.”
“I mean just shovel it out the front door like most people do.”
He waved his hand in the air. “Who wants to be like most people?” He pointed to the wall opposite the nesting boxes. “Over there will be my automatic feeding system. I just need to finish the design. I think I can train the chickens to feed themselves. I just need to think on it a bit more. Melith thinks it is relaxing to feed her hens and gather eggs, but she can play with them without hauling buckets of feed around. She’ll appreciate it when she sees how much easier it is.”
Gentyl raised an eyebrow. “Like you helped her in the kitchen.”
He scratched at his beard as he thought about the latest problem and then leaned on his staff. “Well, I confess I have to work out a few details there, but I think she’ll appreciate it once she gets used to it.”
“If you say so, sir.”
“Hmph. You have little faith in me, Gentyl.” He reached in a few of the nesting boxes carefully and robbed the eggs from beneath hens who were less than enthused with his thievery. One red hen pecked his hand soundly in warning when he stuck it up to her.
“Keep your egg, you foul tempered thing,” he grumbled.
He abandoned his egg gathering efforts and handed the eggs he had already pilfered to Gentyl and then began rummaging around inside a feed barrel. “Aha, there you are,” he said triumphantly and pulled a cloth bag out of the oats. Inside was a bottle of brandy he sampled generously before re-corking it and placing it back in the bag. “Never know when a person is going to have a spell and need some medicine.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Well, let’s head back to the house. Lunch should be waiting for us.”
Gentyl nodded as she shuffled the eggs around in her cap, trying to keep from jostling them. “Perhaps we should stop and get something to eat. Melithe didn’t seem very happy with you when we left.”
He looked up at the clear sky and smiled. “All storms pass, Gentyl. All storms pass. Just as it was stormy and rainy two days ago now it is bright as a new coin.” He winked at her. “The storm has passed. Trust me. I will tell you more when we get to the house.”
Gentyl shifted the cap again as Saerowyn’s pace quickened and the eggs began to bump against each other.
Saerowyn nearly vaulted through the door when he arrived back at his house. He plunged from one room to another, looking for his wife who was nowhere to be found. He then hurried back out the door and down the path to his shop where he found her arguing with the salt jar.
“You stop that right now,” she demanded, shaking her finger at the jar which was marching back and forth in front of the shop door or at least as much as a flying jar can march.
“Hut two three four
I won’t listen anymore
Hut six seven eight
On Saerowyn you’ll have to wait.”
Melith tried to duck past the jar, which retaliated by diving at her much as an irate scissortail swallow might. She was ducking and diving to avoid being hit and screaming extremely unkind curses at the jar.
“Get this thing out of my way,” she screamed at Saerowyn as he drew near.
“Salt, you can relax now. I am home.” He turned to his frazzled wife. “It was just doing what I told it to do. Perhaps it thought you were a buxom wench,” he said and winked patting her on the butt.
She slapped his hand away. “Your jar is making a complete spectacle of us.” She pointed at the small crowd gathered on the path near wizard’s walk. They were curious as cats, but dared come no closer.
“I’m sure. Whoever heard of someone fighting with a jar?”