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I sat and contemplated my situation for a few minutes after Yale's departure. As much as I wanted to go and see the Princess, a desire that seemed to grow stronger the more I thought about her, I decided I would take a moment to think over my options. Or the lack of them as it were.

 

I was a Knight that nobody wanted. Even thinking that gave me a small thrill. I was a Knight! The power of the heroes of legend that I had grown up learning about and dreaming of one day joining was seemingly within my grasp. But that was the child in me, the younger and much more hopeful person than I was today. I had been in battle, had seen death and destruction and experienced pain that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, so I had become jaded as time went on.

 

Thinking about this problem objectively, it didn't seem to be good to me. If I had to hazard a guess I would say that the Nobility would have killed me if they could have. After all, it was the easiest option. Despite the sentiments of the Lady Vera and Lord Yale I knew that I was something neither of them wanted to further complicate their lives or positions. My very existence proved that commoners were not as low as the Nobility wanted them to believe they were. I was a peasant who became the Knight of a Princess. Fuck, it really was like the stories I was read as a child.

 

But they couldn't kill me. At least, not yet if what Yale alluded to was any indication. The Bond was keeping me alive. While Vera had been sparse on the details of what it really was or could do, she had told me that the Princess and I had been Bonded in a situation that rarely occurred among Knights and Smiths. Which was why she was so surprised that I was able to resist immediately homing in on the Princess like some kind of loyal dog. I suspected there was more to it, which was the reason for me still being warm inside the Palace instead of cooling in a ditch in the Commons. But I had no information. I had met maybe three or four Knight's throughout my time with the band, but each had never really wanted to speak with me, instead they would only speak with Boldrin while we watched on. As a result I was way out of my depth here.

 

It didn't help that I had been confined to the Palace grounds and forbidden from leaving. Yale and Vera had been more flowery about it but I knew when I was in a prison. It was the loveliest I had ever been in, but it was a prison nonetheless. That, more than anything else, frustrated me. I had left the city with Boldrin because I had wanted a change of scenery, the ability to travel and see Ouros, while making money with the sword and supporting my family back home. The city itself had felt too small for me and now that I was trapped here I felt like ants were crawling underneath my skin. Something I knew I would have to get used to, I supposed.

 

I knew they were only doing it for Elora's sake. In the grand scheme of things the life of a common swordsman paled in comparison to the heir to the Kingdom of Venos. It wasn't fair, but it was life and I wasn't childish enough to believe otherwise.

 

But even in the Palace I wasn't safe. Yale had all but told me that the Duke Cellus hated my guts and I doubt he would turn any of his fury onto the woman he loved, which meant I was fair game. I wasn't sure if he would kill me but I doubted very much that he would make me feel welcome in any way. Shit, things just keep getting worse and worse. The previous joy I had felt at being a Knight was being overshadowed by doubt and disappointment. A Knight I may be, but that wouldn't last. The Bond would be removed and I would be released back into the wilds of the Commons. This would just become another story, another scar to add to my collection.

 

This may even hurt my chances of staying in Myrin itself, perhaps even in the country. Duke Cellus would not be the only Noble who harboured a grudge against me. If there was one thing I had learned during my time as both an orphaned street rat and a mercenary, the Nobles hated being shown up by peasants. They believed it was their divine right to rule and protect us, not to be protected by us. Maybe it would even be one of the Nobles who attended the wedding who decided they couldn't take the knock to their pride and order my death to balance out some kind of warped set of principles. Stranger things had happened, after all.

 

I didn't want to make targets of the Sister and the children either. If there was one thing I could be happy about, however, it was that they wouldn't have to worry about retaliation from the Common Dogs after what had happened with Sig the Pig and Gertrand. They would be too busy hiding from the guard to try and terrorise a wife of the Great Spirit and a bunch of kids. I could breathe a little easier about that but I didn't forget what the Sister had said to me. She didn't want me around the orphanage and I was fine with that. Especially now, of all times. I needed to draw as little attention to myself as possible. With any luck, these rumours of a 'Scarred Knight' would eventually die down and I would be able to return to a somewhat relative state of normalcy. I tried to tell myself that was the case, but I somehow remained unconvinced.

 

With a sigh I jumped to my feet and walked to a mirror that was pinned against one wall, examining myself.

 

Despite the fact that I had slept for five days I looked like I was in desperate need of my bed. The bags under my green eyes were pronounced and my beard had begun to grow rather wild during my rest, as had my hair, which was sticking all over the place. I also looked like I had lost some muscle, which seemed impossible in so short a time. I ran a finger over the scar on my neck out of habit and grunted with frustration. I had a feeling that the loss of muscle mass was something to do with the Bond: a cost of healing perhaps?

 

I was growing more annoyed by the minute and I watched as my lips tightened. I hated not knowing what was happening to me and the only people who had the answers refused to tell me anything about it.

 

But in all seriousness, what did they think I was going to do? Learn how to be a proper Knight and then steal away the Princess so she can work as my Smith forever? Are they all insane?

 

Though, considering that just a few days ago someone had tried to steal Elora away for some nefarious purpose I couldn't begrudge them their caution, as much as it pained me to admit it.

 

I heard a soft knock at the door that pulled me from my increasingly spiralling state of mind. I was so deep in thought that I almost thought I'd imagined it, until another knock caused me to hastily acknowledge whoever it was and tell them to come in.

 

A young woman walked into my room and stopped, shocked, with a bucket filled with soapy suds that crawled up to the rim. I wondered for a moment why the woman was shocked, until I realised that I still wasn't wearing a shirt. I gritted my teeth as I angrily rubbed at my forehead. This was the second time that someone had walked in on me naked since I returned to this city. Though, this time was better in that at least I still had my breeches on.

 

The young woman was dressed as one of the Palace maids. At least, that's what I assumed it was. A black and white dress covered her slim frame which was a stark contrast to her bright red hair. She was very pretty in my opinion, with lovely brown eyes and a spattering of freckles on her nose that accented her beauty.

 

“Apologies, my Lord. I am Beatrice, here to assist you in preparation of meeting the Princess.” The maid, Beatrice, stammered as she looked anywhere but at my bare chest.

 

I hurriedly grabbed a shirt that was hung over the chair near a small desk by the window and threw it over myself. I took a moment to enjoy the feeling of soft silk against my skin before I turned to face the maid once more, my hands on my hips and eyebrows raised.

 

“Preparation? Is this not okay?” I asked weakly, indicating my rather diminished form.

 

The maid's face turned red but she examined me earnestly and gave me a practised examination.

 

“Again, my apologies, but my Lord must understand that to meet the Princess one must follow certain... protocols.” Beatrice replied as she walked further into the room, though she seemed to keep the bucket between me and her at all times.

 

I frowned at her. “Are you afraid of me? If so, there is no need to be. I have no reason to harm you.”

 

“N-no, my Lord! I'm not afraid so much as... intimidated,” Beatrice stammered. “You cut a very striking figure, my Lord.”

 

I scratched my face and chuckled uncomfortably. “Well, I don't know about that. No need for the 'Lord' business. I'm just a peasant, you can call me Orin.”

 

Beatrice's face suddenly turned crimson and she shook her head almost violently. “No, my Lord, I dare not. You are the Royal Protector of the Princess and her Knight besides. To refer to you to anything else would be tantamount to treason!”

 

“Oh, I'm sorry, it's alright! You can all me Lord if it makes you feel better.” I raised my hands to calm the red-faced maid, who looked very close to having a panic attack, her shaking hands causing some of the water in the bucket to spill onto the heated and inscribed marble floors.

 

“Here, give me the bucket for a second, alright,” I said gently, walking over and taking it from her grasp and leading her over to the bed. “Why don't you take a seat. Would you like some water?”

 

Beatrice took me up on my offer and gulped down some water as she sat on my ruffled bed, still shaking slightly, but she looked better as time passed and I'd given her several more glasses.

 

“F-forgive me, my Lord. It's my first day and I'm a little... overwhelmed.” Beatrice said.

 

I chuckled at that. “Don't worry about it. Technically, it's my first day as well. We'll get through it together.”

 

She smiled at that. “Thank you, my Lord. When Lady Vera told me to make sure you were presentable, I have to admit I was a little nervous.”

 

“Do you mind if I ask why?”

 

She gazed at me with awe and adoration in her eyes. “I saw you on stage, my Lord. I was with my family in the crowd when that man attacked and you fought him off. You were amazing!” she gushed.

 

“Well, I don't know about amazing. Elora did most of the work, I was just along for the ride.” I replied uncomfortably. I hoped this wouldn't become a thing, I really didn't like being famous.

 

Beatrice shook her head from side to side. “No, my Lord, we all saw you beat that man with your bare hands. The way you ran into the flames, it was incredible,” Beatrice jumped to her feet, her eyes wide with excitement. “Then you punched him so hard he went through a wall! And the way you held the Princess afterwards was...” Beatrice's recounting of the event came to a sudden end as she realised how close she was to me and noticed how uncomfortable I was becoming. Her face drained of colour.

 

She immediately fell to one knee with her head aimed at the ground. She came uncomfortably close to head-butting me in the groin but I was quick enough to take a step back before the impact and prevent either of us further embarrassment.

 

“Forgive me, Lord! I should not have spoken to you with such familiarity! If I need to be punished then I will accept any you deem fit, but please I beg that you let me keep my position!” She cried even as the trembling that had subsided earlier began to make another appearance.

 

I sighed and leaned over the young woman, grabbing her by the arms gently and bringing her to her feet.

 

“Beatrice, calm down. You don't have to apologise for anything, your position is safe. Remember, I'm just an orphan from the Commons.”

 

It took about half an hour after that to calm the nervous maid down again and I couldn't help but feel bad for her. Once she had gotten a hold of herself she told me how she had ended up working at the Palace, having originally worked in the household of Lady Ivand, an ancient aristocrat that had served in the court of Elora's grandfather.

 

“So how did you end up working here? Did Lady Ivand send you?” I asked as Beatrice showed me a well hidden door in my room that opened to show an elaborate bathtub. To say I was shocked at the discovery would be an understatement. Even the washroom was bigger than my bedroom back at the orphanage.

 

“Not exactly, my Lord,” Beatrice replied as she tipped the frothing bucket of water into the tub. “Lady Ivand died a few weeks ago and she had accrued a number of debts to the crown. She had no children so everything was taken by the royal family, including all her servants. I was one of the lucky ones and was offered a position in the Princess' personal retinue. I was so excited to start this morning that my mother had to make me some herbal tea to calm me down.”

 

I could definitely believe that. Beatrice seemed like the type of woman to give readily into her emotions, be they positive or negative. Her performance when we met more than enough proof of that.

 

I noticed then that Beatrice was still pouring water into the tub and looked at it, confused. How did they fit so much water into one little bucket? It wasn't until I noticed the glowing sigils at the bottom of the container did I realise what it was. Incredible, even their common buckets were worth more than I was.

 

“An Inscribed bucket? Is that really necessary?” I asked dubiously as I continued to watch the boiling stream of water cascade into the ornate bathtub.

 

“I know! I was as surprised as you were, my Lord. I didn't work with Lady Ivand all that much, but when I did make her baths it was with normal containers to carry the water. The difference between her estate and the palace is amazing! Everything here is Inscribed.”

 

I smiled at her enthusiasm and sat in one of the small chairs to wait as she filled the tub. Vera hadn't told me that I would be getting a maid to help make me presentable but after glancing into the mirror earlier I was almost glad she did. Elora and I were already bound together as Knight and Smith, temporary though it may be. I would rather not embarrass her if I could, considering all she had done for the Sister and the orphanage during my time away.

 

“Right! Clothes off, my Lord, let's get to it!” Beatrice called enthusiastically and I coughed uncomfortably in reply.

 

“I think I can handle this part myself, Beatrice. I don't need any help to bathe.” I replied as I got to my feet.

 

The nervous maid shook her head intensely. “No, my Lord. The Princess was very insistent. She said I must help bathe you personally!”

 

I raised an eyebrow “The Princess? I thought you said it was Vera who asked you to help me?”

 

Beatrice's face paled. “Oh no. I wasn't supposed to tell you that. Spirit, what are you doing, Bea, first day and you can't even follow instructions! You're never going to keep this job!”

 

I sighed. At least now I knew why someone from the personal staff of the Princess was sent instead of one of the household workers. “It's alright, Beatrice. Just calm down, what did the Princess ask you to do?”

 

The sweet girl looked like she was about to cry. “The Princess said I needed to cut your hair and beard, my Lord, and scrub you to within an inch of your life.”

 

I chuckled uncomfortably. “An inch of my life. Do I really smell so bad?”

 

“No! My Lord, I think you smell amazing...” Beatrice blushed and turned away from me in embarrassment.

 

I laughed loudly at that. “Well, thank you Beatrice. At least someone appreciates me. If the Princess wants it done, then we'd better get too it, though try to leave my hair as is. The beard will be back in a couple of days but I like the length of my hair.” I explained as I touched one of my shoulder length locks.

 

Beatrice nodded seriously. “I agree, my Lord, I can tie it back no problem. Now, I'll turn around and you can climb in. Don't worry about me s-seeing anything. The bubbles will let you keep your modesty.”

 

“Well, I don't know about that.” I grinned at the shy maid, unable to stop myself from teasing her. “I don't know if they've made a bathtub that is up to the task.”

 

Beatrice squeaked and immediately turned on her heel to face the open door to the bedroom as I put my hand suggestively on my belt. Her reactions were quite something. It almost made me want to keep teasing her, but I knew that probably wasn't a good idea with the Princess of the Realm waiting on me. Now that I thought about it, the need to see her had grown stronger since I had woken up and I wanted to take care of that before I allowed myself time for... other activities.

 

I stripped out of my breeches, which I wondered how they got me into in the first place, I was positive they were not the one's I was wearing when I fought Craven. Then I pulled off my shirt and placeed it on the chair near the door, noticing Beatrice turn her head slightly to steal a peak out of the corner of her eye. I smiled but didn't manage to catch her reaction as I immediately jumped into the tub and sighed in utter relief.

 

The last hot bath I had was probably about two years ago, when the Band and I were passing through the Yelesi Republic and Boldrin had splashed out on a fancy inn with it's own heated bathhouse. That was great, but this was much better and I felt my eyes close in utter bliss, almost pulling me back into the sleep that my body desperately needed.

 

I would have done just that if it wasn't my need for food and the soft fingers that began to run themselves through my hair.

 

I opened my eyes to see Beatrice gazing down at me with a smile on her pretty, freckled face. I returned the smile with one of my own, causing her cheeks to take on a slight pink hue and her breath to catch.

 

“Sorry, my Lord, I thought that you'd gone to sleep.” Beatrice said softly with wide eyes.

 

“Not yet, I'm afraid. I'm told I have a meeting with a Princess. Best we get this over with so I can do just that. Oh, I was wondering, is there anyway I can get some food at some point? I don't know what they've been feeding me while I was asleep but I am famished.”

 

Beatrice leaned backwards as though the spell had been broken and took a couple of deep breaths, in full view of myself, which I found to be quite funny.

 

“Like what you see, Beatrice?” I asked teasingly, winking at the young woman.

 

“N-no, my Lord. I mean, yes! No! I mean no, Lord. Forgive me.” The woman apologised before grabbing the chair with my clothes over it's back and moving it around to the back of the tub so that she would have easy access to my head. It seemed that in the moment I had closed my eyes the woman had found a straight razor. Even that was inscribed, I realised, and I grimaced at the needless extravagance of it all.

 

Convenience was one thing, but too much of a good thing was just going to make you soft. That was another lesson of Boldrin's, and the Sister's as well when I thought about it. As much as I loved the easier way of living, the world was a harsh and cruel place, and both of my chosen parents were realists in that regard. An Inscribed straight razor just seemed needless when a normal dagger would be sufficient.

 

“As for food, I believe that the Princess has prepared a late lunch in the gardens for the two of you, my Lord. I am to take you there after you have bathed.” Beatrice whispered as she began to examine my jaw with a determined look in her eyes.

 

That might be nice. Seeing the royal gardens through the gates to the palace when I was with Delithia had been amazing, but actually getting to visit them and to eat with the Princess was something else entirely. By the Spirit, what has my life become?

 

“So, Beatrice, tell me about yourself. Do you live in the Commons , or do you have accommodation here in the palace?” I asked as the gentle maid brought the razor down to my cheek after sweeping my long hair out of the way.

 

“The palace, my Lord, though I visit my family as often as I can,” Beatrice replied distractedly, her eyebrows furrowed in concentration as she slowly and methodically removed the wild beard from my face with surprising ease, the Inscribed razor treating the thick hair as no obstacle at all. “I lived with Lady Ivand before, but the rooms here are much nicer.”

 

“And your family? Do they live in the Commons?”

 

Beatrice nodded. “Yes, Lord. My father owns August Furnishings in the marketplace.”

 

“Truly?” I lifted an eyebrow in surprise. “That's next to Laird's shop isn't it?”

 

“It is, sir.” Beatrice replied excitedly. “Have you ever been there?”

 

I chuckled. “No, but I was at Laird's just before the wedding. That was where I had my last bath, actually.”

 

“So it really was you!” Beatrice gushed, coming dangerously close to slitting my throat in her excitement and causing me to wince as I watched the dancing razor before my eyes.

 

“Really was me? What do you mean?” I asked as I raised a wet hand to grasp Beatrice's wrist before she took an eye out, only letting go once I was sure she was once again under control.

 

“One of Princess Elora's Ladies-in-waiting was sent to Laird's to pick up some fabric at the Princess' request, just before the ceremony,”

 

Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

 

“Lady Zara is her name. Anyway, apparently as she was picking it up she saw a naked man come out from the back of Laird's shop, just about gave her a heart attack. She said that it was you, but I don't think the Princess believed her. Was it you?” Beatrice asked the question casually enough, but I could almost feel her gaze burning into the back of my head, almost as though she wanted to tear out the answer through sheer willpower.

 

“Yes, it was me,” I said depressingly, “But, in my defence, what were the chances that a Noble would be at Laird's?”

 

Beatrice giggled. “Oh Spirit, Lady Zara was horrified about it, I was there this morning when she talked with the Princess. Duke Cellus' face was so red!”

 

“Wait, Cellus is with the Princess?” I asked. Meeting with Elora might be made more complicated by the presence of the young Duke. I could only hope that he would keep his personal feelings under wraps. Maybe I could take him to one side and speak to him in private after I meet with the Princess, just to assure him that I was not there to usurp his place in any way. It might have been obvious to most people but the Duke was young. That might sound rich coming from a man who was around the same age, but I had more life experience in general. The Duke was a good man, of that I had no doubt. I had seen him with Delithia and I knew that he had helped the Princess when she decided to make the orphanage her passion project. But that mattered little when he believed that everything his life had been working up to appeared to be for nothing. Yes, maybe a talk with him would be good for us both.

 

“Yes, my Lord. I'm told the Duke has not left her side for the past two days,” Beatrice sighed dreamily. “He really is a great man.”

 

I tried to keep the bout of jealousy tapered down inside me at Beatrice's fawning, unsure of why I was jealous in the first place. Even I would admit that the Duke was a catch and a much better fit than me as Knight of the Princess. That didn't mean I had to like it, however.

 

“Let's get this over with, Beatrice,” I said quietly as I leaned back into the bath tub and tried to relax as Bea went to work.

 

It only took her about half an hour to finish and she followed her instructions to the letter. It seemed that within an inch of your life, really did mean just that and as I finally rose out of the bath my sensitive skin screamed at the sudden change in temperature.

 

Beatrice left me alone after laying out a new set of clothes, closing the door to the bedroom to give me some privacy. After towelling myself off thoroughly I reached for the rich hose and breeches and grumbled at how fancy it was.

 

The outfit seemed to be emerald green in colour, a slightly darker variant of the clothes Laird gave me, with rich patterns of pale yellow silk running over the shoulders. It was by far the most luxurious fabric I had ever put upon my body, beating out even those prepared by Laird himself, which I am sure he would most definitely not be too happy about. I winced as I once again thought about explaining the loss of his wares to him. I remembered ripping off the shirt after that Craven bastard had set me on fire and considering I had woken up wearing different pants than when I was knocked unconscious, I was sure they were already written off as hopeless. Spirit, even my sword was gone. Something I would have to rectify soon, I realised, considering how off I felt without it's familiar weight on my left hip.

 

After I was ready, I made my way back into the incredible bedroom and was met by a beaming and clapping Beatrice, who I twirled for with a grin and the beginnings of a blush creeping up my cheeks. It was always nice to be appreciated by a pretty woman.

 

She directed me to the mirror and let me examine myself, still smiling and nearly jumping up and down at a job well done. I was almost stunned by what I saw.

 

I looked like a Noble. My hair had been trimmed and tidied up, tied back even as I watched with a strip of bright green fabric that I realised was the same shade as my eyes. My face was clean shaven for the first time in months, revealing a strong jaw. Even the bags under my eyes seemed to be gone and I couldn't help but wonder if the water was somehow responsible for that. I knew little about Inscription so I couldn't say one way or the other.

 

The clothes clung to my frame well, I thought, and showed my muscles despite how much they had diminished over the past five days. I raised a hand to my shaved face experimentally and ran a hand over the perfectly smooth surface. I could thank the razor for that job, it seemed. If it had been an ordinary dagger in Bea's hands then she might have ended up killing me. She got a little too enthusiastic more than once. All and all, I looked like a young Nobleman on his way to meet royalty for the first time.

 

A shame I looked nothing like myself.

 

Beatrice must have noticed my sad smile because she suddenly frowned, afraid that I was unhappy with her work but I assured her that I looked great and thanked her for her help, causing the sweet girl's smile to return in full.

 

“Perfect! Thank you, my Lord! This is the first real job I've had all day,” Beatrice explained happily and moved to stand by the door to the bedroom. “If it please you, my Lord, we shall go and meet the Princess now as requested.”

 

I examined myself once more and nodded before following Bea out into the hallway. I had two guards stationed outside my door it seemed and they both clapped their firsts against their breastplates as Bea and I emerged from the room.

 

“Gentlemen,” I nodded to both of the guards with a smile and followed behind Bea into the titanic hallway, noticing after a time that the guards had fallen in step a few meters behind me.

 

“Are they going to follow me everywhere now?” I whispered to Bea, looking over my shoulder to see the stern gazes of the two warriors following close behind.

 

“Yes, sir. You must be protected as the Knight of the Princess and Royal Protector. You are far too important to be left alone.” Bea said back in a hushed tone.

 

I smiled wryly at that. I doubted that was the case very much but I wouldn't say that to Bea. She was a maid in service to Elora and I could already tell that she was loyal to her liege. Explaining to her that these men would beat me half to death if I tried to leave the palace would be an exercise in futility. The woman was just too enthusiastic about everything, but she was also prone to bouts of self-loathing. I wouldn't want to put her in to any sort of compromising position merely because she was associated with me.

 

As we walked I got to examine the palace of Venos for the first time in my life and, if anything, I think Delithia must have been underselling it.

 

The whole place basically shone with a sense of importance that one might expect from a church or cathedral. The windows opened up onto views of the Royal Garden, each sight more breathtaking than the last as they showcased the boundless flowers the royal family had coveted over their three hundred years in power. The walls were made of some kind of white stone that, when touched, seemed to radiate a kind of comforting warmth that seeped into my bones and made me smile despite the situation I now found myself in. My new shoes clacked against the white marble floors satisfyingly and echoed down the corridor as we walked. The natural light pouring in illuminated the many tapestries and paintings that lined the walls. I wasn't close enough to read any of the inscriptions but each portrait seemed to feature a more important person than the last and intermittently there was a painting of a forest, a mountain range or the royal Gardens themselves, painted so beautifully that they almost felt real.

 

The more we walked, the more beauty I saw and the more uncomfortable I became. I did not belong here. I was a swordsman, a mercenary and, at one time, a common thief. Peasants such as I were typically killed for trespassing in places such as these and I tried to keep my breath under control and my eyes forward instead of focused on the large, sharp spears that the armoured guards behind me carried clutched in their plated hands.

 

“Down there is the way to the throne room. Beyond that is the King and Queen's personal dining room and the Princess' is just beside it. Through this hall...” Bea continued to let me know where everything was and where the many halls we walked through led. She spared no detail and was the perfect tour guide as she briefly and concisely told me the location of all the amenities that the Palace had to offer. I was finding it hard to even tell the difference between the corridors we passed through. How had she learned so much about such a massive place in only one day?

 

“...and this is one of the many entrances into the Gardens,” Bea said, holding out a hand to a small staircase wedged into one side of the wall, something I'm sure I would have missed had I been alone. “It's typically not one the royal family uses but it will bring us closer to our destination. The Princess awaits at her favourite gazebo, my Lord.”

 

“O-okay.” I replied hesitantly, feeling slightly overwhelmed with the amount of information that she was loading onto me.

 

“Perfect! Follow me, please!” Bea chirped and made her way down the staircase with me and my two guards following closely behind.

 

I could understand immediately why the royal family didn't use these stairs. As I passed through the small door that led down the steps I immediately had to suppress a chill as the warm white stone gave way to cold granite that went down for quite some time before arriving at another rust coloured door.

 

This must be the servant entrance and I had to ask if this was on purpose. Had Beatrice been told to lead me down here, to avoid the foot traffic of the main entrance? I smiled bitterly at the back of the young maid as I came to the conclusion that yes, that was most likely the case. I suppose that the less people who see the false Knight the better.

 

I didn't blame Beatrice though: How could I? She had been nothing but kind to me so far and if I was being sent down here to avoid being seen, then she was merely following the orders of one of the Nobles. Considering she worked for the Princess, I wouldn't be surprised if Elora herself was responsible which stung a little. After all, I was only here because of her decision to make me her Knight. She could have let me die there and I would have done so happily. The least she could do was treat me with some kind of respect.

 

I was brooding as we reached the door and didn't notice that Beatrice was having trouble opening it for an embarrassingly long time. I moved alongside her and pushed the maid behind me gently before slamming my shoulder into the door as hard as I could and feeling it shake and quiver under the impact of my strike. It took three more hits before it burst open and I very nearly went flying out into the crushed rock path that it opened out onto.

 

I managed to save myself in time and laughed quietly, scratching my head to avoid looking in Beatrice's direction.

 

“Oh! Your shirt, my Lord! The Princess is going to kill me!” Beatrice gasped and ran up to start hitting her hands on my right shoulder. This caused a cloud of red dust to sputter out into the air.

 

I laughed again. “Don't worry about it, Beatrice. It's my fault for using my shoulder.”

 

The girl looked like she was about to cry again. “I'm sorry, Lord Orin. I only just learned about this passage this morning and I thought it would shave a few minutes off our walk. Forgive me, please.”

 

I blinked at the girl blankly for a second before chuckling. Maybe I needed to stop jumping to conclusions after all. I had seen the passage and immediately thought that the Princess was trying to slight me when it was just Bea trying to be nice. I'd keep a more open mind in future. I may look like a Noble now, but that didn't mean I had to act like one. This whole situation was messing with me, I realised. When I didn't know who was friend or foe I tended to panic and jump straight to the worst possible scenario.

 

I realised that I was still staring at Bea fondly as she watched me with wide eyes and I immediately stopped. For some reason she reminded me of Delithia for a moment there and I just wanted comfort her. I hoped I hadn't offended her but that didn't seem to be the case. She smiled at me brightly and I found myself smiling in return. Spirit, this girls mood changed so often I wondered if I would ever get used to it.

 

“Don't worry about it, Bea. I know you were just trying to help. It was my fault anyway. I forgot that I was wearing these fancy clothes. I typically act before I think.”

 

“No, don't apologise, Lord Orin! I'm sure the Princess won't even notice.” She said doubtfully and as I looked down I thought it was unlikely.

 

My right sleeve was covered in red dust that seeped into the deep emerald. It didn't matter to me either way. Even if I had turned up just as I was when I'd left my room I was still just a peasant. Not that I was ashamed of that fact. If I had choice between all the opulence that now surrounded me and a dinner at the orphanage with the Sister and the rest of my family, I would go with them every single time.

 

I was nervous. I could admit that to myself now. It was why I was feeling morose while in my room and it was why I thought that Elora was treating me like a second class citizen when Bea made us use the servants stairs. She is Elora. She is the Princess of Venos, heir to the throne of our vast Kingdom and she bound me to her in a state of panic when she saw that the man who she loved was about to be killed. I didn't know how she would react to seeing me. I just hoped that it would be positive.

 

I dusted myself off as best I could and indicated for a worried Beatrice to lead the way to the Princess' gazebo as I followed after her. My thoughts spiralling ever deeper as I contemplated my fate and wondered, not for the last time, where this new adventure would lead me.

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FirstKnight

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