Read The Servant's Heart Online

Authors: Missouri Dalton

The Servant's Heart

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.

 

 

The Servant’s Heart

Torquere Press Publishers

PO Box 2545

Round Rock, TX 78680

Copyright 2012 by Missouri Dalton

Cover illustration by BSClay

Published with permission

ISBN:
978-1-61040-435-8

www.torquerepress.com

All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law. For information address Torquere Press. Inc., PO Box 2545, Round Rock, TX 78680.

First Torquere Press Printing: February 2013

Printed in the USA

 

The Servant's Heart

By Missouri Dalton

 

Rain tapped against the window panes, the candles reflecting light against them. You could smell the mud and the wet of the grass. At least there was no lightning -- it would've driven me to distraction, wanting to be outside to greet it. The gray sky loomed over the entirety of the palace, but this room at least seemed cheerful. The floral bedding and soft lavender upholstery played gentle counterpoint to the warm wood and gurgling fire.

I set the tea tray down on the mosaic table next to milady's chair and bowed. "Your tea, milady," I said softly.

She turned in her chair to look at me and smiled, the firelight catching in her auburn hair. "Thank you, Terence."

I bowed again. "Is there anything else I can do, milady?"

"No, thank you. Although I'm sure Jasper will want a drink and something to eat when he gets back from his ride."

"Yes, milady." I backed out of the room and shut the door. I had time before his highness got back from his afternoon ride, even in this weather. The man had very little in the way of common sense. He was very brave, though -- well praised by his father the king during the war. I'd never seen him fight myself, and it wasn't as though anyone asked my opinion of him. The prince didn't pay much attention to me other than to tell me to bring him more wine.

His lady did. His lady was kind. Which was all right by me, but I'd prefer she ignored me like the others did. I didn't want to be noticed. Her ladies ignored me, but then, they were proper noble girls; they wouldn't talk to me unless they needed something fetched or carried. For someone who preferred to be ignored, even by other servants, this suited me fine.

I rushed down the back stairs to the kitchens -- a vast place with three roaring fires and a bustle of activity -- to snag something to eat. The long table against the back wall was generally filled with things for the household servants to grab on their way; we generally only sat down for dinner, our masters were always calling for this or that the rest of the time. The servants of the kitchen didn't notice me as I passed, not an unusual phenomenon. I could be exceptionally unremarkable when I so chose. Being unremarkable was a skill servants acquired, along with other more clandestine professions.

I snagged a pair of eggs and some apple slices -- tucked away in a bowl of water to keep from spoiling -- before ducking into the low ceilinged hall just off the kitchens where the servants’ quarters were. I had my own room by virtue of serving her ladyship and his highness -- some jealousy had spawned initially, but most of those who'd voiced such opinions had long tired of doing so. They didn't get a rise out of me, and without my temper being lost, there was little sport in it for them. There was no lock on my door, but the simple application of my stool against the bottom was solution enough to warn me when someone entered while I slept.

I sat down on my cot to eat and read a few pages of the single book I owned. It was in no language the house spoke, but in my home tongue, something I didn't speak here -- not ever. I didn't look foreign; I had no accent they could hear, so they assumed I was from no further away than the next county. Far from it, Jorian had not always been my home. The book was called,
The Virtue of War
, I'd read it twenty four times and was on my twenty fifth. The title had little to do with the contents.

It was a book someone dear to me had given -- a relic of a family I barely recalled with certainty. The last legacy of a family gifted in the arts of the arcane. I could only use a handful of the spells in those pages, the destructive ones mostly. The ones attuned to lightning and storms.

On a page near the back I had drawn a portrait, just from memory. A smiling girl. I stroked her cheek gently with one hand before going back to the page I'd been reading from.

My apple and eggs finished, I replaced the scrap of ribbon I used as a marker and slipped the book under my pillow. The time chimed overhead, the prince was due back in another quarter hour and it would take that amount again for him to be cleaned up and upstairs in his rooms. With a good amount of time to myself, I chose to take a nap.

I knew I was dreaming, but it felt real. The damp of the floor under my hands, the sharp metallic scent of blood overlaying the scent of dirt and sewage. The squeaks of rats and the low-timbre laughter echoing from the corner of the room. A corpse lay under the man's feet. Brown hair a cascade across her face. Bruised flesh, blood. Her throat slashed out and her dress torn.

Bruises on her thighs, on her arms. Blood dripping down her leg.

He kept laughing.

Her eyes opened and she reached out for me. She reached for me with dead hands.

"Don't-- Terence -- don't--don't let them win."

"Anna!"

I awoke, her name on my lips and splashed water on my face. I checked the time, straightened my uniform -- the Jorian crest of a silver hawk with violet eyes and a scroll in its mouth flashed in the light -- and gathered a tray from the kitchen. I procured a venison pasty and a cup of mulled cider and headed up to the prince's chambers -- up three flights of slick stone stairs I'd nearly fallen down at least a dozen times already. His door was painted a bright blue to distinguish itself from the rainbow of colored doors in the hall. I approached on quiet feet, knocked softly and entered. I had to knock, the prince got irritated when I entered unannounced. Training in the arts of stealth was hard to erase, and frankly, I enjoyed being quiet on my feet. It gave me a sort of perverse pleasure to be able to sneak up on anyone I liked.

The prince wasn't alone; three of his friends were there with him: Dorn, a huge man with a full beard, Finn, a short fellow with a sort of twitch in his eye, and Loch, a tall slender man with flaming red hair. He had a thin blade in his hands, picking his nails. As well, his highness's strange pet -- a hawk like the one on the crest -- perched on the back of a chair, feathers fluffed out to dry. Thing belonged in the mews, not on the back of a chair.

I wrinkled my nose and ignored it.

The prince turned, his dark hair wet, likely from a bath and not the rain, and his clothes were fresh. He dressed simply: a white linen shirt, brown leggings of the finest leather and sturdy leather boots. His only jewelry was his wedding band and his signet ring. "Ah, Terence, just the man." His eyes were the same eerie shade of violet as his hawk's.

"Milady asked me to bring you this, your highness." I held the tray up a little higher.

"Of course, set it down." He gestured to a table close by.

I was getting a strange feeling. I'd been in the same room as all of these men before, but never had I gotten such
rapt
attention. I set down the tray and backed away from it.

"Come here a moment," the prince said. He pointed at the floor in front of him.

I was extremely suspicious, but I could not ignore his command. I stepped forward to the spot he had indicated.

He looked at me oddly and smiled. "You see, he is my size." He grabbed my shoulders, measuring out the span with his hands. I restrained from flinching, but the touch sent a jolt through me. Instinct to lash out had to be squashed down. "A touch taller maybe, but he's just as slender."

"Well, I hate to say it, but you're right Jas," Dorn said.

"You think no one will notice?" Loch asked.

"He'll have a mask on, and Father's cronies are off at his hunting lodge," the prince commented.

Now I was certain this had a bad smell about it.

"He can take my place at the masquerade, leaving us free and clear."

"Excuse me, but I do not think that is a good idea, begging your pardon, your highness," I said softly. "I cannot do such a thing. If I were discovered..."

The prince clapped me on the shoulder. "Don't be silly, Terence, no one will find out. Remember your place."

"I know my place; do you know yours?" I snapped.

Dorn hit me. It took every bit of control I had not to hit him back. I staggered, recovered and glared at him for all I was worth. "Watch your tongue, boy."

"I will not participate in foolishness," I spat. Before the big one could strike me again, I was out the door and running down the hall to the servant's stair. I slipped through the kitchen and to the servant's quarters. I barricaded the door to my room with my cot and sat down on it, my back resting against the door. My hands were shaking -- I could taste electricity on my tongue.
How close had I come? Could I have--
I could have. It was in my nature. Wasn't it?

Poisoned -- like the rest of my bloodline.

I sighed, raking my hand through my hair. I closed my eyes, and let myself fall into a hazy half-sleep.

"No matter what happens to me, promise me-- promise me you won't take revenge."

"Anna!"

I heard the pounding of boots against the wooden floor and someone knocked loudly on my door. "Terence, open up!" I opened my eyes.

It wasn't any of the lords...it sounded like the Chamberlain, Yavin.

"Terence! It's Yavin." Good guess, Terence.

I slid the cot away from the door and allowed it to swing open. Yavin was a whip thin man with a sharp chin and dark eyes; his gray hair was immaculate, as was his well oiled mustache. His face was clouded, angry. He grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the room. The light from the kitchen caught in my eyes, and he frowned. He touched my face, grabbing hold of my chin and taking a closer look.

"That's going to bruise." He sighed and let go. "What were you thinking? I've never heard a word against you. You've never been even
slightly
insubordinate."

"I will not do things I think to be unethical, or foolish," I said. "They took offense to my statement of that fact. I know my place, Yavin."

"Well, that little stunt had the prince saying a few sharp words to me about you. He doesn't want you to serve his lady any longer, and he wants you taught a firm lesson.
He
does not think you know your place."

"I will do whatever you ask of me, Yavin. I will not, however, play the prince's games. I refuse to be a fool for his amusement."

Yavin nodded. "If he asks anything of you again, let me know. I at least have the ear of the king, and the king will not stand for his son's foolishness."

"And until that day? Would you have me beaten for warning the prince away from foolishness? I may have been insubordinate, but his man was quick to correct my language." I touched the spot on my cheek that was starting to bruise. "What else does he wish to correct?"

"I believe it was something to do with you running out of the room without permission and your utter refusal to do as you were told," Yavin remarked dryly.

"I have rights here." Rights I'd never had in my homeland. Rights I'd never dreamed of. No one here could have me killed for spilling tea in their lap. No one here would beat me for falling ill or making a simple mistake. Here they only cared for direct disobedience, which I'd been wary enough to avoid until now.

"Yes, I know." Yavin sighed, running a hand through his hair in an uncharacteristic sign of worry. "I will do what I can, Terence, but if the prince pushes this, there will be no other option. You will be demoted and you will receive a beating at the hand of the Guard, or worse, the Weaponsmaster."

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