At the end of the day, King Henric returned from his hunt together with his guests. They appeared to be in high spirits, smiling and laughing as they reminisced of how their adventure went. They managed to catch two wild boars and a good number of rabbits. The king, especially, made it quite clear to his servants that he was the one who caught the big fat one.
Their hunt got sent to the kitchen, where Adelia cooked it. Under her orders, the servants were quick to prepare the meat just as the nobles wanted. Tonight’s meal was going to be a nice juicy boar steak.
While they waited for the servants to prepare their dinner, the guests went to their respective rooms and got ready for the evening. They took a bath and changed their clothes to look more presentable in front of his majesty. The same could not be said about the king though. He was more inclined to spend this time together with his horses, and as such, he insisted on being the one to take them back to the Royal Stable.
“Today was a good day, Pallas! My guests were pleased with the success of the hunt and how well my lovelies behaved!” said King Henric as he pulled his stallion into his stall.
“I’m glad to hear that, your majesty!” said Pallas with a humble tone of voice, but he didn’t dare to look away from the ground.
“Since I’m in a good mood today, Pallas, I’ll let you have the rest of the night off. I’ll handle the grooming for these horses!” said the king as he smiled at the man.
“Your majesty, you are talking about grooming ten horses! It will take at least three hours! What of your guests? Please allow me to aid you, your majesty!” requested Pallas as he heard the king’s words.
“Nonsense! It will take two hours tops! They are not that dirty, and I’m a fast groomer too! Besides, those nobles can wait for me until I am done here! So off you go, Pallas, but before you go, bring me some carrots and turnips from the storehouse. They deserve a treat for a job well done, don’t you think?” said the king with a big smile on his face.
“As you wish, your majesty!” Pallas replied politely as he finally stood straight.
He did as it was requested of him and after handing over the basket of carrots and turnips, the man bid the king good night and left the Royal Stable in his care. Although this was the first time his majesty did something like this, Pallas was no fool to deny it. He learned over time that it was never a good idea to refuse something a noble or royal decided to offer him. If his rank was high enough, he could attempt to refuse once and then accept upon insistence, but this was not the case.
His home in the Eldenguard capital was nothing more than a tiny room in the servant’s quarters of the castle. It was located a level above the castle’s prison and not far from the rats’ nest, which feasted each day on the grains in the old storeroom. Indeed, it wasn’t a luxury, but for one such as him, it was more than enough.
Pallas opened the door using his iron key and cracked it open. In that instant, a big rat ran over his feet and dashed into the hallway, scaring off a young servant girl.
He cursed under his breath and walked inside.
After closing the door behind him, Pallas opened the window to let some fresh air in. If he was lucky enough, the night breeze would bring the scent of the rose garden to his room, if not, he would get the manure scent from the stables.
When Pallas first started this job, the king offered him a better room, but since he didn’t know for how long he would be able to keep working as a stable master, he requested this small and humble room. For now, he had no intention of changing it.
The thought of grabbing dinner before going to bed crossed his mind, but then he remembered Adelia. He decided to face her another day, maybe when he had something to offer her as a sacrifice. Thus, Pallas walked up to his bed and laid down in a comfortable position. He felt like he didn’t have enough energy to care about such little things anymore. All he wanted to do was to close his eyes and wait for the next day to wake up.
Still, there was something amiss in his life. There was something really strange with the way things went. Normally, Pallas never stayed so long in a town or village, only a few weeks before the full moon settled in and then a few days afterwards. When the rumors of wolves in the forest began to spread, it was time for him to go. He would head off to a nearby village or city before anyone decided to gather up a hunting party. This time, however, it was a bit different. He stayed more than he wanted to. The next full moon would be the second one he would come to witness from this city. Because of this, people were already starting to whisper about demons and wolves in the nearby forest.
Indeed, this city was strange. Pallas didn’t know exactly what it was, but he knew how it changed him. Every time he wanted to move and resume his nomadic ways, the pull made it impossible for him to do so. It was somehow able to keep him here. He was like a helpless prey lured in by a dangerous predator that was waiting for the right moment to strike.
If I go too far, I get the strong urge to return, almost as if I’m leaving something behind. Yet, whenever I’m trying to get close to whatever is causing this pull… I feel like it slips away from me, going farther and farther. I can’t catch it. thought Pallas with his eyes closed.
His mind was going back and forth between the time he arrived in Eldenguard and the present. These thoughts had been constantly bothering him, ever since he encountered this strange pull.
Maybe I should rest for now… thought Pallas.
Tonight, he decided to let his mind rest. He ignored the surrounding sounds and scent, letting his muscles relax and his bones to rest. The closer he got to a peaceful dream state, the more he felt the daily stress leaving his body.
The hours passed by, and a new day greeted him with its gentle light. The rays of the sun had a perfect aim through the small window. They struck Pallas right in the eyes, making it impossible for him to continue his peaceful dream. He began to move in his small straw bed, leaving his comfortable position. The sounds, the light, the energy of the new morning all came crashing down on him, making it impossible for him to continue his dreams. When he felt like he couldn’t take it anymore, he finally woke up.
With a light grumble, he reached up to the window and closed the wooden lid. A dark, cold shadow was finally cast inside the small room, but the rays kept trying to push through. Pallas sat up on his feet and started to stretch his old muscles a bit.
The sun, most of the times, was annoying in the morning, but it helped well when it came to using it as a wake-up call.
Pallas let out a big yawn and looked around his room. He tried to spot if there were any more rats that dared enter during the night. The first week he slept in here, he woke up almost all the time with a rat on his chest or somewhere inside the room. Eventually, he had to do something about it, so he decided to cook every rat that dared trespass. Rat stew, not the best delicacy, but a more “docile” way of saying to the critters he didn’t really enjoy their company. Surprisingly, it worked and as long as he was inside his room, the rats were out and didn’t dare to enter.
After Pallas did his morning stretches and woke up his numb muscles, he continued his routine with washing up his face, his teeth and then ended it with tidying up his clothes. He had only two pairs of clothes which he dusted and cleaned as best as he could each day. Once a week, he would either go to the river to wash them or do it himself before he went to bed, inside his own room. The maids usually gave him the soap and water he needed for this.
As for his free days, those were usually the times when the king took out all of his horses for a run with various nobles from the kingdom. Since there were no horses to take care of, this usually meant he had no job to do and so, he was free.
Unfortunately for him, the king had no such plans for a while, especially after yesterday’s hunt.
“Today will be a good day… to be bored…” said Pallas with a sigh at the end of his words as he walked out of his room.
From there, he headed towards the stables. He wasn’t expecting to see anyone at such an early hour. That’s why he was surprised when he saw a man clad in a shiny plated armor, leaning on the stable’s door. He didn’t wear a helmet, but his sword was there, tied to his hip and ready to do his king’s bidding.
When he saw Pallas approaching, the man looked up at him with his brown eyes, and a small breeze gently rustled his dark-brown hair. He had a small scar on the left side of his chin, and alongside with his rugged beard made him look strong and dangerous.
“You Pallas?” the man asked with a gruff voice.
Pallas blinked when he heard his name. For a moment there, he was wondering if he got in trouble with the king or some other noble.
“The Grand Sorceress asked you to be brought to her, NOW!” the man stated as he squinted his eyes at Pallas, making it quite clear he would not accept a delay or refusal.
The stable master gulped and then nodded as he let this armored gentleman lead the way to the Grand Sorceress. Pallas couldn’t help but think that maybe she was the one who found out about his little secret and now, he was going to face her wrath. If it wasn’t this, then he had absolutely no idea why an esteemed person such as herself would wish to speak with a simple commoner like him.
Looking at his armor and weapon, this stranger was most likely a knight, although the way he spoke and his overall presence didn’t seem to imply such a thing. Without delay, this man led Pallas to the Ivory Tower.
“This way…” the knight said.
His voice resonated in Pallas’ ears with an ominous feeling. If he had known he would meet the Grand Sorceress today, he would have gone into town to buy himself some proper clothes, maybe an entire suit. As he was right now, he smelled of manure and horses like any other stable worker in the city. All in all, Pallas hoped he wasn’t going to embarrass himself too much or anger the Grand Sorceress with his appearance.
When they reached the entrance to the Ivory Tower, a pair of huge white doors opened up on their own. No doubt it was through some sort of magic, because he didn’t see anyone pushing them. A couple of sorcerers and some mages were chatting on the other side of the room when the distinct scent of manure hit their nose. They grimaced and quickly walked away. When he saw them, Pallas could only apologize with a simple head bow.
On the inside, the tower was quite big. From the ground floor to the next one, they had to use a pair of floating steps. Pallas looked at them with caution and when he saw the knight climbing up on them without any fear in his eyes, he did the same. These strange stairs ran around the interior of the tower all the way to the last floor. Pallas wasn’t afraid of falling off them, but if he did, everyone there would know he wasn’t a normal human. That’s why prayed he didn’t.
Although he had been summoned here by the Grand Sorceress, Pallas already began to think about the many bad rumors, which could spread from the servants who saw him enter the Ivory Tower. Most of all, he feared that people would see this as a bad thing or maybe an insult towards the sorceress, especially since he looked so poorly dressed and smelled of manure. He didn’t want to cause trouble for others or cast attention upon himself. He didn’t actually fear the people themselves. He feared their attitude, the way they looked at him, and the way they acted around him.
Nevertheless, Pallas needed to try to calm himself down a bit before he had a panic attack. He was already sweating badly, and his fingernails were biting into his palms.
To do this, Pallas took a few deep breaths and thought back at the peaceful scenery of the Hanagoya lake, the sunset, the dawn, the calm water of a flowing river, anything which could bring him back to a relaxed state of mind.
“Through there!” said the knight as he stopped in front of a wooden door.
Pallas blinked surprised and looked at the knight who took up a guarding stance on the right side. He looked back and saw an almost endless trail of stairs. He didn’t remember climbing all of them though. At most, he thought he was at the second or third floor by now, not at the very top of the Ivory Tower.
He gulped and blamed it on his stressed-out state of mind. He probably forgot how he climbed all the way up here, so without further delay, he opened the door and entered the lair of the Grand Sorceress.
As soon as Pallas stepped inside, the door vanished behind him as if it was never there in the first place. He looked around, but he couldn’t see any way out, other than jumping out the window. He could have probably survived the fall, but with some nasty injuries.
With a slow walk, Pallas went deeper into the room. He looked around at all the different things gathered there. To the left, there was an alchemical laboratory, filled with all sort of notes and potions, it even had its own Venus Fly Trap. Right next to it, there were a couple of shelves with crystals carefully placed on them. Each one was of a different shape and glowing in a different color. To the left, there were two lined-up libraries filled with hundreds of books. In the center, there was a round table with all sort of designs and schematics on it, many of them looking as though they were out of this world. The floor and ceiling of this room were engraved with magical glowing symbols and circles, each one of them had a different and specific purpose. However, since he never had the chance to study magic, Pallas couldn’t understand what they were meant for. On another note, he didn’t see the sorceress anywhere.
Someone else might have tried to stuff his nose in all those books or grab the shiny things around the room, but Pallas knew better than to act like that. It was never a good idea to mess around with a sorcerer’s things. For this reason, he did the only thing he could, he walked over to the window and gazed at the view outside.
A gentle breeze carried the smell of the rose garden bellow and caressed his nose. The scent was refreshing and relaxing. It brought him a peace of mind, one could only find while admiring a view from such a height. Speaking of which, from all the way up here, he could see the entire capital. His gaze could reach even farther than that, all the way to the Penhaven Woods and Portnan Forest. Since only a few white clouds floated through the sky, the endless blue offered another chromatic note to the entire scene.
He understood now why the Grand Sorceress took this room as her own, the view alone was amazing. However, considering the height, there was no way a normal wind breeze could bring the scent of the roses all the way up there. Pallas could only guess that such a miracle was achieved through some sort of magic. Then again, most of the things which happened inside this Ivory Tower could only be attributed to the power of magic.
“Enjoying the view?” the Grand Sorceress asked as she suddenly appeared behind the man, holding a book of spells.
Startled, Pallas quickly turned around. His heart was beating so fast in his chest, he feared it would smash its way out. He couldn’t even speak. He was somehow stuck between being shocked by her beauty and the fright she just gave him.
The woman was certainly a treat for the eyes. With her jet-black hair and forms depicted by the tight black dress she wore, she made Pallas doubt there were men out there who wouldn’t try to stare at her for a moment or two. Then again, he was also quite surprised to see her just standing there. He didn’t hear her walking in or even sensed her in any other way, she just appeared there.
“Well?” she asked again as she gently lifted her violet eyes from the heavy book she held in her hands.
“It’s a wonderful sight, milady, but may I ask what need you have for this lowly servant?” asked Pallas in a manner with which he hoped to appear as humble and small as possible, not to mention not give any hint of his racing heart.
The sorceress smirked as she placed her book in a nearby bookcase, showing her pink colored lips. She had a faded white skin tone and a beautiful, charming face. Although with a great sense of maturity in her aura, she didn’t look past her thirties. Pallas gulped when he saw her. He wanted to straighten his back and push his chest forward, to show he was a strong man. Fortunately, he stopped himself before he did such a foolish thing. In his mind, he was a peasant, a simple mortal unworthy of the Grand Sorceress’ gaze. Pallas believed if he dared to do such a thing, he would have certainly met with a harsh punishment.
“You seem tense. Anything wrong?” she asked with a tempting tone of voice, almost as if she was trying to seduce him.
“No, milady…” Pallas said shaking his head, mostly to hide a possible blush, his reaction to her sweet voice.
“I summoned you here for a special mission.” she said as she approached the alchemical laboratory.
The tone of her voice was a bit heavier than before, showing the seriousness of the matter. The way she walked also showed an elegance and grace rarely seen in noble ladies. She was undoubtedly one-of-a-kind beauty, or at least, the first of this kind Pallas had ever seen.
I wonder if my scent disgusts her? I do smell like a stable… thought Pallas as she watched the woman keep her distance from him.
So far, the Grand Sorceress didn’t show him a disgusted look in her eyes or a grimace on her face.
“What can this lowly servant do for you, milady?” Pallas asked while trying to appear as humble as he could in front of her. He even bowed his head a little.
“You will accompany the Dumveille Kingdom’s crown Princess and act as her loyal knight.” she said all of a sudden.
The tone of her voice reminded Pallas of an order. It held the same strength as that of a commander, but there was something else there, maybe it was magic, because he didn’t feel the need to refuse it. In fact, he felt eager to do it, but from his experience, he knew that such an order could only mean one thing. The princess was most likely going to be attacked, and he was nothing more than a decoy. In short, this meant the end of his little acting career as a stable master. If they were to be attacked, he doubted he could resist the urge to strike back. If this happened, then they would certainly find out about his true power, and he would need to flee from the kingdom. If they were lucky enough, and they weren’t going to be attacked, maybe he would have a chance at continuing his job as a stable master.
But something feels strange… Why do I even want to continue working at this castle? Pallas thought as he came to realize this.
He didn’t want to flee Dumveille, he wanted to get to the bottom of that strange pull. Unfortunately, this would mean risking getting found out.
“Is something wrong?” asked the sorceress, breaking his line of thoughts and snapping him back to reality.
“No, milady! As you wish! But what of the horses? I’m sure the king…” he tried to ask.
“The king already agreed to it.” she said as she cut his words short “I should say though, it wasn’t hard to convince him to let his only stable master go. I just had to promise him I would find someone else to fill in the spot, preferably a noble, so the horses wouldn’t cause any troubles. Of course, this is until you have finished your mission. Once you leave, the knight who brought you here will guide you to the chambers where a bath and the new outfit awaits you! You will leave in two hours!” the sorceress ordered.
The tone of her voice and the expression in her eyes made Pallas remember how it was to sit in front of a commanding officer. The Grand Sorceress had an incredibly strong presence unless this was the result of a spell. If it wasn’t, this proved quite clearly what sort of a powerful person she was.
Pallas had no way out of this one, especially if the king also agreed with it. If he dared to refuse this order, he could easily get executed or sent to the prisons for treason. It would be a mere peasant contesting the wise words of his king. His only choice was to accept the order, but he had the strange feeling that this wouldn’t end up well, at least for him.
“As you wish, milady!” Pallas said as he bowed his head to her.
He suddenly felt a brush of air run by him and when he turned around, he saw the wooden door reappear once more in the exact same spot. This was his cue to get out and without asking anything else, he submitted to his fate and walked towards the exit.
The knight with the chipped chin was waiting for him, ready to lead him to his new room to get dressed. When Pallas closed the door behind him, the knight huffed and moved in front of him. He climbed down the tower’s long stairs and headed towards the castle.
This won’t end well… Pallas thought as he quietly followed the knight.
“Do you really believe this Pallas is going to change anything?” asked the woman with the slit red pupils as she approached the window.
She wore a long white dress and a hood over her head, just like the woman who appeared before Pallas at the stables, the other day. In fact, it could be easily guessed it was the same one.
The Grand Sorceress smiled and then said in a seductive tone while she walked towards the strange woman, ”You have nothing to worry about, my dear. After all, I’m never wrong with these things… and even more so when it comes to men. Wasn’t it always like this?” She let out a small laugh at the end of her words.
“Won’t the others get suspicious of this strange order? Having the king’s stable master dressed up as a knight is unheard of!” stated the other.
“True, but as long as the king demands this, it doesn’t matter how crazy it sounds, the soldiers and knights will obey his orders. Besides, I tasked only one of them to know the truth of who Pallas actually is. I also gave them a simple, general explanation behind why I requested such a thing. I told them it was in order to test out a certain spell I had placed on him. The knights and soldiers, once told this, will just accept it and let “my crazy experiment” go. King Henric trusts me completely, especially after I told him this was for your own good.” she said with a giggle.
The other woman closed her eyes and sighed. She simply couldn’t keep up with this woman’s plans. The Grand Sorceress was more clever and cunning than usually she let out to be. For all she knew, the sorceress could have actually placed a spell on poor Pallas.