The blue-eyed man woke up the following day when the sun was already up in the sky. As he opened his eyes, he saw the calm water of the lake stretching in front of him and sparkling in the gentle rays of the sun. He let out a big yawn and stretched his limbs.
With a lazy movement, he got up from the ground. He blinked a couple of times as he looked towards the calm lake and then brushed the leafs and dust off his clothes. After admiring one more time the beauty of this scenery, the man turned around and walked toward the woods. He planned on heading back to Eldenguard, the capital of the Dumveille Kingdom.
At first, he walked slowly, but then he began to run. His feet carried him at a baffling speed, and he actually enjoyed every moment of this dash through the woods. It made him feel free, unchained and unbound. Despite the effort a normal man would need to keep up at his pace for such a long time, he showed no signs of getting tired at all.
Since the king’s men did well to patrol the areas outside the capital, the Nargasis Plains and Penhaven Woods were mostly free of bandits. Chances were low for someone to happen and hear or see him running like that. Even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to aim properly an arrow at him, let alone catch him on foot and cut him down with a sword. Then again, he wasn’t carrying anything else except his manure smelling peasant clothes. No sane bandit would want those.
When he finally reached the border of the Penhaven Woods, he stopped running and moved at a relaxed walking pace. Except for his sweaty clothes, he showed no signs that he had been sprinting all this time.
The road that separated the Penhaven Woods and the Portnan Forest was The Main Trade Route. It connected the capital Eldenguard to the trader city Persallis far in the west. It ran right past the woods and continued further on to the neighboring kingdom of dwarfs Alltarren. From where the blue-eyed man exited the woods, the city gate was only a few minutes away of walking distance.
An imposing 12 meters (40 feet) tall stone wall protected Eldenguard. This impressive structure made it quite difficult for enemies to capture the capital. The wall could be seen from far away, and it was a thing of a beauty. It showed the strength of the kingdom. Throughout centuries, it did it’s job of protecting the capital. Until now, there wasn’t even one historical mention of these walls succumbing to enemy attacks. Then again, very few armies ever managed to reach the capital. With allies like the Summest Kingdom to the south, it was very dangerous to attack the Dumveille Kingdom. Still, the Alltarren Kingdom to west, the Niffle Kingdom to the north, and the Elmorath Kingdom to the east always dared to try from time to time.
The blue-eyed man knew very little of this great city’s history. All he was interested in were the quickest escape routes, just in case he would ever end up needing to use them.
Despite looking like a beggar, one of the guards at the gate’s check up recognized him. They let him through without any further questions and searches. Once inside, he made his way to the castle. He was already late for his job, and he feared he would end up getting scolded because of this.
The city was buzzing with life as always. Merchants traded left and right. The children played on the streets. Some women gossiped at the windows, while others were already working. The guards patrolled with an ever serious expression on their face, making sure there were no scoundrels looking for trouble. Everything looked as normal and peaceful as it could be. Even so, the blue-eyed man kept away from the heat of life. He walked only on the less populated streets and tried to avoid as much as he could any crowd of men. He didn’t hate them or anything. He actually wanted someday to be part of this buzzing life, but for now, this was how his inner fear dictated his way of life.
Reaching the castle’s gates didn’t prove too challenging for him, especially when he already knew all the shortcuts. As soon as he got there, a loud shout welcomed him back. The voice was strong and powerful, catching the attention of all those around him.
“Pallas! What do you think you are doing coming back at this hour?!”
The one who spoke was an imposing middle-aged man. He was a tall, bald and had a large beard. He wore a guard’s leather armor, which barely managed to keep his big belly in. Despite being a bit over the recommended weight, everyone knew he could still swing a sword like any other royal guard in the castle.
Pallas stopped in his track and looked at the one who shouted. Compared to him, the fat guard barely reached his nose with the tip of his hair. He had quite the solid build for one of his stature, but the way he showed humility to everyone around him made him look small and insignificant. His hair was brown, short, and ruffled up as if it hadn’t seen a comb for a couple of weeks. His eyes were of a light-blue color, resembling the gentleness of the sky, but his gaze was humble like that of the lowest servant.
Turning towards the big guard, Pallas bowed his head to show his respect.
“I’m sorry mister Hingrid. I…“ he said trying to smile, but the guard looked angry and upset.
“Pallas! How dare you to be late for your duty! You are the stable master for our great king’s horses! You should be greatly honored by this and come at the earliest hours to groom his highness’ horses! Instead, here I see you past the waking hours of even the most lazy of peasants! How dare you disgrace your job like this?” Hingrid asked half shocked by his deed and half angry about it.
The man didn’t know how to reply to the guard. He had no answer to give, which could please him. The night before was just too perfect for viewing the moon, especially since it was almost full and flawless like a crystal ball. Pallas simply felt the need to go out and run for a bit. He wanted to let go of his suppressed feelings and energy from all those past weeks. It was getting to the point where he would have certainly snapped a man’s neck, if they annoyed him too much. Keeping the humble appearance of a lowly servant was starting to get to him. For the sake of his sanity and peaceful life, he had to do it.
There was also the fact that he managed somehow to break one of Adelia’s Bartmann jugs. It wasn’t much of a question of how he did it, he simply knocked it off the table by accident.
Adelia was the head of all the maids in the castle and also the oldest one of them all. She was simply furious of Pallas for both making a mess and for ruining her jug. That’s why she ended up chasing him last night throughout the entire castle for more than half an hour. Eventually, he managed to escape by fleeing through the main gate.
Of course, Pallas couldn’t tell the guard, he skipped his duties because he was afraid of Adelia’s wooden rolling pin more than he was of the king’s anger. It was too embarrassing, so he kept his lips sealed shut and decided to suffer through the man’s scolding.
Hingrid looked at the man and saw in his eyes his unwillingness to answer.
If I remember right, some of the boys told me he got chased around by Adelia last night. Hm. Did she scare him that badly? That must be it! Adelia’s a real demon when you step on her tail! At least, I know the lad isn’t a spy or paid hand. The sorceress made sure of that! thought Hingrid as he looked in Pallas’ eyes.
Everyone who worked at the castle had to go through the hands of a sorceress responsible with testing the new servants to the king. They put them through a series of truth spells designed to uncover potential threats, such as assassins.
Unfortunately, since Pallas was the stable master for the king’s horses, only his majesty could punish him. Hingrid, as part of the royal guards inside the castle, had absolutely no authority over him unless he saw the man commit some sort of crime.
With a heavy sigh escaping from his lips, he pointed at the castle’s stable and told him “Just make sure the horses are well, lad. Maybe the king won’t need them for today, otherwise your head will be the first to roll!”
“Thank you, sir! Right away!” replied Pallas.
With a short bow of his head, he turned to the right and then walked towards the stable.
Hingrid watched him go and then returned to his post. Although it wasn’t his job to keep Pallas in check, the man felt the need to watch out over him from time to time.
The Royal Stable was all the way on the far-right side of the castle. Between it and the gates, there was a small training ground for nobles and royals. About five wooden dummies and four archery targets decorated the place. There were even a three knights doing some morning practice, but all of them ignored Pallas.
The Royal Stable was a long two stories high building built right next to the wall. Some of the best builders in the capital worked on it. It had only one purpose, and that was to shelter the king’s precious collection of horses. It even had its own riding ground that allowed the noble animals to stretch their legs from time to time.
Upon opening the two big front doors, Pallas saw eighteen horses in separate stalls. They were all purebreds. To keep a better track on them, they were separated by type. The first eight were hot bloods, and the other ten were cold bloods, with a majority of them being draft horses. Among all of them, there was only one pony. Each stall used huge plank walls to separate the horses. No one wanted the beautiful animals to start fighting with each other. On each stall, the front doors were small enough for the horses to poke their heads out, but high enough to stop them from jumping over. Inside a water bowl hanged on the left side of the wall. A small copper pipe connected each one of them to a main pipe hanging from the roof. The big one was connected to a water reservoir outside. For the moment, though, the horses had nothing to drink, their bowls were empty. As for the trough, they had one hung on the right side of the wall, close to the doors of their stall, but all of them were empty. The animals had long since finished their last pieces of feed and drank the last drops of water.
Each horse was beautiful and strong, but also extremely proud. It was almost like they knew they were the king’s favorite pets and understood the difference between social classes. They made this very clear to any of the lower servants who dared approach them.
There had been many cases where the horse simply refused to be touched by those who weren’t of royal or noble blood. They would hit the floor, neigh, and pull on their reins whenever a commoner approached them. Of course, Pallas was no exception from this unspoken rule.
“Good morning, horsies… “ he said as he stepped inside the Royal Stable.
In that moment, all of them jolted and took a step back from him. Agitated by his very presence, the horses struck the ground with their hooves as if to warn him not to get any closer. Some even started to neigh furiously at him, trying to chase him away.
Pallas didn’t mind their weird behavior. He walked inside and looked around at what he needed to do for today. Meanwhile, the horses threw at him sharp glares for ignoring their warnings. There was nothing he could do about it. The animals didn’t like him because he was a commoner and not a noble. How did they know this? It was a mystery both to him and everyone else.
If Pallas wanted the horses to change their attitude towards him, he had to either become a knight or marry off into noble blood. Least to say, both options were far beyond his grasp at the moment.
“I’m the stable master, and I have been the only one grooming and feeding you all for more than two months now. Why do you still act like this towards me?” he asked after he let out a deep sigh.
He scratched the back of his head and looked at all of them. The horses answered with a neigh and a shake of their mane. They were definitely angry at him. If he had to guess, besides the fact that he was a simple commoner, they also didn’t approve of him being late to give them food and water.
Pallas gave up quickly in trying to reason with them. The horses would never listen to him as long as his social status remained that of a commoner. So before they started to kick the doors of their stall, he decided to go and get them the food and water they so arrogantly demanded. After this, he could start cleaning up the entire stable.
Unfortunately, this entire process would take Pallas no more than a couple of hours. He was the only one there, and it was all thanks to the nasty behavior of the horses.
At least, the pay was worth it, and he got the chance to live at the castle even if it was only in the servant quarters.