Janithril scrubbed his fingers through his hair and yawned. The guardroom table was covered in a map of the surrounding Kingdoms and he tried to focus. The roads and rivers snaked across the paper in distracting patterns. He needed sleep – badly. His Captain and best friend Doriel and General Ortil were with him too, puzzling over the papers. The weak morning light that dribbled in from the high windows barely reached the three men at the central table. Nubs of candles from last night
The guardrooms were small and warm, tapestries on the stone walls kept out the drafts and a warm smell of cooked meat was in the air.
Sighing, Doriel pulled the bread basket towards him, scattering crumbs which Ortil quickly dusted off his precious maps. Doriel gazed gloomily into the empty basket until he was distracted by another of Janithril’s giant yawns.
“That filly of yours keeping you up again Jan?” Doriel flicked a crumb innocently off his shirt cuff.
“What?” Janithril puzzled through an inventory of his stables and then broke into a sheepish smile.
“Sorry, I’m distracted. I’ve just been so tired lately. So, his majesty will camp here?” he pointed to the spot on the map. But Doriel ignored him, and continued.
“I would be tired too.” He blew out his cheeks. “If you need help breaking Su’Len in, they tell me I’ve a good hand for it.”
Janithril looked at his young captain across the table. “You believe anything girls tell you, don’t you?” Ortil stifled a laugh and burnt his tongue on his coffee. He buried his nose in his mug to avoid Doriel’s scathing glance. Ortil sucked the taste of the coffee against his teeth.
“Alright boys, come on. Yes, the camp will stop here. Or, a little earlier depending on the weather. What do you think, should we stop at Faarel?” Doriel was quietly sulking, knawing on a scrap of fingernail.
They were planning the King’s tour, his first in five years. All of three of them were in the King’s army, and had although were not advisors from a political standpoint, they were all trusted military men. The King trusted them to keep him and his family safe at all times. Doriel was still sulking. Janithril and Ortil discussed the benefits of the rout they had mapped out. It was unlikely that there would be any danger on the roads, the people loved their king and with an entourage and small military escort, there would be no scope for criminals or bandits. All the same, they were taking all precausions to keep the king from harm.
As they got up from the table, Janithril noticed Ortil pull out a bottle of opium and tip a few drops into the half full mug of coffee. He brought the mug out with them as they walked, breathe steaming into the frosty morning. They collected their weapons from the small booth to the side of the door. It was accepted that in the guardrooms and mess, no one was armed. Visably anyway. Any guard that didn’t have atleast one concealed dagger was a fool. Janithril shifted in his boots and felt the familiar press of the leather strap that held a thin needle like dagger to his calf. Together the three men paced around the corner of the barracks and out into the parade ground.
The Large square was full of soldiers, in full ranks their fitness training had started. Doriel looked out over the square, forever greatful that his own fitness program was under his own control now. He had hated these freezing mornings with the boys, dragged away from the breakfast tables to endlessly push their muscles to screaming point. The little group continued to watch the fitness for a while, reluctant to dive into the endless planning taking place for the King’s departure in a few days. Janithril yawned again.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Ortil looked up into Janithril’s face and noticed that he truly did look tired. Under the tanned skin and healthy scrub of a beard, Janithril had developed a clammy sweat on his forehead and his eyes were blood shot and an obvious effort to keep open.
“Oh, yes. Just need to get home to my wife I think.” Janithril mumbled and held his head in his hands for a moment before turning to leave.
“Janithril?” He kept walking. Doriel shrugged and walked over to one of the letenants that was leading the drills. Ortill followed Janithril and walked beside him. “ I have a doctor who is very good you know, maybe you should visit him. Or I can send him over to the villa before we leave?”
“Yes, maybe that would be…” his tone switched quickly. “No.” He said firmly, “I just want to go home.”
“So I’ll see you at the palace later?” Ortill called after him. “He’s expecting all of us.” He watched Janithril’s back as he continued down the road, his shoulders had hunched and he was rubbing his head gently.
Janithril’s house was near the centre of town, a small villa on two floors with a kitchen basement. He and his wife had moved into it shortly after their sumptuous wedding that was held in a part of the palace it’s self. Janithril loved the little study that Su’Len had decorated for him, a sanctuary where he stared out on the small patch of garden. The study also had a chair that belonged to Su’Len and together they would sit and talk in the evening before going up to bed. But Janithril went strait up to Su’Len’s room upstairs, knocking his boots against the stairs to dislodge the dust he had kicked up on the training ground.
When he reached the top of the stairs he caught a movement in his peripheral vision. A girl, one of his servants was quickly sweeping the dust off each stair into a bucket, she looked up and caught his eye, quickly ducking her head and rushing into the servant’s passage. Janithril kicked his boots against the top step again and sent a final shower of dust onto the steps again.
“What is all the banging about?” Su’Len called from her bedroom. At the end of the corridor her door stood open, the smell of roses hung in the air and grew stronger as Janithril headed into the corridor.
A sense of profound relief came over Janithril as he sat down. He suddenly felt like a weight had been lifted from his head, the pressure behind his eyes lessened and he sighed with the pleasure of simply feeling no pain. A small soft hand stroked his cheek and tilted his face up. He felt the heady sensation his always got when ever Su’Len touched him directly, his head spun suddenly as her lips kissed his softly. He opened his eyes to keep from reeling and met hers.
“Good morning.” Su’Len smiled at him and straightened up, keeping a hand on his shoulder. She was still in her nightgown, a loose cotton shift that fell to the floor. Her woollen dressing gown was hanging open and flowed around her as she moved. Her feet were bare. Janithril continued to stare up into her face, enjoying what he expected was a brief respite from the sickness he was suffering form during the day.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes. I am now.” Janithril took her hips in his hands and held her in front of him still looking up into her eyes.
“Oh, you’re a sweetheart.” She said. She leant forward to kiss him on the forehead and for a moment, Janithril was enveloped in her long blond hair and the smell of roses. He breathed deep while she was close and detected a sickly sweet smell under the roses, and under that a darker musk that was the natural smell of his wife. He held his breath as she pulled away, as if to keep the smell of her close.
“Have you been with Ortil?” She had moved away to her little table and stool where she kept all her powders and creams. A small mirror stood on it and she studied her face in it closely as they talked. He told her that Ortil had suggested that he see a doctor about not sleeping. Su’Len pursed her lips and smacked them. She had always mixed her own cosmetics, crushing a whole barrel of rose petals and boiling them up with a cube or two of rendered pig’s fat. Her little fireplace was a tiny production line of miniature cauldrons. The dark pink of her lips stood out against her pale skin.
“Well, perhaps you should see his doctor. Who did he recommend? It wasn’t that quack Julien was it? He’s been snaking his way around the court and I’m sure he’s poisoned half of the court with his bizzare little meathods.”
Janithril tried to remember if Ortil had mentioned a name. “No, I’m not sure who it is.”
“Well good, I just hate little men like that. You know, he has those tiny hands, like a child! It makes me shiver to think of him touching me.” She tossed her hair and for a moment Janithril was utterly lost in the way her hair tumbled off her shoulders. In fact, sometimes when Janithril spent the mornings with his wife, watching her getting ready, he lost whole hours.
In the distance the bells had been ringing the time. When they struck 12 Su’Len called down the stairs for lunch to be brought up into the main bedroom where there was a small round breakfast table. She shrugged off her dressing gown and the girl who hurriedly brought up the two bowls of stew quickly helped her mistress into a glorious dark pink dress.
After lunch, Janithril wandered where his morning had disappeared to. Sitting on the delicate furniture in her boudoir with his wife the sweet incense of her skin just detectable from his chair across the room. He felt he had been asleep, yet without the unpleasantness of waking. Two hours had been lost and he had an appointment to keep with the king.
While taking the main steps down to the hall, Janithril suddenly felt spread too thin, his feet felt a very long way away, but this did not seem to bother him too much, collecting his jacket he buttoned to the collar and headed out towards the palace. The sky had turned a dark slate grey and threatened to rain.