That One Time I Went On A Quest

Kastor applied for a job he wasn't qualified for and got it. His employer? A woman known throughout the Realms as the greatest dragon slayer in the world.

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45. Princess Adelaia

The new winter palace is three times bigger than the old, taking up a swath of farmland big enough to feed a city. At least the old one had been given to the refugees as temporary shelter, or I too would want to hold a knife to a powdery royal neck.

What is the King doing while four hundred thousand people are struggling to rebuild their homes? According to the palace overseer – carpentry.

With wood. Making footstools and such.

Tragically, his adventurous daughter has fallen sick again, so he will no longer be attending the selection ceremony. This time, however, that excuse won’t fly.

Because Princess Adelaia is sitting right in front of me, feet on the table and picking her nose.

Sure brings back old memories.

‘You are choosing me?’ she asks, examining left and right the sizable prize stuck on her finger. ‘Why not Brother Kushan? He won the Games this year you know. Killing dragons would totally be his thing.’

‘Traumatising past experiences,’ I say to her.

‘You mean he’s a dickhead.’

That was so sudden and bizarre I almost drop the teapot. ‘What did you just – should princesses be talking like –’

‘I’m not a nice person you know.’ Adelaia takes her feet off the table and puts up her elbows instead, glaring right into my face. ‘The Palace of Kings doesn’t breed nice people. At the first sign of trouble I’ll run away and then you’d have do these stupid tests all over again to find another esquire. And no thank you, I only drink coffee.’

I put the esquire contract and the cup of camomile brew in front of her. ‘Sign or drink up. Your choice.’

‘Did you not hear what I just said, S-S-’ She struggles, face turning red. ‘-Sir Kastor? I’m not going to be good enough. Just look.’ She spreads out her arms, putting her diamond-laced, mud-stained, and extremely rumpled dress on full display, as if that by itself should convince heaven and earth.

‘What are you, scared?’ I say to her.

Adelaia’s face turns so red it could be mistaken for a boiling teapot. ‘You’ll have to take responsibility for this you know! When the – the Apex bites your head off and you turn around and I’m not there you’d better not go tell Brother Kushan! My final warning, Sir Kastor!’

‘That’s not going to happen. We are not going to kill the Apex.’

Her face freezes so suddenly in the middle of fire and fury I had to spit my mouthful of tea back into the cup. Not nice to laugh at a princess – even less nice to spew on her dress. If her dad found out I would be parted from my head, slayer of Rutherford or not.

Then again, if he found out his apparently-so-precious daughter is going to be a dragon slayer – no no, worry about that later.

I reach out and push her mouth shut. ‘You understand what it’s like to be surrounded by people yet be alone, don’t you, Adelaia?’

She looks back at me, confused…but not that confused. ‘What do you mean?’ she asks.

‘No point in me explaining it to you, for words can only be words.’ I shove contract under her nose. ‘Don’t mind your extremely capable brothers. I have not chosen them to be here. I chose you. So you should sign, or I’d be upset.’

I mime crying by rubbing my eyes; she doesn’t seem to like that.

‘Hmph! If I knew the hero of the Realms would be such a clown I wouldn’t have come!’

She says that, then takes up the pen with the tiniest of smiles, as if trying her hardest to hide it.

 

I take two wrong turns before finding the door to the royal suite. Rather wish one of the applicants would flood the cellars again; this fancy embroidery, these massive pictures of fruit lining the hallway…can’t wait to be rid of this place and get back on the prairies.

The door opens before I could knock.

‘So our princess has signed –’

Haylis yanks the scroll out of my hand and pulls me inside with excessive violence, slamming the door behind her.

‘Don’t you start having funny ideas! I won’t let you have your way with her!’ she growls.

‘Uh…what?’

‘A grown man, coercing an innocent young woman into being his esquire – what do you think I think?!’

I shove her back by the shoulders because her breath stinks of expensive wine. Wouldn’t want to look in the cellars right now. ‘She is suitable. You’ve both agreed with my assessment. Paperwork’s already done. Here.’ I put the contract in her hand and squeeze her fingers around it. 

‘Fine. Stupid Kastor. I’ll have to come along to make sure…’ The rest of Haylis’ mumble is lost as the door to the balcony swings open, ushering in a chilling breeze.

‘Don’t worry Haylis,’ Kathanhiel says, stepping inside and brushing shards of ice from her long locks. ‘Adelaia is not his type.’

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