The Servant CrownThis will be the third book in the series. The first two, The Servant Prince and The Servant King (Ice Dragon Tales) is not available right now but will be again soon, along with The Servant Crown, Diagus's story. I don't have a blurb just yet but I do have a very unedited first chapter. Here it is. As always, I hope you like it. I expect to have both Ice Dragon Tales and The Servant Crown out early next year. Let me know what you think.
Tama was the last to leave the graveyard. His father, angry and disheartened, had left at least fifteen minutes earlier, right after the priest said his final Commitment Prayer. Even the priest at that point, with a quick nod to Tama and a brief, harried look around, gathered up his robes and fled as if some demon chased him. Sadly, other than the grave diggers, who worked to cover the grave even as Tama stood there, the wet dirt making a hollow sound as it hit the coffin, the three of them had been the only ones who bothered to witness Kelay’s burial. Of course, the continuous February sleet didn’t help, making the ground greasy and treacherous. Still, Tama was sad for Kelay that no one else came.
Tama sighed as he trudged through the freezing mud to the heavy iron gates of the cemetery. Although women died in childbirth all the time, he was still in shock his sister had suffered such a fate. She had been strong and healthy right up to the moment she announced she was in labor. The woman who had suddenly appeared days earlier, a woman who identified herself as a midwife, gave no indication there was even a problem, only that Kelay had given birth to a robust and strong son. Except, minutes afterward, something went horribly wrong.
Exactly what, Tama had no idea, and his father was ignorant as well. Tama should never have left the house. He had been told the birth would take hours yet so he decided to tend to the animals. He had been in the barn when Kelay breathed her last. Sensing something wrong, Tama hurried back to her room only to catch the midwife packing her wares and hastening out the door, his father wailing that he had lost his precious daughter and a baby crying heartily on the bed next to a lifeless Kelay.
To think, even carrying a crown prince couldn’t save her.
Yes, that was the story Kelay had told them. She had been impregnated by a king. But no one other than his father truly believed her.
Kelay wanted out of Beourn Hilman’s house. Beourn was their abusive, gluttoness, lazy father. She felt her only hope was finding a husband. Once she reached of age, she began her search. However, in Elven Port, there were no great opportunities for the likes of the Hilman family. Those with money had options. But with no possible dowry, Kelay had few prospects. So, unfortunately, she chose to frequent the ale houses, carousing with the sailors, pirates and ruffians. Tama knew Kelay obviously did far more than just drink with them, though. Sometimes she didn’t come home for days. So how she knew her offspring had royal blood Tama had no clue. But he was also aware women were mysterious in that respect so neither he nor his father ever questioned it.
She had been so happy, making her plans to travel to Castle Blade Rain to tell the king herself. But only after the baby was born. “To be sure,” she had said. “To be certain.”
Their father, too, had beamed as Kelay’s belly grew round and heavy. “He will be a big baby,” he boasted to her at least once a day, giving Kelay any of the extra food, encouraging her to eat heartily. “He will be a boy the king will be proud of.”
“Aye, father, he will indeed.”
“Why do you have to wait, Kelay?” Tama had asked her early on. “You have certainly told enough people already, have you not? Why not travel to the castle and tell him now?”
“You fool, Tama! How can there be proof he is the father before the child is born? I need to wait to see the baby’s eyes. That will be the proof.”
“Oh yes! King Diagus’s eyes are the bluest blue I have ever seen. Surely the baby will have them and no one will question his birthright – or mine.”
Tama had scoffed at that. “How is it you are so certain the baby is a boy in the first place and what possible birthright could you claim, Kelay?”
“Women’s intuition, my brother. And my birthright comes from the fact I am the child’s mother, of course! The rumors are the mighty king of Blade Rain needs to marry to produce an heir but takes no woman to his bed. Fate may have it that he is waiting for me. He will make me his queen, you wait and see.”
Tama had doubted that particular scenario of Kelay’s intuition, where the king would marry her. But, the part about the baby being a boy and having amazing blue eyes had both been true. If the king had eyes this color then even Tama would have to believe Kelay’s story of how she became pregnant, however sordid.
Tama was now sad, though, that even he had a bit of that “woman’s intuition”. His doubt had also been true. Kelay would not be marrying the King. It broke Tama’s heart that the big strapping baby, who cried out in a strong voice right from the start, unfortunately was calling for a mother who would never come.
He smiled when he heard the baby’s wails even before he arrived back to the front door of the cottage where they all lived. He was most likely hungry again. There had been a nursemaid called in by a caring neighbor to help with the feedings directly after Kelay’s death. But unfortunately that lady did not have enough milk to feed both her son and Kelay’s hungry boy so another had to be located. In the meantime, Tama had fashioned a bottle of sorts out of a wine skin, allowing for the baby to suck cow’s milk from it. The child had become content immediately, cuddling into Tama’s chest, slurping loudly as he took nourishment. Tama knew in that moment, he loved the small child as if he were his own. Even rejoicing silently that a new nursemaid had yet to be found.
Tama entered the small house and went immediately to the cold storage where the cow’s milk was being kept and filled the makeshift bottle. He then went to the cradle where the baby fussed from and picked him up. He glanced at his father who was sitting by himself and staring into the fire in the hearth, saying nothing, not even acknowledging Tama’s arrival. Tama sighed. Ever since Kelay had announced she was pregnant with a king’s baby and her assurance they were all soon to become royalty and move to the palace, he had no time for Tama other than to shout out the endless chores needing to be done and to beat him for his slowness to finish them all at once. Day after week after month he endured his father’s irrational behavior while his sister enjoyed lazy days, additional blankets and surplus food when there was any. Even to the point of Tama going hungry if he was late to the table due to any number of delays which his father often made sure of.
He loved his sister but was dismayed at her willingness to encourage their father’s harsh actions against him.
“It is for the greater good, Tama. You will soon never be hungry again!”
Another oddity was that Beourn had insisted Kelay have a Christian burial. Not that any of them had attended a church. But, it seemed, Beourn was not going to tempt God’s wrath by simply burying Kelay in the field in an unmarked grave. No. Beourn absolutely insisted she be in hallowed ground and be personally blessed by the local priest even though it was not free and coin was a rare visitor in their house.
“You will have to take the baby to the castle.”
Tama had sat down at the tiny table in the kitchen area to avoid having to be in his father’s sight line. Even though he was doing a most important chore, feeding the king’s baby, he was afraid his father would insist he do one of the tens of other things he had already listed out for him this morning, nearly preventing him from attending the burial. For a moment, since pleasant conversation was infrequent between them, Tama wondered who the man was speaking to. Seeing no one else, he repeated what he thought he heard. “You want me to take the baby to the castle?”
“Yes. That king must accept this baby as his own and give us gold in return.”
“Gold in return? What are you talking about, father?”
He turned then, with that fierce look of craziness he always seemed to have when he looked at Tama. “Of course, gold, my daft son! What else? Sheep? Cows? We cannot afford to keep such lavish things. You must ask for gold. Then return with it and we will finally live the way we should live, being related to a king.”
“Why would he give me gold, father? Are you suggesting I leave the baby with him?”
“Yes, yes, of course, boy! Leave the child, take the gold and come home. An easy task.”
“I thought the intent was to live in the castle.”
“Without Kelay there is no longer any hope of that. The only thing left is to obtain gold for the child.”
“But have you no care for this child? No love? He is your grandson!”
The man slowly removed himself from his chair and walked toward Tama. For the first time in a long time Tama did not recoil. He held the baby, the king’s child. His father would not dare to touch him now. But then his father looked at the child as if he looked upon something fearful and Tama was no longer sure. He said quietly, “You will go in the early morning. Having to negotiate the Grey Mountains, Blade Rain is a good week away by fast horse. You will not have a fast horse.”
Tama looked down to the baby’s face as he hungrily sucked at the milk, his little hand clinging tightly to Tama’s shirt, his sweet blue gaze seeking Tama’s. “How will I keep him alive on that long of a trip? The nights are frigid, yet. The baby may not survive. Let us wait for a few weeks, until it is warmer.”
The older man sighed heavily. “Yes. I suppose. It can’t be helped.” But he huffed then. “Think of it, my son. We will soon be rich.”
“We are without Kelay. Now you want to rid us of her son. Is wealth the only thing you cherish?”
His father laughed but it sounded sad.
Or maybe Tama simply imagined it.
The days passed swiftly after that and spring became summer. Tama’s days were full, he was far too busy to discuss a departure time with his father.
“After I get the crop in, father. Wait for that at least.”
“I need to take care of the weeds, father. The crop will most surely die if I don’t. Give me a few days.”
“The sun is too hot to take the boy out. We need to wait for a break in the weather.”
And as the days and then months flew by, the baby grew. Tama named him Aydin, which was elven for “prince”, something Tama’s father was unaware of. He just seemed happy to be able to call the child by other than “Kelay’s boy”. Soon Aydin was sitting up and “talking”, calling Tama “Papa” and Beourn, “Boppa”. Thankfully, Aydin was eating solid foods now and Tama was able to allow his father to once again sell the cow’s milk, making him very happy. It brought a small amount of coin into the house, coin Beourn fiercely guarded in a jar somewhere in his bed chamber.
And as always, Mrs. Bustress, Elven Port’s most wealthy resident, was their best customer.
“I just had to come by and see Aydin’s beautiful blue eyes again, Beourn. Quite the looker he will be when he grows up. I’ve been telling everyone that for months!”
“Yes, Mrs. Bustress. I believe so, too. Now you said you wanted all the milk?”
“Go to bed, Tama.” Tama’s father told him one evening after Tama had finally gotten Aydin to sleep. Tama was bone tired from the constant stream of responsibilities that his father heaped on his shoulders. He had not slept well in too long, keeping an ear open for Aydin. The boy was teething and had bouts with fever and night terrors and Tama needed to be there to calm him. His father couldn’t be called on to help, either. Not only because of his laziness, but because, sometimes, Tama had the thought Beourn believed the child was cursed. Rare was the time when he would even touch the child, much less hold him or comfort him.
“Yes. I plan on it. Is there any supper for me?”
“Alas, boy, I am sorry. There is only a crust left of the bread you made. Here.” He handed a nice sized chunk to Tama who was grateful to have anything at that moment.
“Thank you. But, I am surprised. There has to be meat from the rabbits we caught in the traps, no? And what about the turkey I was able to shoot with my bow and arrow?”
“Ahhh, yes. I will cook all those up tomorrow and you can have as much as you want. I will even rise early and make a hearty breakfast of cakes and eggs.”
“Cakes and eggs? We have no flour for cakes and I thought you sold all the eggs once again to Mrs. Bustress when she came by the other day.”
“Yes, I sold her most of the eggs and in return, she gave me flour.”
“You saved eggs for us this time? Well, then! I will most assuredly look forward to a grand breakfast before I begin my day. What a treat that will be! I can hardly wait. Thank you, my father.”
His father had oddly grinned then. Looking back, Tama should have known better. It had been the first time since before Kelay had claimed to be pregnant from a powerful king that his father had spoken so politely to his only son. The first time in a very long time he was offered any form of kindness. Oh yes, he should have been on the aleart. For when Tama awoke the next morning, concerned he hadn’t been roused in the night by Aydin, he discovered the baby and his father gone. The cradle was empty, his father’s bed never even slept in, all the food had disappeared and their one and only horse, Rego, was missing as well.
“No!” Tama had whispered into the early dawn, his heart in his throat. How long had his father been planning this; begging for Tama to hunt this past week, even after he had been successful with the traps? How had Tama slept through them leaving? He usually slept so lightly. But the chores had been enormous and endless and last night, right before Tama trudged off to his loft, his father had even shared a small bit of his ale. Could his father have raided his healing herbs pouch and concocted a sleeping potion? Again, how had he missed it?
And how would he catch up to them? They surely had at least a few hours head start. Even if they had only a single hour it would still be impossible. They were on horseback, Tama, on foot. But it didn’t matter. He had to catch up to them before his father gave the baby away to the king of Blade Rain.
Tama quickly rumaged through the cottage to find anything his father may have left that would help him on his journey. He rolled up a change of clothes in his sleeping bag along with his flint and small ax. He next grabbed his knife and his bow and arrows, hoping to take down at least some small prey by time he laid his head down tonight seeing his father left him no food at all.
His stomach growled and he cursed his father for lying to him. He had fallen asleep with the thoughts of filling his stomach this morning. Not going hungry yet again and chasing off to rescue his child.
Yes. His child. Aydin was his. The little tyke was only months old but he made Tama’s life so bright and happy, giving him up to a total stranger, even if he was a king, wasn’t an option. He looked forward so much coming home to those little arms that would wrap powerfully around his neck. And he simply loved covering that cherub face with kisses.
“Papa home!” his little voice would sound out.
“Oh yes, my big boy. Papa is home.”
“Tico, tico!” and Aydin’s little fingers would “tickle” Tama wherever he could reach.
Tama’s heart would swell each time with great happiness at Aydin’s energy. He couldn’t help but take the time to play with him, even when Tama was dead tired from the day, tickling him and making them both laugh. Often to the dismay of his father.
“You’re spoiling the lad. He needs to be taught life is full of work and pain, not laughter.”
Tama cringed at his father’s constant berating of him although he wondered whether Beourn knew much of work anymore. However, if anyone knew those harsh words were truth, it was Tama.
“However, being the lad will soon be sitting at the king’s table,” his father continued, “he just might escape such things. Speaking of which, when are you going to do what I told you to do months ago and take the child to the castle Blade Rain? The weather is once again becoming unpredictable. Another couple weeks and it may become impossible to move through the Gray Mountains.”
“Father, why speak of this again? Aydin is happy here with us, is he not?”
But he had known the old man was not going to let it go, knew the lure of his imagined gold they would be offered in return was too strong. Why had he not heeded those thoughts? Why had he not done exactly as Beourne had done; taken the child, the food, and Rego, and strike out on his own, leaving his father to pitch and moan all by himself?
The final thing Tama took was a pretend rabbit Tama had made for Aydin out of leftover white rabbit fur. He had fashioned a body and head with long ears and even managed to blacken the fur where the eyes and nose should be. He stuffed it full of aromatic herbs and specially dried forest gatherings. Then he laid the rabbit in the moonlight seven times, inviting the protection spirits to enter, invoking them to keep the bearer of the rabbit safe from all evil. Aydin loved the thing and even slept with it every night. Beourne had, of course, chastised Tama for wasting his precious time with the project. But when Tama saw how Aydin took to the talisman, he beamed at his father.
“See? The boy doesn’t think I have wasted my time.”
“He is only a child! He has no mind to understand the responsibilities of an adult. You are daft if you accept a mere smile as payment for your labors!”
Still, that was exactly how those smiles felt for Tama. And the smile was always there for him, no matter what it was that Tama did, even for just the act of coming in the door after a long day. Those little hands and knees would carry him immediately to Tama. “Pay, papa, pay?”
“Oh yes, my sweet Aydin. Of course, papa will play.” And they would bounce the rabbit around the floor pretending they were a rabbit family in the deep wood. Aydin would actually squeak his enjoyment and hug the fake rabbit again and again. Kissing it as often as he would kiss Tama. It was no surprise his father would leave such a happy thing behind.
Tama looked over his field of alfalfa as he readied himself for departure. He had been thinking to begin the harvest soon. After keeping what he deemed he could for their own horse and cow, he fully intended on trading the rest for needed winter supplies including seed for the following spring. He had even thought of negotiating for a pair of new boots, having patched and repatched and re-repatched the boots he had on. But he doubted he or his father would be back here to this place. He would stop in town and tell Mr. Olson at the feed mill to send someone and take in the harvest instead. At least someone would benefit from it. Maybe tend to the chickens and their one lone cow, too.
If his father ever returned – well, he no longer cared.
Tama turned toward the south and hurried toward the castle Blade Rain.