Goddess of a Mad King Excerpt – Breaton
The Poor Man’s Squire lived up to its name in the squalor that plagued the neighborhood below Cross Street. Located on a dirt side street it was almost lost between a slaughterhouse and a two-story brothel that leaned heavily on the smaller building. The window that looked out on the rutted street was missing one shutter and the other was hanging by just one peg. The door, a crude oaken monstrosity, was crooked in its frame allowing a cold stream of air to chill the patrons.
The group shoved through the door and were greeted with familiarity by the barkeep with rheumy eyes and skin so white it was almost translucent. His wife, the owner of the establishment, smiled at them and began wiping down the only large table in the room with a dingy rag that would have been better suited for mopping floors. The young men didn’t mind though. Their thoughts were on drink and cards rather than cleanliness.
As they waited for their beer, conversation drifted from subject to subject until it landed firmly on their upcoming assignments within the military.
Garin, the blond with the down on his chin, was the first to speak up. “Have you heard they are putting us with Foot?”
“That’s what I heard. We will be assigned to the Foot and sent to clean out the Brokenlands once and for all,” claimed a young man with a broad chest and deep booming voice.
“You’re an idiot, Carson,” Garin retorted. “They won’t send first-year squires into that hell hole.”
Loris, a lean muscled youth with eyes as blue as the ocean and hair the color of burning coals continued the subject, “All you should be sure of, is that our mothers supported Mateos as heir to the throne and though we are Traders’ sons we can never look forward to being promoted to positions of prestige as long as Rakin is King.”
The mistress of the tavern arrived with the first round of drinks and served them with well-practiced movements. Though the mistress and her trades-husband were friendly towards the boys, the squires were cautious enough stop talking about Rakin until she returned to the kitchen area.
Once she was out of earshot, those gathered at the table continued their grumbling and stared moodily at their bitter ale. Medwin banged his mug on the rough boards of the table. “You’re right Loris,” he said once he gained their attention. “But if you don’t like your situation why not change it?”
“And just how do you propose we do that?” Garin asked.
“Let’s just form our own unit,” Carson said with a wry smile. “We’ll call it ‘The Hand’ because there’s five of us, and station ourselves here at the Squire so we can protect this quality establishment.”
There was a chorus of “Here, here’s,” and laughter as the young men lifted their mugs to the idea.
Carson continued with a swagger in his voice. “And, if we fight the Burks, we have a chance to be promoted. Maybe a trader’s daughter will find us worthy as a war-swain.”
“Always thinking of romance no matter the risk,” Breaton said with a roll of his eyes.
As the joking quieted, Medwin leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Really, though, I might have a way to escape Rakin’s plans. I’ve been approached by someone who says he may have a way out for us. Why don’t we meet tonight and talk it out?”
“Wait!” Breaton growled. “You know what happened to my uncle Mateos. He crossed Rakin and now he’s dead. If Rakin finds out we are even talking about this subject our lives aren’t worth the spit in our beer.”
Medwin acknowledged Breaton’s fears with a wry smile. “We need to be careful, for sure. But if we get sent to the Brokenlands we are dead anyway. My vote is we see what my associate has in mind. We can always say ‘no.’”
Breaton shook his head in disbelief. His friends’ fear of the Brokenlands was well deserved. The rolling hills of scrub and volcanic rock that bordered Delosia and Calistar were a constant source of irritation for the governments of both countries. The people that lived within that jumbled mess, the Burks, were masters of ambush. They could surround an entire column and then melt into the scrub and rock as if they were never there, leaving nothing but the dead to tell the story. I would be a fool to discount the seriousness of that assignment. But they have never dealt with my uncle face to face. Nor have they looked into his eyes and seen the madness just below the surface.
Breaton glanced at the faces around the table. Each seemed to be agreeing with Medwin. Don’t they realize the danger they are putting themselves into? “Look, I’m not saying that we can’t explore options. We just don’t need to endanger ourselves with secret meetings and put our trust in strangers.”
“Chicken,” Medwin teased before continuing. “Seriously though, there is some sort of large engagement that the commanders are planning. If we don’t want to end up as point guard for the Foot in the Brokenlands we need to move now.”
Breaton thumped his mug on the coarse wood of the table. “No way I’m going against the assignments. It would be seen as insubordination and I’m already viewed as a traitor’s son. I’m dead if I speak up.”
His words seen to stir up some concerns from the others. Grumbling arguments broke out around the table.
Finally, Loris rapped his fist, gathering the attention of all. “As I see it, we have only two choices. We accept our assignments whatever they are or we listen to Medwin’s guy and see if he can help change our situation.”
Loris allowed the choices to sink in before he continued. “Remember, our mothers’ choices almost guarantee we will be placed in a unit that receives heavy casualties. Once the assignments are made, we will be unable to change them. We will be living in the barracks where we will be watched by our ranking officers. So once assigned, we have no options. However, if there is a way to change the assignments before we are sent to new units, we may as well give it a try.”
Breaton’s thoughts were in turmoil. Loris always thinks things through before he speaks. What if he is right and I’m dead anyway? At least I can hear out Medwin’s friend and maybe have a chance. He looked at his four friends, each quietly sipping their drinks, deep in their own thoughts.
“So, shall we raise our mugs in agreement and take the chance, or should we just drink ourselves silly?” Medwin asked, raising his pint for a toast.
One by one, the others at the table raised their mugs to meet his, leaving Breaton the odd man out. He picked up his mug, swirled the contents as he considered his options, then raised it to meet the others.