This next entry is less ceremonial as the first entry. Something has happened to your journal and you must describe months of events into a new journal. This means that you must do some summarizing. Your time with Lord Gormund played out thusly:
You would go on to receive extensive training, like every Houseman serving a noble Lord. You learned horsemanship and how it use your grandfather’s sword. The next few days were filled with practice at spear and sword.
In the morning, everyone, down to the lower-ranking Housemen in the kitchen and the men and women who pulled sentry duty, gave their all and came away from the field with faces bright red from exertion. That you had been taken on as a servant was soon common knowledge throughout the mansion. The stable attendants treat you as a rank beginner and ordered you about. You’re like a rat, always scurrying.
And do keep in mind, this all comes from other sources.
“Hey, bastard! Every morning from now on, after we take the horses out to graze, clean out the stables. Bury the horse manure in that bamboo thicket.” Ser Uthrik told you one day.
After you had finished cleaning up the horse manure, one of the older Housemen told you, “Fill the big water jars.” And so it went on: “Split the firewood.” While you were splitting the firewood, you would be told to do something else. In short, he were the servants’ servant.
You were popular at first. People said, “Nothing makes her mad, does it? Her good point is that no matter what you tell ber to do, she doesn’t get angry.” The young Housemen liked you, but in the way that children like a new toy, and sometimes they gave you presents. But it was not long before people started to complain about you.
“She’s always arguing.”
“She flatters the master.”
“She takes people for fools.”
Since the younger samurai made a lot of noise over small faults, there were times when the complaints about you reached Lord Gormund’s ears.
“Let’s see how she does,” he told his Housemen, and let the matter drop.
That Lord Gormund’s wife and children always asked for you made the other young men of the household even angrier. Puzzled, you decided that it was difficult to live among people who did not want to devote themselves to work, as you yourself preferred to do.
King Amr, Gormund’s brother, had made one of their own Houseman the castellan of Mary’s Peak, and put him in charge of administering the provinces and collecting taxes. You hoped never to be on their bad side.
But the clan that Gormund watched most closely was naturally the House of Ath. Although their Lord had been gone for almost eight years, there were still letters and Housemen who came from his castle. Rumors abounded that Lord Ath’s baby was possessed, and that they had had to kill it. Whole towns were swept up by Lord Ath’s Housemen, not a single person left when their attacks were done. He, like Amr and Musa and Crom-cil-Orm, had proclaimed himself King.
The House of Ath was bringing in more troops, reports saying that they were possessed by some dark magic. Wild and frenzied.
“Bastard!” Morwan was looking for you in the garden.
Morwan looked up to the roof. “What are you doing up there?”
“Lord Gormund was complaining about a leak. I decided I would try to fix it for him before the rains.”
Morwan blanched at you. “It’s the middle of summer. Why do you work yourself as if you’re going to be whipped?”
You shrugged. “The weather has been fine so far, but it’ll soon be time for the fall rains. Calling the roofers after the rains start will be too late, so I’m finding split planks and repairing them.”
“That’s why you’re unpopular around here. By now all the Housemen are lying in the shade while you work hard to gain Lord Gormund’s favor. Or mayhaps Ser Uthrik’s?”
“I work for no one’s favor, ser. Just my own. Elsewise, I don’t wish to disturb others. Working up here keeps me from disturbing their naps.”
“Don’t talk like that. If the others see you doing this, they’ll be angry. Get down from there!”
“Sure. Do you have any work for me?”
“There are guests coming this evening.”
“What do you mean, ‘again’?”
“Lord Gormund’s sister, Clarissant.”
“How many in the group?” You climbed down from the roof. Morwan took out a parchment. “We’re just expecting Lord Gormund’s sister, Queen Clarissant. With a small host of twelve to safeguard her. They are meeting to discuss matters of great import.
“That’s a fair-sized group.”
“These men who protect her have dedicated their lives to the study of martial arts. There’ll be a lot of baggage and horses, so clear out the storehouse workers’ quarters, and we’ll put them up there for the time being. Have the place swept clean by evening, before they get here.”
“Yes, sir. Will they be staying long?”
“About six months,” Morwan said. Looking tired, he wiped the sweat off his face.
In the evening Queen Clarissant and her men brought their horses to a halt in front of the gate and brushed the dust off their clothes. Senior and junior Housemen came out to meet them, and gave them an elaborate ceremonial welcome. There were lengthy words of greeting from the hosts, and no less respectful and eloquent a reply from Queen Clarissant, a younger woman with eyelashes like butterflies. Ser Uthrik was in attendance and they exchanged more than a few glances in each other’s direction. Once the formalities were over, servants took charge of the packhorses and baggage, and the guests, led by Uthrik’s Uncle, entered the mansion compound.
You had enjoyed watching the elaborate show. Its formality made you realize how much the prestige of warriors had risen with the growing importance of military matters.
The number of Queen Clarissant’s party did not surprise you. But since they were going to be there for six months, you suspected rightly that you were going to be ordered around until his head spun. No more than four or five days had passed before he was being worked as hard as one of their own servants.
“Hey, bastard! My underwear is dirty. Wash it.”
“Lord Gormund’s bastard! Go to town and buy me some soap.”
The summer nights were short, and the extra work cut into your sleeping time, so at noon one day you was fast asleep in the shade of a maple tree. He was leaning against the trunk, your head dangling to one side and your arms folded. On the parched earth, the only thing that moved was a procession of ants. You could hear the waves lapping near the cliff of Mary’s Peak, for which it had been named.
Ser Uthrik walked past, arm in arm with Queen Clarissant, who had been coming to visit.
“Well, look here. It’s the bastard.” Ser Uthrik said.
You jumped, startled into wakefulness. There were a dozen Housemen in armor crowding you, led by Ser Uthrik and Queen Clarissant. You were crowded away, toward the peak.
“Stop this!” you said. “What are you doing?”
“You’ve taken the spot my lover once held in my Lord-brother’s favor. He’s told me all about you, girl.”
You unsheathed your grandfather’s sword from the Never that the giants had come from. “Face me, if you have the nerve!” You would die a hero’s death, you decided. And all would turn to folly.
Clarissant was silent. Her butterfly-eyes were spread wide. But the crack in her composure was quickly sealed. Her grin was a dagger; her lips the blood on the blade. “Bring him out.”
“Bring who–?” you protested, but Housemen were shoved aside as Clarissant’s Housemen who threw a man in a blue tunic into the room. Like Clarissant, he wore smothering furs even in the summer heat. He had a sack over his head and his grunts of protests were muffled. You recognized him. He seemed familiar. Would that you could have recognized him. Would that you even had a memory.
He was bound, and thrown onto the ground, near the cliffside, like you. “What is the meaning of this?” Ser Morwan said, pushing past other Housemen. But the Ser Uthrik seized his arm.
“Do you know the tragedy of the Days of the Drowned?” Clarissant asked, ignoring the man’s murmuring.
“This man will not be drowned!” you said.
Clarissant laughed. “I don’t plan to drown him. He’s nothing to do with the Day of the Drowned. The tragedy has to do with my father, King Lamorak. It was during the Year of Glory. Did you know he took me on campaign during that year?”
“Why are you telling me this?” you asked. The bound man’s scream was muffled by his gag. A Ser kicked him and he whimpered into silence. You sheathed your sword, against your better judgement.
“I watched my father’s bloody victories. I watched him give his soldiers permission to loot and pillage and rape. He partook in such activities himself from time to time. He had me watch. He wanted to temper me.” She circled the bound man. “And during that year there was a small rebellion.” She shrugged. “Of little note, really, save for one thing: the rebels lived in a small city where my father was born. He sacked that city. What ensued was more of the same that I had seen that year. He played his part in the pillaging and raping. But do you know what his advisor told him after he’d returned from squashing the rebellion?”
The bound man squirmed and earned a Ser’s boot thrice-over. He was rolling on the floor, one ear leaking blood. Clarissant looked at the man, then at you, and then she smiled.
“His mentor had his eyes dipped in the river that flows through the Never. He could see all, past present and future. And he told my father that he fucked his own Mother. And in nine months’ time, she would deliver a child into this world. So my father searched for any child born in that month and had every last one thrown into the sea. I’d love to follow his example. I’ve learned to hate bastards. When anyone can be your parent, many bastards stake a claim to the nobility. I hear that’s how the House of Em came to power.”
“A cute story.” you rolled your eyes. “But that doesn’t answer my question. Who is this man? He doesn’t look like a red eyed albino.”
“This is my brother. Lord Gormund of the House of Maugrim.” She unveiled him to reveal desperate, pleading eyes. You turned your gaze on Clarissant. Those butterfly eyes looked down at him, and then up at you. “He’s the man who killed you.”
You blinked your surprise. “What?”
She took the same pride in her speech as the assassin takes in his dagger. “I tried to stop it, but the coward had hidden a knife.” Clarissant produces a curved blade and a damp cold overtook you. “It shall be my greatest regret that I failed to save my brother’s greatest servant. But my lover must rise in station if we are to marry.”
“And what about me?”
“You—you’re merely the pawn. The excuse. You’re nothing. And I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. She thrust the knife through Lord Gormund’s throat and kicked him on to his face, blood welling across the floor.
“What do you mean?” The words cracked as they left your mouth. You were suddenly aware of all Clarissant’s men crowding about you.
Clarissant walked calmly, so calmly towards you. You stepped back on shaky knees to nowhere but the low rampart and the high drop beyond.
“I heard stories about how much you did around the caslte. How you advanced in studying the sword. Gormund might’ve made you castellan, forgetting your bastardry and the black union that made you.”
“More of a dark gray, really,” you laughed, nervously.
Clarissant smiled; lowered her knife an inch. “You’re no castellan, but you’d make a fine jester. But to make a jester a castellan as my brother planned, well,” she raised the knife once more, “That’s just foolhardy.”
Ser Morwan snatched your arm and dragged you back, drawing his sword in the same motion. “Get behind me, my—”
Blood spattered into your face, nearly blinding you. “Morwan!” You shrieked.
Your friend fell to his knees, gurgling and clutching uselessly at his throat as the blood slithered between his fingers.
You followed the path of the knife that had drawn your brother’s blood and saw the man who had ruffled your hair all those years ago, Ser Uthrik, his dagger dribbling red. Frozen in shock, you watched as Uthrik sauntered over to Clarissant and placed a deep and passionate kiss full on her lips. He gasped when they parted and turned to you, his arm around your attacker’s waist.
“A bastard and a lunatic who thinks she’s can rule,” he said.
“But I didn’t—”
“You are no castellan,” he said. “You should have died that night I first found you.”
Clarissant spoke. “Do you think there’s anybody in this room who was not aware of this arrangement? Save this fool?” She kicked Morwan’s skull. The movement sent more blood leaking from his throat. “Even your own Lord sent you to your death. And his own.” You were not sure if she was lying about this. “Let us waste no more time. Ser Uthrik. Kill him.”
The Ser leaped for you, and you stumbled away so that Uthrik caught you by your swordbelt. You glanced at your grandfather’s sword, a pain in your chest as a man who is about to lose his lover.
A patch of mud took your feet out from under you and sent you stumbling back toward the sheer drop. Then your swordbelt broke loose and you reeled back. There was a whoop in your throat, and you tumbled over the castle.
Rock and water and sky revolved around you, and you plummeted down. Disposed of, just another piece of waste, you realized. You smiled, then. It seemed fitting.
You crashed into the water and felt some pity for the anvil that receives the blacksmith’s hammer. You knew how it felt.
The waves dragged you down, down, down…