“Left, right, left…” the call echoed along with the clack of wooden swords clashing together across the courtyard, “Down, right, left…”
Step back, raise the sword to block, and… Illyon grunted as the force of the swing shuddered through his body, shoving him a step back. Still, he stood his ground, his arms trembling as he waited for his opponent to move away. As he did, Illyon swung at the man, but he ducked out of the way, and a hard force slammed into his chest, sending him sprawling. His sword skidded across the sand, well out of his reach. Illyon sighed and sat up, staring up at the older man standing over him with a small smile tugging at his lips.
“Well fought, my lord.” The man said.
“Yes, but not well enough.” Illyon sighed, dusting himself off.
“You will grow better with practice.” The man promised, shrugging, “No one is a master at the sword when they’re born.”
“Yes—and I’m not just born.” Illyon pointed out, scowling, “One more round. I think I can properly execute the move this time.”
“Tomorrow.” The man shook his head, “Rest is also important to training.”
“I can go another round.” Illyon protested, “I’m barely tired.”
“Your mother, her grace and your siblings are waiting for you in the hall.” The man reminded him, “The king is returning today.”
“I suppose so.” Illyon sighed, “Will you train me again tomorrow?”
“Perhaps, my lord.” He bowed slightly, and turned away to head towards the armory, leaving Illyon to frown in his direction.
Illyon shook his head, and turned away from the courtyard as well, “Draw up a bath and have my best ready.” He ordered as he strode from the yard and through the doors of the east tower, “And have Tridon saddled.”
Even though it hadn’t taken Illyon very long to reach his room, a lukewarm bath was ready, his clothes spread out on his bed. He grimaced as the servant pulled the shirt over his head, trying to ignore the twinge of pain that shot down his shoulders when he raised his arms. The water was warm and welcome, but he didn’t have long to linger. The servant roughly scrubbed the dirt and grime from his skin, and hurriedly dressed him in his soft velvets. He was later than he had thought.
He leapt on his horse, and urged him into a canter, but by the time he had crossed the distance from the east tower to the central grounds, the king was already leading his procession through the main gates. His mother and siblings were certainly already in the council room, ready to meet his father, but he didn’t have time to dismount and race in through the doors.
His horse took a few steps back, shaking his head as the procession passed, “Father—your grace—“ he stammered, “I am sorry for… not being more…”
His father’s glare silenced him, and he drew back as the king didn’t spare him another glance after passing him. The man at the right of his father gave him an apologetic shrug, but the rest of the procession ignored him just as much.
The man he was fighting moments before drew up beside him, an amused look on his face, “I see you did not make it, my lord.”
Illyon scowled, “I should not have come at all.” he muttered.
The man didn’t reply. He was a broad man, making even the heavy-set stallion under him seem dwarfed. Hints of a beard grew around his chin, but he was bald, with a long, but crooked nose, and a rough face that looked as if it was molded from clay.
They watched the procession in silence, leading with the king, his commanders and the mounted soldiers, to the foot soldiers, and finally a straggling band of captives, herded by men with spears.
“Who are they?” Illyon finally asked, frowning. They had been at war so many times, it often slipped his mind what land beyond the Wall they were fighting now.
“High born captives from Myr, most likely, my lord.” The man answered, “To be held hostage, or to be wards, most likely.”
“Those are all the captives?”
The man gave him a cautious, side long glance, “No—not all, my lord.”
“Then the rest?”
“At the ports, to be sold as slaves.”
Illyon’s frown deepened and he turned his horse away from the castle towards the front gates as the last of the procession disappeared behind the heavy front doors of the castle.
“Where do you plan to go, my lord?”
“To the bay.”
He could hear the man sigh heavily behind him, but he stoutly ignored it, riding down the stone path to the gates. Soon, he could hear the steps of the man’s horse following close behind him. Illyon smiled slightly—even his mother couldn’t complain if he had Ser Gaarwain with him. His father would be furious, sure, but he would have been furious if he had walked in through those doors at the moment. He could face him later, preferably after the feast, when he was well enough sated with rich foods and wine. The wine, mostly.
Illyon wondered what the people of Myr would be like when he reached the port. Would they bow low, like their slaves did, or was there a different custom in Myr? Most of the captives that passed him bared their teeth and glared at the soldiers, but they were of high birth, unaccustomed to being treated harshly. He wanted to ride at a gallop to the bay—to watch the drab houses of the town fly past him. But the streets were narrow, and Ser Gaarwain cleared his throat warningly every time he pressed a little speed.
The bay was a lot further than he had imagined. He had always been able to see the sea from his room’s window, so Illyon had assumed that it was fairly close—a moment’s ride, if not less. But the sun was already starting to dip down over the horizon when they arrived at the bay, much to his annoyance. They would definitely miss the feast, and his father would take more offence in that. But he was here, and it wouldn’t have mattered much differently to his father if he arrived at the feast halfway through it, or when it was over. So he dismounted at the edge of the town and walked to the harbor, Ser Gaarwain close behind him.
Illyon didn’t know which was worse—the stench, or the state of the harbor. It was hardly more than a rotting wooden shelf hanging out onto the open water, where equally filthy boats bobbed and rocked to every movement of the sea. There weren’t many people at the bay—there was always more in the port, where merchants and wealthier sailors docked. But neither the merchants nor the sailors wanted to see the slaves any earlier than they had to.
“We should return to the castle before dark, my lord.” Ser Gaarwain said, turning his horse around, “Perhaps the slaves were already sent to Asterport.”
Illyon nodded slowly. He had wanted to see the Myrs, but he didn’t know if they were there anymore, and he hardly thought that he could handle the stench anymore. He sighed, and turned to walk back to his mount, when the crack of a whip rang in his ears.
Illyon wheeled at the sound, narrowing his eyes. A red-faced man was edging closer to a ragged boy, his arms waving in the air as he roared at him, whip flying freely. The boy’s stare was fixed on the floor, even as the whip caught him in the face and sent him stumbling onto the ground. He didn’t flinch as another flurry of blows landed around him. It was as if he didn’t even notice the cuts that the barbed whip left in his skin, the cut on his cheek dribbling blood down to his chin.
“What are you doing?” Illyon said, putting himself between the boy and the man, forcing the man to lower his arm.
“M-my prince…” the man stammered, the blood rushing from his face, “You are not… What brings you to this part of the city?”
“I go wherever I please.” Illyon snapped, “I asked you what you were doing.”
“Just disciplining him, my lord.” The man said, glaring behind his shoulders at the boy, still seated on the ground, “He refuses to greet his masters properly.”
“You are no longer to discipline him.” Illyon ordered, trying to stare down at the man like he had seen his father do to other men. He was shorter than the slaver, but he had seen his father able to cower men much larger than himself with the stare.
“B-but, my lord… no one will buy a slave that will not…” the man trailed off.
“I will.” Illyon decided, “How much is he?”
“No, my lord.” The man said, “He’s not a good slave—I have many more—stronger, obedient slaves. I would sell you one of those.”
“I do not want them.” Illyon said, narrowing his eyes, “Will you refuse your prince?”
“No, of course not, my lord.” The man pasted on a thin smile, “Then I insist you take him. As a gift.”
Illyon clenched his jaw, but nodded, “Thank you.”
The man stared at him for a second more, as if expecting something else, before turning away with a snort. Illyon watched him disappear behind a house, before turning to see the boy, still staring at the ground. He leaned over to offer his hand to the boy.
“You’re safe now.” He promised, smiling slightly, “I won’t do anything like him.”
The boy took his hand, and pulled himself up, swaying slightly as he stood. He still refused to tear his gaze off of the rotting wood floors.
“What’s your name?”
The boy kept silent, shaking his head slightly. Illyon frowned—was that to mean that he didn’t have a name?
He didn’t have long to ponder it, before Ser Gaarwain drew up in front of him, a tight frown knitted his brows, but a small smile was tugging on the corner of his lips, nonetheless. “What am I to tell his grace?” he asked, sighing.
Illyon gave a small shrug, “We should return.”
“As you say, my lord.”