Previous canto: "As Twice You Knew Me"
by Kevin F. Story
Their re-arrival took the guards by surprise, and so there was no one really to greet them except one particular guard who had drawn the short straw that evening. He sighed heavily under his heavy helmet, bored out of his heavy mind, while his comrades got heavier eating and drinking in the guards' mess hall. At first, he thought the approaching carriage was simply a mirage, wishful thinking for something to make this evening's watch worth the while, but when the cart stopped before him, nearly knocking him on end, he came to his senses.
“Qui vive?!” he called almost directly into the driver's ear after catching the pike that he had nearly boggled out of his hands.
The driver, annoyed by the guard but mostly by having to come all the way back to Porte Godfrey after they were so close to where they were going, had a few things to say to the guard, mostly about the guard's breeding, figure, and particular odour, which made the guard make an awful face as though he had swallowed something hideous. The guard would have retorted with steel had the words “prince” and “returned” not finally hit home in his head. Hastily, the guard opened the carriage door and yelled nasally towards the front entrance.
“His Majesty the Crown Prince of Darscinnia!”
Johannes von Blochstorgg snivelled as he always did as they ascended the steps to where the royal chambers lay. “Your Eminence, we are only too pleased that you should choose to be back in our humble Porte Godfrey, even on such short notice.”
Sir Reginald twitched slightly. “Are there vittles to be had? I—er—his Majesty did not yet have a chance to sup.”
“Oh, but of course! You must be most famished, your Loftiness! Alas, we have dined already this evening, but I'm sure the cook will be most pleased to provide the Prince with an exquisite supper.”
James whispered, “And the seal?”
“Yes,” said Delfort. “And the seal? Has no one come forward with it?”
“No, your Grace. But we shall see if it remains in your quarters.”
They stopped outside the door. The mayor inserted a large key and turned the lock. Delfort felt the back of his neck tingle as the room opened up before him, and for a moment he was still, peaceful, warm.
Sir Reginald's hand clasped Delfort's shoulder. In a low voice, the knight said, “You look daft. Get that foolish grin off your face.” The prince straightened up.
The mayor coughed. “I shall go tell the cook to keep the oven going. There will be more revelry tonight!”
Sir Reginald licked his moustache. Johannes gleefully showed off another of his absurd bows, a sort of half-curtsey with a generous bend at the waist, then frolicked in the direction of the kitchen, no doubt to ruin the chef's evening.
Delfort entered the room. It was the same room they had entered only a day before, but to Delfort it felt so much like an old friend.
“Here, James. Give me a hand.”
Together, Delfort and James opened chests, drawers, cabinets, and drapes. They pulled up the bed dressing, crawled under the bed, checked every floorboard and every corner. Sir Reginald, in all this, merely salivated lasciviously at the door, his mind farther from the task at hand than fish from living in desert sand. Resigned, the boys sighed and sat on the bed.
“It's not here,” said the prince. He knew already it would not be there. He knew there was only one person who could have it. One of two people.
“Your highness,” James said.
Delfort looked at him. From the way James looked back at him, he figured that James knew, too. The prince sighed again.
The cook himself came out to serve them in the great hall, where the fire roared at one end and the smell of delicious food wafted from the other. While he apologized that the meal was something he “just threw together,” the table quickly became filled with all manner of gastronomy, including roast goose au jus, sliced yams in a honey sauce, poached eggs with ham and hollandaise, braised wild asparagus dripping with garlic butter, a pair of mutton pies, wilted arugula in vinaigrette with fennel fronds and pungent cheese, three whole pan-seared swordfish covered in buttery lemon juice, and, taking up most of the table space, what appeared to be an entire side of beef. Delfort and James could not possibly eat all this food; Sir Reginald wondered if there would be enough.
“I hope it is all to your satisfaction,” said the cook to the prince.
“It is more than enough, surely. You did not have to go through so much trouble.”
“Nonsense!” cried Sir Reginald, who already had a sticky sauce in the webs of his fingers. “Er, that is to say, your highness,” he continued while chewing, “that clearly the chef has—mmm!—spared nothing to provide a princely—heavens!—a kingly feast! Hear, hear!”
With a bow, the cook left, one imagines, in order to survey the damage he recently inflicted on his kitchen. Prince Delfort wanted to dig in with all the fervour of his guardian, but his appetite was small. The matter of the seal's whereabouts lay weightily on his mind, blocking the particular centre in charge of feasting. He looked over to James, who sullenly scraped a few morsels onto his own plate. Delfort could tell that James was likewise occupied. A glance at Sir Reginald confirmed his suspicion that the portly knight would be far too busy to notice a small side conversation.
“James,” began the prince.
James did not look up. “I don't want to hear it. I know what you're about to say; maybe not exactly, but I have a feeling it's not going to be good.”
Delfort nodded. “I'm going to say it anyway. We need to find those young ladies.”
James pounded the table. Delfort's eyes widened at the sudden outburst. Sir Reginald even looked up from his activity.
“Quit that!” said the knight, gesticulating with a half-naked goose bone. Then he was back to his business.
It took a lot to get James to act out like that. He was really keeping it in all this time, thought Delfort. James stared right at him now, his eyes filled with a rarely seen passion. The prince had to come at him directly, but calmly.
“James, I know you are upset by my behaviour yesterday and today. It pains me to see how it affects you. But we have to move on if we are going to finish our task, get to Inglende, and, finally, get back home. Do you understand? We have to find my seal.”
“You lost it on purpose.”
Delfort looked perplexed. “Why would I do that?”
“To see your... mistresses again.”
Mistresses? Is that what they were? Anyway, it didn't matter to Delfort right now. He just needed James to understand, to help.
“I promise you I did not lose my seal on purpose.”
“I do. I swear it.”
“Good. I believe you.”
Delfort smiled. “Good, because it's true. Now, let's see if we can find it.”
“Wait. Promise me one more thing.” James struggled a bit with how to say what he wanted to say.
“We are going to have to see... them... again.”
“Most likely, yes.”
James sighed. “No matter what happened in the past, from now on, you have to be true to your intended.”
The girl he had not met yet, Delfort thought, sitting in some castle in the neighbouring kingdom. He had not thought much about her, but it seemed that James had. He needed to respect James' wishes; they came from some deeper nobility that Delfort could not grasp himself. It was admirable, perhaps. Delfort couldn't be sure. Delfort also couldn't be sure he could resist the wiles of lusty Clara or sweet Jacklynne.
“I will try my very best to remain true to my intended.”
“Good. And I will do my best to help.”
Great, thought Delfort.
They stood up. Sir Reginald stopped eating with a leg of something in his mouth and a spoonful of something else in his other hand. He eyed the boys with raised brows, seeming to ask the question, “Where are you going?”
“It's all right, Sir Reginald. We are just going for a walk.”
Sir Reginald looked around and almost whimpered.
“You can stay here.”
With that, the gregarious knight grunted and went back to his feasting, while the prince and his dutiful servant went to look for the missing seal. The hall was nearly empty, but the awful sounds produced by the knight's great jaws echoed and filled the room. He was in his ultimate happy place, his paradise found. God, he wished as he passed himself another helping of everything, if you would permit me in death to feast forever, I would be eternally glad for it.
“Amen!” he belched, making the rafters sing and his heart rattle with great joy. “Amen!”
Prince Delfort's journey continues next time in "Seal with a Kiss"...