Unexpected

The King wasn’t what she expected, he was shorter for one thing. And much younger for another. Laya glared at her Captain as they left the Audience Room.

“Why didn’t you tell me His Majesty was a child?”

Captain Sarish looked surprised. “I thought you knew.”

“And how, exactly, would I know?”

“Oh, yes. I’d forgotten you’ve been a bit out of touch in the past few years.”

Well that was one way of putting it. Laya rolled her eyes and took off down the corridor.

“I haven’t dismissed you yet.”

Laya knew her eyes were glowing as she glanced back, and for once, she didn’t give a damn.

“I’m not off duty Captain, I’m merely relocating to the training yards in the interests of general safety.”

“Laya.” Her captain sighed. “Do what you need to do. I’ll have a word with the Archives and have them assign someone to you for the next week to bring you up to date and answer any of your questions.”

That eased the frustration a little. “Thank you.”

Conversations stopped, then started again, in hushed tones, when she strode into one of the training yards, making for the rack of practice weapons on the far side.

She pulled a sword out and hefted it, testing its weight and balance. Not what she was after today. This workout needed to be with lighter, faster weapons. She spotted a set of Jarenase blades tucked in the corner, dull and dusty. They’d be fine as they were for forms, then she’d clean them up, while giving the weapons master the benefit of her observations on his maintenance practices.

She moved to the centre of a wide circle painted on the wooden floor, empty and away from the other groups running through their various drills. She settled into a ‘ready’ position and began to clear her mind of all but the forms to follow.

“Hey. Girl. What do you think you’re doing in here?”

Laya turned a cold stare on the burly man lumbering towards her. “What does it look like? And who the hell are you to care anyway?”

“I am this castle’s weapons master and I do not allow silly little girls to play with toys that might hurt them.”

“Oh, so you’re the cretin behind the condition of these blades. Don’t worry ‘weapons master’, these swords are so blunt and rusty, it would take me an hour to cut your hand off with it. Would you like me to demonstrate?”

The idiot kept coming, oblivious to the breathless whispers of the better-informed guards around him. Interesting that none of them saw fit to intervene.

“Master Dragar” A high, imperious voice from the doorway stopped the man in his tracks.

He turned and bowed. “Your Majesty, this is an honour.”

“Is it? I thought it was about to be a massacre. What in the name of all the goddesses are you doing trying to aggravate my new fae guard?”

Dragar snorted. “That girl’s not fae, she’s barely even female.”

Charming. Laya lifted a brow and twirled one of her blades.

“Actually, I’m a changeling. Of sorts. Your current king’s grandfather sold me off to the fae when his son showed too much fondness for a merchant’s daughter instead of the princess he was meant to marry. I was brought back two weeks ago to fulfil a deathbed wish.”

The weapons master laughed. “That’s quite a story girl. Now how about the truth.”

She stepped closer, still gently swinging the sword. “And what would that be Eugene? That they came for your cousin, shed the blood of your family in the taking, while you held the door open and snivelled?”

Master Dragar paled. “No.”

“Yes, you filthy little coward. Now get out of here before I gut you.”

Dragar’s face boiled red and he charged towards her. “You lie!”

She went low, catching him in the stomach with her shoulder, following through with a dizzying mix of limbs and blades. The ox of a man was on his back on the floor, gasping for breath, with his own sword at his throat.

The young king wandered over and looked down at him, then spoke to Laya. “He’s not very good at fighting is he.”

“No Your Majesty. He’s also not very good at maintaining weapons or training others. You may want to reconsider his position.”

“He only had it because he’s related to you. Mother said Father was rather soft when it came to anything connected to you and your disappearance.”

He looked up. “Did Grandfather really do that?”

“So I’m told. There may be other stories around who or why. I daresay I’ll hear them over time.”

The boy nodded thoughtfully, then turned towards the doorway again. “Captain Sarish.”

“Yes Your Majesty.”

“Please work with whoever you need to in order to present me with a list of candidates to replace my current weapons master. It seems he is no longer able to function in the role.”

The man at Laya’s feet whined. She looked down at him. “Don’t worry Eugene, you can always go home again. I visited with Uncle and Aunt last week and your presence will be a huge help to them in the warehouse.”

King Jason waved a couple of guards over and gestured to Dragar. “See his belongings respectfully packed and both them and him escorted back to his family home.”

The two of them watched the former weapons master leave the training arena in silence. Once he was gone Jason turned back to Laya.

“I forgot. I came to see you as a delivery has arrived and I believe it’s something you would want to be appraised of quickly.”

She smiled in spite of herself. “A King who runs his own errands? What is the world coming to.”

He grinned, all boyhood mischief in that moment. “I only run the ones that I think might be interesting. And I’ve been right about this one so far.”

She returned the blades to the practice rack, then bowed. “Lead on, Your Majesty.”

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