The next day there was another lesson with Hangs, as well as the beginnings of horse riding. Fortunately, Wendell was not heavy and the grass was soft. By the time they were finished, dusk was falling.
The banquet hall was large and noisy and well-lit, much more than the Black Mongrel ever was.
A monstrous dining table somehow carved from the heart of an enormous tree went down the center of the long room, and was decked with shining silver goblets and gold plates, steel knives, candles, and ivory cups.
At one part of the table to Wendell’s left, Hangs sat with his best generals, laughing bawdily. At another part, dignitaries and high officials sat and conferred politely. Wendell himself sat at the very end of the table, next to the king’s own plate. Across from him was an empty chair.
King Rowan bashed his fist on the table and talking ceased. It was very quiet. The king stood up, and everyone hurriedly rose also. Wendell rose awkwardly from his chair last of all. The king surveyed the men at his table with a look that was terrifying.
“I would like to propose a toast...” he snarled humorously, “to the bravest, most able-blooded man in the kingdom.”
Everyone uncertainly raised goblets, and then lowered them awkwardly.
“I have made it a point,” he went on jovially, “to surround myself with the fiercest of men, of unswerving loyalty, who would surely strike fear into a traitor’s heart.”
He went on as if drunk, but with an icy edge under his voice.
“But this toast, is not for them. Not even for Hangs, my cold-blooded general, who fears not death. Not for my cunning chancellor, who fears no poison blade. No, no! Although they fear nothing, they also have no fear of their ruler.”
“So it is, that I propose this toast to a mere youth.”
He raised his goblet, and all the others followed.
“And so toast him this day, all of you - he that risks his life while you stay safe in the castle like silly sheep, toast this lad who keeps you drinking rum - while he goes on to certain doom.”
He ended with a giddy stagger, raised his goblet and took a great swig.
“Drink!!” he roared.
Rowan sat down, and everyone followed hastily. He looked at Wendell with a kind of courteous face.
“So my dear boy, whatever caused you to do all this?”
Wendell did not feel much like talking about the painter’s house, but he thought it wise to humor the king, who was busy dismembering a large chicken.
“You see, your majesty, I know the royal painter.”
The king gave a painful snort of laughter, his mouth still chewing meat. He turned to Wendell like an old chum.
“I see. I see. That explains it. You know, we still have the paintings here. You may see them any time you wish.”
“I... I don’t want to.”
“Why not?!” the king snapped.
Wendell didn’t know what to say. The king went on eating furiously. Finally Wendell said something to keep him happy.
“It would... remind me.”
The king mulled it over. He fixed Wendell with a steely, scheming look.
“You will see the painting. That you will.”
Wendell felt his stomach rise with a deplorable happiness. The king went on.
“Young blood won’t boil forever! If it helps you fight better, I’ll lock you in there with those paintings until you go mad! Don’t think I want to see that painting any more than you. I know! I know.”
King Rowan rose from his great chair and gave an address to one of Hangs’ friends. They escorted Wendell out of his chair and to a door. The last thing he heard as the door slammed was the king’s mad laughter as it echoed throughout the giant chamber.