Durazno wandered along the edge of the forest, wondering what to do. He wasn’t quite sure of where he was. He needed to get back to Sim and Tansy. The problem was, he had no idea which way they’d gone.
Finally, he just decided to head towards the castle. He knew that it was somewhere to the south of where he was now, but he didn’t know how far it would be. Finally, he just started walking.
The first few hours passed uneventfully, until he came to a farmhouse. He knocked on the door. It was opened by a large red-faced woman bearing five scars down one cheek.
She smiled at him, revealing a mouth full of broken teeth. “Well if it isn’t Durazno the dragon killer. I fought on your side for a few years before coming back home to me children.” She laughed.
“I need a horse, if you have one to spare, good woman.” He said.
“I believe that we could spare one for a man like you.” She said, leading him out to the barn. She helped him saddle a large black mare. Durazno thanked her profusely and galloped off.
When night fell, he tied the horse to a tree and went to sleep on the ground. He woke at dawn and mounted his mare and they rode off. He reached the castle at noon.
He entered the gates after one of the soldiers recognized them from their time on the field together. The soldier escorted him up to palace, and they waited in a small parlor for the king to come greet him. Almost an hour later, a very fat and finely dressed man entered the room. He was followed by a tiny shrewish looking woman, a very tall and pretty girl, a young boy and girl, another boy and girl, a tall young man, and another couple slightly younger than the first.
“You are the man Durazno?” The fat man asked. Durazno noticed a crown stuffed onto his fat head. He was the king.
“Yes, your majesty.” Durazno answered. “At your service.” For now.
“We are most grateful for your presence here.” The tall girl said.
“Allow me to introduce my lovely wife, Florina, my dear daughter Marisindin, and my son Leonard. And this is my daughter’s fiancé Peterrin, and his family, Lord Terrence and Lady Elsanna, and his siblings, Dacia, Nanina, and Aileron.” The king said, pointing to each one in turn.
“Your majesty, there must be a reason that you summoned me and my sister here?” Durazno asked, ignoring the flirtatious smile that the girl called Dacia shot him.
“Where is your sister and her army?” The king asked.
“Who knows? We got separated so I just came up here. I have no idea where she is.” Durazno said honestly.
“We summoned you here because there have been two dragon attacks on our capitol in less than a month.” The queen said. “To make matters worse, we have a traitor in our midst.” Durazno noticed the young lord Peterrin give the princess’s hand a comforting squeeze. What was the story there?
“And?” he asked, bored.
“We were hoping that you might agree to be a personal bodyguard for the prince or the princess.” The king said.
“For a couple days, maybe. I have a war to fight. I can’t hide in a castle running after a couple of children.” Durazno said bluntly. Luckily for him, the king didn’t seem angry.
“Understandable. Marisindin and Peterrin will fill you in on the situation.” The king said, everyone but Dacia, Marisindin and Peterrin exiting the room.
“Councilman Braster is plotting against us trying to get us all killed.” Marisindin said. “During the last attack, he bribed a guard into letting me go after my brother alone. He was counting on me and Leo both dying, but he didn’t count on any of the servants helping me.”
That’s where that scar down her cheek came from.
“You don’t know who’s on your side and who isn’t.” Durazno finished for her.
“Yes.” She sighed. There was a sadness in her eyes that Durazno hadn’t noticed before.
“I see. I don’t really know if I can do anything about that.” Durazno said. “But I can try.”
Durazno spent the next hour following Marisindin, Dacia and Peterrin around the castle. They didn’t seem to have anything interesting to talk about. Only Peterrin and Marisindin’s upcoming wedding and a play about a man who found himself accidentally married to multiple women. He learned in that Dacia was a giggler, that Marisindin didn’t laugh nearly as often as the other two. Peterrin seemed to be very concerned about Marisindin for an unknown reason.
Durazno was forced to sit near them during a long and tedious banquet that night. Luckily, Lady Elsanna was seated on his other side and had a few interesting stories to tell. She was half-way through a story about a goat getting loose in her uncle’s summer home, when a man came up and whispered something in Marisindin’s ear.
Durazno was sitting next to her, but he wasn’t close enough to hear all of what the man said. He did hear the man whisper the name Talena, and Marisindin’s face went white. Interesting. He would have to question her about that later.
Marisindin leaned over and whispered something in Peterrin’s ear, and the two rose and left the room. Dacia quickly rose and followed them. Durazno followed Dacia. He crept up on the two talking in a little alcove behind a statue. Dacia was nowhere in sight.
"He has someone staying close to Mother, Peterrin!" Marisindin exclaimed. "He said to meet him at the top of the red tower alone tonight or Mother dies.” Marisindin told her fiancé
“You’ll meet him. But you won’t be alone.” Peterrin said. “I’ll be with you with five of my parents’ soldiers, and we’ll get rid of him.”
"You can't be seen, by anyone. If Mother is killed..." the princess trailed off.