In the Favor of the Goddesses
Closed to Dannyel
The whole tavern was silent as the knight finished up his tale. Dónal's men were renowned for being brave warriors in the face of some impossible odds, but if this young knight was telling even an iota of the truth, the tale he was recounting surely deserved to be bound so that others could hear it long after the small building cleared out for the evening. He stood with one leg propped up on a stool, his muddy boot glistening and reflecting the candlelight off of the ornate buckles that betrayed his rank. Throughout his story, he made eye contact with Etielle who could not hide the fact that she was enthralled by his way with words.
"And there the three of us were, I was the only one left with a shield so my brothers in arms flanked me so closely that I could hear their ragged breaths even over my hammering pulse. Another arrow flew by and got me," the knight gestured to his cheek where a pink line was still visible. It appeared that a few days had passed at least since this harrowing scrape with death and Etielle took every word with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, it was a great story and there were few things in the world she appreciated more than someone with a silver tongue. The blonde knight went on, "It was then that I knew they had to be below us and not in the trees like we feared. I charged ahead using my shield to beat down the brush and was absolutely dumbfounded to discover that there was a slight hill that led directly into a ditch!" At this point the whole table lifted their alcoholic concoctions to their lips and let out a hearty laugh. A heroic war story had just devolved into a tale of young impetuousness and everyone but Etielle was apt to go along with it. She curled her lip a little. Didn't he understand how well he was doing? Couldn't he have stretched the truth just a bit further? Surely his small squad of men didn't take out that rouge caravan hailing from Thines, so what prevented him from ending the story on a sailing note of patriotism? That was all she wanted. "Luckily I caught the archers by surprise from above so my companions could slay them once they were aware of the terrain difference," he ended and raised his own glass to fully enjoy the overwhelming cheers.
The witch bowed herself out from the crowd as soon as she could without seeming impolite. She heard quick footfalls follow her away and she could only assume it was the wet-behind-the-ears knight. When he asked for her to wait for him, she knew that there was no polite way to shake him.
"Miss, you were the most receptive person in that audience. I have to thank you. I was afraid that if I didn't come down from all the talk of violence and lighten it up, they were going to leave me in a lurch," he said with a genuine but foppish smile. It was clear from looking at his swimming blue eyes that he was young and inexperienced when it came to women and a seasoned veteran at pursuing effervescent fantasies.
"You're such a valiant knight that surely you could have appeased a rowdy crowd of drunkards," Etielle said dismissively. She nodded curtly and began to walk away but something caused her to turn around, "And why would you sacrifice such an intriguing plot for a cheap joke at your own expense? Would you rather be a clown?" Perhaps she had had a little too much to drink. Certainly, she was being much too flippant for her own good. The knight hadn't noticed her clothing or else he would have threatened to report back to Dónal with a scathing selection of choice words.
"I like that fire in you. However, I won't take this and give you nothing in return," his face softened into a mischievous grin. He turned back to the milling crowd and cleared his throat as he climbed on top of one of the oak tables, "My friend here says she has a story to tell that will wipe the floor with mine and make an honest man of me." The room laughed as heartily as she had ever heard and Etielle had to keep down a blush. This was not where she expected this exchange to end up. She wasn't sure if she'd prefer to bat him away as he tried to kiss her rather than having to deal with this. The knight helped her up onto the same table and watched her with his arms crossed across his chest.
Etielle stared into the crowd. Not one of them seemed intelligent or forgiving of mistakes. She copied the blonde stranger who had gotten her into this mess and cleared her throat, "I don't have a war story for you but I do have a tale of intrigue and betrayal." The dirty faces inched closer. "It's a story that you may have known piecemeal, but that I alone know in its entirety," this drew a few breathy gasps, "It is a love story like no other."
Upon the utterance of those words, the few people that her dramatic tale had hooked all turned away and began to talk loudly among themselves. Etielle knew that she should have gone right for the jugular when she had the chance but she didn't know any stories of robust and bloody wars. She could only talk about witchcraft, and that might have gotten her kicked out or worse, until the dim lights reflected the color of her sash and who knows how long that would have taken. It was a discouraging position to be sure. In her defense, she reminded herself, the love story of Dónal and Helvyna was nothing like your average ballad. She could have knocked them dead if they weren't so dense and so drunk.
She lowered herself down from the table and made her way once again towards the door. Once again she ran into the knight and this time she didn't have the strength to say a single thing to him despite her seething embarrassment driving her to bark at him like a kicked dog.
"I didn't take you as a romantic. I thought you would have a tale of murder or the macabre for them," he said as he stood in front of the door, "My name is Godot. Etielle, Brónach needs you. She sent me to collect you and make sure you didn't leave the court until you solved the problem." Godot stood behind her at a respectable distance when he realized that Etielle understood him. She knew Godot's name, as he was one of the knights that served under both Domnall and Dónal. His cherubic face was quite misleading.
"Very well, sir. If you don't tell them where I've been then I won't poison you for what you just put me through," she scowled. Godot laughed in agreement until he realized that the witch was being quite serious. For the rest of the walk towards the castle, they both remained silent. Once or twice Godot attempted to aid Etielle by telling her to watch her step until that grated on her nerves and she whipped up a small flame and balanced it on her thumb like a minuscule torch. That got the message across and the knight shut his mouth all the way up the stone staircase into the domed throne-room where Brónach stood waiting.
When she entered, Etielle bowed respectfully, "M'lady. What do you need from me?"
Brónach, a tall and elegant woman, waved her hand dismissively and sighed, "You know that I would never ask you for anything. My daughter requested an audience with you for some reason. I'm not sure if she wants anything or if she just requires someone of her age to talk to." The Dowager Duchess had no great love of magic and didn't see why her late husband and son insisted on having witches and wizards at their beck and call.
"Of course Your Highness. I will go in to see her immediately," Etielle said, barely above a whisper.