So that quickly veered from what I expected to a fighting-inner-demons-through-fantasy story. I did try to incorporate some of what Martin does in Game of Thrones. I hope you enjoy it!
Lord Ariden woke restlessly from his dream, another nightmare of his affections. The feather bed and silk sheets stuck to his sweating body, the normally comfortable touch of fabric now a prison. Slowly the lord worked his way out of the sheets until finally he was at the end of the bed. The stone floor was cold upon the soles of his feet and he shuffled his toes about the ground until he found his slippers, sliding into them. The fur tickled, but it was pleasant despite the dampness.
The wooden door opened, and Seneschal Fiedrick entered. “My lord, your audience is arriving.”
The lord grinned as Fiedrick turned away from the man, naked aside from the slippers on his feet. “Perhaps, Seneschal Fiedrick, we should try a new trick. In all your years of keeping an orderly estate, knocking should have become a skill you were most adept at.” Ariden walked to his wardrobe and took out a gown, wrapping his still wet body in it.
“I find, my lord, that when I do not knock, I discover fascinating details.”
Ariden had to laugh, “Is this true? You’ve seen something fascinating here today?” He moved to the bath behind a privacy curtain and entered. The servants must have filled it as he slept not a few moments before Fiedrick’s entrance. “I’ve heard it called a great many things, friend, but fascinating? And by a man no less.” Getting into the bath was a slow process, the heat still great. Once it reached his thighs, he could feel the heat uncomfortably, but descended nonetheless, feeling the scorch for a moment before his body acclimated. From his waist up slid in easily.
“I wonder, with no small frequency, why I’m still in your employ. I hear Lord Deniven does not subject his staff to these abuses.”
“Because Lord Deniven is a sour old man filled with malice. My halls are filled with dancers every Tuesday and sweet meats near every day.” To bring up Deniven was a slight to Ariden’s honor, but he would let it slide. When the two men bantered it was as two giants claiming territory. The wounds would heal, but they were always as deep as possible.
“He has a wife and children. Would need me more than you, my lord. You’ve fancy notions of glory, for what reason I’m incapable of discerning.”
The words cut deep, a reminder of his dream the night before. Bile built up in the young lord’s gut and a gentle tremor overtook his body. The tears dripped down his face, hotter than any bathwater. “Good Seneschal,” Ariden controlled his breathing as best he could and started to apply the soap to wash away the filth of the night before. “Should you brief me on what duties there are today instead of reminding me which duties I could not fulfill?”
“Yes, my lord. I apologize.” It was rare Ariden was left without words, even rarer that he would evade a re-buttal. “You’ve numerous peasants asking you to aid in some dispute or another. Nothing catastrophic, but then when is a peasant’s quip? The guilds are here to update you on the progress of your keep. As you know, there are still a few walls being built and it would be wise to have a statue to the divine in some manner. It shows a faithful man.”
“A church was not enough? Perhaps a cathedral would show my piety.” He splashed the water, furrowing his brow. Everyone wished to criticize every step in the right direction never quite reaching the final goal. “I will not build a statue. It’s idol worship. The church shall be enough, and they shall learn to appreciate as they have. Should I have need to go to each and every sermon preached in that glorious structure, then by the divine I shall go. But there shall be no idol and it shall never be brought up again.”
“As you wish, my lord,” Fiedrick said.
Ariden stood up from the bath and dried himself, ruffling his thinning hair. He looked down to admire his body, though it was not quite something to admire too regularly. Months of training had prepared him for an upcoming tournament in front of the king, and he was quite proud of the strides taken. Once he was a soft noble, filled with fat, but now his muscles were showing, his thickness was narrowing, and no doubt soon enough he could build that family with any maiden he desired. Ariden said, “Fiedrick, do you know what’s quite incredible?”
“No, my lord, please do educate me.” The man was pandering a touch, in penance for his earlier jab.
“My legs, Fiedrick. Would you like to see something amazing? Come here now. Watch the water cascade down these slabs of granite, as if a master sculpture had created them himself.” A leg peeked out from behind the privacy curtain, wet and hairy. The calf was starting to take definition while the thigh had become a truly muscular segment of the lord’s body. Ariden slapped his thigh, “A fine piece of meat, if I do say so myself.”
“No doubt, if maidens were present it would be difficult for you to put on your clothes.” The dead pan voice made Ariden laugh.
“No doubt, indeed!” Ariden changed quickly. “Is there anything enjoyable after the audiences are granted?”
“You have some free time, it would seem.”
The two men walked down the castle hall. Looking outside, the walls were still being built, the large blocks of stone being hoisted into place. It was reported four men had fallen in the construction. Each was given a good send away, and the families were given hefty gifts for their grief. It was more than most lords would do, Fiedrick had told him. The kindness saw more peasants to his land, along with a stronger work ethic.
Ariden said, “What ever would I do with free time? I believe the dancers are here today, so that will take up some. Then training. I would greatly like to train, as I feel a cantankerous mood setting in.”
“Dreams do that.”
“I said nothing of dreams. You are mistaken.”
The signs were all there, and Ariden knew it. The sweat wasn’t hard to note, as of late Ariden was generally playful when family came up, and only when she was on his mind would Ariden truly desire to train. The desire was always there in some capacity, but it became an obsession when he remembered but a quarter year back.
Fiedrick stopped and put a hand on Ariden’s shoulder, “My lord, you do not need to keep this in. You never did before.”
“And that’s why I lost her, Fiedrick. That’s why she’s gone.” Ariden’s jaw set, his eyes hardened at the old man. “I will be a better man.”
“A man she could love? A man who is enough for her?” Fiedrick sighed and continued to the hall. “Ariden, be a man you love. Each day you seem to get closer, but you pull yourself back at times. Move forth, let the past be forgotten, and let the future be one historians record for generations to come. You’ve the makings of a great man.”
“And she of a great woman. Beside me we would have taken everything this realm has to offer.”
“Beside you she would have simply spied on your every action, distrust gripping her heart until she betrayed you in a far less kindly manner than she had. Don’t be a fool.”
“You speak the truth. One day, Fiedrick.” He smiled at the man and clasped his shoulder, “But for now we’ve peasants to appease.”
“Read less, my lord, it would allow me to better stomach your comments.”
“I really adore alliteration, though.” Ariden took his noble chair with Fiedrick standing beside him.
The hall was quite full. Perhaps three dozen stood, with nobility and guild members around the edges and the peasants corralled in the center. One by one, the poor were shepherded to the foot of Ariden. The sun was at its zenith by the time the first wave of petitioners had finished. Then the masons spoke at length on the progress of the keep, but the numbers were drivel to Ariden. Fiedrick was a master with books and was easily able to direct the masons on the next step of action. Other guilds came forward, with requests of trade, supplies, or sales, and each one spoke to Fiedrick as Ariden half listened.
By afternoon there were no more requests and the host had left. Fiedrick turned to Ariden with a smile on his aged face, “Well that went well. It looks like construction is as it’s supposed to be.”
“Good. I never really had a head for numbers. Thank you for your aid.”
“My lord has no need to thank me. I was but doing my duties to you.” Fiedrick bowed humbly and Ariden laughed.
“Just know you are appreciated as far more than simple help, friend. Now send for those dancers. It’s been a long trip and I would like to see their legs stretched.”
“Is that the only part my lord is interested in tonight? We could call this off. Send them away or to the soldiers. Each time you watch them you feel as if you’ve taken a whore’s bed.”
“Perhaps I’ll find my future wife amongst them. Bring them in, Fiedrick. You may remain here or leave as you wish.”
“Your sense of moral contradictions will always be a thorn in our side.” Fiedrick walked the long hall to the doors.
“Our side, Fiedrick?”
“You give into what you should not, and I must listen to it after. It would make my evenings far more enjoyable if you gave up on your unwanted desires. It would likely make you feel better, as well.”
“The world says what I do is civil, and even tame in comparison.”
“This is true.” Fiedrick stopped at the doors, the crest of Ariden’s family etched into them, a great owl. “Yet what would the divine say? What would she say?” The old gray eyes looked back to Ariden before opening the doors.
“Hold, Fiedrick. Call for Master Tenigren. I feel I’d rather learn sword play at current.”
“Shall I hold the dancers for later, my lord?”
“No. Send them to the barracks. Summon my page to the armory.”
Weapons Master Tenigren was in his forties, only a decade and a half older than Ariden. He was a strong and powerful man with little capacity for mercy, but such harshness had proven great in getting Ariden into fighting shape. When Ariden arrived, his page donning his armor, he met with the war veteran. Tenigren snarled, “No whore dancers for you today, my lord? It would seem my men are most distracted today.”
“Is it inconvenient? You could always join them.”
“I’ve a wife in my bed, my lord. I don’t need children to get me up.” Tenigren pulled his sword, “Now are we here to speak of women or to speak with weapons?”
“Children is a little demeaning. They are fully grown.” Ariden pulled his sword and the two men started to circle, the dirt giving slightly under every powerful step. The stance was difficult for Ariden to get down, having to bend his knees and move with his thighs. However, it was also the reason he had become so proud of his lean thighs.
“But pups compared to the touch of a learned woman.” Tenigren struck first, a high blow which Ariden was able to easily counter. A flurry of strikes came towards Ariden, before he was able to advance on Tenigren. The attacks were slower, though, clumsy. Each was well placed, but Ariden had yet to master the ability to make openings.
The two men backed away from each other. Ariden breathed hard for a moment, “Each would make a fine wife.”
“As far as they look. A woman keeps the house. Those could only keep your loins warm.”
Ariden scowled and went at Tenigren again. In a moment Tenigren countered, knocked Ariden’s sword aside, and had the sword at the lord’s throat. Tenigren smiled and lowered his blade, “There’s fire. You need more of that. Should insult your whores more.”
“Dancers, Master Tenigren.”
“The divine would say a whore in your bed is no different than one in your eye. Now pick up your sword. I’m not finished with you.”
The sparring continued until the evening. Torches lit the keep as the workers went home and the soldiers turned into the barracks for drinking and gambling. The town was quiet that evening, but come the morrow there would be a new shipment from the quarry, and merchants would fill the streets for a day or two. Mason Beringe never just brought the stone.
The hall was empty and even with the torches felt dark and foreboding. Every shadow held some terrifying creature or assassin, even though Ariden knew he was nowhere near important enough to warrant such attentions, as well as the monsters being dispersed into fairy tales. Ariden stopped when he did hear movement, another set of feet padding across the same stone. “Who’s there?”
“My lord,” Fiedrick called, “Just I. Saw you were finished with Master Tenigren and there are words for you.”
“Well, what are they? Be quick, as I’d like to put some thoughts to pen.”
“It’s a sealed missive, my lord. I’m not sure what it says, but no doubt you’ll read it more easily in your quarters.”
“Sealed by who?” Ariden walked to his seneschal and took the missive.
“The seal of Lord Emonds, my lord.”
The pit was planted once more in Ariden’s gut. His head swam as he tried to steady himself. “Why would he have need of me? He’s well established.”
“Do you truly think it was written in his hand?”
“No.” Ariden broke the seal and read the words upon the page, sighing when he was finished. “Lady Laurin wishes aid.” The name felt foreign in Ariden’s throat. It had been weeks since he uttered it out loud. Thought struck him, memories of what had happened and what was to be, but they were all for nothing now.
“In what, my lord?”
Ariden leaned against a pillar for support, “Not sure. Just says she needs a stone mason. Building her own castle?”
“A strange request considering. Would you have me burn the letter?”
“No. Tell her should she like I’ve a castle at the ready. It was built for her, and I would like nothing more than to allow her residency in it.”
“And when she denies such assistance, my lord?”
Ariden slouched a little, his face pale. It was true. There was no if about her denying such an offer. “Tell her of Beringe. He’s a trustworthy, shrewd, and talented man with good prices and a great deal of sway with the guilds. He will help her to the best of his immensely adept abilities.”
“Are you sure of this? We could always send her word that we are unsure of a reliable mason and have gone through many ourselves. If you feel vengeful, you could even tell her of that first sod we dealt with.”
The thought made Ariden laugh, “Remember when we started watching him and he couldn’t even tell the workers how to cut the stone proper? What a fool. Was it Carson? I believe it was.” There were a few more chuckles, then Ariden said, “I wish to help her. I wish to prove my dedication to her.” He gripped his fist. “She was more to me than I believe she imagined.”
“And what of you to her?”
“Inconsequential.” Ariden stood. “Send the messenger first thing in the morning. Offer my castle as her own along with the aid of Beringe when she denies me.
“Can you even say her name twice in one eve, my lord?”
“Lady Laurin is going to be given aid, as chivalry would dictate.”
“I fear sometimes there is still a collar around your neck.”
“She does not hold my leash.”
“You hold it lovingly for her, my lord. It is still her collar.” They walked to Ariden’s room, where Fiedrick opened the door, “Pleasant dreams, my lord.”