Well, as I think I mentioned yesterday, Saturdays are definitely my least productive writing days, mostly due to Sabbath services and then the rest of my church routine, including travel to and from Williamsburg, keeping me away from my keyboard and thus my writing for the majority of the day. Even with that caveat, i am disappointed in today’s output. I feel like I should at least be able to hit 1,000 words even on my busiest days and will always shoot for more than that. I’m hoping to build a decent cushion of two days, which means I need to be 3,333 words above “par.” Currently, I’m only 1,570 words above par, thanks to a miserly 870 words today. Of course, I am still technically ahead of schedule by being above par, but it’s nowhere near enough. Luckily, tomorrow is the first semi-formal write in event for the Richmond WriMo group and those things always seem to boost my word count considerably.
As promised though, here’s an excerpt from today’s writings. It also includes a chunk from yesterday, and a weird bunch of variations in the formality of dialogue. That’s definitely an artifact of the NaNoWriMo word count above all approach, but I have eleven months I can worry about editing in later.
The first thing Nikolai noticed as he entered the antechamber of His Highness Crown Prince Aethelred, Heir to the kingdoms of Harmel, Bethick and the Larstag Isles was the cloying scent of cedar wood. The prince had ordered his servants to lay down fresh rushes. Nikolai wondered if this was in deference to the court or to hide the tell-tale stains and stenches of recent debauchery. He allowed himself a wry grin at that. Wasn’t Nikolai himself trying to hide evidence of those selfsame excesses?
The old knight thought he done a fair job of that. He had been unable to find his court robes, so had opted to dress as if for a tourney, in a suit of burnished copper mail. Over his hauberk he wore a fresh surcoat so white that it almost gleamed in the antechamber’s magnificent candlelight. The blue representation of the Order’s watchtower that served as his sigil was recently stitched and still clearly recognizable, with the only touch of ostentation being a stone of onyx to represent the high tower’s chief window. Outwardly, Nikolai looked every inch the brave knight.
Inwardly, he was nervous. If what Illych had said was true, and not some cruel prank on the squire’s part, this could be Sir Nikolai’s final royal audience before being sent to the headsman. Nikolai might not care for Aethelred as a person, but the man was heir to the throne even if he was a Lenusite, unlike his rather staunchly Satiadan father, Egbert.
Like most in the kingdom, Nikolai had heard the rumors of Aethelred not being the king’s son, instead being an orphan babe smuggled into the palace in a warming pan. He didn’t believe the dark whispers that this was so, or that it was to ensure that the King’s brother, Aelfred, a Satiadan, wasn’t the heir. Nikolai might jokingly call the Prince “Young Pretender” when the spirits of intoxication moved him, but he didn’t doubt for a second Aethelred’s proclaimed parentage.
Nikolai stepped forwards and abased himself before Aethelred’s throne. Lifting his eyes from the floor, he saw that it was a wasted courtesy. The prince was in furious conversation with one of the Bethickian bishops. He couldn’t make out the words, but from the increasingly frantic gesticulations of the two men, he hazarded a guess that the priest and the prince were not in agreement about something. Probably the crown’s debts. The only people to acknowledge Nikolai’s presence were the two royal guards, stationed at either side of the throne, clutching their ceremonial halberds.
After a prudent interval, he cleared his throat. The noise was just loud enough to cut through the chatter amongst the people within the antechamber. It certainly seemed to get Aethelred’s attention as he swept imperiously towards the throne, his long ermine cape trailing behind him. Once positioned, the crown prince fixed a piercing stare upon Nikolai and spoke softly.
“Sir Nikolai, I am given to understand that you don’t think I belong in this seat.” The prince said.
“My liege, I would never dare imagine such thoughts.” Nikolai stammered. “You are the son of my King. It is right that you should rule the realm upon his passing. Though I pray that is many years from now.”
“I pray as much also,” Aethelred said. “However, either your tongue be a liar today or it was so last night. My advisers tell me that you have dubbed my personage ‘the Young Pretender,’ and I assume that to be in reference to mine royal position.”
“Again, sire, I assent before the realm and before the creators Satiada and Lenus that you are the rightful son of King Egbert and, as such, heir to his kingdom.” Nikolai said. Inwardly he cursed at himself for sounding so stiff and formal.
“Then why does the court tell me that you speak of such treason?”
At the mention of the word treason, Nikolai couldn’t stop himself from rubbing at his neck. He tried not to envision the headsman’s axe dropping down in one sure stroke.
“I know not why thy trusted advisors mislead you so, sire.” Nikolai said, hoping that such obsequiousness towards the prince might persuade Aethelred to leave the old knight’s head atop his shoulders.
“And now he casts aspersions on my courtly companions!” Aethelred said to the room at large. There was a general murmuring of discontent among the prince’s courtiers.
“My liege, I would never doubt you or those that have truly earned your trust. Indeed, until this very day, I had counted myself amongst such.”
“As had I, Sir Nikolai. As had I. Nevertheless, I cannot allow treasonous voices to go unpunished, even from knights such as you. Or what worth would my father’s crown be?”
“Spare me the headsman’s axe, my liege.” Nikolai said, placing his head among the cedar-scented rushes as supplication.
“I would not wish to sully this high feast with the shedding of noble blood, even blood so tainted as yours.”
“Such mercy is appreciated, my Prince.” Nikolai returned to his feet
“But mercy is not naïveté, even if they are oft confused. For the treachery of your tongue, I would have thee serve penance.”
“Name your penance, and I will perform such immediately and with great gladness.”
The prince nodded to a herald, who sounded a bugle and barked “Take leave of the prince. He must have privacy.”
Every soul in the antechamber made their way to the exit, leaving Aethelred and Nikolai alone in the room. From without, Nikolai could hear the door being barred. Aethelred rose from his throne and descended the steps towards Nikolai.
“My liege?” the knight asked.
The prince said nothing. He removed the bejeweled iron circlet that was his mark of succession and handed it to Nikolai. The knight took the crown with trembling hands and held it before him.
“I am not worthy of this honor,” he said.
“Since the days of Andraste’s Judgment, there has been no honor in that crown,” the Prince said. “Look upon it closely.”
Nikolai examined the circlet carefully. The polished iron shone brightly and within it there were nine settings for gems. He looked to each of the jewels in turn – a fiery ruby, two great sapphires blue as a summer sky, a great onyx set between two emeralds, a pair of sun-yellow spinel framing an exquisite amethyst. “My lord, what am I to see? Your crown seems an object that I am quite unworthy of.”
“Indeed, if it were whole you would lose a hand for touching it. However, look closely at the sacred amethyst.”
Nikolai did so. The light sparkled within the amethyst with less intensity than the other gemstones in the crown. But that would mean…
“You see it now, don’t you? It’s a fake. A mere paste and glass bauble.”
“What has this to do with my penance, sire?”
“If you have not guessed, than you are less than the man I had marked you to be, Nikolai. Your penance is to be exile. Such exile will be at end if you return with the amethyst.”
“Aye, my liege. But I know not where to begin.”
“That is no concern of mine. You know the truth of Andraste’s Judgment. Let that be your guide.”
“Now be gone from here by sunrise, or I will have no choice but to order your death.”
Nikolai took his leave.