“Sod off. It’s not even morning yet.”
“Of course it is. It’s three thirteen in the morning to be precise. The perfect time to start your first spellcraft lesson.”
“Okay, just let me grab a bite and I’ll get right to it.”
“Sorry, no. That’s not how this works. You work first, right now. Get dressed, and we’ll get to it.”
“What in the hell is wrong with you people? Okay, fine. You know that when you get up too early for the farm boy you are probably doing it wrong though right?”
After Ricky got dressed they sat down and started working on magic. Talen told Ricky to focus, to let his mind go blank, then he put an unlit candle in front of him and told him to concentrate, to see a flame on the wick, completely and totally. To see it as clearly as if it was there, Ricky did. He focused, he cleared his mind, he worked hard. No matter how hard he tried though, all he could really focus on was the idea of bacon. Delicious, salty, crispy, wonderful bacon. He missed it so very much. He could even smell it, just as if it was cooking that moment. Then he realized it was cooking, the smell was coming from the main building, breakfast being prepared. Not only that, daylight was starting to seep in from under the stable door. The candle wick remained unlit in every way. “Okay, look, I’m no good if I get hungry. No ability to concentrate what? So, let’s go grab some food and take another crack at this never.”
“Food might be what we need. Also, we do need to get on the road as soon as possible. I’ll let you off right now. Time to grab a bite, then we hit the road, we start practicing again tomorrow morning though.”
They went into the main building. Gaifanaxis was already eating and the singer from the night before was at the next table, looking tired. Shortly after Ricky and Talen sat down and got their food the soldiers came in. They were talking loudly, discussing what they would like to do to the singer. Ricky tried to ignore it, but she was clearly uncomfortable and he could see the pain in her eyes. Finally, after one particularly crude comment, Ricky couldn’t take it anymore. He walked up to the soldiers and said, “Hey, could you leave the lady alone?”
“What’s it to you fat boy?”
“Look, I just don’t think it’s decent. Lady deserves better is all.”
“You wanna make something of it?”
“Depends, you willing to put down the armour and weapons and fight like a real man?”
“What the hell? Let’s do it, fatso.”
Talen was waving his arms wildly and Galifaxis had a look of resignation on his face.
Outside Ricky put up his fists getting ready to fight. He’d watched a few fights but never been in one. They all kind of started the same way, the two fighters would circle each other, hurl insults at each other, and eventually one of them would try to punch the other one. Usually, the bigger one ended up on top on the ground and it was all over. Ricky started to circle, opening his mouth, when a fist hit him in the stomach. All his air vanished instantly. He was surprised to find that it didn’t hurt, but that he couldn’t breathe at all. He gasped for breath and went down to his knees. The soldier kneed him in the face. There was the pain that hadn’t been there when he was punched. It was instense, deep, traumatic. He collapsed, sobbing and gasping for air. At least it was over… no, wait, there was a boot hitting his head. He curled up into a ball, covering as much of his body as he could with his arms and legs. The pain was on the top of his head, a sharp, stinging sensation mixed into the dull thud, the ache. He heard a voice saying, “Alright, that’s enough. Let the body up.” but the kicks weren’t stopping. Suddenly there was a warm spray and the kicking stopped. Then the screaming started, voices raised in pain and fear. A moment later it was quiet. Ricky heard a voice say, “Alright lad, time to get up, they won’t be able to hurt you anymore.”
Ricky opened his eyes and took the hand that was extended to him. There was blood everywhere, including all over him. All four soldiers were lying on the ground, lifeless.
“Sorry lad, really didn’t want to do that,” said Galifaxis, “but it went too far. Was getting to the point where you might have been permanently harmed, and that’s against the rules right now. So, you see why I want you trained?”
Ricky couldn’t stop crying, although the vomit was trying to force him to concentrate on it instead. His nose was filled with a sharp, metallic smell. He gave into the need and vomited all over the ground. It was more than his poor stomach could take. The smell of vomit filled his nose, replacing that of blood. Of course the girl was outside, watching all of this. Her eyes were the kindest eyes he’d ever seen. He tried to pull himself together, to stop heaving, but it wasn’t working.
She came over to him, carrying a bucket of water and a cloth and without saying a word started cleaning him up. He managed to stop vomiting at her touch and found the cool water from the cloth helped.
“That was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen. Stupid of course, but brave. I’m Liandra.”
“R R Ricky,” Ricky managed to gasp out.
“Thank you. It was so very sweet of you. I have to say though, maybe next time don’t challenge the trained soldiers to a fight over my honour.”
She finished cleaning him up and then joined them on their journey. It didn’t strike Ricky as strange for several hours and by then it was too awkward to bring up. The two of them talked a lot as they rode, more than Ricky had ever talked with any woman. She seemed fascinated by everything about his life, asking questions about the pigs, laughing at his jokes. He knew he was falling for her. He had rare moments where he wondered why she seemed to also be falling for him.
The journey to the capital took two weeks. Every night Ricky tried to learn the sword, every morning he tried to learn magic, every day he flirted with Liandra. It felt like more than a routine, it felt like a ritual. The one thing that was out of place was that he didn’t get even a tiny bit better at either magic or swordplay.
Finally, the capital gates were in front of them. Galifaxis went first, riding up to the gate boldly. “Halt, what’s your business here?”
“I’m a sell sword, looking for work. The old man is a magician and the girl is a minstrel. The boy is my apprentice, trying to learn the ways of the sword.”
“Whatever. One copper piece each for passage.”
When they got inside the gate Talen said, “Huh, usually that’s a lot more challenging. We have to disguise the chosen one.”
“Well, did you ever consider that when people look at me they don’t see a chosen one? They see exactly what I am, a farmer?”
“Yeah, I guess I can see that. Usually, by now the chosen one is a lean and dangerous man, somehow you haven’t lost a single pound.”
“Please, I told you, no cracks about my weight. I don’t want to have to thump you.”
“I’ve seen you fight, I’m not that worried.”
“So, what’s the plan now?”
“We find lodging in the city, survey the usurper’s palace, come up with a cunning plan to get you inside, then you face off against him. You defeat him after a great test. You and Liandra get married and you rule as a good and wise king.”
“Huh. Really? That’s it?”
“It’s how these things go. Trust me, I’ve seen it before, of course, it will take everything you have to achieve that end. You will be tested to the end of your endurance and only through great perseverance and will can you succeed.”
“So, wait, it doesn’t really matter if I can fight or not, if I can cast spells or not, so long as I face off against the tyrant and show great heart?”
“Well, I honestly don’t know. Every other chosen one has always had those skills by this points. To tell you the complete truth they typically learn very rapidly. Embarrassingly quickly actually.”
“Well, maybe I’m just a more regular sort of chosen one. Still, I can be stubborn. Maybe that’s my key, just being so stubborn the tyrant eventually gives up to my sheer force of will.”
“Maybe, I don’t know.”
Liandra said, “Richard, I love you. I can’t wait until you defeat the evil Kent and we can be married.”
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to that as well. You are definitely the main thing keeping me on task right now. I mean, have you seen you?”
She laughed, beautiful green eyes sparkling through impossibly long eyelashes.
Planning took the next little while. Sometimes soldiers would happen on the group as they were casing the castle walls. If Ricky was present the soldiers would simply ignore them, looking past them as if they weren’t even there. Liandra managed to get herself an invite to perform inside the castle, something Ricky had serious doubts about, but that night she joined them in the Inn they were using for lodging and showed them all of the entrances and exits. “That awful man, he kept looking at me as if I was a piece of meat. He shouldn’t look at me like that, I’m yours and only yours Ricky. Once you defeat him we can wed. He demanded my return in three days, said he wanted to hear more of my music.”
“Well, that’s a garbage thought. You can’t go back. You need to just stay back here at the inn, relax and take it easy.”
“I disagree,” Talen said, “If she’s performing at the palace she can help us to get inside. It’s the only sure fire way through the defences.”
“Okay, that’s just a dumb idea. There’s like a hundred other ways we could get in. Why would we risk two people with no combat training when we could risk just one? I mean, Liandra, you are gorgeous, and I’m pretty sure that if you go back in Kent’s going to take you hostage or something, and then we will have to rescue you as well as everything else we need to do.”
Liandra said, “I’m not afraid, I know you will protect me.”
“That’s kind of the point. If you don’t go in I don’t have to.”