This is the next instalment of Annan's adventures, and his (primary) quest to lose his virginity. Unfortunately, he's got to deal with a horrible Evil first. But before he meets Evil...
Chapter 3 - In Which Things Are Boring, for We Must
Get From Point A to Point B
Annan followed after Sugn as the seneschal strode down the corridor to the kitchens, irritation making tight lines in the old man’s shoulders.
“Your…companions…have been fed,” Sugn turned aside at the door, neatly herding Annan through it.
Better than a sheepdog. Annan stifled a smile, relief at being away from the king making him a bit giddy.
Alan and Beathan hailed him from a table in the corner of the bustling kitchen. The little cleric waved a bone nearly as long as his arm. The constantly moving staff forced Annan to dodge and weave. Used to such activity from the village’s festivals and feast days, Annan snatched a scone off a cooling tray, a pasty from another rack, and slid onto the end of the bench.
“Did you save me anything?”
Beathan shoved a trencher toward him, the meat cooled enough for the grease to begin congealing, but the wizard didn’t hesitate, tucking straight in. “He didn’t want to,” Beathan glared at the thief. “He thought you should have to take care of yourself.” The cleric sniffed, the sound surprisingly prim.
“I appreciate your thoughtfulness,” Annan smiled at the cleric. “We have our bard, and the king has agreed to send a champion with us. We are to depart in the morning. It will be five days’ hard riding to get to the Evil, so we should get some rest.”
“And where, exactly, are we to sleep?” Alan asked acidly. “That seneschal didn’t exactly care for the look of any of us.”
Annan looked up from the trencher, already halfway through his scone, meat stuffed into the center of it. “We’ve been given the use of a chamber in the keep. The bard will meet us there, and begin telling us about this Evil.”
“Oh, good,” Alan muttered snidely. “Wouldn’t want to be ignorant about the Evil now, would we?”
Annan ignored his snit, concentrating instead on the food in front of him. He needed his strength, if he were to lead this band, defeat the Evil, and survive to find a wife. Or a woman. At this point, he wasn’t too fussy.
“Ahem,” a young man cleared his throat at Annan’s elbow. Annan ignored it, trying to foresee the next few days as he filled his stomach. “Ahem.”
“Do you need a glass of water?” Ever thoughtful, Beathan held up a mug. “It may help clear your throat.”
“Er, no? No,” the young man repeated, more firmly. “I- I was trying to get the wizard’s attention…”
Beathan nudged Annan. “He wants you.”
“Uh, what?” Annan finally looked up from his trencher. “Yes?”
The young man, wearing trousers and robes of fine linen and wool that – Annan eyed the fabric critically – depended more on its dye to hide the inferior quality, fidgeted. “I’m, um, my name is Evan, and I’m supposed to show you to your chamber, Wizard. Sir. Wizard?”
“Annan will do,” Annan told the young man, who was probably older than him, kindly. “We don’t have any formal title.”
“Your uncle does. Sir. He’s the Grand Magus.” The stout man fiddled with the edge of his robe again. “I thought that…since you’re his nephew, perhaps Wizard as a title might work?”
“Annan,” Annan said firmly.
Still deeply unhappy with the informality, Evan acquiesced. “As you wish…Annan.” He looked as though he might choke, on shock or horror, Annan couldn’t tell. “When you are ready, I will lead you to your chamber.”
The walk to the chamber couldn’t have been more awkward, Annan mused, checking out their quarters. A single bed sat against one wall, the thin mattresses of additional pallets folded underneath it. A chest sat at the foot of the bed, and a washstand stood in the opposite corner.
Annan sighed. Such a large room, and he only had to share it with two other people? Heaven.
Evan stared in silent horror at the room, unable to keep his distaste from showing. “No, no, this can’t be right,” he murmured, scrambling through his robes until he found a piece of paper. Reading it again, he looked from Annan to the room and back. “I’m so sorry, Wizard- I mean, Annan. This was meant to be a fine chamber, yet my paper says this is the correct room,” he babbled. “I’ll go and tell…someone, that this won’t do, they’ll get it sorted, Chamberlain Sugn must have made a mistake-”
A laugh bubbled out of Annan’s throat. “I see, Sugn means to insult me? Don’t worry, Evan, this will do us nicely.”
“Speak for yourself,” Alan muttered. “I would have liked a properly furnished chamber. Maybe a tapestry or two? A rug, certainly, and a larger bed.”
Beathan lightly smacked the rogue. “Be polite,” he reproved. “This poor boy is not responsible, and hasn’t got the power to change anything, anyway.”
Evan reddened. Beathan, who noticed everything about the people around him, immediately rushed to reassure him. “We all know that it’s not your fault, and that if you’d had your way, we would be treated with the proper courtesy. God knows what’s in our hearts, and He will bless you for your concern on our behalf.”
“Quite right!” Annan beamed, just to annoy Alan. “May God bless you, Evan, for your concern. I think we have everything we need. Do you know where we’re meeting the bard?”
“Um…uh…he’s supposed to meet you in here,” Evan admitted miserably. “I will make sure he knows which chamber is yours.”
“Or you could just bring a beautiful woman in here,” Alan suggested, brightening considerably. “I have no doubt the good bard will be able to find us all on his own, then.”
Evan stared at the floor. “The king has made a law that the wizard may not be within the same room as a woman until further notice. It will be to the woman’s dishonor. And if the wizard should lose his powers, it will cost him his life.”
Alan stared at Annan, horror and sympathy a strange blend on his narrow features. “Bloody hell, man. Can’t look at a woman, can’t be around one. What’s the point of life?”
“Now do you see why I need to Quest and vanquish the Evil?”
Obviously uncomfortable, Evan fled before anything else could be said.
As soon as the door shut behind him, Alan heaved a sigh of relief. “Finally!” Unslinging his small pack, the rogue produced a handsome, well-crafted mirror from his pocket and set it on the wash stand. From another pocket he took a razor with exquisite abalone shell decorations. Certainly not a common product. Setting the razor next to the mirror, Alan continued to empty his pockets, very similar to a country ‘magician’ Annan had seen as a child.
Beathan’s mouth gaped in amazement. Annan’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“You didn’t have all of that when I got you out of that jail cell,” he accused.
“Are you sure?” The rogue smiled, innocence radiating from every pore. “Perhaps you didn’t look too closely?”
The cleric finally recovered his wits and his voice. “Thief!” he squeaked. “Thief! I knew you were no good! I knew Annan should never have trusted you! The king must know. You will be jailed for the rest of your- mmmphmphmmm!”
This last came about when Annan clamped a hand over his mouth, silencing him before anyone might accidentally enter their chamber. “Quiet!” Annan hissed. “We need- I need him! I don’t want to die a virgin, and the fact that he pulled this off under our noses is proof he’s good. So, by all that’s Holy, Beathan, you can’t turn him in.”
Beathan’s face reddened, holy anger suffusing his pale face. Forestalling his wrath, Annan raised his hands, trying to placate the small cleric. “If- If he survives, you have my permission to turn him in-”
“-but until that time, we need a man as light-fingered as he. What if the Evil carries an object of power, and I cannot defeat him? Hmmm? We’ll need a thief then, to save the kingdom, right?” Annan could see the cleric was unhappy, but at least willing to consider this train of thought. Still, the wizard decided to throw out one more guess. “If we no longer have a thief, we won’t be able to quest, which means there will be no need for a cleric, either. So you will be off the hook, and able to return to Arras tomorrow. That would be wonderful for you, would it not?”
Beathan’s shoulders slumped in defeat. Obviously unwilling to return home too soon, Annan judged the cleric might hold his silence about the thief for a short while longer. Blessing the face that they were to leave the following day, Annan rubbed his back, directing him toward the more comfortable bed as a place to sit.
“Rest now, Beathan,” Annan soothed. “All will be well. God will understand that you had no choice. That I gave you no choice. Just…rest.”