The bard’s eyes fluttered open. It was still dark with just a hint of light around the edges. The forrest was quiet and the pre-dawn air still held on to its evening chill. Already the bard wanted to close his eyes once again and drift back to sleep. A hangover cause such a reaction, as well as the pounding headache.
“Wake up,” the voice repeated. It was a familiar voice, but one that the bard couldn’t quite place. It certainly wasn’t one of his troupemates. They had all thought following this expedition would be foolishness and had opted to stay in the warmth of the inn.
And, to be sure, it had been a nice inn. Nice enough at least. It offered meals and allowed them to accept the total of their donations at least as long as fifteen of more customers arrived. And usually they did, which was rare for this time of year.
The days were getting cooler and at any time the Rains would come. Sheets of water would fall, drenching the soil past the point of mud and everything would slow to a crawl. The musicians were ecstatic to have a roof over their head and the innkeepers were desperate to have a reason to keep custom coming in during the Rains.
Noisy footsteps impatiently paced around, but the bard disregarded them and flopped his arms over his eyes, trying to ward off the coming daylight.
His troupe had felt leaving the security of a warm room foolishness at this time of year especially when it was to follow along with a group of rangers. But what was the bard to do? He certainly couldn’t explain in too much detail, not if he wanted to keep the tale as his alone. And besides, it wasn’t his fault that the others didn’t keep track of the nobility enough to recognize them.
It didn’t matter if said nobility were only recently anointed and traveling in disguise. A bard worth his station should still be able to recognize the King, even when in disguise.
The bard’s eyes bolted open as he sat straight up.
There he was. The King. He had made the King wait.
“Apologizes, you Majesty. Highness.” In his struggle to stand the bard almost tripped over his own feet. He attempted to make the ungainly motions transform into some semblance of a deep bow.
The King was unimpressed.
“How soon can you be ready to move?”
“Well, Sire, if you will allow me the time to make sure proper morning customs are followed and a bit of privacy in which to follow the courses nature dictates, then I am sure that without any undue delays…”
At this the King merely stared. His face was a wall defending the secrets of his emotions.
“At the latest?”
“Of course, Majesty,” the bard agreed, feeling thankful that the King had couched the demand as a question instead of a command.
Seven minutes latter they were on the trail, even as the dawn was just beginning to crawl out of its own bed.
“Might I ask, Highness, as to the reason that we are making such an early start?” The King set a fast pace through the rough terrain and it was a bit of a struggle to strike up conversation as well as keep up.
“You may,” the King replied and the bard could faintly hear something that sounded like an irritated harrumph.
“Then, begging your Majesty’s pardons. why are we…”
“To keep from being killed.”
The bard stopped walking. “Killed, your Majesty?”
The King also halted and turned towards the bard. Slowly the King reached out his hand, and for a moment the bard thought he would be struck.
Instead the King gently touched a spot high on the Bard’s forehead. Pain shot its way down through the bard’s body.
“It’s worse than I thought in the dark. But you’ll heal. Just keep it clean.”
“Highness?” There was a note of fear entering the bard’s voice.
“We’re being hunted. If they find us, they’ll kill us. Just like they did to the rest of our companions.”