I’ve been looking back over snippets and stories and half-finished things I’ve written. This is one of the latter. I will probably continue to edit and post what I have (and may even write an ending if you like it, as it’s not done).
Next: part two
“So the queen wishes to re-marry!?” The harsh tones of an inebriated dwarf echoed across the dirty bar, silencing a fair few of its patrons. “But His Majesty is not yet even dead!”
Ordinarily she would have ignored this, some excitable fool with too much ale in his system raving incoherently about the state of the kingdom. However, these were not ordinary times; the dwarf’s words had the woman raising her head from her own pint and eyeing the man from across the room. She was not alone in this. The usually loud yells and cheers of the bar had diminished in the wake of this news. The king was ill, that was for sure, but this talk of the queen was certainly a very new rumour, and a very dangerous one at that.
“And what if she does take the foreign bastard as her husband? Tarrend would rule over us as they’ve been trying for years to do? No, I won’t stand for it!” Sounding far less drunk than he was acting, the dwarf stood upon his chair, just reaching the height of his human companions, as indignant as only a man from beneath the earth could be.
His companions attempted to hush him, glancing nervously about at the twenty or so other patrons that filled the inn. Yet the little man would not stop. Reyst was mildly amused, ready to shake her head and return to her ale when the dwarf snorted loudly at one of his soft-spoken friends. “Caevrin? What about him? They said that even the king now admits to it. He’s the crown prince, he is. He’ll take the throne before that Tarrend arse can!”
Caevrin. That had murmurs echoing across the inn. After all, in this town, the story of the Duke’s son was something of legend and for it to so suddenly be brought back into politics after so many years…
“Now that is something we should all hear again!” The voice, this time, was that of the local drunk. A bard who, after a few free drinks, was more than happy to tell his tales to the ale-swilling crowd. He was a little more sober tonight, it seemed. Sober enough to know when to interrupt an unwelcome situation, at any rate.
“The story of Caevrin is one that you all know well. Yet it is one that few ever seem to tire of.” The bard continued, while the dwarf’s friends convinced the unruly man to quiet down and focus on his pint.
Reyst let out the tiniest of growls, “Not this again,” she muttered to herself, turning to leave. But the crowd was getting excited and to squeeze past them to the exit would not be pleasant. Besides, she had almost a full glass in front of her. One more time for this story wouldn’t kill her, surely.
“T’was score and some years ago that the lad was born. Born to our Duke and Duchess, to the lovely Cavara. Ah, what a sight was m’lady. Though her beauty shines on all now, her prime found m’lady a sight for the loneliest eyes. Throughout our lands and beyond was m’lady sought for hand and marriage, but t’was our own Lord Alron which caught her heart. Caught her and wed her and from him she produced a fine son.
“The lad was strong, even from birth, and as he grew so did his acuity in all things. Blessed with his mother’s charm, he grew to be a brave and noble boy with hair like the wing of a blackbird. By his first years of manhood he was sought after for the hands of many daughters of scores of lords across the land. A fine knight, they knew he would make, and a finer duke to that. And yet! When the young lord did return from his knightly training, things were not as they had been. The young man acted queerly, and no longer showed interest in the balls or the lithe young women that attended them. Neither m’lady nor her lord husband could fathom as to what ailed their beloved son, though they tried to understand his condition.” Here he paused, flashing wide blue eyes around at the crowd as they waited in silence. They knew the next part, they were all regulars to this inn after all, and yet they revelled in the drama of a well-told tale.
“For many weeks they tried. Those weeks fed into months until, finally, Caevrin wanted no more to do with the young ladies who sought to wed him. He had grown into a tall, strong lad and even his parents’ will was not enough to shake his resolve. One day the knowledge found them, and it was worse than they had feared, for no illness had befallen their knightly son but… love.”
“A harlot,” Reyst murmured beneath her breath along with the bard. Oh she’d heard this many times over the last month. “A clever vixen of common background, a liar and a thief!”
“The young Caevrin claimed his heart had been astolen by the lass. Refusing with all his might, he urged away any hand to wed that was not that of the bewitching creature. M’lady was distraught, she begged and pleaded with her beloved child to reconsider. She urged him to take a fitting bride, a young woman with whom he could rule over the duchy in pride. To no avail, for Caevrin would not give up the wench. So it fell to his lord father to set things aright.
It was a dark, deep night that one, no moon to guide the hands of the men he sent for blood. They found the mistress, whether she be mere lass, or witch or some darker creature, and did for her with such justice. Taken to the stake, she was, along with the brigands and thieves awhich she had residenced with. Each of the worthless beasts burned in that dark witches’ night.” Cheers lifted from the crowd at the justice. Whoops and lifted cups toppling ale to the rushes on the floor. The bard waited until the cries died down, before he continued in hushed tones.
“Now the young lord was loathe to hear this news so poor to him. Like a wild beast, he began to tear at all around him. The rooms of the castle proved no match for his rage, and though m’lady tried her best to contain her anguish, she could not. It was this very night that she let slip, in her frustration, the very secret which haunts her ’til this day. ‘‘A petulant child who beds with commoners does not deserve the title of duke!’” the bard’s voice rose, screeching through the bar in imitation. “She screamed at her son in a fit of rage, ‘You are not even your father’s son. Leave this place!’
“A bastard! His mother’s sin. Our lord duke was furious at first but he loved his wife far too well, and is too honourable a man, to let it come between them. For the young knight, however, there was no solace. His dark lover dead, his title awash on rocky shores, he fled.” The pause here was long and slow and the bard met the eyes of every man that looked in his direction, gaze intense.
He was silent still, until a young bar-wench called out, “And then what ‘appened?”
“Ah, yes. It is said that the young man fled to the South, and there he remains. Some say he found his lover once more, for she was something unkillable by fire and steel. Others say he joined up with mercenaries, using his knightly training to aid Southern rebellions. Beyond that, however… his fate lies with the gods.”
An impressed silence filled the room before it was broken, though not by the applause as the bard and even Reyst, had expected. Instead, it was a single voice – a companion of the noisy dwarf.
“There’s more to the story ‘an that. More what starts now, six years from the day Caevrin were exiled. Rumour has it that people’ve bin lookin’ for him once more. Those that ought find him, though, get sent back without their bodies.” The man at the door was wiry and thin, too tall, it seemed, for his skin. His slicked, black hair reminded Reyst of oil and his pale eyes were small and clever.
“The bit about the queen be true,” he continued in a silky tone, “lookin’ for the king’s death to marry that Tarrend emperor and doom us all to the wrath of the underworld.”
“Treason!” Snarled an elf from across the room, practically leaping to his feet. “How dare you speak of Her Majesty in such a way! These rumours are poisonous lies that-”
“Silence!” There was a commanding note to the newcomer’s voice that had not been there before and the elf stopped in his tracks. “I ain’t yet done with my talking, boy. I never said these were true, just sayin’ what I heard. What’s more is that the Caevrin lad wasn’t just any bastard. Oh no, no, friends. ‘Is Lordship was a royal bastard. The King himself did take to ‘is bed the lovely Duchess Cavara and her first and only son was his. Why else would her husband not have produced ‘er any more little’uns, eh?” A wicked grin crossed the man’s face, flashing yellowed teeth.
Shocked silence fell across the room and the man took his cue to continue. “S’being said His Majesty knows of his Queen’s plans. That he’s sent men out to try an’ find Caevrin. But ye were right there, master bard,” he turned now to the bard who looked thoroughly unimpressed at having the attention taken from him, though certainly interested in what this man had to say. “All their heads bin sent back in neat little parcels. Looks like Caevrin don’t want t’ be found. Still cut up about the death of his one true love, I s’pose.” He laughed, then, a grating chuckle that sounded like wet chainmail scraped across stone.
“But don’t let me ruin yer nights, lads. Keep up with yer drink, but ponder that. Might be a reward from the king himself if someone was t’ find the new heir. After all, the princes did find their deaths at the hands of the Terrand army but last spring…” He fell quiet then, heading towards the bar.
Taking this as his moment to regain the attention of a now-shocked crowd, the bard stood upon his chair and raised his voice. “Yes, the story of how our brave princes fell! That is, of course, a tale for the times…”
Reyst was no longer listening, her mind was elsewhere. A rather panicked elsewhere at that: people were looking for Caevrin. In one single moment her job had become inexplicably more complicated. She needed to confirm these rumours, she needed to calm down, she needed a drink. Preferably in a different village.
tl;dr You don’t need to be a commoner to be a bastard.