A bit shorter than usual, but I ran out of steam. Also, I’m missing another 2,200 or so words. It’ll be worse tomorrow, I’m sure.
“Now that we are private,” the king said in quieter tones, “let me inform you, Prince, of the news I received from the Duke of Faysnow.”
“I assumed that he was doing his usual rounds,” Helen said.
“He was, but he let slip a bit of news that was most interesting.”
“Really?” Antony said.
The king chewed a bit of his pie and nodded.
“Out with it, dear,” his wife said, placing two lumps of sugar into her tea.
The king wiped crumbs from his chin and cleared his throat. “Apparently, the D’ola’k tribe is rising a campaign, threatening the Bridgewell province.”
“Where Tytus is,” Helen said, dropping her tart in shock.
Please let him be safe, she prayed.
Antony patted her hand and gave her a reassuring smile. “He will be alright, Betrothed,” he said. Helen nodded.
“He will, daughter,” the king said, patting the other hand.
“If I may come in?” called a voice from the doorway.
Everyone looked at the purple-robed figure standing. His velvet clothes were threadbare and patched in stained white cloth in some placed. A small tabby draped itself on his right shoulder, looking as if it was asleep.
“Murice,” the king said, rising. “Come in, sir. You missed lunch. If you want, I can get someone to get you a plate of swine flesh.”
Murice, the castle’s instructor of Natural Studies, walked up to a chair and placed himself in. “No, that is alright, highness. I had a passable salami and swiss before I came here.”
“Then perhaps a pastry?” he waved a hand to the dessert tray.
“Ah, I am fond of chocolate, thankye.” The instructor glanced at the contents and picked out another brownie. “Quite legendary, these cookie cakes.”
“I will have to remind the pastry cook to send you a batch later on,” Helen said, passing over a cup of tea.
Murice sipped the drink without any additive. “Now, where was I. Hm.” He took another bite of the brownie and nodded. “Yes, the head you sent me.”
“Who sent you?” the queen said.
“I did,” Antony said. “I thought it would be an object of interest for the instructor.”
“Indeed,” Murice said. “And it was, for a good reason. The head had a most interesting growth on its side – a sprinkling of crystals of an umber hue. I gather these to be stormstones, and that they are quite lethal to use.”
“So we know, teacher,” Helen said.
“I know, highness, I thought to refresh your memories.” He cleared his throat. “Now, the stone, as we all know, has the interesting ability to control the weather, specifically the more dangerous types: storms and wind cones to name a few. However, the stone has its price, namely, the draining of one’s essence or spirit with every use. Many people have tried to remedy that problem, and all have failed.”
“Get to the point, teacher,” the king said.
“Indeed, sir, yes.” He coughed into his fist. “Now, I take it, Prince, that you thought that the head belonged to the giants, correct?” He barely waited for Antony’s nod before continuing. “Unfortunately, you are wrong. It is not a giant head, but an ogre head.”
“What?” the king said.
Murice leaned back in his seat and steepled his fingers on his torso. “Indeed, Majesty. The difference is rather interesting. I had to look at my predecessor’s notes to make sure that it was indeed the right classification.” He took the last bite of the brownie and gingerly wiped the crumbs from his robe. “Now,” he said, his voice turning pedantic. “We can say that the giants and ogres are the same, true, but the ogres have characteristic tattoos on their heads and hands, each clan with a different tattoo. If you saw the body, you would have also noticed that the ogre’s skin would have been far more pliant than a giant’s, seeing that ogres have a different diet consisting of sea vegetables and various forms of fish.”
“You got that from your notes or the previous instructor’s?” the king asked
“The latter, Majesty,” he said. “He had the remarkable experience riding with your brother, Horace, during the Ghu’Nah battles. During one of those battles, their mount was diverted to the north, and they had to fight against the giants and the ogres.”
King Ephraim nodded. “I remember that year. He spent most of it in the city of Silverpond, helping them win their own battle.”
“Indeed. Anyway, during those months, my predecessor befriended an ogre of whom he called Gwawyr. According to the notes, the ogre introduced him to his clan and in exchange of information, the two made a deal to help your brother to help the city. From that time onward, in gratitude, the citizens invited the clan to become citizens. What happened to both, he does not say.”
“But what does this have to do with the head?” Helen asked.
“The notes specifically mentioned how the clan looked like, including a few sketches. The clan has their heads shaved, to show off tattoos of spirals on the scalp. The shoulders would also have the tattoos.”
“How interesting,” Antony said cautiously.
“Indeed, Prince.” He drained the last of the tea. “Now, were was I. Ah yes, the head. Now, it was not torn off, but was instead sliced off. As of with a sword, or a giant metal cutter.”
“Please, teacher, we just had lunch,” Helen said. She peered into the tray and removed a small pinwheel cookie.
“Yes, sorry. Anyway, the problem is that none of the ogres or the giants use metal for their weapons. According to the notes, they use wood or stone.”
“How old are these notes?” Antony said. “They may be outdated.”
“Hm,” Murice said. “That is a possibility. The clan may have leaned towards metal as they settled down. I might have to add that to the notes. But to answer your question, Prince, they are about thirty some odd years old, which does make them outdated. Hm. Still,” he continued, brightening a bit, “the crystals point to the fact that, somehow, the ogre found a deposit of stormstone. I wish I knew where it was so I can investigate it.”
Antony nodded slowly and carefully looked at the end table, seeing the package still there.
“But what I have from the face will be more than enough for experimentation. It is not as if I can travel over to Silverpond and look for myself. And I rather not risk either you, Prince, or your son, King, for this endeavor.” He rose from the table. “I must get going. The head is getting rather ripe, and I must make a few more studies on it before I send it to get, er, cleaned,” he said, mindful of the company. He bowed. “Thank you for the time, king.”
“No problem,” the queen said, smiling a bit. “We must also be going; it is almost the afternoon court.”
“Of course, Majesty.” He walked towards the exit and paused at the package. “Hm? An interesting bundle. Who might it belong to?”
“It is mine, teacher,” Helen said, rising. “It is a gift to my betrothed.”
Murice nodded. “How romantic,” he said. “The Professor of Etiquette will be most pleased at such a gesture. I must let her know.” And he bustled off.
“Indeed, a romantic gesture,” Antony said, rising up to give Helen a tender peck on the cheek.
“I am sure that if he knew what it was, he would have begged my father to study it.”
“Yes, I must get this to my parents immediately.” He turned to the king and queen, standing a bit away. “With your permission, of course.”
The king nodded. “Of course, Prince.”