The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 3

The guards at the gate spied them immediately after they stepped out from the shadows under the trees, and there was a quick bristling and grimacing and hefting of weapons among them as they realized that Snave was not just an unusually tall traveler. A horn sounded inside the barbican, and archers quickly ran along the ramparts and appeared above at the gatehouse battlements. But they were well-trained troops, and despite looking decidedly uncomfortable at the gargoyle's appearance, they kept a cool calm about themselves as they watched the unlikely trio approach the gate.

Jamie's eyes took in the castle as they walked nearer. It was simply the largest structure he had ever seen, every bit as large as the town in area. The encircling wall was the height of five tall men, and crafted of large ashlars of granite set carefully together, and mortared in so well a fashion that Jamie doubted that a finger would go between them. Bastions appeared at regular intervals, with faces visible in the narrow vertical windows of the nearer ones. The wall walked away from either side of the barbican housing the iron portcullis and proceeded away among the hill country, vanishing finally into well-laid curves that circled about the place and met somewhere in the rear.

At the bottom of the wall a wide, deep, encircling dry moat extended outward a good stone's throw from the curtain wall, with the removed earth forming a tall berm at the outer edge, and with a sharp drop on the other side to closely-set iron spikes pointing upwards from the bottom of the ditch below. A heavy drawbridge extended from the face of the barbican, at the end of which stood three of the King's soldiers, watching them approach.

Above all this, the keep modeled and posed for the world: a tall and slightly rambling bulk, well-endowed with crenellated towers made mysterious by the vertical slitted eyes of windows and arrow loops. It was an immense structure, easily twice the height of the encircling walls, somehow both graceful and foreboding in appearance, and obviously older than time.

Jamie was aware of the number of arrows pointed their way as they came near the drawbridge, and he felt a small sense of relief as their party stopped only a few feet away from the three soldiers without a single one of them being loosed.

"What have we here, now?" the tallest soldier asked, a handsome young fellow looking both surprised and friendly. "Just boys you are, no older than my own brother. And in the company of the devil's son, by the look of you. May I ask your business with us this fine day?"

Jamie smiled. "I am the Master Thorvil, summoned to see the Prince. This is my apprentice, Garvin, and the wooden one is Snave, my accountant. He is very good with numbers, and has his eyes on yours, I may add."

The soldier smiled. "My. A deftness with words in one so young. Could it be you are not the boy you seem? I have been told you are actually a fairly old and grumbly fellow with whiskers and a temper, and that the King's mages are a bit perturbed by you, not to mention made fearful." He winked and leaned closer. "'Bout time they had their comeuppance. You are welcome here, and I am told to bring you quickly to the Prince, who has need of your talents."

Jamie grinned, completely put at ease by the man's friendliness. That this was not just some soldier of the wall was obvious. "May I ask your name, sir?"

The man nodded, and made a small bow. "I am Getrell, Chief Defender of the Prince, and his right hand. I have been awaiting your arrival." He frowned, just ever so slightly. "I suppose it would be a waste of breath to suggest that your accountant remain with the soldiers of the gate while I take you to see the Prince?"

Jamie nodded. "Yes. Snave must accompany me always, to keep my ledgers correct and my business sound. He is somewhat in the position that you hold with His Royal Highness, the Prince."

Getrell nodded, smiling. "Then I understand completely the situation. Will you all accompany me then?"

"A moment," one of the other soldiers said, another tall fellow, with a scarred face and piercing eyes. He performed a small bow towards Jamie and his party, and made to draw Getrell aside. They whispered to each other a moment; then the new fellow nodded, but looked distinctly unhappy about it.

"Come, Master Thorvil, and company," Getrell said, smiling and extending a hand towards the gate.

The scarfaced soldier waved a hand at the narrow windows above, and with a grunt of metal against stone the iron portcullis began to rise. It moved only to a height enough to allow them to pass, and then descended just as quickly behind them.

"I thought I saw some unhappiness in the face of your fellow back there," Jamie said carefully, not wanting to appear overly nosy. That the other guard had been displeased that Snave was to be allowed to enter the castle proper was plain.

"Merthon," Getrell said, nodding, "is a fine soldier and a skilled tactician. He is tasked with the defense of the gate, and it is only logical that the best defense is not to allow a potential source of trouble to pass in the first place." Getrell grinned at them as they passed beneath a second, open portcullis, and entered the castle's greened ward. "Your Snave has the look of several hundred fierce warriors rolled into one package. I don't begrudge Merthon his judgment in the slightest. I am bowing to practicality, as you must go to the Prince, and if you will not go without your wooden companion, then you must go with him."

Jamie laughed, liking both Getrell's friendly manner and his rather charming smile. The man was certainly competent, and nice-looking, and Jamie could figure on a certain level why the Prince had retained him as his personal guard. That Getrell's fine right hand might be put to other uses was a thought that Jamie couldn't help to consider.

Garvin seemed equally taken with Getrell. He kept smiling as they walked, and Jamie had to smile himself at his best friend's open liking for the soldier. That it was a liking and no more was equally obvious. Garvin, after all, had good taste, and Getrell was one most obviously flavored with niceties.

They approached the main entry to the keep; but at the last moment Getrell took them to the side and they entered a low building hugging the keep's outer wall.

"A quick and direct approach to my Prince," Getrell assured them, taking them around bales of hay and into a rear chamber that appeared empty save for wooden shelves holding a variety of horse gear.

Jamie did not see what the soldier did, but the shelves suddenly parted, revealing a narrow entry just wide enough for a man to squeeze through.

"A passage concealed, if you will, but a quicker one, and not subject to eyes that may attach to wagging tongues," Getrell assured them, lowering his head and turning sideways to squeeze through the entry.

It was immediately apparent to Jamie that Snave would not fit through the narrow opening, and he suspected this to be an attempt to separate the gargoyle from their group. He turned sideways and stuck his head through the narrow doorway, and saw that the opening behind was wide and tall, more than enough room for Snave to proceed.

"You'll need to widen the doorway," he said softly to the gargoyle, after pulling back.

"Are you coming?" Getrell called, from the other side.

"Yes." Jamie grinned at the gargoyle. "Can you not mess it up too badly? And maybe we can put it back after we pass?"

The gargoyle floated forward, and the charms on his chest radiated a soft and eerie rose-colored light. The floor beneath their feet rumbled as with a minor quake of the earth, and suddenly the doorway was three times its former size. Getrell was visible on the other side, looking astonished and a bit unnerved.

Jamie and Garvin and Snave entered. "Now we shall repair it," Jamie said, waving a hand at the enlarged doorway while casting a quick look at Snave. Again the rose-colored light, and again the rumble in the earth below; and then the doorway was as it was, and the shelves beyond moving to cover it.

Jamie turned to Getrell, who was now looking at him with interest.

"Nice try," Jamie said, smiling. "But I could as easily level this entire structure if it meant gaining entry for my party."

Garvin cast Jamie a quick look of amazement at his bravado, but managed to turn it into a worshipful glance when Getrell looked his way.

The soldier looked impressed. "You cannot blame me for protecting my Prince. However --" he broke off, narrowed his eyes a moment at Jamie. " -- I see now that had you wished harm on anyone inside this place, you could have come a more direct route. You are likely the more dangerous of your group, despite your Snave's outward appearance." He grinned. "So I will make no further attempts to leave the wooden one behind."

Oh. Obviously, Getrell thought it had been Jamie's powers that had opened up the wall. Jamie smiled. "Things will go much quicker and easier if you do not."

Getrell's eyes settled upon him, and the soldier tried not to grin. "You are far too cute to be a gruff, bewhiskered old man."

Jamie didn't have to pretend hard to look astonished. "You flirt with me? I am old enough to be your very great grandfather."

"I did not mean to flirt. I just meant ---" Getrell smiled, looking momentarily embarrassed. "Aye, I meant to flirt. Shall we move along?"

Jamie smiled as they started along the hallway. Garvin came up beside Jamie and gave him a small prod with his elbow, smiled at Jamie and nodded his head forward at Getrell's back.

He is cute, is he not?

Jamie tried not to laugh, giving Garvin a quick shake of his head.

I don't know what you mean!

Garvin's smile only grew.

I know you too well, Jamie Grimmstone, not to know how your head works!

Jamie felt his face redden slightly. Garvin's thoughts were plain in his eyes.

I love only you! Jamie thought, as hard as he could.

Garvin reached out and briefly squeezed Jamie's hand.

Getrell turned suddenly to look at them. "Only a bit farther." But then he caught sight of Garvin pulling his hand from Jamie's, and his eyes widened a bit. He smiled. "I am not the only flirt here, I see."

Jamie felt his face redden again, but also felt his daring. Getrell, it was becoming to seem, was in the service of the Prince because he shared a certain tolerance with the young heir to the throne.

"So what services do you provide for our Prince besides protection?" Jamie asked casually, and heard a small intake of breath from Garvin at his side.

For the first time Getrell looked distressed. He was silent a long moment before speaking. "Is it so apparent?"

In fact, the soldier's face showed even a trace of fear. Jamie suddenly considered what it would be like to be one who enjoyed the company of young men but who, in order to command the respect of men who thought differently, could not allow that pleasure to be seen. Getrell was handsome and masculine in every way, and likely the maidens of the castle fought over a place near enough to smile at him as he passed. That he could only smile in return, while holding his most fond looks for the Prince and his followers, must be troublesome to his happiness in the extreme.

Jamie immediately felt badly. Kidding about was one thing; but he had no wish to harm the spirit of this pleasant young man. "No. It is not apparent at all. I was just guessing, by some things you said. And I apologize now, for prying into your private affairs."

A smile tugged at Gertrell's face. "You aren't really a grumbly, bewhiskered old man, are you?"

Jamie sighed. He'd love to be able to speak the truth, but --

"Only on the inside, Getrell. I have age regressed my exterior to what you see now, and it is as honest an appearance as a boy this age could have." He smiled, continued on a little more softly, "I am a little startled to see now that with the physical regression has come a roving eye for other things that also went with this period of life."

The smile on Getrell's face expanded. "Ah. You must have been quite a fearsome mage at sixteen, then. Quite...fearsome." His gaze went to Garvin, and he nodded. "I think I see."

Garvin couldn't help a small laugh, and Jamie felt a pleasant tingle at the compliment. Getrell couldn't be but perhaps four, or maybe five years their senior. Jamie found the man beautiful and pleasant, and only wished he could have met him when the other was slightly earlier in life. That the man seemed to think that Jamie's age-regression had been sponsored by a desire to be with Garvin on an equal basis only confirmed the inner identity of the Prince's right-hand man.

"I say we speak of it no more and proceed, all secrets safe amongst ourselves," he said, grinning at Getrell. "And with promises between gentlemen of like bearing that no harm whatsoever will be laid upon your Prince from this direction."

Getrell's smile widened, and his eyes twinkled merrily. "Well-spoken, and I feel the truth of your words. Shall we proceed, then, to the aid of my Prince?"

They continued on down the ancient hidden hallway, passing alcoves full of armors and weapons and other supplies; but no other doors until they reached the end, where a large wooden panel braced with iron bands blocked further passage.

Again, Jamie did not see what the soldier did to make the great panel slide slowly aside, revealing the backside of a heavy curtain a vibrant green in color. Getrell pushed the curtain aside, turned and held it while Jamie and the others passed.

They were in a large room, well-furnished with heavy pieces of oaken furniture, all carved and inlaid in the finest of fashions. Tapestries hung about the walls, and portraits and landscapes between them. On the floor, rich carpets of tasteful colors strove to hide polished stone floors almost as beautiful to the eye. Above, iron fixtures holding candles hung from the timbered ceiling by iron chains. But the light in the room came from small yellow-white orbs floating within a small latticed cage in the middle of each fixture - a tribute to the art of the castle's mages. Certainly, a room to be reckoned with in terms of beauty and comfort, no doubt a pleasant comment upon the nature of those who served the Prince in the capacity of creating and maintaining his surroundings.

"Very nice," Jamie said approvingly, letting his eyes rove about.

Garvin was also casting his gaze about the room, and Jamie could not miss the look of pleasure in his best friend's eyes. He smiled, thinking of Garvin amongst such accommodations, and dressed in princely bedclothes, with a hand extended towards Jamie, inviting him to...

Oh my. Jamie took a breath, closed his eyes and reopened them, looked to where the soldier was standing. "Is your Prince nearby? We should see him as soon as is possible."

Before I become lost in the splendor of this place, and company, he added silently to himself, smiling at Garvin.

"If you would please to wait, I shall announce you," Getrell said, giving them a little bow and a bigger smile. "I am quite certain that His Royal Highness, the Prince, will be as enchanted with meeting you both as I have been."

He turned, went the length of the room and went through a solid-looking wooden door at the end, closed it behind him.

"Oh, such a place, Jamie," Garvin said softly, coming closer and rubbing his shoulder against Jamie's. "It brings out the romance in me, I am certain."

Jamie smiled fondly at the other boy. But he whispered, "Careful. We may be overheard and watched."

Garvin nodded, but went on as though nothing had been said. "It is a beautiful room, don't you think?"

Jamie had to admit that. There was something both restful and inspiring about the place. It would be easy to relax in such a room, especially in the company of a special friend. Jamie had little doubt that that was exactly what the prince used the room for, and on some level he wondered how many fine young men had been so entertained here during the prince's active sex life.

The door at the other end of the room opened, and two gaudily-dressed boys only slightly older than themselves stepped through, each holding a triangle of steel in one hand, and a steel tapper in the other. In unison, they began to slowly strike the triangles with the tappers, and intone: "Presenting Sedwick, most noble and brave Prince, Heir to the Realm, Friend of the poor masses, Seeker of Truth amongst the wronged..."

They were interrupted by the prince himself, who pushed out of the doorway behind them and stepped between them, grabbing the triangles in his two hands and stilling them.

"They do not need to hear that, Mort and Miles," he said, perhaps a little sternly. But then he smiled at the two boys in turn, crinkled his nose at each, and nodded his head back towards the room behind him. "Wait for me?"

The two boys smiled and nodded, and literally scampered back into the other room. Getrell came out, smiling over his shoulder at the pair as he passed.

The prince adjusted his robes, and then strode towards Jamie and his party, his eyes coming up to meet theirs as he approached. "I am so pleased you have finally arrived, Master Thorvil..."

He trailed off and stopped in mid-step, staring at Jamie and Garvin, first in surprise, and then in delight. The prince was slightly taller and heavier than they, though even the loose-fitting robes he wore could not conceal the fitness of the body beneath. But it was his eyes that were the most entrancing: bright, inquisitive, and interested. " I was told you were a somewhat temperamental old fellow who by magick had reverted himself to young, but I was hardly prepared for...for...this." He looked as if composing himself, and then his eyes went from Jamie to Garvin and back. "Which of you is the Master Thorvil?"

"I am he," Jamie said, raising a hand.

The prince came forward and extended a hand, and Jamie automatically extended his, took the prince's carefully, and bowed his head over it before easing his grip. His eyes were on the prince's face, seen in passing in the streets, and now proven not to have been fully appreciated by that glimpse then given their eyes. The prince's grip tightened on Jamie's fingers, not allowing them to get away.

The prince's head was covered with dark ringlets of curly hair, and beneath, blue eyes bright and pleasing gazed out, eyes so light of blue, however, that they bordered on gray. But they were alight with intelligence and quite alert, and Jamie felt them examining him. The prince's cheeks held a hint of rose, his lips begged to be kissed, and Jamie felt a small weakness in his knees even as a part of himself scolded the rest of him for thinking things unfaithful to his beloved Garvin.

Jamie couldn't help it, though.

The prince smiled. "Certainly, someone as cute as you cannot be a fellow hundreds of years old and somewhat short of temper?"

Jamie was vaguely aware of a snicker emanating from Garvin's quarter. The prince heard it, too, and released Jamie's hand and immediately went for Garvin's. "You laugh, yet you are equally appealing, my straw-headed one."

Jamie watched as Garvin turned red, but accepted the prince's hand and bowed his head over it. The prince's eyes took an equal measure of Garvin before he released the boy's hand and returned to stand in front of Jamie. "My day is fulfilled now. Just the sight of you pair is heaven."

In any other person, the line would have brought a slightly amused smile. But the prince so honestly meant his appreciation of Jamie and Garvin that the two boys felt pleased instead.

The prince eyed Jamie again, canted his head to one side, smiled. "Not three hundred? Certainly not?"

Again, Jamie held up the lie; it was becoming painful to say now, and he was wishing on some level he had not ever started the deception. "Only inside, my Prince. What you see without is as you see it."

The prince sighed. "A most potent magick." He grinned. "Would that you had the power to cast it upon more bearded old men of the land."

Jamie was fighting now, not to be caught up in the prince's charm. That the boy heir to the throne held a near magickal appeal was apparent now, and Jamie could well understand Getrell's loyalty and love of his prince, as well as the apparent eagerness on the part of the prince's retainers.

Jamie took a breath, released it. One thing was clear now: the prince scarcely appeared to be suffering. He looked hale and hearty, and cute beyond words. Jamie would not trade away Garvin's love and company for the riches of the entire earth, yet nor could he simply cast away the appeal of the young prince. He would not ever consider acting upon that appeal...well...he could imagine what it might be like, perhaps. That was, at least, safe.

Jamie cleared his throat. "I was told you were suffering, my Prince; yet I don't believe I have ever seen a fellow looking quite so healthy."

The prince smiled, and his eyes twinkled. "You charm me, wise mage." He frowned then, and nodded. "I have had a spell cast upon me, one that plays devil with my natural urges. It has hurt me deeply, and also those I love and that love me in return."

Jamie shook his head. "I see no evidence of such harm to you, my Prince."

Sedwick nodded, looked over his shoulder at Getrell. "Close that door, would you, Getrell? And assist me?"

The soldier closed the door into the other room and then came over to stand behind the prince as the lad undid the ties of his robe and threw it back upon his shoulders. Getrell grasped it by the collar and helped it off of the prince.

Jamie felt a small thrill within. The prince now stood in the briefest of undergarments, a blue silk thing that clung to his hips and scarcely covered a thing. His body, thus revealed, was entrancing, all tanned flesh over smooth muscle that was advertised yet not flaunted. The prince was hairless save for a dab of dark under each arm, and Jamie found himself glancing at Garvin to see if he was feeling the same.

Garvin obviously was, if the protrusion of his eyes was anything to go by. Jamie felt a small smile appear upon his lips, and returned his gaze to the prince.

Sweet Garvin. At least the boy was honest in his appraisal.

The royal lad frowned, and then stunned Jamie and Garvin by grasping the undergarment and bending forward, thrusting it downward. The silken thing dropped to his ankles, and he stepped out of it, standing naked before them.

Jamie's eyes went right to the point of most interest...and he gasped.

The prince's maypole was tiny.

Almost unconsciously, both he and Garvin stepped forward to look.

The prince had a lovely set of orbs, full and round; but the maypole above was simply a stub, no more in length than Jamie himself had had at the age of eight or so. The organ stood straight out, it's business end thrust out from the foreskin; but it was so - well - short was the word that overpowered all comparisons.

"You see my dilemma," the prince said softly.

Jame gasped as understanding came. "This is not its normal state, I take it?"

The prince gave a soft snort. "It is not. I was cursed by a dark mage I chanced to offend. Not even intentionally, mind you. I simply denied him something I felt inappropriate to share." He shrugged. "My own body."

Jamie felt his jaw drop. "He lusted after you, and when refused, did this?"

The prince nodded. "Cursed with smallness, he told me, until my vision grew large enough to accept his advances."

Jamie was outraged. That someone would use magick for such deviltry both appalled and embarrassed him.

He looked again at the prince's tiny organ. "Perhaps it grows larger, when aroused?"

The prince smiled sadly. "You see it aroused even now, brought about by the beauty of yourself and your apprentice."

Jamie didn't miss the compliment, but was too caught up in the other's distressful situation to pay it heed. He simply stared. Aroused, and not even a thumb's length?

"A most evil curse, indeed," Jamie said, looking at Garvin. "We shall do what we can, won't we?"

Garvin nodded, and Jamie could see the outrage in his best friend's eyes. To see this done to anyone would be a horror; but to the Prince? One so appealing and sweet of nature?

"What can you tell me about this mage?" Jamie asked.

The Prince frowned. "By name, Urvan. In the service of my father until of late. The most powerful of the mages he had retained. Always a bit of a maverick, hard to control, prone to going off and doing things his own way. My father admonished him several times for outspokenness, and would have disciplined him for impudence, as well...but I secretly think he didn't quite dare. He would say he needed Urvan's powers, but I think he also somewhat feared them."

The Prince nodded at his own judgment. "Perhaps justly so. Urvan took down some pegs several mages that were older and more experienced, not the least of whom is Kundan, Chief Mage in this castle before Urvan's arrival, and Chief Mage again since his departure."

"This Urvan is young?" Jamie asked, trying not to show surprise.

"Yes. But twice my own in age, and simply running with forces. You could see it in him, in his eyes, mostly." Sedwick gave an almost sad shake of his head. "He was quite handsome, too. My refusal to indulge him in his desires was based entirely upon his nature, irrespective of his good looks." He leaned a little closer to Jamie and smiled. "I so admire beauty of spirit, as well as beauty of countenance."

Again, Jamie ignored a small snicker from Garvin's way.

"I have a full dossier on the man, set for your perusal," the Prince continued. He waved a hand, and Getrell came forward, carrying a tied leather pouch of the type to carry documents. "All that we know of Urvan, from the day he walked up to the gates seeking service, to the time he vanished into the night after cursing my goodfellow."

It was Jamie's turn to smile. The Prince used the word as one might handle a terribly sharp double-edged dagger: carefully, aware that too much turn either way on inserting might part the sheath. But that the boy prince still loved the word despite his predicament could not be missed.

"You've had a long trip, and you and your apprentice...and your wooden fellow " -- the Prince stared at Snave, almost as though really noticing the gargoyle for the first time -- "he is quite imposing, is he not?" He smiled. "All of you must be weary. I have rooms for you, and would be grateful if all of you would join me in an hour's time for the evening meal."

Jamie smiled. "Would it be too much trouble to allow us to have one room together?"

The Prince, bless his heart, smiled in such a fashion that tried very, very hard not to show what he was thinking. But it didn't quite come off, and neither did the attempt by Getrell to hide his own thoughts.

Sedwick allowed his face a moment to straighten, before leaning forward, his eyes sparkling. "I'd ask you and your apprentice both to share my room with me tonight, if I did not think it might offend you."

Jamie felt a small thrill, and Garvin simply reddened straight down to his neck, but smiled as if someone had tickled his...fancy.

"I think I would actually be honored and pleased. But business before pleasure, as you well know." Jamie nodded, and then said softly, "More fun, I think, too, once Your Royal Highness has had all of his powers restored."

The Prince smiled, and turned to look at his protector. "Oh, I like this one, Getrell. He has the looks of an angel and the manners of a saint."

Getrell grinned, but also eyed Jamie knowingly. "He also has teeth, my Prince. I have seen them."

"Teeth can sometimes be fun," the Prince said, looking back at Jamie, and smiling contemplatively. He sighed. "I can well imagine." He looked at Garvin, and his smile intensified. "I'm sure you know what I mean, my straw-headed angel."

Garvin looked like he might laugh; but in the spirit of the moment nodded, and smiled at Jamie. "Well have I felt them, Your Royal Highness."

The prince laughed, stepped back into his undergarment, bent and pulled up it up about him. Getrell stepped forth and helped the prince back into his robe, and then the soldier moved over by one of the tapestries and gave a short pull on a braided golden cord hanging from a slot in the wall.

The door behind them opened, and another boy came in, perhaps a year older than Jamie, dressed in colorful clothing that somehow managed to look official while at the same time highlighting the boy's fine figure. He bowed his head at the prince and smiled. "Your wish, my Prince?"

Sedwick smiled at the lad, went at him as though he intended to pull the boy into his arms and kiss him. The boy's eyes grew wide; but at the very last second Sedwick reined in his movements and stopped next to the boy, and simply laid a hand on his shoulder. But the prince's eyes were bright. "Had you for a moment, didn't I?" Jamie heard the prince whisper.

Then Sedwick stepped back and looked at Jamie, his hand indicating the newcomer. "Raimey is my trusted retainer, and shall escort you to your rooms. He will provide for your needs while you visit the castle." He grinned at Jamie. "Just be careful what you ask him for, my grumbly old mage."

Raimey looked at Jamie, and then Garvin, and smiled. "Your wish is of course my wish as well, my Prince."

Jamie was enjoying the wordplay. He had no intention of misusing any of the prince's retainers, and he did not think the prince was seriously suggesting that he do so. That they were having fun jousting with words was apparent now.

"Raimey will be safe with us, I assure you, Your Royal Highness. I would not ask anything of him I would not ask of my own apprentice."

Garvin gasped, and the prince closed his eyes and laughed. "You have the soul of a duelist, mage." Sedwick opened his eyes and smiled. "Just remember, that at the conclusion of this business, you and your Garvin must stay at least one night as my guests. I would be honored."

Jamie looked at Garvin, who smiled and nodded.

"I think that can be managed," Jamie said, smiling. "We will of course want to stay around long enough to ensure that your restored equipment works again as it once did."

The prince's smile eased, and so did a slight undercurrent of tension in his manner. "I have confidence now that you can aid me. No one who speaks with such assurance could not."

Jamie was honored at the appraisal, and tried hard not to show the unease he felt at the words. In reality, he didn't even know where to begin!

Sedwick laughed again. "A very great pleasure to meet you, Master Thorvil. Raimey will guide you to your room, and then back to sup with me at the proper time." His eyes twinkled. "And again we can engage in this pleasant conversation."

He turned his smile to Garvin, nodded at him, and then turned about and headed back to the door from which he'd entered. Getrell stepped before him to open the door, followed the prince through, and closed the door behind him.

Jamie walked over to Raimey. "We shall follow you to the room."

Snave rose into the air, and the retainer suddenly went still, staring. He compressed his lips, and Jamie could see his unease.

"This is Snave," Jamie said gently. "He is made of wood, and he guards me, and my apprentice. He can be fearsome in battle, but he likes and looks after those that I like, and so you are quite safe around him."

Raimey blinked as Jamie's words soaked in; and then he smiled and led the way to another door across the room. "Such an impressive guardian you have, sir mage," he said, looking back over his shoulder. "But I cannot imagine anyone wanting to harm you."

Jamie reached out and stopped the retainer. "You must call me Jamie, of course."

The other boy blinked. "I thought your name was Thorvil?"

Jamie was getting far too easy at lying now for his own good. His heart thumped but one extra time at his gaff before an answer rose smoothly to his lips. "That is just to impress the customers, lad," he said quietly. "Who would be intimidated by a mage called Jamie? I ask you?" He grinned. "So I picked something a bit more formidable. But my friends call me Jamie, still."

Raimey smiled, pleased at being adopted as one of Jamie's friends. "As you wish...Jamie."

Jamie turned as Garvin came up, and clapped his friend on his shoulder. "This is Garvin, my apprentice, and also my very best friend in this or any world."

Garvin blushed slightly. "You may call me by name, too," he said to Raimey. "It would please me greatly." He stuck out his hand.

Raimey stared at it, looked at Jamie, then hesitantly offered his own. Garvin took it, shook it warmly.

A look of shyness overcame the prince's retainer as he suddenly found himself outside of his normal social status. Never before had guests of the Prince acted to treat him as a friend and equal.

"Will you come with me, please? I will show you to your room."

Jamie grinned, and Garvin grinned, and Snave simply looked wooden. But all three followed the Prince's lad into the hall and away from the beautiful room.

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