Story for the Day: A New Recruit
I was sitting at dinner when this story came to me. I had to write it down.
A New Recruit
It was one day soon after the commander and Den Asaan had returned from Mharvholan when a particular case was brought before the royal court. She what she might of Alasdair’s doing little during his day, but the commander was well aware from her own experiences that any time spent in court was unpleasant: it required forbearance for the ill-tempered noblemen, the readiness to subdue for the more disagreeable cases brought before the court, and the fortitude to officiate during the long hours while hearing the herald’s recitations and the whispering temptations of bored royals families.
There were cases, however, most worthy of Alasdair’s attention, and amidst the few petty grievances, necessary proclamations and proposals of bills, there was the odd case of a prisoner conveyed from Karnwyl to be tried in the royal courts of Diras Castle. At present, there was one such case being ported from the south by way of a sheepskin trade caravan. He was being escorted by the prison guard, left to travel in shackles among a few Karnwyl arrivals until he was transported to the capital where he was handed over to the Royal Guard. They had little difficulty in bringing him to the main gate of the keep, as he seemed to go willingly, but the guardsmen wished he would give them the sport of struggle of even escape to give them a capture of which they could boast to their friends.
He did not, however. The prisoner came to Diras to receive his sentence from the king. He had been captured in the west and was taken to Karnwyl for the interim until his case was to be presented and he was to be judged in conduct and character by the whole of the noble houses. He was brought to the doors of the courtroom with a few gapes at the grandeur of the hall but was surprised to find that the opulence and splendor he had expected was wanting. He could not deny the comfort this lack of sumptuousness afforded him: he had come anticipating to be shunned from the lap of magnificence yet the only luxury he perceived was in the pelisses of the passing noblewomen. This was not Allande’s castle, and though had never visited the castle hitherto, he had often heard of the finery within its walls during the reign of Alasdair’s brother.
The doors were soon opened and the prisoner was ushered into the court. King Alasdair stood presiding over the proceedings, and when the prisoner was brought before him, the herald announced his name and proclaimed his crime: Teague of the Hawarden family of Amene, captured for and account of longstanding thievery. The court was silent while they judged the shackled prisoner, each arm held by a guard and his features remorseful and indignant.
Alasdair thanked the herald and took hold of the proclamation to read the particulars but he found his task difficult when there was something so odd about this prison that he must remark him. He read the name on the decree once more to himself and made a thorough inspection of the strange creature before him: the prisoner was a Lucentian, or so he seemed to Alasdair, taller and leaner than himself, even to the point of being painfully thin possibly from starvation. Large and pointed ears, sharp eyes, wide mouth, intelligent features, tanned complexion, and long black hair recommended his heritage, and yet Alasdair had heard a Frewyn name.
“You’re Teague Hawarden?” Alasdair said with some misgiving.
The prisoner looked up and in a solemn voice said, “I am, Majesty.”
Alasdair made a few postulations of the prisoner being born from Lucentian parents, but there was something in his countenance that was unmistakably Frewyn. Although he was in a grave situation, he did not seem to fear Alasdair, much as many of the king’s subjects had learnt not to do, and though his crime was minor, he appeared to be excessively rueful. Alasdair thought that his remorse was contrived when he must notice the state in which Teague was kept: his long hair was in knots, his figure diminished and stooping, and his skin graced with a plethora of dirt uncommonly collected on his face and hands. He began to feel that something in this case was a miss and he would question until he discovered what it should be.
“Do you know your crime?” Alasdair said firmly.
There was a pause and then, “I do, Majesty,” Teague replied lowering his eyes.
“Do you have anything to say in your defense?” Alasdair hoped he did have something to attest, but instead of receiving the usual professions of innocence and reasons for the transgression, which may or may not be manufactured, the prisoner looked up at him with pleading eyes and said something Alasdair did not expect.
“Are my brother and sister well?” Teague entreated the king.
A brother and sister, Alasdair thought. He looked at the proclamation, read down a few passages and found that the prisoner was the eldest of a family currently being held at the Church in the outpost. “They’re being cared for by the boarding house in Amene.”
Teague made a deep sigh of gratitude and then said in a tremulous voice, “Please, majesty, do not give them away to other families. I’ll take care of them myself once I’m freed.”
“I had no intention of suggesting it,” Alasdair said calmly. “It says on the charge that you were caught stealing in the Amene markets. Is this true?”
“It is, Majesty.”
“May I ask what you took?”
“Food, Majesty,” was Teague’s soft reply.
Alasdair observed the prisoners skeletal frame and compared it to his history. “Not for yourself, surely.”
“No, Majesty. For my brother and sister.”
The realization of the crime began to overtake Alasdair. There had been no crime at all in his estimation: a brother doing what he must to keep his family well could not be professed laudable by any means in the court, but to Alasdair, this gesture was what held the most gravity. Were he in his situation, would he have done the same, but there was more here to uncover. He was too unwilling to confess the fullness of the transgression, and Alasdair must have it in detail to ascertain whether the prisoner was the one to be faulted or the kingdom. There had been a war and many were left despondent, and though Alasdair had done his utmost to render assistance to every family in need, there might have been one overlooked.
He placed the proclamation aside and stepped down from the center seat. The court stood in answer of respect to king’s descent from his podium and the prisoner was pushed down onto his knee. Alasdair motioned for the guard to undo their action and the prisoner was permitted to stand before him. “Do you have no means of employment?” Alasdair said quietly.
Teague gave him an eager and earnest look. “No, Majesty.”
“Can I ask why?”
Teague glanced at the surrounding nobles, all of them leaning forward to hear their somewhat private conversation. “My parents died in the war, leaving my siblings in my care, Majesty,” he replied in a hushed tone. “When Amene was invaded, my father’s business was destroyed. I found some work when the war was over, but not enough to sustain us for long.”
“May I ask what you do?”
“I was a conveyer for my father’s business. I brought goods over the mountains to Gallei to be traded in Eirannean.”
Alasdair sighed in humiliation and rubbed his hand against his brow. He understood the prisoners paucity and now must as the requisite questions that would acquit him. “Did you seek assistance at the Church?”
“I did, Majesty, but the Church at Amene was unable to give me much. My home suffered much during the war. We lost our house and I was forced to live with them at the old infirmary until we could find somewhere else to go.”
“Did you try Westren or even the surrounding villages?”
“I wanted to but it’s not easy for me to travel during winter, Majesty. My brother and sister are but three and four years old.”
Alasdair winced for the ignominy of the situation. The war had made deprived of so many but it should not have made criminals of those who would be noble. He felt all the shame on the side of the kingdom that Teague exuded on his own account, and he knew not what to say that could make the situation any less discomforting. An apology would be so meager in comparison to what he was owed: the kingdom had made a beggar and a thief out of a honest man, it had rewarded his efforts with imprisonment, and brought him here for absolution.
“I know I’m not setting a good example for them, Majesty,” Teague murmured, “but I’d rather be a thief than have my family starve.”
There was a bustle and a muttering around the courtroom as the nobles caught the end of the prisoner’s profession. They took this to be his testimony and began discussing it at a rapid pace. The general consensus was that the Lucentian was lying due to the known and cunning character of those of his race, but a shout from their king for silence quieted all their conjectures.
Alasdair gave the order to have Teague freed, and the Royal Guard obeyed his word without question. The prisoner’s shackles were undone and the guards stepped away, leaving the king facing his desperate subject. “Would you accept help if I offered it?” Alasdair entreated.
Teague rubbed his wrists and stared at his adjudicator with some surprise. “Help? I’m here to sentenced, Majesty.”
“And what if I sentenced you to join the armed forces? Would you accept it?”
Teague hardly knew what to say. He did not suffer from pride when being offered aid but that the gesture should come from the king on the day of his trail was unconscionable.
When he received no reply beyond an astonished gawp, Alasdair added, “You’ll receive a wage, food and shelter while in service. I’ll have to station you in Diras to appease the court so that the Royal Guard can watch you, but you’ll be able to see your family and send them some money for clothing and the things they need.”
Such openhandedness and munificence was not to be conceived. Teague attempted to comprehend the offer being made him: a home, continual employment, comparable wages- this was not a sentence at all. It was the gift of survival and occupation, and after having spent so much time in the struggle of keeping his brother and sister alive while neglecting himself, the kindness he was being show surmounted him and he closed his eyes to cry. He allowed the king to see a few tears but no more, and as he was wiping the droplets from his filthy and gaunt cheeks, he observed a familiar ring on the king’s small finger. The one he had seen on the tapestry of King Dorrin in the main hall was the same he remarked, and with a calming inhalation, he realized he was standing before Dorrin’s heir and not Allande’s successor. “I accept my sentence,” he said in a quiet and trembling voice, “until such time my king sees fit to release me.”
The Herald called out the sentence and the trial had done: five years in service under the Brennin crown without the promise of liberation, permitted visitations by friends and family members, and the prohibition of leaving Frewyn without the king’s orders. The gavel was pounded, the bustle of the court resumed, and the king and Teague stood before the podium together.
“The guards will show you to the barracks when you’re ready,” Alasdair said with a tender half-smile.
Teague nodded and swallowed hard, unknowing of how to express his gratitude for his kind exoneration. He inhaled to declare his thanks but was impeded by a raise of the king’s hand.
Alasdair would hear no words of gratification. To him, this inattention was unpardonable and it was he who was grateful that to be made conscious of this case. He felt that Teague had already be punished by the war and that he should suffer no more degradation by submitting himself to his acquitter. The culpability of the case was Alasdair’s and to accept thankfulness where duty to his people was due was a sting Alasdair could not abide.
Teague shuffled out of the court and gave Alasdair a backward glance of immense exaltation. To see and to care for his family was all that he desired, and being able to perform that duty without the threat of imprisonment was all his appreciation.