#Birthday Story: The Herald's Holiday - Part 2
Poor Harold. And he thought a visit to Lucentia was going to be a simple and peaceful journey.
|Join our Patreon to receive a copy of the Herald's Holiday|
The Journey glided out of port, and within a few minutes, they were sailing northward along the Eastern Sea. The crewmen busied themselves about the halyards, and the captain with with his navigator discussing whether they had better not stop in Marridon for supplies, and the Herald he had a moment to look about him and revel in the untinctured quietness of the sea. The slosh of the ram ploughing through the barm, the cries of the crewmen, the din of boots racing along the deck above were all muted by thick walls and furnished floors, and the Herald mantled over his tea and exhaled, feeling himself safe at last from any unwarranted interruption.remained in his room, delighting in all the isolation that the captain’s cabin could afford. Tea was soon spoken for, and the captain’s man arrived with a small trey, decorated with silver utensils, fine lace, and porcelain plates, adorned with sandwiches and small cakes, something to soothe the Herald delicate sensibilities at anytime. He was left to himself, to cut off the sandwich crusts and make his tea how he liked, and once he was sitting down, with his teacup in one hand and well-furnished plate in the other,
“Finally,” he sighed, bathing in the curls of steam wafting up from his cup, “I can enjoy my holidays.” He sipped his tea, put his cup down, and began devouring the cakes. “No more cursed giant to breathe over me,” he gnashed, “no more of that bramble Sir Vyrdin or that sharp-nosed Lucentian varlet the king is so fond of to spy on me. Here I am left perfectly at my ease and I may say and so as I like.” He took up a sandwich in each hand. “Ever since that giant has come to our kingdom, there has not been a moment’s peace in the keep,” he humphed. “There was none of this spying and skullduggery when His Late Majesty was at the helm. Everyone merely trusted that I would do my job. Now, even when I have been granted leave by the king, that giant and his contingent of agents hounds me. Well,” he sniffed, eyeing another tea cake, “he cannot get at me here. I am completely safe from any of his machinations, and every letter and package that was in my possession before I came away was delivered, so he can have nothing to complain of.” He made a most satisfied smile, but as he was about to finish the rest of the cakes, the ship suddenly banked, the hold creaked, the candle in the corner of the room dimmed, shrouding the room in momentary delitessense, and the Herald felt afraid of something. He could not be here—it was not possible that the Den Asaan should have followed him onto the ship; the captain would have told him if he had been followed. The giant could not leave the keep: he had a regiment to command and a mate to covet, and he had no reason for abandoning his post merely to torment the king’s servant. He could want nothing from him this time: there were no birthday gifts to deliver, no correspondences to pass on—everything that could incite the giant to turn against him—but had he really delivered everything? The Scoaliegh had not visited yet this morning, and therefore there might be a few letters to distribute later in the day, but that should have nothing to do with him. His duties were now divided amongst others, and the Den Asaan must turn his anger toward them if one of his packages from the north should be late delivered, and if any packages should be let in his office during his leave, Searle had the key and may go in there whenever he liked.
After ten minutes of agonizing, speaking his fears aloud and arranging them all in silence, the Herald reconciled himself to the notion that if the Den Asaan wanted to torment him while he was on his leave, he would have done it already. He must surrender the rest of his anxieties to the sea, and do nothing more than finish his tea and enjoy a postprandial sloom. Another cup of tea was poured, and after dusting the crumbs off his lap, the Herald removed his shoes and lounged in the nearby divan, sighing to himself over the equanimity that was awaiting him on the northern sands. No Den Asaan, no obnoxious spies-- it was all ease and enjoyment, and he leaned back on the divan, with his head against the arm rest, allowing the curmuring of a sated stomach to carry him off into a gentle doze, when a sudden scratching sound roused him. He sat up and looked about, the sound growing nearer every moment. He looked beneath the divan and peered through the carpet, but there was nothing but what the dust of a few years might not do away. Perhaps it had been his imagination; his mind was in a fracas from the panic he had thrown himself into a few moments before, and it was nothing more than the wind from the corridor, whistling under the door and jostling it about, he was sure.
Another attempt at rest was made, and the gentle sway of the ship soon carried the herald off to sleep, where conjurations of sparkling sands and shimmering seas were his allies, and his tumbler of rum and water his greatest friends. The restoration that solitude was likely to give drew him further into unconsciousness, the warm ocean currents bringing in the tides, the palms whispering tenuous melodies on the wind, but before he surrendered himself to the ascendance of the golden sun and reveled in the joys that the sensations of wet sand pooling between his toes was likely to give, a slight rustling sound caught his ear. It roused him, his conjured paracosm faded, and he was immediately up, searching for the sound’s source, peering under tables and around corners with frightful curiosity.
“What is that—what is that?” said the herald, in a fevered hush.
The rustling drew closer and stopped. It seemed to change direction, and then begin again on the other side of the door. Terrified that it might be someone trying to get in to the room, the herald got up and took hold of the tea trey, prepared, if necessary, to aim it at anyone who should should try to enter without permission. The rustling turned into a light scratching sound. A shadow darted across the threshold, and then, there was silence once more.
“What is that?” the herald breathed, creeping toward the corner of the room, the trey raised above his head.
The ship banked again, the gelid sea breeze shrieked in from under the door, and the candle that was keeping him company and mocking his horror with its jovial dance escaped the wick and abandoned him in a whiff of smoke. His arms shook, he whimpered, and his chest heaved in terror as the scratching began again, the soft grating sound besieging his heart in the dark. It stopped when it reached the carpet, and the herald, in a flurry of violent agitation, fumbled for the matches on the sideboard while still clinging to the trey. He found one in the dark, struck it against the sole of his shoe, and relit the candle, whimpering to himself, “It is not him…it cannot be him…it is too small to be him…”
And it was too small: the scratching sounds diminished into a light scamper, and once the fire was tamed and candle once again lighted up the room, the herald’s eyes followed the scurrying sounds to the chair where he was lately sat, and under the seat, he found his enemy. Terror seized him, he gasped and cluched his cravat, and he held the trey over his head, preparing to strike, as his invader righted and attacked.