Captive Prince, Volume 2

By: C. S. Pacat


The shadows were long with sunset when they rode up, and the horizon was red. Chastillon was a single jutting tower, a dark round bulk against the sky. It was huge and old, like the castles far to the south, Ravenel and Fortaine, built to withstand battering siege. Damen gazed at the view, unsettled. He found it impossible to look at the approach without seeing the castle at Marlas, that distant tower flanked by long red fields.

‘It’s hunting country,’ said Orlant, mistaking the nature of his gaze. ‘Dare you to make a run for it.’

He said nothing. He was not here to run. It was a strange feeling to be unchained and riding with a group of Veretian soldiers of his own free will.

A day’s ride, even at the slow pace of wagons through pleasant countryside in late spring, was enough by which to judge the quality of a company. Govart did very little but sit, an impersonal shape above the swishing tail of his muscled horse, but whoever had captained these men previously had drilled them to maintain immaculate formation over the long course of a ride. The discipline was a little surprising. Damen wondered if they could hold their lines in a fight.

If they could, there was some cause for hope, though in truth, his wellspring of good mood had more to do with the outdoors, the sunshine and the illusion of freedom that came with being given a horse and a sword. Even the weight of the gold collar and cuffs on his throat and wrists could not diminish it.

The household servants had turned out to meet them, arraying themselves as they would for the arrival of any significant party. The Regent’s men, who were supposedly stationed at Chastillon awaiting the Prince’s arrival, were nowhere to be seen.

There were fifty horses to be stabled, fifty sets of armour and tack to be unstrapped, and fifty places to be readied in the barracks—and that was only the men at arms, not the servants and wagons. But in the enormous courtyard, the Prince’s party looked small, insignificant. Chastillon was large enough to swallow fifty men as though the number was nothing.

No one was pitching tents: the men would sleep in the barracks; Laurent would sleep in the keep.

Laurent swung out of the saddle, peeled off his riding gloves, tucking them into his belt, and gave his attention to the castellan. Govart barked a few orders, and Damen found himself occupied with armour, detailing and care of his horse.

Across the courtyard, a couple of alaunt hounds came bounding down the stone stairs to throw themselves ecstatically at Laurent, who indulged one of them with a rub behind the ears, causing a spasm of jealousy in the other.

Orlant broke Damen’s attention. ‘Physician wants you,’ he said, pointing with his chin to an awning at the far end of the courtyard, under which could be glimpsed a familiar grey head. Damen put down the breastplate he was holding, and went.

‘Sit,’ said the physician.

Damen did so, rather gingerly, on the only available seat, a small three-legged stool. The physician began to unbuckle a worked leather satchel.

‘Show me your back.’

‘It’s fine.’

‘After a day in the saddle? In armour?’ said the physician.

‘It’s fine,’ said Damen.

The physician said, ‘Take off your shirt.’

The physician’s gaze was implacable. After a long moment, Damen reached behind himself and drew his shirt off, exposing the breadth of his shoulders to the physician.

It was fine. His back had healed enough that new scars had replaced new wounds. Damen craned for a glimpse but, not being an owl, saw almost nothing. He stopped before he got a crick in his neck.

The physician rummaged in the satchel and produced one of his endless ointments.

‘A massage?’

‘These are healing salves. It should be done every night. It will help the scarring to fade a little, in time.’

That was really too much. ‘It’s cosmetic?’

The physician said, ‘I was told you would be difficult. Very well. The better it heals, the less your back will trouble you with stiffness, both now and later in life, so that you will be better able to swing a sword around, killing a great many people. I was told you would be responsive to that argument.’

‘The Prince,’ said Damen. But of course. All this tender care of his back, like soothing with a kiss the reddened cheek you have slapped.