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I must've misheard. The recruiter must've made a mistake; he didn't just say –

'I said, your application has been successful. Lady Kathanhiel has chosen you as her esquire.'

For every second my mouth hangs open, the recruiter's wispy eyebrows soar further into his receding hairline.

Respond, idiot. Grin. Emit joy and contentment.

'I uh...uh...uh...'

So the legendary slayer of the Elisaad Dragon is going to choose as esquire the guy with the frying-pan face who can't swing a sword, can't shoot a bow, can't take punches, can't run a mile without asphyxiating, can't hold minute-long conversations, can't stop his brain from spewing endless monologue...

In an attempt to act composed I swivel my head about like a startled rooster, looking at the people beside me like they're less clueless than I am.

To my left sits the knight with a convoluted name no one could remember. Handsome guy, if not for the poison in his eyes and his eyebrows scrunching into a fleshy gulch filled with old sweat. His gauntleted hands are wound tight, as if about to snap an invisible neck.

To my right sits Haylis – Lady Kathanhiel's distant cousin, supposedly – who has set up a deep-boring operation in her right nostril. Having spent fifty-odd days with her – along with all the other applicants – this is now a familiar sight, one that is easy to get used to if I vehemently refuse to keep track of where that finger goes.

We three, as fate would have it, are the finalists for the position of Kathanhiel's esquire; certainly the three most talented youths under twenty-five the Realms have to offer.

In other words, this can't really be happening.

The recruiter leans forward, catching my eyes. 'Kastor?'

'The wha – the what....?

'Esquire to Kathanhiel. Do you accept?'

Well of course I accept, stop asking stupid questions. I will make an excellent esquire to Kathanhiel, hero of the Realms and slayer of the Elisaad Dragon. Did someone say three hundred crowns a month?

'Yes...yes I do. Thank you. Thank you. It's an honour to....thank you.'

The recruiter pulls out a thick scroll. 'Your contract. Please sign here, here, initial every clause, and thumbprint underneath the red seal.'

There are enough words on this paper to fill out the Maker's scripture; I could spend a week going over the content and not comprehend half of it. Doesn't matter; the decision has already been made.

Five minutes of rigorous pen-scratching later, I hand back the completed contract. The recruiter nods. 'Seems to be in order. Now, Miss Haylis, if you would also –'

'I'm not signing nothing,' she says. 'Aunt Kath said I don't have to.'

Wait a minute. 'So...excuse me, sorry but...she's also...'

The recruiter looks at me. 'Miss Haylis partook in the application process at the behest of Lady Kathanhiel. She has been accepted regardless of her results, which are, incidentally, quite impressive.'

'Aunt Kath invited me to be her esquire,' Haylis says. 'Thought you were special did you?' She crosses her arms and looks the other way, her hair spinning in cute curls. When swooning at an attractive woman, one must not overlook the details, such as her nose-delved finger rubbing on her sleeve and leaving a shiny streak.

The recruiter persists. 'Without a signature the treasury can't authorise your salary.'

'Nope, not signing. You can't make me.'

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