I watch the recruiter's wispy eyebrows soar into his receding hairline.
'Kastor,' he says, 'Lady Kathanhiel has chosen you as her esquire. Congratulations.'
That's me. He just said my name. The slayer of Elisaad has chosen an esquire who can't swing a sword, can't string a bow, can't take a hit, can't run a mile without asphyxiating, can't hold conversations for longer than a minute, can't stop his head from spewing endless monologue –
Respond, idiot! Grin! Emit joy and contentment!
In an attempt to act composed I swivel my head about like a startled rooster. Maybe the others have heard what the recruiter had really said – that I should pack up and go home.
To my left sits the chivalrous knight with four last names that no one cares to remember. If not for the poison in his eyes and his eyebrows scrunching into a fleshy gulch filled with old sweat, he would be considered moderately handsome. His gauntleted hands are wound tight, as if about to snap an invisible neck.
To my right sits Haylis, Lady Kathanhiel's distant cousin...allegedly. She's in the middle of a deep-boring operation into her right nostril. From the experience of having seen her do this eleven times a day for fifty-odd days, this particular operation looks to be a success. This time she's using her index finger – got to keep track, might have to shake her hand later.
Both of them are finalists, same as I – chosen among two hundred other candidates that came to the winter palace for the final-round exams. Neither of them are saying a word, which has to mean –
The recruiter leans forward, slamming his hands on the desk. 'Kastor!'
'The wha – the what....?'
'Esquire to Kathanhiel. Do you accept?'
"Do you accept"? How many times do dreams come true with a salary of three hundred crowns a month?
'Yes...yes I do. It's an honour to thank you – I mean, sure, of course, categorically.'
The recruiter pulls out a thick scroll. 'Your contract. Please sign here, here, initial every clause, and thumbprint underneath the red seal.'
There are more words on this scroll than the Maker's scripture; I could spend a week going over the content and not comprehend half of it. Plus, nothing on here is going to change my mind.
Five minutes of scribbling later, I hand back the signed 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.'
I put my hand up. Why am I putting my hand up?!
'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 index finger rubbing on her sleeve and leaving a shiny streak.
The recruiter persists. 'Miss Haylis, without a signature the treasury can't authorise your salary.'
'Nope, not signing. You can't make me.'