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I watch the recruiter's wispy eyebrows soar into his receding hairline.


He seems annoyed. Must be my slack jaws. Or the fish-eye stare.

'Uh...sorry...I must've misheard –'

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


Respond, idiot! Grin! Emit joy and contentment!


Nice. The legendary slayer of the Elisaad Dragon has chosen an esquire who has a 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. Maybe the two sitting next to me heard what the recruiter had really said – that I should pack up and go home.

To my left sits the knight with four multi-syllable last names, three of them hyphenated. Can't recall any of them. If not for the poison in his eyes and his eyebrows scrunching into a fleshy gulch filled with old sweat, he would be 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 is in the middle of a deep-boring operation in 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 is employing her index finger – got to keep track, in case of handshakes and such.

Both of them are finalists, same as I – chosen from the two hundred candidates that came to the winter palace for last-round tests. Neither of them are disputing what the recruiter had just said, which means –

The recruiter leans forward, slamming his hands on the desk. 'Kastor!'

'The wha – the what....?'

'Esquire to Kathanhiel. Do you accept?'

"Do you accept"? What a joke. How many times do dreams come true with an added bonus of three hundred crowns a month?

'Yes...yes I do. It's an honour to thank you – I mean, yes, 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 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 in there 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 nose-delved finger rubbing on her sleeve and leaving a shiny streak.

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