chapter one;

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The moon hung heavy over a star-ridden sky, casting an almost luminous glow over the cobblestone streets. It was the kind of night where nobody would be awake, people ditching their average night-time activities in order to cuddle up under blankets near the fire. In some ways, Darryl wished that he could be so lucky as to join them, but for someone of his status rest was almost impossible. His footsteps echoed a little too loudly as he stepped towards the palace gates, one gloved hand reaching out to brush against the solid iron bars.

"You're in late tonight."

Turning the briefest amount, Darryl nodded at the guard, forcing himself to smile. "Yes. Later than I'd like to be, but his Majesty asked a favour that I couldn't deny."

Of course, there were no 'favours' that Darryl could deny, but he had been trying to form some kind of bond between himself and those of a higher rank than him in order to make his life the tiniest bit easier. So far he considered his quest successful – the King had started giving him orders directly instead of through the other knights, something that Darryl considered to be a major milestone. Things were looking good for the future.

As soon as he was past the gates he climbed the steps to the palace and took a detour around the side to the back door. It wasn't in the most desirable location, and every time Darryl used it he was reminded of the strict hierarchy imposed on them. Only people of merit and worth were allowed to use the front doors. People that weren't him.  

Once inside he pulled his hood down and brushed a hand back through his hair in an attempt to smooth it down. Presentation was key when you were meeting with the rulers of the kingdom after all. Then, stopping only briefly to grab a small piece of bread off the counter, he made his way up and into the main corridors of the palace, boots clicking against the marble floors a little bit too loudly for his comfort. Hopefully he would be able to go to his quarters and rest after reporting back, he was fairly sure he'd already lost a lot of sleep just by following his orders. 

Rounding the final corner he brought one hand up and knocked against the darkened oak of the huge arched doors that led into the throne room, barely flinching when they swung open, two masked guards holding onto each one as Darryl stepped inside. 

The throne room was a large, sparse looking room, with the only particularly eye-catching thing being the large throne in the middle, upon which sat the King. As he approached, Darryl dipped into a low bow, head tilted just right.

"Everything was done as requested, your Majesty," he murmured, "I managed to track down the tradesman you were searching for and arranged a location to meet in order to secure the goods. I will go myself to collect them."

"No, you won't."

Darryl raised his head, brows furrowing. "But I thought you wanted-"

The King rose from his seat, one be-ringed hand clinking against the armrest as he stared down at the knight with a look that Darryl could only describe as appraising. Suddenly nervous, Darryl blinked a few times, swallowing his apprehension and fighting the urge to fidget. It was no surprise that he was one of the youngest knights to have come this far already, and really Darryl wouldn't be surprised if the King was having second thoughts about letting him get this far and this close to the royal family. 

"You've been re-assigned." The King said finally, voice monotone. "It was not my choice, and I don't think you are the best fit for the task." A pause. "However, on occasion I find it prudent to listen to what other people want."

Darryl didn't dare talk. Being re-assigned could be either a very good thing, or an extremely bad thing depending on what job he was to be assigned to. He rather liked this job, so it would be hard to beat out. 

"My son requires someone to accompany him out tomorrow. You will be the one to do so. Keep him out of trouble; I won't have an incident like the last time he was out occurring, so do your best to prevent it."

Well. That was unexpected. 

"Surely there's someone more fitting for this job?" Darryl questioned, "I've never had a run in with the prince, so I can't really predict-"

"No." The King sighed, as though he had been thinking over this matter for a long while and had only now reached a conclusion that contented him. "Although I would rather assign someone with more experience of dealing with Zak to handle him tomorrow, he's pestered me to assign him someone 'young enough to not be boring' and yet 'old enough to mess with'. I find that you somewhat match that job description whilst being someone on whom I can depend to keep him safe."

That was surely one of the greatest complements Darryl had received in his time working for the royals, and yet it somehow seemed to be an insult as well. It wasn't that he wasn't confident in his abilities to handle one prince, it was simply that said prince was known for his unruly and troublemaking ways. More than one of the boy's personal guard had left the royal family's service after having to deal with him, and Darryl didn't particularly want to be the next one in line to leave. 

"When do we leave?" Darryl asks eventually, resignation creeping into his tone. If he's being forced to do this then he may as well do it right. Perhaps if he shows he can handle this then he'll be considered someone upon whom the royal family can depend, and that's always ultimately been the goal. 

"Tomorrow morning. Nine am." It's a rather sharp response, as though the King had been forced to compromise on that too. It's a strange feeling, that someone has sway over even the ruler of the kingdom. Then again children could be like that with parents, Darryl supposed. He wouldn't know - he'd left home early to pursue this dream. "You'll meet in the main hall. Don't be late or I imagine Zak will leave without you, whether permitted to do so or not."

Ah. So it was going to be like that, then. Darryl gave a sharp nod to show that he had heard before turning automatically on his heel to leave the room. 

"Darryl."

He stopped to take a moment to look over one shoulder, head tilted a fraction to the right. What could he possibly be needing now?

"Before you sleep, go to my son's rooms and introduce yourself." A small sigh left the King's lips. "I imagine he'll want to meet you before tomorrow. If you see that astrologer there too then kick him out. I've told Zak to stop bringing him around but he refuses to listen." A pause. "I suppose that's the way some teenagers are."

A moment of silence filled the throne room and Darryl gently kicked the toe of one boot against the marbled floor, fidgeting almost uncomfortably. 

"Now go, you're dismissed," the King sighed eventually, and Darryl dipped into a short bow once more before heading back the way he had come, pulling his hood back over his head as he walked.

Tomorrow was going to be one hell of a day.

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