Chapter One

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"Moo."

Moo? King Bewilliam frowned. What was a cow doing in the throne room?

"Moo."

King Bewilliam no sooner had set his gaze on the Bell Castle’s richly-veined marble floors, the opulent woven tapestries, the straight lines of courtiers resplendent in their gold-braided uniforms than it all vanished.

His heart jolted and he felt a pervasive icy chill.

“Moo.”

I’m asleep, the King thought. I’m dreaming. I need to wake up. He opened one eye. He had been dreaming but what vanished was not the cow but the throne room. Instead, the sight that greeted him was another eye: big, brown, and deep.

King Bewilliam opened his other eye and found himself face-to-face with a large Guernsey regarding him with mild curiosity.

"Moo, moo," said the cow although to the king it sounded distinctly like “Who, you?” which, it seemed to him, was an excellent question given the circumstances. Was he not King Bewilliam, ruler of the Chalklands, master of Bell Castle,? So what was he doing here staring down a cow? He shook his head to clear the fog of slumber. One by one, the details of his surroundings impressed themselves on him: the cool, moist dawn air; the dewy grass on which he lay; the dark canopy of the oak tree arching over him. And the cow.

King Bewilliam eased into a sitting position and looked about. In the thin light of daybreak he saw many cows grazing in the pasture that surrounded him. What was he doing sleeping in a cow pasture? his waking mind struggled to know.

Oh yes, it was where he had come to rest after walking all day. He hadn’t talked to a single person, having kept his distance, avoiding questions about who he was and what he was doing here. He knew who he was: first-born son of a noble line, raised to rule, trained to lead and now, a grown man, husband to Queen Daya, and father of princes. What he was doing here in this unfamiliar place, his crown nowhere to be found, his fine tunic and leggings tarnished and soiled, his boots scuffed, was a mystery to him.

Well, an inquisitive cow wasn’t all that unfortunate an encounter. At least there would be breakfast. He rummaged his mug from the pouch at his belt, then hesitated. He scanned the area for onlookers who might accuse him of poaching. There were none.

“Here, Boss.” He stroked the cow’s study flank to gentle her, then milked her. As he worked, he observed how strange many might find it that a king would, much less could, milk a cow. Certainly, Bell Castle’s milkmaid who had shown him how had thought so. Yet even as a young prince, the workings of things fascinated him. He would pester every maid, knave, squire, knight, and lady to show him the why and how of what they did.

His meager breakfast done, he turned the ermine-lined cloak that had been his bed inside out and knotted the ends together, making it into a shoulder sack. It would have been easier to wear the weighty cloak across both shoulders than to lug it on one but he knew he mustn’t be seen wearing it. No one would believe that a vagabond like him rightfully owned such a fine garment. It would be seized and he might be imprisoned as a thief. Nevertheless, he was reluctant to part with it. The cloak had served well as bedding when he found himself sleeping out in the open.

He finger-combed the grass from his red curls and observed that his hair had gotten unseemly long. So had his beard, he discovered as he ran his hand over his face. When he reached a town, he would need to visit a barber. First, however, he would need to raise some money to pay a barber, not to mention buy a decent meal. His stomach growled in agreement. Apparently the birds had beaten him to the berries. He quickly banished from his mind the image of the generously-laid groaning boards to which he was accustomed before it could further exacerbate his hunger.

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