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Angharad smiled at Eridan and opened the door. “Here then is your room. I hope you find it satisfactory.”
Eridan looked inside. “This is more than I expected to be given, Lady Angharad. You and your lord father are very generous.”
“We may put my suitors through rigorous challenges, but we want them to be comfortable while we do. There is no reason to treat them cruelly,” Angharad said. “And you don’t have to call me ‘lady.’ I have no rank until my parents die and I inherit the lands.”
Eridan nodded. “Angharad, I hope you don’t find me rude,” he began.
Angharad laughed. “I’ll leave you to your rest. We’ll send a servant to wake you for lunch.”
“Thank you,” Eridan said. “Could you have them knock? If I don’t answer, send for one of my men to enter and wake me. I can be violent if I’m startled awake.”
“That is a trait of a soldier who has seen too much,” Angharad said softly.
“You know?” Eridan asked.
“My grandfather fought in the Mad King’s grandfather’s wars. He was like that for as long as I can remember,” Angharad said. “He took his own life when I was a wee child.
“I have long thought of doing that,” Eridan said. “My two guards have kept me living even as I have kept them alive.” He paused. “Do not let this influence you. I want a true challenge when we compete.”
“I don’t let anything get in my way when I fight,” Angharad said.
“That’s good,” Eridan said. He walked into the room, his saddle bags over his shoulder, and closed the door behind him. Angharad went downstairs to her father’s office.
Her mother was there, along with her father. “What did you learn?” Lord Idwal asked.
“He is very tired, and his guards have kept him from committing suicide,” Angharad said. “We aren’t to send a servant in to wake him for lunch. We’re supposed to have them knock on the door. If he doesn’t respond we’re supposed to send for one of his men and have them go in and wake him up.”
“Did he say where he was from?” Lady Moirea asked.
Angharad shook her head. “We need to learn that at lunch,” Lord Idwal said. “If he has run from his rightful liege lord, instead of him dying and the soldiers gaining their freedom, we’ll have to send him back.”
Angharad sighed. “I know it must be done, but I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“You already like him?” Lady Moirea asked. “He’s ugly.”
“His mind is sharp and his body is fit in spite of the scars,” Angharad said. “I can see beauty in that.”
“You have a strange idea of beauty then,” Lady Moirea said.
“I just thought of something,” Angharad said. “Colum.”
“Your brother will make a fool of himself, and possibly insult our guest beyond the measure of patience he has,” Lord Idwal said.
“We can’t refuse him entry to the dining hall,” Lady Moirea said.
“Forbid him to speak,” Angharad said.
“You know that doesn’t work,” Lord Idwal said.
“I don’t want him to drive off the first suitor I truly hope can beat me,” Angharad said.
“Will you let him win?” Lady Moirea asked.
“No. He wants as much of a fight as much as I do,” Angharad said.
“We’ll have to see what happens,” Lord Idwal said.
Angharad nodded. “It’s time for my history lesson. I’m off to annoy Master Ruairi.” Lord Idwal laughed as Angharad skipped out of the room.
Her lessons went well and lunch was served. The servant was able to wake Eridan and he joined them. He looked better than he had when he arrived and smiled at everyone. Just as the servants laid out the meal, Colum staggered in, already drunk.
“Colum, you’re a disgrace,” Lord Idwal said in disgust.
“So you keep saying,” Colum said, slurring his words. He flopped down in his chair and took a swig from his jug. His eye fell on Eridan. “Who’s the ugly bastard making eyes at Angharad?”
“This is Eridan, a warrior of great renown,” Lord Idwal said. “He is her newest suitor.”
“Well I hope you’ve got wings, Ugly,” Colum said. “Angharad will outrun you and you’ll be sent off after the first challenge.”
“That test has been removed from the list of challenges,” Lord Idwal said. “And you will address our guest by his name or you won’t say anything at all.” Colum rolled his eyes, but started eating. Lord Idwal turned to Eridan. “Eridan, I know this will most likely upset you.”
“You wish to know who my liege lord was,” Eridan said. “To be certain I told you the truth.”
“Yes,” Lord Idwal said.
“You can understand our concern,” Lady Moirea said.
“I do, my lady,” Eridan said. “My liege was Lord Brogan, called the Red Bull.”
Lord Idwal stared at him. “You were the Red Bull’s soldier?”
“I was an officer, my lord,” Eridan said.
“You would have to be a nobleman,” Colum said. “Or at the least a knight.”
Eridan looked between Lord Idwal and Angharad. He took a deep breath. “I’m not a common man, my lord. I am the Red Bull’s youngest son. Because he considered me expendable he threw me into the army and forced me to march with him whenever he went out.”
“Then you are more than welcome in my house, Eridan,” Lord Idwal said. “I know of the Red Bull’s death, and how his sons were thrown out of their lands by the Mad King as a punishment for their father’s failure to capture some important prisoners.”
“Yes, the Mad King doesn’t appreciate failure,” Eridan said bitterly.
“Take your ease here for as long as you like,” Angharad said. “No matter the results of the challenges. You may stay as my personal guest if need be.”
Eridan smiled, his deep blue eyes lighting up. “Thank you, Angharad.” Conversation died down as they all settled in to eat.
To be continued……