So, it turns out last weekend there weren’t enough entries in the flash challenge, so it continued to this week That means that one of the triggers was the one I submitted, but I decided to go ahead with the challenge and hope the other trigger worked for me. It wasn’t super-inspiring, but I still managed 1200 words, so not bad! Here’s my entry:
“Malcom! Get out here, man, we are ready to be off!” prince Vincent yelled. Behind him, the courtiers chuckled and joked with one another.
Malcom the kennelmaster took his time. It would do the young prince good to learn some patience, even if it Malcom would pay the price for the delay. He limped down the kennel, looking at each dog with an appraising eye, choosing those who would be best for today’s hunt. His leg hurt. It would be raining later today, then.
Derek, the page boy was as eager to go on the hunt as the dogs were. Malcom sent the boy out with several of the hounds, and followed clutching the leashes of several more.
The prince waited atop his white horse, bedecked in bright satin and a ludicrous hat.
“You ought to get a new kennel master, your grace,” one of the courtiers said to the prince. “This one can barely walk, let alone ride with us on the hunt!”
“Derek will ride for me, m’lord,” Malcom said. “He’s a strong boy and knows his way with the hounds.”
The prince, aware of his audience of lordlings, sneered. “Not much to know though, is there? They are stupid creatures, just point them in the right direction and let them loose! Much like footsoldiers!” Laughter all around.
Malcom bit his tongue. The old wound in his leg throbbed, a souvenir from his fighting days. He spoke to Derek, with a message meant for the prince. “Now Derek, be sure not to release the hounds until the deer is in sight or they will tire themselves out too quickly. And once you do release them, give them their space.”
“Yes sir, as you say,” Derek said.
The prince and his lords wheeled and rode off laughing, followed by Derek and the pack of eager hounds.
* * *
They returned that afternoon, soaking wet in the rain. One of the dogs was missing.
“Your grace, I recall that ten dogs left with you this morning, but I see only nine here now.”
The prince snarled. “Train the beasts better and next time they will all come back!” He rode off in the direction of the castle.
“I’m sorry sir,” Derek said, once the prince was out of earshot. “I tried, but he didn’t listen. He rode too close once the hounds were loosed and when one darted left, he trampled the poor thing. We had to put it down.”
Malcom nodded. “Not your fault, Derek. Get the rest of the dogs in out of this rain. Did they eat?”
The hunt had been a failure to boot, then.
“Feed them before you feed yourself.”
* * *
Weeks later, on a crisp clear morning, Malcom found himself face to face with prince Vincent, just outside the kennel. The brash, blustering boy was gone, replaced by a hesitant young man.
“A word please, goodman Malcom.”
“Of course, your grace.”
“As you may have heard, the princess Elizabeth of Artea is come to visit us. She has… expressed a desire to hunt today.”
Malcom knew that this princess was intended as a potential wife for Vincent, and was rumored to be beautiful too. Did the prince realize how lucky he was that his political marriage also happened to be a desirable one?
“Of course your grace, I will make ready.” Malcom almost turned to attend to the dogs, but realized that the prince seemed to have more to say.
“Malcom, may I… confide in you?”
“You may,” Malcom said, cautiously.
The prince seemed greatly relieved. “I worry that the princess does not like me. I mean, we are meant to be married, and she obviously desires the title that would go along with such a match, but I want the match to be more than that.”
Ah. So the boy did realize his luck, and hoped not to spoil it.
“Well, your grace, I am no expert in wooing women, but it seems to me that maybe she is feeling much the same. If you want her to see you as more than a title, then you need to make it clear that you see her as something more as well. Show an interest in her. Not her family, not her kingdom, her. The person.”
The prince seemed to consider that.
“Thank you Malcom,” the prince said.
Malcom saw them off later that morning. He kept Derek at the kennels this time, to give the lovebirds some privacy. They returned that evening, emptyhanded but with cheeks flushed and smiling.
* * *
Winter, and with the snows had come an illness that reached all the way to the royal family. The king was ill, and rumor had it he would not see the spring. Malcom stomped snow from his boots and opened the door to his humble cabin to find the fire inside already lit. In front of it sat the prince, staring into the flames.
“Your grace,” Malcom said, taking a seat next to the young man.
“My father is dying.” Prince Vincent spoke without turning his eyes from the fire. Malcom said nothing, waiting.
“He can’t die!” the prince said after a moment, as if arguing with himself.
“He can, sad to say it,” Malcom said. “He’s a good man, but old.”
“And when he is gone, I am expected to take his place. I can’t do it. I can never be as wise and just as him. How am I supposed to do it? You have given me good counsel before, Malcom, though I did nothing to deserve it. How do I take my father’s place?”
Malcom sighed. Outside the winter wind sighed back.
“You know, when your father took this castle, it was a night like this one. Midwinter. We were cold and hungry. Out of supplies. The attack had to succeed or we were finished. I sat with him in his tent before the attack, and he said almost the same thing to me: ‘What right do I have to take the throne from King Uther? How can I take his place?’
He was only a little older than you are now.”
The prince stared at Malcom, wide-eyed. “You served with my father?”
“Aye, I did. From the very beginning, loyal fool that I am.” Malcom stretched his bad leg out toward the fire. “Earned myself this leg in that night’s attack. Took a spear meant for him.”
“And he punished you by making you the master of kennels?” the prince said, incredulous. “He should have knighted you!”
“Punished?” Malcom chuckled. “No, rewarded. I had nothing, and with a mangled leg I would’ve remained nothing. Your father gave me this position, this cabin. I had no desire for a knighthood, just a comfortable life.
Dogs have that bit right. A good life is not about power and glory. It’s about loyalty to your pack and working hard to earn a good meal and a comfortable place to lay your head.”
The prince was silent for a moment.
“Your father had the same worries that you do, Vincent,” Malcom said. “And he was a fine king, as you will be. Just keep in mind that bit of wisdom from the dogs. It’s not power and glory that make a good life or a good king. Be loyal to your men, make your loyal men comfortable, and you’ll do well.