Chapter Ten: Safer Fists than Flirtations

The trek from the coast to the Capital was a new route that Carlone found to be very foreign to her. Buloke knew the way through though. Their hanger-on, Dowson, was a quiet person looking to cut the apron strings and start out on his own. He kept his head down most of the time, seemingly finding the view of his feet better than any conversation between Buloke and Carlone. As for Buloke, he was discontent with the state in which he left his home. For all of his talk of the joys of living as a bachelor, he obviously missed his wife and children. The only things Carlone missed were her horse and cart. This was not merely because the road was hard on her feet to walk, but because there was a coldness that had come over her that she could not pinpoint the exact time that it took hold, but was there all the same. She could not tell if it were a matter of finding contentment in her personal life or the need to focus on more pressing matters such as finding steady work, either way, her emotions were set on the task at hand and little else.

To add to the discomfort of their journey, the forest forage was less than bountiful due to the heavy frost laid upon the already slumbering greenery. Carlone kept a mental stock of the group's supplies which were a few wool blankets that were packed into rolls, their individual hunting knives, some striking stones in their pockets, plus an old skillet in Carlone's canvas bag. None of them needed to vocalize that they need not waste time during the trip. Each was well aware that their meager belongings would certainly not hold them over in the bitter cold for very long. With the number of exchanged words few and far in between, Carlone had plenty of time to think to herself as they marched on until the evening came each day. It was then that Carlone decided that she needn't bother to worry that she might meet the Regent in the Capital because she rationalized her fling was impossible with an actual royal but rather that the man she had slept with was a likely property steward if not a squatter. He had been handsome, but self-centered as she remembered him. It would be both a gladness if she ever crossed paths with him again, yet not a particular loss to her if she never met him again as well. He had no effect on her circumstance as she viewed it. To her, he had been a distraction on her way to someplace else.

The day they arrived was brisk, but at least they had finally come out of the snowy woods. The Capital was bigger than any city Carlone had ever seen, it was the dirtiest of them too. The people were very busy it seemed to the end of being rude. Carlone was both unimpressed and annoyed at the same time by it. The market was open every day, unlike the small townships which only had markets one day a week. In those townships. There was typically a general store that was open daily from breakfast to noon for the wealthier of customers, something Carlone needn't worry herself with. As they walked closer to a tavern for a decent meal and to rest, Carlone noticed that there were many skittish children who appeared to be orphaned running about the streets. This resonated with Carlone as an indication that the fever had come through there as well some time ago. The Capital's dwellers apparently did nothing for those who were the most venerable; the children that lost their families. Carlone quietly shook her head at the thought that the fever had such a grim outcome for so many. It was even more heartbreaking that it was a closely held secret for those who survived. Anyone who spoke a word of their status would surely be excommunicated from society as a pariah for being a "spreader." Even the dauntless Carlone shuttered to think of the outcome if she spoke the truth of her past.

At the tavern, it was only Buloke who had any coins to float the group. Even then he barely had enough to get them to the end of the week at best, with the contingency that they were scrimping. The Capital had a law against sleeping in any public space, meaning they were forbidden from camping even on the outskirts of the town. Carlone however was hopeful that they would find work before this became a problem or they would have to consider going back where they came from. This worry hung over her head, that is until the first night when Buolke drank away all of his money thus turning a bad situation into a dire one. Carlone had tried to stop him, but he pushed her away with every attempt until she gave up. Dowson was already asleep by then on the floor of their single room, he was distraught when he heard the news. Buloke later scolded Carlone for allowing him to do so, but in her defense she explained that it was his money not her's that he spent, making her powerless to intervene according to the law of the land. Carlene would have been put out of the bar if she had tried to stop him any further than she already had. Trying to make amends, Buloke asked around to find out that the castle was still indeed hiring. He learned that they would have to go first thing in the morning every day to be considered for work there. This left them with no money or anywhere to go for the night until then. It was Dowson however upon seeing a flier posted, who rallied them into a bar fight contest advertised at the tavern that they had stayed the night prior. The winner of their weight class won a small pouch of money, the likes of which could ease their burden.

Buloke signed up as a heavyweight, while Dowson was classified as a junior. Carlone patted his back in reassurance as Dowson took his sash to tie to his waist upon entering. "I've never fought anyone before," he confided in Carlone who smiled back at him, "even if you lose we still get a place to stay for the night. If you feel like you are finished just take a drive after the first round." That night the juniors began before the heavyweights. There were three fights to take place. The first involved two young men who were equally matched. The left hook won, while the loser lost a tooth. The next was Dowson's fight, only his competitor was a much larger man who obviously lied to gain the advantage over the unevenly matched boy. Carlone stood back as Buloke and her frowned at the sight. Expecting Dowson to go down quickly the man instead punched the boy against the bar's wall. Dowson turned away from the punches he was being showered with, his back towards the man who was twice his size. Seeing this caused Buloke to step in. Buloke grabbed the man by his shoulder and hurled him to the floor, thus ending the fight. Dowson was terribly bruised. Carlone felt horrible for encouraging him to fight upon seeing his bloodied face. Later that night Buloke was the last to fight. He too lost, something Carlone had never expected to see as Buloke was the largest man she had ever known. However, that night she also learned it was the quickest fists that tend to be the most effective. Buloke may have been sizable, but he was too cumbersome to defend himself from jabs.

In the morning, Dowson stayed at the tavern. He wanted to remain long enough to participate in a grudge match. The bartender gave his word that he would allow it. Carlone was against the idea but also knew the boy's pride was the worst wounded the night before. Dowson swore that he would hold over their room if they did not get picked up as castle staff. This was slightly reassuring to Carlone who had less faith in the Capital's trickle-down riches than Buloke did. There they waited outside of the servant's entrance where castle staff would periodically appear, point at whomever they needed, and go back inside. Buloke was hired as a porter immediately, leaving Carlone to wait awkwardly outside of the castle feeling as if she were completely ignored. Carlone had nearly resigned on going back to the farm to see if she could be of use to Faya and Viktor. This though was not needed because the Regent himself came outside in some ridiculously pompous attire that made him almost totally unrecognizable to Carlone. "Her Majesty the Queen is in need of a female guard. Are there any females here capable of this task?" He announced, Carlone was curious about this spectacle, but also felt very unsure of how she should react. Without her reacting, the Regent yelled to Carlone, "You there, come with me." A servant gestured toward Carlone who reluctantly followed. The only thing running through her mind was if she were in danger of going to prison for sleeping with the Regent as she took each step.

The Regent's servant had Carlone wait in a room where the Regent met her. Once again they had clumsy intercourse that he initiated. Afterward, as Carlone straightened herself up, the Regent explained that he "knew" she had come to the Capital to see him. "Yes, my love, I knew you could not forget me, which is why you have sought me out as you did," The Regent said to her as she plastered on a forced smile at his misunderstanding. She didn't have the gall to tell him that even though she was fond of him, she was looking for scullery work until the quarry reopened. "You will from now on be on duty with my wife's guardsmen by day and by night in my bed," The Regent said as he tied the drawstring of his pants. Carlone did not like the sound of that sentence and was planning to carefully excuse herself from the castle before she got into any serious, beheading kind of trouble. As she looked for the door, the Regent turned to her to say, "Don't worry my love, you will be safe, my wife and I are together in name alone." He then caressed her cheek with his soft hand. Just then she realized if he knew that she was a fever survivor the scandal could very well end in her receiving a death sentence. Her face was red with concern as she thought about how inbred the royals were and that if the Regent did get the fever from her it would be a disaster as a weak man like himself who had never worked a day in his life would die immediately. Still, if she left, the Regent out of anger for being rejected might accuse her of something, placing her in peril all the same. The gravity of the situation started to close in on her as the Regent's servant, a man named Rhett escorted her to the guard shack to be officially tasked as the Queen's guard.