Chuck gave us 1500 words, and I used them.
Bovrell the Bold Takes the Case
Bovrell the Bold, Hero at large, pulled his horse to a halt and considered the castle. It wasn’t much of a castle. He was used to better, he told himself, but it was going to rain, and he hated it when his armor rusted. He crossed the drawbridge.
Careless of them to leave it down, really. Anyone could wander in. He, Bovrell, was a knight and a Hero, but you couldn’t trust everyone. They ought to use care. He followed his nose to the stable.
“Ho! Stableboy! I’ve a mount needs grooming!” Bovrell climbed down from his horse and waited for a groom. None came. Grumbling, he led Black Warrior into the stable, shouted again, and finally unsaddled the beast himself. “Fool stableboy, to run off. Fool lordling, to let his servants run off.” Bovrell groomed Black Warrior, badly, and walked back to enter the keep, where the laws of hospitality would require them to feed him. Thus would they bless themselves with his presence.
Bovrell pounded on the door, and the heavy oak panels swung open at the impact. He stepped into the hall.
The light within was dim, but not so dim Bovrell failed to see the body sprawled at the foot of an elegant but narrow staircase. The man was well-dressed, no longer young, and Bovrell guessed he had found the lord of this pathetic excuse for a castle.
“Sirrah! Sprawl not so on the floor, but rise and do proper honor to a noble guest!”
The man on the floor didn’t move. “Drunk, by all the gods!”
“I scarcely think so.” The voice was young, scornful, and feminine, as was the person who moved out of the shadows. “Or does drinking always produce a spear through the back?” She looked Bovrell over, as he did her.
“And who might you be?”
The question came simultaneously from each, but neither rushed to answer. Instead, Bovrell demanded, “Who is he?”
“He was the lord of this holding, and my uncle. But someone has killed him. Was it you?” She seemed rather calm for someone looking from the corpse of her kinsman to the armed and armored man who might have killed him.
“Nay, Fair Maid—you are a Fair Maiden, are you not?” Bovrell said it with capital letters. He was a man who believed in titles.
“Fair enough to judge men wisely, and maiden enough to beware your sort. I have just come from the kitchens, and find Uncle but lately dead, and you standing over him.” That wasn’t exactly true. Bovrell stood a distance away, dripping on the mat, but he was the only person present. “Are you certain you did not slay him?”
Bovrell overcame his outrage and confusion to repeat, “Nay, that I did not. I entered to find him even so, and all the servants fled from hence.”
“No, it’s just that we haven’t any servants. So far as I know, Uncle and I were the only ones in the castle, save for an old couple who cook and keep the fires burning. And now you,” she repeated meaningfully.
“Then he must have been slain by these servants of whom you speak.” It was obvious. It was also obvious that he would get little service or comfort here. Bovrell turned to leave, but the sound of rain on the drawbridge made him pause. “The laws of chivalry say you must offer me food, and shelter against the storm.”
She cocked a head to listen to the light patter of the rain. “Some storm. Those laws also say you must discover who slew my sole protector and bring the miscreant to justice. And say not it was old Elly and Eli. Neither could lift that spear.”
Nor could they, Bovrell had to admit when he saw the pair. That was in the kitchen, whence the Fair Maiden had led him, having first helped him off with his armor. Bovrell had made a few grabs at her in the process, but she was quick, and he’d gotten nothing.
Bovrell ate all he was offered before he reached his solution. “If no one else was in the keep, then you must have killed your uncle. Unwomanly fiend!”
“Nay, not I.”
“Who, then? I saw no sign of battle, nor was there ogre nor giant at the gate. Though,” he frowned, straining to think around his third tankard of ale, “The drawbridge was down and the door ajar. Aha!” He had it. “The killer fled!”
“So I must assume,” said the girl. “Now you are fed, will you pursue the knave?”
Bovrell sighed deeply. It was still drizzling and he would very much have preferred another tankard of ale. “As you ask it, Fair Maiden, so I must.” He thought some more. “Do you know who the villain might be? It would make it easier, you know.”
“So it would. You might,” she suggested, “visit our neighbor to the south, who has long coveted my uncle’s holdings.”
So it was that Bovrell, after a not wholly satisfying supper and another tankard of ale, found himself being armed once more, by the little serving man who was indeed very small, and very old.
The girl had to saddle the horse. Bovrell couldn’t manage it. He considered such chores beneath the notice of a Hero. About to mount, he stopped. “How am I to know if this neighbor has slain your lord?”
“Well,” suggested the Fair Maiden, “you might look for blood.”
“But blood may come from many sources.”
“True. So you might look for the gold-washed mail my uncle bore, and which has vanished.”
Bovrell rode out, grumbling, into the rain. It was easier to ride up to an ogre, slay it, and carry the Fair Maiden off to celebrate, than to do all this hunting in the rain.
He thought that again an hour later, as he stood dripping in the courtyard of the next castle. Bovrell had no idea how to proceed. Simply asking, “Excuse me, did you kill your neighbor?” seemed awkward. Ogres were definitely easier. He stuck to formulae.
“I seek shelter on this wet and unfriendly night,” he announced. Castle servants dashed about to dry him, bring him food, and prepare a bed. This, he thought, was more like it. This lord knew how to treat a guest. He couldn’t help wondering if yet another Fair Maiden was worth the journey through the rain, though he was glad her quest had sent him to a hot bath and warm bed.
And yet. Under all Bovrell’s idiocy, somewhere there lurked the Hero he had once set off to become. And so, in the night, he rose and searched. And he found the gold-washed mail. Long he stared at it, wondering. Then he wrapped the treasure in a cloth that lay at hand, and carried it back to his chamber. Dressing yet again in his wet clothing and gear, he armed up, crept to the stables, and roused a small boy.
“I must ride far this day. Saddle my mount and let me out at the postern.” It took a few coins, but the boy did as asked. Bovrell grumbled and swore the whole time, but he would do what a Hero did.
Arriving at the tiny keep in the chill dawn, Bovrell pounded on the door. The girl opened the door.
“You were right. He had the mail. I have retrieved it for you.”
The Fair Maiden received the cloth-wrapped bundle in her arms, and stood looking at him. Bovrell looked back. By rights, this woman was now his. He opened his mouth to say so.
“And what of the murderer?” she asked.
Bovrell swallowed. He had forgotten. “I have found who he was. I cannot be expected to revenge your uncle upon him. That,” he found inspiration to explain his lapse, “is a matter for the law.”
The girl only stared at him, with an unsmiling expression that scared him. After a long time, during which he shifted uncomfortably in his saddle and wondered if he were being cursed, she said, “I see. I thank you for your service.” The irony of her tone was lost on Bovrell, who was only glad he had not been turned into a frog, but even he understood the door which slammed in his face. This was one Fair Maiden who did not consider herself rescued.
Well, it was a poor and drafty castle in any case, he thought as he turned away. He had found the murderer for them. His work was done, the rain had stopped, and he would ride north.
From the ramparts, a man watched him disappear into the distance. When the dust vanished, he turned to find the woman standing beside him, the gold-washed mail in her arms. “Come, my darling. The elves say the illusion will vanish with the risen sun. This is the last of the treasure. We are finished here.”
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016