Callis kept his sword handy, prepared for what might come. Other than the woman’s wheezing, the only sounds around them were of the leaves being blown by a gentle breeze. While King Lucius seemed to be as calm as he was in his throne room, Callis was unsettled.
“Have you always had trouble breathing,” King Lucius asked.
The woman scowled without reply, struggling obviously to control her breathing.
“Answer your king,” Callis demanded coldly.
The king dismounted his steed and reached in his satchel.
“I used to have trouble breathing when I was a child,” King Lucius said to the woman. “My mother would make me tea. It calmed me. I’ve since made it into a hardened treat that has helped several children in my kingdom.”
The woman seemed suspicious of the king’s kindness. Callis was annoyed by the timing of it. Anyone who knew the king knew of his kindness, his patience, and his generosity, but Callis often found himself wishing it would be constrained in these situations.
The two were the most unlikely of friends, and not just because of the stark difference in birth and rank, but most obviously in their demeanor and perspective. Where the king saw good people, Callis saw possible candidates who could be threatened, bought, or bribed into plunging a knife deep into the king’s back.
This was not the first time the king had chosen to show kindness to a stranger. The last time had almost gotten him killed.
“Your Majesty…” Callis prompted. The sun was no longer overhead and they would have half a day’s ride before making it back home. He never left the king’s side, but he always preferred the straw and warmth of his bed to the hardened ground, even in the warmer months.
“You’re right, Callis, it is getting late,” King Lucius said, his attention fixed on the woman. His hand was extended, offering his candies.
“It contains mint, tea, and the sweetest honey you will find in this land,” he said to the woman.
She still hesitated, as if the king were offering her poison.
“We have wonderful physicians in my kingdom,” the king began.
Callis’ attention became acutely fixed on the king whose healing candies were still unclaimed. He hoped that last statement wasn’t leading toward an invitation. The woman’s breathing indicated she was in need of help, but even their best doctors might fail to cure what was probably an overlooked iatrogenic condition.
“And if you would like to return with us to my home, we could help you.”
The woman searched the king’s eyes before casting a glaring look in Callis’ direction. Callis had no desire to be in her company and he could tell the feeling was reciprocated. She reached for the candy, seeing it as the lesser of two evils.
“Your Majesty, I must interrupt and request you rethink this proposition that is probably not in this… woman’s best interest.”
The king was undaunted and not the least bit fooled. He too could tell animosity was brewing, but kept his eyes fixed on this woman who seemed to have survived much.
“Benjamin Adam Callis,” the king began, “where would my father have been if he had not listened to the wise words of a poor man who was crossing the path just as my riding along–young, brash, and unaware?”
Callis left the question unanswered because they both knew the truth. Before Benjamin Nighton Callis and King Bernard II had met, the king was unruly, unfocused, and self absorbed and believed to be destined to ruin the Kingdom of Marigol. When the two met, the elder Callis not only treated the king as an equal, but bested him in a sword fight, winning the king’s respect and a trusted place in his court. That one encounter changed the lives of those two men, their sons, and the future of Marigol.
“Your father had the ability to see potential, even when it was hidden, Callis, and for that I will always be grateful. He knew that no one was beyond redemption.”
King Lucius returned to his horse and placed the remaining candies in his satchel. He turned and extended his hand to the woman.
“Ma’am, would you like to accompany us back to the kingdom of Marigol?”