I meet Trayven in the room of the inn where he has been staying in the Malornian town of Daveen. He offers me a seat in the chair at the rickety wooden desk, and he sits on the bed under the window. I pull out my list of questions.
“Cities, definitely. I hate wilderness life; always have.”
He scowls. “I volunteer to attend the prince on his futile trek through the wilderness and report back about his every move.” His voice is mocking. “Of course, it made no difference in the end whether I volunteered or not.”
“Being used.” He sighs and picks at the woolen blanket on the neatly made bed. “That’s the dangerous thing about working in the palace. You’re basically giving Regent Rampus access to your life, to use it for whatever he wants. It pays well, though, and if you’re lucky you’ll never have to do anything but your actual job. But you never know when you might be ordered to do something else, and it doesn’t matter how you feel about it. You’d better do it well, or you may not live to regret it.”
“In a village in the foothills of the Impassables.” He lowers his gaze as though ashamed to admit it. “I lived there till I was fifteen, and then finally I couldn’t take it any more and ran away to the capital.”
“I’m a servant in the palace in Sazellia, or at least, I was until the incident with the prince. I don’t really know if I still have my job now or not, and I don’t think I want it if I do.” He looks worried. “When I ran away to the city, I first found work in an inn a lot like this one. Cleaning the rooms, serving food in the dining hall, that sort of thing. Did that for six years and was pretty happy with my life. Nothing glamorous, but I was in the city, and that’s what I’d always wanted. Lots to see and do, new people to meet all the time, it didn’t get as cold in the winter, and you never had to worry about Mountain Folk. I should have just stuck with that, but I met a girl who worked as a maid in the palace, and she told me stories about how grand it was. I heard they had some positions open, so I went and applied, and next thing I knew they had hired me. I worked there as a servant for twelve years, and at first I liked it a lot. But then King Kerman died, and things started to change. High Councilor Rampus became Regent Rampus since the prince was too young to rule yet, and he was stricter than the king had been. Bad things happened to people who made mistakes or didn’t do their jobs right. Not just their pay getting docked the way it used to be. The regent would give them strange and dangerous things to do. I don’t know most of the details because nobody ever wanted to talk about it, but you’d see how worried they were, and sometimes they’d be gone on errands for days or even weeks. And it wasn’t just us servants, either. It was the same with high councilors and nobles and everyone. It started gradually, but after a few years with the regent in charge, everyone was afraid to cross him. A few people tried, but then their family members died, or their businesses failed, or now and then they’d just disappear. But as long as you did what you were told, things went well for you, so I didn’t worry. At least, not until recently.” He sighs.
“Right now?” He gestures around at the tiny room with its bed, desk, chair, and closet. “I’ve been living here for the last few weeks, in between expeditions to the foothills. It isn’t much of a home, but at least I’m alive and have a roof over my head. I hate the camping I have to do on each trip, but it’s nice to know I’ve got some place to come back to. I hope when this is all over I can go home to Sazellia again, but it depends on whether I find what the regent wants and he forgives me. I’m sure I’ll have to look for another job, but at this point, I’ll be content just to keep my life.” He shivers and pulls his cloak tighter around himself.
Trayven’s face turns red before he can even reply. “It was about three months ago. There was a banquet at the palace, and I was serving wine to the guests after the meal. Everyone was listening to the minstrel as he sang one of those historical ballads he’s always coming up with; it was really exciting, and I couldn’t help listening too as I went around with my tray of wine goblets. I should have been paying better attention to what I was doing, but when that minstrel sings, it’s like there’s a magic spell in the room. If you’ve ever heard him, you’ll know what it was like. But the spell broke pretty fast, let me tell you, when I fumbled with my tray right as I was serving the regent and the whole thing slipped out of my hands .” He shakes his head at the memory. “Eight silver goblets hit the floor with the loudest crash you’ve ever heard, and wine splashed all over him and me and everyone else sitting close by. I wished it was the floor itself that had shattered so I could just dive into a hole and let it swallow me up. I’ve never felt so humiliated in my life – or so terrified. I was sure the regent was going to have my head then and there. You should have seen his expression. But that isn’t his way. He had my job switched so I was emptying chamber pots and scrubbing latrines after that. And then when Prince Korram announced this plan of his, of course I was the one who got picked to go with him. I suppose the regent must have asked around and found out that I grew up in the foothills and knew about wilderness living, so it made sense, but I know it was his way of getting back at me.”
Trayven is instantly defensive. “I didn’t do it to be mean. If Prince Korram hadn’t sent me away, I never would have. But how was I supposed to go back to Regent Rampus without him? Did he think I could just return to the regent and tell the regent I’d failed in the task he assigned me? He would have had me executed for certain! I tried to explain that to the prince, but he wouldn’t listen. He didn’t want me around any longer, probably because he had plans of his own up there in the mountains that were different than he’d told people, and he didn’t want anyone finding out. So all I could think to do was to go hide somewhere, start a new life in another part of Malorn where the regent wouldn’t find me. And for that I needed money.” He glares at me as though I’ve accused him of something. “I had no choice!” He thumps his fist against the pillow. “But how was I supposed to know that Dannel would find out and come after me for it? And now the regent’s going to have me executed anyway, unless I succeed in my new mission.”
“I hated it, mostly. I mean, being with the prince was all right. He’s the quiet sort, which is what I prefer. He doesn’t make pointless conversation for the sake of hearing himself talk, like some people do. And he learns fast. I figured I was going to have to wait on him hand and foot, but he wanted me to teach him everything I knew about wilderness survival, and as soon as he’d learned, he did his share. Hunting, fishing, lighting a campfire, finding the spots that made the best campsites, even loading the mules. It was like he couldn’t wait to get out of the palace and try life in the wilderness, just the opposite of me. He loved sitting by the fire at night roasting meat on a spit, and all I wanted to do was get home to where I could sleep in a real bed and buy a supper I didn’t have to catch and skin myself. Worst of all, he wanted to find some of those Mountain Folk. The boy had some crazy idea he could get them to help him, but anyone who’s grown up in the foothills knows those savages don’t help anyone but themselves. And then when we actually found some, he insisted on camping close by and spending every day with them, talking to them, trying to get to know them.” Trayven’s voice is filled with disgust. “They’re filthy and ignorant and they smell as bad as the goats they keep. When I was a boy we always had to watch out for them, especially in winter when they come down low to escape the snow on the higher peaks. They would steal crops and eggs from our chickens, and then either run away like the cowards they are or threaten us with their spears if we tried to stop them. I hate those vermin! The whole time we were camped by them, I always felt like they were watching me. As worried as I was when the prince sent me away, in some ways it was a relief to leave.”
“Oh, politics don’t matter much to me. Prince Korram’s a decent person, but he’s young and foolish and probably won’t make much of a king. Regent Rampus is smart and always knows what he’s doing, but he’s dangerous and cruel and I don’t know what kind of king he’d be either.” Trayven glances over at me worriedly. “You won’t tell him I said that, will you?” I assure him I won’t. “So personally, I don’t care, as long as I can stay out of both of their ways. I suppose they probably both want my head now. Fortunately, only one of them is likely to live past the next few months, and then things will be a little simpler.”
“That I won’t find what I’m looking for. I’m afraid all the time; I hardly sleep at night. But if that Dannel fellow is right, I can redeem myself for what I did – as long as I succeed now. I just hope he is telling the truth and the regent will forgive me. It’s my only chance.”