The day was cold and gray, but the students were busy and worked to exhaustion without knowing it. They spent the day building a tower and a section of the ramparts, life-sized, made of snow and solidified into ice with buckets of water. There was a circular stairway through the mock up tower and sawdust was spread everywhere so that they could practice fencing and not worry about slipping on ice. Greyhead, they fencing instructor in charge of the school had a few ideas to teach them on taking of walls and fighting their way up the towers. The wall would last three months or so, and then he would have them demolish it with a battering ram.
At the end of the day was the New Year's feast. This year he would be serving his students swan and hare. He could hunt any game he wants, and he could serve it to anyone he pleases, he could wear purple and had it in his coat of arms. He had it in the checkered pattern on his shield - dark purple and robin's egg blue squares, signifying the purity of his innocense and his house's royal lineage. A master swordsman with innocence in his soul and an open table. Everyone wanted to come to his feasts, but only his fencing students were invited, but they could bring a friend with them to dance, only few men at arms danced and few did.
Val had a cup of hot grog for anyone coming in from the cold and snow-building was play, not work, so anyone could go inside to get warm at any time, though again, few did, unless he went inside himself. Now he was sitting at the head of the table in stockinged feet and undershirt, over which he was wearing his breastplate. He did not have a ceremonial suit of armor despite being a knight errant with a retinue of his own, instead, he had his familial coat of arms subtly hammered into his breast plate, which he wore into battle. Being the only one in the entire barony to aford such craftsmanship, his field plate was his ceremonial armor.
Now he sat at the head of the table, brooding over his grog while the junior students were setting the feast under Val's direction. Gone were the healer, the magician and the priest. His best friend and confidant, his own healer, kept spendign more and more time attending to whining peasants until he stopped attending his fencing practice and now he did not know where he was. The priest went back to his seminary, but Greyhead suspected that he took his share of the loot and went back to his father, a tailor in some far away town. The magician, too, seemed to have gone to a semionary to get better acquainted with Christianity. And now he lost Xadas, his lead student, but hopefully not forever.
Xadas, a mere ditch digger's son, met Val and him some years ago at a county fair, where Greyhead was taking on all comers with a wooden sword, all for a few coins to spend at a taverns. Xadas behaved like a street rogue, which he wasn't, actually a barely literate laboreer with a string back, who strived to improve his lot by becoming a swordsman of the froetier, and in Greyhead, he saw his golden chance. First, he became a studious student and his manservant, then he developed consciensciousness and initative in his practice, and took Val. Not that Greyhead saw it coming or reacted affronted, for who could be affronted by a mere tavern wench, albeit one who slept with guild magicians to learn their magic and looking fifteen years or so youngerm than she actually was. Xadas, of course, could see none of it and charged in, becoming a genuine swordhand along the way.
Now he wanted more action than just leading class in practice and openign and closing the place. Few controlled adventures, to which Greyhead exposed his students were not enough. Finally, a well to do local brewer popular among the craftsmen called a meeting at his Christmas Feast. Xadas and Val were invited, and of course Grayhead himself. The four of them went into the Brewmaster's sitting room. A long haired elf and a foreign looking merchant joined them. A rich merchant's daughter was taken for ransom in a large fishing village not to far away and taken to a hideout at a ruined tower. The reward of several thousand gold pieces will be theirs if they can dispose of the kidnappers and put an end to this problem. Xadas was all for it, but Greyhead pulled Val and didn't let her go. The three of them went outside and Greyhead told Xadas that he thought the adventure will be too much for Val, and that there was another Magician at the party, the rich one the scion of a trading house, already in a guild and with many more spells, than Val. Xadas stared at him, and nodded his understanding. There was nore than understanding, there was bovine trust, that can make some people squeamish. Stupid or not, Xadas trusted that Greyhead was only concerned with Val's safety and nothing else. It was decided right there and then, but Val was unhappy.
Riding home took the better part of the Christmas Day. She didn't argue with him as much as she pushed him for the explanation. They all adventured together, and now they were his liveried servants in name only, but was it in name only? Didn't he just assert his rank and ordered Xadas to proceed without her? There had to be more to the situation than meets the eye, he patiently explained to her. Why would a merchant travel at least half-way around the known worldfor the sake of some ruin used as a temporary refuge by some bandits. The Elf was a naive local yokel, who could handle the bandits, but not enough for whatever awaited that merchant down below. Why else would he travel for twod ays and bring a fair haired e;f along to sing the story to them? Xadas was a competent swordsman, who could handle himself, but Val was just a self-taught magician, and he, Greyhead wasn't going, nor was his priest or his healer. Val's eyes widened. Why didn't you tell all this to him? It wouldn't matter to him, he shrugged. I respect him too much as a warrior to try to talk him out of this. He saw in her face that she wasn't believing him. The merchant mage's family paid a lot of gold to that town's Warch to bring recover his body and bring the remains to them should anything go wrong. He said. I dd the same thing for Xadas. They will bring him back to me and I will bring him back, even if I have to go and get him myself. He said. Her mouth dropped open. He is not my best student, he said, but he is best assistant, and you love him." He stared at her as if he said nothing. Her mouth dfropped open and they rode the rest of the way in sulence.
Greyhead waited until the table was sat and everyone took their seat, and then he strated eating. There was mulled wine and cold water and more grog, and then the Christmas carolers came and started playing dance music, and a few got away from theit food to curtsie and dance. Grey saw that Val was beckoning him on the dance floor. He gave her a nod and got up from the table.
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!