Always on Guard
Chapter 1

Jorgarn Elmwood stood stoically at the dock of Longview's largest port. No member of his family arrived to bid him farewell upon his leave taking. He wasn't surprised. It had seemed as if he had been on his own for years.

Jorgarn was thankful that his father, Lord Longview, had allowed the trip. It was a pilgrimage to his stepmother's home country to join the Royal Guards instead of the normal fate of a second son the priesthood. Jorgarn smiled grimly. He was not cut out for a life of religious devotion. At least someone had paid enough attention to him to notice that much. It had saved him from sneaking away in the middle of the night.

Jorgarn's mother had died giving birth to him – a loss the rest of his family, particularly his older brother, Pietro, seemed to place blame for squarely on Jorgarn's shoulders. He was almost 13 years old before the cook, kindly Mistress Nasso, pulled him aside to give him the whole story.

He would miss the household staff at the Longview Estate. Each of them had a hand in making sure Jorgarn was safe and happy. For the most part, they had succeeded. Jorgarn was a good-natured young man. His brother thought Jorgarn was too familiar with the household staff. Pietro preferred to lord over them, giving outlandish orders and then handing out harsh punishments when his orders were not obeyed to the smallest measure.

At least Jorgarn's stepmother had put a stop to that foolishness. Pietro was seven years older than Jorgarn and could best be described as feckless. Nevertheless, he was the eldest son of Lord Longview and Lady Marnit, the Lord's first wife and Jorgarn's mother. Thus, Pietro, despite his obvious failings and cruel demeanor, would be the next Lord Longview.

Although there was little love between the two, Jorgarn sometimes hoped his father would live forever, simply to deny Pietro a platform from which to perpetuate his wicked schemes and dreams. Jorgarn firmly believed that Pietro's first order would be the death of his younger brother and successor, should something happen to Pietro before providing a legitimate heir. Not that Jorgarn planned to make that death easy for Pietro. Although Jorgarn's departure would remove him from succeeding Pietro, he firmly believed Pietro's ill-temper eventually would lead his older brother to seek Jorgarn's death.

Jorgarn had, upon occasion, thought about removing Pietro from the line of succession. Jorgarn had for many years possessed the ability to slay his older brother but had always refrained from taking the ultimate step.

The reasons were numerous. Pietro's most egregious atrocities had always reached Jorgarn's ears secondhand. He had long ago convinced his brother to cease the folly of picking on the much larger, better-trained Jorgarn. So although he had heard numerous stories of Pietro's cruelty and ill temper, he had never personally witnessed one. He didn't doubt the stories were true and Jorgarn knew that should he ever witness Pietro in a dishonorable action, it would spell the end to his older brother's life.

The ramifications of Pietro's death also stilled Jorgarn's hand upon occasion. Jorgarn didn't fear retribution. He would willingly accept whatever fate was in store if it would rid the world of a menace such as Pietro. No, it was a fate worse than death that worried Jorgarn.

If Pietro should die, by his hand or by another's, Jorgarn would accede to a position that held no interest to him: that of Lord Longview's successor. As he grew closer to adulthood, the very thought of being forced to spend hours upon hours with his father caused Jorgarn's stomach to clench. But he would be duty-bound to accept the designation if Pietro were to perish.

In all likelihood Pietro's demise would precipitate a second death: Lord Longview's, for Jorgarn had little doubt if he was forced to spend much time with his father, he would eventually kill the man.

The thought of his father's death didn't bother Jorgarn much. Death was a part of life. But his father's passing would thrust Jorgarn into another role he didn't care for. The young man just coming into adulthood would become Lord Longview, a position he was ill trained to assume. Jorgarn, although young, was wise enough to recognize that his ascension to the leadership of the nation would not benefit anyone in the slightest. In fact, in his mind at least, its disastrous ramifications would be on par with Pietro's eventual succession.

So Jorgarn, to his chagrin, gave his tacit acceptance of Pietro's actions so long as no harm came to anyone Jorgarn cared about, much as the man's father, Lord Longview, had done.

Lord Longview had seen Pietro's behavior and it galled him. He wished for nothing more than to deliver Longview a land he had long overseen with what he viewed as kindness and generosity to a worthy successor. It was only his own poor luck that left him with a first-born son who was not that person - the same cruel luck that had cost him his lovely Marnit.

The Lord's ego could never admit that Marnit's death was as much his fault as anyone's. His wrath fell upon the hapless midwife who had presided at Jorgarn's birth. It had fallen on the groomsman who had suggested the midwife. It had fallen on other nameless, faceless persons. Sadly, it had also fallen on Jorgarn.

Nothing Jorgarn did either as a child or as a young man could garner his father's approval. Jorgarn's excellence in his school lessons only led to censure when his efforts fell ever so slightly short. Jorgarn's ability on a horse brought only castigation for pursuing such a "foolish hobby."

Of all the things Jorgarn attempted in failed efforts to gain his father's love, only his skill with weapons caught the man's eye. At first, he berated Jorgarn for learning war craft. It was an unfit skill for a priest, Lord Longview had claimed.

It took an animal to help Lord Longview appreciate his younger son. A boar, startled by some unseen force, came crashing through a street fair attended by Lord Longview and his second wife, Eslada. As the party dwellers scattered in frenzy and the men-at-arms' flails sent the scared animal careening toward the Lord and Lady who both stood frozen in fright Jorgarn plucked an arrow from his ever-present quill and killed the boar with a single shot through the eye. The charging animal died a scant four feet from Lord and Lady Longview.

The house servants and townsfolk praised Jorgarn for his marksmanship and cool head. Lady Eslada clasped the young man to her generous bosom and kissed him warmly on the cheeks and the forehead.

Lord Longview's ever-present scowl flickered for a mere moment as he cast a sidelong glance at his second son. He nodded curtly toward the boy and set out to find the source of the boar's agitation. Sadly, he already knew who was responsible the same person who was responsible for every nasty thing that happened in Longview Pietro, the heir to the lordship.

As it stood, Jorgarn had decided he would flee the territory before joining the priesthood. The priests of Longview were a secretive lot, prone to espousing eternal damnation for the slightest of sins. Jorgarn frequently wondered if there was a single human frailty that wouldn't eventually lead to an eternity in the fiery underworld. The little he heard from the nation's religious leaders led him to doubt there was.

A Longview priest spent the first 15 years of his servitude, for Jorgarn viewed the life as nothing less than slavery, in complete solitude. The novice was not allowed to speak or even to visit another living soul during his years of silent contemplation.

Then he was sent forth to cleanse the world of sin, real or imagined. Jorgarn didn't wonder why religion played so little part in the daily lives of most citizens. The few priests who made it through the rigorous training were often slain in the first village they visited. Those who weren't killed outright were ignored. Still, it was tradition and tradition was not to be ignored.

Sin was alive and well in Longview, and from the stories Eslada had told him of Emertland, it was alive and well there, too.

In Emertland, devotion was a private matter. There were houses of worship of which there were few in Longview but the matter of which God to worship and how to pay one's tribute was left to the individuals. Eslada had explained that the Lords and Ladies of the realm often took the place of religious figures in the lands they governed.

It took only a few moments of contemplation for Jorgarn to decide that he would never find himself in a cleric's robe.

He had secured enough victuals to last him a few days and his skill with projectile weapons would feed him thereafter. He had hidden most of his armaments in a cave in the forest. He could not go without them. He had brought a young groomsman into his confidence out of necessity and made arrangements to procure his horse the night before his 15th birthday. Everything was set for his escape from the priesthood, from Longview and from his family's scorn.

So Jorgarn was surprised when his father and stepmother paid an early morning visit to his chambers the day before his birthday. He considered jumping from the window and trying to make his escape. It was but 16 hours earlier than planned but he knew the fall would either kill him outright or severely injure him. Grudgingly, he admitted Lord and Lady Longview into his sitting room. He could scarcely deny them admittance.

His father wore the look of disgust that always settled on his face. However, it was his stepmother's look that made Jorgarn pause.

Eslada had never been cruel to Jorgarn. He thought her kind but he never thought her especially nice, either. She had enough sense to despise Pietro but almost everyone, save the ne'er-do-wells who did his bidding in the hope of gaining future riches, despised Pietro. Eslada didn't win any prizes for that bit of wisdom.

After the episode with the boar, Eslada had requested that Jorgarn accompany her as her guard during her infrequent trips from the manor. Lady Eslada traveled rarely but when she did, Jorgarn's father had assigned him as her shield. It was better than many of the tasks his father had sent Jorgarn's way so he didn't mind. It gave him the opportunity to ride his horse and, although Lady Eslada was never in danger, it gave Jorgarn a sense of pride to know that his stepmother thought highly enough of him to specifically request that he protect her.

She had introduced him to two men who knew how to handle a sword and instructed him to take lessons with them. She had offered praise for Jorgarn's efforts but praise was so foreign to him that he didn't recognize it for what it was. It was only as he grew older that he believed that Lady Eslada actually might like him.

As usual, Lord Longview was brusque and to the point.

"As you know, it is tradition that the second son of the Lord joins the priesthood," he said.

Jorgarn gulped noticeably but found his voice.

"Unfortunately, Lord Longview, I will not be participating in that tradition," Jorgarn said. He already stood as tall as his father and was a head taller than his brother. Jorgarn had decided that if his father sought to make him go with the priests, there would be bloodshed and Longview would have a new Lord earlier than expected.

"No, you won't," Longview said in an even voice. "Against my judgment, Lady Eslada has made other arrangements for you. You will travel to Emertland where you will serve its King. You leave in two hours. I trust you can be ready by then."

Lord Longview turned to leave but Lady Eslada closed the door and stayed behind.

She smiled and touched Jorgarn's cheek affectionately.

"I knew the priesthood was never for you, my dear," Eslada said. "Unfortunately, the post you are best suited for is denied to you as well. You will never be heir to the lordship. It was something I knew you would abide in order to avoid the priesthood."

Jorgarn tilted his head.

"Sadly, it means I must provide a child who can claim the lordship should ill befall Pietro," she said wearily. "But it will be worth it to secure your escape. My uncle is King Landor. In our country, the second son joins the military. He has agreed, with only my word, to accept you into his personal guard. I hope that my arrangements meet with your satisfaction. I thought them better than your other plan."

Jorgarn's mouth widened and his eyes widened but Eslada merely smiled sweetly.

"I am as friendly with the house workers as you are, Jorgarn," she said simply. "We both have the ability to remain somewhat invisible when it is necessary. I learned of your plans shortly after you made them. I suspected them even before you did. The military is a better place for a man of your talents, my dear. I think you will be happy there."

Eslada leaned forward and gave Jorgarn a soft kiss on his lips.

"I do pray," she added, "if something should happen to your father, that you will rescue me before Pietro has sworn fealty to the Emperor. I should not like to become your sister-in-law."

Jorgarn nodded mutely. Eslada was about 10 years older than Jorgarn and only three years older than Pietro. Jorgarn doubted Pietro would marry Eslada but he had no doubt that Pietro would find a use for her.

"I will, Lady," Jorgarn said when he found his voice. "Please know that I will do my best to protect you in the future as I have in the past. You have my word on that."

"Your word is all I require, young master Jorgarn," Eslada said lightly as she swept Jorgarn into a hug. "Although I am too young to be your mother, I do love you like a brother. If it weren't for my promise to secure your escape, I would gladly join you. At least with you in Emertland, I have hope that my cousin Denae will not meet the same fate as I. Another uncle of mine, Torbert, is Captain of the Guards. You will like him and he will like you. I am sure of it. Be well, Jorgarn. I truly believe this is the last we will see one another for a long while."

Eslada gave Jorgarn another warm embrace and exited the room hurriedly. Jorgarn set out to gather all the belongings he had stashed away in order to flee.

The journey from Longview to Emertland by ship was not long but it was arduous. As when around his friends who worked in the kitchen at Longview Manor, Jorgarn could see no sense in sitting idly by watching while others worked.

After stowing his belongings below deck, Jorgarn approached the captain to inquire if there was anything he could safely do to assist the crew. The query brought the captain up short. During his 40 years on the water, he had transported many a noble son or daughter. Jorgarn Elmwood was unique.

First, he brought no entourage and carried only a few belongings. He did not expect the crew to tote locker after locker aboard the ship. The young man arrived alone and carried all his belongings on board in one trip. He did not insist that the captain give up his quarters for the short passage, nor did he insist on being provided ale, wine or food from the steward in his first breath.

Now he was asking if he could assist the crew. It was no wonder, the captain thought, the young man was being sent away. He seemed to be far too decent a person to get along with lords and ladies. The old captain appraised the young man earnestly. He wasn't pasty white and frail like the other noblemen who had booked passage on his ship. The man actually looked as though he might have done a day's work or two in his life.

Still, if Jorgarn wanted to work, so be it. It wouldn't lessen the price of his passage and it would give the captain a chance to make up for all the times he had been forced to place his belongings in the hold because a passenger insisted upon using his cabin.

"Fine," the man growled. "Go with Trioset there. You can help him with the lines."

Jorgarn nodded and followed the young man in question. The captain kept a close eye on the young noble and, by the time the ship made port in Emertland, he wished that Jorgarn would have taken a calling to the sea instead of whatever fate his life held.

Sir Torbert, Captain of the Emertland Guard, expected a horse-drawn carriage and a group of 20 riders to bring Master Jorgarn to the castle. He was surprised when a fit, sunburned young man with unruly hair and a dirty cape presented himself with "Lady Eslada's regards."

His niece's letters had told him that Jorgarn would be unlike any scion Torbert had schooled before but it still didn't paint an adequate picture of the boy in front of him.

"Jorgarn Elmwood," Jorgarn said as he stood tall and straight. "Son of Lord Longview and Lady Marnit, stepson of Lady Eslada, at your service, Sir Torbert. I apologize for my appearance. I expected that I would be able to find you after I cleaned."

"Been in a scrape already, boy?" Torbert asked. The dirty cape and bloody hands were a sure sign that the man in front of him had stopped off for a tankard or five of ale before arriving.

"No, Sir Torbert," the young man said with embarrassment. "I assisted the sailors with passage. It was a bit more involved than I expected it to be."

"Trouble at sea?" Torbert asked.

"No, Sir," Jorgarn replied. "No trouble. I just hate to stand around and watch. I heard the crew was short two hands, so I offered."

He smiled ruefully.

"I am beginning to wish I hadn't," Jorgarn said. "A sailor's life is a hard life. I'm glad the passage was short. I'm not certain I would be able to get out of bed tomorrow if it were longer."

Torbert laughed.

"You still might not," Torbert said seriously. "It is early in the day and I expect you to participate in the rest of the lessons. I need to see where you are in your training. Who is your master trainer?"

Jorgarn stared at the man.

"I, uh, I suppose you are, Sir Torbert," Jorgarn answered. Two older men from the village had done his training. It was anything but structured. "I have no formal training of which to speak. I have no master trainer. Two gentries from my homeland taught me when they found time."

Sir Torbert's face creased in a frown. It was an expression Jorgarn had seen on his father's face many times.

"Then you will be extremely sore in the morning, if you manage to survive today," he said as he turned away. "You'll bunk in the second house. Your training begins after our noon meal."

Jorgarn lowered his head and went to find his accommodations.

The rooms were nicer than Jorgarn expected. Then he remembered that his companions were all second sons of noblemen of Emertland. He was aware of how young nobles acted. He had watched Pietro cut a wide swath through Longview without repercussions. While Jorgarn was chastised for every fault real or imagined Pietro could do was he pleased without rebuke.

It took Jorgarn only moments to realize that the people he shared a dwelling with were cut from the same cloth as Pietro.

"Beggars and commoners are down the way," a snide voice told him as he entered the common area. "This is for nobility. Or are you here to clean for us?"

Two other voices joined in laughter.

"I am Jorgarn, born of Lord and Lady Longview," Jorgarn replied. "I am in the correct place. Which room is unoccupied?"

The three men looked at Jorgarn carefully. He was taller than they were and much broader. However, there were three of them and one of him. The newcomer needed to learn the hierarchy quickly.

"None of the rooms are unoccupied," the first man said. "You can sleep out here until you earn a room."

The man's two companions nodded approvingly. All the men were unarmed because it was tradition for the guardsmen in training to place their swords beside the doors to their rooms when they were inside.

Jorgarn nodded thoughtfully.

"Then I suppose I will take one of your rooms," he said. "Which one of you would like to give up his lodgings?"

The two men who hadn't spoken looked at one another. Master Symington was good with a sword but he would be no match for the newcomer in unarmed combat. The man must have outweighed their leader by 50 pounds or more.

"I think not," Symington replied casually. "Now, be a good boy and fetch me some wine. It's almost time for you to serve our noon repast."

The two men behind Symington didn't even see Jorgarn move. They cast a glance toward one another and, by the time they glanced forward again, the newcomer had Symington by the neck and was holding him off the ground with one hand.

"I would suggest you might want to rethink your answer, ' Jorgarn said. He didn't appear to be straining in the least. "You two, stay out of this. I might panic and snap this poor man's neck if either of you move. We wouldn't want that, now would we?"

The others, Master Fieth and Master Renoit, nodded and stayed put. Instead, it was another voice that almost caused Jorgarn to commit permanent damage to Symington.

"What's this?" a voice said behind Jorgarn. Fieth and Renoit snapped to attention and Jorgarn recognized the voice as Sir Torbert.

"I was earning my room," Jorgarn said. "I was led to believe that one of these three had to die before one would be unoccupied."

The men's eyes went wide.

"We were just having a bit of fun," Fieth said. His voice sounded like a whiny and Jorgarn took an immediate dislike to it.

"As am I," Jorgarn said. "I personally find it entertaining to put in their proper place those who think too highly of themselves."

"You might put him down, Master Jorgarn," Torbert said lightly. "He seems to be turning blue."

"As you wish, Sir Torbert," Jorgarn replied. He didn't lower Symington to the ground. Instead, Jorgarn simply opened his hand and the man fell unceremoniously onto his backside.

Torbert tried and failed to stifle a laugh.

"Tut, tut," Jorgarn said to the fallen man. "Now that our misunderstanding is cleared up, perhaps you could point me to an unoccupied room."

The man on the floor glared at Jorgarn but didn't speak. Jorgarn wasn't certain the man would be able to speak for a while. He had grasped the man's throat pretty tightly and already a red handprint was starting to rise. Jorgarn was positive it would be a nasty bruise by morning.

"As I said, I am Jorgarn, born of Lord and Lady Longview," he announced again. "I have been directed to this accommodation by the Captain of the Guard. Please direct me to an unoccupied room. I do not have time to dawdle and I do not take kindly to arrogance."

Renoit pointed to a doorway directly behind Jorgarn.

"That one," he said. "No one stays there but it will have to be cleared. It has someone else's belongings in it."

Renoit unconsciously glanced toward the floor where Symington sat in a heap.

"Very well," Jorgarn replied. "I will toss those things out here. Their owner may retrieve them at his leisure."

After securing Symington's release, Sir Torbert had stood back and watched to see how things would play out. Renoit's glance had told him who had appropriated more space than he was allotted but it was no surprise to Torbert. Symington's skill with a sword allowed him to dictate things in other areas.

He would have to keep Symington away from Jorgarn until the new trainee was better versed or it could be fatal to the young man.

"Does this room have a key?" he heard Jorgarn ask.

"We do not lock the doors," Renoit said. "It is a matter of trust between fellow guardsmen."

Jorgarn's eyes narrowed.

"Neither you nor I is a guardsman," he said. "We are in training to be guardsmen. Furthermore, there is no trust between you and me. I will lock my door. What the rest of you do is up to you. Where is the key?"

Again, his two cohorts glanced at Symington who watched Jorgarn with anger but didn't speak.

"Very well," Jorgarn replied. He casually picked up the items in his new room and deposited them roughly in the common area. The farther from the door the item laid, the more rudely Jorgarn tossed it out. When he was finished, he went to the next room and opened the door.

"That's not your area," Fieth cried.

"I will go room to room until I find the key to mine," Jorgarn answered. "I will toss everyone's belongings into this room until I locate what I'm looking for."

His face took on a harsh expression.

"You can trust me," he continued. "I won't damage or break much."

"Symington's room," Renoit said as he pointed to the room farthest from the entrance.

Jorgarn nodded and started across the room. Symington seemed to find his nerve at once. He stood to block Jorgarn's path.

"You do not need a key and you won't enter my chambers," he croaked. He seemed upset that his voice had faltered.

Jorgarn hazarded a glance at Sir Torbert who was standing expressionless. When he saw no response, Jorgarn grabbed Symington's shoulders and drove his knee squarely into the man's privates. Symington dropped like a rock and vomited on the floor.

"I do need a key," Jorgarn said in a calm voice. "And I will have a key. If you do not provide me the key, I will take the key. If you try to stop me, I will hurt you. I told you, I am not one for foolishness and I have put up with all the heavy-handed nonsense that I'm going to in my life. Now, you may go to your room and get me what I ask for or I will go there and find it. Do we understand one another?"

"I'll kill you," Symington said in a low voice. "The first chance I get, you're dead."

"Yes, yes," Jorgarn said with a smile. He was certain that Torbert had heard the threat but the man gave no indication of interceding. "Now you understand why I want a key. At least when you kill me it won't be while I'm asleep. You seem like that type. Now, how is it going to be?"

Symington seethed but walked gingerly toward his room. He disappeared for a moment then returned and tossed the key at Jorgarn's feet. In the next instant, Symington grabbed his sword from the mount beside his door.

"Halt!" Sir Torbert said loudly. Symington ignored the command and stalked across the floor. Jorgarn had knelt to retrieve his key but he jerked his head up when he heard Sir Torbert's command. He gulped when he saw Symington wasn't paying attention to his superior.

Jorgarn started to stand but had another thought. Symington held his sword as if it were a club. There was no grace in his motions. He intended to get close enough to Jorgarn to slash him. Moving as quickly as he could, Jorgarn took two hops forward then he shot his leg out and caught Symington just behind the knee.

Jorgarn's movements had surprised Symington. He had threatened enough unarmed men to know that their first response was to move backward. When the hard boot caught Symington on the back of his leg, his balance was lost. He toppled forward with his sword clattering across the floor. Before he could react, he found his shoulders pinned down and the newcomer sitting across his chest.

The man was looking down on him with disdain and shaking his head sadly.

"I apologize, Sir Torbert," Jorgarn said. "But if this is the best you have to offer, I fear my time will be wasted here. Do you train your armed guards to attack unarmed men?"

Sir Torbert's mouth was set in a line.

"I didn't think so, Sir," Jorgarn continued. "I suspect this is a portion of his training that he learned elsewhere. If you'd like, I can snap his neck like a chicken's."

"That will not be necessary, Master Elmwood," Sir Torbert said. Like Symington, Torbert had been surprised by Jorgarn's actions all of his actions. Sir Torbert was not used to surprises and he loathed them. "However, should the need arise again, you have my permission. Now, I think we need to find new housing for Master Symington. I think his time here has not been used wisely. If you will let him rise, he can pack the belongings in his room. I think it is time he was moved to the guard house."

Jorgarn thought the man he held pinned to the ground smirked at the news.

"I am to be promoted to the Noble Guard?" Symington asked. It didn't make sense to Jorgarn but he understood the ways of life were different for nobles.

"Promoted?" Torbert asked rhetorically. "I suppose so. Your duties will not change. You will, however, train with the permanent guard staff. You have not earned a ranking in the Noble Guard. But be warned, young Symington, the guards do not tolerate foolishness. If you try what you tried with Master Longview there, you will not only be disarmed, you will be killed."

The smirk on Symington's face evaporated.

"Commoners?" he seethed. "I am to be housed with commoners? My father will hear of this."

"I expect he shall," Torbert replied. "I'm certain my brother will alert your father to the change of status and the reasons behind it. We've had this discussion before, have we not?"

Symington's eyes closed slightly and Jorgarn felt the energy leave the man's body.

"Yes, Sir Captain," Symington said. "Perhaps if Master Longview and I apologize to the other, we can put this behind us?"

"I think not," Torbert said. "We went that route last time with young Anlot. I believe your apology lasted only until it became possible for you to harm him. I should have had you lashed then. But I had only second-hand accounts. I witnessed this firsthand. You will receive 10 lashes and a transfer. I will, however, let you regale your father with your promotion. The King will be made aware of the circumstances."

Torbert put his hand on Jorgarn's shoulder and Jorgarn arose.

"Gather the belongings in your allotted area," Torbert said again. "You may transfer those before your lashes."

Symington glanced at his belongings that Jorgarn had strewn across the common area.

"These can't be your things," Torbert said as he noticed the gaze. "They were in young Longview's area so they must be his. Master Jorgarn, please pick up your things and place them back in your room. The rooms are assigned by seniority. Master Symington's room will be offered to Master Fieth. If he declines, it will be offered to Master Renoit. It is yours if neither speaks up."

Both Fieth and Renoit glanced to Jorgarn for a clue as to his wishes.

"The room by the door suits me well," Jorgarn said. "I like to be close to the exit in case of emergency. If they don't want it, it can go to the next newcomer."

"I'll take the room," Fieth said quickly once he saw he wouldn't have to fight Jorgarn for it. "I am now the senior trainee in this quad."

Fieth looked as if he expected Jorgarn to kiss his feet. If he did, he was sorely disappointed. Instead, the newest trainee simply walked back to his room.

Sir Torbert followed behind him.

"You forgot the things in the common room," he chided gently.

Jorgarn looked up in surprise.

"Those are not my things," he said. "But you already know that."

"I do and they are," Torbert said. "I assign rooms. I assigned you this room. Those things were in here so they are yours. I noticed you did not bring many belongings with you. Although most of Symington's clothes will be too small for you, his cloak will fit and the purse will go a long way toward outfitting you."

"I have coin," Jorgarn protested.

"You have coin from Longview, I fear," Torbert said shaking his head. "Or the Emperor's coin. We do not use that here. We are sovereign. You will not find much use for the coins you brought. I will attempt to trade them with some of the sailors in port, but I fear you might take a loss. May I inspect your sword before we begin training?"

"Of course, Sir Captain," Jorgarn said quickly as he pulled the sheathed sword from his long pack. "I hope it will be satisfactory."

Torbert suspected Jorgarn's sword would be no more satisfactory than the other noble trainee's. Most young noblemen brought their ceremonial swords with them swords that would be shattered during the first engagement with a real enemy. Of course, most noblemen thought the Noble Guard to be a ceremonial post, a spot where they could meet a young noblewoman and achieve success through her family.

Jorgarn didn't seem to be of that sort. When Torbert examined the sword, it was impressive. It was far from ceremonial, although a quick glance into his pack showed the ornate hilt of another sword.

"Very nice, Master Longview," Torbert said. He glanced up to see the frown on Jorgarn's face. "Question?"

"Uh, well, yes, Sir Torbert," Jorgarn replied. "I have been addressed as young Longview, Master Elmwood, young Jorgarn and various other means. That leaves me unsure how to address others. Is there an appropriate way to speak to someone?"

Torbert laughed. The man who had seemed so worldly and strong just moments before was suddenly acting his age.

"Your name presents us somewhat of a problem," Torbert said. "In Emertland, we have one name. For example, I am Sir Lord Torbert Doloran, Knight Protector of the Crown. I hold the lordship of an area called Weltin. The Dolorans are the royal family. Cruit Symington is the son of Lord Symington. Elobert Fieth is the son of Lord Fieth. Noble names are based on the area they hold, although it is possible for them to change. You are Jorgarn Elmwood of Longview, Squire Protector to the Manor. At least that is how my niece, your stepmother, introduced you to us in her letters."

"Squire Protector?" Jorgarn asked. "I went places with Lady Eslada on her travels. It was my job to protect her but it wasn't a title. Or at least I don't think it was."

Torbert laughed. He liked this boy and could see why his niece thought so highly of him. There was no artifice about Jorgarn Elmwood of Longview, Squire Protector.

"It seems my niece made a title for you," Torbert said. "I gather that she included things in her letters that were unimportant and left out some important ones. For instance that sword, where did you acquire it?"

"One of the men who trained me made it for me," Jorgarn stated. "He made armor, among other things."

"It is well crafted and well used," Torbert replied. "These men, do they have names?"

"Gorin and Melodart," Jorgarn answered. "I believe they were once soldiers before coming to Longview. They and Lady Eslada helped me with your language."

Torbert's laughter caught Jorgarn off guard.

"How did you come to meet these men," he asked with glee.

"Lady Eslada introduced me to them," Jorgarn replied. "It was perhaps five years ago, a few months after I killed a boar with my bow."

"You have trained for five years with Gorin and Melodart," Torbert said as he shook his head and pounded his fist on his thigh. "Let me guess, those two old reprobates told you how to deal with young Symington?"

Torbert saw displeasure in the young man's eyes at his characterization of Jorgarn's mentors.

"No offense meant, my boy," Torbert said. "Gorin and Melodart are Noble Guards. They left us, well, about five years ago. No one really knew where they went or why they left. They simply handed in their papers, returned their cloaks and departed. Lady Eslada is my sister's daughter. Gorin and Melodart were her protectors when she was younger, until the time she married your father."

A look of hostility passed over Torbert's face.

"I understand your sentiments, Sir Torbert," Jorgarn said. "But better Lord Longview than his heir. I seem to remember that they were coming here to look for a match for Pietro and came home with one for my father instead."

Torbert waved his hand dismissively but shook his head.

"I believe I should simply send you out there and let Symington have a go at you," Torbert said with a gleam in his eye. "No formal training, you said. To think, I was worried that Symington would hack you to pieces. I should have known when I saw you holding him up by his throat. Gorin taught you that, didn't he?"

Jorgarn nodded.

"And the foot sweep came from Melodart?" Torbert asked.

"Uh, actually, Lady Eslada taught me that," Jorgarn said with embarrassment. "She used it on my brother once when he was being particularly insubordinate to her."

Torbert's smile widened.

"Good for her," he said. "She was always feisty. That's why she wound up married to your father. My nephew couldn't find anyone here who could handle her. At least he didn't send her to be your brother's wife. That would have been worse."

Jorgarn smiled slightly.

"Oh, I don't know," Jorgarn said. "I would be the heir to the lordship because you can wager that one of us would have killed Pietro. Lady Eslada would have her choice to either return home or stay as the Lord Mother."

Jorgarn's eyes narrowed slightly.

"Which brings me to something I need to relay unto you, Sir, before my training commences," he continued. "I gave my solemn vow that I would return to protect Lady Eslada should something befall my father. I will keep that vow even if it means my training here would end."

Torbert nodded.

"You would have 50 men at your back," he said as he put his hand on Jorgarn's shoulder. "Including me. Eslada is one of many nieces but she is my favorite niece. I believe the King feels the same way. Any harm to Lady Eslada likely would be considered an act of war against the Kingdom of Emertland."

Jorgarn decided he needed to make sure his idiot brother understood that fact.

Edited by BlackIrish; Proofread by Lee.

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