Clink, clank, clink. Clink, clank, clink. Drago had become lost in the repetition, as he always had in the past. There was something about it that just felt right. The smell of the heated metal, the smell of the salt water when the steel was quenched, even the smell of the coal that all made him feel at home. This particular smith's shoppe was not finest he had seen in Shell, but he had a certain finesse in the way he worked. Nothing in his work space seemed out of place, very orderly and efficient.
It was the fourth Blacksmith he had visited today and the last, although he was not aware of that yet. Drago was leaning against the rough hewed door when his blue eyes spotted the first black cloak, with just a hint of gold. He had not been seen by him yet, and a quick step around the corner brought him into the alley. His black hair flowing slightly behind him, he quickly jumped on a barrel, vaulted on to a stack of crates and disappeared over the low roof.
The day wasn't hot yet, but most days in Shell got that way at some point. The clay shingles, so popular here in the city, could get hot enough to fry eggs before they were laid. He had to keep moving if he didn't want to get caught, at any rate. The structures were low and of relatively the same height. Three quick sprints and four jumps brought him two blocks away and two stories high. Time would tell if it was enough. Dropping to a balcony, he helped him self inside one of the many boarding houses. Shell was a port city and was assaulted daily by a plethora of visitors. Drago was seven and ten today, a man by Shellian standards. The blush on his face was, still, instantaneous as he made his way out the room and down the hall. A service stair in the rear quickly led him out of the establishment. The leather of his garments creaked when he leaned against the wood plank siding to catch his breath.
It was all so much like the game he had played his whole life. He runs and guards chase. He had expected, given the size of the city, that the challenge would become easier, but he was disillusioned. With the city came the Greys, the city guard, whose numbers swelled to well over two thousand. Being the bastard son of some lord, he had not expected that resource to be deployed in the chase.
He was pondering that fact, intently, when he heard a scuffle of boots. The sound had came from his left, so he immediately tore out to the right, narrowly missing a stagnant rain barrel. As he glanced to the side, looking for the source of the smell, the foot swipe took him by surprise. He hit the ground hard, on his left shoulder, rolled to the side and came revoltingly close to a big pile of horse dung. Too many smells in this alley he thought, looking side to side for his assailant.
Not surprising, it was a Grey guard. The same Grey that had rounded him up yesterday. This one was good. He leaped backwards, end over end, landing on his feet two and ten feet from the guard. His move was anticipated as a kick landed square in his chest. Breaths came with searing pain as he was led, under guard, back to he palace on the hill. He didn't mind being caught, after all the game had always been how long could he evade his pursuers.
The real thing puzzling him, at the moment, was why so much of the Excellency's resource were being expended in his capture. The reason for him being in the city had been left vague. “Your birth requires your presence in Shell.” was the only response he had been able to get out of Grady, his caretaker up until yesterday, when he was escorted to the seacoast capital. There was definitely an enigma here to solve, but Drago had no idea where to begin. He meagerly allowed himself to be herded along the cobblestones.
The solar was glass on three sides and wood paneled on the wall he was brought in by. He had been stripped to his small clothes and doused with water so hot, he feared he had been flayed. Fresh clothes were thrust at him, while two servants began dressing him from the bottom up. A guard stayed close with a weary and exasperated expression. “What is the need for such haste?” Drago asked.
The grizzled face stared at him with amusement and replied, “You'll be finding out soon enough, young master.” The twinkle in the mans eye let him know that any more questions would go unanswered. As soon as his garb was in place, Black slacks with a red doublet trimmed in gold, Lucian entered his chambers. Giving him a long inspection, he spoke softly, “I suppose you are passable. Your immediate presence is requested in his Excellency's solar. I would suggest that you prepare your excuses well and quickly, it is a short walk.” With that he turned on a heel and stepped from the room, not looking back when Drago was prodded into motion by the guard.
The walk was indeed short and excuses did not come. The truth would have to suffice, Although he did not think they would with Graben the IV. The brief introduction he had with the Lord had been frightful. The man had quite a reputation. Even fifty lengths out in the hovels surrounding Shell, He had began to hear the stories of tyranny. If he had been afraid then, he was terrified now.
Thankfully, the room had been empty when he was escorted in. A table took up the middle of the space, with a chair on either side. After being led to the placement facing the door he had entered by, he shakily seated himself and began chewing his nails. The door to the Solar clicked open and swung on well oiled hinges. Graben was seated across from him, almost instantly. His eyes and dark expression, both, stilled Drago's tongue. As Graben's fingers slowly tapped the table top, it became clear he was waiting for an explanation.
“Sir.... I.... ah.... That is.... I mean to say....” Taking a quick breath he continued, “I didn't mean to be gone so long. I lost track of the time. I know you said not to go out, today.... I am really sorry for ignoring your order. I....”
His onslaught of excuses was timely cut off by the slap of Graben's palm on the table.
“Enough!” He bellowed.
The veracity of his voice quieted the chamber, completely. Long moments passed, The silence only broken by the screech of sea birds. Drago began to wonder again if he was meant to speak and fill the void, but fear and intelligence kept his lips from parting. When his impatience had reached a level it had never seen before Graben spoke again.
In a low voice, barely audible he asked, “Do you have any idea why you were brought to the palace?”
The question gave Drago pause. He had not considered that question since the journey too the palace. His reply was slow in coming and unenlightened when it came.
“No. No, your excellency. I don't have a clue”
Graben stared at him with a flat expression, again taking his time to Respond further.
“You, Drago, are the son of a nobleman, this much you have been told. That is not the whole truth, but just an inkling of your story.”
“Your father is still very much alive and sitting before you. You are my son.”
The shock and distaste on Drago's face was immediately evident. His mouth gaped open as his eyes widened. He had been told his whole life that he was the bastard of a nobleman. He could only remember snippets of his mother, a fragrance, a vision of red-gold hair, but nothing more. Being raised as a foster among the commons had left him very disenchanted. He had no dreams of grandeur or hopes of living outside his station in society. With all of these thoughts tumbling through his head, he had not the time to respond before Graben spoke, again.
“The slack wit expression on your face makes it plain to me that you were not aware of this.”
“Well, no time for frivolities. Today is your sixteenth name day and you are here to be bestowed with your titles, thus securing the line of house Shell.”
Drago gulped. His head was swimming, but one thing was certain. He was now a prince.