The Last Paladin: Chapter Three by David Staiger

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Lord Wickam moved warily through the halls of Baensrook, stumbling through the fog of too much drink, or perhaps too little. It was often difficult to tell the difference anyway. His coat and grooming both demanded attention that he gave no thought to. He remained content to peer at the world through the untidy strands of white hair that fell across his features like a mask of shame. His nose hooked through that ragged curtain, surrounded by the weary lines of age on his cheeks, and the long dangle of his goatee hung from his chin like a battle torn flag of truce smeared purple from overflowing wine.

His eyes darted back and forth in cagey fashion, but to the few onlookers that encountered him in the halls he appeared no more attentive of his surroundings than usual. The corridors he chose were narrow, to aid with his balance at need, and the servants typically deferred to him as he passed without a second thought. On the steep climb of steps to the higher levels he was often ignored by the courtiers or politely saluted by the tower guard. The young ladies gave their simple bows of respect with kerchiefs to their lips dabbed with perfume to camouflage the smell of alcohol and old age.

But this time of night the lanes were more empty of encounters, the people who shared quarters within the great keep having by now gotten off to their private chambers following the evening's earlier affair. It had been a party of no special occasion that he could recall. It had been no more than a simple summer dance, but since no one thought to claim it for their own, he designed to think of it as his birthday celebration. Such festivities were owed to him, he imagined, and he took them wherever he could.

So he took himself to the high levels of the keep where, if his memory served him rightly, he possessed a small suite of chambers that had always been set aside for him. They overlooked the north face of the hold where he could often sit at times and watch the patterns of cloud move across the dark carpet of trees far below. The forest seemed to stretch out to the very horizon, and on occasion he had nothing better to do than observe the slow pace of daylight shift from morning to midday and onward to evening without ever himself moving from his seat. On days like that he wished he had a southward view. At least then he might look down upon the neighboring village and perhaps observe the intricate patterns of life going on all around him, simple daily rituals and routines to which he held no real claim at all.

In the empty corridors of his high floor, the lanterns had been set further apart for scarcity's sake, and he moved through long shadows like a forlorn haunt. In his grasp he carried the scabbard of the young lady that had come to the dinner hall in chains, the lady whose face he had seen beforeŚlong beforeŚin ages past. In fact, her face should be no more than an ancient memory, drifting away in a time so long ago that she should hardly appear to him at all, let alone looking as young and so full of promise.

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