The Secrets of Kings: Season 2, Episode 2

7:30 AM

Season 2: Episode 2

Ponce: Groom of the Stool

July 7, 1390, 8:19 PM

The sun was beginning to dip in the sky, so Ponce was thankful to have just turned onto the well hidden forest path that he so desperately had been seeking. The ground was less smooth from ware and the path almost too narrow for a travel cart to pass. The horses’ pull slowed dramatically as an acclimation to the rougher terrain. He hoped he would find what he was looking for before the light ran out and the deep woods would become an inescapable black hole until the morning.
It had been some time since he last traveled this wooded route. The years away from the forest made Ponce feel that it was both familiar and strangely foreign at the very same time. He remembered much of the general layout of the path, but the years of growth hid some features and ultimately changed the look of the space. As a result of being unable to find some of his usual place markers, he felt that the trek was taking a bit longer than he remembered. He attempted to reason with himself though, for he realized he had never before traveled the path with the heights of anxiety he was now feeling. Time, he felt, seemed to be operating a bit askew. But finally, just as he was about to give up hope, Ponce spotted the fork in the road that he long remembered. “Left to the lake, Right to the top.” He whispered under his own breath. Smiling in relief, he pulled the reins to the right as they approached, to signal the correct path to the horses. Even more slowly still, the the duo began to climb the path on the hill.
Ponce turned in the driver seat and peeked through a small window, into the cabin, to find the Princess, curled up on the back bench, asleep. She had been that way for hours; surely a result of his continued drugging. He convinced himself it was for the best, however and turned back to the road ahead. He knew it would not be much longer before they reached their destination and he began to worry that the person that he sought here in these woods may no longer occupy them.
This thought was suddenly interrupted as an arrow passed just inches ahead of his eyes, before its blade wedged deep inside a tree to Ponce’s side.
“What business have you in these woods?”
Ponce desperately scanned the surrounding forest but saw no one. The voice seemed to come from nowhere. He panicked and rose from his seat before stopping the horses. At the same time, the cart came upon a particularly rough patch of terrain, causing Ponce to lose his balance and tumble face first from the driver’s bench to the forest floor. He lost the reins in the fall, but the ordeal must have caused enough of a commotion because the horses stopped to bend their curious heads around to see what had happened.
Stunned for a short moment from the fall, Ponce took a moment to process that he had been injured. He lifted his head to see the ground smudged with his blood. He reached up to his forehead, from which he could now sense the wet fluid. He was barely able to think what to do before someone rushed over to him, pulling his body into the forest and off of the path.
“Please. Please!” Ponce pleaded, as he struggled to free himself. “Let me explain.”
“No need to explain. How about quiet? Eh?” His captor responded.
The forest thug finally presented himself. He was young but sturdy looking. His clothes suggested he was some sort of hunter. He had swords and knives strapped all over his body along with the bow that he had already used against his new human prey.  He was clearly stowing an abundance of items on his back as well. Two freshly killed rabbits hung from the young man’s waist, adding to his lethal appearance.
Once the man drug Ponce a few feet into the woods, he pulled a length of rope from his back and with little effort at all, he quickly wrapped Ponce’s hands and feet, despite having to fight against Ponce’s efforts to resist.
“The truth is, not much can be gleaned from these woods, but you are my lucky day, mate.”
Ponce continued in vain to verbally appeal to the assailant, but he moved swiftly away from Ponce and to the sitting carriage, where Ponce could see him take the reins and begin to drive away with the Princess, who was oblivious but in tow. Ponce called out, still pleading, and hoping the Princess’s last dose may have worn enough for her to awaken at his pleas as his voice followed but fell behind the carriage.
After the wagon was obscured from his view, Ponce felt both defeated and angry. His previous pleas turned into Ponce unleashed an assault of profanities into the emerging night sky. He had already determined this was a terrible day, but it was now officially the worst he had ever experienced.
After he composed himself a bit, he wriggled and writhed for some time and discovered the ropes that the man tied about him were much looser and more sloppily affixed than he had originally thought. He began to maneuver with more purpose and with some time, he finally found himself free of the constraints. He was generally lacking supplies now, so he quickly collected the rope, slinging the poorly formed mass over his shoulders before making his way back to the wooded path and jogging in the direction of the cart and his ultimate destination.
Although he had lost some time, he was fairly certain his light jog was a fair pace greater than the horses had managed on this rough turf. The light was starting to fade quickly now but he knew that he was close, at the very least, to his originally intended destination.
Once he found himself near the the end of the path, he could see fire burning through the trees. Torches were lit around the grounds of a moderately sized cottage in the middle of the woods. Ponce remembered the grounds well.  He had once been a regular visitor. Upon seeing more of the clearing’s grounds, he saw that the stolen cart was sitting outside. He realized that he must have made up quite a bit of time when he ran the rest of the path because he could see the brute that attacked him as he tied the horse’s reins to a parking post. The young man pulled a small trough up to the post and poured a small sack of feed for the horses who happily ate after such a long day of travel.

Ponce’s heart sank a bit. Did that scoundrel live here? He debated what he should do next. Just because that man lived here did not necessarily mean his old friend was no longer here. Maybe Brielle, his old healer friend, had taken on a charge since the last time he had seen her. She came from a long line of nomadic people and she was one of the first to set up permanent roots. Even long ago she played host to a whole array of northern grifters.
Or… Perhaps the wind once again called her out to cross the land and seek out its offerings.
Ponce quietly traveled a bit deeper into the woods so that he might keep an eye on the place without being seen. Once he saw the young man enter the cottage, he circled the perimeter of the property, and ultimately the carriage, so that he might avoid any possibility of being spotted.
Ponce had not seen his attacker access the carriage and, assuming they had arrived at the same time, he may not have looked through the wagon to take possession of their supplies nor discovered that Ponce had been transporting an additional passenger.
He was almost to the wagon door, when he heard a voice from within the carriage call out.
“Ponce! Ponce! I have a terrible headache!” Are we finally…”
He darted into the wagon with panicked alacrity. “Shhhhhhh.” Just as he could her a crack from the cottage door.
“Ponce! Ponce! What is…” She was swiftly interrupted by Ponce’s hand covering her mouth as he brought his index finger to his lips in a signal to the princes to keep quiet.
Unfortunately, it seemed he was too late. The door on the other side of the wagon flew open and Ponce found himself face-to-face with his old friend. She looked just as he had ever remembered her. Long unruly hair, deep brown eyes with just a hint of mischief, and a collection of crystals and spell pouches draped around her neck and waist.
“Ponce!” She exclaimed. “I thought I would never see you again! What are you doing here?”
“You know this man?” His assailant asked from behind.
“In fact, I do.” She said.
“You realize this man is a thief?!” Ponce accused, worried about the character of the man that his old companion seemed to have befriended.
“Why don’t we all just take a moment. I think there has been a grave misunderstanding here.” Brielle began to explain. “Ponce, let us help you and your friend into the cabin. I have a stew on the fire and we can catch up.”
Ponce looked at the young man in concern, but nodded his head in response to Brielle’s offer and allowed them to help him get the Princess inside the cottage and out of the carriage for the evening.
Ponce was unsure who he could trust, and he was certainly suspicious of this young man who seemed to have taken up residence in his old friends abode, however, night was falling over the entire sky now, and he had little other choice for the evening.

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