Chapter 39: Shadow of the Crown
A break from the pressure of the Dowager and House of Lord’s expectations—not to mention the pack of skirts, perfumes, and dangerous smiles—was just what the crown prince needed. Beaumont was more than happy to follow Nicholas to the Knight’s Compound, where they picked up the crown prince’s sword lessons with renewed vigor.
As always, the greenest knights were out training in the pit. Though they quickly yielded half the space for their future king and his knight captain. Not wanting to put on a one-sided display, Beaumont had selected the newest knight of the batch, who happened to arrive after them.
“Mind your footwork and don’t let him put you off balance, your Majesty,” Beaumont cautioned as Nicholas dodged the swing of his opponent. “Sir Malcolm, don’t you ease off unless you want to face me next.”
Malcolm cast a worried glance towards the knight captain, and Nicholas quickly jabbed at his exposed flank. Instinctively Malcolm turned, parried the attack, and shoved Nicholas off balance with his shield.
The crown prince landed on his ass with a painful grunt, and the rest of the knights in the training arena were careful to avert their gaze.
“I-I’m so sorry—”
“Don’t apologize,” Nicholas snapped as he rolled back to his feet, sword in hand.
“Again,” Beaumont urged without comment.
The hesitant Malcolm squared off against Nicholas once more. This time both remained focused on their opponent as they exchanged heavy blows, jabs, and feints.
Beaumont observed them with the occasional prodding suggestions directed primarily at Nicholas. Sweat trickled down the knight captain’s neck and pooled beneath his armor as the sun climbed higher over the walls of the Knights Compound. A discomfort that came with the knight’s chainmail and uniform, though Malcolm was suffering the worst of it as he fought beneath the added weight of sword and shield.
Although just a boy of eighteen, Sir Malcolm’s physique and instinct paired well with the knight’s sword and shield fighting style. Even the boy’s footwork was impressive for one of his limited experience. No matter how many heavy attacks the older Nicholas battered upon him, Malcolm’s foundation remained unshaken.
Nicholas, on the other hand, was unfocused and impatient as he relentlessly, stubbornly ignored all of Beaumont’s suggestions. Even beneath his lighter leather, the crown prince still struggled to outmaneuver his novice opponent.
‘Nothing but a pale imitation of Tristan’s talent.’
Beaumont sighed as Nicholas was knocked off balance once again, though this time, the crown prince managed to catch himself before falling on his ass.
“You’re not using the movements we practiced,” Beaumont observed critically.
“He’s not leaving me much of an opening,” Nicholas snapped as he pushed damp light-auburn curls from his hazel-blue eyes. “I told you the long sword doesn’t suit me.”
“Stop giving me excuses and just do it like we practiced,” Beaumont growled. “Even a squire could provide Sir Malcolm a better challenge than you.”
It was a step too far, and Beaumont knew it, but Nicholas needed to get the anger clouding his movements out of his system. Hopefully, Malcolm wouldn’t lose a limb in the process.
The crown prince attacked with renewed fury, and this time Malcolm’s face and shield registered the force of his swings. The young knight shifted his stance warily, as he blocked and returned blow for blow.
Surprisingly, it was Nicholas who showed signs of fatigue first. Beaumont smirked in silent approval as he watched Malcolm ease off to allow the crown prince a moment to breathe.
‘So much for being the pampered son of the Diamond family.’
Nicholas let out a frustrated growl and attacked again. Beaumont’s muscles clenched as he recognized the familiar style of those movements. The crown prince knocked Malcolm’s sword aside with a hefty blow, then slammed his shoulder into the knight’s shield. The force of his attack and the weight of the shield pushed the young knight backward.
Malcolm grunted with effort, caught off guard, and his footing faltered.
The break in Malcolm’s otherwise solid foundation was all Nicholas needed. He dropped low with the agility of a cat and swung his blade beneath the protection of Malcolm’s shield.
Instinctively Malcolm leaped above the blade—a mistake given the weight of the armor he carried. Nicholas rammed into him again, and this time Malcolm could not recover.
Beaumont watched the young knight fall flat on his back. Malcolm instinctively tried to raise his shield to maintain a protective buffer, but Nicholas kicked the barrier aside and held the tip of his blade to Malcolm’s throat.
“Bravo!” a thunderous voice boomed behind them.
Beaumont turned sharply to face the military officer, who walked towards them as he clapped his hands in approval. General Stryker’s dark-auburn hair, streaked heavily with silver, waved in the breeze above steel-blue eyes. Although not in his battle armor, Stryker was always an imposing figure to behold given his height and the dark purple scar that ran down his left cheek. A memento left by a Tharyn assassin’s poisoned dagger.
“That’s not a move Beaumont taught you, is it your Majesty?” Stryker asked as he brushed past his bastard son and bowed respectfully to Nicholas.
“No,” Nicholas admitted as he stabbed the long sword into the ground. He extended his hand towards Malcolm and assisted the young knight back to his feet. “That was something Tristan taught me.”
“A reckless move that left you completely exposed,” Beaumont snapped.
“Thank you, your Majesty,” Malcolm said with a humble bow.
“This new knight shows promise,” Stryker observed as he appraised Malcolm. “What family are you from, lad?”
Beaumont clamped his jaw shut and resigned himself to being ignored—as usual.
“Baron Clemont is my father, General Stryker,” Malcolm answered with another courteous bow to the head of Lafeara’s army.
“Clemont?” Stryker raised a brow and glanced at Nicholas.
“The new baron family,” Nicholas explained as he brushed his rebellious bangs back. When Stryker’s confused expression did not alter, he added, “The diamond family.”
“Ahh! That new baron!” Stryker turned and nodded to Malcolm with approval. “Well, keep up the good work, lad. Maybe I’ll recruit you as a lieutenant someday.”
“You honor me without merit, General,” Malcolm gushed. “And may I say what a privilege it is to meet the legendary General Stryker.”
“Save your smooth words for the ladies, Sir Malcolm,” Stryker replied with amusement. “Train hard and stay out of trouble. Show me your fighting spirit in battle. Courage and loyalty are the only words that matter to me.”
“Yes, General!” Malcolm bowed again.
Beaumont crossed his arms and refrained from rolling his eyes as his father turned to face him.
“Your methods of training our future king appear to be lacking, Captain,” Stryker said, the edge of disapproval in his tone unmistakable.
“That is not—Beaumont’s fault,” Nicholas interjected quickly. “I’m not the best at listening to his instructions.”
“If you’re not listening, that is because your instructor hasn’t found the right method to teach you,” Stryker replied with a dismissive shake of his head. “Besides, your Majesty need not stress the outcome of such meaningless duels. You will be king because of the blood in your veins, not the sword in your hand.”
Beaumont bit back a groan as his father’s careless insult struck the crown prince’s sensitive ego.
Nicholas’s expression darkened as he looked back at the long sword, still erect in the sand, and laughed bitterly. “I know I’m not my brother, General, but thank you for reminding me that I am at least a worthy substitute.”
Without another word or glance to either of them, the crown prince stormed off.
“Could you not make my job harder than it already is,” Beaumont demanded with a weary sigh as he pulled the long sword free and passed it to Malcolm. “Return that to the armory on your way back.”
Malcolm nodded. After a worried glance at Nicholas’s retreating figure, he headed in the opposite direction.
“It’s not his fault,” Stryker muttered with sympathy. “Queen Rosalinda coddled him too much as a child. And the Dowager has only indulged him more since the queen died. None of us expected him to take Tristan’s place.”
‘None of us expected King Henrie to strip Tristan of his position as Crown Prince before sending him to die against the Tharyn army.’
Beaumont sighed and dragged a hand down his tired neck before he moved swiftly in the direction Nicholas had gone. He didn’t bother bidding the General farewell. Stryker might be his father by blood, but there was nothing of a familial connection between them. Even if Beaumont was Stryker’s oldest male heir, he was still just another bastard.
The knight captain listened to his gut and headed for the royal stables. With the mood Nicholas was in, he would seek distraction in the arms of his mistress.
Beaumont stopped just outside the stable doors as Acheron appeared with an arm casually draped over Nicholas’ shoulder.
“Come on, it will be fun,” Acheron urged. “And with you beside me, old Lady Sabella can’t complain.”
“Fine, you win, just let me bathe and change first,” Nicholas growled, though a smile replaced the dark shadows on his face. He barely registered Beaumont as he headed back towards the palace.
“Cousin,” Beaumont greeted stiffly.
“Cousin,” Acheron returned with a mocking smile. “What riled him up this time?”
Beaumont grunted. “Father.”
Acheron smiled sympathetically and patted Beaumont’s shoulder. “Keep an eye on him. I swear ever since he got married—” Acheron cringed and sighed. “Never get married, cousin.”
Beaumont scoffed and shrugged Acheron’s grip away. “Not much chance of that,” he remarked bitterly and turned once more to shadow the crown prince.
“See you later, cousin!” Acheron called after him. “And change into something suitable for dancing!”
‘Dancing?’ Beaumont scowled and hastened his step as a familiar yet unpleasant feeling settled into his gut. ‘Just what sort of trouble is Acheron trying to get us into this time?’