Eustace de Calx stood before the great clock tower in the center of the small square, staring at it quietly. After a moment, he glanced at the Count of Joyeuse. “I stood right here, you know, forty years ago, when I wished to know if my beloved had gotten the letter I’d sent, and would be mine.”
Jeronim de Oriflamme nodded. “That… sounds pleasant.”
“Oh it was,” said Eustace with a smile. “I waited for hours, to see if he would come. And before the clock struck midnight--he did.”
“Ahh.” Jeronim looked away, uncomfortable. “Well, it is… good to know that things ended happily for you then.” He shifted around nervously. “I don’t see what it has to do with our present circumstances…”
“Oh, only that once again I stand here awaiting the arrival of a young man upon which the fate of the world depends, from my point of view,” replied Eustace, chuckling. “Dear me, it makes me feel a boy again.” He smiled at the Count. “Relax. The University is a safe place. That is why I chose it. By the time the Prince’s Men even think to consider this place as a stopping point, we will be gone.” He gestured to a nearby wall. “You know, I used to bounce a ball against, when I was a student. Quite amusing, really. I could keep it up for hours.”
A carriage rolled into the university’s gates. Jeronim gave a relieved sigh when he saw it bore the arms of the Duke of Balsarda. “Ahh,” said the Duke of Tranchera. “Here we are.” The carriage rolled up before them and then opened. A pair of women wearing dark clothing exited, and bowed to the elderly duke. “Mathilde. Rachel. How did it go?”
One of the ladies, an attractive, if somewhat muscular blonde in late middle-age, smiled. “See for yourself, monsieur,” she said in a surprisingly deep contralto. She turned. “Come out little one. The Duke doesn’t bite.” She grinned at Eustace. “At least not little boys.”
A young boy with pale blue eyes and straw-colored hair exited nervously, and looked around himself in surprise. Eustace de Calx gave a simple bow. “Prince Pellinore. This is an honor.”
Pellinore stared at Eustace, with a trembling lip. “Are you… are you the Duke of Tranchera? Father and grandfather always said you were a very bad man.”
“And they were most certainly right, a reason for you to respect and honor your elders,” replied Eustace. “However, there are worse men than me in this world, and I have played a small part in rescuing you from some of them.” He gestured at Jeronim. “The Count of Joyeuse, my Prince. He and I will accompany on the next wing of your trip, and then part with you as you are taken to someplace safe.”
Jeronim bowed low to young Pellinore and then took his hand. “It will be all right, Your Highness. You are safe now.” The pair began to walk away towards the carriage bearing Eustace’s arms that was parked in a small road off the square.
Eustace watched them go for awhile then turned to the blonde. “The moment we are gone, make yourself scarce, Mathilde.”
Mathilde gave a laugh. “I do not need to be told that, monsieur.”
Eustace nodded. “I know. But I said it anyway.” He leaned forward, and placed a kiss on her brow. “Seven keep you safe, my darling.”
The second woman, a younger one with dark brown hair smiled at that. “The Seven can help, but that’s what she has me for.”
Eustace nodded as he turned away. “Oh, I know Rachel. But I do like everyone to have fallbacks.” He paused, blew the pair a kiss, and then went to join Pellinore and Jeronim in his carriage.