18th Cyclus, 717
Olyfer restrained himself as Rafael stepped out of the Ducal hall with a gleeful smile plastered on his face. He even mustered the patience to wait until they’d been escorted far enough out for the Venoran guards to leave them to their own devices. Rafael was first to speak.
“That went pretty well didn’t it?“
It had been at least an arc ago since he’d last piqued the corrective wrath of Olyfer’s firm hand, but the force with which it struck the back of his head was the same.
“You fool!” Olyfer hissed through his teeth. “Did you not listen to anything I told you?”
Rafael nearly tripped over his own feet at the unexpected blow. A wild anger flashed across his eyes as he spun around to face Olyfer. For the briefest of moments his fists clenched, ready to strike back, but the urge washed away at the sight of the old man who was trembling with wrath. The very flowers in the courtyard they found themselves in seemed to shrivel away as Olyfer unleashed a berating rant on him in a seething whisper.
“You’ve just put your life and that of your men in the hands of a snake! Did you not hear him brag of how he betrayed Veljorn? This man doesn’t have an ounce of heart for the rebel cause! He’s using you and you’ve shown him all your cards!”
“He’s my cousin! He swore an oath!” Rafael replied with equal vigor while keeping his voice low.
An old, withered finger poked at his chest. “Ha! An oath? Oaths mean nothing to men like him. You’re being used. You’re letting yourself being used. For all we know, your beloved cousin is already tying the nooses for us right now.”
“Don’t you speak of him that way! Alistair is a noble-“
“Exactly!” Olyfer spat back. “A noble. Ha! I trust our ratty friend Dirty Diederik more than this cousin of yours!”
Rafael was about to offer a retort when Olyfer seized both his shoulders and shook his frame with such force that he had to regain his balance.
“Listen. The man is not stupid. He’s a schemer, clearly. He’s playing a political game that you have not even begun to get a grasp on. Entire Houses are but pawns to him. Perhaps he is your ally, for now, but he’s not your friend.”
“But he was nice to me,” Rafael sputtered.
“You’re far too trusting. For now, I believe Lord Venora will not speak of what you confided in him, but he may change his mind. When it suits him. You must be ready for that. You must have insurance.”
Rafael blinked lazily, his anger had long since vanished at the sheer intensity with which Olyfer spoke. “Insurance?” he mumbled under his breath. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you must have something of his, or something about him that will give you leverage over him so that whenever he will try to discard you, and he will try, you have something on him to prevent him from doing so.”
Olyfer let go of his shoulders and pressed his lips together in firm contemplation. “Information, mostly. Some dark secret about him that he would not wish to see revealed.”
“And what if he doesn’t have any?”
Olyfer’s expression softened, a faint smile playing at his lips as he rested a far more casual arm on Rafael’s shoulder. “Sometimes I forget your age, my Lord.” When Rafael merely looked confused, the old advisor continued. “Everyone has secrets. It’s naïve to think otherwise. Bleedin’ heck, you’re but a pup and you have just spilled your darkest secret to that pretentious cock up in his ivory tower…”
Had his father been around, Olyfer would surely have been punished for making such vile remarks about what was, on paper at least, family. Yet Rafael couldn’t help but chuckle at the old man as they made their way back to the horses. No matter how intense and confronting it could be at times, Rafael was glad to have straightforward folk like Olyfer and Helga in his service.
Not much later they arrived at the stables where his soldiers had fed and rested the horses.
“You know Olyfer,” Rafael said as Balian rushed to help him mount the horse, “sometimes I do wonder if I command you, or the other way around.”
“You’re only wondering that now?” Rafael turned in the saddle and spotted Helga sitting idly in a corner, whitling a piece of wood with a pocketknive.
She was twice as forthright as Olyfer had just been, and that was on good days. She also had a savage instinct and hunger for killing, and was a tracker
of some renown. Rafael wondered if she had ever killed someone with that pocketknive. It wouldn't surprise him if she had.
“Is this an open mutany?” Rafael gestured at the lot of them, a light smile on his lips.
“As long as this jobs keeps paying, it isn’t,” Balian comforted him with a mighty slap on the back which made Rafael double-over in the saddle, much to the amusement of his loyal onlookers. He didn’t know what had inspired such loose manners in his troupe of soldiers but he much preferred it over the stiff and formal demeanor they had displayed when Olyfer had first brought them along. Five soldiers were not an army, but five loyal friends could be.
"Well then," Rafael said after a light coughing fit, "since I can't command you...would you please all come along to Warrick with me?"
"Would love to, my Lord," Helga said in her usual gruff voice, "but Finton's still humpin' one of them fair Venoran maids."
Instead of erupting in anger, as another more experienced Lord might have, Rafael yet again doubled-over, yet this time in laughter. Olyfer seemed less amused and rolled his eyes skyward. "Not again."
"I apologize, my Lord," Balian slurred, "my brother has a penchant for...certain women..."
"And men..." Helga added casually. "Pigs also. Anything with hole really."
Rafael nearly fell off his horse with laugher and between the happy tears that sprung up in his eyes waved for Balian to fetch his twin brother. For a moment at least, the weight of seriousness had fallen from his shoulders, and for that he was grateful. There would still be time in the four days of travel ahead of them, to think about all that Alistair and Olyfer had said.
OOC: Submitted for review.
-30GN deducted from Ledger for Longbow.