Lord Herald Pelator
Master of Ceremonies
A morning chill lay over the fields of honor below castle Gralion. Mist rose gently from the dewy grass in ghostly tendrils. Pennants drooped in the still air. The wooden benches, the stands, and the fields — all were empty. The sun had not yet risen. It’s golden glow just beginning to brighten the eastern horizon.
Herald Pelator stood alone on this field, surveying his domain. The knights thought the field belonged to them: the jousting lists and the melee fields. Likewise, the archers took pride in the range and the target, the king in his pavilion, but all of it -- truly -- belonged to Pelator. He was the one who knew the distance between one side of the grand melee’s oval to the other -- down to the pace! He was the one who knew how many quiches must come from the castle kitchens to feed the notables, and how many barrels of free wine would keep the masses happy -- but not too drunk. Pelator looked at the grounds, seeing a hundred calculations, a hundred little tasks that came together for the perfect tournament. For a single perfect day.
His ears pricked forward. There was a wrinkle in the tilt-yard.
With a furious in-drawn breath, Pelator crossed the damp ground, leaving paw prints behind him in the dew. He ducked under the rope marking the edge of the field, eyes fixed furiously on the imperfection in the grass. This was the main tilt-yard -- where the grand joust would be run under the very eyes of the King and--
Pelator tugged on the sod and found, to his horror, that a patch of grass had been moved to cover a large hole. Sabotage! Some ill-bred weasel had dug a hole in the tilt yard, to catch and turn some warhare’s paw. It would certainly cause a fall in the first tilt. What scandal was this? What scheme? Pelator blew out a furious breath. How dare someone threaten the perfection of his tournament?
Pelator replaced the sod, looking around the peaceful fields. Soon, his army of under-heralds, pages, and serving mice would be abroad -- making the last arrangements for the tournament. He had but a scant half hour to himself to puzzle out this wicked prank. Carefully, he thought about who would do such a thing.
Lady Lyonette was the favorite to win the grand joust. She was likely to be the knight caught by this trap -- the better knight always rode from the King’s right, the lesser from the left. Perhaps some villainous rival of the lady had dug the hole? There were many knights who had vowed to unseat her, and they had many servants who might wish to curry favor with this unsportsmanlike conduct. But which one?
Pelator’s careful eyes looked across the rest of the field, trying to catch any covert eye that might be watching him from a knight’s pavilion or the castle’s towers beyond. Nothing stirred yet except the far off kitchens.
His eyes trailed over the melee fields. Each was an oval of open earth, with shields around the edges -- to keep the onlookers safe from any over-zealous knights in the grip of battlelust. And what was this? A glint caught his eye as the first rays of sunlight struck one of the shields. It reflected with sudden, dazzling brilliance.
Most of the shields were painted in dark blues and greens, in black and deep crimson. They were left traditionally dull, deliberately dirtied, so that no light reflected from the shields would blind a knight fighting in the melee. Yet in one of the rings, several of the shields glittered with more than the dew.
On closer inspection, Pelator could see that they had not only been polished, but also been covered in some sort of shellac. When the sun rose properly, this ring would be a death trap -- blinding some unlucky competitors, and leaving them defenseless against the others.
A malicious vandal had been at work here too. Could it be coincidence?
Once more Pelator’s mind churned, racing through the lists of contestants. It was obvious, of course, that someone might wish to disadvantage the Red Rat. Since the mysterious knight had ‘appeared’ from nowhere to represent the beleaguered kingdom of Whelm, he had been unstoppable. And, if the tales were true, it was only cheating that had ever beaten him before.
And yet... Pelator’s nose flickered. His keen sight had caught something else amiss. He was certain. What was it… there!
He rushed to the stands -- the wooden seats and stairs where the courtiers would sit to cheer on their champions and attend their king. Unlevel. The boards were unlevel. With unparalleled fury, Pelator rushed to the back of the stands.
There he saw that this too had been the subject of a malign attack. The supports holding up one end of the stands had been cut most of the way through. They would break, surely, under the strain of so many noble paws crossing the boards above.
Despair filled Pelator. Three acts of cowardly vandalism -- and he’d hardly begun his inspection. Perhaps there were more! And he, the Lord Herald, would certainly be blamed if the tournament were wracked by such disasters. Indeed, he should be blamed! It was his duty to keep the tournament sacred. To see that it was an exhibition for the flowers of chivalry, a day worthy of songs across the Walled Kingdoms. A day when no mouse wanted for laughter, excitement, and good cheer. The knights thought the fields of honor were theirs, but they belonged to Pelator. And someone was attacking them.
And with that thought, Pelator knew who had done this.
He frowned with such might that any properly genteel courtier would have fainted from the mere sight of his eyes -- and then he went to work.
Under-Herald Bella was having a terrible day. She called the winners and losers at the archery range, announcing new competitors and competitions with slightly less than her usual clear voice. At least it was easy to do -- the same wild-eyed peasant mouse was winning every round, much to the irritation of the nobly born competition.
Bella hadn’t slept at all the night before.
She had waited until the last of the knights had gone to their tents, and the castle was well abed. Most importantly, she waited for the insufferable Herald Pelator to go to sleep. How did the wretched mouse have such energy?
She tried not to yawn or scowl, but it was so difficult.
The night before, when she was the only one awake, she’d gone about messing up what she could. She sabotaged the tilt yard and one of the melee fields, four different sets of seats, several of the wine barrels, railings around one of the pens for the warhares… she’d done her best to be sure that almost everything would go wrong today. She hadn’t sabotaged the archery ranges -- since they were her purview and she didn’t want to be blamed for anything.
Yet, so far, nothing at all had gone wrong.
“He can’t have thought of everything,” she muttered to herself. She’d undermined every part of the tournament she could think of, precisely so that Pelator would have no chance to fix it all.
She waited, casting glance after weary glance at the nearest of the wooden stands she’d set up to fall. By noon she was sweating in her Under-Herald’s uniform, and none of the stands had collapsed. When the wine was brought forth, no one complained of bitterness or vinegar. No word of blinded knights in the melee came to her ears. Infuriating!
When she was allowed to leave her post at the archery range, she went to check her work and found each act of sabotage undone. The shields were dull once more. None of the warhares had escaped their pen. She couldn’t get out to the tilt-yard to check that without goodmice seeing her, but from what she could see while standing with the spectators, that had been fixed too.
Now she was standing under one set of wooden seats. Paws pounded the boards overhead, and the scaffolding bent with their weight. It would certainly have collapsed… if it had not been deliberately reinforced. These would not collapse -- unless she undid the repairs. In which case, she would be crushed under them.
Bella just wanted to be rid of that peasant Pelator. She came from a long line of heralds -- her father and grandfather had been Lords Herald. She intended to be as well. Lord Herald Bella. By rights she already should be. But this Pelator, this tanner’s son, thought he was better than everyone. He had dared to refer to her layout for a different tournament as ‘sloppy’ and found her menus ‘plebian’ and ‘uninspired’.
She’d looked forward to watching him driven in shame from the castle, cast out by the King -- doomed to the life of obscurity that he deserved.
She ground her teeth, just thinking about it. Maybe she could --
“Are you well, madam herald?”
Bella leapt into the air, entirely startled by Pelator’s sudden and unexpected appearance.
“I’m very well,” she said, indignant, “Lord Herald.” She added the honorific belatedly.
“You looked unhappy,” he observed. His voice did not say that he minded if she was unhappy. In fact, he seemed to relish the thought.
“I’m quite happy, thank you,” she said through gritted teeth. “If you will excuse me, lord herald.” She tried to walk by him, but Pelator blocked her path. Her paw went to her belt knife. It was not meant as a weapon, but it could still be used as one. Oh, how she hated him.
“You look as though some plan or scheme had gone awry.”
She tried not to look guilty. He couldn’t prove it was her, could he? She’d been careful about that.
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said, angry that he would not let her by.
“Of. Course. Not,” grated Pelator. “You did not endanger the lives of the knights in the melee, or the well-being of the crowd in the stands. You did not threaten His Majesty with shame and dishonor. Or me with ruin,” he bared his teeth. “Or, shall I say, you will not again.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are dismissed, madam under-herald. Forever. Come not within my sight again.”
“Or what?” she sneered at him. “You’ll sound your trumpet at me?”
Pelator drew himself up, a picture of haughty dignity.
“Do not try me, madam. Do not make me be unmerciful.”
It was the final straw.
“You! How dare you!” yelled Bella, “How dare you threaten me? You-- you -- you commoner!”
She drew her belt knife and stabbed at Pelator. He caught her wrist, pushing the weapon aside, drove his own dagger into her heart. Her scream was drowned out by the sudden roar of the crowd above her.
Vision failing, Bella looked into Pelator’s eyes. She’d always thought of the Lord Herald as a fussy, heartless perfectionist, who was ultimately harmless. Incapable of standing in her way. Now, all her sabotage was ruined; and he’d anticipated her knife too. Disgraceful.
“You do think of everything,” she whispered as she died.
Lord Herald Pelator stepped up beside young King Caradan -- to the left. The King’s right was always taken by his champion, Sir Tristan. Carefully, he pulled down his sleeve to hide a spot of blood on his cuff. Nuisance, but it couldn’t be helped.
“Ah, Pelator,” said the King. “You’ve done well. A fine tournament and a fine day. You are to be commended.”
It was a fine day, thought Pelator. Unexpectedly fine. A few hiccups, perhaps, but nothing a good lord herald could not handle. He was quite pleased with himself.
The king continued quietly, “Did you have any trouble finding space for Prince Evansdar in the joust? Since he turned up unexpectedly?”
“I had several different plans drawn up for the day -- prepared in case we had unexpected noble personages arrive, Majesty. No trouble at all.”
He was rewarded with a grateful nod from the king.
“You think of everything, lord herald,” said Caradan.
Pelator allowed himself a smile. He bowed exactly the proper amount to his liege.
“Your Majesty is most kind to say so,” said Pelator, “May I call the final joust?”
“Indeed, please do.”
With his trumpet in hand, Pelator stepped up to his platform -- surveying his domain, his field of honor. Bright and clear, his trumpet sang out -- calling the knights to the joust.