A squire’s oath is to be of service… but to whom?
In the kingdom of Basileon, an unremarkable and emotionally detached young man named Obed Kainos is about to stumble into adventure—quite against his will. When the knights of the realm gather in a quest to search for the lost Armor of Arkelon, Obed is chosen at random to replace the recently deceased squire of Sir Lance Valentino. While trying to perform his menial tasks faithfully, the young squire becomes entangled in the plots of mages, thieves, and kings.
And that’s just his first week on the job.
Unfortunately for Obed, his indifference cannot save him from his new oath. For despite his enigmatic personality (or perhaps because of it), he manages to attract a band of misfits to his cause— the ugly, the arrogant, the clumsy, and the cowardly—putting the legendary armor within the grasp of one who never wanted anything at all.
“A remarkable tour de force set in a medieval world where magic is as common as muck, misunderstandings are ten a penny, and everyone but the hero has a remarkably good opinion of themselves. Nick Hayden mixes humor with fantasy to delight the inner eye and ear of the reader.” — Adele Abbot, author, Of Machines & Magics and Postponing Armageddon
“Dazzling damsels in distress, a magical suit of armor, mayhem and danger at every turn, a host of unique characters and plenty of laughs make this novel worth reading. Mr. Hayden tells a worthy tale well!” —Phillip Tomasso, author, Sounds of Silence
“An engrossing and adventurous novel with echoes of the Arthurian Romances by De Troyes. The unlikely rise of Obed Kainos from contented obscurity to fame and fortune will provide entertainment for readers of all ages.” — Sean Mulcahy, author, Slip Sliding Away
It was a fine day for an adventure. The sky was as blue as a maiden’s eyes and the winds as gentle as her caress. The sun, like a munificent king blessing his subjects, poured down its golden rays upon the gathered people. The birds, had they not been scared away by the crowds, would have sounded the joyful urgency every man felt that day, and the flowers, had they not been trampled underfoot, would have reflected the tender beauty of the young ladies in distant lands pining for their true loves’ return.
The city of Baryn, which had been called Monseer a short five years before and the Eternal Empire of Dafin before that, was more crowded than it had been in some time. King Baryn’s expected proclamation had attracted adventurers from every nation and from places outside present borders. The knights shone on their white horses. Each wore polished armor that reflected the sunlight in blinding flashes as he moved.
Now, there was a knight whose armor shone more brightly than the rest, as if it had never been subjected to mud or weapon or blood. He held his blazing helmet beneath his arm so that his golden hair flared in the sun. His strong, handsome face glowed like a god’s. His name was Sir Lance Valentino of Terelia. “It is a good day for adventuring,” Sir Valentino proclaimed. His piercing blue eyes scanned the sky deliberately as if he expected a dragon to materialize and descend upon them in unholy fury. His gaze implied he would welcome such a challenge.
“’Tis indeed, my friend,” replied Sir Armand Giovanni of Iliafa. He, too, held his helmet beneath his arm, though his hair did not blaze as brightly as Sir Valentino’s, for it was several shades darker. His cream horse sidled closer to Sir Valentino’s snowy stallion. “But where is your squire? Last I saw, you had a large boy trotting beside you. Bul, was it not?”
Sir Valentino nodded. “Yes. He is dead. It was an unfortunate matter, but he had no sense. Any fool knows not to startle a donga beast while it is sleeping.”
“He did die heroically, though?”
“He screamed like a girl till his last breath.”
Sir Giovanni grimaced, an expression he used rarely, but it was recognizable just the same. “Have you no squire, then?” Sir Giovanni asked as his face resumed its smile. “You may have need of one in the days to come. You will be at a disadvantage without one. Even now, my squire Nik is purchasing jewelry so that I may have a necklace or a bracelet for each beautiful maiden I meet, that she may treasure it forever.”
“You are right, but I had no time in Terelia to choose a new squire, since I came here in all haste.”
“Then pick one of the locals,” Sir Giovanni said, motioning behind him with a graceful nod of the head. “You can relinquish him later, if you are displeased with him, after your time in Basileon is finished.”
“True.” Sir Valentino rounded his horse and turned his attention to the locals. Many stood intermixed with the adventurers, waiting for the king to appear and staring at the foreigners and their weapons. A trickle of others squeezed along the edge of the crowd, attempting to go about their usual business.
“Boy!” Sir Valentino called. Six heads whipped around. “You! Boy!” Sir Valentino pointed a powerful finger. The indicated boy nodded and approached. He was an unremarkable boy. He wore soil-colored clothes that matched his lifeless mat of hair. He was not tall, not short, not gangly, not muscular, not anxious or arrogant. He was nothing if not common. His face was impassive, as if emotion never touched it. His brown eyes glinted with a cool life, not with the flame of rambunctious youth, but with the unclouded gaze of a mathematician or the unconnected look of a dreamer. Over his shoulder hung a worn sack.
“Yes?” the boy asked. His tone was one which he might have used with his parents—respectful, but familiar.
“What is your name?” Sir Valentino asked, smiling broadly down at the boy.
“Obed Kainos.” He did not return Sir Valentino’s smile. “Who are you?”
“You shall have to teach him deference, Sir Valentino,” Sir Giovanni said.
Sir Valentino nodded. “You need to learn not to speak smartly to your superiors.”
“My parents don’t like me to speak stupidly.”
Sir Valentino let the comment pass. “I have chosen you to be my squire, Obed Kainos.” He waited for the boy’s stunned reaction.
“Why?” Obed asked in the same polite tone as before.
“Why? Have you not dreamt of rescues and sword fights? Do you not desire love and glory?”
“I was not aware one had to become a squire to attain such things.”
Sir Valentino’s smile slipped momentarily before reappearing with greater intensity. “Have you never desired to be party to the making of history?”
“I’ve never given it much thought. I’m usually busy with work at home.”
Sir Giovanni laid a hand on Sir Valentino’s shoulder. “Give it up, my friend.”
“No!” Sir Valentino replied harshly, but he quickly recovered. “No,” he repeated nobly. “I shall take him on as a challenge. I shall shape him into the ideal squire. It will be an act of supreme sacrifice.”
“Very good,” Sir Giovanni said.
“You will swear an oath of loyalty, will you not?” Sir Valentino asked the boy.
Obed considered a moment. “Would you like me to?”
“It is a great honor to be the squire of Sir Lance Valentino,” Sir Giovanni said. He scrubbed his mustache furiously.
“That isn’t what I asked,” Obed said. Sir Giovanni’s eyes widened in shock, then he proudly turned his head to gaze carelessly into the sky.
“Out of everyone here,” Sir Valentino began in a voice meant for teaching young children, “I selected you, Obed Kainos.” He pointed a finger at Obed. “I am giving you the chance to rise above your station, to mingle with kings and queens, to savor the taste of victory and th—”
“That’s enough. I’ll swear.”
It was several seconds before Sir Valentino could manage words. Sir Giovanni coughed loudly; it sounded vaguely like the word “discipline” being cleared from his throat. “An oath is a serious matter, Obed Kainos,” Sir Valentino said. “You must obey every word of every sentence, or you are not worthy to be my squire. Only scoundrels violate the sacredness of an oath.”
“I have never been a scoundrel.”
“I see that you understand. You will repeat after me: ‘My life is not my own.’”
Obed remained silent. His eyes still looked upon Sir Valentino, but his attention seemed to reverse and stare within. Where detached calmness had once appeared on his face, there was now only blankness and the hint of a disturbing vacancy. Several minutes passed.
“You will repeat after me,” Sir Valentino said again.
“Be patient, please.”
Sir Giovanni grimaced a second time, and Sir Valentino descended to rubbing his forehead in exasperation, though the act resembled a philosopher kneading great thoughts out of his skull.
Obed spoke: “My life is not my own. I am squire to Sir Lance Valentino.”
Sir Valentino nodded his approval. “My strength, my will, my very life will be forfeit to the preservation of order, the purity of maidens, and the protection of the king.”
“My strength, my will, my very life is forfeit to the preservation of order, the purity of maidens, and the protection of my king.”
Sir Valentino’s smile became glorious. “Very good.”