Let me know if this interests you and I may post other chapters as the story goes on and I find the time to proofread through them. It's a bit of a long read, so I hope you're all packed!
Masquerade Chapter One
“Get over here, you worthless mute!” the barman’s shout was strangely distinct with his hoarse tone that sounded almost like a cough.
Mary sighed and navigated through the maze of people in masks back to the tavern counter where her boss was serving drinks. Various nobles from different parts of the world, dressed in distinctive and colorful outfits, blocked her way, talking and drinking with the many guests, not a care in the world so long as their glasses were full. There wasn’t time to remain envious of the aristocrats though, not while there was work to do in the kitchen.
“Quit lazing about! Go to the back and start cleaning those mugs! We can’t afford to run out of ale, get moving!” he screamed with wretched breath into Mary’s face.
Anything was better than listening to the barman shouting bloody murder in her ears, even if the kitchen of the tavern was a far more unpleasant. Unlike the dining hall, which needed to be spotlessly clean for the nobles, the kitchen was by every definition a rat’s nest. Mary was able to spot at least three of the vermin overlooking the disheveled workers from their homes in the walls above the cabinets. The serfs that cleaned and cooked weren’t a much better sight. Most were women too poor or too ugly to have husbands who owned land and were struggling just to get ends meet.
Mary picked the only open spot near the large sink and began her task of cleaning the ever increasing mountain of tankards. Unfortunately, this meant being between the two worst gossips out of the workers old Nan and the young Emmony.
“Never seen this place so busy, Nan.”
“Me neither. Bastard has us working so hard, we can’t even get enough ale out.”
“Did you get a gander out some of the folks out there? One of the men was wearing a turban that glittered like pure gold!”
“Of course, there’s going to be some exotic guests out there. What did the Captain say? Isn’t there supposed to be a thousand guests from thirty different nations or something?”
“What does it matter? All that means is more work for us.”
”Right, I saw you were too busy eyeing Captain Newgate to pay attention. Give it up, he’s as old as me, hun.”
Mary caught Emmony blushing out of the corner of her eyes. “N-No, I was just trying to focus on what he was saying…They’ll have our hides if we leave one dish out of place today.”
“Right, the commoners slave away while the nobles feast and get fat. We know our place. If their meals are late, we lose one of ours.”
Mary continued to scrub anxiously at the flagons, desperately trying to ignore Nan as she ranted more loudly by the minute. She knew better than to involve herself with the old hag’s ravings.
“We clean their homes, but we don’t even have homes of our own. We feed them until they roll over stuffed like plump pigs, yet they never throw us a scrap of food. Without us, they would break. Without us, they would be nothing more than children unable to care for themselves.”
“How you haven’t been executed for insubordination yet is a complete mystery to me-“
“You hens quit your clucking!” the familiar hoarse voice of the bartender filled the kitchen. “And you, Mute Mary! The Captain wants to see you upstairs, move your arse!”
The barman didn’t even wait for Mary to put down her glass; he just grabbed her by her long black hair and yanked her away from the sink and into the general tavern area. She was violently set down in front of a soldier dressed in the finest silver armor. Gray tainted his black trimmed beard. He was the Guard Captain, Gunter Newgate.
“Thanks Tom, I can take her from here.”
As hard as it was to admit it, Mary much preferred to be back in the smelly kitchen right about now. The Captain looked at her sternly as she avoided eye contact.
“He wishes to see you again, alone.”
It was back through the masquerade party again, only this time with Newgate as a sort of guiding light with his magnificent glowing armor. No noble wished to get in the way of the Captain of the Guard. No such respect could ever hope to be gained by one of such lowly status as Mary. But there was one who challenged Newgate’s strutting. A shrill girlish voice called out to him from the crowd.
“Are you off to see my husband, Newgate?”
Mary caught sight of an almost spherical woman dressed in the flashiest golden garments she had seen yet. Her overpowering stench of perfume made her want to cover her nose. She wore a mask at the top of her fat forehead that seemed to be halfway between smiling and crying. Newgate did a slight bow.
“Queen Beatrice, my lady…”
She seemed to ignore the Captain’s courteousness and approached Mary. “Sending the tavern wench up to please my husband again, Newgate?”
Newgate suddenly rose and got between both Mary and the Queen, giving her majesty a typical stern look similar as if she were one of his rookie recruits. It was certainly an odd situation to see a soldier defying his queen. The Queen huffed and stepped back.
“Not that it matters to me; he can do as he pleases. He’s always done as he pleased, and you’ve only been too happy to honor his every whim.”
“I am honor bound to obey his majesty.”
“Such idle mindedness, have you no thoughts of your own?”
“If a soldier takes the time to consider his own thoughts, nothing can be accomplished. I’d rather leave the thinking to the ones in charge.”
“Clearly, that must make murder easier on one’s conscience…”
Newgate glared at the Queen. “I think this is a conversation for another time, your majesty.”
“Do as you will. It matters not to me…”
And with that the plump Queen returned to the crowds of noble women, continuing their discussions of fashion trends and tasteful vacation spots. Newgate simply cursed under his breath and grabbed Mary violently by her hand, leading her away from the gossiping of the party and up towards the King’s private quarters. Once again, Mary found herself in front of the oak door with his majesty awaiting her on the other side.
“Get in there. I’ll return shortly.”
She couldn’t protest anything. Newgate practically shoved her inside and locked the door behind her. With his task complete, Newgate sighed heavily and returned to the viper pit masquerade down in the castle courtyard.
Thankfully most of the nobles at this point had retired into the grand hall where dinner was being served. Only a few less than respectable royals, a handful of guards, and various nameless commoners remained within the tavern. It was the perfect time for him to enjoy a well-deserved beer. The last thing Gunter wished was for another stuffed collared aristocrat to pester him about the poor layout of the castle or brag about their parent’s heritage.
“Looking a little worse for wear, eh Captain?”
Newgate looked up as he sipped his drink. “Good evening, Count Wymund.”
The young man standing before him was wearing a surprisingly lackluster outfit in comparison to the others at the party. Not that he seemed to need such glowing radiance; the Count was devilishly handsome with his pure blonde hair, stern beardless jaw, and emerald green eyes. He awkwardly shrugged at Newgate’s greeting and took a chug of his own beer.
“Please just call me Lance…We both know I’m hardly a count. I’m just a brat who was lucky enough to get adopted by a nobleman.”
“Nobles are nobles, even if it’s only through inheritance,” grunted Newgate.
“Perhaps, if you’ll excuse me, Captain. I feel as if I’ve intruded on you while you were in a bad mood.”
Newgate gave a harsh laugh. “Not at all, I’d much prefer your company than the other rift raft plaguing our fair court.”
“You can’t mean the King’s guests, surely?”
“If it’s not the Queen hounding me down trying to catch me putting a toe out of line, it’s keeping an eye on the guests for anything suspicious.”
“My apologizes, I forget you’re head of security. Tell me. Is there any great danger here at the party?”
“Danger to you? Probably not, a minor but respected lord like you shouldn’t be in trouble unless you’ve gone looking for it with a few certain gambling debts…”
There was a sudden nervous look on the Count’s face. “Of course, that’d be ridiculous…”
“If you beg my pardon, my lord,” Newgate chuckled. “A man in your position ought to act in more accordance to his post.”
“Yes, well, we’re all entitled to a little fun once in a while, right? I’m sure even his majesty would agree…”
Newgate shot a glance at the Count and then through the tavern window and up at the highest tower overlooking the courtyard, there was the King’s private quarters. The light in window dimmed out. He shook his head and sighed.
“I’m sure he’d be the first to say that running a country is hardly fun.”
“Of course, I’d never suggest such a thing. All I’m saying is that with the power there are benefits. Yes?”
“I suppose, but it’s important to stay grounded in the reality of your position.”
The Count was about to interject but a shattered crash caused the both of them to turn their attention out the tavern window. Shortly after that, there was a heavy thud followed by the sounds of footsteps and murmurs of a crowd of people.
“It’s a body! Someone fell out the window!” shrieked someone.
Newgate cursed and quickly stood up to assess the situation. Wymund followed him, looking panicked at the sudden excitement.
“Captain, wait! It’s probably just some drunk or-“
But Newgate was already out of the tavern and fast approaching the audience of nobles and commoners that had gathered in a circle around the courtyard. There was much concern and possibly fear in their whispers, that sort of thing told Newgate that this wasn’t just a simple drunk causing trouble.
“Clear the way!” he barked at the crowd. “Guards, get everyone back!”
The few patrolmen still on duty responded accordingly, pushing through the mass of confused onlookers and forming a barrier. By the time Newgate got to the center most of the bystanders had stepped back in fear. Newgate quickly saw why.
“My god…The King…”
It was like a dream. He was face down in a pool of blood that stained his brilliant purple robes and wooly white beard. The source of the bleeding pointed to the black dagger sticking out of his spine. Someone must have stabbed him in the back and pushed him through the window, though judging by the King’s weight it would have taken someone with considerable strength or someone who caught him by surprise. The golden crown lay at Newgate’s feet, caked in blood but still in one piece after being protected from the fall.
Newgate finally snapped back to reality after a moment of thinking. “Make sure no one leaves! Get a guard posted at every exit of the castle!”
The most important thing to do at the moment was to instill order and make sure the crowd didn’t panic. Widespread fear would allow whoever had done this to escape in the chaos. Newgate needed to find out who had done this, he couldn’t let any personal feelings he had at the moment get in the way. But it seemed everyone, including the guards, was shaken up by this shocking turn of events.
Newgate picked out the least flustered of the guardsmen. “You there! Get up to the King’s private quarters. Find out what the hell happened in there.”
“Well, what have we here?” a coy female voice spoke from the crowd.
The herd of people opened up like a rolling tide as a barrel shaped woman wearing the flashiest of clothes approached Newgate.
“The dog’s master is dead and now the mutt sits there howling in anguish?”
“How can you even say that!?” roared Newgate in a tone he’d never imagine himself using in the presence of a noblewoman, let alone the Queen. “Your husband is dead! Doesn’t that mean anything to you!?”
Most of the nobles were horrified by Newgate’s outburst, but only Count Wymund held him back from drawing his sword.
“Newgate, are you crazy!? She’ll have you executed!”
“I don’t care! His blood hasn’t even dried yet and she makes such callous remarks! For all we know she could be responsible for this!”
“That is a serious accusation, Captain Newgate.” The Queen replied dryly.
“And do you deny it!? Look at the evidence! With him gone and no offspring, you’re free to take the throne for yourself! It’s an awfully coincidental!”
“And who amongst your fellows would stand against me?”
Newgate looked around the crowd; all wore masks of varying emotions. All of them staring at him, judging him, yet none seemed to be willing to help him. Even Count Wymund quietly lowered his head, not wishing to invoke the wrath of the Queen.
“Now then,” continued the Queen. “Since we’re all quite finished pounding our chests and throwing out random charges, let me say I will not have you arrested for your allegations, Captain. Instead I want your personal protection until whoever is responsible for this is caught.”
Seething with anger, Newgate still thought the Queen was lying through her teeth. But he forced himself to bow and said. “As you wish…My lady.”
“Until the killer has been apprehended, I will be acting as steward to the throne invoking all rights over the guards and the Court. Once the murderer has been found and properly charged, the Court will decide who gets the throne. I trust that will satisfy you, Captain?”
“For the moment.”
The Queen had seized the calamity and confusion of the moment and worked the crowd to her favor; there was nothing Newgate could do even if he wanted to. Even his guardsmen wouldn’t stand with him in this matter. But she was correct in some regard; the murderer had to be found. Only then would some proper insight into the cause of this tragedy be revealed. Finding the killer was the best he could do for the time being.
“Search the grounds! Apprehend anyone in or near the King’s private room!”
The guards were about to split off and scour the castle for any clues, but a sturdy voice stopped them in their tracks.
“There’s no need for that, Captain.”
The voice came from the archway which led up to the tower. There was the young guard Newgate had sent earlier to investigate the King’s lodge; he held a small struggling body in his arms before tossing it into the courtyard.
“Here’s the culprit.”
A flash of long black hair suggested it was a woman, but her size was diminutive like a child’s. Newgate’s mind suddenly raced in horror as he recognized those tattered clothes. Mary the Mute sat there with tears rolling down her cheeks and blood on her apron.