The jester crouched down and pushed a mug of water between the bars. “I’m sorry.” The regret is his voice was profound.
“I was trying to be funny,” protested the young man in the cell. It had been hours and nothing like this had happened to him before in his relatively privileged life. “Get myself noticed. That’s what everyone said when they packed me off to Court.”
“This is probably not what they had in mind,” the dwarf said sympathetically, his face serious under his motley cap. “The king doesn’t care for sarcasm or irony. Tradition gives me some protection, but I know that there’s a line I shouldn’t cross and your toast, my young friend, went way past that.”
“What’s going to happen to me?” It was a frightened face that looked back at the older, albeit shorter, man. “Will I be executed?” The second question hung in the air; they both knew what that would mean for his family.
“Not by his majesty,” the jester passed the flat plate through the bars on its side then, when it was flat on the ground, added cheese and bread to it.
“So I am going to be executed?” The young man was beginning to sound hopeless.
“Not, his majesty says, until you have done him a great service and not by his majesty’s order. You should eat; it will make you feel better.”
“Thank you.” The young man, barely more than a boy, moved gingerly from his seat on the bunk and the jester wondered just how badly he’d been hurt by the armsmen on his way down here. It was a good sign that he could and would obey orders. It was interesting that he stayed, kneeling, beside the bars while he ate and drank.
The bread and cheese were half gone when the prisoner stopped eating and asked, “So what is the king going to do?”
“He’s going to send you to Landmere with a message for their king and while you’re there you’re going to propose another toast, worse, if possible, than the one you made for his majesty.”
“Worse? Then what happens?” The lad was clearly terrified now.
“King Relches executes you and we invade in retaliation.”
“So why are you here?”
“To help you get your next toast right, so you can be hailed a hero and your family will be safe.”