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Confidence
imothy didn't get much sleep that night. Neither did Sharon. He was up before dawn, she with him. They crept around the house; careful not to wake their children. They made one more feeble effort to console one another, and he was off to meet his fate.

The walk to the castle wasn't as long as he remembered it. He had been hoping to come up with some form of
presentation; some kind of defense. He was still completely unprepared when he stood before the gate and its massive guard. She had long brown hair that rolled off her shoulders and dissapeared somewhere behind her. Her face was pleasant but firm and her demeaner -- professional. She gave him a stare with blue eyes so cold, his blood froze. She must have noticed, because she followed it with a smile.

"You must be Timothy, the storekeep," she said. It wasn't a question. There was no life in her voice; no hint
of the smile she still wore. "The king will be expecting you. I trust you are familiar with the propper form of address when speaking with a king."

"No," the word cought in his throat like the barb of an arrow. "I-i-i d-don't," he finally managed.

"Address the King as: Your Highness or Your Royal Majesty. You will refrain from using his given name in his
presance and never, never use it as a form of address. Oh ... and never meet his gaze. He hates for people to look into his eyes. Be sure to kneel before him when introduced and bow low when excused." She rattled the whole thing like something memorized by a child. From the tone of her voice Timothy imagined that the words had no meaning to her. They were simply words. "Got that?" She finished, and stepped aside.

The large gate was raised and he was greeted by another woman in uniform. This one was shorter and leaner
than the one outside. Her hair was blonde, reached the middle of her back and bounced gracefully with her stride. She did not say a word. He was led to a door one flite up on the tower and pushed in.

Here he was passed to a red-head with skin so pale, he imagined she had never been exposed to the sun. She
was sturdy and well built, with muscles larger than those of most men he knew. But, even from behind it was easy to tell she was definately a woman. He got the idea from her that he was causing her some kind of great inconvenience. At the same time, she struck him as the kind of person you wouldn't want to do that to. Of the three guards he had met, the one at the gate seemed the most friendly. 'With women like this around, the king must not have any fun at all. He needs to get out more.' Timothy thought to himself.

At the door to the throne room were two more guards. They opened two large doors, somewhere a trumpet
sounded, and he heard his name anounced. He stood, momentarily stunned by the magnifisence of the room.

A long, red, velvet rug ran from where he stood to the foot of the king's giant throne. Tapestries hung from
the walls as big as the whole outdoors depicting scenes of battle. The floors were made of some kind of wood he had never seen before and polished to a glossy shine. Looking at the floor, he could see a reflection of the rafters high above. One of the guards cleared her throat and he fell to a knee right there in the doorway. Suddenly, the walls of this great room were filled with a great belly laugh from the man on the throne. He felt the pressure of a boot in his back followed by a shove that sent him sprawling onto his face. He heard the door close behind him.

"Get up little man," Erkinwhine laughed. "or did you come here to sleep on my floor?"

Timothy scrambled to his feet. "Your Royal .... Your uhhh ... Highness? ..."

"I know who I am little one. And you are Timothy, the peseant I put in charge of the foodstuffs. Now that we
have had our introductions, would you kindly give me your report?"

By now Timothy figured all hope to be lost. He had made certain that not only was he going to give the king
bad news, but he had tested the King's temport before giving it. He might just as well get it over with. "The food stor-age areas are all empty. We have nothing else left." He shouted. Great. Now he was shouting at the king. Could it get any worse?

"It's about time," the King stated, rather mater-of-factly. "That place was beginning to smell. Scrub down
the walls. I want it good and clean for all the new stuff that will be coming in this spring. If you need any help, see if Lavender can round up some volunteers to help you out." Presently, the doors opened once more and the red-head appeared. "Lavender, this good fellow has a project he needs done. See if you can round up a few volunteers to help him out." He then dismissed the two of them with a wave of his hand.