The captain was quick to hand his charge off to a pair of other guards and return to his lord’s side. “Lord Aidan,” he said, “please call of the banquet. Or at least retire to the safety of your chambers and let your guests enjoy themselves.”
“Geoffrey,” Aidan replied, “you worry too much, old friend. Even you have to admit that the odds of another attempt on my life in one night are slim.”
Daniel looked in awe at Lord Aidan. His heart was still hammering from the encounter, but the older man seemed completely unfazed, though he had been the target. “Do people try to kill you a lot?” he found himself asking before he could stop himself.
Reuben choked on the ale he was quaffing and Geoffrey the guard captain glared as Lord Aidan chuckled. “No, lad, I can’t say they do. Perhaps it simply hasn’t yet reached my heart that someone did.” The lord turned back to his captain. “Whatever the case, I feel quite well enough to continue, and I have no fear of my safety with the three of you standing guard. How could I? Oh, I suppose I could storm off in a rage and start interrogating assassins, but their tongues will only be the looser tomorrow after a night of fear and thirst. Those guildsmen out there have been given more latitude here than in any other holding in the kingdom, and if they don’t see strength, they’ll take more than I have a mind to give just now.” Aidan then looked back to Daniel. “Attend to this as an object lesson, Daniel. One day, probably sooner than seems possible tonight, all this will be over, for better or worse, and you’ll be back to making your way through the world like any miller’s son. Learn what you can from your time with knights and lords and feasts at high tables. Knowing more of how the world works never steered a man wrong.”
Daniel sat silent in his thoughts as Lord Aidan rose and apologized to his guests for the interruption and sudden lack of entertainment before inviting them to take their ease and begin their meals. Daniel couldn’t help but think that in his Lord Hector’s hall, nobody would have dared make such an assault, for it was filled with knights and others who fought, not traders. Even here the attack seemed foolhardy, but in Hector’s hall the killer, even had he succeeded, would surely have signed his own death warrant. Still, in every other way Lord Aidan seemed superior to Hector and every other noble Daniel had ever heard of. He was patient, wise, and self-assured without being haughty. He knew his authority well enough that he seemed to have no interest in asserting it; he could be kind and humble without appearing weak.
I would follow this man, Daniel thought. Surely I would not be the only one. Sir Reuben was right to bring us here. Other nobles may scoff at Aidan’s new ideas, but the people will turn with him like a millstone turns with the wheel. There could be no doubt that Lord Aidan’s support would be a powerful stroke in the king’s half-brother Count Rickard’s favor. Now that Daniel had seen even a brief example of Aidan’s leadership, though, could he risk so much to put a lesser man on the throne just because he was a greater noble? Daniel shook off his treasonous thought and sipped his wine, wondering where to begin on the feast that had been set before him and trying to ignore the excitement he sensed from the sword.