That evening he pelted back to the palace, changed into his one decent set of clothes, grabbed his instruments and then raced down to the Golden Horn. The doors of the inn were open, but flanking the entrance were two men who looked as if their only purpose was to keep itinerant bards from bothering the customers. They eyed him as he approached, but made no move until he started to step over the threshold, when a meaty arm was abruptly extended in front of his chest.
‘No beggars,’ the man on the right grunted.
Caedun gaped at him. It was one thing to be refused admission, but that was downright insulting. ‘I’m a bard,’ he said, unable to keep the indignation from his voice.
‘He’s a bard,’ the man informed his colleague. ‘Look, kid, we’ve had a couple of dozen minstrels try their luck since Rellsar had his accident. None of them has lasted more than an evening, and they were all a lot older than you. The Golden Horn has standards. Now go home.’
‘How do you know how good I am if you haven’t heard me?’ Caedun demanded.
The men exchanged amused glances. ‘Trust me, we know,’ the second man said.
‘Caedun, my friend! Have you come to take a drink with me?’ The voice was deep and familiar.
Caedun turned round and looked up…and up. ‘Good evening, Eryion.’
The healer smiled. Now he was no longer forced to stoop in a confined space, he seemed taller than ever. ‘Are you having problems convincing these gentlemen of your merit?’ He rested a hand on Caedun’s shoulder. ‘This young man is bard to King Rhofarn. Did you not mark the dragon?’ He twitched Caedun’s jacket, where tiny gold dragons were embroidered along the seams. ‘He is a young man of exceptional talent, brought by your king from the Sealands to entertain the highest nobility in his house, and you would bar him from your door?’
‘Well, no. But…we’ve been told…’
‘Inside, Caedun,’ Eryion said, pushing him forward.
Living in the palace had blunted his appreciation of wealth, but the interior of the Golden Horn was like no inn he had ever encountered. From its floor of pale, polished wood to the high, whitewashed ceiling, it had an atmosphere of airy light. The room was big enough to hold around two dozen tables, each with a complement of padded chairs, while leaving space for two servingmen to pass abreast between each. The windows were curtained with pale gold silk and the walls were hung with narrow tapestries depicting courtly scenes.
It was fortunate Eryion kept hold of his shoulder, for he would otherwise have stood and gaped for a full ten minutes. The healer gave him no opportunity to stop, however, guiding him to a vacant table and pressing him into a seat.
‘Wait here,’ he said shortly. He vanished off through a door at the far side of the room. Caedun hunched down in his chair, uncomfortably aware that he was the focus of a lot of attention. He didn’t mind it when he was performing, but it was different when he had the feeling that any minute he would be unceremoniously ejected into the street.
It was a while before Eryion returned. He waved a serving girl across and ordered ale for them both.
‘I can’t,’ Caedun said awkwardly.
Eryion glanced at him, one eyebrow raised. ‘Can’t what?’
‘Can’t drink with you. I have no money to return the favour.’
‘Then you had better sing well, Caedun the bard. I have spoken with the innkeeper. A hard man, and all my persuasion could only bring him to allow you two songs. He will then decide if you can continue to perform. I suggest you choose wisely. And take the drink as a gift from me, with no obligation attached.’