Brave King Marcus felt an alien twitch in his chest at the sight before him; the storied knight trembling ever so slightly, a convicting jingle emanating from his armor.
"What have you to report, Sir Liam?" the king's words sounded more patient than was to be expected.
The knight, who had watched the floor since entering the room, faced his king, though not so courageous as to meet eyes, and unable to find the words dropped his head once more, like a man on a noose. Perhaps he was rehearsing his inevitable reward for failing King Marcus.
Slowly, but lacking any patience now, King Marcus persisted, "What have you to report of the blasphemer? Have you found him?"
Sir Liam answered to the stones at his feet, "Yes, my Lord."
Like thunder from a clear sky, "You will look at me when I ask you to address me!" King Marcus demanded.
"Yes, my Lord," he replied. One who did not know of his greatness might have believed those to be tears swelling in the eyes of Sir Liam the Bold. Impossible.
"I believe there was to be a pike with his head when you returned to me. Where is the head of the blasphemer?"
"It is here your majesty." He thought better of whatever he had considered saying after this, and closed up tightly with a resonating gulp.
"I am not a man with time for puzzles, Sir Liam. I believe you to be wise enough to know that. So I will give you one last chance; bring me his head." He stared through Sir Liam's eyes into the softest spot within him, and squeezed it as though wringing its juices. The room had fallen so silent that it seemed to shake the walls as the king whispered, his words sizzling like a cannon fuse, "Now!"
The knight trotted quickly from the chamber like a guilty puppy, and moments later returned, the blasphemer leading the way, his still-attached head held high. He was an old man with a long grey beard, and soft hazel eyes. He looked pious, dignified, and above all, unnervingly calm.
King Marcus swelled to his feet, roaring, "How dare you bring this villain into my chamber! Knights! Seize him!"
The knights, some dozen posted about the room like tapestries, did not move.
"Your majesty, if I may..." spoke the old man.
"You may NOT!" The king's eyes could have lit torches.
"Tell him!" shouted one of the faceless knights, safely behind the visor of his full set of armor.
Sir Liam spoke reluctantly, "Your majesty, he is no blasphemer. What he says is true: he is a sorcerer."
The king forgot every word in his vocabulary in the wake of being contradicted, for what he was convinced was the first time in his life.
"We found him in the tavern, had him surrounded. He didn't even flinch, sire. He looked in my face as calm as I've ever seen a man and he says 'No need for that,' and he pushed away my blade. It was like I couldn't control my own body anymore. And he says to me, 'Have a drink at my courtesy.' Then ..." the knight looked to the ground once more, scanning to see if maybe that's where he had dropped his courage. Not one scrap anywhere to be found, he looked up, his eyes apologizing for what he was about to say, "Your majesty, he ... He reached up and ... he pulled a gold coin out of my ear. As I live and breathe your highness, I've not seen a sight like it in all my days."
The king looked about the room for any sign of sanity, but every person stood still. No outrage at the preposterous statement. No objection from any of these knights, each a member of a swift channel of gossip by which the story no doubt had already traveled in great detail.
"If you are," the king challenged, and then continued as though vomiting the words, "some sort of sorcerer..." He spread his hands, presenting the floor to his unwelcome guest.
The strange man took several casual steps toward the king, as though on a stretch of his evening constitutional. As he reached in his robe, the chink of swords flying from sheaths poured over the room. But none was so brave as to step toward the reputed wizard.
He withdrew his hand slowly, as if he'd not heard the blades calling for his blood, and revealed a thick stack of stiff squares of parchment, bound by a small ribbon. He tugged one end of the string and let it fall to the floor, looked the fearful king in the eyes and spoke with a mystic lightness, "Pick a card. Any card."