TheIron Rook II
It was several more years until the King and Queen had another child; and little over a year after that when the golden Sage Ordon returned to Castle Traeur, to see Duncan Whitetree. He had told him to take a small force of no more than twenty men, in addition to his chosen two other nobles to sit with him at the new court. After that Ordon had gone to the Riverlands, to grab the three nobles who would represent their lands at the new court.
Duncan anticipated as much, and he knew he would either have to win the Gold Sage to his side, or kill off the competition. It didn't help that his two advisers, Mira Coldpeak, and Gerald Ironwroth both made opposite suggestions. Gerald wanted to kill them off before they became a threat, and Mira wanted to win over the Sage. They were all to arrive at the capitol within a fortnight before the coupe, which would take place on the next new moon.
Fortunately for them, it was the prince heir's nameday festival the week of their arrival. For five straight days, the whole capital was celebrating Prince Bryce's twenty-second year in this world, with a tournament, a feast for the nobles, and many other pleasantries for the rest of the city.
Sage Ordon had truly thought of everything, although Duncan was greatly annoyed that they had to quickly find an adequate gift for the prince. Mira and Gerald simply grabbed the fanciest weapon they had at their home possession, Duncan gave just a little more thought into his gift.
Getting into the city was easy, as everyone was welcomed; though their small force turned a few heads in their direction. Duncan instructed Gerald to settle his men in at a decent inn, he wasn't sure if they would be allowed into the castle, wasn't even sure he would be allowed into the castle without Sage Ordon.
The castle gates were opened wide and a line of guards in red cloaks, with golden crowns embroidered on the front of their uniforms, stood in two rows opposite to one another just a step away from the main path leading into the castle's main structure. None of them had been to the capital, let alone the castle before, so they would have to explore around a lot. But first, they had to get in. They dismounted their horses before entering the castle, and in the halls before the throne room was another line of Royal guards, blocking further entrance into the castle.
At the center of them stood a common looking woman well into her middle age, she was wearing a silver-colored dress and stood behind a furnished wooden pedestal with a massive book opened up to her. "Names?" She asked in a shrewd and unpleasant voice.
"Lord Duncan Whitetree, here to celebrate the prince's name day, and offer our gifts to him," Duncan said. "With me is Lord Gerald Ironwroth," He nodded his head to his right where Gerald stood, "And Lady Mira Coldpeak," and then nodded his head to the left where Mira stood.
They grew tense as the woman looked over the pages of the book, reading through it, probably searching their names. "I don't see your names here on the list," she said, suddenly suspicious.
Frustrated, Gerald stepped forward and spoke with a tone of hostility, "Now you listen here you little-"
Duncan thrust his arm out to stop Gerald before he went further. The royal guards in the hall had all turned their heads to glare at them, with their hands on the hilts of their swords now.
With a smile, Duncan said, "It's been a very long ride for us; we were expected to arrive with his holiness, Sage Ordon."
She looked at them skeptically, then flipped to the last pages of the book to look at them. "Yes, here you are, his holiness' special guests. You're the first to arrive, when can we expect to see his holiness?"
Duncan had to think about the answer, Ordon's business in the Riverlands could just now be ending, or he could be half a day's ride from the capitol. He didn't know, so he said, "He should be with us any day now."
The woman scoffed, "He should be here right now, his holiness is an important guest to the prince and his absence is already well noticed. You may pass, guards let them through."
The guards had loosened the grips on their swords and stepped back to let them walk ahead. As Duncan and Mira went on ahead Gerald turned around and put a firm hand on the woman's butt and the other on her breast, whispering in her ear, "I'll have to teach you a thing about manners, later on, you shrewd wench."
Gerald then let her go and returned to walking just behind Duncan who turned and shot him a grim warning look, telling him to behave from now on. While Mira said, "Maybe I'll teach you a lesson about manners as well you pig."
He ignored the comment as they came out of the entrance hall into the expansive throne room. The room was made up almost entirely of marble stone, even the columns, they heard a rumor that there was once an island made entirely of the smooth rock just outside the Red Ring, but seeing so much of it in the capital was almost overwhelming. First Lord Street was paved with it, along with numerous buildings foundations made from it, and now the castle.
Spiraling around the columns were banners made from golden silk, which made the entire room glow with the same color. Far in the back the musicians played their instruments, filling the room with delightful melody while a mix of countless conversations overlapped into an echo of noises.
All around Ladies were dressed in smooth sparkling dresses, with jewelry around their necks, wrists, and dangling from their ears, all that glittered when they moved about. Each of them trying to be flashier than the next. Meanwhile, the lords wore well-tailored, velvet and silk doublets, and had flashy sword hilts, some with diamonds encrusted in the pommel, and extravagant belts, and gloves.
The handful of river lords there wore blue leather jerkins made from basilisk hides, that was as fancy as the river lords ever got, which was a nice change of pace from all the Greenlander's trying to outshine one another. While their ladies wore rippling dresses of silk in colors of the sea.
Lord Gerald stood out, wearing full plate armor, without a surcoat, made of a dark-grey steel. He, at least, had the courtesy to leave his full helm with his men before they came to the castle. And even Mira wore a battle skirt, high boots, and a copper torso piece that fitted around her upper body well, and was more stylistic than practical. She wasn't a warrior, though, and hated fighting in person, but she stuck to the Highlander's customs.
Duncan was the only one who didn't wear any type of armor, he wasn't a warrior and felt he would insult his father's before him and his own son by wearing armor, so he neglected it. Instead, he dawned light-blue leather pants, alongside a deep-blue silk doublet, with his house sigil of a white pine tree embroidered onto it.
They got a lot of stares, mostly Gerald, as they walked through the throne room to stand in line to give the prince their gifts. Most people had already given the prince their gift's by now. And only those who wanted some form of political favor with the future king gave gifts. As was evident when they paused to talk to him and he kindly smiled and said whatever he could to show as little interest as possible, while also not offending them.
Duncan could even hear a few of these requests when he got closer, half of them were trying to pawn off their daughter, niece or someone in their family for him to marry, as he was yet married and not arranged for marriage yet. Finally, it was Gerald's turn to present his gift to the prince. The kingsguard hesitated a moment before letting him pass through and ascend the few steps to offer his gift to the prince.
He bent to one knee and held up a large sword, in a silver scabbard, in his palms. Bryce graciously took the sword with both hands, struggling to hold it up. He managed to pull the broadsword out of its scabbard to reveal it was made of a glossy titanium, it was well known the prince was not a warrior, but Gerald couldn't help smirk as he held the blade awkwardly.
The prince sheathed it then said with a smile, "It seems I might have to practice swordplay after all."
The room gave a shallow laugh, and Gerald stood up and with a slight bow, turned and stepped down as Mira approached next. She held out a dagger with a jewel encrusted scabbard in her open hands, sufficing simply with a bowed head, rather than bending the knee.
Once more the prince took it graciously, and pulled the weapon out, admiring it humbly. The dagger was a flat, straight, double-edged blade made from sapphire. "It's beautiful, much like yourself my lady," Bryce said sincerely.
The compliment caught Mira off, she never thought herself beautiful, and almost doubted the prince's sincerity in his compliment. "You're too kind, my prince." She said regaining herself.
He smiled and Mira stepped down.
Duncan followed up after her. The prince couldn't help but chuckle a little and asked, "Are you going to give me a shiny weapon to my lord?"
"While it is custom of us Highlanders to give a man a tool of war on great celebrations such as this, I offer another sort of tool. One to sharpen your mind." He then handed the prince his gift: A three-foot hexagonal puzzle box, with different colors on each panel of the box.
The king then chuckled, seeing the gift, "Ahh, you're a crafty one my lord." he said. "I haven't seen a mystic puzzle box in ages. Come son hand it over, I want to examine it for myself." He held out his hand greedily, an impatient look gleaming in his eye.
With a sigh of annoyance, the prince handed his father his new gift. The king all but snatched it from Bryce's hands when he could, and began fiddling around with it to no avail. After minutes of this embarrassing display, the king rose up and placed the box on the floor, unsheathed his sword, and with a mighty swing brought the blade down to the box.
The crowd gasped as the blade was repelled and knocked helplessly out of the king's hands, falling harmlessly just a few feet away from him. He retrieved his sword and laughed, "Oh it's the real deal alright."
He returned to his seat on the throne and continued, "My grandfather gave me one when I was twelve. God's the infernal thing was impossible to open, so me and my brother we tried to smash it open." he smirked, "Well as you saw how good that did, imagine two boys with hammers they could barely lift. My brother lost a tooth; we told our parents it was an accident." The king laughed harder, and the lords and ladies laughed a shallow laugh with him.
Bryce retrieved his gift and when the room settled down Duncan said to the king, "It took me four years to figure out how to open it. Admittedly I tried the same tactics your highness, but then I got creative, thought I might be able to burn away some of it with a great fire."
"Ohh yea, And how'd that work my lord?"
"The box repelled the flames, forcing them to jump all over the place. I set fire to the wing of the castle, took a year to repair." He smirked, "Box was in perfect condition still."
The king cackled uncontrollably for several minutes. Some of the lords and ladies chuckled awkwardly, the rest stood in silence unsure what to do next. When he settled down he said, "Ohh you're the life of the party, my lord. Tell me how did you open that infernal box anyways?"
"I had a hint, Feel, don't see. Somedays that only made me more enraged trying to open it."
The king scoffed, "If I don't get you to show me how to open that thing before you leave, I might not let you leave this court." He chuckled a little and then turned to look at Bryce and nodded.
The prince looked out to everyone and said, "Thank you all my lords, my ladies, for coming to this celebration, and for your wonderful gifts. Soon it will be time for the feast, and afterward, we will host the first round of the tournaments."
The room applauded. Duncan returned to Gerald and Mira's side and Mira said, "Well so much for blending in."
"Yes I didn't anticipate nearly this much unwarranted attention," Duncan said, glancing around the room. All the lords and ladies present seemed to be sneering at them from the corner of their eyes. As if they were all vultures and a massive beast, in this case, the king, fell dead and Duncan scooped up the biggest piece of meat.
"Gerald, when the feast comes up I want you dining with the royal guards. Me and Mira will do what we came to do and keep these excessive eyes as far away from you as possible. But don't get cocky, there's bound to be eyes and ears tailing you."
Gerald grinned, as if this were all some game, "Relax, I know what I'm doing. For now, though I think I'll go sign up for the tournament, they only give us til sundown."
After Gerald was out of earshot Mira said, "I don't like him. He's too wild and unpredictable"
"That's why he's here, they might see me and you coming. But Gerald, well they won't know what to expect. For now, though it's best we separate, and mingle with the others."