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Gambits - The Iron Rook III

The Iron Rook III

After the feast, everyone was shown to their sleeping quarters. Duncan couldn't help but notice that not only were his quarters in the castle much larger than his own back at his castle but much fancier as well. The frame for the bed was made from Rosewood and had lush dark-purple velvet curtains attached to the top with metal rings around them to slide easily. Had his wife been alive to join him this day, she would have loved it, the curtains he tried putting up around their bed had to be nailed in and then cut down the middle to open up to get out, and they were far less fancy than velvet. Not a day went by that he missed her, or their son for that matter.

He turned away from the bed and to the windows, overlooking the edge of the gardens. Amidst the high hedge walls, could be seen a vast assorted mix of roses. Coloring from reds, whites, yellows, pinks and even orange roses were in the fray; Duncan had never known so many colors of roses existed.

The only kind he had ever seen was the famous Winter Rose, a rose with blue petals and purple tipped thorns, that were native to the Highlands. The rose was also once the symbol of the most powerful family in the Highlands, House BrightStar, back when Argolas was divided into the three nations before everyone was ruled under one crown. But in the end, they were defeated, their family line snuffed out and the victors, being the Kirch family, took their house sigil of a blue rose with purple tipped thorns as their own.

It was high time someone took it back, Duncan thought bitterly.

"It's a fair sight, is it not my lord?" Bryce asked from behind Duncan.

Duncan was only half surprised by the visit, he did, after all, leave his door open, but he was expecting Mira, or Gerald, to come visit him; not the prince. "Yes, I never knew there were so many rose colors out there," Duncan said turning to face Bryce.

"I hope you'll pardon the intrusion my lord, the door was open, and I wished to talk to you."

"You are the prince, this is your home, it seems more so that I would be the intruder."

Bryce shrugged a little awkwardly, "Well my mother taught me that manners make the man, and you are our guest here. Besides, I believe men should be treated more equally than how they are just because of their birth status. As I believe you saw today I'm not overly fond of being put high on a pedestal."

"Well, then your highness, by all means please come in. Shut the door if you would, though, I'm not overly fond of prying eyes and ears."

Bryce shut the door and relaxed a little. "I agree, all those lords and ladies, they all come because they want something from me or my father. A place at court, to marry me off to their daughters, it's all the same. And there's just something about how they talk, you can just hear their shallow voices. Worst of all I have to make a show for them too, but you my lord, well I feel I can talk more openly with you."

Once again the prince's sincerity caught Duncan off guard, and he was hesitant to answer, making the moment a little awkward. Eventually, he said, "I can't imagine being future king of the world is easy. Honestly, I'm a lord of some woods that has a few villages in it. A few hundred men, woman, and children nothing big. Though I must say, your highness, it is strange for one of your position and age to not have some sort of marriage arrangement lined up."

"There have been many great proposals, most of them that could do wonders for me and the crown."

"So why not take them? Didn't like the woman?"

"Didn't like what they meant for the world. These proposals were selfish, shallow, just like the ones offering them. I live comfortable enough, but my concern is the growing chaos around the Riverlands and the Highlands. I want a marriage, an alliance, that would bring these nations together, not drive them apart from us further.

"Its part of the reason I'm glad you're here, we haven't had a Highlander at court for decades. Actually, there's something else I wanted to talk to you about too. The gift you gave me-"

"I know it's not anything flashy like your other gifts, for that, I apologize." Duncan interrupted.

"No, no it's perfect actually. Everyone else gave me some fancy clothes, some rare meat, or a shiny weapon. But you, you're the only one to get me something, I think, that's actually testing me. I don't know how to explain it but you my lord, you understand me."

Duncan bowed, "I'm so humbled your highness, I... well I'm speechless."

"Listen, Duncan, may I call you Duncan my lord?"

"You may your highness, in fact, I insist."

"Duncan, I hope this won't sound presumptuous of me. But when I'm king, I'd like for you to be my advisor."

"That's such a grand gesture your highness, but I-"

"Call me Bryce, I hate being called 'your highness' I hear it all the time from everyone who isn't my family."

"Very well, Bryce. Your offer is, well I don't know what to say. I mean I hardly think I'm qualified to advise a king."

"I disagree, Duncan, I sense something in you, we're like kindred spirits. Personally, I believe you have a great insight you can bring to this court. Perhaps together we can bring our nations close once more, and from there the Riverlands as well. The world should be united, not segregated by hollow politics."

Bryce sighed and calmed himself. "Forgive me for getting so carried away, I'd like for you to keep all of this between us, Duncan."

"Of course Bryce, I swear by the divine gods that I won't tell this to anyone." Though he had no intention of speaking about this to anyone else, he also didn't worship the same gods. So his words were a little hollow.

"Good, there's something else I must speak with you about that must also be a secret."

"You have my word. I won't tell anyone."

Bryce took a seat on the bed, his head hung low, his voice melancholy, "The reason I'm so intent on seeking out good advisors, from places outside of the Greenlands too, is my father's health is not as great as it seems. He's had heart troubles from a young age that seem to have returned. The Sages estimate at the most, he has several more months until it gives out. And then I'll be king.

"He wants to spend his final days enjoying life, and I want him to do so as well. He hasn't had it easy having to clean up my grandfather's mess. It's a wonder he made it this far."

Bryce wiped a few tears from his eyes and stood up, regaining his formal tone. "Which reminds me of why I had been sent here in the first place. The king would like for you to sit next to him at his table for tomorrow night's feast. He can be childish at times but I'd like for you to indulge him while you're here."

"Well, I can hardly deny the king a request such as that. I'll do my best to entertain his highness."

"And I understand you're men are staying at some inns in the city?"

"Yes, that's correct."

"Well I would like for you to bring them here to the castle grounds, there's plenty of room for them here. And, as rude as it sounds, they are taking up valuable space at the inns. No doubt they are packed as is, and we have more people flooding in through all the gates. They will need a place to rest during their time here."

"Of course, I understand. I'll have someone fetch my men to bring them here."

"Well, then that concludes our business, and a reminder that the first night of the Royal Ball is tonight, a few hours after sunset. I think it would do well to see at least one of you there."

Mira had come to Duncan just an hour before the Royal Ball, dressed in a flowing white and very light blue dress that fit snug around her lithe form. She brought with her a dark-blue long coat with a hue of purple mixed into it. The special way it was died you would see more of one color depending on what angle you were seeing the coat from. She also brought with her breeches, of the same design as the coat, and a matching pair of fancied boots, to complete the outfit.

"I figured you would forget about the Ball," she said handing him the clothes. "And Gerald, well he's hardly fit for higher society."

"I was hoping I wouldn't have to attend the Ball. I haven't been to such a celebration since my wife's passing." Duncan said taking the clothes.

"It can't be helped, though, especially not after the entrance we made this afternoon," Mira argued.

Duncan scoffed, "You think I had planned any of that?"

"No, but I have to wonder about the 'magic' of that box you gave the prince."

"It was forged in the Age of Sorcery. A simple puzzle box that is nearly impossible to force open, and locks itself up tight if you make the wrong move. That's all I know about it, why not ask the king's sorcerer, zafel, or whatever?"

"The king's sorcerer is a widespread rumor, nothing more. The last known sorcerer died over eight-hundred years ago. The last bit of magic in this world is left in those small trinkets. I have one myself, family heirloom, not sure what it does though since it was passed down to my elder sister. I got that beautiful dagger I gifted the prince, damn thing is useless in a fight."

"You'll get it back soon enough. Now if you'll give me the room I need to change into my new attire, look the part and all that."

"Do you remember how to dance?"

"I will be fine, it was the one thing I did manage to do right, even if it was almost entirely useless."

"Well, not tonight it isn't, I'll be right outside your doors, waiting for you to escort me."

The Ballroom was enormous, enough to fit hundreds (maybe even thousands), and the entirety of it was built from more of that sleek white marble stone they seemed to love so much. From the ceiling hung a massive chandelier, made from diamonds and glass, that sparkled brilliantly lighting up the room as if it were daytime in there. And the sound of a harp gently weaving a pleasant tune filled the air amidst all the chatter.

As Duncan and Mira made their way through they found themselves in an endless sea of glares of resentment from all the lords and ladies. Every one of them saw how astounded the king was by Duncan's gift, and felt great animosity for them. Eventually, though, a couple of them from house Limior came over to talk with them, measure their sudden new competitors for the king's favor.

The real questions had been slyly mixed in with the mindless chatter in-between various topics. They wanted to know who Duncan and Mira were, what brought them to court, and why they showed up now. Mira did most of the talking, and gave them vague, but content answers, to their real questions. She and Duncan told them they never been to a royal festival such as this, and felt it was long overdue. Which that was only half right, they had never been, but neither intended to go before Ordon arrived.

They said nothing about Ordon's invitation of them, and soon enough the two from house Limior moved on; content that Duncan, Gerald, and Mira were nothing more than a few random lord's and lady from the Highlands just wishing to see a royal festival for once. After that, though, the floodgates opened and more lords and ladies came to them, chatting it up, and asking them the same questions in various ways.

Eventually, Mira and Duncan had to escape the barrage of questions and new faces coming to measure them, by going to the dance floor. Palettes of gold stripes, with gleaming blue edges, curved around the floor in a giant rose pattern. As they danced, Mira spoke quietly, just enough so only Duncan would hear her. "I heard your little conversation with the prince earlier."

Duncan did poorly to hide his surprise, and Mira got a light chuckle out of his expression from the news. "How did you?" he began, bewildered at how easy their conversation slipped out.

She smiled, almost seductively, "That's why you brought me here, to be your spymaster. Wouldn't be good if I couldn't eavesdrop myself. Or have someone watching our prize royals."

He smiled, "I knew I was right to choose you."

"And Gerald?" She asked, dissatisfied with Duncan's other choice of partner.

"He'll have his time to shine. He's more of an escape plan, should things go bad, he and his men shall cover our escape. Lord Gerald will serve us greatly one way or another, but I understand your misconception about him being here. He needs something to pacify him for the time being, that's why he's signed up for the tournament; that will keep in busy, and happy."

"And what about me my lord?"

"Fishing for flattery?" he mocked.

She smiled and batted her eyelashes.

"You're already proving yourself a valuable ally and partner. And you are quite alluring by yourself."

She blushed, "You sure know how to make a girl wet."

They kissed and finished the dance. Not long after the Ball was over for the night, and together they went to Duncan's room. He tore her dress off and had her in the bed, not just once but several times over before the night was done and they both rested. He hadn't had a woman in years, and while Mira wasn't nearly as beautiful as his wife had been, it was so long he didn't even notice. That night had been the first, and the last time they were together, Duncan had returned to his lone self, he never wanted other woman, and before Mira, he only wanted for one: his wife.

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Copyright © © Jake Pendragon all rights reserved 2015

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