I have to say that the Sister was right about these beds.
They were amazing, feathery and soft. The frames made of soft wood and the mattress' stuffed with what I can only describe as clouds. I had stayed in inns around the continent and even some of the more upscale establishments paled in comparison. As a result, I woke up later than I thought I would, and that was only because there was chaotic knock at my door that dragged up from the dark depths of a peaceful slumber.
I groaned as I rolled out of bed, my hand grasping for the hilt of my sword which, for the past four years, had not been far from my side. It was simple thing, to be sure. More function over form, with a hilt bound in dark leather and a scabbard made of the same. I treated the primary tool of my trade well and had cleaned and sharpened it just before my arrival in Myrin. The blade was scuffed but polished, and I worked hard to buff out the nicks it inevitably suffered during each battle I had taken part in.
It had been a gift from Boldrin when we first left Myrin, something that surprised me, and my fellow mercenaries, to no end. Especially because I couldn't even lift the bloody thing in the beginning, which required one of the others to carry it for me until I had built up my body.
I smiled at the memory. Now that I had separated from Boldrin's Brigade, perhaps for a long time, thoughts like this seemed to arrive more often. I wonder if, like when I left Myrin, I was suddenly becoming nostalgic.
After the Sister and I finished our talk last night, I had met with the kids in the dining hall and we had shared a meal together. To say I was overwhelmed by their reaction to my presence would be putting it mildly. Suddenly I was surrounded by children I had known since I was a boy, even some that I had assisted in raising, helping the Sister however I could. I didn't expect them to remember me, but the old gang were still there. Delithia, Kaven, Sasta, Albert and a dozen others. Each crowded around me, giving me hugs and, in the case of Kaven, trying to pull my sword from it's scabbard.
They had grown so much, with Albert being the one who changed the most. I left when he was eleven and now he was fifteen, nearly a man and almost as tall as I am, with large arms and a roguish grin.
Their questions had been numerous and endless. They asked of my time away with the band, whether I had been in a lot of fights and what exotic locals I had travelled to. They also asked if I had any scars but the tightness that appeared in the eyes of the Sister's face at the question forced me to avoid answering however I could.
It wasn't just them of course. Due to my help and, to a greater extent, the Princess', I found that the amount of orphans under the Sister's care had almost doubled in size. They seemed to be rather wary of me in the beginning, but the others quickly explained that I used to live here and that I was the reason for all the nice things they had now. I don't know if I quite agreed with that but I went with it at the Sister's insistence.
I also met two people whom had been hired to help care for the children. A caretaker by the name of Fitz, who tended to the garden and did other odd jobs around the home, and Miss Bella, a young woman who helped with the children's care along with the Sister. It was Bella who had taken the kids to the chapel yesterday for the evening sermon because of Sister Erin's insistence on waiting for me. I felt quite bad about that, I knew how much the Sister liked attending service.
“Orin! Orin! Guess what!” Delithia had cried from her place next to me at the dining table, punching my arm to get my attention.
“What?” I asked fondly.
“I'm going to wear a dress made by the royal tailor!” She shouted it for all to hear and more than a few of the little girls who surrounded us glared at her enviously, causing Delithia's grin to grow wider in response.
To say Delithia was looking forward to her small part in the wedding of Princess Elora was something of an understatement. The girl could barely sit still, rocking back and forth and jumping in place as she told me the story of how she met the Princess for the third time that evening.
The Sister said that she had become almost impossible this past year, since she had heard that she would be part of the service. I think the good Sister was looking forward to the whole thing being over, just to have some peace.
I spent the night laughing and talking with those I loved most in this world and it was amazing. I found that my fears of being forgotten were unfounded and instead discovered that the opposite was true. Though there was a single caveat to the night that slightly concerned me.
“Where are Gertrand and Pater?” I had asked the Sister as I helped her clear the plates from the dining hall tables.
She sighed morosely, but she wasn't the one who answered, instead it was little Sasta, who was younger that anyone when I had left the Orphanage and despite growing significantly, was still the same quiet and cute girl I remembered.
“Pater's been gone a long time. He left a couple of years after you. Gertrand hangs out with Pater's bad friends near the market. Spends most of his time there.” She said calmly and quietly, causing me to strain to hear her words.
I tried hard to keep a blank expression on my face as I thanked Sasta for letting me know and turned to exchange a look with the Sister.
Pater was not the best influence on Gertrand, that I knew because I wasn't a good influence on him before I left to join the band. Pater was never one to shy away from more criminal activities and had talked at length about joining one of the gangs that haunted the commons. If what Sasta said was true then I could only imagine that Pater had gotten his wish and seemed to be dragging Gertrand down with him.
After the children had gone to bed, the Sister confirmed my suspicions.
“Pater joined the Common Dogs after you left, son. He was causing more than a little trouble around the city so I was forced to ask him to leave.” The Sister's expression dropped and I could see the pain on her face. “I couldn't risk him bringing trouble to this door. The gangs leave us be, but if someone bad came after him then the other kids would be in danger. I couldn't allow that.”
I had placed a hand on the Sister's shoulder in a vain attempt to comfort her, I knew that she wasn't one to turn her back on a soul in need and she loved Pater as much as she did me. The both of us had tried to help her however we could during those early days of making our way in the harsh streets of the commons. When I had told Pater I was leaving, he was furious with me, said that I was abandoning him and the Sister. I couldn't explain it to him, so I just left. There was more than a little bad blood between us and I was the one who had let it fester.
Pater was responsible for his own actions. He was the same age as me, a man grown, and I wouldn't try to convince him to stray from the path that he had seemed to be on since I left. But that was simply because I didn't think I could. The man was stubborn and would have no time to listen to what I had to say. Still, he was like a brother and I would like to see him again at some point.
Gertrand was another matter, however. I felt like I had chance with him. He listened to me, or at least he did, before I left with the Brigade.
“Does Gertrand come back to the orphanage?” I had asked.
The Sister gave me a worried look. “I know what you're thinking, Orin. I don't know what you went through when you were away, but I can see that you can handle that sword of yours. Don't do anything stupid, the gangs are not to be meddled with, and if you get involved with them then someone, perhaps even Gertrand,could get hurt. Stay out of it. If this is the path that boy chooses there is nothing we can do about it.
I had nodded in response, but I wasn't as convinced as she was.
I shook my head of the memory of the night before and hopped out of bed, slipping into my clothes and belting my sword onto my hip. The tough leather of my jerkin was a comfortable weight over my tunic and if I was going to do what I thought I was, then today I would need the extra degree of protection that it offered me.
The knocking at my door came louder than ever and I grinned. Walking over, I opened the door to the rather spacious bedroom that the Sister had offered me and found Delithia waiting outside impatiently. A cute frown on her face and eyes ablaze with impatience.
“You said you'd walk with me, Orin!” She grumbled roughly, punching me in the stomach softly to let me feel the extent of her displeasure.
“I know, little one, forgive me. I'm ready to go now. Lets go see the Sister and we can get underway.”
“You shouldn't call me little any more, Orin, I'm eleven now by the Spirit!”
I laughed softly, but did nothing to dissuade her and instead followed her out of the room and down the clean hallways of the orphanage.
After the children had gone to bed last night, the Sister had shown me the rest of the changes to my old home on the way to my room. While there was nothing else as expensive as the Inscribed stove, the sheer amount of resources available to the Princess of our small Kingdom left me more than a little humbled.
The rooms that had long been in disrepair had been fixed and refitted with beds, the garden had been redone by the royal gardener's apprentice himself and the dining hall had been filled with three long oak tables, more than enough room for all the children in the orphanage. The hallways were clean and even the musky smell of rot was gone as the beams on the roof had been replaced. It truly filled my heart with joy at the sight. Another plus was that I had never seen the Sister so happy, she looked about ready to burst with excitement every time she showed me something new.
Delithia and I made our way down to the office of the Sister, which was situated next to the front door of the home. I knocked once, but Delithia would not be denied and stormed in on the Sister who sat behind a new desk as she scribbled on parchment, no doubt filling out food orders, which she had mentioned putting off yesterday.
She looked up and smiled at our entrance before stopping and sniffing the air. She aimed a withering stare at Delithia.
“My dear, you are about to go to the palace of our King and Queen for a fitting. A fitting which will, in fact, give you a dress that is worth more than perhaps our entire building. Is there a reason you decided to forgo bathing this morning?”
Delithia looked at the ground in shame. “I'm sorry Sister, I was just so excited and Orin wouldn't wake up! It'll be fine, the Princess doesn't mind how I smell.”
“Perhaps not, daughter mine, but I do, and no doubt the snobby Nobles will as well. Take a bath. It's too early anyway,” The Sister pointed at a clock on the wall. This one wasn't new, having been here for as long as I can remember. “Three hours too early, in fact. It will take you less than half that time to reach the palace.”
Erin's face became granite. “Now, Delithia.”
The little girl sighed and left without another word, though at a dead sprint, seemingly thinking that the faster she bathed the sooner they could leave.
“That girl,” chuckled the Sister. “I swear to you Orin, she acts more like you every day. I pray to the Spirit daily that she grows up one of these days.”
I grinned and sat in the chair opposite the Sister, holding the hilt of my sword to keep it from getting in my way.
“You know what little girls are like, Sister. You were one yourself once.” I said with smile.
“Ah yes, many, many years ago.” She replied, a twitch in her lips. “So what are your plans today, my dear? I'm sorry that you must escort Delithia. The Princess offered to send a carriage but she knew you were coming home so she wanted you to take her. Good thing you arrived when you did, those three days you didn't turn up left the poor girl a wreck.”
“It's fine, no trouble, I was headed into the inner city anyway. I'm going to the guard office, see if I can't get myself some employment.” I shrugged.
“Good, good. You know, if you are going into the inner city you could do with a bath yourself,” The Sister wrinkled her nose in displeasure. “Unless you are particularly fond of the smell of dung, then I would say you're all set.”
I winced and rose from my seat. Perhaps it would be a good idea to spruce myself up a bit before we leave. I didn't think I smelled too bad but that could have been because I've been on the road for so long, surrounded by the fragrant smells of sixty mercenaries who care very little for personal hygiene. With the exception of Tessa, who bathed at every opportunity.
“Probably a good idea, Sister, thank you.”
She smiled. “You are welcome, my son. I'll hold Delithia here until you're ready. Knowing her, she's already taken her bath and is on her way back.”
I once more made my way through the hallways of the orphanage, saying hello to the orphans as I past them by. Most were quiet as they didn't know me too well, but I encountered a few whom I was familiar with and chatted with them a bit before going on my way.
It was when I came to the entrance into the garden courtyard that I came to a stop. It truly had changed quite significantly since I had last been here. I didn't see it too well last night, because of the lack of light, but now with the advent of the morning sun I could see the painstakingly arranged flowers of exotic and complex colours blooming in full. There was also a tree, which I didn't remember being here before. Perhaps it was moved in already grown. Again, the cost of such a thing came to mind and I couldn't help but shiver. In fact, the garden arrangements and design were so perfect that I very much doubted that even with three purses filled with gold I would be able to pay for such a sight. There was another thing that interested me, however. A plain grassy area without adornment that was bathed in sunlight. Perfect for playing children on a summers day. Or practice with a sword. I was going to bathe anyway, so I might as well get in some quick training before I do.
I smiled and made my way over to the grassy area, enjoying the feel of cool sunlight on my face. These were the last days of summer and already you could feel a pleasant chill in the air. It was my favourite time of the year in Myrin. Not too hot and not too cold. I took off my cloak as I walked and draped it over a bench that sat under the large spruce that sat in the gardens centre. I loosened my belt and removed my scabbard, pulling my sword free from it's holding and admiring the shining blade.
We had been through a lot together, this blade and I. The battle of Redoris, where the Brigade had helped protect the city from savage tribes of northern warriors. Skirmish's with bandits around Artosin, the capital of the Kingdom of Fero, and even forays into the deserts of the south, where bands of marauders roamed the savage wastes in search of gold and treasure.
Yes, this sword and I had done a fair amount in our time together and would do again before too long I'm sure.
I settled into the beginnings of the forms that Boldrin had taught me, a style of combat that he derived from his time with the Yoresi Army. It was boisterous and violent, much like the man himself, and was focused nearly entirely on offensive strokes and stabs. I moved through them with ease, knowing them by heart from my time in the brigade. Then again, and once more. I leapt and jumped around an imaginary battlefield that I conjured in my mind, blocking strikes from invisible swords and striking down illusory enemies. As always, I felt alive with the sword in my hand. The sword can allow you to strive for better. Boldrin's words roared again through my mind and I took that philosophy of his to heart, more than even he knew. I was born into nothing, I came from nothing, but I refused to return to nothing. I would push to be better, faster and stronger than I already was. Strong enough to protect all those I cared for, strong enough to fight even a Knight.
I came to a stop about forty five minutes later, basted in sweat and breathing heavily from swinging around my sword so intensely for such a length of time, steam rising off my body.
It was then that I discovered I had an audience.
The children, Bella and the Sister all stood to one side of the courtyard, watching me with slack-jawed expressions on their faces. Almost as one they began to clap and the children made their way towards me, all but running, with Kaven at the front, an excited grin on his face.
“That was amazing, Orin! Can you teach me? Please!”
I smiled as they each shouted to get my attention and laughed as they began to imitate my actions using phantom swords. Even Bella looked impressed, the pretty dark haired woman was about my age, or perhaps a little older, with blue eyes and soft features. She seemed to be looking at me in a new light and I felt a new kind of elation, one which came from something other than successful practice.
It was then that I noticed the Sister's face and it very nearly stopped me in my tracks. She looked sad. Her eyes seemingly staring at nothing and I thought, for an instant, I saw the glimmer of tears, before it was gone entirely and she clapped along with the rest of the orphans. A tight smile on her face.
* * *
“What colour do you think it will be?”
“Oh, I don't know. They usually have bridesmaids wear a different shade of the same colour as the Bride, right?”
We had only been walking through the commons for about twenty minutes and even at the relatively fast pace we were setting, Delithia seemed impatient. She was trying to distract herself with questions about the wedding. Though why she was asking me I had no idea. I had been to a few during my years away, usually when one of the band got hitched, but I knew little about how one went about organising such a thing. After seeing how stressed the brides were though made me wonder just how complicated a royal wedding would be, especially if they had the Bonding before the ceremony.
“I don't know, Orin. I've never been to a wedding before.” Delithia said scathingly, as if it was my fault I couldn't answer her questions.
I shook my head in defeat. “Then you'll be wearing a similar colour to the Princess then, I imagine. What do you have to do?”
Delithia smiled. “I get to lead Elora up on stage, I get to throw flowers in front of her. Me!”
I nearly laughed again at the infectious attitude of my little sister. This was a momentous occasion for everyone in the city, a wedding like this didn't happen often, maybe once in a generation, and seeing as the King and Queen didn't have any other children, it might be even longer than that. The fact that Delithia was chosen to be such a big part of the ceremony made me so proud of her that I was fit to burst, not that I would ever let her know that. Her head was big enough already, lording her status as a flower girl to everyone who would listen.
“You're going to do great. I can't wait to see you!”
“Will you come up on stage with the rest of us?”
I shook my head. “No, I'll just watch from the crowd I think. The last thing the Princess Elora wants at her wedding and Bonding is an ugly swordsman.” I replied jokingly.
“You're not ugly, you're handsome. Everyone says, even Bella, she told me and the girls last night.”
I flushed at that, remembering the look that Miss Bella had given me after I finished my practice. Perhaps that was something I could pursue, it had been a while since I had known the company of a woman and I was starting to feel that familiar longing that demanded my needs be addressed. It helped that Bella was very beautiful and she cared for the kids.
Though perhaps it would be less complicated just to visit the brothels that I know inhabited the south-eastern edge of the commons. I wouldn't want to cause any problems for the Sister at the orphanage just because I was feeling antsy.
The city of Myrin was built some four hundred years ago by the first Venosian King, a man by the name of Gilderbrand who was famous for being, among other things, a great warrior and a man with principles bordering on the utilitarian. As a result, he pretty much did whatever he wanted, believing that he knew best in all things. This also came into play when designing his city. Especially the commons. The buildings were nearly all of the same size and made of dull grey stone, each built exactly to the same specifications of all of their neighbours. Though over the years that grey had gotten darker due to the dust and dirt though the buildings were soundly built and still liveable to this day.
Not all of the buildings looked like these first designs, however. The young King Gilderbrand the second, that is to say, the son of the first King, went mad before he even reached middle age. He set his guard and royal Knights to start burning the Commons to the ground, believing that the world would be a brighter and better place without the peasantry.
Needless to say, not everyone was happy about this order and thus began a civil war that would last only one night, now known as King's Night, which serves as a cautionary tale to all the rulers that came after Gilderbrand the second. During that night, over three hundred men, women and children were burned inside their homes by the guard before the rebels, led by Gilderbrand's brother and a handful of other Nobles, managed to put a stop to it and kill the crazy bastard.
After that horrible event, a council was put in place called the Peoples Collective, which was made up entirely of Nobles that had defended Myrin from further tragedy. Their job, to this day, is a simple one. Make sure the King and Queen don't go bat-shit insane and try and kill us all again.
Which is nice of them, I suppose. Though how could you trust Nobles to look out for you if Nobles were the ones who caused the mess in the first place? A conundrum that would probably go unanswered, I fear.
After the King's Night, the Nobles on the Peoples Collective started to rebuild the dozens of homes that had burned down and, in doing so, broke up the monotony of the squat grey buildings people had known for so long. No, now there was some wooden structures thrown in for good measure.
Brown. An inspired choice.
Most of those buildings were condemned now, though the orphanage stood as an example of that time. Initially built as a town hall of sorts for the peasants to meet and share their grievances with the Peoples Collective. That didn't last long, as the Nobles don't really give a shit about what those in the Commons thought, so it had passed from many hands down through the generations before being donated to the Church of the Great Spirit nearly twenty years ago, where it was then given to the Sister, who had the idea of turning the place into an orphanage and using it for the common good, rather than letting it rot.
This all passed through my mind as I saw another mouldy wooden building on our left as we made our way to the market, uninhabited apart from rats. Another daily joy that the people who lived here had to look forward too.
Delithia and I made our way deeper into the grey and brown maze of homes, taverns and shops to arrive at the centre of life in our dismal little town, which was the market.
We heard the shouting and yelling from a distance, the sounds of merchants screaming at potential customers, be they common or, on rare occasion, Noble. Though I couldn't say that happened with any form of regularity, considering the shops that stood in the inner city.
As we passed into the large open area that was the common marketplace, I placed a hand on Delithia's shoulder to prevent myself from losing her in the large crowd, something she didn't complain about, even seeming a bit nervous at the amount of people.
I pushed through the crowd in a hurry, trying to ignore the scent of roasted lamb rising from a stall at the other side of the square. I hadn't managed to have breakfast this morning as Delithia wouldn't allow it, claiming to be running out of time. After dropping her at the Palace gates and seeing about the guard, I think I'll dip into the purse that Boldrin gave me and indulge myself a little. My clothes were smelling a little fresh too, now that I think about it. Perhaps I could find a tailor to help me with that.
Soon after entering the Market, we made our way onto the Old Road, the paved path that leads from the Inner city, all the way down to the southern city gates, passing through the marketplace on it's way.
“This is where Gertrand hangs out isn't it?” I asked the young girl after we had managed to emerge unscathed from the square.
Delithia shrugged. “Yeah, I think so. I haven't seen him in nearly a week and before that it was closer to two. He says that he's staying with Pater. Says he's going to be rich one day. Don't know if I believe him though. And Pater made Sister cry, so I don't like him any more.”
“Pater made the Sister cry? When was that?”
“When he left the orphanage. He said some mean things to Sister, about her and about you. It upset her.”
I grit my teeth. Fucking asshole. She raised us, gave us love and a good home. When I see the little shit he'll be lucky if I don't knock his teeth out.
“You make her cry, as well,” Delithia said quietly, vulnerably. “You shouldn't do that, Orin. Sister loves us.”
I was taken aback at that. “When did I make her cry?”
Delithia looked up to stare at me. “All the time. I hear her sometimes in her office, when she thinks nobody can hear. Usually it's after you've sent a letter. I think she was worried you would get hurt.”
I hung my head in shame even as I walked forwards. I hadn't really thought about how the Sister would feel about me leaving when I did. I just saw the opportunity in front of me and jumped on it. I was so busy thinking about myself that I didn't stop to think about how it would affect her and the kids I left behind. I wrapped an arm around my sisters shoulder and pulled her into a sideways hug.
“Don't worry, little one. I'm back now and I won't be leaving for a long time, if ever. I promise I won't make Sister cry again.”
I felt Delithia nod from her place buried in my ribs before letting her go and continuing to walk on, pretending not to notice her red eyes and sniffling nose.
We arrived at the entrance to the inner city with no issue after that, which was flanked by four of the city guard, dressed in their red livery and the symbol of three spires etched in a golden fabric upon their chests.
As I often did in these situations, I wondered what my chances were against them in combat. Their equipment was most likely much better than my own and I could see from the swords and pikes they wielded that they took care of their weaponry. There were also four of them so a straight fight would be out of the question. I would have to pull back to... there. Directly behind me, between a butcher shop and a house. I could lure them between the buildings and force them to come at me one at a time, or risk getting in each others way. Their long pikes would also be useless in that space, no way to safely utilise their range without causing problems with their placements. Doable, very doable.
“...Orin, the man's asking for coin.” Delithia stated, looking concerned as she pulled on my sleeve.
“Ah, sorry about that,” I said to the guard standing in front of me, giving me a look like I was an idiot. “Two for entrance please, sir.”
“It's two silver per person for entry, not one.” The guard said impatiently, making a hurrying gesture with his hand.
I raised my eyebrows at the exorbitant price increase since four years ago, but I handed over the coin regardless. No point in arguing with the guard about anything, they wielded near absolute power in the Commons and much the same in the inner city. The only result of my argument with this man would be a long stay in a small cell.
“Excuse me, sir, was wondering where the recruitment office for the guard is?” I asked plainly after we had gained entry to the inner city.
The guard raised a bushy eyebrow, rubbing at a salt and pepper beard as his ugly brown eyes watched me.
“Listen, kid. The guard ain't no joke and you need proper experience to be able to join,” The guard said, his voice laced with pity. “You may have a sword but it don't mean you can do the job.”
I smiled back at the guard coldly, letting some of that mercenary toughness that I had tried to hide in front of the Sister and kids bleed through. “Thanks for the warning, friend. But I have experience. Plenty of it. The guard office. Where?”
The guard seemed doubtful but gave me instructions regardless and Delithia and I made our way through the large, rather ornate looking gates that separated the Nobles and the peasants.
The difference between the Commons and the inner city were immediately noticeable as soon as one walked through the gates. Every road here was paved and was cleaned daily, unlike the dirty and cracked Old Road that runs through the commons. The houses were larger and the spaces between them were bigger, some even bigger than the entirety of the orphanage which, with the exception of the granary and the chapel, was the largest building in the commons. This was my first time in this part of the city in some time and I was just trying to take it all in, but Delithia was having none of it and put two small hands on my back as she pushed me forwards and towards the large palace that stood at the very centte of the city.
The palace of the Venosian Royalty was different to near every single other palace I had ever seen, in that it was built in a perfect circle, surrounding the golden spires that, even here, took my breath away at the sight of them.
They truly did look like a trio of sword blades, sticking straight up and out of the ground. They seemed to be made of pure gold and the sunlight could reflect off them blindingly. They were shear, utterly and completely, with absolutely no handholds or way up their surfaces. The palace itself was built as some kind of barrier to actually getting to the pillars of gold and very little was known about them, even to the citizenry of Myrin itself.
The commonly held belief was that they were the result of some magical experiment gone wrong, or right, depending on who you asked. The most popular theory was that it was a Knight who had created them, in some tremendous battle many centuries ago. All that was known was that they predated the Kingdom and were the reason that King Gilderbrand had set up shop here in the first place, believing that these spires held some kind of unfathomable power.
Quite unfathomable as no one had been able to figure out quite what they do yet. At least, no one outside the grounds of the palace itself.
The walls of the palace were constructed from shining white stone that complemented the golden hue of the spires that towered above them. The building itself was considered a work of art and had taken nearly thirty years to build. I had never been inside but I had heard it was the height of opulence, drowning out even the sandstone castles of the southern kingdoms or the natural fortress' of the countries to the east. When I was young, I had dreamed of living inside this place every single night, every time I saw the spires shining light down upon the Commons. Reality hit me hard and fast, I realised right quick what my place in life was and it was in the muck of the Commons. I had hated this place growing up but since arriving last night I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. The Commons were grime and crime ridden cesspools even on the best of days. But it was home and as the saying goes: home is where the heart is.
I escorted Delithia up to the entrance of the palace, another set of huge and ornate gold lined gates stood before us, images of beasts and battles of the past upon it's surface and even from here I could see the Inscriptions of glyphs that were a damn sight more impressive than the ones on the stove.
At our approach, a man moved from the side of the gate and made towards us. Adorned in shining steel that was Inscribed with glowing symbols he marched in our direction with purpose and poise.
His helmet had a white stalk of hair pointing sharply outwards at it's back and on his shield was the symbol of the royal house and the city as a whole, the three golden spires.
“State your business before the King's Guard!” The man bellowed the instructions so loudly that Delithia took a step back in alarm, hiding slightly behind me as I narrowed my eyes at the self-important buffoon.
“No need to shout, buddy. There's no royal to impress here. I bring with me Delithia, the lady who will serve as her royal Highness, the Princess Elora's flower girl during her wedding. She was told to come here for her fitting by the Princess herself. I ask for her passage.”
I could almost see the sneer appear behind the King's Guard shining helmet. I knew this was a possibility. Unlike the city, the King's Guard were all of Noble birth. Lesser Nobles maybe, but Nobles none the less.
“Lady? I see no lady here, merely a peasant girl and a beggar with a sword,” The guard said, his voice filled with his own ego. “Begone from this place before you are removed by force, filth!”
The guards hand twitched down to the sword that sat at his hip.
I narrowed my eyes. “Touch that sword, friend, and we're going to have a problem.”
The guard hesitated and froze in place, his eyes rising to meet my own. What he saw there, I don't know, but it was enough for him to move his hand away from his blade as I continued to stare him down. Never again. I won't be treated like shit, not by this fool.
The sword lets you strive for better.
Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, the large doors of the gate swung open at that very moment causing myself, the guard and the trembling Delithia to take a step back and gaze at the now opening barrier to the hallowed palace. Something that I didn't think I would ever see in my life, despite having escorted Delithia here. I just assumed there would be some kind of side door that she would slip through. I very much doubted that I'd be able to see the royal gardens of the Venosian centre and yet, that was exactly what was displayed from the opening gates.
Forests of flowers, of every colour imaginable was on the other side of that door, a world separate and protected from the grime and muck of the Commons and even the inner city. The place looked like some kind of paradise, where life thrived and was untouched by the folly of man.
A path of yellow crushed stone began with the gate and wandered off into the distance, no doubt ending at the entrance to the palace itself. Tree's lined that path, but they were of the like I had never seen before. Their trunks were a solid white and the leaves themselves were silver, shining like a newly minted coin. For a moment, it was all Delithia and I could do to keep our jaws from falling to the ground.
“Ah, Delithia! I was asked by the Princess to come and collect you when you arrived. I hope I didn't make you wait.”
It took me a moment to get past the sights, sounds and even smells of the land beyond those shining gates and focus on the owner of the smooth voice.
He was tall, nearly as tall as I was, and garbed in a fine blue tunic that was inlaid with gold. On that tunic was the symbol of a lion clutching a war-hammer in it's mouth, the symbol of his Noble House, no doubt. His hair, like Delithia's, was curled, though where Delithia's hair was blonde, his was a deep black that seemed to absorb the light around it. His eyes were an ocean blue and shined with amusement as he took in the expressions on our faces. I took the time to notice the slim sword at his side, a sapphire for the pommel.
“Quite the sight, isn't it?” The man smiled as he walked through the gates, leaving the heavenly realm of the royals behind to stand in front of us.
“Royal Protector, sir!” The guard who had been mouthing off to us stood at attention as the man walked by, ignoring his presence entirely and focusing completely on Delithia and I.
Royal Protector? Oh shit, don't tell me this is...
“Orin! That's him! It's the man whose marrying the Princess. Duke Cellus,” Delithia said excitedly before moving forward and curtseying sweetly before the good Duke. “It's good to see you again, your Grace.”
The Duke, Cellus, laughed. “You've been practising your curtsey I see. Very good, I would say you were just as good as Elora now.”
Delithia blushed and clasped both hands together. “I've been practising every day, sir. The Princess was a good teacher,” She turned to look away from the Duke in embarrassment, or pride, and suddenly seemed to remember I was standing there. “Oh! Duke Cellus, sir, this is my brother, Orin.”
I bowed awkwardly to the man. “My Lord.”
The man smiled and his eyes lit up in recognition. “Ah, I've heard good things about you, Orin. The good Sister and Delithia here have had only the best things to say about you.” He leaned forward to shake my hand and I hurried to comply, hoping to all the Spirits, pagan or otherwise, that I wouldn't fuck this up and get my head chopped off.
The Royal Protector of the household was merely a place marker for what this man would ultimately be doing when he married the Princess.
As in, King of the entire Venosian Kingdom.
As in, all it would take for him to kill me would be to twitch one finger and an arrow would sprout from my chest and that's before he's even a Knight. To say that I was feeling a little nervous would be an understatement.
Finally, Cellus released my hand and turned back to Delithia.
“So? Ready to go, my dear? Elora is already getting fitted with some of her friends. I'll escort you to her.”
Delithia all but bounced in place and replied in the affirmative. The Duke offered his arm and Delithia took it as they headed through the doors to the royal gardens. I was all but forgotten. Then Delithia pulled herself gently free of the Duke's grasp and ran back over to me, placing a sloppy kiss on my cheek.
“Thanks for walking me, Orin. The Duke says I can take a carriage home so you don't have to wait for me. I'll see you tonight!” She shouted exuberantly and spun in place, skipping back up to the Duke and taking his arm as I stared fondly after her.
The gates to the royal gardens quickly closed after that and I found myself more than a little disappointed that I couldn't see them for a bit longer.
After a few seconds, no doubt to ensure that the Royal Protector was actually gone, the guard walked up to me again.
“Yes, clear the area. I got it.” Without waiting for his response I turned and made my way back towards the large square of the inner city, where I was directed to go looking for the recruitment office.
Seeing the expression of joy of Delithia's face was enough to ignore the ignorant guard and I was looking forward to hearing her story about what she had been up to when she returned to the orphanage. But I needed to focus on myself now and try all I could to find some employment in the city. Even the gold coin that Boldrin had gifted me along with my pay wouldn't last forever, and I didn't want to live off the kindness of the good Sister.