After saving the prince from the attempted assassination, Mary personally led him to the Adventurer’s Guild and her office.
She bowed her head and apologized, “My humblest apologies your highness; I should have been more cautious and bold in the security detail for your arrival. This incident brings shame to our town.”
Prince James waved his hand and shook his head, “No Guild Master, this is no fault of your own. The enemy is deeply entrenched within both Duren and the Dungeon Town; even my forces were taken unawares in this security breech. There is no shame when no one could have done any better.”
“Besides,” he smiled at Mary, “It’s not like they were able to get me. Your guards and adventurers managed to save me in the nick of time after-all.”
Mary smiled back, “Well, small blessings and all that I guess. My people are interrogating the survivors as we speak, but if they were coerced magically then it’ll be a dead end. We already know the enemy can employ strong demons capable of controlling minds to a limited extent. The demon summoned all those months ago was even strong enough to turn weaker willed people into puppets.”
“Is that kind of demon still a threat?” James asked cautiously.
Mary shook her head, “It’s very unlikely. That was a ‘Prince’ level demon of rage; a demon of that strength normally requires an entire city of sacrifices to summon it. Even then, it would require a compatible host body and would be weak for a time until it devoured enough rage to reacquire its strength. The perpetrators had the sacrifice prepared before giving the ritual to your brother; likely from war prisoners. With the war only just beginning in Groatland, they don’t have enough sacrifices to do it again; at least, not for a while anyway.”
“As you said previously, small blessings,” James sighed in relief at the news, “To be honest, the main reason why I replaced my brother for this trip was not to oversee preparations for my coronation . . .”
“It was to escape the city, am I right Prince James?” Mary winked at him.
James started, then relaxed and shook his head warily. “Was it so obvious?” he asked her.
“It makes sense,” Mary began to pour a warm drink for the prince and herself, “You are soon to be king, and everyone is vying for your support and good graces. You have no idea who you can trust and the main source of wisdom, your parents, are ill-disposed. Now, you have definite confirmation that someone in your inner council is a traitor by choice or no choice. Is here, far from the troubled politics of home, not a safe place? Rather, this place is used to conflict while Duren isn’t.”
“Exactly correct,” James accepted the drink and tasted it slowly, savoring it, “It pains me to say it, but Duren and its sister city states are not prepared for this kind of espionage and conflict. For too long have we been at peace, and are thus at a disadvantage against those who fight as a living.” He sighed, “With the city-states so divided, the Empire will surely win once their plans come to fruition. The one saying grace is that Groatland has a long military tradition and will hold out for some time.”
“I wonder about that,” Mary commented as she sipped her drink, “With agents of the Empire here in Nehatra, it must mean they wish to invade here. Groatland would be in a tragic position if they were forced to fight a war on two fronts. If they should fall, I wonder how long it would take for the other races to start noticing the wolf clawing at their doorsteps.”
“They won’t help,” James sighed helplessly, “The elven kingdoms are too prideful to get involved in a conflict between humans, the dwarves are too far away, the beast-men can’t provide any more support, the devilkin are also too far away, and the gnomes hate wars.”
“What about the monster races?” Mary asked.
Prince James chuckled ruefully, “The goblins, orcs, and kobolds won’t help; there is too much bad blood between them and the so called ‘blessed races’. Of the rest, out only possible allies would be the dragon-scale tribe, but they are busy getting ready for spawning season. No help will be coming to our country.”
“Then we must make do,” Mary declared, “How are the preparations coming?”
“Slow,” Prince James admitted, “There is still a lot of paperwork to do, and I do not believe your Noble Quarter is ready to accept many high-class visitors.”
Mary shook her head, “Building effort has been concentrated on recovering the town. Very little has been done on the noble quarter, although your residence is complete.”
James tapped his chin, “While the official ceremony will be here, my advisers will likely have me undergo a second one at Duren for those who can’t make it here. That will make it easier to handle on this end.”
He stood up, “I must return to my duties, but thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”
“Not a problem your highness,” Mary got up and bowed to him, “I expect great things from you and this ceremony.”