Prince James inhaled the aroma of the tea held in his hand. He let out an appreciative breath as he sipped the tea, letting the warm flavor wash down his throat and tongue.
“As wonderful as ever Alfred,” he complimented his adviser.
Alfred chuckled and winked, “Come your highness, I’ve been your friend for so long how could I not get your tea right? It would be quite the embarrassment to fail at such an easy task.”
“And yet,” Prince James raised an eyebrow, “you seem to take such pride in it this easy class you decline to have any of the servants make it. Tell me, what would others think if they knew the adviser to the king actually brewed him tea?”
“They’d declare how lucky you are for having such a loyal and talented adviser,” Alfred said solemnly.
“Then why don’t you help me with all this paperwork?” James pointed helplessly at the stack of papers next to him.
“Why your highness,” Alfred placed his hand on his chest and looked pained, “how could a man of such simple birth like myself undertake such an important task as to decide the fate of the city. Such a job is meant for only those of noble standing, like yourself.”
James groaned, but sunk his head back into his work. Alfred merely chuckled and clasped his hands behind his back.
“I liked you better when you were a coward,” James muttered resentfully.
“I still am,” Alfred winked.
A knock at the door attracted their attention. It opened to reveal a frowning Fiora.
“Your highness,” she said stiffly, “As your bodyguards, it is important for us to be aware of your location at all time. Please refrain from moving around your home without one of my team with you.”
James sighed, “Fiora, please, address me more casually. You and I . . .”
“Have nothing to talk about,” Fiora blunted stated. She turned to look at Alfred, “Royal adviser, I expected better from you.”
Alfred frowned, “Come on Fiora, we were both raised by the nuns. Don’t tell me you still hold that . . .”
Fiora glared at him, shutting Alfred’s mouth before he finished. She turned her gaze back onto James, “Please remember you have a tour of the town in a few hours your highness. I advise you to hurry and finish as much as you can before you leave.” With her message delivered, she closed the door behind her and left.
Alfred scratched his head ruefully, “Well, I see she has mellowed out over the years.”
James’s face flicked back and forth as he steadied his thoughts. In the end, he could only sigh.
“I guess I deserve this treatment,” he finally relented, “I hate to admit it, but my actions as a young boy were not appropriate.”
“It’s alright your highness,” Alfred consoled, “She just needs some time to get to know you better. I’m sure . . .”
James fixed his eyes on Alfred, “Is that really something you can say Alfred? You and the others, you were all her friends first. I’m sure she resents you more than me.”
Alfred twitched, but fell silent.
Sighing again, James returned to his paperwork, his mind on other matters.
When the hour came to leave, James and Alfred were led out of their home by Fiora, Jonas, and Nat. Gran had been called by Mary to help examine the bodies of the assassins for any forests clues that would give them an idea on the hideout of the black-robed men.
Nat clapped her hands together as she beamed at the prince and adviser, “Alright then, greetings your highness and royal adviser. I am Nat, a humble adventurer and your guide for the Dungeon Town today. Please ask me any questions you think of.”
“Why are you the one giving the tour?” Alfred asked rudely.
Nat shrugged, “Because I am better at close-combat while my fearless leader here and companion are good with long-range combat. They are keeping an eye out for any other assassins that may seek to harm you.”
“Also,” she continued, “Fiora isn’t much of a talker when it comes to places; unless it involves battle tactics. Now, we are currently in the Noble Quarter of the town. This is the newest part and is still rather unfinished. Many of the workers are still repairing the other areas from our run-in with the Tomb of the Forgotten King. When the noble quarter is complete, it will house a number of dignitaries and nobles from Duren and beyond.”
James inclined his head, “My original plan called for this area to be used for my ascension ceremony; will it be ready for it in a few days?”
Nat gave the prince a nod, “Indeed your highness, the venue area is being worked on as we speak. Have no fear; it will be complete on schedule. Now, if you both would follow us to the gate.”
Nat and the group led the prince out of the noble quarter and into the next area.
“This is Iron city, iron town, or the iron quarter; it goes by a number of names. This the busiest part of town and is the location for most taverns, smiting shops, enchanter shops, alchemy shops, and the Adventurer’s Guild. If you want to find something, it’ll likely be found here.”
Prince James nodded. Seeing his disinterest, Nat pointed ahead, “Alright, you seem to be already acquainted with this area, so let’s move on.”
The next area was the elfin area. Prince James’s face lit up as he entered the gate.
“I must say, this is the first I’ve ever seen of any elfin life. Didn’t your team have an elf member? I would love to ask him some questions.”
Nat chuckled, “Honestly, if you can get some information out of Gran, I would want to be there.”
She began her tour speech as they walked down the street, “As you can see your highness, this part of the town is exclusively managed by our elfin allies from the forest. Every building and structure here is grown by their magic from plants into whatever they need. Meat is forbidden, but the best crop fields are found here. The mother tree dominates the sky and is the resting place for elves of high authority.”
“Speaking of which,” Alfred spoke up, “why there isn’t anyone of status to greet his highness? This is most rude of an action to have with a visiting foreign guest.”
Nat chuckled nervously, “To be fair royal ambassador, this tour was kept quiet so as to discourage the flow of information about his highness’s whereabouts. The elves are just as unaware of his visit as most of the town. I’m sure they would go out of their way to greet and entertain you otherwise.”
“A fair point,” Jonas pointed out to Alfred, “I won’t hold it against the elves if they were not informed by the guild.”
Alfred’s face held a scowl, but nodded reluctantly in agreement.
James turned his attention back to the buildings, “You say everything is grown from plants using nature magic? This is quite marvelous; perhaps it would be a pleasant thing to try to implement in Duren as well.”
“Forgive me your highness, but that would not be feasible,” Jonas spoke up, “I have talked to my elfin companion on that matter, and according to him the magic would not work properly in the city. Not only does growing the structures require a skilled group of plant shapers, it also requires a location of abundant mana and daily maintenance to ensure the plants grow within their boundaries. The close vicinity to the forest, dungeon, and mother tree allow for this, otherwise the buildings would eventually wither and die.”
“A pity then,” James shook his head regretfully, “My boyhood fantasy was to live in a treehouse someday.”
“Perhaps that could be arranged,” Fiora said from the front of the group, “your head is well suited above the clouds and the concerns of those lesser than you.”
“Adventurer Fiora,” Alfred reprimanded, “I will not allow such insolence to be said to his highness! Such words are scandalous and unforgiving!”
“Oh?” Fiora turned and raised her eyebrow, “Forgive me royal adviser, I merely meant that his highness towers over us with his royal existence. I meant no disrespect.”
Nat coughed, “If your highness will allow it, we’ll conclude this tour by visiting the faith quarter and tent quarter.”
James shook his head, “I have a meeting planned tomorrow with Father Jonas. He would like to show me the grounds, so I do not wish to ruin the surprise.”
“We’ll show you tent city then,” Nat decided.
As they walked out of the elfin quarter, James turned to Jonas. “Is it a coincidence that you and the Father share a name?” he asked.
Jonas gave an exasperated sigh, “Forgive me your highness, but everyone asks me that. We are not related in any way.”
“My apologies,” Prince James nodded.
When they reached the tent quarter, James frowned.
“This is . . . quite a large area. The number of tents seem too small for an area to be named after them.”
Nat and the others grew despondent as they gazed over the flatland, “You are right your highness. Once, this area was filled with the tents of adventurers, workers, and others. Now, there are fewer of us from the invasion and many of the tents are gone. It was once an ocean of white, flapping in the breeze.”
Nat shook her head, letting a smile return to her face, “Enough of that now. This is tent city, or the adventurer’s quarter if you will. The tents are rented from the Adventurer’s Guild and are magically linked to their owner to prevent theft and entry by others. Also, the best tavern in the town is located here, the Knifed Zombie.”
“That’s an odd name for a tavern to have,” Alfred observed.
Nat nodded, “It’s rather famous now. During the undead attack, the daughter of the tavern saved her father and some workers by using throwing knives to slay a zombie. Her father, a former adventurer, named the tavern after the incident. Their food is excellent, and it’s one of the best places to learn about what’s going on in the town and beyond.”
“Can we go?” James asked, “I am curious to see what kind of place it is. Perhaps I might find some food to please my palate later on.”
With a confident “Yes your highness”, Nat led the group down the road and past the tents to one of the only buildings in the area.
Alfred wrinkled his nose, “It’s quite, commonly isn’t it?”
Jonas shrugged, “In the world of adventurers, beauty is something you only look for when you retire. Fighting isn’t pretty, and neither is the thought that you could die at any time.”
This made James and Alfred chuckle awkwardly.
Nat poked her head inside, “Hello? Fred, are you here?” She looked around, but no one was inside.
“Are you looking for my father?” a girl’s voice sounded from outside.
Nat turned and grinned, “We are indeed Milly. Know where he is?”
“He’s out shopping big sis Nat,” Milly told her cutely, “I don’t know when he’ll be back.”
Nat shrugged, “Well, that’s too bad I guess. Are you doing well in your studies?”
Milly took a confident stance, “Yeah, I feel smarter every time I study. If you’ll excuse me, I need to doctor our newest worker. He hurt himself doing magic for the first time.” She bowed, and hurried inside the tavern.
“Was that the girl who killed the zombie?” James asked curiously.
Nat nodded, “Yes your highness that was Milly. She’s a sweet girl going on 14 years of age, but she’s got a wicked throwing arm. Unfortunately, it appears that since Fred is out, so the tour is over. What do you think your highness?”
Prince James shrugged, “It’s a small town. Nice and quaint, but too dusty for my liking. Even our accommodations have a rustic feel that is quite sad to see. The town would do well to have everything scrubbed down a few times.”
“Oh, I’m sorry our humble town is so insulting to highness,” Fiora fawned, “Perhaps if we cover his highness in a blindfold we can spare him from looking on our grotesque appearance.”
James frowned, “Now hold on; I am merely comparing it to my home. I didn’t mean . . .”
“So sorry our ‘rustic’ and ‘dusty’ town fail to compare to your lavish home back in Duren,” Fiora continued unabated, “Maybe you’re just too used to your own dirt.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?” James and Fiora were starting to inch toward each other now.
“It means,” Fiora glared, “That our town has been perfectly alright without you or your problems coming to visit us. How much trouble would it have been to stay away? Do you enjoy tormenting others with your issues; those assassins wounded many good militia trying to get to you.”
Prince James flared up, “Those men did the jobs they were paid to do! I had nothing to do with that, nor am I at fault for the situation.”
“Oh really?” Fiora chuckled sarcastically, “And I suppose those assassins merely popped out of the wood-work for cow dung and giggles; just a walk through the streets killing people for no reason; just like what I hear is happening in Duren. Tell me, how many guards are required to escort you to the toilet at night?”
Nat and Jonas frantically tugged on Fiora’s shirt, trying to stop her from talking.
“And what a wonderful job you’ve done here!” Prince James roared, “Demons and undead dungeons appear and kill so many. Tell me, how well were you doing my job when my sister died, hm? You even decided to leave her body behind, oh what a wonderful apprentice sister you are.”
This time, Alfred grabbed onto the prince to stop him from talking.
Her face paling, Fiora bit her lip, “How dare you! HOW DARE YOU! I loved her as a sister . . .”
“SHE WAS MY SISTER YOU RED-HAIRED D . . .”
“YOUR HIGHNESS!” Alfred yanked the prince back as he and Fiora were inches from each other’s faces, “That’s quite enough; this is unbecoming of your station!”
Jonas and Nat were also trying to calm Fiora. The two growled at each other from across their advisers.
“We’re leaving,” Prince James finally managed to spit out, “Escort us back.”
“With pleasure,” Fiora snarled.
Nat, Jonas, and Alfred sighed in their hearts. This was a poor turn of events.